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Friday, May 26, 2017

The Mummy's Curse (1944)

Despite the objections of an engineer (Addison Richards) in charge of draining the swamps, two representatives (Dennis Moore, Peter Coe) from a museum arrive in Louisiana bayou country with the intention of locating some mummies that are allegedly buried in that area. Directed by Leslie Goodwins, this was the last entry in the Universal Mummy franchise until Abbott and Costello would meet him 11 years later. At about an hour long, it's practically over before it has a chance to start! Fortunately, little time is spent on the uncharismatic nominal romantic leads (Moore and Kay Harding). The Louisiana swamp lands seems an odd place for an Egyptian mummy so the movie always seems a bit off kilter. The high point of the film is the emergence of Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine) from the mud as the sun breathes life into her. There's something magical about that sequence but it occurs early in the film and it's business as usual after that. There's a lot of unexplained questions but it's not the kind of film where much attention is paid to logic. With Lon Chaney Jr. as the mummy, Martin Kosleck and Hollywood's resident Frenchwoman, Ann Codee.   

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Loophole (1981)

After a successful American architect (Martin Sheen) living in England sees his company go bankrupt, he is approached by a businessman (Albert Finney) about a construction job. But it isn't long before he begins to get suspicious that all is not right with this new "job". Based on the novel by Robert Pollock and directed by John Quested. This is a straightforward heist movie and while not particularly fresh, it's decent enough to hold your interest right through to the end. Actually, the end is the biggest problem I had with the movie. The movie jumps from a crucial point in the narrative to about 24 hours later without  ever filling us in on what transpired. Being left out of a crucial part of the storytelling feels like a cheat! Other than that, it's well acted and moves along nicely generating just enough suspense that our attention doesn't drift. If you're partial to the genre, it's a pleasant 1 3/4 hours. Surprisingly, Lalo Schifrin (BULLITT) would seem the ideal composer for a project like this but his underscore is blah. With Susannah York in the dreaded "wife" role, Robert Morley, Jonathan Pryce, Colin Blakely and Alfred Lynch.

Women and Men (1990)

Three short stories by celebrated authors presented in anthology form. Frederic Raphael (TWO FOR THE ROAD) directs Mary McCarthy's MAN IN THE BROOKS BROTHERS SHIRT: a young Bohemian leftist (Elizabeth McGovern) encounters a married salesman (Beau Bridges) on a train and against her better judgment allows herself to be seduced by him. Ken Russell (WOMEN IN LOVE) directs Dorothy Parker's DUSK BEFORE FIREWORKS: a 1920s flapper (Molly Ringwald) finds her date with a playboy (Peter Weller) constantly interrupted by phone calls from his other women. Tony Richardson (TOM JONES) directs Ernest Hemingway's HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS: a writer (James Woods) and his mistress (Melanie Griffith) traveling through Spain come to an impasse in their relationship. As with almost all portmanteau films, it's a mixed batch. The Raphael film benefits from an excellent Elizabeth McGovern performance but the material leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. The Russell offering comes off as a one joke premise that wears out its welcome quickly. The most successful of the three is the final Richardson film of Hemingway's short story. It's a lovely if sad mood piece with fine work by Woods and especially Griffith. The underscore is by Marvin Hamlisch. 

Shinkansen Daibakuha (aka The Bullet Train) (1975)

A bomber (Ken Takakura) plants a device on a high speed train that is programmed to detonate if the train drops below 80 kilometers per hour. He demands a hefty ransom for himself and his two colleagues in crime (Kei Yamamoto, Akira Oda) before he will reveal the location and how to dismantle the bomb. Directed by Junya Sato, this is the film that "inspired" the 1994 American hit SPEED. While Sato's film is a solid effort with much to commend, in this case Hollywood comes out ahead. At over 2 1/2 hours, it's hard to keep the tension level and Sato spends a lot of excessive time giving us background. Unlike SPEED, Takakura's bomber is the hero of the film, an ordinary Joe driven to the brink by bankruptcy and an unsympathetic wife who abandons him and takes his son. He's the only character who gets a detailed background and how he came to this point in time. In the American release, his backstory was removed which caused the running time to drop under 2 hours. The passengers on the train are portrayed as hysterical buffoons and the police are incompetent to the point of eye rolling. The 1994 Hollywood film may be more cliched but it was a tight economical thriller with very little flab. With Sonny Chiba as the train's conductor.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Don't Give Up The Ship (1959)

A newly wed naval officer (Jerry Lewis) is whisked away from his bride (Diana Spencer) on their honeymoon by a senate committee investigating the disappearance of a WWII battleship that was under his command. Directed by Norman Taurog (BLUE HAWAII), this is a lesser Jerry Lewis vehicle. While not as inspired as his best work (usually directed by either Frank Tashlin or himself), there are still some hilarious bits scattered through out the movie like Lewis's attempt to walk through a hurricane. The honeymoon gag (he's whisked away before the marriage is consummated) gets tiresome very quickly and it doesn't help that Diana Spencer isn't much of a comedienne. I doubt non Jerry fans would be won over by it but for the Lewis fanboys, there's enough to keep us grinning. With Dina Merrill, Robert Middleton, Gale Gordon, Mabel Albertson, Claude Akins and Mickey Shaughnessy. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mutiny On The Bounty (1962)

In 1787, the HMAV Bounty sets sail from Britain to Tahiti with a mission to gather breadfruit from the island and transport it to Jamaica. The cold blooded cruelty of the ship's Captain (Trevor Howard) pushes his men to their limits and after a respite on Tahiti, the men won't tolerate his inhumanity any longer. Based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall which was previously filmed in 1935. Though the film is officially credited to Lewis Milestone, the film was started with Carol Reed (THIRD MAN) who eventually left the project. Scourged by the critics at the time of its release, I consider it the best of the three film versions (the third is 1984's THE BOUNTY). Visually, the film is more appealing thanks to Robert L. Surtees eye catching cinematography and there's a knock out underscore by Bronislau Kaper. Marlon Brando gives us a more layered Fletcher Christian than Gable: more wit, more complexity and a British accent which Gable didn't even try. Charles Laughton was a brilliant Captain Bligh in the 1935 film but Trevor Howard's Bligh isn't so black and white. The massive cast includes Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith, Richard Haydn, Frank Silvera, Henry Daniell, Percy Herbert, Gordon Jackson, Antoinette Bower and Tarita. 

