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Monday, July 31, 2017

Frogs (1972)

Set in the bayous of Florida, a photographer (Sam Elliott) finds himself inadvertently spending the 4th of July with the wealthy family of a controlling wheelchair bound patriarch (Ray Milland). But something very strange is happening. The wildlife (frogs, snakes, lizards, turtles, gators etc.) are turning deadly and attacking the humans in the area. Directed by George McCowan, this is one of the first of the so-called "eco-horror" films where animals and/or nature turn against man for his sins against the environment. For a horror film, it's incredibly slow moving and the minimalist electronic score by Les Baxter is no help in generating suspense. Most of the humans are unlikable so you don't feel anything when they're attacked and killed. Still, if you're made uncomfortable by creepy crawlies (as I am), there is plenty of close up footage to make your skin crawl. Milland doesn't have much to do except scowl but the young Sam Elliott (without facial hair) makes for an ingratiating hero. The rest of the cast includes Joan Van Ark, Adam Roarke, Judy Pace, Mae Mercer, Hollis Irving and Nicholas Cortland. 

The Betsy (1978)

The aging head (Laurence Olivier) of an automobile conglomerate wants one more opportunity at greatness with a revolutionary new car named after his granddaughter (Kathleen Beller). However, his grandson (Robert Duvall) who is the president of the company vehemently opposes the idea as not financially sound. The bad blood between the two will play out in blackmail, murder and divided loyalties. Based on the novel by that purveyor of trash Harold Robbins (THE CARPETBAGGERS) and directed by Daniel Petrie (FORT APACHE THE BRONX). The film goes back and forth between the 1930s and the 1970s with enough material crammed in to make a mini-series. This is one of Olivier's late life "paycheck" movies and he's the reason to see the movie. He hams it up shamefully (and more full of life than the rest of the cast) but he seems to be having such a good time that it's infectious. Petrie is too tasteful for a project like this, it could have used a little more flash. Curiously, the cinematography by Mario Tosi (CARRIE) is all soft focus as if filmed through a nylon stocking. I could see why perhaps for the 1930s sequence where Olivier is supposed to be 40 years younger but the whole movie is shot that way. There's a lovely score by John Barry. The impressive cast includes Tommy Lee Jones, Katharine Ross, Jane Alexander, Joseph Wiseman, Lesley Anne Down, Edward Herrmann, Inga Swenson, Whitney Blake and Paul Rudd (no, not that one!).

Sunday, July 30, 2017

L'Atalante (1934)

After their wedding, a young barge captain (Jean Dast) and his new bride (Dita Parlo) live on his barge along with his first mate (Michel Simon) and cabin boy (Louis Lefebvre). But she soon tires of life on the river and dreams of Paris. The only full length feature film by Jean Vigo (ZERO FOR CONDUCT) is a one of a kind treat. Though Vigo died at the age of 29 the year L'ATALANTE was released, he is often credited with establishing poetic realism in the 1930s and a major influence on the French "new wave" of the 1950s and 60s. Vigo puts aside plot in favor of a dream like romance (though hardly sentimental) where the lovers connect, disengage and connect again while their "fairy godmother" turns out to be the cat loving tattooed reprobate (and scene stealing) Michel Simon who makes everything right again. The film feels impulsive and impromptu rather than planned out and still fresh today. It appears frequently on greatest films lists and justifiably so.  

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Scarface Mob (1959)

In 1929 Chicago, a Federal agent (Robert Stack) forms an elite squad of incorruptible agents in order to bring down Al Capone's (Neville Brand) bootleg empire. Based on the non fiction book THE UNTOUCHABLES by Elliot Ness and Oscar Fraley and directed by Phil Karlson (KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL). Originally airing as a two part event on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, the two parts were seamlessly edited together and released to theaters and taking advantage of the medium allowed some partial nudity (Barbara Nichols as a stripper) that was not allowed for the TV showing. This spawned the TV series THE UNTOUCHABLES with Stack reprising his role as Elliot Ness but discarding the wife (Pat Crowley) he has in this movie (and in his real life). It's a compact tight little film with Phil Karlson, an expert hand at these gritty crime dramas, not shying away from the brutality and crudeness of this violent era in America's history. Stack as Ness even gets to show some emotion, something he rarely showed on the TV series. With Keenan Wynn, Bill Williams, Joe Mantell, Bruce Gordon, Paul Picerni, John Hoyt, Frank DeKova and James Westerfield.  

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Kind Of Loving (1962)

A young draughtsman (Alan Bates) has some ambition but when he gets a girl (June Ritchie) pregnant, they marry. Married life takes its toll especially since they are forced to live with her mother (Thora Hird), the mother in law from Hell. Based on the novel by Stan Barstow and directed by John Schlesinger (SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY). Part of the "kitchen sink" British New Wave cinema of the 1960s, this is a beautifully done slice of life drama. One can't help but feel sorry for the two protagonists who live in an era when one simply had to get married if the girl got pregnant, even if they weren't suited for each other. We can tell at the very beginning that they're wrong for each other, we even see him losing interest in her. The film's bleakly hopeful resolution conjures up images of their future: nagging wife, philandering husband and the slowly creeping contempt for each other. Perhaps it's the cynic in me but I can't see a happily ever after rose covered cottage life for them. Bates is superb, you can read every emotion on his face without his saying anything and Ritchie is also good as the girl who has no real aim in life except to get married. The striking B&W lensing is by Denys N. Coop (THIS SPORTING LIFE).  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

La Dama Rossa Uccide Sette Volte (aka The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) (1972)

A grandfather (Rudolf Schundler) tells his two little granddaughters the legend of the Red Queen who returns from the dead every 100 years to kill seven people and the seventh is always a direct descendant of the Red Queen ..... like them! 14 years later, the grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances and a woman in a red cloak is seen fleeing the castle! Six more deaths to go! Co-written and directed by Emilio Miraglia, this is a stylish entertainment and if you're a fan of the giallo, this should be pleasing. Even if you're not a fan of the genre, it's a more than decent murder mystery and if the solution is fairly predictable, the getting there is half the fun! The film is set in the world of fashion which allows a bevy of beauties to parade before the camera but with only Barbara Bouchet (playing one of the surviving Red Queen's descendants) and Sybil Danning doing the nudity honors. Also nice is that the killings are divided about equally between male and female so that it's not all about killing women. A big shout out to Alberto Spagnoli's cinematography and Bruno Nicolai's Morricone-ish underscore. With Ugo Pagliai, Marina Malfatti, Marino Mase, Pia Giancaro and Nino Korda.    

