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Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Rapture (1991)

A lonely woman (Mimi Rogers) engages in a promiscuous "swingers" lifestyle in Los Angeles with anonymous strangers along with her sexual companion (Patrick Bauchau). But she finds God and becomes a born again Christian and devotes her life to being worthy of his love in anticipation of the coming of The Rapture which will take her and her young daughter and other believers to Heaven. But is this God worthy of her love? Written and directed by Michael Tolkin, he wrote Altman's THE PLAYER, this is an audacious and uncompromising film and while not without its flaws, it provokes and challenges. I've often been struck by the dichotomy of the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Bible: the angry vengeful God of the Old and the gentle loving Jesus of the New. It's almost as if some PR person said, "this angry God stuff isn't working anymore. We need to lighten up!". The God in this film is the demanding God of the Old Testament, love me and obey me and don't ask questions. Tolkin's film doesn't back down and goes there. The film's low budget doesn't allow for special effects so the apocalypse when it comes looks pretty cheesy but the film's idea overrides the cheap effects. Mimi Rogers gives an excellent layered performance and its to her credit that she took the challenge (reputedly several "name" actresses turned the part down). With David Duchovny, James Le Gros and Will Patton.

Cafe Society (2016)

Set in the early 1930s, a young man (Jesse Eisenberg) is unhappy working in his father's (Ken Stott) New York jewelry business. So he moves out to Hollywood where his uncle (Steve Carell) is a powerful agent in the film business. When he falls in love with his uncle's mistress (Kristen Stewart), he will find out the hard way that your first love always stays with you. Woody Allen is back in top form and this is his best film since the charming MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011). The beginning of the film, the Hollywood section, is rough and seems aimless at times but it coalesces in the second half, the New York section. The Hollywood section drops more names than a squealer at a HUAC hearing and Allen doesn't always get the time sequence right: Hedy Lamarr was not yet in Hollywood much less a star in 1935. In the end, it's a bittersweet (in every way) coming of age story. While there are no stand out performances, Eisenberg and Stewart continue the chemistry they showed in last year's underrated AMERICAN ULTRA. Eisenberg is the Woody Allen stand in here but Eisenberg brings much more depth to the part than Woody Allen ever did playing Woody Allen. But the film belongs to Kristen Stewart. I stand to be corrected but I believe this may be the first time Allen has directed a film in L.A. since ANNIE HALL. With Blake Lively, Jeannie Berlin, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Paul Schneider, Sheryl Lee and Stephen Kunken. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977)

An ex Air Force General (Burt Lancaster) and three accomplices (Paul Winfield, Burt Young, William Smith) escape from prison and take over a nuclear missile site. The ex-General has monetary demands but he is more concerned that the U.S. President (Charles Durning) read a top secret file on the Vietnam war on national TV. Loosely based on the novel VIPER THREE by Walter Wager. The 1970s were the decade for "don't trust the government" conspiracy movies: THE PARALLAX VIEW, 3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN were some of the better ones. This effort by Robert Aldrich (KISS ME DEADLY) is just awful! Pushing the 2 1/2 hour mark, it's bloated even though Aldrich uses a split screen technique to show simultaneous action rather than cutting back and forth. Aldrich eliminated Vera Miles' scenes as the First Lady but he could have cut a trite scene between Durning and Gerald S. O'Laughlin (who performance is abysmal) that stops the movie in its tracks. Early on in the film there's a sequence where Lancaster and his men attempt to dismantle an explosive device that has no suspense because we know if it explodes, it ends there and there's no movie! Aldrich does manage to sustain tension during several sequences but overall, it's a pretty ludicrous film. The large cast includes Richard Widmark, Melvyn Douglas, Joseph Cotten, Richard Jaeckel, Charles McGraw, Roscoe Lee Browne, Leif Erickson and William Marshall.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ship Of Fools (1965)

In 1933, a German ocean liner is sailing from Veracruz, Mexico to Bremerhaven, Germany. The passengers are a cross section of humanity from worker peasants to rich Americans, artists, intellectuals and working class. But the specter of Nazi Germany hovers over the voyage as its passengers seem oblivious to what is to come. Based on Katherine Anne Porter's best selling 1962 novel, adapted for the screen by Abby Mann and directed by Stanley Kramer. I've not read Porter's novel but surely it wasn't as heavy handed and dripping with oppressive symbolism as Kramer's film. As usual with Kramer, he treats his audiences as dim witted children who have to be inundated with the self evident irony as if we were incapable of understanding without his assistance. Of course, critics and audiences at the time were all aflutter over its self important bloat. What makes the movie watchable today are the performances which with one exception are excellent across the board. The exception being Jose Ferrer's godawful Nazi lover who seems to have walked in from a Mel Brooks comedy. On the plus side, Simone Signoret as a woman being sent to prison and Oskar Werner (both Oscar nominated) as the ship's doctor transcend the material and bring genuine pathos and heart to their performances. Ernest Lazslo's handsome B&W cinematography and Robert Clatworthy's stunning production design (the entire ship was recreated on a sound stage) give the film some life. The massive cast includes Vivien Leigh, Lee Marvin, George Segal, Elizabeth Ashley, Jose Greco, Lilia Skala, Charles Korvin, Barbara Luna, Alf Kjellin, Michael Dunn and Heinz Ruhmann.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Juninatten (aka June Night) (1940)

After she is shot by her lover (Gunnar Sjoberg) and a scandal evolves due to the trial and the tabloid press, a young woman (Ingrid Bergman) flees the small town and heads for Stockholm where she hopes she will be swallowed up in anonymity and start a new life. In her last Swedish film before relocating to Hollywood, Bergman is luminous and already gives the kind of assured performance and screen presence that would soon make her one of the most popular stars of the 1940s. As for the film itself, her character isn't very likable. She seems quite knowledgeable about her flaws and her ability to manipulate and she's not very sympathetic, even repaying a great kindness shown her by a woman (Marianne Lofgren) by stealing away her fiance (Olof Widgren) though frankly, he doesn't seem worth stealing. In fact, they deserve each other. Still, the movie's view of romanticism seems ambiguous. I'm not quite sure that we're supposed to take the lovers running off as a "happy ending". While Bergman is excellent, she's not the whole show and the supporting players are quite good. Directed by Per Lindberg. With Marianne Aminoff, Lill Tollie Zellman and Hasse Ekman. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Seventh Sin (1957)