Alien: Covenant (2017)

In 2104, a colonization ship bound for a remote planet seven years away collides with a neutrino (don't ask!) causing severe damage and killing some crew and colonists in hibernation. When they discover a previously unknown planet that seems susceptible to human life, they take a chance to explore it in the hopes of colonization. Big mistake! I approached this movie with some trepidation. Outside of the Bond movies, the Alien movies are probably my favorite movie franchise. Also, I loathed PROMETHEUS to the point of refusing to acknowledge its existence! Ridley Scott hasn't been in top form in years either. So I'm happy to report this is a marvelous entry in the ALIEN franchise! Scott takes a slow methodical approach to the film and it takes awhile before we get to action but the set up is crucial to the effectiveness of the film. The film seems on the verge of moving beyond the "Boo!" aspects of the franchise into something deeper and challenging but it only hints at the possibilities. After all, the Alien fans want their thrills! The ending is a downer which won't make the thrill seekers happy but I look forward to the next installment. The cast includes Michael Fassbender (in dual roles), Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Carmen Ejogo, Danny McBride and Jussie Smollett. 

Ophelia (1963)

When his father dies suddenly and his mother (Alida Valli) marries her brother in law (Claude Cerval), a young man (Andre Jocelyn) becomes obsessed with Shakespeare's HAMLET and its parallel to his life and is determined to prove they murdered his father. As directed by Claude Chabrol (LES BICHES), this is a highly stylized film. Beautifully rendered in artful B&W by Jacques and Jean Rabier, it strays easily from Shakespeare's play. Jocelyn's troubled son isn't as sympathetic as Hamlet, indeed he's a troublesome pain in the ass! Jocelyn's performance is also a bit of a mystery. Everyone else in the film acts in a naturalistic style while Jocelyn seems brittle and artificial. Not having seen Jocelyn perform before, I don't know if it's the actor or the performance. The title is a misnomer. Although called Ophelia, as played by Juliette Mayniel, she's an almost peripheral character often hovering around the edges (not unlike Shakespeare's play) and unlike Shakespeare's heroine, she isn't fragile. Actually, she's the strongest character in the film. An interesting experiment but not wholly successful. With Robert Burnier.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Aspen (1977)

After the body of a 15 year old girl is found brutally beaten and mutilated in the resort town of Aspen, a drifter (Perry King) is arrested for her rape and murder. A rising young lawyer (Sam Elliott) takes on his case but everything seems to be working against him and it will take nearly 8 years for justice to be served. Directed by Douglas Heyes, the film is ostensibly adapted from the novel ASPEN by Bert Hirschfield but in actuality it uses only the title. The film is based THE ADVERSARY by Bart Spicer although both books are credited as the source material. At 4 1/2 hours, this is an overlong soap opera. If it had stuck with the actual murder case and the trial and the years of appeals, it would have made for a compelling piece of drama. Unfortunately, it's padded out with subplots about land developers as well as an uninteresting romantic triangle involving Elliott, Jessica Harper and Roger Davis that only serve to detract. Also, is there a duller piece of white bread actor than Perry King? Fortunately, Elliott who is at the center of the story is a strong presence. The acting ranges from good to barely adequate. The large cast includes Anthony Franciosa, Gene Barry, Michelle Phillips, Joseph Cotten, John Houseman, Martine Beswick, Bo Hopkins and William Prince. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Prapancha Pash (aka A Throw Of Dice) (1929)

Set in India, two royal cousins rule in adjoining kingdoms. But one (Himansu Rai) plots the death of the other (Charu Roy) in order to inherit his kingdom. There is also the matter of the beautiful country girl (Seta Devi), they both love. Directed by Franz Osten, this is one of the unsung jewels of silent cinema. Inspired by the MAHABHARATA, it's a genuine romantic epic with shimmering visuals and an impressive sense of extravagance. The film is an Indian (Rai who plays Sohan was the producer) and German (Osten is German) co-production. Unfortunately, Osten (who lived in India) was also a member of the Nazi party which effectively put an end to his career when the British authorities interned him during WWII. But the film remains a superb combination of melodrama and exoticism with naturalistic performances by its cast that provide a richly cinematic experience. The transfer I saw has the 2008 score specially composed by Nitin Sawhney for the film's restoration and it's a beautiful piece of work that elevates the film onto another level. If you have any interest in silent cinema at all, this is a must see.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973)

When prominent members of the British government and aristocracy are suspected of being in a secret cult, British Intelligence assigns two men (Michael Coles, William Franklyn) to investigate the matter. But when they discover it involves the occult, they ask the help of Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) who suspects his family's old nemesis Dracula (Christopher Lee) may be behind it all. Directed by Alan Gibson, Hammer brings Dracula into the 20th century. Here, instead of skulking in castles, he is a wealthy property developer living in a high rise! It's a weak effort. Cushing and Lee bring their welcome gravitas to their respective roles but the film plays out like a routine action doomsday thriller rather than a horror movie and one senses Cushing and Lee's discomfort. The film might have worked better as a parody and indeed, when first announced, it was going to be a comedy before they changed their minds after Lee protested. With Joanna Lumley (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS) and Freddie Jones.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949)

An aging U.S. Cavalry Captain (John Wayne) is just days away from his retirement. But when word of the defeat of Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn reaches the fort, he is given a final assignment. To deal with a group of Indians who have left their reservations and are grouping together to attack the Fort. Visually, this is one of director John Ford's most beautiful films although he and his cinematographer Winston Hoch clashed several times during the filming. Hoch's compositions and images of Ford's beloved Monument Valley are simply breathtaking in three strip Technicolor and Hoch justifiably won an Oscar for his efforts. The story is simplicity itself (possibly too simple) and the film plays better as a mood piece observing the weight of duty. Although about 20 years too young for his role, this is one of Wayne's best performances, bringing a quiet dignity and strength to his character. The film is severely compromised by several factors however. Richard Hageman's trite score aside, I can't decide who gives the film's worst performance: Victor McLaglen or John Agar. McLaglen overdoes the Irish whimsy bit and when he enters a saloon as an Irish jig plays on the soundtrack, I groaned, "Oh no, not a barroom brawl!" and sure enough, it happens. Agar is astonishingly bad! With Joanne Dru, Mildred Natwick, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. 

Someone's Watching Me (1978)

Relocating from New York to Los Angeles, a TV director (Lauren Hutton) moves into a luxury high rise apartment complex. But she's barely moved in when she starts getting anonymous calls and gifts from a stalker. Things get progressively worse until she realizes that not only is he watching her, he intends to kill her. Written and directed by John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN), this is a homage to Alfred Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW with a nod to NORTH BY NORTHWEST's main titles with Harry Sukman's Herrmannesque underscore. Carpenter gives us a strong heroine rather than the usual hysterical lady in distress heroines of the genre (think MIDNIGHT LACE). Although terrorized and driven to the brink, she doesn't scream once and she fights back with everything at her disposal and it's not a man that saves her. The film's only downside is the supremely uninteresting David Birney as Hutton's love interest. Their scenes together drag the movie down. A minor thriller to be sure but Carpenter keeps it tight. With Adrienne Barbeau and Charles Cyphers. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Holiday (1938)

A freethinking financier (Cary Grant) has plans to retire while he's still young and find himself. His wealthy fiancee (Doris Nolan) and her father (Henry Kolker) have other ideas however. But his fiancee's rebellious sister (Katharine Hepburn) encourages him. Based on the Philip Barry (PHILADELPHIA STORY) play and directed by George Cukor. This is actually the second film version of the Barry play which was previously filmed in 1930. But this is the one with the dream cast and directed by Cukor with a deft hand. Rejected by audiences at the time, it's a witty and sparkling comedy with some bite to it that has its share of seriousness and poignancy. Everyone is in peak form and the supporting cast is a treat including Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as an unconventional couple who find themselves fish out of water in posh Manhattan social circles. But the best performance in the film comes from Lew Ayres as Hepburn's brother so miserable that his dreams have been crushed by his father that he's given up and drowns himself in alcohol, too weak to fight back anymore. With Binnie Barnes and Henry Daniell as a pair of smarmy insincere relatives.   

