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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I, Tonya (2017)

The rise of a self proclaimed "redneck" ice skater (Margot Robbie) in the world of competitive figure skating with her eyes on the Olympics and her epic fall from grace. Directed by Craig Gillespie (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL) from a biting screenplay by Steven Rogers. A movie about the infamous Tonya Harding didn't sound like a good idea and who needed another movie bio to clutter up the multiplexes during "award" season. But this is a terrific film. Gillespie and Rogers have turned Harding's life story into a white trash black comedy that gets darker as it plays out. The American Dream turned into an American Nightmare. I'd seen Robbie before and thought her the usual pretty blonde, not bad but nothing special. So nothing that I'd seen her in previously prepared me for her powerhouse performance here. She's matched every step of the way by Allison Janney as her abusive mother in a killer performance. Telling Harding's story as a very black comedy was risky and I'm not sure Nancy Kerrigan would find anything about it remotely amusing but Gillespie and company walk that fine line between satire and bad taste perfectly. Wonderful performances by Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson and Bobby Cannavale.   

Homicidal (1961)

A young woman (Joan Marshall) offers a bellboy (Richard Rust) $2,000 to marry her with the provision that the marriage be annulled immediately after the ceremony. However, immediately after they are pronounced man and wife by the Justice of the Peace (James Westerfield), it becomes clear that she is a psychotic murderess! Directed by William Castle (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), this film is seriously indebted to Hitchcock's PSYCHO. The unkind may call it a rip-off but the more charitable are inclined to call it a homage. But as far as imitations that PSYCHO spawned, this one is actually very good. Castle was more a showman than a film artist but he gives HOMICIDAL a nice sheen of artistry by his Oscar winning collaborators like cinematographer Burnett Guffey (BONNIE AND CLYDE) and composer Hugo Friedhofer (BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES) and an excellent central performance by Marshall (who's billed under a fictitious name). Ever the showman, Castle inserts a "fright break" in the film's last 10 minutes to allow the faint of heart to leave. Contemporary LGBT audiences may find the film's correlation of gender politics with psychopathic behavior disturbing but to be fair, the film places the blame squarely on the manipulation of cisgender adults. With Glenn Corbett, Patricia Breslin and Eugenie Leontovich. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Willard (1971)

A loner and misfit (Bruce Davison) lives alone with his invalid mother (Elsa Lanchester). He has no friends and is bullied by his boss (Ernest Borgnine) at work. But he befriends a growing bevy of rats which he trains to obey him. But the smartest rat called Ben has a mind of his own. Based on the novel RATMAN'S NOTEBOOKS by Stephen Gilbert and directed by Daniel Mann (COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA). Horror films have often had misfits at their center, CARRIE comes immediately to mind but Carrie was sympathetic, Davison's Willard is definitely not. He's unlikable and psychologically disturbed so it leaves a hole when we have no one to root for. Well, no one human anyway, the rats become the focus point of our sympathy. The film is an effective piece of pulp horror with a nice job by Davison as the film's protagonist. It was a sleeper hit at the box office and spawned a sequel BEN which came a year later. The underscore by the wonderful Alex North (SPARTACUS) adds a layer of class to the film. With Sondra Locke (wasted), Michael Dante and Joan Shawlee.

Double Wedding (1937)

A businesswoman (Myrna Loy) is also a control freak who controls every aspect of her younger sister's (Florence Rice) life including that of her sister's fiance (John Beal). But when a free spirited Bohemian (William Powell) enters the picture, she finds her well ordered life in turmoil. Directed by Richard Thorpe (KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE), this is a rather charming screwball comedy for the most part. Loy and Powell were one of the great screen teams (14 movies together) of Hollywood's "Golden Age" and their chemistry while they banter back and forth here is in top form. The film loses steam in its last 20 minutes but I blame that on Thorpe who wasn't much of a comedy director. The screenplay by Jo Swerling by way of a Ferenc Molnar play is good enough but the film needed a Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder who knew a thing or two about comedy to give the film's finale some fizz. Still, I was caught up in the silliness but it could have been a classic in the hands of a good comedy director. With Sidney Toler, Donald Meek, Mary Gordon and Jessie Ralph. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The White Orchid (1954)