In 1949 Hong Kong, when a doctor (Bill Travers, BORN FREE) discovers his wife (Eleanor Parker) is having an adulterous affair with a married man (Jean Pierre Aumont) he gives her an ultimatum. He'll give her a divorce if her lover leaves his wife for her or else she must accompany him to a remote Chinese village where a cholera epidemic is spreading or he'll cause a scandal. Her lover refuses to leave his wife which sets the stage for a story of redemption. Based on the 1925 novel THE PAINTED VEIL by W. Somerset Maugham, this is the second film version. It was previously filmed in 1934 with Greta Garbo and once again in 2006 with Naomi Watts. There's a good performance by Parker and the film stays with the unhappy ending unlike the 1934 film. The film's attitudes are a bit dated ("It's a woman's duty to please her husband") but it is set in 1949 and the film's final moments are beautifully handled. But the production never quite becomes more than a decent "woman's picture" as they were referred to back then. Directed by Ronald Neame (PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) but reputedly finished by Vincente Minnelli after Neame left the project. Another good score by Miklos Rozsa. With George Sanders (wonderful as always), Francoise Rosay, Ellen Corby and James Hong. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Life Of Emile Zola (1937)

The writer Emile Zola (Paul Muni) struggles with his friend the artist Paul Cezanne (Vladimir Sokoloff) to attain some level of artistic success. A chance encounter with a prostitute (Erin O'Brien Moore) produces the best seller NANA and he is on his way as one of France's most renowned writers. But perhaps his greatest achievement is his involvement in "The Dreyfus Affair". Directed by William Dieterle, this is a forerunner of the films we refer to today as "Oscar bait". It's bloated, self conscious and dealing with an important issue so of course it won the 1937 Oscar for best film of the year! The focus of the film and it takes about half of the running time is the libel trial when Zola accuses the French Army of a cover up and the prosecution of an innocent man (Joseph Schildkraut in an Oscar winning performance). It's the most interesting aspect of the film. Muni's performance is just awful. Full of tics and mannerisms and acting with a capital A. Difficult to believe he was an example of an actor's actor back in the 1930s. The actual Dreyfus case is a fascinating example of injustice, anti-Semitism (which the film doesn't address) and military corruption but the film focuses too much on Zola. With Gale Sondergaard, Donald Crisp, Gloria Holden, Louis Calhern and Harry Davenport.

Gothic (1986)

In the summer of 1816, Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) invites fellow poet Percy Shelley (Julian Sands), his lover (Natasha Richardson) and her stepsister (Miriam Cyr) to join him at his villa in Switzerland. It is there on a dark and stormy night that they let their imaginations run wild and experience hallucinatory horrors. Ken Russell at his excessive worst though it's not nearly as bad as THE MUSIC LOVERS. Russell seems to confuse grossing us out with genuine horror. We're subjected to characters abusing themselves (a character repeatedly slams his hand through a nail then licks the blood), vomiting and spewing out food, maggots and leeches, dead fetuses, crawling on all fours in the mud with a dead rat in your mouth etc., you get the picture? One can't help but feel sorry for the actors humiliating themselves for something that's ultimately utterly silly. Timothy Spall as Dr. Polidor fares the worst though it seems a dummy was used for one of the more revolting acts. Still, you have to hand it to Russell, it's the kind of compelling bad movie you can't take your eyes off. The anachronistic unpleasant underscore is by Thomas Dolby.

Operetta Tanuki Goten (aka Princess Raccoon) (2005)

A young Prince (Joe Odagiri) is banished from his kingdom by his jealous father (Mikijiro Hira) after a sorceress (Hiroko Yakushimaru) declares that the son's beauty will eclipse that of his father. It is in a mysterious forest that he meets a Princess (Ziyi Zhang, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA) who is a raccoon spirit and a forbidden romance occurs. When one thinks of the director Seijun Suzuki, one thinks of his stylized Yakuza thrillers like YOUTH OF THE BEAST or BRANDED TO KILL or perhaps his dark dramas like GATE OF FLESH or STORY OF A PROSTITUTE. But you wouldn't connect him to a brightly colored fairy tale musical which is exactly what this is. Musically, it's all over the place: operetta, Broadway ballads, hip-hop, reggae, pop songs with stylized choreography by Mitsuko Tanizawa. The staging is intentionally theatrical combining animation and live action with artificial sound stage sets as well as real locations. The narrative is hard to follow at times with Japanese cultural references going right over Western heads but it's a dazzling display of cinematic magic. Well worth seeking out if you haven't seen it.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Caribbean Mystery (1983)

A spinster (Helen Hayes) from a small village in England is enjoying an island vacation in the Caribbean courtesy of her nephew. But the vacation soon turns deadly when an elderly and talkative Major (Maurice Evans) is murdered. When another murder occurs, the spinster takes an active interest in solving the crime. Based on the Agatha Christie novel with her spinster sleuth Miss Marple at the center. Hayes doesn't even bother with an English accent but her Miss Marple is acceptable if one isn't too demanding. It's one of Christie's better books and this telefilm does it justice even if its budget didn't allow for actual location shooting, the California coastal city of Santa Barbara stands in for the Caribbean. The acting is generic though Evans and Barnard Hughes as a cantankerous millionaire bring some punch to their roles. Christie fans should be pleased. Directed by Robert Michael Lewis. With Swoozie Kurtz, Brock Peters, Beth Howland, Cassie Yates, Stephen Macht, Season Hubley, Jameson Parker, Zakes Mokae and George Innes.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Four Guns To The Border (1954)

Four bandits (Rory Calhoun, George Nader, John McIntire, Jay Silverheels) plot to rob a bank and then split the money once they cross the border. But a young girl (Colleen Miller) and her ex-gunslinger father (Walter Brennan) put a crimp in their plans. Based on IN VICTORIO'S COUNTRY by the western writer Louis L'Amour and directed by the actor Richard Carlson (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON), this is your standard 1950s Universal western that connects all the dots accordingly. Two elements stand out, however. The female characters (Nina Foch and Mary Field are the other two) are all strong women with minds of their own. The second is the sexual tension between Calhoun and the lovely Miller. Specifically, a scene taking place on a hot and humid rainy night as Miller in her underwear gets soaked to the skin and Calhoun (also soaked to the skin) attempts to take her and the passive aggressive "love" scene that follows which has an eroticism that seems out of place in a routine western. Russell Metty did the lensing. With Charles Drake and Nestor Paiva.   