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Desert Hawk (1950)

A lowly blacksmith (Richard Greene) by day but at night he is known as The Desert Hawk, the savior of his people as he steals from the wealthy to help his people from the brutalities of their cruel ruler Prince Murad (George Macready). But when the Hawk marries the ruler's intended bride (Yvonne De Carlo) by masquerading as the Prince, crosses and double crosses follow. The Arabian Nights fantasy adventure was a staple (along with westerns) from Universal during the early fifties. Greene does the hero duties here but would soon be usurped by the likes of Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson (who has a supporting role as a captain of the guard here). It's all hokey nonsense of course, especially when you have Jackie Gleason as Aladdin and Joe Besser (of the 3 Stooges) as Sinbad! But at a brief 75 minutes that's full of action, it's a harmless piece of kitsch shot on the Universal back lot and looking it! Directed by Frederick De Cordova with a light hand. With Marc Lawrence and Carl Esmond.   

An Early Frost (1985)

A successful lawyer (Aidan Quinn) in Chicago is diagnosed with AIDS during the early years of the epidemic. He is closeted and his parents (Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara) don't know about his sexual orientation though his married sister (Sydney Walsh) does. Directed by John Erman, this was a landmark film in that it was the first film to address the topic of AIDS. 1985 was still the "dark ages" where fear and ignorance about the disease caused AIDS patients to be shunned and discriminated against. Although the film is not without some inherent flaws, it remains a powerful look at the early days of the "gay plague" when having the disease was still a death sentence before the so called "AIDS cocktail" therapy extended the life expectancy for HIV patients to something resembling normalcy. The film is a showcase for Rowlands and Quinn who give superb performances as the mother and son coming to terms with his illness. My main complaint is that like other such films (LONGTIME COMPANION, PHILADELPHIA), the gay characters are affluent and attractive white collar types as if lower income blue collar gays didn't exist (it took BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN to break the stereotype). The AIDS subject aside, it still remains a potent look at homophobia as Ben Gazzara's father can't seem to accept his son's sexuality. With Sylvia Sidney (excellent!), Bill Paxton, Terry O'Quinn and D.W. Moffett.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Snatched (2017)

After her boyfriend (Randall Park) dumps her on the eve of a vacation in Ecuador, a young woman (Amy Schumer) cons her mother (Goldie Hawn) into going with her out of desperation. The vacation turns into a nightmare when they are kidnapped. Directed by Jonathan Levine, the comedy may be uneven but I found more than enough laughs to entertain me in the quickly moving 90 minute movie. It's silly, it's raunchy and actually darkly irreverent in spots (one of the biggest laughs comes when a man dying of cancer falls to his death from a cliff). In short, I had a good time at it. This marks Hawn's first movie in 15 years and it's great to see her back on the screen and she and Schumer make for a great mother-daughter team. But the film is nearly stolen by Ike Barinholtz as Hawn's agoraphobic nerd son. So the material isn't up to the talents of its two leading ladies and its barely serviceable plot merely an excuse for some obvious gags but it's good enough. With Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Christopher Meloni, Bashir Salahuddin and Tom Bateman. 

Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)

An ambitious amoral press agent (Tony Curtis) kowtows to a venomous but powerful New York newspaper columnist (Burt Lancaster) in order to get items on his clients in the paper. They're both rotten birds of a feather but a romance between the columnist's sister (Susan Harrison) and a musician (Martin Milner) will prove fateful to both men. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick (MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT) from a screenplay by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman based on Lehman's short novel. Simply put, this is a great movie! The razor sharp screenplay with Odets' pungent dialog, James Wong Howe's beautiful B&W cinematography, Elmer Bernstein's pulsating underscore and an impeccable cast all the way down the line make this one of the seminal New York films. The film was not a success when first released but it has since attained the status of a classic. In 1957, audiences must have been taken aback by tight wound up acidic performance by Lancaster who usually played kinetic physical characters and fans of then heartthrob Curtis must have been taken for a loop by the reprehensible sleazy character he betrayed. Both actors are in brilliant form here but even the minor characters are etched with detail. Lancaster refers to Curtis as a "cookie full of arsenic" and that might be an appropriate description of the film. With Barbara Nichols, Jeff Donnell, Sam Levene, Emile Meyer, Lurene Tuttle and Edith Atwater.   

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Belle Of The Nineties (1934)

A nightclub entertainer (Mae West) leaves St. Louis for New Orleans after her boxer boyfriend (Roger Pryor) is tricked into believing she was unfaithful by his manager (James Conlan). But their paths will cross again but this time, she wants revenge! Directed by Leo McCarey (THE AWFUL TRUTH) from the story IT AIN'T NO SIN which was written by West. Until the rushed ending in which everything is quickly tied up in a matter of seconds, this is one of West's best films. She gets to do more than just drop double entendres and quips although there are enough West zingers to satisfy. Example: when her maid asks her, "What kind of husband do you think I should I get?", West responds, "Why don't you try a single man and leave the husbands alone". The songs West is given to sing are a strong lot too and she's accompanied by the great Duke Ellington and his orchestra on most of them. My favorites were the raunchy When A St. Louis Woman Goes Down To New Orleans and Troubled Waters which she sings from a balcony while intercut with a black revival meeting gospel version of the song. With Johnny Mack Brown, John Miljan, Katherine DeMille and Edward Gargan.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Knight Of Cups (2015)