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ghosts (1987)

A widow (Judi Dench) is about to dedicate an orphanage in her husband's name and her son (Kenneth Branagh) has come home for the ceremonies. But he brings a horrible secret shame with him and the phrase the sins of the father are visited upon the children becomes a terrible reality. Based on the play by Henrik Ibsen. While perhaps not as well known as some of Ibsen's more popular works like HEDDA GABLER and A DOLL'S HOUSE, GHOSTS caused a sensation when first publicly performed in 1882 and was even banned in London (the play had to be performed "privately"). The play concerned itself with incest, venereal disease, euthanasia, out of wedlock children, adultery and religious hypocrisy. Frankly, it's still a bit of a shocker even today. Directed by Elijah Moshinsky, this is an excellent production with a spectacular performance by Dench. I've often complained how "dark" so many films are, however in this case, the oppressive darkness is pivotal and often referred to. With Natasha Richardson, Michael Gambon and Freddie Jones. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Wind River (2017)

As a furious ice storm approaches, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent (Jeremy Renner) discovers the body of an Indian girl (Kelsey Chow) who has been beaten and raped. An inexperienced FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) is sent to investigate but she finds herself in over her head. Together, they will find themselves drawn into the darkness of this shocking crime. Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan in his feature directorial debut. This is an incredibly intense and dark thriller, perhaps the closest I can compare it to is SILENCE OF THE LAMBS though it never achieves that level of greatness. While clearly Sheridan has an agenda (the marginalization of the Native American), he doesn't hammer you over the head with it. Both Renner and Olsen take well written parts and amp up the characters by investing them with more than is on the written page. As expected from the pen of Sheridan, who wrote HELL OR HIGH WATER and SICARIO, there will be carnage but it's not overdone. The excellent underscore is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES). Highly recommended. With Graham Greene (excellent), Gil Birmingham and Jon Bernthal.

Bloodhounds Of Broadway (1952)

A New York bookie (Scott Brady) and his partner (Wally Vernon) go on the lam when they are subpoenaed by a crime commission investigating  organized crime. While hiding out in Georgia, they find a young orphan (Mitzi Gaynor) and take her under their wing when they return to New York which doesn't make the bookie's mistress (Marguerite Chapman) very happy. Loosely based on a short story by Damon Runyon and directed by Harmon Jones. This minor Fox musical is actually rather sweet. There's not much Runyon in it but it's inoffensive and the musical numbers are pretty good thanks to Robert Sidney's choreography. Gaynor is suitably perky and Brady brings his usual masculine presence in the leads but it's two supporting players who steal the film. Wally Vernon as Brady's hypochondriac partner and Mitzi Green as his sister. Fluff but amiable, you don't need to seek it out but if you come across it, you might just enjoy it. With Michael O'Shea, Charles Bronson, Mary Wickes and Timothy Carey.

Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987)

A struggling writer (Ryan O'Neal) living off a rich wife (Debra Stipe) wakes up from a killer of a hangover with no memory of the night before. But when he finds blood all over the front seat of the car, he knows he better find out and quick. Directed by Norman Mailer and based on his novel of the same name and adapted for the screen with uncredited help from Robert Towne (CHINATOWN). Mailer's loopy black comedy still hasn't received its due. This is one insane movie. Granted, it's misogynistic, homophobic and often in bad taste (one of the film's biggest laughs comes from the after effects of a character's major stroke) and basically a nasty piece of goods. There are NO likable characters in the entire movie unless you count the poor dog that gets stabbed to death. The dialog is faux Raymond Chandler/Mickey Spillane "tough guy" speak and frequently hilarious. In fact, the film is filled with quotable dialog that have you scratching your head ("I may be a physical coward but I have death guts"). Its quirky, off the wall sensibility won't work if you attempt to take it seriously (even Pauline Kael didn't get it). I mean Pomp And Circumstance is playing on the soundtrack when they're dumping dead bodies in the ocean, how could you not get it? One could even call it Lynchian except that Mailer lacks Lynch's talent for the bizarre. But it's good enough. The score is by Angelo Badalamenti (TWIN PEAKS). With Isabella Rossellini, Wings Hauser (the one bad performance in the film, he doesn't seem in on the joke), John Bedford Lloyd, Frances Fisher, Penn Jillette and Mailer's in joke, legendary movie "tough guy" Lawrence Tierney as O'Neal's dying father.   

Monday, July 24, 2017

Woman On The Run (1950)

After he witnesses a murder, a man (Ross Elliott) goes on the run. Since he is the only one who can identify the killer, the police focus on his wife (Ann Sheridan) in the hopes she can lead them to him. Based on a magazine short story by Sylvia Tate entitled MAN ON THE RUN and directed by Norman Foster (JOURNEY INTO FEAR). This minor film noir is unique in its married protagonists. An unhappily married couple on the verge of divorce, Sheridan's wife discovers that she really doesn't know her husband at all and her preconceptions of him have been damaging to their relationship. The film is also abundant in sardonic humor which offsets the race against time to find the husband before the killer finds him. Midway through the movie, the audience is alerted to the identity of the murderer which adds to the tension since we know who the killer is but the film's characters don't. The majority of the film was shot in San Francisco and the director of cinematography Hal Mohr (THE WILD ONE) does a bang up job of shooting the city in striking B&W images though L.A. stands in for San Francisco in a couple of major scenes. I'm not sure why the film makers thought the rollercoaster finale was a good idea. While it's very cinematic, it still seems arbitrary rather than organic. With Dennis O'Keefe as a reporter, Robert Keith, John Qualen, Joan Shawlee, Reiko Sato and Victor Sen Young.  

