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Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Shape Of Water (2017)

Set in 1961 Baltimore, a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaning woman at a government research center. When an amphibian humanoid creature (Doug Jones) discovered in South America is brought in, she is drawn to it and they form a kinship. Co-written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, this much praised film proved a major disappointment. Based on the reviews and the film's trailer, I was expecting something transcendent and magical. What I got was good but far from great. Del Toro's homage to CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON takes the 1954 film's monster's attraction to Julie Adams one step further to the obvious next step. I had a major problem with Michael Shannon's character, an abusive psychotic military man, which is a ghastly movie cliche right out of a 1950's B sci-fi movie. And that's exactly how Shannon plays him ..... a cliche. Contrast that with Octavia Spencer, who also plays a movie cliche, the black cleaning woman but Spencer infuses her character with humanity and layers. Fortunately in the center of it all is a terrific performance by Sally Hawkins which almost makes the movie something special. With Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nick Searcy and Morgan Kelly.   

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Le Gitan (1975)

A criminal (Alain Delon) of "Gypsy" heritage is hiding from the police along with his two accomplices (Renato Salvatori, Maurice Barrier). Concurrently, the police are also investigating a jewel thief (Paul Meurisse) suspected of killing his wife. Written and directed by Jose Giovanni from his novel HISTOIRE DE FOU. I've not read Giovanni's novel but perhaps as the author of the source material, he was too close to the material to turn it into a viable film. I understand Giovanni's intent to portray the discrimination of and marginalization of the vanishing Gypsy culture but Delon's gypsy may be a minority but he's still a cold blooded killer. There's no denying Delon's strong screen presence but he was never much of an actor so his character just isn't very interesting. Much more interesting is Meurisse's slightly enigmatic mastermind jewel thief. The two stories run parallel and eventually merge in the film's last 20 minutes or so. Not without interest but an overall disappointment. The nice supporting cast includes Annie Girardot, Marcel Bozzuffi and Bernard Giraudeau. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Ruby (1977)

An ex-mobster's mistress (Piper Laurie) is running a drive in theater in a rural part of the country. 16 years earlier, her lover (Sal Vecchio) had been murdered in a gangland killing and that very night, she gave birth to their daughter. Now, suddenly the men responsible for his death are dying violent deaths and she has visions of her dead lover returning. Directed by Curtis Harrington (WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?), this low budget exploitation film taking place at a drive in seems made for the drive in trade! For most of its running time, it appears to be a ghost story but suddenly in the movie's last half hour it turns into THE EXORCIST. Outside of Piper Laurie, who's very good and Stuart Whitman, who's okay, the acting is pretty lousy. For a horror film, it lacks any sense of dread or tension. To Harrington's credit, he infuses the film with a nice visual atmosphere and sense of period detail. With Janit Baldwin, Fred Kohler Jr. and Roger Davis. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Man With Two Brains (1983)

A world famous brain surgeon (Steve Martin) marries a duplicitous gold digger (Kathleen Turner) who taunts him by withholding sex from him while she has sex with the gardener and room service waiters. But when he comes across a brain (Sissy Spacek) in a jar in a scientist's (David Warner) laboratory, it's love! Directed by Carl Reiner, who co-wrote the screenplay along with Martin and George Gipe. This parody of science fiction "mad scientist" movies is quite funny. It's totally silly of course so don't look for logic or realism, just enjoy the jokes. Kathleen Turner is hilarious as the evil, ball busting vixen in what might be described as her BODY HEAT character  for laughs. Spacek proves that voice acting can be just as important as "real" acting as her brain is a charmer and you can see why Martin would fall in love with her/it. All in all, one of the funniest comedies of the 1980s. The underscore is by Joel Goldsmith (son of Jerry). With James Cromwell, George Furth, Estelle Reiner, Randi Brooks, Jeffrey Combs and Merv Griffin. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Hired Gun (1957)

A Texas woman (Anne Francis) accused of murdering her husband escapes from jail with the help of a family friend (Chuck Connors) to New Mexico. When New Mexico refuses to extradite her, the murdered man's father (John Litel) hires a gunslinger (Rory Calhoun) to bring her back. Directed by Ray Nazarro, this economical B&W western shot in CinemaScope is a programmer that has the feel of an episode from a western TV series. It's padded out to feature length with superfluous things like an Indian attack but it's a moderately enjoyable mid range western that turned a modest profit when released 60 years ago. Surprisingly, the film doesn't attempt a romance between Calhoun and Francis. Instead it concentrates on the gunslinger letting his guard down and open to a human connection instead of acting the professional mercenary. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone except western buffs. With Vince Edwards and Robert Burton.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Housekeeper's Daughter (1939)

A feeble minded flower peddler (George E. Stone) has a crush on a Broadway actress (Lilian Bond). When she's threatened by a gangster (Marc Lawrence), he puts poison in the thug's coffee but the actress drinks it instead. The gangster dumps her body in the river. This is just the start of a screwball comedy about a housekeeper's daughter (Joan Bennett), a fast talking reporter (Adolphe Menjou), a naive rich boy (John Hubbard) and newspaper editor (Donald Meek). Directed by Hal Roach, the film never lives up to the comedic potential its premise suggests. The movie takes too long to get its rhythm going and it only starts popping in the film's last half hour. The film is a testament to star power as Joan Bennett and Adolphe Menjou make the most of their lines but the charmless John Hubbard is a hole in the screen. Lovers of comedy murder mysteries will most likely be agreeable to this offering but others may not be so forgiving. I enjoyed it more than not. With Victor Mature (in his screen debut), Peggy Wood (THE SOUND OF MUSIC), William Gargan and Leila McIntyre.  

A Wedding (1961)

A bridegroom's (Dennis Edwards) plan to have a General attend his wedding backfires when the "General" turns out to be a lowly naval captain (Robert Gillespie). Based on the 1889 one act play by Anton Chekhov and directed by Rosemary Hill. Chekhov's curtain raiser is a slight piece of amusing social commentary about social status and anti-intellectual attitudes among the working class in late 19th century Russia. The length is perfect as Chekhov manages to say enough without over extending himself. The acting is broad but not offensively so. The cast includes Roy Kinnear, Graham Armitage, Hilary Mason, Julia McCarthy and Anne Robson.