A screenwriter (Christian Bale) in Los Angeles finds his existence empty and to that end, he attempts to connect with another human being in romantic relationships with several women including an ex-wife (Cate Blanchett), a married actress (Natalie Portman), a fashion model (Freida Pinto), a stripper (Teresa Palmer) and a non conformist (Imogen Poots). Written and directed by Terrence Malick. Ever since TREE OF LIFE, Malick has been moving away from the conventional narratives of his earlier films like BADLANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN. With this film, he seems to be moving even further away from linear story telling toward an almost exclusively abstract visual and aural style which can be extremely frustrating unless you (the viewer) can make a firm commitment to the experience. While I am favorably disposed to the film, I can see that Malick is painting himself into a corner and frankly, he's in a rut. Visually, this is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Almost any random shot by the great Emmanuel Lubezki could be taken and hung in a museum or an art gallery. With the possible exception of Portman, this isn't a film where the acting matters much, they're all pieces for Malick to move around on his cinematic chessboard. In the end, it worked for me and the fragmented piecemeal nature of the film coalesced. With Antonio Banderas, Brian Dennehy, West Bentley, Ryan O'Neal, Michael Wincott, Armin Mueller Stahl (whose big speech I found offensive) and Cherry Jones.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Les Plus Belles Escroqueries Du Monde (1964)

Four stories by four directors, each set in a different international location. In Tokyo: Directed by Hiromichi Horikawa. A bar girl (Mie Hama, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) sets her sight on an elderly miser (Ken Mitsuda) who's so afraid to lose his fortune, he carries it around in a brief case. In Naples: Directed by Ugo Gregoretti. A young man (Guido Giuseppone) is infatuated with a prostitute (Gabriella Giorgelli) but she only has eyes for the pimp (Giuseppe Mannajuolo) who treats her badly. In Paris: Directed by Claude Chabrol. A group of swindlers (Jean Pierre Cassel, Catherine Deneuve, Sacha Briquet) sell the Eiffel Tower to an unsuspecting dupe (Francis Blanche). In Marrakesh: Directed by Jean Luc Godard. A TV reporter (Jean Seberg) interviews a counterfeiter (Charles Denner) who makes money and gives it to the poor. In the original theatrical release, there was a 5th segment set in the Netherlands directed by Roman Polanski but on the transfer I saw, the segment was removed at Polanski's request with no explanation. Curiously, the Godard sequence was deleted from the theatrical release but it has been re-instated in the transfer I saw. The first three are entertainments with some amusement value but the Godard segment, not surprisingly, has an enigmatic political bent that doesn't fit in with the first three so one can see why it was removed initially. Each segment is roughly 25 minutes in length so they don't have a chance to wear out their welcome. The Japanese sequence was my favorite and my least favorite was the Paris sequence. It was a one joke premise that wasn't that funny to begin with.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lilies Of The Field (1963)

An itinerant handyman (Sidney Poitier in his Oscar winning role) is passing through the Arizona desert when he comes across a group of East German nuns. The Mother Superior (Lilia Skala) sees him as a gift from God sent to help them build their chapel. He has other ideas. Based on the book by William Edmund Barrett and directed by Ralph Nelson (REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT). This is a lovely film. Heartwarming in the best sense of the word. On paper, a movie about a black man helping a group of nuns build a church sounds hopelessly saccharine. But James Poe's screenplay never crosses over into sentimentality. For instance, Skala's mother superior is a martinet for who even saying "Thank you" seems an act of weakness while Poitier's handyman is no Uncle Remus but a kind hearted man who won't be disrespected. A discerning and thoughtful film. The exquisite B&W cinematography is by Ernest Haller (GONE WITH THE WIND) with a marvelous Jerry Goldsmith underscore. With Stanley Adams, Dan Frazer and Ralph Nelson himself as a building contractor.   

A Doll's House (1992)

In 1879 Norway, a young wife and mother (Juliet Stevenson) has been harboring a dark secret from her husband (Trevor Eve). She forged her dead father's signature on a loan in order to get money to take her husband to Italy for medical reasons. When the man (David Calder) she borrowed the money from is fired from his job by her husband, he blackmails her into securing his job back. Based on the great play by Henrik Ibsen and directed by David Thacker. Although he never intended it as such, Ibsen's play is a landmark feminist piece that is still relevant today. A devastating examination of women as the chattel of their husbands and fathers in a patriarchal society and the smallest cracks in that society that will eventually bloom into an entire movement. But Ibsen wasn't concerned so much with women as much as the individual discovering who they are and striving to be that person. The role of Nora is a great part for an actress and Stevenson is wonderful in the role though she occasionally goes overboard with chirpiness early on but her great speech at the end is impeccably done. With Geraldine James and Patrick Malahide.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Guest In The House (1944)

A young doctor (Scott McKay) brings his fiancee (Anne Baxter), who is an invalid, to his brother's (Ralph Bellamy) home to recover. But the frail young woman turns out to be a devious psychotic who plots to destroy the family that took her in. Based on a play by Hagar Wilde and Dale Eunson which had a brief five month run on Broadway and directed by John Brahm (HANGOVER SQUARE). Baxter's manipulative liar seems like a dry run for her Eve Harrington in ALL ABOUT EVE six years later. The main problem with these type of movies is that too often the whack job is played so broadly that one can't help but wonder why nobody else in the movie can see through the schemer. Baxter is in full "dragon lady" mode and one gets frustrated when everyone coos over the poor darling when you're screaming at the screen, "Kick the bitch out!". But, of course, if they did, there would be no movie. Still, for what it is, it gets the job done and I wasn't bored for a minute. The Oscar nominated score is by Werner Janssen. With Ruth Warrick, Marie McDonald, Aline MacMahon, Jerome Cowan, Margaret Hamilton and Percy Kilbride.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Storm Over The Nile (1955)

When his regiment in the Royal North Surrey are given orders to deploy to the Sudan, a young soldier (Anthony Steel) resigns his commission. His three friends and fellow soldiers (Laurence Harvey, Ronald Lewis, Ian Carmichael) and his fiancee (Mary Ure in her film debut) each give him a white feather which is a sign of cowardice. Based on the novel THE FOUR FEATHERS by A.E.W. Mason which had already been filmed been filmed four times before and would be again. Zoltan Korda had directed the 1939 film of which this is a near shot by shot remake and is co-credited as director along with Terence Young (DR. NO). In fact, although shot in CinemaScope, stock footage from the 1939 film is incorporated into the movie. If you're partial to the story, this is a respectable if unimaginative version. It's decently acted and even the wooden Laurence Harvey manages to show signs of life in his performance. The film benefits greatly from Benjamin Frankel's regal underscore. With James Robertson Justice, Christopher Lee, Michael Hordern, Geoffrey Keen and Ferdy Mayne.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What The Peeper Saw (1972)

The sexy young wife (Britt Ekland) of a wealthy writer (Hardy Kruger) meets her 12 year old stepson (Mark Lester, OLIVER!) for the first time when her husband is away on a business trip. When she finds out he was expelled from school and the reasons for it, she begins to suspect that something isn't right. For instance, the truth behind his mother's (Collette Jack) "accidental" death. Directed by James Kelley (BEAST IN THE CELLAR), this is a very twisted thriller that borders on just plain sick. Never mind that Britt Ekland is undressed at every opportunity but the sex scenes between Ekland and the 12 year old boy (Lester was actually 14) are disturbing though it's clear from the way they were shot that a body double for Lester was used. I'm not overly sentimental about children and I love a good "bad seed" thriller with evil children and on that level, this one is a corker. The film's last 20 minutes are a bit muddled and confusing but I loved the perverse ending which I wasn't expecting! I wish they had cast a stronger actress than Britt Ekland. She's lovely and sexy but she doesn't have the acting chops that a melodramatic role like this requires and she has a drunk scene that's dreadful. For fans of sexploitation Eurotrash and "bad seed" thrillers, this is well worth seeking out. With Lilli Palmer and Harry Andrews.  