Journey Into Fear (1943)

An American engineer (Joseph Cotten) and his wife (Ruth Warrick) are traveling through Turkey when they stopover in Istanbul where they are met by the Turkish representative (Everett Sloane) of the engineer's U.S. company. When the Turkish employee takes the American to a nightclub, a murder takes place and suddenly international intrigue has the American on the run trying to save his skin! Based on the novel by Eric Ambler and adapted for the screen by Cotten and directed by Norman Foster. A mess of a movie and quite often incoherent but still entertaining nonetheless. Orson Welles, who plays a Turkish policeman, co-wrote the screenplay with Cotten although he's not credited and reputedly had a hand in the direction of some scenes although the official credit goes to Foster. Karl Struss's (SUNRISE) evocative B&W cinematography goes a long way in creating a topsy turvy world of paranoia. It's the kind of film where practically everyone seems suspicious and not to be trusted, not even its "hero". But something about the film seems unfinished as if scenes were deleted that migh have added some coherency to the movie. Also with Dolores Del Rio, Agnes Moorehead, Richard Bennett, Hans Conreid, Jack Durant and Jack Moss.  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

In May of 1940, British and French soldiers find themselves cut off and surrounded by German troops at the beaches of Dunkirk. An evacuation attempt seems almost impossible as there are more soldiers than ships to rescue them and the Germans are bombing from both the air and land as well as U-boat attacks on the sea. Directed by Christopher Nolan, this is an incredibly intense and visceral cinematic experience. Dialog is kept to a minimum as we are thrown into the thick of the desperation, fear, hysteria and heroism of the evacuation. Easily Nolan's best film to date (though that's not saying much) but giving credit where it is due, Nolan gives us a masterful piece of direction and wisely keeping the events under a two hour running time, he doesn't let the movie slow down for a minute. It should easily take its place among the best war films ever made and it runs rings around SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. On the downside, there's yet another shitty Hans Zimmer score but more importantly there is no one for the audience to latch onto. There aren't any characters as such, not really, and the few there are are underdeveloped. Should do very well at the next Oscars (except for the acting and writing categories). With Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles.

Gertrud (1964)

In early 20th century Sweden, a woman (Nina Pens Rode) tells her husband (Bendt Rothe), a rising politician, that she is leaving him for another man (Baard Owe). But love isn't always a smooth road. Based on the 1906 play by Hjalmar Soderberg and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in his final film. Considering how fluid most of Dreyer's films are (VAMPYR, PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, DAY OF WRATH), GERTRUD is surprisingly static and uncinematic. I've not read Soderberg's play but it comes across as faux Ibsen, specifically A DOLL'S HOUSE. Dreyer uses long takes with the actors barely moving and acting so stiffly that you'd swear they all had metal rods up their asses. For a film where love is the central motif, it's bloodless and lacks passion. As Gertrud, Rode delivers her lines in a monotone that she seems to be reading them off cue cards! I've not seen any of these actors in other films so I don't know if they were directed that way or they're just lousy actors (Rothe is particularly terrible). The material might have worked with more intense actors and I could see Bergman doing it with members of his stock company like Harriet Andersson and Erland Josephson. The film does have its fans though (like Jean Luc Godard). With Ebbe Rode and Axel Strobye.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Once Bitten (1985)

A 400 year old vampire (Lauren Hutton) must have the blood of a male virgin to keep her youth and beauty. This being L.A. in the 1980s, a male virgin is hard to find! But find one she does in the form of a geeky high school kid (Jim Carrey) but he's not too keen on the idea of being a vampire. Ah, the 1980s, the era of dumb comedies. I think it's safe to say this film probably would never have existed if it hadn't been for the success of LOVE AT FIRST BITE six years earlier. Unfortunately, the film lacks BITE's impudent wit and affection for the genre. Which isn't to say the laughs aren't here, they're just fewer and far between. Mostly they come from Jim Carrey in his first leading role and Cleavon Little (BLAZING SADDLES) as Hutton's sassy butler/chauffeur. Carrey gets a chance to do at what he's best at, physical comedy and his influence from Jerry Lewis has never been more obvious. The "kids" in this film aren't a very interesting lot so I found myself cheering the vampires on. Directed by Howard Storm. With Karin Kopins, Thomas Ballatore, Skip Lackey and Megan Mullally.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Gambling Ship (1933)

A Chicago gangster (Cary Grant) gets acquitted of a murder rap and decides to go legit. To this end, he takes a train to Los Angeles to start his new life but he falls in love with a fellow passenger (Benita Hume). He keeps his past from her but he doesn't realize she has a few secrets of her own. Based on several short stories by Paul Cain and directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Max Marcin. This modestly enjoyable pre-code programmer features appealing performances by a pre-stardom Cary Grant and the charming Benita Hume (who would retire to marry Ronald Colman then George Sanders). I would imagine it's actually more appealing now than it was in 1933 when it was pretty standard stuff. Today, its quaintness is rather endearing. These programmers were quick (this one runs 70 minutes) and pushed the narrative quickly so that you didn't have the time to ponder the absurdities of the plot. The supporting cast includes Glenda Farrell, Jack La Rue, Roscoe Karns and Arthur Vinton.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mary, Queen Of Scots (1971)

After the death of her husband, the King of France (Richard Denning), Mary of Scotland (Vanessa Redgrave) returns to Scotland to take her place as the Scottish Queen. But Queen Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson) fearing a takeover of the English throne by her cousin takes action to subvert any such thing. Directed by Charles Jarrott (ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS), John Hale's screenplay takes liberties with history for dramatic effect and the result is a grandly entertaining if historically inaccurate film. There is no evidence that Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart met in real life but when you have two great actresses like Redgrave and Jackson and they have no scenes together, you better well write one! Redgrave is all gossamer loveliness in contrast to Jackson's sturdy monarch. But as wonderful as they are, they are supported by an excellent (save one) cast. The sore thumb is Timothy Dalton as Mary's treacherous second husband , who overacts terribly. The production values are ace and there's a superb score by John Barry. With Trevor Howard, Ian Holm, Patrick McGoohan, Nigel Davenport, Daniel Massey and Andrew Keir. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What Makes Sammy Run? (1959)