Travels With My Aunt (1972)

At his mother's funeral, a strait laced bank manager (Alec McCowen) meets his eccentric and flamboyant Aunt Augusta (Maggie Smith) for the first time since he was an infant. The Aunt is trying to raise the ransom money for an old lover (Robert Stephens) and coerces her unwilling nephew into helping her. Based on the novel by Graham Greene (THE THIRD MAN) and directed by George Cukor. This delightful comic romp owes everything to Maggie Smith's Oscar nominated performance. Whether whooping about or dripping sarcasm, Smith is magnificent. Every time she's off screen, the film drags a bit and the scenes on the train between McCowen and Cindy Williams (as an American hippie) just about stop the movie cold. It's a great looking film thanks to Douglas Slocombe's lensing (it was filmed in England, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Turkey and Yugoslavia), John Box's production design and Anthony Powell's Oscar winning costumes. It's no AUNTIE MAME but it's still an Aunt worth spending some time with. With Louis Gossett Jr., Robert Flemyng and Corinne Marchand.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Gidget (1959)

A 16 year old girl (Sandra Dee) finds herself out of sync with her boy crazy girlfriends. But when she discovers surfing while at the beach, she becomes the mascot for a group of older surfers lead by The Kahuna (Cliff Robertson) and finds herself attracted to one (James Darren), in particular. Based on the novel GIDGET, THE LITTLE GIRL WITH BIG IDEAS by Frederick Kohner and directed by Paul Wendkos (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ). A popular hit, it spawned several movie sequels as well as a TV sitcom and is credited for mainstreaming surfing in the U.S. It's a sweet little movie with a more realistic look at the Southern California surfing culture than the BEACH PARTY movies which would follow four years later. 1959 was Sandra Dee's breakthrough year and this was one of the three films that would make her one of Hollywood's biggest box office stars, a sort of junior Doris Day, for the next several years. Not great art by any means but a reminder that movies are sometimes propelled by minor pleasures. Still, the idea of a 16 year old girl hanging out with a group of older guys probably wouldn't play well with contemporary thinking. With Arthur O'Connell, Jo Morrow, Doug McClure, Yvonne Craig, Tom Laughlin and Joby Baker. 

One Million B.C. (1940)

A group of hikers seek shelter in a cave during a sudden storm in the mountains. An anthropologist (Conrad Nagel) already in the cave explains the drawings on the cave walls and the story of the rock people and the shell people in prehistoric times. Directed by Hal Roach and his son, Hal Roach Jr. It's an interesting piece of fantasy adventure but rather slow moving which make its hour and 21 minute running time on the sluggish side. The film's Oscar nominated special effects were quite impressive for its day although the use of enlarged lizards and crocodiles to play dinosaurs may be bothersome for some. I was fine with it. The volcano eruption is very well done. The minimal dialog consists of grunts and a made up "cave man" language. The focus of the film is on the romance between the neanderthal "rock" man (Victor Mature) and the enlightened "shell" woman (Carole Landis). Oddly enough, this film made them stars and 20th Century Fox signed them both to contracts where their careers would blossom. Remade in 1966 with Raquel Welch. With Lon Chaney Jr. as Mature's father.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Disaster Artist (2017)

In 1998 San Francisco, an aspiring actor (Dave Franco) meets an eccentric and mysterious guy by the name of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in his acting class. Drawn to him because of his fearless personality, on impulse he moves to Los Angeles with the guy to break into the movies. Based on the non-fiction book by Greg Sestero (played by Dave Franco) and directed by James Franco. It would have been easy to make THE DISASTER ARTIST which focuses on the filming of THE ROOM, considered by many as the best "worst movie ever made", into an all out ha-ha comedy condescending to its film makers' ambitions vs. lack of talent. But the film's power lies not in its humor but in its poignancy, that there's a real person with emotions behind that delusional front. The film is about dreams and friendship at its core and Franco's Tommy Wiseau is an outsider wanting to fit in but he has no talent, he's not good looking, he has an abrasive personality and no one likes him until he meets Greg. James Franco is absolutely fantastic here in what might well be a career defining performance. You may be repelled by him but your heart still aches for him. The massive cast include Seth Rogen, Sharon Stone, Zac Efron, Melanie Griffith, Bryan Cranston, Jacki Weaver, Kristen Bell, Judd Apatow, Megan Mullally, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie and Josh Hutcherson.     

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sayonara (1957)

Set during the Korean war, an ace Air Force pilot (Marlon Brando) is re-assigned to Japan at the request of his fiancee's (Patricia Owens) father (Kent Smith), an Air Force General. But instead of being reunited with his fiancee, he finds himself attracted to a Japanese entertainer (Miiko Taka). Based on the novel by James Michener (HAWAII) and directed by Joshua Logan (PICNIC). Pushing the 2 1/2 hour mark, this lush romance focuses on racism and prejudice and the clash of cultures. Beautifully shot in the Technirama format entirely on location in Japan by Ellsworth Fredericks (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY), the screenplay by Paul Osborn carefully covers the appalling military policy at that time of not allowing Japanese wives to emigrate to the U.S. with their spouses. Fortunately, it's done without the heavy handed preachy hammer of tolerance that a less skilled film maker (cough*Stanley Kramer*cough) would probably have done. The film's only downside is the casting of Ricardo Montalban as a Japanese Kabuki actor which plays even worse today than it did in 1957. Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki as an interracial couple both received Oscars for their performances. There's a lovely Franz Waxman underscore. With James Garner, Martha Scott and Reiko Kuba. 

Fashions Of 1934 (1934)

A con man (William Powell), his assistant (Frank McHugh) and a designer (Bette Davis) travel to Paris where they plan to make knock offs of the exclusive haute couture fashion house designs for the U.S. market. Based on THE FASHION PLATE by Harry Collins and Warren Duff and directed by William Dieterle (PORTRAIT OF JENNIE), this is a throwaway of a movie. Davis has never looked more glamorous but you'd never guess she would soon become one of the screen's great actresses. She might as well be Ruby Keeler here! Powell lays the charm on but it's an uphill battle. The film has two big production numbers. One, a fashion show is entertaining enough but the other (this being a Warners picture) is one of those godawful overproduced Busby Berkeley musical numbers with girls as human harps and ostrich feathers everywhere. Mercifully at a running time of one hour and 18 minutes, it's not too tedious a sit. With Reginald Owen, Verree Teasdale, Hugh Herbert and Jane Darwell.   