Le Notti Bianche (aka White Nights) (1957)

A lonely young man (Marcello Mastroianni), a recent transplant to the city, meets a lonely young girl (Maria Schell) on a bridge waiting for the lover (Jean Marais) who abandoned her a year ago. A friendship develops that threatens to turn to something more but the phantom lover stands in the way. Based on the 1848 short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky and directed by Luchino Visconti, who co-wrote the screenplay with Suso Cecchi D'Amico. Filmed entirely on the sound stages of Cinecitta where Mario Chiari has created an entire city (wet streets, bridges, nightclubs, canals etc.) luminously shot in B&W by the great Giuseppe Rotunno. This is a fragile dreamlike piece of fatal romanticism that holds you spellbound while anticipating the heartbreak that is to come. Mastroianni and the lovely Schell are perfectly matched and bring a genuine pathos to both their isolated lovers. A unique film by one of the masters of Italian cinema. The underscore is by Nino Rota. With Clara Calamai .  

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)

Drunk and coked up as ever, PR agent Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and her parasitic pal Patsy (Joanna Lumley) attend a swank affair. But when Edina pushes fashion icon Kate Moss (as herself) into the Thames, the pair flee to the French Riviera to avoid the police who want her for Moss's murder. If you've never seen the TV series the film is based on, most likely the entire film will go right over your head but for fans of the show, this is a real treat! Into their 60s, Edina and Patsy are as irresponsible and self centered as ever but who would want them any other way. Everyone's back including Julia Sawalha as Edina's put upon daughter, June Whitfield as her clueless mother and the whole gang. All older but no wiser! Saunders' screenplay is really an extended episode of the show but the laughs are plenty and the director Mandie Fletcher never lets the pacing lag. I had a good time at it and ready to drag out the series and binge watch. The huge cast includes Jon Hamm, Joan Collins, Rebel Wilson, Dame Edna Everage, Lulu, Jane Horrocks, Graham Norton, Stella McCartney, Barry Humphries, Kathy Burke, Celia Imrie, Chris Colfer (GLEE) and Robert Webb. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Great Gatsby (1974)

Set in 1922, a mysterious but wealthy stranger (Robert Redford) has recently moved into a large mansion on Long Island where his presence has caused rumors and speculation. His ambiguous past aside, his mission is to reclaim the beauty (Mia Farrow) that he lost years ago to a rich playboy (Bruce Dern). Based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald jazz age classic, GATSBY has seen at least six adaptations to film and TV and none of them have got it right. Directed by Jack Clayton (ROOM AT THE TOP) from a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola, the emphasis is on the visuals and the sumptuous art direction and gorgeous costumes (not unlike Baz Luhrmann's recent adaptation) overwhelm Fitzgerald's lean story. Coppola's script is actually pretty good so I place the blame on Clayton's misconception of the story and some severe miscasting. Redford is all wrong for Gatsby, he's too "to the manor born" and would have made a good Tom Buchanan. Similarly Bruce Dern is all wrong for Tom, there's a coarseness about him that would have suited Gatsby. Farrow is physically perfect for Daisy but there's a neuroticism in her acting that's an ill fit for Daisy. Only Sam Waterston as Nick and Lois Chiles as Jordan seem to have come from the pages of the book. With Karen Black (whose performance is bizarre), Scott Wilson, Howard Da Silva, Edward Herrmann, Roberts Blossom, Brooke Adams and Patsy Kensit.   

Friday, July 22, 2016

Point Blank (1967)

After he has been double crossed and shot by his partner (John Vernon) after they've committed a robbery, a man (Lee Marvin) survives his wounds and seeks revenge. Based on the novel THE HUNTER by Richard Stark and directed by John Boorman (DELIVERANCE). The film is an exercise is nihilistic swank and possibly the closest an American crime film has come to Jean Pierre Melville's stylish French gangster films. One shouldn't look for depth of meaning in something like this when it's all about style and when the style is this good, what else matters? Some have suggested that the entire film is a dream but I don't buy it. Boorman and his editor Henry Berman have taken a genre piece and permeated it with observational languor and chic stoicism and the film fairly drips with a sort of bleak romanticism. Remade poorly in 1999 as PAYBACK. With Angie Dickinson (her slapdown of Marvin is a film highlight), Keenan Wynn, Carroll O'Connor, Sharon Acker, Lloyd Bochner, James Sikking, Kathleen Freeman and Roberta Haynes. 

Brigadoon (1954)

A New Yorker (Gene Kelly) vacationing with his best friend (Van Johnson) in Scotland gets lost in the Highlands and come across a small village that seems out of step with time. And for good reason ..... it comes alive only every 100 years! Based on the 1947 hit musical with songs by Lerner & Loewe (MY FAIR LADY), the director Vincente Minnelli wanted to shoot the film on actual Scottish locations but MGM decided it was to be shot on the MGM sound stages instead. I think MGM was right. This is a whimsical fairy tale, not a realistic musical, and the obvious recreations of the Highlands on a massive sound stage only adds to the film's ethereal quality. You'd never know this was Minnelli's first film in the newly arrived CinemaScope format as he composes the framing like a master, particularly the wedding sequence. On the downside, the Scottish whimsy gets tired very quickly and one is grateful for the one liners of Van Johnson's cynical unbeliever which provide an alternative to the treacle. I guess I'm rather schizophrenic about the film. On one hand I'm charmed by it but on the other hand, its preciousness grates on my nerves. But the songs are good and Kelly's choreography is first rate. With Cyd Charisse, Elaine Stewart, Barry Jones, Albert Sharpe and Virginia Bosler. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Flirting With Disaster (1996)

A neurotic young husband (Ben Stiller) whose wife (Patricia Arquette) has recently given birth is seeking his birth parents. With the aid of an adoption agency employee (Tea Leoni), the three set out on a trek to track down his birth parents. Written and directed by David O. Russell (AMERICAN HUSTLE), this was his breakthrough film in the mainstream sense after getting some critical attention for SPANKING THE MONKEY. It's the contemporary equivalent of a classic screwball comedy and pungently entertaining which is surprising considering that with one exception, the characters are all eminently unlikable! The exception is Arquette's young wife who seems to be the only grounded character in the film where dysfunction seems to be the order of the day. The scene stealers here are the two sets of parents: the uptight New York adoptive parents (Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal) and the laid back hippie birth parents (Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda). All four comedy pros who show how it's done. It takes a bit to get its rhythm going but at heart, it's a road move and as such an enjoyable romp. With Josh Brolin and Richard Jenkins as a gay couple along for the ride, Celia Weston, David Patrick Kelly and Glenn Fitzgerald.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pal Joey (1957)

A down and out singer (Frank Sinatra) finds himself penniless in San Francisco and cons his way into a job in a seedy nightclub. It isn't long before he attracts the attention of a wealthy socialite (Rita Hayworth) and he joins forces with her to open his own nightclub. Based on the 1940 Broadway musical (which made Gene Kelly a star) with a book by John O'Hara and the songs by Rodgers & Hart. The film version, directed by George Sidney (THE HARVEY GIRLS), makes substantial changes including ditching much of the original songs and replacing them with better known Rodgers & Hart standards. It also cleans up the character of Joey, who is a total heel in the stage musical but the film gives him a conscience and the movie a happy ending. If there is one stage musical that needs to be remade properly, it's PAL JOEY. That being said, there's much to enjoy in this bowdlerized version, namely Sinatra. When he sings I Could Write A Book or The Lady Is A Tramp, you know what bliss is. Kim Novak's performance is awkward but there's a sweetness about her that overrides that but Hayworth seems ill at ease in a role that would seem to fit her like a glove. With Barbara Nichols, Bobby Sherwood, Hank Henry and Betty Utey.