Madame Sans Gene (1961)

A laundress (Sophia Loren) during the French Revolution befriends a destitute Corporal by the name of Napoleon (Julian Bertheau) and washes and irons his shirts. As he rises to become the Emperor of France, she also rises as the wife of a soldier (Robert Hossein) into the ranks of the aristocracy. But she can't hide her common roots or her outspoken manner. Based on the life of Catherine Hubscher, a laundress who eventually became a Duchess in Napoleon's court, her story has seen many incarnations including a popular 1893 play, an opera and two previous films with Gloria Swanson in 1924 and Arletty in 1941 playing the laundress. This version, directed by Christian Jaque (FANFAN LA TULIPE), is a rather innocuous affair. Fortunately with Loren in the lead, she manages to bring some verve and vivacity to what otherwise might have been a mild concoction. The first part of the film is the best since it dwells on the battles between the revolutionaries and King Louis XVI's armies and there's always something going on while the second part slows down considerably. With Marina Berti and Renaud Mary.  

The Dinner (2017)

Two brothers and their wives have dinner at an ultra upscale restaurant, the kind where the waiter spends 5 minutes telling you about the dish you've just been served. One is a politician (Richard Gere) running for Governor and his second, much younger wife (Rebecca Hall). The other is an academic (Steve Coogan) with a history of mental illness and his wife (Laura Linney), a cancer survivor. Based on the Dutch novel by Herman Koch and directed by Oren Moverman. Actually, this is the third film version of the novel. It was previously filmed in the Netherlands in 2013 and in Italy in 2014. I've not read Koch's book nor have I seen either of the previous films but this is one depressing and disturbing film and I suspect a polarizing one. First impressions of its characters are eventually turned upside down. Gere's smarmy and obsessed politician turns out to be the only character with a moral backbone while Linney's loving wife and mother and cancer survivor turns into a morally bankrupt Lady MacBeth! Unfortunately, Moverman can't seem to stay focused on the core of the film and we get too many random flashbacks which dilute the potency of the material, at least until the last half hour when he lets it rip! An unsettling peek into "white privilege" and the monsters they spawn. With Chloe Sevigny, Adepero Oduye, Michael Chernus and Charlie Plummer.  

Saturday, May 6, 2017

To Be Or Not To Be (1983)

When the Nazis invade Poland, a theatrical troupe finds itself inadvertently involved in helping a Polish fighter pilot (Tim Matheson) in obtaining a list of the names in the Polish underground from a Polish traitor (Jose Ferrer) working for the Nazis before he turns it over to the Gestapo. Although the directorial credit goes to Alan Johnson and the screenplay credit goes to Ronny Graham and Thomas Meehan, the film was produced by Mel Brooks and it feels like a Mel Brooks directed comedy. I'm not a fan of Nazi comedies in general whether it's HOGAN'S HEROES, Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR or the original 1942 Ernest Lubitsch movie this film is based on. I simply don't find Nazis remotely funny. That being said, I quite like this film. It never lets its zany humor get in the way of the essential seriousness of what the Nazis did or represent. All the performers are in top notch form here. Brooks does what he does best (play Mel Brooks) but Anne Bancroft is a pure delight exercising her comedy chops as his wife. But perhaps the film is stolen by Charles Durning (Oscar nominated for his performance here) as the S.S. Colonel who is always one step away from destroying his career. With Christopher Lloyd, George Gaynes, Lewis J. Stadlen, Estelle Reiner, Ronny Graham and James Haake. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Three Days Of The Condor (1975)

An analyst (Robert Redford) for a clandestine CIA agency returns from lunch to find his entire office assassinated. He contacts his superior (Cliff Robertson) about being brought in but something doesn't feel right about the situation and he goes on the run instead. Based on the novel SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR by James Grady and directed by Sydney Pollack. The 1970s were the decade of the paranoid thrillers, conspiracies and distrust of the government. Films like WINTER KILLS, PARALLAX VIEW, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and this tight little thriller which is my own personal favorite. Even though the film pushes the two hour mark, Pollack keeps the tension taut and lean. The script by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel is intelligent and the dialog pungent and most importantly, believable rather than far fetched. The quality of the screenplay allows Faye Dunaway to invest her character with complexity and detail while in the hands of a lesser script, she would just be "the girl". Redford is excellent, never overplaying his hand at conveying his terror and confusion. The neat underscore is by Dave Grusin. With Max Von Sydow, quite chilly as a hit man, John Houseman, Tina Chen and Carlin Glynn.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Dearest Enemy (1955)

In 1776, a troop of British soldiers lead by General Howe (Cyril Ritchard) lands in the bay near the home of a widow (Cornelia Otis Skinner) who uses her kitchen to make ammunition for the American troops. An American soldier (Evan Wright) asks the widow's niece (Anne Jeffreys) to keep the British troops there as long as they can and thus giving advantage to General Washington's troops. Based on the 1925 Broadway musical by Rodgers & Hart which is rarely performed today and one can see why. The play seems more like a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta than a Rodgers & Hart musical. The songs simply aren't on the same level as their scores to PAL JOEY or BABES IN ARMS. There's also a disturbing element in the plot. Namely, collaboration between American women and enemy British soldiers which the musical takes lightly. I'm all for love but is this plot line any different than if it had been a musical comedy about Frenchwomen collaborating with German soldiers during WWII? There is one amusing scene where the women torture a starving British soldier by tempting him with food. Anne Jeffreys, who has the best singing voice among the four leads, is very good. Neil Simon co-adapted the musical for live TV which is directed by Max Lieberman. With Robert Sterling as the British soldier wooing Jeffreys.

Back Page (1934)

A young female reporter (Peggy Shannon) is fired from a big city newspaper after she refuses to kill a story concerning an influential man. She accepts a job from a small hick town newspaper as an editor but the owner (Claude Gillingwater) wasn't expecting a woman and tries to talk her out of the job. But she persists until he gives in. She soon finds out however that corruption isn't restricted to just big cities. If you're a fan of newspaper movies like THE FRONT PAGE, this little seen programmer should be right up your alley. It's barely over an hour long but it's fast paced and its emphasis on sexism and feminism was ahead of its time. Shannon was a real charmer and it's a pity she didn't become a bigger star (alcoholism derailed her career and she was dead by 34). She was attractive, could act and had real spunk. The rest of the cast isn't up to her level unfortunately. Her leading man Russell Hopton is a bit of a stiff and she (and her character) are too good for him. Directed by Anton Lorenze. With Sterling Holloway, Edwin Maxwell and David Callis. 