A journalist (William Lundigan) and a photographer (Peggie Castle) journey into the Mexican jungles where a primitive civilization untouched by modern man allegedly reside. Their Mexican guide (Armando Silvestre) is also attracted to the woman and the three of them form a romantic triangle. Directed by Reginald Le Borg (THE MUMMY'S GHOST), this is a routine adventure programmer that provokes emotions that it never intended. For example, the gringos are a rather arrogant duo invading a culture that doesn't want them and then proceed to destroy their village! And, of course, it's the brown skinned man who sacrifices himself so the two fair skinned people can safely escape and live happily ever after. And why Peggie Castle would prefer the scrawny dull William Lundigan over the hunky Armando Silvestre is a mystery that's greater than any on display in the movie. But it's entertaining enough in a Saturday matinee "B" movie way. With Rosenda Monteros (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN).

Suburbicon (2017)

In 1959, a black family moves into the all white community of Suburbicon. The white folks aren't happy about it. Meanwhile, next door to the black family, a businessman (Matt Damon) has his home invaded by two thugs who kill his wife (Julianne Moore). Directed and co-written by George Clooney. In short ..... an unholy mess! The original screenplay was written by the Coen Brothers (who still get a screenplay credit) in the mid 1980s but they abandoned it. Clooney resurrected it. He should have left it abandoned. The film wants to show the venal side of a "typical" white suburban family while showing the racist reception towards the black family. But Clooney marginalizes the black family to the point where they become superfluous. They're hardly in the movie and we really never get to know them. If you're going to make a movie about racism yet eradicate the victims from the film, something stinks! Actually, if the black family storyline had been removed, what remained might have made for a nasty piece of black comedy but Clooney diffuses both plots by juggling them with the black storyline getting the shaft. The film has 2 good performances by Julianne Moore (in a dual role as the murdered wife and her sister) and Noah Jupe as Damon's son. Damon himself is pretty bad. So much so that during his "big" scene, I thought "Don't forget to pick up some toilet paper on the way home." With Oscar Isaac, Gary Basaraba and Glenn Fleshler.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Michael Collins (1996)

Starting with the Easter Rising in 1916 Ireland, Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) begins his journey from Irish revolutionary to the leader of the Irish Republican Army, a negotiator of the Anglo-Irish treaty and his eventual assassination. Written and directed by Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME), this is a wonderful film. I've never understood why (although it was well received) it didn't do better during the 1996 awards season while a mediocre film like THE ENGLISH PATIENT received all the attention. As with most biographical historical epics, dramatic license has been taken to cram a complex situation that took place over a 6 year period into a 2 hour timespan. The film stays fairly close to the facts while altering certain situations for a more satisfactory dramatic angle. For example, the fate of Aidan Quinn's character is fabricated. But what Jordan gives us is a compelling drama of a country in turmoil, of its own people fighting against each other instead of with each other to defeat an occupying government. The acting is strong all the way down the line with Neeson giving a potent performance in the title role. The striking cinematography by Chris Menges and terrific score by Elliot Goldenthal were both justifiably Oscar nominated. With Alan Rickman, Stephen Rea, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Charles Dance, Brendan Gleeson, Ian Hart and Julia Roberts as the romantic interest. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Cosa Avete Fatto A Solange? (aka What Have You Done To Solange?) (1972)

A married teacher (Fabio Testi) at a Catholic girls school is having an affair with one of his students (Cristina Galbo). When students at the school start turning up savagely killed, he begins to investigate even though he is considered a suspect by the police. Directed by Massimo Dallamano, this is ultimately a stylish and satisfying giallo although there are unsavory aspects to the film that I found disturbing. The fact that the married "hero" of the film is a teacher having sex with one of his teenage students is creepy enough but I could also have done without the graphic close ups of the victims because of the hideous manner of the killings. Dallamano also has his camera linger a little too long on the nude body parts of his nubile teenage nymphets that seriously borders on exploitation. He dehumanizes them by not even bothering to show their faces, just their breasts and pubic area. If you can get past that, you will find one of the better entries in the gialli canon. There's another wonderful score by Ennio Morricone to accompany it all. With Joachim Fuchsberger and Camille Keaton.