A young man (Larry Blyden) rises from copy boy at a New York newspaper to the head of a major Hollywood studio by lying, stealing, using people and stepping over bodies. Based on the praised 1941 novel by Budd Schulberg (who adapted his novel) and directed by Delbert Mann (SEPARATE TABLES). This acidic look at the rise of an amoral protagonist at the expense of innocent people was, and still is, highly controversial. Reputedly Samuel Goldwyn offered Schulberg money not to publish the book and according to Schulberg, Steven Spielberg said the book was "anti Hollywood and should never be filmed". I don't know about it being "anti" Hollywood but it's a venal piece of entertainment and I mean that as a compliment. We can see the attraction of the Sammys of this world as they skyrocket to the top but what goes up must come down and we wait for the inevitable comeuppance. Blyden is very good in the title role and he's matched by Dina Merrill as the chilly ice princess every bit as soulless as he. With John Forsythe as the story's conscience, Barbara Rush, Sidney Blackmer, Norman Fell and Monique Van Vooren. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

One Eyed Jacks (1961)

After pulling a bank heist in Mexico, one (Marlon Brando) of the bandits is betrayed by his partner (Karl Malden). As a result, he is sent to prison. But when he escapes, there is only one thing on his mind ..... revenge! Based on the novel THE AUTHENTIC DEATH OF HENDRY JONES by Charles Neider and directed by Brando, his only attempt at directing a feature film. This is an undervalued Freudian western and quite different from its genre brethren. First, there's the stunning backdrop of the Monterey coast beautifully shot by Charles Lang (BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE), who received an Oscar nomination for his work here. How many westerns are set on a beach? The film focuses on character rather than gun play which allows for some excellent performances and fleshed out characters rather than western stereotypes. The film's only flaw is its length. As engrossing as it is, it can't justify its near 2 1/2 hour running time. Brando's performance is fresh and well thought out rather than give us a cliched cowboy bent on revenge. He is equally matched by Malden in one of his best performances. There's a beauty of an underscore by Hugo Friedhofer. With Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Timothy Carey, Miriam Colon, Ray Teal, Philip Ahn and Pina Pellicer as Brando's love interest.  

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Set in a small Welsh mining town, a coal miner (Donald Crisp in his Oscar winning performance) and his wife (Sara Allgood) struggle to hold their family together through severe hardships. Based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn and directed by John Ford. It has been many many years since I'd seen HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and I had forgotten what an excellent film it is. The movie gets a lot of flak (unfairly) for winning the best picture Oscar over CITIZEN KANE but the argument over the relevance of the Oscars aside, it's a worthy choice. This being a John Ford movie, it's heavy with sentiment but fortunately since we're dealing with the Welsh and not the Irish, we're spared Victor McLaglen's mugging and starting barroom brawls. Most impressive is the art direction of Richard Day and Nathan Juran who are responsible for the 80 acre Welsh village that was built in the Santa Monica mountains and quite justifiably took home Oscars for their work here. The film is rich in its sense of family and family loyalties. The beautiful score is by Alfred Newman. The cast is perfect and includes Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Roddy McDowall (one of the best child actor performances), Anna Lee, Patric Knowles, Barry Fitzgerald, John Loder, Rhys Williams (one of the few actors in the film who is actually Welsh) and Ethel Griffies. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone (2003)

An aging actress (Helen Mirren) retires from the stage and moves to Italy with her husband (Brian Dennehy). But when her husband dies and she is left alone, an impoverished Contessa (Anne Bancroft) who runs a stable of gigolos introduces her to a handsome young man (Olivier Martinez). A remake of the 1961 film based on the 1950 novel by Tennessee Williams and directed by Robert Allan Ackerman. The film follows the same path as the 1961 movie but the sex is much more graphic (actually there was almost no actual sex in the 1961 film) but it's not gratuitous. It reveals the loneliness, hunger and even humiliation that Mirren's Mrs. Stone endures. The film is also one up on the 1961 film because the central role of the gigolo is much better cast and Martinez is more convincing than Warren Beatty (although he did look the part). Bancroft, in her final film role, is impressive as the calculating pimp. I'd say the 1961 film still has the edge though there is much to admire here. With Roger Allam and Rodrigo Santoro.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Watusi (1959)

An adventurer (George Montgomery) attempts a dangerous trek to the land of the Watusi in search of the legendary King Solomon's Mines. He is accompanied by his friend (David Farrar) and a missionary's daughter (Taina Elg) that they find on the journey. Based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard from a screenplay by James Clavell (SHOGUN) and directed by Kurt Neumann (1959's THE FLY). The film utilizes a large amount of footage from the 1950 MGM version. So much so that Deborah Kerr (the 1950 female lead) is practically used as a body double for Taina Elg. Sydney Guilaroff even cut Elg's hair to match Kerr's. As for the film itself, it dutifully follows the path of its predecessors (including the 1937 version) but adds a romantic rivalry between the two men for the hand of Elg as well as Montgomery having to deal with his hatred of Germans (this is post WWI but pre-WWII). The film was a low budget affair (MGM saved money and special effects by using the old footage) so that the film turned a profit for the studio. It's okay for a Saturday matinee kind of adventure but not as good as the 1950 film but better than the 1985 Richard Chamberlain version.