Power (1986)

A high powered media consultant (Richard Gere) takes on the campaign of a wealthy businessman (J.T. Walsh) for a Senate seat being vacated by a personal friend (E.G. Marshall) who is dropping out due to illness or so he says. But something isn't right and it isn't long before the consultant discovers his phones are being tapped as he attempts to uncover the truth. Directed by the overrated Sidney Lumet, the film might have made for a decent conspiracy thriller if it weren't for the heavy handed direction and screenplay (by David Himmelstein). This is the kind of film Stanley Kramer did in the late 50s and 1960s, where the characters pontificate and lecture us. We haven't been hammered this hard over the head since Lumet's NETWORK! It's a rather self congratulatory film that could have used a bit of wit. The acting is all over the place ranging from excellent (Denzel Washington, Julie Christie) to bad (Kate Capshaw, Matt Salinger). With Gene Hackman, Beatrice Straight, Fritz Weaver, Michael Learned, E. Katherine Kerr and Noel Harrison. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Battle Of The Sexes (1960)

A chance meeting on a train causes a Scottish businessman (Robert Morley) to invite an American efficiency expert (Constance Cummings) to bring his fabric business into the 20th century. However, her methods alienate the all male employees and a mild mannered accountant (Peter Sellers) takes it upon himself to rid the company of the woman. Based on THE CATBIRD SEAT by James Thurber (SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY) and directed by Charles Crichton (A FISH CALLED WANDA). I didn't find much to laugh at until the film's last half hour when there's a hilarious segment with Sellers attempting to murder Cummings that is marvelous! Still, it's hard to get over the misogyny inherent in the material. Cummings, who's excellent, is portrayed as a ball breaker and the film can't end until she's given her comeuppance and the all male office (except for the girl who makes tea) can go back to their patriarchal ways. But this was 1960 after all and that was, unfortunately, the prevailing attitude. With Donald Pleasence and Ernest Thesiger.     

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Non Si Sevizia Un Paperino (aka Don't Torture A Duckling) (1972)

A series of child murders occurs in a small Southern Italian village. The locals are rather ignorant and suspicious people and innocent people get accused before the real killer is exposed. Directed by Lucio Fulci (LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN). This giallo is very disturbing on several levels. Fulci does an expert job at keeping the tension quotient high and casts a cynical eye on the villagers who are portrayed as uneducated and mistrustful and in their own way, as guilty as the psycho who's killing the village's young boys. It's pretty easy to identify the killer from the first shot but Fulci attempts to throw us off the scent with several red herrings but it doesn't work, the killer is that obvious. But Fulci seems almost gleeful in the violent aspects of the movie. Florinda Bolkan's murder is done slowly with the camera lingering on her suffering and so graphic that I had to turn my eyes away. The killer's death is also graphic but he's the killer so who cares. There's also a scene with a nude Barbara Bouchet taunting a little boy that would never get the greenlight today, at least in the U.S. The underscore is by Riz Ortolani (YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE). With Irene Papas and Tomas Milian.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Secret Heart (1946)

A woman (Claudette Colbert) becomes concerned when her stepdaughter (June Allyson) shows signs of the psychological instability that destroyed her father (Richard Derr). The girl's psychiatrist (Lionel Barrymore) suggests returning to the scene of the father's suicide, the family farm which they haven't seen in 10 years. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, this melodrama contains the same dubious psychological theories of other 1940s films that dabbled in psychology like SPELLBOUND and THE SEVENTH VEIL. The screenplay doesn't have the courage to follow through with the darker aspects of the story and a possible pessimistic conclusion. Instead, we get instant healing and a ever after happy ending. Cast against type, June Allyson abandons the fresh scrubbed girl next door persona and is effective as the disturbed father-obsessed daughter with an Electra complex. With Walter Pidgeon, Robert Sterling, Patricia Medina, Marshall Thompson, Barbara Billingsley and Eily Malyon.

Arms And The Man (1989)

During the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War, a Swiss soldier (Pip Torrens) fighting for the Serbs is on the run from Bulgarian soldiers. He breaks into the bedroom of a young Bulgarian woman (Helena Bonham Carter) who has romanticized ideas about war and hides him from the Serb forces. After the war has ended, he returns to the woman's household and that's when the "fun" starts. Based on the 1894 play by George Bernard Shaw and directed by James Cellan Jones. This is one of Shaw's wittiest and pungent plays and this is a very good production of it. But it's harmed by Patrick Ryecart's (as Carter's soldier fiance) performance which throws the production off kilter. The rest of the cast all seem to be on the same page. They know they're in a farce and play for high comedy but at least they are actually recognizable as human beings. Ryecart is so bizarrely over the top that he resembles an animated cartoon than an actual human! Shaw's theme that war is not a romantic adventure is still relevant today. Made into the operetta THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER by Franz Lehar. With Patsy Kensit, Kika Markham, Dinsdale Landen and Nicolas Chagrin. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

In 1885, two con men and ex-officers of the Indian Army (Sean Connery, Michael Caine) devise a plot to travel to the desolate and remote country of Kafiristan, overthrow its King and become kings themselves. Based on the novella by Rudyard Kipling and directed by John Huston. The film feels old fashioned (in a good way) but also fresh. Everything aligns perfectly from the screenplay (by Huston and Gladys Hill) to Oswald Morris's glistening cinematography (it was filmed in Morocco) and expert performances by Caine and Connery (it may possibly be Connery's best work). The two con men with their superior imperialist attitude should be repugnant yet you can't help but like them. Connery and Caine's camaraderie is tangible and goes a long way in keeping the movie afloat. It's great fun but also moving in its own way as its two protagonists discover too late that they're in way over their heads. Edith Head's costumes were justifiably Oscar nominated but shockingly Maurice Jarre's most effective underscore was not. With Christopher Plummer as Kipling, Saeed Jaffrey and Shakira Caine (Michael's wife).