Murder! (1930)

A well respected theater actor (Herbert Marshall) finds himself on the jury of a murder trial. A young actress (Norah Baring) is accused of murdering another actress in their theater company. Although browbeaten by the other jury members into a guilty vote, he later forms a plan to prove her innocence before she is hanged. Based on the novel ENTER SIR JOHN by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson, this early sound film directed by Alfred Hitchcock (his third sound film) owes a lot to Agatha Christie in its whodunit mode. It puts the talk in talkie to be sure but make no mistake about it, the film is pure Hitchcock with all the little touches that would soon coin the term "Hitchcockian". The mystery itself is a bit on the convoluted side and could have used a bit tightening up. The acting is often stiff. Norah Baring delivers her lines like a sleepwalker! But Edward Chapman and Phyllis Konstam as a stage manager and his actress wife give lively performances. With Una O'Connor, Miles Mander and Esme Percy. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Flamingo Kid (1984)

Set in 1963 Brooklyn, a young kid (Matt Dillon) from a working class family finds himself working in a posh private beach club in Long Island. It's there that he finds his middle class values challenged by a rich auto dealerships owner (Richard Crenna) and the first flush of young love with a visiting California blonde (Janet Jones). Directed by Garry Marshall, this coming of age story is a real delight. Marshall has a nice eye for detail and the little touches spring up everywhere giving it the ring of authenticity even if it clearly has its eyes on the commercial marketplace. It's good enough so that when we'e given the predictable contrived ending, we don't really mind. The acting is very good with young Dillon giving a terrific performance. Crenna (in his best film performance) and Jessica Walter as his wife manage to steal a scene or two. The luscious Jones may not be an accomplished actress but she's positively yummy! With Hector Elizondo, Fisher Stevens, Bronson Pinchot, Martha Gehman, Steven Weber and Marisa Tomei.

The Big Knife (1955)

A film actor (Jack Palance) doesn't want to renew his studio contract because he wants to be free from the tyranny of the studio head (Rod Steiger) and the inferior movies he's given to do. His wife (Ida Lupino) encourages him in this but the studio has a hold on him by threatening to reveal a crime that another man (Paul Hampton) was sent to prison for. Based on the 1949 play by Clifford Odets and directed by Robert Aldrich (KISS ME DEADLY). This feverish venal valentine to Hollywood holds nothing back! The cheap tinsel is pulled away gleefully revealing all the rot and moral decay underneath. Its acidity makes SUNSET BOULEVARD seem like apple juice! But the film has more than its share of imperfections. Odets' often sanctimonious dialog (adapted for the screen by James Poe) can be hard to take. With one ghastly exception, the acting is first rate. One would think a film with Palance, Steiger and Shelley Winters (as a starlet) would be rife with overacting but all three are relatively restrained and when one of them busts open (like Steiger does occasionally), it's never out of character. The one bad performance comes from poor Wesley Addy as a writer. It's not just that his acting is so enervated but he's saddled with the worst dialog of anyone in the cast. With Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Everett Sloane, Ilka Chase and Nick Dennis. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Chinese Cat (1944)

When a man (Sam Flint) is murdered in a room locked from the inside, police are unable to solve the case. After a book is published accusing his wife (Betty Blythe) of the murder, her daughter (Joan Woodbury) appeals to the detective Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) to find the real killer. This Charlie Chan murder mystery from poverty row studio Monogram starts off nicely but at about the halfway point, it becomes clear this is just another routine "B" programmer. One begins to lose interest in the who and why of the killing and sits back enjoys the minor pleasures, notably Mantan Moreland and Benson Fong as a cab driver and no. 3 son respectively. Moreland may be playing a politically incorrect stereotype but there's no denying the man had crack comedic timing. Not one of the better Chan vehicles, for completists only. With Ian Keith, Weldon Hayburn and Daisy Bufford. 