The Hero (2017)

An aging ex-cowboy film star (Sam Elliott) is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In the time he has left, he attempts to put things right and go out a hero. Directed by Brett Haley who previously directed Elliott in I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS. Elliott gives a career best performance here and it's thrilling to see him in a lead role again. But if Elliott is a diamond, I wish he had a better setting than the generic cluster he's given here. Elliott's performance alone justifies the film and makes it worth seeing but you can't get around the fact that Haley and Marc Basch's screenplay is comprised of bits and pieces cobbled together from movies we've seen before. For example, when Laura Prepon (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) as Elliott's much younger squeeze quotes a poet early in the film, when she gives him a gift at the end of the film, you just know it's going to be a book of poetry from the quoted author before he even opens the package. In addition to Prepon, who's also excellent, the cast includes Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter and Katharine Ross, who while it's great to see on the big screen again, is sorely wasted. 

Walkabout (1971)

A father (John Meillon) takes his teenage daughter (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg) out to the Australian outback for a picnic when he suddenly goes berserk and tries to kill them. After the children escape, he commits suicide and the children are left stranded in the outback to fend for themselves. Based on the 1959 novel by James Vance Marshall (although the film is quite different from the book) and directed by Nicolas Roeg. This is a beautiful and haunting film. Roeg, who was also the film's cinematographer, conveys both the majesty and terror of the Australian outback with its desert like terrain and its strange animal life. Some parts of the film are disturbing and hard to watch such as the killing and hunting of animals which are graphic. But it's a film about the death of innocence, not only of the two children but of the Aborigine boy (David Gulpilil) who finds them and leads them back to civilization. The lovely underscore is by John Barry (could that man write!). 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Uncle Vanya (1991)

A professor (Ian Bannen) and his much younger wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) spend a summer at their estate which supports them. But their presence only brings to the fore the frustration and unhappiness of his daughter (Rebecca Pidgeon) and brother in law (David Warner) who work the estate as well as a local doctor (Ian Holm) in love with the wife. Based on the 1899 play by Anton Chekhov as adapted by David Mamet and directed by Gregory Mosher. Chekhov's play can be a chore if not done properly as its blend of dark comedy and tragedy can be insufferable if performed indelicately. With the exception of a miscast Holm, a bit too old and unsympathetic, this production fares very nicely. A play about bitter people pining over what might have been is heavily dependent on its dialog and Chekhov is a master at expressing the pain in the mundane. VANYA itself is a reworking of a previous Chekhov play WOOD DEMON written some ten years earlier. With Rachel Kempson, Roger Hammond and Sandra Voe.   

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pleins Feux Sur L'assassin (1961)

When a wealthy Uncle (Pierre Brasseur) dies, his body can't be found. This frustrates his surviving relatives because under French law since there is no body, they can't inherit for another 5 years! They decide to open their Uncle's historical castle to the public to make money but then people start dying one by one. The final survivor will inherit it all! Written by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (DIABOLIQUE) and directed by Georges Franju (EYES WITHOUT A FACE). Franju enters Agatha Christie territory here, notably AND THEN THERE WERE NONE but clearly he isn't interested in the mystery so much as watching his characters deal with the pressure of trying to lead normal lives while their insulated world starts cracking. The audience is one up on the characters because we know where the Uncle's body is since we were shown at the beginning so it eliminates that as a mystery to us so we're primed to watch the protagonists under glass struggle away. The underscore is by Maurice Jarre. Among the suspects and victims: Jean Louis Trintignant, Marianne Koch, Dany Saval, Philippe Leroy, Jean Ozenne, Georges Rollin, Pascale Audret and Gerard Buhr.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Count Of Monte Cristo (1975)

The victim of a plot by three jealous enemies, a young sea Captain (Richard Chamberlain) is arrested the day before his marriage and sentenced to life imprisonment on an island prison. After almost 16 years in prison, he escapes with the knowledge of a treasure map from a fellow prisoner. When he returns to Paris, it is as the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo and he will have his revenge on those who did him wrong. Based on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas and directed by David Greene. This is a wonderful adaptation of the Dumas novel although like all the other film versions, it is changed considerably. Dumas' novel is over 1,000 pages in unabridged form and no 2 hour film is going to do it justice. Characters and plot points are omitted but judging it on what it is and not on what it is not, this is very good. Chamberlain gives a strong central performance but the rest of the cast particularly Louis Jourdan, Donald Pleasence and Trevor Howard make indelible impressions. Greene's direction from Sidney Carroll's economical screenplay keeps a tight grasp on the proceedings and the energy never flags. With Tony Curtis, Kate Nelligan, Dominic Guard, Anthony Dawson and Taryn Power (Tyrone's daughter). 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Pursued (1947)

Set in New Mexico at the turn of the century, a man (Robert Mitchum) who was taken in as a child by a widow (Judith Anderson) and raised as her own son has a blocked memory of a traumatic incident. The widow knows what triggered the loss of memory but she thinks it best for all concerned if it was left alone. But the past has long fingers. Directed by the veteran Raoul Walsh, this fusion of western and film noir is a very interesting experiment but I'm not all that sure that it's a successful coupling. All I kept thinking while watching the movie was that if these people just communicated and stopped dancing around the truth, they could just move on with their lives. None of the characters are particularly likable and in poor Teresa Wright's case, she can't summon up the passion necessary for her vengeance seeking romantic. On the plus side, James Wong Howe's striking B&W images of the New Mexico landscape coupled with his deft shading and lighting provide an impressive visual terrain. Max Steiner gets the blame for the intrusive score. With Dean Jagger, Alan Hale, John Rodney and Harry Carey Jr.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967)

Set on a Georgia Army base in the late 1940s, six people play out a dark sexual melodrama of lust, repressed sexuality and voyeurism that will lead to murder: a Major (Marlon Brando) who is a repressed homosexual, his sexually hungry wife (Elizabeth Taylor), a Lieutenant Colonel (Brian Keith), his emotionally unbalanced wife (Julie Harris), their flamboyant feminine Filipino houseboy (Zorro David) and a terse mysterious enlisted man (Robert Forster). Based on the 1941 novel by Carson McCullers and directed by John Huston. When released in 1967, the film played (as Huston intended) with a desaturated color scheme that gave the film a "golden" sheen. This gave the film a dreamy, almost surreal quality befitting McCuller's tale of "grotesques". After a week, those prints were pulled and replaced with normal Technicolor prints which severely compromised the artistry of the film. Brando is really amazing here, his performance is one of his 4 or 5 career bests. Everyone is at the top of their game in fact especially Keith in his best film performance. McCullers' writing is one of the few able to stand alongside Tennessee Williams in its poetic lyricism. A remarkable film that still hasn't received its due. If you haven't seen it, seek it out but be sure it's the "gold" version. With Irvin Dugan and Fay Sparks.