Mrs. O'Malley And Mr. Malone (1950)

A shyster lawyer (James Whitmore) and a Montana widow (Marjorie Main) meet up on a train going to New York. When they discover a dead body that's been stabbed to death in the lawyer's compartment, they put their brains together in an attempt to solve the murder. I love murder mysteries and I'm quite fond of movie that take place on trains. So a comedy whodunit set on a train is right up my alley. Unfortunately, the "hilarity" seems forced, the list of suspects is too short and it's not very difficult to identify the killer. The players seem up for it and it looks like MGM was setting up a franchise with Main and Whitmore as a pair of opposing sleuths but the film was not a success so there were no further films. Still, at a brief one hour and nine minutes, it doesn't have an opportunity to wear out its welcome. Directed by Norman Taurog. With Dorothy Malone, Phyllis Kirk, Ann Dvorak, Fred Clark, Clinton Sundberg, Don Porter and Douglas Fowley.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Counterfeit Plan (1957)

Escaping from the French police on his way to prison, a convicted murderer (Zachary Scott) flees across the English channel and seeks out a former expert forger (Mervyn Johns). The ex-forger is leading a respectable country life now but the murderer blackmails him into helping him flood the country with counterfeit money. Directed by Montgomery Tully. Despite the presence of its two American stars (Scott and Peggie Castle as Johns' daughter), this is a British programmer that was quite popular in the United Kingdom. It's moderately enjoyable but it's held back by some poor choices made by its characters which don't ring true. The actions they do seem to be written in to move the story forward rather than organic to their characters. I mean that the characters appear to be fairly intelligent people yet they behave in dubious ways and act foolishly. Scott perfected the slimy cad during his tenure at Warners in the 1940s but he outdoes himself here. He positively makes your skin crawl. The ending is too convenient and implausible as if the writers got tired and just wanted to end the story. With Lee Patterson, Robert Arden (MR. ARKADIN) and Eric Pohlmann.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Salome, Where She Danced (1945)

In 1866, a war correspondent (Rod Cameron) in Germany persuades a famous dancer (Yvonne De Carlo) to spy on a Prussian officer (Albert Dekker) in an attempt to get information on Germany's plans to attack Austria. The plan fails and the dancer and correspondent flee to America but the Prussian is not done with them. Very loosely based on the story of Lola Montes and directed by Charles Lamont (ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY). The meandering storyline doesn't do the film any service but the film's worst offense is in its two leading men, who compete with each other to see who can be the biggest bore. Both Rod Cameron and David Bruce as an ex-Confederate turned outlaw are stiffs and when De Carlo is willing to sacrifice all for the love of Bruce, one can't help but scratch ones head. This was De Carlo's breakthrough role and made her a star and she's the best thing about the film. But it's a potboiler through and through. For De Carlo fans only. With Walter Slezak, Marjorie Rambeau, J. Edward Bromberg and Abner Biberman.

Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool (2017)

The Oscar winning actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) has fallen on hard times and is performing Sadie Thompson in RAIN in Liverpool when she meets a young struggling actor (Jamie Bell). Thus begins an intense two year relationship that ends in death before it can be resolved. Based on the non fiction book by Peter Turner (played by Bell) and directed by Paul McGuigan. It's a sketchy film that I wish had more time to develop but it works as a memory piece, Peter Turner's memory piece and we see Gloria Grahame (he didn't know who she was when they met) through his eyes. So we don't get to know Grahame outside the 2 year period when she was dying of cancer. Bening wisely doesn't try to ape Grahame's mannerisms or looks and she only slightly uses Grahame's famous lisp. So by not imitating her, Bening is free to develop Grahame as a character without the limitations a full on impersonation would preclude. And let's face it, outside of film buffs, Gloria Grahame just isn't well known today. A lot of the flashbacks are stylized, played out on obvious backdrops (probably due to budget constraints rather than artistic choices) which adds an even more atmospheric mood to the memory piece. With Vanessa Redgrave as Grahame's mother, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Frances Barber and Stephen Graham. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

A single mother (Carol Lynley) has relocated from America to London with her 4 year old daughter. But when the daughter goes missing, no one recalls seeing the child and the police superintendent (Laurence Olivier) in charge of the case suspects the child may not actually exist. Based on the novel by Evelyn Piper and directed by Otto Preminger, this was Preminger's last good movie (he would go on to direct six more). Preminger specialized in mystery/thrillers in his early career. Movies like LAURA, FALLEN ANGEL, WHIRLPOOL, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS etc. before moving on to "important" prestigious films like ANATOMY OF A MURDER, EXODUS, ADVISE AND CONSENT etc. Fortunately, in this case at least, he proves you can go home again. He hasn't lost his touch and he imbues BUNNY with an atmosphere of classic B&W noir-ish style as well as a sense of Hitchcockian dread. My only problem and it's a minor one is with Keir Dullea as Lynley's brother. His casting is a little too obvious and he overtips his hand. There was some talk of Ryan O'Neal for the part and he actually might have been better. The lovely underscore is by Paul Glass. With Noel Coward as a creepy pervert, Martita Hunt, Anna Massey, Clive Revill, Adrienne Corri, Suky Appleby, Finlay Currie and even The Zombies show up. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Three Desperate Men (1951)

Two brothers (Preston Foster, Jim Davis) are deputies in a small Texas town. When they hear their younger brother (Kim Spalding) is in a California jail for robbing a train, they go out there to clear his name. But their attempt to save him is a disaster when a guard is killed and they find themselves on the run from the law. Directed by Sam Newfield (TERROR OF TINY TOWN), this poverty row western is very loosely based on the Dalton brothers outlaw gang. It's hard to muster up much empathy for these men who are totally responsible for the pickle they're in and when they embrace the outlaw lifestyle, however reluctantly, there's zero sympathy. Even their own mother (Margaret Seddon) won't let them in the door. And when they use information told to them in confidence thus implicating an innocent woman (Virginia Grey) to rob a train, one hopes they get caught and get their just desserts. It's a short movie, about an hour and ten minutes, but a tedious "comic" scene involving Sid Melton as a telegraph worker stops the movie cold and could easily have been cut. With Monte Blue and Rory Mallinson.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Phantom Thread (2017)

Set in the haute couture world of 1950's London, a famous but eccentric fashion designer (Daniel Day Lewis) insists on being in control of his life and environment. When he meets a young waitress (Vicky Krieps), he takes her under his wing and acts as Pygmalion to her Galatea. But he underestimates her and soon they battle over dominance in their relationship. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (MAGNOLIA), this ambitious look at the dynamics of power shifts in a personal relationship is a visual treat. Once again, Daniel Day Lewis (reputedly his swan song to acting) proves the premier film actor of his generation. His fashion designer is a carefully crafted and intimate creation, unable to stand even the slightest deviation of his perfectly controlled life. Alas, Anderson meets his Waterloo when he is unable to construct a satisfactory conclusion. I was expecting something dark and sick but what we get is something sick and sentimental. It feels like Anderson doesn't trust us to accept the perverse nature of these characters (he may be right, I could feel the audience turning against the movie) and sprinkles sugar over the last few frames. A pity because there's so much good stuff here. I'd rank it somewhere between THE MASTER and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. With Lesley Manville, excellent as Day Lewis's strong willed sister.