It's Alive (1974)

In Los Angeles, a woman (Sharon Farrell) gives birth to a mutant baby that massacres the entire operating room! While the police hunt down the mutant infant, the baby struggles to find its way back to his mother ..... while killing a few people along the way. Written and directed by Larry Cohen, this low budget horror film has several things going for it. It's screenplay is ultimately poignant and thought provoking about the bond between parents and child. There are also a few justified digs at the pharmaceutical community. Then, there is the underscore by the great Bernard Herrmann that automatically elevates the film. Cohen wisely shows the baby only in glimpses, never giving us a really good look which is smart because from the little we see, it's not very realistic looking. Barely released in 1974, the film got a re-release in 1977 with a new campaign and was a hit. With John P. Ryan as the baby's father, Andrew Duggan, Michael Ansara, James Dixon and Guy Stockwell.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

Beat Girl (1960)

When her father (David Farrar) returns from France with a new wife (Noelle Adam), a rebellious young teen age girl (Gillian Hills) does all she can to undermine the marriage by exposing her stepmother's past. Directed by Edmond T. Greville, this is a time capsule of "beat" England toward the end of the 1950s. Kids hung out in coffee bars, danced in underground cellars to a wild new beat, lived for the kicks they could get, all the while rejecting their "square" parents. The film doesn't have the weight of something like REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE but it's fun seeing the "Daddy-O" hipsters and the existential "get your kicks now because the Bomb is coming tomorrow!" crowd getting lost to a rock 'n roll rhythm. A good portion of the film takes place in a strip club run by Christopher Lee and those strip numbers are pretty graphic for 2017 and one can only imagine what 1960 audiences thought! The film features the first film score by the great John Barry. With Oliver Reed, Shirley Anne Field, Peter McEnery, Nigel Green, Delphi Lawrence and British rock 'n roll idol, Adam Faith. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Love With The Proper Stranger (1963)

A young Italian American girl (Natalie Wood) finds out that she's pregnant after a one night stand with a musician (Steve McQueen). Although he doesn't remember her, she asks him for money for an abortion. During the next few days, they become friends and reflect on the nature of love in its various incarnations. Directed by Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), this is a touching and tender romance that eschews the usual Hollywood romanticism (well, except for the ending) and gives a more honest view of the complexity of love. Wood (Oscar nominated for her work here) and McQueen have a wonderful chemistry and both give first rate performances. Even if romantic dramedys aren't your cup of tea, this is a hard one to resist. Mulligan's film gets top notch assistance from Milton R. Krasner's striking B&W cinematography and Elmer Bernstein's lovely underscore. With Edie Adams, Tom Bosley, Herschel Bernardi, Harvey Lembeck, Virginia Vincent, Arlene Golonka and Penny Santon.

Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (2017)

When her just turned 18 year old niece (Diamond White) goes to an all night Halloween party at a lake campsite where some teenagers were murdered several years prior, Aunt Madea (Tyler Perry) and her  brother (also Tyler Perry) and her two friends (Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely) drive out to see if they're okay. Written and directed by Tyler Perry. Perry keeps churning out these low budget Madea movies and people keep going to see them. I'd never seen a Madea movie and I figured if I ever was, this horror comedy would be pretty painless. It's totally lame and the first part of the film with the father (also Perry) fighting with his ex-wife (Taja V. Simpson) over the raising of their daughter is a real drag. Once they get to the lake sequence it picks up considerably but never rises to anything above lame. Perry gives nods to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and FRIDAY THE 13TH, but as a horror comedy this isn't even on the level of an ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEETS (fill in the Universal monster) comedy. I could count the times I laughed on one hand but at least I did laugh. The ending is predictable (I saw it coming) and dumb. Okay, seen a Madea movie, been there, done that, now I can cross it off my bucket list!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cartouche (1962)

In 18th century France, a thief (Jean Paul Belmondo) joins the Army to escape the vengeance of the head (Marcel Dalio) of a gang of thieves. But along with two other soldiers (Jean Rochefort, Jess Hahn), they rob a military payroll and return to take over the gang of thieves. Directed by Philippe De Broca (KING OF HEARTS), this breezy swashbuckler is fitfully amusing until its bittersweet ending. It's the kind of romp that Richard Lester would later perfect with his THREE MUSKETEERS movies in the 1970s. This one is charming though it threatens to wear out its welcome at any moment. It could have lost about 10 to 15 minutes. But this was a massive hit in France so what do I know? De Broca clearly has an affection for the genre and the production values are top notch. Belmondo is no Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power in the swashbuckling department but he acquits himself nicely. Claudia Cardinale as an earthy wench and the ravishing Odile Versois as an elegant aristocrat provide the opposite ends of female pulchritude. The lovely underscore is by Georges Delerue. With Philippe Lemaire and Jacques Balutin. 