Miracle Of The White Stallions (1963)

During the waning days of WWII, the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna and its prized Lipizzan stallions are threatened by bombing raids and indifferent Nazi commanders. The school's director (Robert Taylor) attempts a daring plan to remove the horses from the ravages of war. Based on the non fiction book DANCING WHITE HORSES OF VIENNA by Alois Podhajsky (played in the film by Taylor) and directed by Arthur Hiller (OUT OF TOWNERS). This is a live action Walt Disney film from the 1960s so that might be a red flag to some who aren't particularly attached to THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR or THE LOVE BUG. But actually, it's very good and if you're a horse lover, even better. The film faithfully recreates the anxiety of saving these Austrian national treasures, keeping them safe and restoring their place at the Spanish Riding School (it took 10 years). It avoids the schmaltz that often comes hand in hand with a Disney film and it's a film any adult can easily enjoy. The acting is decent and in the case of Curt Jurgens as a war weary German General, more than decent. He's excellent. Also in the cast Lilli Palmer, Eddie Albert, James Franciscus, Brigitte Horney, Philip Abbott and John Larch as George S. Patton. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Paris Underground (1945)

When the Nazis occupy Paris during WWII, an American woman (Constance Bennett) separated from her French husband (George Rigaud) and an Englishwoman (Gracie Fields in her final film role) find themselves trapped in German occupied France. But the women organize an underground organization to smuggle Allied troops out of the country. Based on the non fiction book by Etta Shiber describing how she and a colleague helped British pilots escape from Nazi Germany. The film version (produced by Bennett herself) takes "artistic license" from the book to make a typical WWII adventure. It would have fared better with a more documentary like approach rather than the often sentimental scenario presented here. Fields' character is irritatingly inconsistent. In one scene, she's a no nonsense Brit who takes matters into her own hands and in another scene, she's suddenly weak and confused. The film apparently was shot in Hollywood but it does manage to convey what feels like an authentic atmosphere of the chaos of Paris during the waning days of WWII. The Oscar nominated score was composed by Alexandre Tansman. With Kurt Kreuger, Vladimir Sokoloff, Eily Malyon and Jay Novello.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Splitting Heirs (1993)

An Englishman (Eric Idle), who was adopted and raised by Pakistani immigrants, discovers that he is actually the 15th Duke Of Bournemouth and the current Duke (Rick Moranis) is, in fact, the son of a cook (Brenda Bruce) who switched the infants shortly after birth. Directed by Robert Young and written by Idle of Monty Python fame. The film is an update of those popular (though I've never been much of a fan of them) British Ealing comedies. In this case, the film referenced is KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. In that 1949 film, a man attempts to murder the eight people who stand in the line to his   Dukedom. Here, it's Idle who attempts to get rid of Moranis. It's fitfully amusing but never coalesces into much beyond a quick (it runs less than 90 minutes) and quickly forgettable romp. Moranis, Idle and John Cleese (who plays an attorney) may be the comedy veterans in the cast but the film is stolen by Barbara Hershey as the nymphomaniac Duchess mother. She seems to be having a blast and her spunk is infectious. With Catherine Zeta Jones, Eric Sykes and Sadie Frost.

Raw Edge (1956)

It's 1842 Oregon and there's no law and order except that of a power mad land baron (Herbert Rudley) whose barbaric rule of law is that since men outnumber women by a substantial amount that the women are chattel and can be forced into marriage by the first man to claim her. When a rancher (John Gavin) is wrongfully accused of attempting to rape the land baron's wife (Yvonne De Carlo), he is lynched. But the dead man's brother (Rory Calhoun) arrives in town bent on revenge for his brother. Directed by John Sherwood, this programmer is an odd little western but odd in a good way. It's unsettling right from the start where women are victims of a savage patriarchal community. Poor Yvonne De Carlo spends the entire movie fending off potential rapists. Men are more than willing to kill husbands in order to get at their wives. Add to that, Indians preparing to attack to avenge their own slaughtered by townspeople to get an Indian woman (Mara Corday) for a wife. By no means is this a particularly good western but it's different enough in theme and execution to rise above the usual Universal "B" westerns. With Neville Brand, Rex Reason, Emile Meyer, Robert J. Wilke and Ed Fury, who would go on to be a sword and sandal star in 1960s Italy.  

Sunday, April 30, 2017

How To Be A Latin Lover (2017)

A middle aged Latino (Eugenio Derbez) has made a living out of living off rich older women. When his 80 year old wife (Renee Taylor) of 25 years gives him the boot for a new boy toy (Michael Cera), he's penniless (signed a pre-nup) and is forced to move in with his estranged sister (Salma Hayek) and her nerdy 10 year old son (Raphael Alejandro, who's adorable). The feature film directorial debut of actor Ken Marino is a good natured sweet comedy. I know that sounds like damning praise but I don't mean it to be. Its heart is in the right place and there are plenty of legitimate laughs to be found. Derbez isn't well known to U.S. audiences but he's one of Mexico's biggest stars and one can see his appeal. It's definitely not a critics kind of movie but audiences looking for a pleasant two hours will get their money's worth. The film manages to be both family friendly while still offering some bad taste humor: I think I was the only one who laughed when a car hit a man in a wheelchair the first time. The film has a lot of familiar faces in small roles and the entire cast is game for the adventure including Raquel Welch (she's got to be the sexiest 76 year old on the planet!), Kristen Bell, Rob Lowe, Linda Lavin (TV's ALICE), Rob Corddry, Rob Riggle and Rob Huebel (I guess Rob Schneider wasn't available). 

Saraband (2003)

A woman (Liv Ullmann) travels to the country home of an ex-husband (Erland Josephson) she hasn't seen in over 30 years. It's an uncomfortable visitation at first that becomes complicated when the ex-husband's granddaughter (Julia Dufvenius) faces a crisis in the relationship with her father (Borje Ahlstedt). Ingmar Bergman's final film was made for Swedish television but released theatrically everywhere else. Ullmann and Josephson play the same couple they played in Bergman's SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE thirty years earlier. Although at first it might seem aimless, it's a film you have to stay connected with to get the payoff. While this doesn't rank with Bergman's masterpieces, even second tier Bergman provides rewards that lesser artists can only dream about. The film should really be called ANNA because the character of Anna may be dead but she permeates the entire film's narrative. Bergman's theme is love but as it is Bergman, we see the destructive power of unhealthy "love". The relationship between Dufvenius and Ahlstedt is very disturbing and bordering on incest and though I suspect Bergman wants us to have some empathy for Ahlstedt's emotionally weak character, I just found him repugnant. It's Bergman, it needs to be seen and a fitting swan song to one of cinema's great geniuses.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ (1925)