Putting It Together (2000)

At an all night cocktail party in Manhattan, an older married couple (Carol Burnett, George Hearn) face their disillusions and marital problems while a younger couple (Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman) struggle with their emotions and desires while a commentator (Bronson Pinchot) oversees and influences the action. Directed by Don Roy King and Eric D. Schaeffer, the thinnest of plots is merely there to connect the exquisite Stephen Sondheim songs. It's not an original score but comprised of Sondheim's songs from shows like A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, COMPANY, FOLLIES, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, SWEENEY TODD, ASSASSINS, THE FROGS and the movie DICK TRACY. But the songs are placed strategically so they comment on the characters' state of mind. It's not even a full blown "book" musical but a musical revue. But when you're spending 90 minutes in the company of one of the great American musical composers of the 20th century, you're in such bliss just to listen. Burnett is the biggest name in the cast so the show is more or less thrown her way but the other four actors (well, maybe not Pinchot) really shine here as well.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg (1972)

A young married couple, a school teacher (Alan Bates) and an actress (Janet Suzman) have a daughter with severe cerebral palsy (she's in a wheelchair and unable to speak) and the child requires round the clock attention and it's taking its toll on their marriage. They cope with the situation with humor but the husband is starting to have fantasies of killing the child. Based on the 1967 play by Peter Nichols (who adapted his play for the screen) which was a success both on the London stage and the Broadway stage and directed by Peter Medak (THE RULING CLASS). This is a very English black comedy and although Nichols tweaks it with cinematic touches, its theatrical origins are very much in evidence. Its politically incorrect humor isn't as funny as it thinks it is or perhaps more likely, it's English sensibility isn't to my taste. Although he didn't create the role on the stage, Alan Bates' performance is very theatrical but thankfully Janet Suzman gives a more natural performance. While I can appreciate the pessimism of the situation and admire Nichols for keeping the play's bleak ending, it's still a very difficult film to sit through and frankly, I didn't laugh at all. With Joan Hickson, Peter Bowles, Sheila Gish, Jean Marsh and Murray Melvin.  

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Since there have been no arrests and no progress in the investigation of her daughter's rape and murder, her angry mother (Frances McDormand) pays for three billboards calling out the police for their inactivity. The small town does not react favorably to her actions, especially the cops. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (IN BRUGES), there's a reason to see this movie and that is Frances McDormand who gives a fierce performance. Easily her best performance since FARGO and quite possibly even better. Which makes it a pity that the film isn't really worthy of her. When the film is good, it's very good but it shoots itself in the foot with the ludicrous character of the racist redneck cop played by Sam Rockwell. Not Rockwell's fault at all, he's excellent. But are racist rednecks cops ever really funny? Only in the movies I suppose but this is a guy who beats up and tortures black people, bashes a man in the head and throws him out a second story window because he doesn't agree with him and we're supposed to be amused? Well, I suppose if you're a fellow racist. And when the movie tries to redeem him, all is forgiven? Gimme a break! But McDormand's searing performance overrides the ludicrousness of the film. If McDonagh had laid off the laughs and gone straight for the jugular, this might have been a great film. With Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, Zeljko Ivanek and Abbie Cornish.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Return Of The Jedi (1983)

The Rebel Alliance has learned that the Galatic Empire has constructed a new Death Star personally supervised by the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) himself. Jedi in training Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) learns some surprising and important news from Yoda (Frank Oz) while Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) reaffirm their love for each other. Directed by Richard Marquand (JAGGED EDGE), the final installment of the first STAR WARS trilogy starts off awkwardly. The Jabba The Hutt palace sequence isn't very interesting and it plays out like a second rate Fellini movie. Once out of the palace however, the film picks up steam and soars the rest of the way to its fully satisfying conclusion. Under Marquand's direction, the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas balances humor and thrills in equal measures and some exciting set pieces like the spectacular air bike chase through the forest. The Ewoks may be a bit too precious but they're wisely kept in check so we don't overdose on their cuteness. John Williams' underscore may be his best for the entire series. With Alec Guinness, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader and Sebastian Shaw as the unmasked Darth Vader.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Ice Cold In Alex (1958)

In 1942 Libya, as the Germans invade Tobruk, two soldiers (John Mills, Harry Andrews) and two nurses (Sylvia Syms, Diane Clare) evacuate from the besieged city and begin an arduous and dangerous trek through mine filled and German occupied territory to the safety of Alexandria in Egypt. Along the way they pick up a South African soldier (Anthony Quayle) but it isn't long before they suspect he may be a German spy. Based on the novel by Christopher Landon and directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE). Going past the two hours mark, the film remains a tight and tension filled action movie with very little fat. The characters are all well drawn and the journey and its outcome are unpredictable. The bracing B&W cinematography of Gilbert Taylor (STAR WARS) reminds one how detailed and handsome B&W movies can look. The film handles the ambiguity of Quayle's soldier quite well and it's refreshing to see the strength in the character of Syms' nurse, she's more than just the "girl" here. Not released in the U.S. until 1961 and with more than 30 minutes cut. With Richard Leech, Walter Gotell and Allan Cuthbertson.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Study In Terror (1965)