Lord Of Illusions (1995)

A New York private detective (Scott Bakula) visiting Los Angeles on an insurance fraud case is hired by the wife (Famke Janssen) of a renowned illusionist (Kevin O'Connor) to find out what has put her spouse into a depression. What he finds leads back to an incredible incident that occurred 13 years previously that is now coming back to destroy them all. Based on the short story THE LAST ILLUSION by Clive Barker and adapted for the screen and directed by him. I've never read any of Barker's books but I simply don't get him as a horror film maker. I don't find his films remotely frightening. His idea of horror seems to be gross outs (his films seem to love showing flesh being ripped open) and repulsion (pulling glass shards out of open wounds) rather than creating a genuine atmosphere of fear or a sense of dread like THE HAUNTING or ROSEMARY'S BABY or any Val Lewton 1940s horror. This concoction is pretty ludicrous and by the time it gets to its silly finale, you're like to be giggling rather than shivering. I felt embarrassed for Bakula and Janssen who are decent actors but O'Connor and Daniel Von Bargen (as a cult leader) are pretty sucky actors generally so I wasn't sorry for them. Thankfully, Barker hasn't directed a film since one made over 20 years ago and let's hope he keeps it that way.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Woman Accused (1933)

After a woman's ex-lover (Louis Calhern) threatens to have her fiance (Cary Grant) killed, she (Nancy Carroll) kills him in the heat of the moment. The dead man's business partner (John Halliday) is determined to prove her guilt, even after she denies having been in his apartment. Perfectly dreadful! This pre-code film runs a brief hour and 13 minutes but it seemed like 3 hours! The film is based on a magazine serial attributed to 8 of the "world's greatest writers" with each writer writing one chapter though only Zane Grey and Vicki Baum (GRAND HOTEL) are probably remembered today. It's clearly a case of too many cooks as the ludicrous plot is all over the place. The screenplay's cringe inducing dialog is only matched by the ghastly bad acting. Cary Grant is such a bland piece of white bread that you'd never guess that he would eventually become one of Hollywood's best and most iconic actors. Unless you're a Grant completist, there's no reason to see this though I suppose if you're a connoisseur of bad movies (the whip lashing scene is hysterical), you might want to take a peek. Directed by Paul Sloane. With Irving Pichel, Jack La Rue and Norma Mitchell.   

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Helen Morgan Story (1957)

Set in the roaring 20s, the story of Helen Morgan (Ann Blyth) and her rise to fame from a carnival hula dancer to Broadway star. Along the way, there's her on and off again affair with a bootlegger (Paul Newman) as well as a married attorney (Richard Carlson) and a battle with alcohol. Directed by Michael Curtiz, this movie biography is more fiction than fact. The bootlegger played by Newman and the married attorney played by Carlson were created for the film. It's pretty familiar territory if you seen other movie bios on female singers like LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (Ruth Etting), I'LL CRY TOMORROW (Lillian Roth) and LADY SINGS THE BLUES (Billie Holliday). It's a pity the script is a string of cliches because Ann Blyth is good, very good although why they dubbed her (pop singer Gogi Grant dubs her) when Blyth had already proven her vocal talents in musicals like KISMET and ROSE MARIE is perplexing. To boot, Blyth's own singing voice is much closer to Morgan's than Grant's is. With Cara Williams, Alan King, Rudy Vallee, Gene Evans, Virginia Vincent, Dorothy Green, Leonid Kinskey, Iris Adrian and Juanita Moore.   