O. Henry's Full House (1952)

Five of O. Henry's short stories brought to the screen by five directors with an introduction to each story by John Steinbeck in a rare on camera appearance: 1. A homeless man (Charles Laughton) plots to get himself arrested so he can spend a cold winter in a warm jail. Directed by Henry Koster and co-starring Marilyn Monroe and David Wayne. 2. A police detective (Dale Robertson) attempts to arrest an old pal (Richard Widmark) for murder but he owes the killer a big time favor. Directed by Henry Hathaway. 3. A young girl (Anne Baxter) is convinced as a dying ivy on a wall outside her window loses its leaves that she will die when the last leaf is shed. Directed by Jean Negulesco and co-starring Jean Peters, Gregory Ratoff and Warren Stevens. 4. Two con men (Fred Allen, Oscar Levant) kidnap a little boy (Lee Aaker) for ransom. Problem is that nobody wants him back! Directed by Howard Hawks and co-starring Kathleen Freeman. 5. A young married couple (Jeanne Crain, Farley Granger) find themselves penniless at Christmas. Directed by Henry King. All the stories are very well done with LAST LEAF (Baxter) and GIFT OF THE MAGI (Crain, Granger) standing out. A quality anthology film with a lovely score by Alfred Newman. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Broken Melody (1934)

Set in Paris, a struggling classical composer (John Garrick) falls under the spell of a self centered opera diva (Margot Grahame, THE INFORMER). He forsakes his true love (Merle Oberon) but his new life in international society ends in murder. Directed by Bernard Vorhaus (THE AMAZING MR. X), this hoary semi-musical melodrama creaks something awful. The protagonist is unlikable so one can't really feel sorry for him. Garrick is so wooden and unappealing that I got a perverse sympathy for Grahame's shallow and bitchy wife! The songs are a trite lot. Indeed, when Garrick composes an opera and we see it performed, it's just awful yet it gets a standing ovation and everyone declares it's a masterpiece! As if. The Devil's Island sequence alleviates some of the tedium briefly but then we're back on the sappy train. Unless you're a Merle Oberon fanboy, this can be safely skipped. Also known as THE VAGABOND VIOLINIST. With Austin Trevor and Charles Carson.

Hatari! (1962)

In East Africa, a group of adventurers capture wild animals for delivery to zoos around the world. But when a beautiful Italian photographer (Elsa Martinelli) is assigned to the group to shoot pictures by a Swiss zoo, the group's founder and leader (John Wayne) finds himself reluctantly attracted to her but he keeps it to himself. Directed by Howard Hawks, there really is no plot as such. Written by Leigh Brackett (THE BIG SLEEP), it's a loose series of incidents tied up together and presented as an amiable but definitely Hawksian film. If one can get over the idea of wild animals being kidnapped from their native habitat and sent away to live the rest of their lives in cages, this is an enjoyable action/adventure film. My main objection is that there's too much filler and Hawks' languid pacing needed a good editor. For something essentially plotless, the film runs over the 2 1/2 hour mark! That's way too long and a bit self indulgent. Hawks' cinematographer Russell Harlan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) does a bang up job of filming the handsome Tanganyika (now Tanzania) locations and the wild animals and there's a charming Henry Mancini underscore. With Red Buttons, Hardy Kruger, Bruce Cabot, Gerard Blain and the tragic Michele Girardon (who died at 36).

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Big Sick (2017)

Set in Chicago, a struggling stand up comic (Kumail Nanjiani) of Pakistani descent finds himself in a relationship with a Caucasian girl (Zoe Kazan, who's adorable). But he keeps the relationship secret from his parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff) who want him to marry a Pakistani girl. When a medical crisis intervenes, he must come to terms with his feelings for the girl as well as his relationship with his parents. Written by Nanjiani (who plays himself) and his wife Emily Gordon (played by Kazan in the film) and directed by Michael Showalter, this is a joy! I hesitate to call it one of the best romcoms I've ever seen because "romcom" conjures up images of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE  or PRETTY WOMAN and this movie digs deeper into the complexities of a romantic relationship as well as familial duty and loyalty that most romcoms don't even dare go. It's funny but it's very moving without being manipulatively sentimental. But enough, it's the kind of movie that's best seen going in with as little information as possible. But I have to mention the terrific performances of Holly Hunter and my man Ray Romano (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) as Kazan's parents. With SNL's Aidy Bryant and David Alan Grier. 

Yukinojo Henge (aka An Actor's Revenge) (1963)

A male actor (Kazuo Hasegawa) who does female roles in Kabuki theater recognizes the three men (Ganjiro Nakamura, Saburo Date, Eijiro Yanagi) responsible for the ruination and death of his parents in the audience one night. Thus begins a complicated plot of revenge that will also destroy the innocent. Directed by Kon Ichikawa (FIRES ON THE PLAIN), this is a remake of a 1935 film that also starred Hasegawa. This is a fascinating stylized melodrama with a bravura performance by Hasegawa (who also plays the commenting thief). Ichikawa balances the sumptuous visuals with the narrative which is also a balancing act of sorts. There is great tragedy but also generous doses of humor, notably Fujiko Yamamoto's man hating lady bandit. Hasegawa's male actress stays in feminine mode even off stage which makes some of the romantic scenes between he and Ayako Wakao's love smitten concubine mesmerizing in its gender bending possibilities. Also known as REVENGE OF A KABUKI ACTOR. With Raizo Ichikawa and Shintaro Katsu.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Man In The Glass Booth (1975)