The renowned detective Sherlock Holmes (John Neville) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Donald Houston) become involved in the Whitechapel murders of street prostitutes committed by the serial killer known as Jack The Ripper. Directed by James Hill (BORN FREE), this is not based on any of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories but is an original screenplay utilizing Conan Doyle's characters. The movie is not an accurate rendition of the Ripper killings but taken on its own and as a Sherlock Holmes mystery, it's an above average effort. Neville makes for a decent no nonsense Holmes and as played by Houston, Dr. Watson is less addled than Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson. The film's solution to the identity of the Ripper comes as no surprise but the execution of the finale is disappointing. John Scott's underscore is slightly anachronistic but the production values are quite respectable. In 1978, another Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper film MURDER BY DECREE was made. The large cast includes a very young Judi Dench, Anthony Quayle, Robert Morley, Frank Finlay, Adrienne Corri, Cecil Parker, John Fraser, Barbara Windsor, Georgia Brown, Barry Jones and Kay Walsh.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Penny Serenade (1941)

After she decides to leave her husband (Cary Grant), a woman (Irene Dunne) plays some old phonograph records and relives through the songs, how they met and fell in love, married and the tragedy that tore them apart. Directed by George Stevens, this shamelessly manipulative piece of cinematic sentimentality works in large part due to its two leads. One can feel Stevens pulling the heart strings and tugging at your tear ducts, subtlety isn't the way here. Dunne was an old hand at these weepies so she's on auto control but Grant is wonderful here. His brings a sincerity that doesn't seem spurious at all and his Oscar nomination for his work here was fully deserved. His genuineness goes a long way in patching up the lachrymose material. There are a couple of moments that break through the maudlin atmosphere like the charming first bath scene of their baby and the earthquake in Japan sequence is impressive. With Edgar Buchanan, Beulah Bondi, Ann Doran and Dorothy Adams. 

Mistral's Daughter (1984)

In 1925, a young girl (Stefanie Powers) from the country arrives in Paris with aspirations to be an artists' model. She falls in love with a self centered struggling painter (Stacy Keach) but she has a rival in a rich American heiress (Lee Remick) who sees the artists' potential and who is determined to make him her life's work. Based on the 1982 novel by Judith Krantz about 3 generations of women revolving around a self absorbed artist and directed by Kevin Connor and Douglas Hickox. Trash ... and 8 hours of it. It's based on a book by Judith Krantz, so you know it's trash going in but it could have been more fun than it is if it didn't take itself so damn seriously. One can put up with the hideous dialog (someone actually says"I never knew it could be like this!" after sex) if it weren't all so solemn. This isn't Ibsen! You know it's already gone off the tracks when Stacy Keach first appears as the Mistral of the title. This is a charismatic artist that has women obsessing over him their entire lives. If he had been played by, say, Kirk Douglas possibly it might have had a chance but Stacy Keach? Hardly a chick magnet. He doesn't even bother with a French accent and since a major portion of the cast are played by French actors, it makes it even worse. Even Stefanie Powers tries a French accent, badly but at least she tries.  The large cast includes Timothy Dalton, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephane Audran, Joanna Lumley, Robert Urich, Alexandra Stewart, Ian Richardson, Jonathan Hyde and Caroline Langrishe.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Annie Get Your Gun (1957)

Colonel Buffalo Bill's (William O'Neal) wild west show arrives in Ohio along with its star sharpshooter Frank Butler (John Raitt). When he discovers a local female sharpshooter (Mary Martin) that can out shoot Butler, he invites her to join his show. Based on the 1946 hit Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin which starred Ethel Merman as Annie. It was later made into an MGM musical in 1950 with Betty Hutton as Annie. This production done for television in 1957 is a straight forward rendering of the original Broadway show with some cuts like the secondary romance between Winnie (Susan Luckey) and Tommy (Norman Edwards) entirely eliminated along with their two songs. Mary Martin makes for a wonderful Annie, certainly more tolerable than Hutton's frenetic movie Annie and Raitt perfectly cast as Frank Butler. Ernest Flatt did the lively choreography highlighted by the spectacular Indian ceremonial dance and the I'm An Indian Too production number. That sequence has been eliminated from contemporary productions of the show because of its "insensitivity" toward Native Americans. Be that as it may, it remains a highlight. Directed by Vincent J. Donehue. With Reta Shaw, Patricia Morrow, Luke Halpin and Zachary Charles.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Salamander (1981)

After a high ranking General is assassinated, a special agent (Franco Nero) is assigned to investigate his murder. But what he uncovers is a conspiracy among right wing leaders of the government to overtake Italy. Can they be stopped in time? Based on the novel by Morris West and directed by Peter Zinner. This pulpy conspiracy thriller is quite enjoyable if difficult to follow at times. Outside of Nero's protagonist, you're never sure who you can trust and sometimes you're not even sure about him! The all star cast do well though Paul L. Smith's sadistic assassin borders on "camp". The cinematography by Marcello Gatti (BATTLE OF ALGIERS) benefits from the handsome Italian locations though major portions of the film are supposedly set in Switzerland and there's a nice underscore by Jerry Goldsmith. The large cast includes Anthony Quinn, Claudia Cardinale, Eli Wallach, Christopher Lee, Sybil Danning (used for more than eye candy for a change), Martin Balsam and Cleavon Little.

Wonder (2017)

A young boy (Jacob Tremblay) born with a facial defect (Treacher Collins syndrome) has been home schooled by his mother (Julia Roberts). But she feels that it's time he faced the challenges of the real world and sends him to a public school for the first time. The challenge of "fitting in" which are hard at the best of times becomes even more difficult. Based on the best selling young adult novel by R.J. Palacio and directed by Stephen Chbosky (PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER). This is a beautiful little film on so many levels. Anyone who's ever been the odd man out in a school situation can relate but the film goes beyond the problems of its young protagonist but to those surrounding him: family, friends, schoolmates and each with their little cross to bear. The film manages to be incredibly moving without icky sentimentality. Anyone fearing that young Tremblay's superb performance in ROOM was a one shot deal can relax. He gives a marvelous performance here. Roberts brings an unexpected depth to the mother role and I don't think I've ever found Owen Wilson (who plays the father) more likable. With Mandy Patinkin, Sonia Braga, Izabela Vidovic, Daveed Diggs, Danielle Rose Russell and that marvelous young actor Noah Jupe (SUBURBICON) who equals Tremblay.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Majo No Takkyubin (aka Kiki's Delivery Service) (1989)

As is their tradition, a young witch (Minami Takayama/Kirsten Dunst) leaves home at the age of 13 to seek her fortune in the world. All she takes with her are her broom and her black cat (Rei Sakuma/Phil Hartman). Based on the book by Eiko Kadono and produced, directed and adapted for the screen by the great Hayao Miyazaki. This utterly captivating example of Japanese anime is a charming tale of the process of growing from adolescence into a young woman as the young witch grapples with loneliness, self doubt and independence. As usual for Miyazaki, the animation is stunning. Rich and vibrant with color and precise in the detailing. Although released in 1989, the film didn't reach U.S. shores until nine years later. I watched the original Japanese language version but the English is very well done too I thought. Among the actors voicing the English dub are Debbie Reynolds, Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett, Edie McClurg and Matthew Lawrence. This was one of Phil Hartman's last performances and the U.S. dub is dedicated to him.