L'Inhumaine (1924)

Set on the outskirts of Paris, an internationally famous singer (Georgette Leblanc) is fond of hosting intimate dinner parties where she invites distinguished gentlemen who fall under her spell. But she toys with their affections and feelings and remains aloof until the suicide of one of her admirers (Jaque Catelain) causes a scandal. Directed by Marcel L'Herbier, this experimental film is all about the visuals since its loopy storyline makes no sense, not really. And it's the audacious visuals that carry the film and the raison d'etre for the film's place in the canon of silent cinema. The film's original reception was decidedly mixed drawing both outrage (reputedly there were verbal fights in the audience and people demanded their money back) and praise. L'Herbier does seem to have fallen in love with his own images and often one can't help think, "Okay, got it. Let's move on now!". But there's no denying the power of the Art Deco and Cubist imagery and in that sense, I think it ranks right up there with Lang's METROPOLIS. If you're interested in what is termed avant-garde cinema, this is a must see. If you're not, this might prove tough going. With Philippe Heriat and Fred Kellerman.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Casbah (1948)

Pepe Le Moko (Tony Martin) is the head of a gang of jewel thieves in the Casbah section of Algiers. He can't leave the Casbah (where his friends protect him) because the police are waiting to arrest him and deport him to France. But when he falls in love with a tourist (Marta Toren), he's willing to risk it all for love. Based on the 1938 film ALGIERS which in turn was based on the French film PEPE LE MOKO (1937), this is a musical version of the story. On the plus side, the songs by Harold Arlen and Leo Robin are good, the Katherine Dunham choreography is effective and the film is interesting in that it makes no attempt to lighten up the darker aspects of the plot. How many 1940s Hollywood musicals do you know that feature murder, thievery, betrayal, deceit and an unhappy ending? On the down side, the casting of the bland Tony Martin as Pepe prevents the film from being anything more than a compromised effort. Jean Gabin or Charles Boyer (the other Pepe Le Mokos) he's definitely not! Worth a look at least once though. Directed by John Berry, who became a victim of the HUAC blacklist. With Yvonne De Carlo (wasted), Peter Lorre (who steals the film), Hugo Haas, Douglas Dick, Thomas Gomez, Herbert Rudley, Virginia Gregg and Katherine Dunham.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Lion In Winter (2003)

It's Christmastime and King Henry II (Patrick Stewart) is having court at Chignon in France. He trots out his Queen (Glenn Close) who he keeps locked up for the rest of the time to attend. But political intrigue is the order of the day as the Queen and her son Richard (Andrew Howard) plot to wrest away the power from Henry and his designated heir, his youngest son John (Rafe Spall). First produced on Broadway in 1966, James Goldman's play is best known for its 1968 film version. That film was thought of as some sort of high Art by some when it opened when it was anything but! Goldman's rather bloated self important 1968 screenplay is replicated here intact as if it were Shakespeare. What made the 1968 film so entertaining were the two leading performances by Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole who seemed to be having a great old time acting away and performing with gusto! One couldn't help but be caught up in the fun. Alas, Close and Stewart lack their predecessors' brio and their heavy handed performances lack any spark. Only Andrew Howard as Richard brings any dimension to his character. Directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy (RUNAWAY TRAIN). With Jonathan Rhys Meyers, John Light and Yuliya Vysotskaya. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has survived the inferno that destroyed his monstrous creation (Boris Karloff) or so he thinks. He is coerced by his mentor (Ernest Thesiger) into creating another creature, this time a female. A sequel to the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN which was also directed by James Whale, this gem is superior to the original. For one thing, it contains an infusion of black humor which the first installment didn't have. The original also didn't have Thesiger as the diabolical Dr. Pretorius or Una O'Connor's ladies maid who provide most of the humor here. The film contains two of the most iconic sequences in horror movie history: the respite between the blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) and the monster and the introduction of the reluctant bride (Elsa Lanchester) to its mate. Franz Waxman's underscore is invaluable in its coloring the narrative. One of the crown jewels of 1930s horror cinema. With Valerie Hobson, E.E. Clive and Gavin Gordon.

The Dressmaker (2015)

In 1951, a young woman (Kate Winslet) returns from Paris to the squalid small town in the Australian outback she grew up in. She was sent away under mysterious circumstances and now she has returned to find the town hasn't changed, it's still as nasty and petty as ever. Hell hath no fury and revenge can be sweet! Based on the novel by Rosalie Ham and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, this may well be the best revenge movie since Clint Eastwood's HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973). Curiously, it opened last year in some parts of the world like Australia (winning several awards including best actress for Winslet) and Great Britain and earlier this year in Spain and Italy without playing the U.S. It's scheduled to open here in September. I hope it does well because it's a splendid mix of black comedy and heartbreaking drama with Winslet once again showing why she's one of the best actresses of her generation. Moorhouse, who co-wrote the script with her husband P.J. Hogan (MURIEL'S WEDDING), gives the movie a smart unsentimental push without once going all Oprah "Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different" Winfrey on us. With Judy Davis in a killer performance as Winslet's dotty mother, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving and Caroline Goodall.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Lucy Gallant (1955)

In 1941 Texas, the oil boom is at its height in a small town that will soon become a big town. A stranded New Yorker (Jane Wyman) sees an opportunity to build her own empire in fashion even though a local rancher (Charlton Heston) is more interested in making her his Mrs. Based on the novel LIFE OF LUCY GALLANT by Margaret Cousins and directed by Robert Parrish (CRY DANGER), this is an uneasy mixture of Edna Ferber (think GIANT) and a glossy Ross Hunter Universal production (it's Paramount film). For two hours, we're subjected to the "will they or won't they" plot but there's an unpleasant undertaste. This being the mid 50s, an independent unmarried woman building a successful career is still looked upon as some sort of freak for not having a man. The film's ending is ambiguous but at least Wyman's performance suggests that it will take more than being a housewife to make her happy. With Claire Trevor, Thelma Ritter (looking quite glamorous for a change), William Demarest, Gloria Talbott, Wallace Ford, Tom Helmore, Mary Field and as her self, Edith Head.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