A wealthy Jewish Prince (Ramon Novarro) finds his childhood friend Messala (Francix X. Bushman) quite changed when he returns to Jerusalem as a Roman tribune. When an accident occurs, the tribune uses it as an excuse to banish the Prince to slave labor in a Roman ship's galley and the Prince's mother (Claire McDowell) and sister (Kathleen Key) to the underground dungeons. Based on the 1880 novel by General Lew Wallace and directed by Fred Niblo. As a spectacle, it is the equal of the 1959 Oscar winning remake. Nothing is spared in its lavishness and this is one opulent epic. Like the 1959 film, the movie's centerpiece is the spectacular chariot race between Ben-Hur and Messala and it's still quite amazing. Unfortunately, unlike the 1959 film, after the chariot race the film drags. Most of the acting is weak (especially Novarro) and there's not much complexity in the characters. Messala, for example, is extremely one dimensional compared to the 1959 film. Some of the scenes are in the two strip Technicolor process but the overall cinematography (credited to 4 people no less) is very impressive. With May McAvoy, Betty Bronson, Nigel De Brulier, Mitchell Lewis and in my favorite performance in the film, Carmel Myers as an Egyptian seductress.

Friday, April 28, 2017

I Want To Live! (1958)

A hard living "party girl" (Susan Hayward) has been in prison for perjury and is a sometime prostitute. She tries going straight but when her drug addict husband (Wesley Lau) bails on her, she returns to a life of crime. But when her cohorts in crime are arrested on a murder charge, they point the finger to her but she maintains her innocence even when on death row in San Quentin. Based on the the life of Barbara Graham who was executed in 1955 at the age of 31 for her complicity in the murder of a widow during a robbery attempt. The film takes the view that Graham was innocent although the actual facts in the case indicate that while she may not have murdered the widow, she was a participant in the robbery which she emphatically denied. The film works as a piece of anti-capital punishment propaganda. On that level, it's quite effective and the film spares the viewer no detail in the film's harrowing gas chamber execution scene. Hayward won the Oscar for her performance here and it is her best performance. As an actress, she had a tendency to push too hard (think I'LL CRY TOMORROW) but here, she's perfectly cast and gives a genuinely moving performance. With Simon Oakland, Theodore Bikel, Virginia Vincent, Jack Weston, Brett Halsey, James Philbrook, Gavin McLeod and Gertrude Flynn.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Master Builder (2014)

An aging architect (Wallace Shawn) is visited by a young girl (Lisa Joyce) who he met 10 years earlier. She sees him as a sort of modern day Viking god and challenges him to keep the promise he made to her as a child. Can the middle aged egoist live up to her fantasies or will she be disillusioned? Directed by Jonathan Demme (who died this week) and based on the great Henrik Ibsen play THE MASTER BUILDER, here adapted for the screen from his staged adaptation by Shawn. The film uses a framing device filmed in the 1.85 aspect ratio not in Ibsen's original play while the play itself is filmed in the wide screen 2.35 ratio. Shawn's adaptation is excellent and Demme, aided by his cinematographer Declan Quinn (LEAVING LAS VEGAS), arranges an imperative tone to the proceedings. But the film is not without some major problems. I've never seen a movie with so much fake laughter, a kind of nervous laughter that is so overused to the point of distraction. But the main problem is the casting of Shawn. All three of the female protagonists (Julie Hagerty and Emily Cass McDonnell are the other two) are besotted with him. It's not that Shawn's dumpy looks aren't exactly that of a chick magnet but that he's rather bland in leading roles without the compelling presence that would make you understand why the women are all obsessed with him! Also, his performance as well as Lisa Joyce's play to the balcony and make no concession that they are in a film, not on the stage. Even if you accept that it's essentially filmed theater, it's jarring. The best performance comes from Hagerty as the wife who scales down her performance which only makes the overacting of the rest of the company obvious. With Andre Gregory, Larry Pine and Jeff Biehl.

Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)

In 1787, the HMS Bounty sets sail for Tahiti under the leadership of Captain William Bligh (Charles Laughton). Their mission is to obtain breadfruit but the voyage is a nightmare as the men are driven to the brink by the sadistic and heartless Captain. The ship's Lieutenant (Clark Gable) tries to reason with the Captain but it soon becomes apparent that if anything is to change, the men must take matters into their own hands. Based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall and directed by Frank Lloyd. The film takes an incredible amount of artistic license regarding the actual facts of the Bounty mutiny and the people involved. If one doesn't take the film as an authentic portrayal one can enjoy it immensely in spite of its many flaws. Clark Gable is very good as Fletcher Christian although he's never believable as an English sailor. He's Clark Gable and that's what audiences wanted to see, he doesn't even attempt an English accent. Franchot Tone, the film's third lead, also doesn't attempt an English accent but his screen presence isn't as potent as Gable's and his "golly gee" performance is hard to take at times. But the film belongs to Laughton whose masterly performance holds the film together. As cinema, I much prefer the 1962 MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY or the 1984 THE BOUNTY which at least attempt to be faithful in spirit to the actual mutiny. With Henry Stephenson, Donald Crisp, Spring Byington, Herbert Mundin, Eddie Quillan, Ian Wolfe and Movita Castaneda.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Magic (1978)

A ventriloquist (Anthony Hopkins) is on the verge of a career breakthrough but unable to face a required medical exam that might reveal his severe psychological issues, he flees to the Catskills where he grew up and re-connects with the woman (Ann-Margret), now unhappily married, he had a teen crush on. Based on the novel by William Goldman, who adapted his book for the screen and directed by Richard Attenborough (GANDHI). By the time of Goldman's novel, stories about ventriloquists losing control of their lives to their wooden creations was hardly original. Perhaps the most famous examples are the Michael Redgrave episode in the 1945 film DEAD OF NIGHT and the 1962 TWILIGHT ZONE episode with Cliff Robertson. Despite his 2 Oscars (ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, BUTCH CASSIDY), Goldman is probably one of the most overrated screenwriters in Hollywood. What makes MAGIC work are the actors especially Hopkins who is terrific here. His out of control psychological breakdown is a direct contrast to the icy calm of his SILENCE OF THE LAMBS performance. Compare Hopkins' compelling performance here to the artificiality of Jack Nicholson's out of control breakdown in THE SHINING and you'll truly appreciate Hopkins' performance. There's a marvelous Jerry Goldsmith score to accompany the proceedings. With Burgess Meredith, David Ogden Stiers and Ed Lauter. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Song At Twilight (1982)

An internationally renowned author and playwright (Paul Scofield) in the autumn of his years agrees to see a former mistress (Deborah Kerr) from over 40 years ago during which time they have never seen each other. Based on the 1966 play by Noel Coward and directed by Cedric Messina. The play was one of Coward's last plays and it was a success on the London stage with Coward as the author and Lilli Palmer as the mistress. While it may lack the playfulness and wit of some of Coward's earlier comedies like PRIVATE LIVES and BLITHE SPIRIT, this one certainly has more depth and even a  touch of poignancy. Essentially a four character piece (June Tobin as the author's wife and Hugo Lidington as a servant are the other two), there's an elegance and levity that is sorely missed in contemporary comedy. It begins with some witty banter before slowly revealing itself to be a strong dose of honesty. Scofield and Kerr, no surprise, bring a wealth of experience to their roles but June Tobin as the German wife who knows more than she lets on provides excellent support.  