Lady Bird (2017)

Set in 2002 Sacramento, a teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan) in her senior year deals with her strong willed mother (Laurie Metcalf) as well as discovering boys. Written and directed by the actress Greta Gerwig, this is a splendid look at the chaos and angst of being an adolescent whose parents just don't (or rather we think they don't) get it. Gerwig's screenplay is sharp and funny but never at the expense of the truth of the material, she doesn't go for the cheap laughs. Two sensational performances drive the film. Ronan continues to impress as one of the best young actresses working in film today and finally, the wonderful Laurie Metcalf gets a movie role worthy of her expansive talents. Their scenes together are pure bliss. If the film's conclusion seems all too familiar and perhaps the tiniest bit predictable, it's still been a thrilling journey to get there. The excellent supporting cast includes Lucas Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA), Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, Lois Smith and Beanie Feldstein.  

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Norliss Tapes (1973)

An investigative writer (Roy Thinnes) doing a book on the occult goes missing after leaving a cryptic message with his publisher (Don Porter). The publisher finds a series of tapes by the writer describing the events leading up to his disappearance. Directed by Dan Curtis (THE NIGHT STALKER) and based on a story by Fred Mustard Stewart (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ). This minor horror film intended as a pilot for a TV series (it never sold) was released as a stand alone telefilm. It's a decent effort with a cult following and it's fun but in spite of some atmospheric locations like San Francisco, Carmel, Big Sur along with a surfeit of rain, there's no genuine sense of dread. The voice over narration by Thinnes gives the film a sense of film noir which is effective but the cheesy underscore by Robert Cobert (THE WINDS OF WAR) undermines whatever tension the film may have had. With Angie Dickinson as a recent widow who starts the plot in motion. Also with Hurd Hatfield, Claude Akins, Michele Carey, Vonetta McGee and Robert Mandan.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tarzan The Ape Man (1959)

Guided by a Watusi (Thomas Yanha) on a hazardous trek through uncharted lands, three people search for an ancient elephant graveyard which yields a fortune in ivory. They include an adventurer (Cesare Danova), his partner (Robert Douglas) and his partner's daughter (Joanna Barnes). The daughter becomes separated from the other two and is saved by a mysterious jungle man (Denny Miller). Directed by Joseph M. Newman (THIS ISLAND EARTH), this is a very low budget and loose remake of the original 1932 MGM Tarzan film with Johnny Weissmuller. It's an odd little film and more enjoyable than it has any right to be considering what a patch job it is. It's an MGM backlot Africa with copious amounts of previously used footage from KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950) and the early MGM Tarzan movies inserted in. The inserted footage doesn't match the new footage and the optical effects are really bad. A scene of Miller and Barnes swimming underwater is clearly the actors shot in a tank and inserted over previously shot underwater footage. Then there's the swinging jazz score by Shorty Rogers which feels out of place. Miller makes for a likable and rather sweet Tarzan (though that name is never used in the film) if you can get over him looking like he wandered in from a beach party movie.  

Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)

When a jockey who threw a race is found murdered at the track, a police Lieutenant (Sam Levene) requests the help of retired detective Nick Charles (William Powell). But two more murders will occur before the case is solved. This is the fourth entry in the Thin Man franchise with Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. It's also the weakest or least interesting of the seven Thin Man films. It seems like forever for the film to actually start, we get a lot of foreplay, and when it does, it's routine. Powell and Loy banter back and forth and they're a treasure but they're spinning in a vacuum. Fortunately, the gathered suspects in a room finale is wonderful but by then the movie is just about over. The acting is good and we get to see the legendary acting teacher Stella Adler in a rare film role (she only did three movies) as a blonde floozy. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. The cast includes Donna Reed, Barry Nelson, Alan Baxter, Louise Beavers and the scene stealing Asta.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Seagull (1975)

In late 19th century Russia, a group of people gather on a country estate including a famous actress (Lee Grant), her writer lover (Kevin McCarthy), her artistic son (Frank Langella), her brother (William Swetland) who is in ill health, a young girl (Blythe Danner) with ambitions to be an actress, a doctor (Louis Zorin), the estate manager (George Ede), his wife (Olympia Dukakis), their daughter (Marian Mercer) and a school teacher (David Clennon). Based on the 1896 play by Anton Chekhov and directed by John J. Desmond. Considered by many to be Chekhov's masterpiece, this is an uneven production but the acting is mostly good and in one case, exceptional. Kevin McCarthy makes for a rather dull Trigorin, he can't seem to muster either a writer's passion nor the casual cruelty that can destroy a girl's life. Langella is a bit too old for Konstantin but that aside, he gives a solid performance and Lee Grant as Arkadina gets to the core of the actress's self absorption. The stand out performance is given by Blythe Danner who makes for a splendid Nina going from tremulous and fragile to ravaged and unraveled. A great play that could have used a more delicate hand to unlock the subtext of Chekhov's dialog. Still, this is a production worth seeing. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Showdown At Abilene (1956)

Returning home from the Civil War, the former sheriff (Jock Mahoney) of Abilene finds the town changed considerably. Instead of the peaceful farm community, he finds the town taken over by cattlemen and tensions run high between the farmers and cattlemen. He also finds his former fiancee (Martha Hyer) engaged to marry his childhood friend (Lyle Bettger). Directed by Charles Haas, this is a decent if unoriginal programmer. However, casting causes a strange shift in empathy. Normally, the hero protagonist would be our focus of interest but as played by the colorless Mahoney, he's just not very interesting. Bettger is a better actor than Mahoney which allows his conflicted cattleman to take center stage despite being the third wheel. The lovely Martha Hyer as the "girl" doesn't have much to do except wring her hands and look pretty. With David Janssen, Grant Williams and Ted De Corsia.