After being fired from Columbia University when its discovered she co-wrote a book on ghosts, a professor (Kristen Wiig) rejoins her former colleague (Melissa McCarthy) in studying paranormal phenomenon. It isn't long before ghosts are found underground in the New York subway but their documentation is dismissed by the media. Based on the 1984 film and directed by Paul Feig, this all female (Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are the other two) reboot was notorious before it even opened when a nerd apocalypse occurred on the internet before filming even started and misogynistic fanboys of the original decried their beloved "classic" being debased. Let's face it, the original GHOSTBUSTERS was fun but it was hardly a piece of important cinema. So how how is the reboot? I had a good time at it and I found it not only funnier than the original but it also provided some genuine scares (which the original didn't have). The four comediennes are among the best in the business and they're all in fine form here but the film is stolen by Chris Hemsworth as the male equivalent of the "dumb blonde", his character an amalgamation of the first film's two female roles. A pleasant summer diversion. With Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Charles Dance, Andy Garcia and Cecily Strong.

The Trial (1962)

A government bureaucrat (Anthony Perkins) in what appears to be a totalitarian state is placed under an open arrest by the authorities. But he is never told what his crime is or what he is being accused of and thus begins a nightmarish journey to fight the corrupt system and clear his name. Based on the classic novel by Franz Kafka and adapted for the screen and directed by Orson Welles. This is a remarkable film and stands with Welles' best work. Filmed in (what was then) Yugoslavia in B&W, Welles and his ace cinematographer Edmond Richard (DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE) and art director Jean Mandaroux have created a nightmarish landscape of shadows and light, ominous architecture and an unsettling atmosphere of paranoia. I would have preferred it if Welles had kept the ending of Kafka's novel rather than the slight change but that's a minor quibble. Perkins is letter perfect in the role, his anxious demeanor practically screaming out guilt and since we never find out what his crime is can we be sure of his innocence? Welles considered THE TRIAL his best film and I'm not about to put up an argument. The large cast includes (in addition to Welles himself): Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Akim Tamiroff, Elsa Martinelli, Michael Lonsdale, Suzanne Flon and William Chappell.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lady Of The Tropics (1939)

A penniless American playboy (Robert Taylor) living off the kindness of his wealthy friends is vacationing in French Indochina on their yacht where he falls in love with Eurasian beauty (Hedy Lamarr). Directed by Jack Conway via a script by Ben Hecht (NOTORIOUS) which is very loosely based on the Puccini opera MANON LESCAUT. This romantic melodrama seems schizophrenic in its attitude toward its bi-racial characters. On one hand, the film acknowledges the unfair treatment and racist attitudes toward those of mixed race. Yet the trailer screams, "The half caste who plotted for her!" and the screenplay portrays its bi-racial characters as having a moral laxity both sexually and ethically. Lamarr's half French, half Asian beauty longs of going to Paris where she can be "white" but the film allows Taylor's hero, when the chips are down, to be as racist toward his wife as anyone else. The MGM art department does an admirable job of recreating 1930s Indochina on a sound stage and Franz Waxman provides a suitable score. With Joseph Schildkraut as the Eurasian villain (and giving the best performance in the film) who provides more genuine emotion than either Taylor or Lamarr. With Gloria Franklin, Ernest Cossart and Cecil Cunningham.   

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

At her 25 year high school reunion, a woman (Kathleen Turner in an Oscar nominated performance) going through an unpleasant divorce with her husband (Nicolas Cage) faints and finds herself back in 1960. Knowing what she knows, will she be able to turn her life around? Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this is a lovely memory piece that asks the question so many of us have asked ourselves at one time or another in our life, if we could go back in time would we do things differently? While there is plenty of humor in the movie, at its core it's about reassessing our lives, the dreams we had and the failures that we got instead. While the ending sends the audience home happy rather than taking risks, Coppola and his writers (Jerry Leichtling, Arlene Sarner) avoid the nostalgic traps that lie in a time travel tale such as this, there's not much affection for the era in this though it's lovingly recreated. The major downside in the film is Cage's misguided choices for his character, a true "WTF? what was he thinking?" creation. His character is so repulsive that it seems inconceivable Turner would waste her time. The restrained score is by John Barry. The large cast includes Jim Carrey, Helen Hunt, Joan Allen, Barbara Harris, Barry Pepper, Maureen O'Sullivan, Don Murray, John Carradine, Leon Ames and Catherine Hicks.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Trip (1967)

A television commercial director (Peter Fonda) in the midst of a divorce from his wife (Susan Strasberg) takes his first LSD trip under the watch of a "guide" (Bruce Dern). The film follows his psychedelic journey through the following morning. Written by Jack Nicholson (yes, the actor) and directed by Roger Corman. Unlike another American International youth exploitation film WILD IN THE STREETS (1968) which was a satire (and a good one), today THE TRIP plays out like a satire in spite of itself. We get "Wow!", "Groovy!" and lines like "Man, I can see right through to my brain" and "I wish there were a hip way of telling you this, baby!" so you just can't help yourself from grinning. Still, I'm glad films like this exist even if they're not very good because they encapsulate a specific period in our history. Fonda is pretty dreadful here but it's not the kind of film where the acting matters much. It's essentially an LSD trip for those who don't want to take LSD and see what it's like and the film places its emphasis on imagery. It's a like a full length feature film of the Jupiter And Beyond sequence in 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. A lot of the "trip" looks like outtakes from Corman's Poe films. The score by The American Music Band is very good. With Dennis Hopper, Luana Anders, Dick Miller, Salli Sachse, Michael Blodgett and in the film's most memorable scene, Barboura Morris as the lady in the laundromat.