A wealthy Jewish industrialist (Maximilian Schell), who is a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, lives in a Manhattan penthouse. He appears to be paranoid about being followed and that someone is after him. He is later kidnapped by Israeli agents and taken to Israel to be put on trial ..... as a Nazi war criminal. Based on the novel and play by Robert Shaw (yes, the actor) and directed by Arthur Hiller (SILVER STREAK). This is a provocative and thought provoking film. It is also a filmed play and in spite of some attempts to open it up, its theatrical roots are obvious. This is also evident in Schell's performance which is very theatrical and played to the balcony. There can be some justification for that choice because of the character's emotional and mental instability. But make no mistake about it, this is a one man show and it belongs to Schell who delivers a searing performance. One can debate endlessly what the point of the film is but its layers of complexity will have you pondering much food for thought. Hiller's direction is adequate, more of a traffic cop than anything else. With Lois Nettleton as the prosecuting attorney, the only other actor to make an impression besides Schell, Luther Adler, Lawrence Pressman, Lloyd Bochner and Berry Kroeger.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Goodbye Girl (2004)

After being dumped by her current live in boyfriend, a single mother (Patricia Heaton) raising a daughter (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) discovers that he sublet their apartment to an actor acquaintance (Jeff Daniels). Rather than fight over who has legal rights to the apartment, they reluctantly work out a room mate situation. Directed by Richard Benjamin (THE MONEY PIT), this is a remake of the 1977 Neil Simon film. The film follows the 1977 film so religiously that Neil Simon still gets credit for the screenplay. There are a few concessions (there weren't any cell phones in 1977) but it's basically a line for line remake. The most notable difference is how Daniels and Heaton approach their roles in comparison to Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason in the 1977 movie. Dreyfuss and Mason played to the balcony, hitting every punchline and wisecrack in true Broadway fashion. It worked. Daniels and Heaton (who got a SAG nom for her work here) dial it down considerably and deliver their dialog more naturally and don't feel the need to treat every line as a zinger. While it takes a bit to get used to the more natural rhythms, it works too. Eisenberg (Jesse's sister) too is less movie kid and more real life kid (though no kid in real life is that sophisticated). With Alan Cumming and director Benjamin playing a movie director.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

6 Donne Per L'assassino (aka Blood And Black Lace) (1964)

When one of the models (Francesca Ungaro) at a haute couture fashion house in Italy  is brutally murdered, it is only the beginning of a series of violent killings. It seems the model left a diary and there lies the key to the motive. Co-written and directed by Mario Bava, this is the most stunning looking of Italian gialli. There is no credit for a production designer or art director so I attribute the "hot" look of the film (reds, blues, pinks) to Bava and his cinematographer Ubaldo Terzano. While not the first giallo, this was a radical film for its day in that Bava graphically emphasizes the murder aspect of the film which paved the way for the likes of Dario Argento as well as being influential to future directors like Quentin Tarantino. Its critical reception, at least in the U.S. was lukewarm to say the least but it is now recognized as one of the defining examples of giallo. The film's stylish original title credits had the cast members posing as mannequins as their names were given. This was cut for the U.S. release and a new set of credits given which weren't bad per se but lacked the originality and style of the Italian credits. With Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Mary Arden, Dante DiPaolo (Rosemary Clooney's husband), Thomas Reiner and Lea Lander.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Charlie Chan In Reno (1939)

A young woman (Pauline Moore) is in Reno to get a divorce when she runs into the mean spirited Manhattan socialite (Louise Henry) who stole her husband (Kane Richmond). When the woman is found stabbed to death, she becomes the main suspect. Enter Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) to solve the case. Based on DEATH MAKES A DECREE by Philip Wylie and directed by Norman Foster, this is one of better entries in Fox's Charlie Chan franchise. Just about everyone except the chief suspect seems "suspect" so that Chan has his work cut out for him and for the viewer, it's fun trying to figure out whodunit. As efficient "B" programmers, the Chan movies tend to be very short (usually around 75 minutes) so there's not a lot of wasted time. Sure, there's Slim Summerville as a redneck sheriff for comedy relief but he doesn't take up too much space. As usual, all the suspects are gathered in one room so that Chan can reveal the real killer. It's such a cliche but I wouldn't have it any other way. The cast includes Ricardo Cortez, Phyllis Brooks, Victor Sen Yung and Kay Linaker.

Boogie Nights (1997)

In 1977 in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, a high school drop out (Mark Wahlberg) finds himself swept up in the burgeoning porn industry where he becomes a big star. But the excesses of the 1980s party scene, casual sex and easily available drugs can only lead to a big fall. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this is a sensational film! It runs over 2 1/2 hours but unlike most films of that length, you never notice the running time it's that engrossing. A superb ensemble cast combined with a compelling screenplay and an irresistible song soundtrack, BOOGIE NIGHTS splendidly recreates the late 1970s in all its gaudy polyester self indulgence. A lot of the credit goes to Bob Ziembicki's production design, Ted Berner's art direction and Mark Bridges' costume design. Anderson doesn't hammer us over the head with moral judgments but rather let's us empathize with its fallen protagonists, people we wouldn't give the time of day in real life. That's the sign of a true artist. The impeccable cast includes Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Alfred Molina, Don Cheadle, Philip Baker Hall, Robert Ridgely, Thomas Jane, Joanna Gleason and Nicole Ari Parker.  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Stopover Tokyo (1957)

An American counterintelligence agent (Robert Wagner) arrives in Tokyo for a seemingly routine assignment when he discovers a plot to assassinate the American High Commissioner (Larry Keating) in Japan. An attractive Welsh airline clerk (Joan Collins) finds herself unwittingly swept up into the investigation. Directed by Richard L. Breen and based on the novel by John P. Marquand. The book featured Marquand's Japanese detective Mr. Moto but he was entirely eliminated from this film version. It's a fairly standard spy film that benefits from the gorgeous Japanese location shooting (in Kyoto) in CinemaScope courtesy of Charles G. Clarke (MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET). Oddly both its stars (Wagner and Collins) have disparaged the film although both have done worse (far worse) films. This being the 1950s, the "commies" are the enemy, here being represented by Edmond O'Brien although the film doesn't get anywhere near the ludicrousness of something like BIG JIM MCLAIN. Breen manages to keep the suspense quotient high at the start but it dissipates by the film's wan finale. With Ken Scott, Reiko Oyama and Sarah Selby.