They Got Me Covered (1943)

A Pulitzer Prize winning foreign news correspondent (Bob Hope) is in hot water with his newspaper editor (Donald MacBride) for botching a huge news story. But when he gets a tip that Nazis and their allies are set to attack Washington D.C., he expects that not only will the story get him another Pulitzer but it will put him back in his boss's favor. Directed by David Butler (PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE), this is one of Hope's funnier efforts. While WWII propaganda films usually concentrated on the actual war front, this ditzy effort goes a different route and plays it for laughs. Hope's comic persona, that of a clueless and cowardly narcissist, is in full bloom here and his comic timing and masterly way with a quip has never been more razor sharp. It's all nonsense of course but Hope gets a lot of help from his ROAD co-star Dorothy Lamour as his girl, who makes for a wonderful straight woman. The expert supporting cast includes Otto Preminger as the head Nazi, Eduardo Ciannelli standing in for fascist Italy and Philip Ahn representing Japan. With Florence Bates, Margaret Hayes, John Abbott, Lenore Aubert, Marion Martin and Donald Meek, who's hilarious as a nutcase who still thinks it's the Civil War.

Monday, April 24, 2017

House Of Wax (1953)

After a talented sculptor (Vincent Price) is horribly burned in a fire because his partner (Roy Roberts) wants the insurance money on a wax figure exhibit, he becomes mentally unhinged and goes on a killing spree. The first 3D movie in color and stereophonic sound, this is a remake of the 1933 film MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. Ironically, it was directed by Andre De Toth who had only one good eye. It's a fun film and works quite well without the 3D gimmick although it's obviously striving overtime with "in your face" gimmicks like paddle balls practically hitting you in the face and high kicking chorines doing the can-can. After this film, Vincent Price seemed to be the "go to" man for horror films and quickly became a horror movie icon. By contemporary standards, it's not really scary at all but Price is extremely effective and De Toth creates a suitably menacing atmosphere. With Phyllis Kirk, Frank Lovejoy, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Angela Clarke and in an early screen appearance, Charles Bronson as a deaf mute.   

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Lost City Of Z (2017)

In 1905, the Royal Geological Society assigns a British military man (Charlie Hunnam) to survey the borders of Bolivia and Brazil. But when he discovers evidence of a long lost civilization that might pre-date modern man, it turns into an obsession that will consume him. Based on the non fiction book by David Grann and directed by James Gray (THE IMMIGRANT). Although based on the true story of Percy Fawcett, Gann's book has been attacked for gross exaggerations and inaccuracies. Since I don't go to the movies for history lessons, I took Gray's film, which covers 25 years, on face value. The first 2/3rds of the film are very good. More than very good, in fact excellent. It seemed to be evolving into something very special. Alas, when the film reaches WWI, it stops dead in its tracks and never recovers. Worse still, it meanders into a mystic and sentimental ending that seems to drag on forever! I started to feel angry that it began to ruin the good will that the first 2/3 had built up. The acting is first rate especially Hunnam in his best film role to date. High marks to Christopher Spelman's wonderful Oscar worthy score. With Sienna Miller (who does wonders with the dreaded "wife" role), Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Franco Nero and Angus Macfadyen, so good in his whimpering selfishness that you want to rip his face off!   

Insomnia (1997)

A Swedish detective (Stellan Skarsgard) and his partner (Sverre Anker Ousdal) travel to Norway to assist a murder case, that of a 17 year old girl brutally beaten to death. A plan to trap the suspected killer (Bjorn Floberg) goes horribly wrong and the detective kills his partner instead. But was it an accident? The directorial feature film debut of Erik Skjoldbjaerg is a compelling thriller with a complex ambiguous protagonist at its core. Not only is he unlikable, he's downright disgusting! But Skjoldbjaerg isn't interested in a sympathetic portrait but rather the opaque moral culpability of a guilt consumed man. As Skarsgard impeccably plays him, we're never able to break through his glass wall while ironically, we're able to understand Floberg's equally vile murderer which renders his character more human. Unsettling on several levels, nonetheless a gripping suspense film that challenges you as it entertains you. An English language remake directed by Christopher Nolan came out in 2002. With Gisken Armand and Bjorn Moan.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Gosford Park (2001)

In 1932, a group of British aristocrats gather for a weekend in the country at an estate owned by a wealthy factory owner (Michael Gambon) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). But what should have been an ordinary weekend is interrupted by a murder. Robert Altman would be the last director one would think of for this both witty and incisive look at the British class system which suddenly turns into an Agatha Christie mystery in its last hour. This is Merchant/Ivory territory and the film is a hybrid of REMAINS OF THE DAY and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. But since this is Altman and not Merchant/Ivory, the film is fluid rather than stiff, open rather than stuffy. Julian Fellowes' Oscar winning screenplay glides between the downstairs servants and the upstairs aristocrats giving us a peek at their private lives and if the servants seem to be more interesting than the aristocrats, it's probably because they're more relatable to us. The murder mystery aspect is only interesting because of the motive. The victim is extremely unlikable so we don't really care who killed him and the incompetence of the police detective (Stephen Fry) investigating the case insures the murder will never be solved. The impeccable ensemble cast includes Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, Ryan Phillippe, Eileen Atkins, Jeremy Northam, Richard E. Grant and Kelly Macdonald.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Mr. Moto Takes A Vacation (1939)

An American archaeologist (John Dusty King) discovers the crown of the Queen of Sheba during a dig. The famed Japanese detective Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) takes it upon himself to guard the crown on its sea journey to a San Francisco museum. But a criminal mastermind has already set a plan in motion to steal the priceless crown. Directed by Norman Foster (WOMAN ON THE RUN), this was the seventh film in the Mr. Moto franchise. If you're a fan of the series (as I am) and mysteries in general, it's quite fun. At barely over an hour long, it gets its business done without dawdling though I could easily have done without the comic relief provided by G.P. Huntley as a bumbling British twit who is more annoying than amusing. It's not very difficult to figure out the villain. When you cast a younger actor and then cover him up with old age make up, it's practically a dead giveaway. All in all, one of the more enjoyable entries in the series. With Joseph Schildkraut, Virginia Field, Lionel Atwill, Victor Wong and Willie Best.