My Little Chickadee (1940)

After being run out of town by its "good" citizens, a woman (Mae West) fakes a marriage to a con man (W.C. Fields) to gain respectability. At their new town, he's elected sheriff and she continues her affair with the masked bandit who got her kicked out of the first town. One would think that the one and only teaming of two comedy legends should give off sparks and laughs but this is a rather anemic affair. West was 46 and looking more matronly than sexy and the Production Code kept her hands tied when it came to her brand of bawdy humor. She does have one good scene though when she substitute teaches a class of unruly boys. As for Fields, comedy being subjective and all that, his appeal has always escaped me and this film didn't do anything to change my opinion. West and Fields both get credit for the movie's screenplay though reputedly, they didn't get along during the filming. Directed by Edward F. Cline whose job must have been a headache directing these two or at least trying. With Margaret Hamilton, Dick Foran, Joseph Calleia, Donald Meek, Ruth Donnelly and Fay Adler.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Long Haul (1957)

Set in Liverpool, an American ex-GI (Victor Mature) wants to return to America but his English wife (Gene Anderson) insists they remain in Great Britain. His job as a trucker involves him with a racketeer (Patrick Allen) whose illegal ways and mistress (Diana Dors) will soon get him in plenty of hot water. Based on the novel by Mervyn Mills and directed by Ken Hughes (CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG), who also wrote the screenplay. Though not quite in their class, this is a surprisingly taut thriller with thematic ties to such American films as THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and THIEVES HIGHWAY. It's strong stuff and allows both Mature and Dors a chance to do a bit of acting instead of relying on their physiques. The film's highlight is a tense truck trek (hence the film's title) over a dangerous mountain route to the sea. A programmer to be sure but worth a look see. With Peter Reynolds and Liam Redmond.

Bulldog Drummond (1929)

A former Captain (Ronald Colman) in the British Army is bored and places an advertisement looking for excitement. He gets more than he bargained for when a damsel (Joan Bennett) in distress asks for his help in rescuing her uncle (Charles Sellon) from a sadistic doctor (Lawrence Grant) who is holding him against his will. Based on the popular stage play by Herman C. McNeile, Samuel Goldwyn produced this early pre-code talkie and also Colman's first sound movie. As cinema, it's very primitive. The acting is very broad and mostly stilted. Colman is hardly the first actor you think of when it comes to action movies and indeed his big fight scene is done in silhouette for obvious reasons. Bennett, still a blonde at this point in her career, is lovely but her acting would fortunately improve by leaps and bounds. Where the movie's interest lies is in the cinematography by George Barnes (WAR OF THE WORLDS) and Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE) who give a noir-ish shadow and light look to the proceedings and William Cameron Menzies' art and set direction which is very expressionistic. With Montagu Love, Lilyan Tashman and Claud Allister whose comic relief gets tiresome very quickly.  

Don Juan Ou Si Don Juan Etait Une Femme (1973)

A woman (Brigitte Bardot) who considers herself the reincarnation of the famous 17th century lover Don Juan makes it her mission to seek out men and destroy them. But she may have taken things too far and feels the need to confess to a priest (Mathieu Carriere). Directed by Roger Vadim, this was his fifth film starring Bardot, his former wife. It's a rather silly muddle of a film. At this stage of her career, Bardot was getting a bit too old to play the sex kitten and the film seems an aimless excuse for Bardot engage in various "shocking" sexcapades au naturel like the girl on girl action with Jane Birkin or her seduction of the priest (who also happens to be her cousin) on a fur rug. Ridiculously as if this were a 1940s Warners melodrama, Bardot must pay for her sins in a fiery finale. Frankly, I can't feel too sorry for the guys whose lives she messes up. They're either male chauvinists, cheaters or weaklings. For Bardot fans only. With Maurice Ronet, Robert Hossein, Michele Sand and Robert Walker Jr.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Nie Yin Niang (aka The Assassin) (2015)

Set in 18th century China during the waning years of the Tang dynasty, a young woman (Shu Qi) who has been trained since she was a child to be an assassin is given the assignment by her mentor (Fang Yi Sheu) to kill her cousin (Chang Chen) as a test of her mettle. Directed by the great Hou Hsiao-Hsien, who the won best director award at the Cannes film festival for his work here. My initial reaction was one of disappointment, the film seemed so slight and when it was over I couldn't help thinking "Is that it?". But I've come to the conclusion that its very simplicity is what makes it so unique. On a visual level, the film is simply stunning with Ping Bin Lee's painterly cinematography giving us images worthy of hanging in a museum. While its languid pacing may seem at odds with a martial arts movie, it's clear Hou Hsiao-Hsien wasn't interested in making a pure martial arts action movie and what he provides is more aesthetic and the movie's ultimate message is satisfying. The film is shot in both color and B&W and is mostly in the 1.37 aspect ratio though a few scenes are shot in wide screen. 

Diamond Head (1962)

In 1959 Hawaii, statehood has just been acquired and a land baron (Charlton Heston) is being pushed to run for congress as a Senator. But the homefront becomes a battlefield when his Chinese mistress (France Nuyen) is carrying his child and he objects to his sister (Yvette Mimieux) marrying a native Hawaiian (James Darren) for race reasons. Based on the novel by Peter Gilman, the screenplay makes considerable changes from the novel. In the book, it's Mimieux's father who is running for congress but the film eliminates him and instead merges him into the character of the brother and there's an implied incestuous connection on his part which is quite daring for 1962. Much of the book's political narrative has been toned down too. What remains is an entertaining soap opera, the kind of stuff Hollywood did well before television appropriated the genre with shows like DALLAS and DYNASTY. Indeed, Heston's character can be viewed as JR Ewing, Hawaiian style. The ending seems abrupt as if the film makers suddenly realized they had to end it before it went over the 2 hour mark. Director of photography Sam Leavitt (ANATOMY OF A MURDER) does justice to the islands of Oahu and Kauai (my birthplace) and there's a nice early score by John Williams (billed as Johnny). Directed by Guy Green. With George Chakiris, Aline MacMahon and the underrated Elizabeth Allen (DONOVAN'S REEF).

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Shout (1978)

A mysterious stranger (Alan Bates) shows up after a church service and follows the church organist (John Hurt) home and invites himself to lunch. He claims to have lived in the Australian outback for 18 years and acquired the ability to cause death and destruction merely by shouting. Based on a short story by Robert Graves (I CLAUDIUS) and directed by Jerzy Skolimowski (DEEP END), this is an odd little film, often categorized as horror but I wouldn't go that far though it definitely has supernatural elements. Frankly, I haven't a clue to what it's "about" but I'm not quite sure the film makers do either though I doubt they were interested in a cohesive straightforward narrative. Whatever it was meant to be, it remains an enigmatic if bewildering piece of movie making. One either goes with it or one doesn't. I did. With Susannah York, Robert Stephens, Jim Broadbent and Tim Curry.  