Algiers (1938)

A well known thief (Charles Boyer) lives in the native quarter of Algiers called the Casbah where he is protected from the police by the citizens of the Casbah. But when he encounters a beautiful Parisian tourist (Hedy Lamarr) slumming in the Casbah, his fate is sealed. A painstaking remake of the 1937 Julien Duvivier film PEPE LE MOKO which starred Jean Gabin in the title role which was based on the novel by Henri La Barthe. Directed by John Cromwell, it may not be quite on the level of the Duvivier film but on its own merits, it's quite good. If you were ever curious what made Boyer a star, this film should answer your question. He's almost impossibly romantic yet never soft, there's still a cold intensity that alerts you that this is not a man to mess with. In her American film debut, Lamarr is so incredibly stunning in her beauty that her acting seems irrelevant. Add James Wong Howe's stylish B&W cinematography and you have a smoky treat. With Sigrid Gurie, who's good but her clinging character becomes annoying after awhile. Also with Gene Lockhart (Oscar nominated for his work here), Joseph Calleia, Leonid Kinskey, Joan Woodbury and Alan Hale. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Come Fly With Me (1963)

Three stewardesses (as they were called back in the 1960s) who have the New York to Paris run find themselves attracted to three different men: Dolores Hart has her eye on a titled Austrian aristocrat (Karlheinz Bohm), Pamela Tiffin sets her cap for an airline pilot (Hugh O'Brian) and Lois Nettleton falls for a Texas widower (Karl Malden). Based on the novel GIRL ON A WING by Bernard Glemser and directed by Henry Levin (WHERE THE BOYS ARE). The three girls hunting for a husband scenario is hardly original and goes back to the 1930s. Perhaps the more notable examples are HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953) and THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (1954). This one doesn't add anything fresh to the mix. Fortunately, the actresses are appealing and we do get to see a bit of Paris and Vienna but it's the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy, sweet and airy but unsubstantial. You either have a taste for this kind of movie confection or you don't. With Dawn Addams, Lois Maxwell, George Coulouris and Ferdy Mayne.   

Molly's Game (2017)

A young woman (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic hopeful in free form skiing, gets into the world of high stakes underground poker in L.A. and New York. The FBI takes an interest in her and arrest her for running illegal games in the hope she can provide information on Russian mobsters that will put them behind bars. Based on the non fiction book MOLLY'S GAME by Molly Bloom and written and directed by Aaron Sorkin in his directorial debut. This is a fast moving first rate crime drama which gives us a peek into the world of private high stakes poker games. It helps if you know something about poker but even if you don't, it's easy to get caught up in the thrill of the game. But this isn't a poker movie, not really. It's about one woman's journey in a distinctly masculine and patriarchal landscape: at home, in the business world and even the government. The character of Molly is a rich and complex role for an actress and Chastain puts her formidable talent to peeling the layers and exposing the core of her character's ferocity and vulnerability. Although based on a true story, the character of her attorney so superbly played by Idris Elba is a fictional character but the rest of the events stay close to the truth. With Kevin Costner, excellent as Chastain's father, Chris O'Dowd, Graham Greene, Michael Cera, Brian D'Arcy James and Angela Gots. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

In the 1930s, the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is traveling on the Orient Express on his way back to London. When an American gangster (Johnny Depp) asks for his protection after death threats, Poirot turns him down. When he's later discovered stabbed to death, Poirot is faced with the conclusion that the killer was one of his fellow passengers. Based on the Agatha Christie classic mystery and directed by Branagh. In a word ..... awful! Christie's source novel is foolproof material so it always mystifies me why adapters attempt to "improve" on it. The screenplay by Michael Green adds interracial romance, drug addiction, Nazi sympathizers and a long lost love for Poirot. Branagh isn't remotely believable as Poirot, not Christie's Poirot anyway though to be fair he's better than David Suchet (who wouldn't be?). The film lacks the star power and glamour of the definitive 1974 adaptation but that's not the problem. The CGI laden film looks ugly, the performances except for Penelope Cruz as a missionary range from indifferent to poor. I can't imagine a true Christie fan being satisfied. Even the normally reliable Patrick Doyle's underscore is a drag. The large cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr. and Lucy Boynton.   

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wonder Wheel (2017)

Set in early 1950s Coney Island, an unhappily married woman (Kate Winslet) is having an affair with a lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). But when her 25 year old stepdaughter (Juno Temple) runs away from her gangster husband and moves in with her estranged father (Jim Belushi) and stepmother, tensions reach a boiling point. Woody Allen's latest is one of his dramas rather than one of his comedies and although there is humor in the film, it plays out like a Tennessee Williams play written in the 1950s. Allen writes great roles for women and here, Winslet delivers a powerhouse performance as an emotionally unraveling boardwalk Blanche Du Bois while Juno Temple gives a lovely performance as a young woman attempting to get her life back on track after a horrendous mistake without realizing that she's a match that will set her father's household on fire. Fire is a theme here as Winslet's young son (Jack Gore) is a pyromaniac. Awesome cinematography by the great Vittorio Storaro. It's not the strongest of Allen's recent films but it's far better than the overrated BLUE JASMINE and the performances are terrific. With Steve Schirrpa, Debi Mazar and David Krumholtz.   

Downsizing (2017)

Norwegian scientists make a scientific breakthrough when they discover how to miniaturize humans to five inches in height. The overall plan is to downsize the human population gradually to save the planet from overpopulation. Many years later the plan is put into implementation and a married couple (Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig) decide to take the plunge. But things don't go as planned. Co-written and directed by Alexander Payne (SIDEWAYS), this often witty satire gets darker as it progresses until it becomes quite poignant. Paramount is doing the film a disservice in its marketing and trailers by suggesting a whimsical comedy. While the movie is rich in humor, it's concerned with weightier issues and I fear people going in expecting a whimsical comedy are going to be disappointed and perhaps even resent the film for not being funny enough. The film features a stand out performance by the Vietnamese actress Hong Chau as a political dissident now reduced to cleaning houses. It does run a bit longer than it should but Payne's wit and humanity keeps the schmaltz at bay. With Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Margo Martindale and Udo Keir.