Monday, July 3, 2017

T-Men (1947)

Two U.S. Treasury men (Dennis O'Keefe, Alfred Ryder) go undercover as gangsters in order to discover the source of a counterfeit ring. It's a race against the clock as the suspicious counterfeit gang gets closer to discovering their true identities. Directed by Anthony Mann (BEND OF THE RIVER), the movie plays out like a semi-documentary with actual location shooting in Detroit and L.A. rather than studio sound stage sets which gives the film a gritty authentic vibe. The film is fortunate to have the great John Alton (ELMER GANTRY) behind the camera whose use of lighting is legendary and his B&W cinematography here gives the film a texture that enhances the mood and atmosphere. The actors do fine work though it's not the kind of script that allows for much depth of characterization. Still, it's surprising how even in the smallest roles and briefest moments, how a good actor can bring a wealth of information. Mann had not yet moved on to "A" productions but his direction here is tight and solid. With June Lockhart, Charles McGraw, Wallace Ford, Keefe Brasselle, Mary Meade and Jane Randolph (CAT PEOPLE).  

What's The Matter With Helen? (1971)

In the 1930s, two women (Debbie Reynolds, Shelley Winters) head for California and change their names to start a new life after their sons are sentenced to life imprisonment for a brutal mutilation murder. But it seems they have been followed by someone bent on revenge for the murder their sons committed. Based on an unpublished short story THE BOX STEP by Henry Farrell (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?) and directed by Curtis Harrington (NIGHT TIDE). There were cuts of a lesbian kiss by Winters to Reynolds and the final murder was severely toned down at the studio's insistence in order to avoid an R rating. What remains is still an effective entry in the "mature" actress horror cycle (think BABY JANE, HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE, STRAIT JACKET etc.). Not surprisingly, Winters is very effective as a whack job but Reynolds is surprisingly good in a dramatic role that suggests MGM might have been wasting her in musical comedy. The art direction by Eugene Lourie (LIMELIGHT) is excellent and Morton Haack's costume design received an Oscar nomination. There's a topnotch score by David Raksin (LAURA). With Dennis Weaver, Agnes Moorehead, Michael MacLiammoir, Timothy Carey, Yvette Vickers and Pamelyn Ferdin.   

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Beguiled (2017)

Toward the end of the Civil War, a wounded Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell) is discovered in the woods near a girls school. He is taken in by the school's headmistress (Nicole Kidman) and his wounds tended to but the soldier isn't eager to leave. This is a remake of the 1971 Don Siegel film which in turn was adapted from the book THE PAINTED DEVIL by Thomas P. Cullinan and directed by Sofia Coppola. I have nothing against remakes on principle and I'm a huge admirer of Siegel's film so I was eager to see what Coppola brought to the table. Sadly, not much. It's not a bad film by any means, quite the contrary but it fails on almost every level when comparing it to the 1971 film. I think it was a mistake to eliminate the film's one black character and the elimination of the incest backstory weakens Kidman's character. Farrell doesn't bring the "alpha male" the way Clint Eastwood did. Eastwood was a real fox in the hen house and there was sexual tension. Farrell, at least in the beginning, is kind of a sweet blob and doesn't pose the immediate sexual threat the way Eastwood did. I hesitate to call it a noble failure since it's much better than that but still. It's also one of the ugliest looking movies I've ever seen, who needs a lighting director when you have candles? With Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning.  

Blue (1968)

A young Caucasian man (Terence Stamp) has been raised by a Mexican bandit (Ricardo Montalban) as one of his own sons. But when the bandits cross the border and raid a "gringo" settlement, he is wounded and nursed back to health by a doctor (Karl Malden) and his daughter (Joanna Pettet). He finds himself questioning his loyalties and his true identity. Directed by Silvio Narizzano (GEORGY GIRL), this is an above average western with much to recommend it. It would be worth seeing for the stunning visuals alone (it was filmed on location in Utah) courtesy of the legendary Stanley Cortez (MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS) filmed in wide screen Panavision. It doesn't always avoid the cliches of the genre but the film has some layers to it. It's not as clear cut as most westerns when you have the racist white settlers on one side and the murderous Mexican bandits on the other side and you're right in the middle. The final battle between the bandits and the settlers is very well done. The underscore by Manos Hadjidakis (NEVER ON SUNDAY) is quite good if slightly inappropriate at times. With Anthony Costello, Joe De Santis, Stathis Giallelis, James Westerfield, Sally Kirkland and Peggy Lipton.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Young Philadelphians (1959)

A young man (Paul Newman) studying law at Princeton was born with a prestigious Philadelphia mainline society name but without the money is raised by his single mother (Diane Brewster), who has sacrificed personal happiness to keep the name which will open doors for her son. He rises to the top of his legal profession thru ambition and manipulation. Based on the novel THE PHILADELPHIAN by Richard P. Powell and directed by veteran director Vincent Sherman (MR. SKEFFINGTON). This is the kind of juicy melodrama they don't make anymore and to many film buffs, this is a good thing. But I'm partial to these soap opera movie equivalents of hard to put down page turners. I can't make any more of it than what it is so if you're looking for something more substantial than a pleasant two hours of pure entertainment, this movie isn't for you. I suppose one could call it a guilty pleasure but I never feel guilty about anything that gives me pleasure. Newman does well and the rest of the cast is fine including Robert Vaughn in an Oscar nominated performance as a rich kid turned alcoholic. The score is by Ernest Gold (EXODUS) though you could have fooled me, it sounded like Max Steiner. With Barbara Rush, Alexis Smith, Brian Keith, Billie Burke, Adam West, Otto Kruger, John Williams, Anthony Eisley, Isobel Elsom and Robert Douglas.