Friday, July 8, 2016

Possession (1981)

Returning home from a "mission" (perhaps some sort of espionage), a man (Sam Neill) finds his wife (Isabelle Adjani) having some sort of violent breakdown and he suspects she has been unfaithful. But it isn't long before he too succumbs to this mysterious "illness". Directed by Andrzej Zulawski, this is a divisive film. There are those who loathe it and find it pretentious and silly while others find it audacious and stimulating and pushing the envelope. On one level, it's a portrait of a marriage unraveling in a chaotic world where nothing makes sense anymore and on another level, it's a horror film (not unlike Cronenberg's THE BROOD) where evil manifests itself physically from repression. Don't expect realism. The characters seem to exist in a parallel universe, a bleak sparsely populated city and the dialog is stilted which only adds to the other worldly atmosphere. I have rarely seen two actors so committed to their roles as Adjani, who won the Cannes film festival best actress award as well as the Cesar (the French Oscar) for her performance here, and Neill. They go all out and their risk taking pays off. It's truly a one of a kind experience but definitely not for everyone. With Heinz Bennent, Margit Carstensen and Johanna Hofer.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Shooting Stars (1928)

Set in the world of British film studios in the 1920s, a popular married movie star couple (Annette Benson, Brian Aherne) aren't the perfect pair the fan magazines would us believe. She's carrying on an affair with a popular comic actor (Donald Calthrop). Although the director credit is given to A.V. Bramble, it's generally agreed that the true director of the film is Anthony Asquith (PYGMALION). This movie is a real jewel that deserves to be more widely seen. The film begins lightly and with an emphasis on humor but it isn't long before there's a metamorphosis that's so subtle we're not even aware of it and soon, it becomes darker until adultery and murder cloud the landscape. For a film buff, the detailed behind the scenes look at silent film making in 1920s England alone would be enough but the compelling narrative soon takes over and it goes places you don't even dare think about. I could have done without the "irony" of the film's last 10 minutes but the last shot is a real beauty. Aherne, of course, would soon go to America and become a popular leading man of the 1930s and 40s. The film is accompanied by a fine score composed by John Altman.

The Lady Takes A Flyer (1958)

A pilot (Jeff Chandler) meets up with a flyer pal (Richard Denning) from WWII. When introduced to his friend's fiancee (Lana Turner), who's also a pilot, he falls in love. But after they're married and have a baby, she wants him to settle down and take a desk job which he refuses to do and that spells trouble. Directed by Jack Arnold (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON), this romantic drama with some comedic overtones is more heavy handed than it needs to be. While both Turner and Chandler have a strong screen presence which works to the film's benefit, they weren't stars for nothing, ultimately neither have the light touch that the roles require to make it work. But the material is weak under the best of circumstances so in the end I suppose it doesn't matter. Arnold does manage to generate some suspense during the film's finale as Turner has to land a plane blind in heavy fog. With Chuck Connors, Andra Martin and Reta Shaw.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Eagle And The Hawk (1933)

In WWI, an American pilot (Fredric March) is assigned to the reconnaissance section in France where it's his job to get photographs behind enemy lines. But as he sees the death of so many of his comrades including the gunners who fly with him, he begins to crack up. Directed by Stuart Walker, this pre-code war film is seemingly and openly anti-war in its sentiments which makes the ironic conclusion a bit of a mixed message. The film manages to avoid the usual war movie cliches and there's a very effective performance by March as the flyer who becomes more cynical about war and bravery until he spirals into an alcoholic depression. For a movie about WWI pilots, there's precious little aerial sequences (unlike WINGS or HELL'S ANGELS) but I suppose Walker preferred to concentrate on characterization rather than visuals. There's also a neat performance by a pre-stardom Cary Grant as a gunner with a huge chip on his shoulder and Carole Lombard shows up for about 5 minutes as a society beauty who has a dalliance with March. With Jack Oakie as the unnecessary comic relief and Sir Guy Standing.

Valley Of The Kings (1954)

In 1900 Egypt, a woman (Eleanor Parker) hoping to complete her deceased father's dream teams up with an archaeologist (Robert Taylor) to discover the tomb of Ra-Hotep. But they aren't the only ones interested in the tomb and danger, intrigue and romance pave the way to the tomb. Filmed on location in Egypt which helps the movie considerably as it's not much more than the usual Indiana Jones type adventure. Directed and co-written by Robert Pirosh, who was more versed as a writer (his script for BATTLEGROUND won an Oscar) than directing. It's a serviceable adventure film set in an exotic land and short enough to not outstay its welcome. The film benefits by the on screen chemistry of Taylor and Parker in their second film together (they would do one more for a total of 3) but I wish the transfer I saw had been better, it tended to be on the soft side which compromised Robert Surtees' luxurious cinematography. There's a Miklos Rozsa score which is a bonus to any film. With Carlos Thompson, Kurt Kasznar, Victor Jory, Leon Askin and Samia Gamal. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Wolf (1994)

The chief editor (Jack Nicholson) of a major New York publishing house is bitten by a wolf that he hits with his car on his way home from Vermont. He begins to feel ill for awhile but suddenly he notices that his sense of smell and his eyesight are improved and that he feels more vital than he has in years. Directed by Mike Nichols from an original screenplay by Jim Harrison and Wesley Strick, the narrative may sound like a horror movie but that's not what Nichols gives us. He holds back as if giving us a true horror movie is beneath him so he gussies it up with swank and good taste. Jim Harrison, a novelist, hated what Nichols did with his script and vowed never to work in Hollywood again and kept his word until his death early this year. Nichols' "good taste" works against the film in just about every way and watching a paunchy Nicholson growing face hair and growling and snarling as he runs in the woods after a deer is more silly than terrifying. On the other hand, James Spader (in the film's best performance) as Nicholson's backstabbing nemesis doesn't need the wolf make up to make our skin crawl. The cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno is top notch and Ennio Morricone's score tries to whip up some suspense to no avail. With Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Plummer, Kate Nelligan, Richard Jenkins, Eileen Atkins, David Hyde Pierce, Allison Janney and David Schwimmer.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Clock (1945)

During WWII, a young soldier (Robert Walker) gets two days leave which he takes to visit New York City for the first time. He meets a young secretary (Judy Garland) and they spend the next 48 hours together as love blooms. Quite simply, one of the best romance movies ever made! Vincente Minnelli and Garland had just done MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS the year before and this was Garland's first film in which she was used strictly as an actress, she doesn't sing a note. Working from a script by Robert Nathan and Joseph Schrank, Minnelli does a wonderful job of keeping the simple love story from becoming cloying or sappy and the Manhattan setting recreated on the MGM back lot is stunning. Say what you will about MGM, their production designers and art directors were untouchable in the studio system. Garland and Walker have such a genuine chemistry and sweetness together that we're pulling for them all the way and the sequence when they lose each other for a several hours in the big city is as nerve wracking as a Hitchcock thriller. George Bassman is responsible for the gorgeous score. With Keenan Wynn, James Gleason, Marshall Thompson, Moyna MacGill and Ruth Brady.

Per Qualche Dollaro In Piu (aka For A Few Dollars More) (1965)

A bounty hunter (Lee Van Cleef) is tracking down a ruthless cutthroat and fugitive (Gian Maria Volonte) but he discovers he isn't alone. Another bounty hunter (Clint Eastwood) is intent on getting the outlaw first. They join forces with the intention of splitting the bounty money but can they trust each other? The second installment in Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy (sometimes referred to as the Dollars trilogy) is handsome and vital but it's quite simply not as memorable as the first and third chapters. While Eastwood may be the star of the movie, the film belongs to Van Cleef and Volonte whose backstory allows them a bigger canvas to play with while Eastwood remains the tight lipped enigmatic stranger. The film's finale seems like a practice run for the more elaborate gunfight in Leone's next THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. That musical wizard Ennio Morricone whips up another of his great scores and Massimo Dallamano provides some excellent wide screen vistas. With Klaus Kinski and Rosemary Dexter.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Weiner-Dog (2016)

A dachshund found in an animal shelter takes a journey through four different owners: a boy (Keaton Nigel Cooke) fighting cancer with insensitive parents (Julie Delpy, Tracy Letts), a girl (Greta Gerwig) with low self esteem who runs off with a junkie (Kieran Culkin), a depressed failed screenwriter (Danny DeVito) who puts the dog in a yellow dress and attaches a bomb to it and finally a bitter dying old woman (Ellen Burstyn). So if you were expecting a warm and fuzzy dog movie for the whole family, forget about it. The director is Todd Solondz, so you know this is going to be a dark and cynical tale. The second story ends on a glimmer (a very small one) of hope but the others are real downers and Solondz saves the cruelest fate of all for the dog and if that's not enough, he rubs our faces in it. Oh, I should mention I loved every minute of this movie! Clearly Solondz has an affection for his messy screwed up characters but he refuses to sentimentalize them, though there is a rather touching scene between Culkin and his Down Syndrome brother (Connor Long). If you're an optimist, then this movie isn't for you but for those of us with a darker nature, it's a journey well taken. 

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

In WWII, a young and inexperienced Ensign (Robert Francis) reports for duty on the minesweeper USS Caine and is disturbed the laxness of the ship as run by its current Commander (Tom Tully). But when the command of the ship is taken over by a strictly by the rules no nonsense Commander (Humphrey Bogart), it won't be long before before he and the other officers suspect the Commander of being unstable and paranoid. Based on the best selling novel by Herman Wouk and directed by Edward Dmytryk. The screenplay by Stanley Roberts and Michael Blankfort does a decent job of paring down Wouk's novel to a 2 hour length (today it would probably be made into a TV mini series) though the romantic subplot slows down the film. It doesn't help that Robert Francis and May Wynn are bland and lacking charisma which only adds to the dullness of that part of the plot. Dmytryk does a strong job of keeping the narrative focused and forceful and other than the two young leads, the veterans in the cast come on strong. Bogart gives one of his best performances (his breakdown at the court martial is done very well) but two of the strongest performances come from actors usually associated with lighter fare but Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray nail it. Even Jose Ferrer, an actor who normally irritates me with his "acting" gives a nicely detailed performance. With Lee Marvin, E.G. Marshall, Claude Akins, Arthur Franz, Jerry Paris, Steve Brodie, Warner Anderson and Katherine Warren. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Name Of The Game Is Kill (1968)

A Hungarian drifter (Jack Lord) hitchhiking in the Arizona desert is picked up by a young woman (Susan Strasberg). She takes him to the rundown gas station run by her family which consists of her mother (T.C. Jones) and two sisters (Collin Wilcox, Tisha Sterling). It isn't long before he discovers the family is not only unstable but have a very dark secret. This low budget exploitation film is uneven. The screenplay by Gary Crutcher provides some psychological underpinnings that hold the film together although the "twist" ending doesn't hold much weight or at least is executed poorly. But the film ends with one of the best freeze frame moments I've ever seen. The direction by actor turned director Gunnar Hellstrom (he was the ski instructor in RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE) isn't tight enough but the visual compositions by Vilmos Zsigmond are good enough to suggest that he would soon go on to bigger things (which he did) although the print I saw could really use some restoration. The acting is good except for Lord who not only seems to be walking through his part but has a dreadful Hungarian accent to boot. The film is fairly obscure (only 88 votes on the IMDb) but with a small cult following. With Mort Mills.

Hairspray (1988)

In 1962 Baltimore, a chubby teenage girl (Ricki Lake) becomes a popular figure on a local TV record hop show. But her mean spirited rival (Colleen Fitzpatrick) plots with her mother (Debbie Harry) to ruin her chances at winning Miss Auto Show of 1963. Meanwhile, the TV show itself comes under fire for blocking black teens from appearing on the show. Who would have thought that the Emperor of Bad Taste, John Waters of PINK FLAMINGOS fame could be the architect behind this delightful and dare I say it, sweet and charming dance musical. With its PG rating, this is practically a family movie! Loosely inspired by actual events, a Baltimore dance show called THE BUDDY DEANE SHOW, Waters skewers everything from racism to dance names (the bug, the roach etc.). Despite the presence of a major social problem of the era -integration- in its narrative, this is pure entertainment, not a treatise on social injustice. Still, it makes it point sharply and succinctly without going all Stanley Kramer on us. With Divine as Lake's mother and dominating every scene he's in and Jerry Stiller, Sonny Bono, Pia Zadora, Ric Ocasek, Ruth Brown, Mink Stole and Shawn Thompson. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hurlyburly (1998)

Set in the Hollywood Hills, a group of shallow Hollywood types take drugs, have sex, get drunk, spew obscenities and babble incoherently. David Rabe adapted his award winning Broadway play for the screen with Anthony Drazan in the director's chair. Some people find great profundity in this concoction but I found it near unbearable to watch. A group of excellent actors seem to be in a contest to see who can give the worst performance, Chazz Palminteri wins though it's not from Sean Penn's lack of trying. All I could think is why should we give a damn about these whiny coke snorting narcissists. These aren't recognizable people, they're Rabe's mouthpieces as he rages on about the chaos of the world we live in and man's need to connect to others. "I don't feel loved!" Penn cries and all I could think was, why would anyone love a jerk like him? Would Rabe extend the empathy for a group of blue collar workers that he extends to these Hollywood types? At least, the poor little dears have the money and the glamour to assuage their suffering. Also in the cast: Kevin Spacey, Meg Ryan, Anna Paquin, Garry Shandling and Robin Wright as the most normal, relatively speaking, person in the movie.