Chamber Of Horrors (1966)

Two amateur sleuths (Cesare Danova, Wilfrid Hyde White) operate a wax museum. They help the police find an insane murderer (Patrick O'Neal) who is convicted. But he later escapes and begins killing those responsible for putting him behind bars. Directed by Hy Averback (I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS), this is often erroneously referred to as a remake of the 1953 film HOUSE OF WAX. While there are decided similarities, it is not a remake. It was originally made for TV with the intention of turning it into a TV series where the amateur sleuths would solve a murder each week. Instead, it was released to theaters. Since, as a horror film, it's rather routine, the film was given a gimmick. Whenever a murder was about to occur, a red flash and a horn warning would appear on the screen so that the more delicate could close their eyes or look away from the screen. It was a silly gimmick, especially considering the murders are not graphic at all (this was made for TV after all). Still, it's surprisingly entertaining for something so mild that it could have been made in the 1930s. With Tony Curtis, Suzy Parker, Laura Devon, Marie Windsor, Wayne Rogers, Patrice Wymore, Jeanette Nolan and Barry Kroeger. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Passion (1996)

In 19th century Italy, a soldier (Jere Shea) has a married mistress (Marin Mazzie). But when he's transferred from Milan to a remote military outpost, he comes into contact with a sickly, plain woman (Donna Murphy) who becomes obsessed with him. Based on the 1994 Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim which was based on Ettore Scola's 1983 film PASSIONE D'AMORE which in turn was based on the 19th century novel FOSCA by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. I'm a huge fan of Sondheim but this is easily the weakest of his musicals. At heart, it's a rather unhealthy tale of a psychologically disturbed woman who stalks a soldier who in the end turns out to be a masochist and as sick as she is and yet the whole thing romanticized by Sondheim and director and book writer James Lapine. It's just too creepy! It's that rare Sondheim show devoid of any humor whatsoever. It's a relentless downer. I kept wanting to like it but its characters are unappealing and Sondheim's score tends to be monotonous. With Tom Aldredge and Gregg Edelman.

Running Mates (2000)

As a Michigan Governor (Tom Selleck) makes his bid for the Democratic nomination for President, several women in his life, both past and present, put pressure on him: his campaign manager (Laura Linney), his wife (Nancy Travis), a Hollywood fundraiser (Teri Hatcher) and a Washington socialite (Faye Dunaway) who wants her husband (Robert Culp) to be the VP on the ticket. Directed by Ron Lagomarsino, this film starts off promisingly with a cynical look at the behind the scenes machinations of compromises and political backscratching and deal making. But by the time we get to the end of the journey, it's thinned out to a shallow version of a Frank Capra MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON "we the people" feel good ending that screams out "Fake!" If it only it had played out to its more honest cynicism. The acting is decent with Faye Dunaway especially good as an ambitious political wife far too good for her womanizing husband. Also in the cast: Bob Gunton, Bruce McGill, Stephen Lang and Caroline Aaron.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Lured (1947)

A serial killer known as the poet killer lures his victims by placing personal ads in the newspaper. After her friend (Tanis Chandler) disappears after placing an ad in the personals, a dancer (Lucille Ball) is recruited by Scotland Yard as bait to ferret out the murderer. Directed by Douglas Sirk (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS), this is a terrific thriller. It's said every director has one Hitchcock movie in him and this is Sirk's. Sirk takes his time in setting up the plot with a major red herring but when the red herring is this good, who cares? Guessing the killer's identity isn't that difficult really but I love the way Sirk teases us with bits of distracting humor. A sequence with Boris Karloff as a deranged fashion designer is both amusing and frightening. Everyone recognizes Ball as one of the great comedy actresses but here she proves a strong dramatic actress as well. The B&W cinematography by William H. Daniels (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF) drenches the film with atmosphere. With George Sanders, Charles Coburn, Cedric Hardwicke, Joseph Calleia, Alan Mowbray, Ann Codee and George Zucco, who just about steals the movie. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

4 Mosche Di Velluto Grigio (aka Four Flies On Grey Velvet) (1971)

A drummer (Michael Brandon) in a rock band is being stalked by a mysterious stranger (Calisto Calisti). When he eventually confronts the stranger, they fight and the stranger is accidentally killed. But someone photographed the killing and is now taunting him. Just what do they want and why? Written and directed by Dario Argento, this is the final entry in his "animal" trilogy coming after BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and CAT O'NINE TAILS. It's easily the weakest of the three gialli and indeed, one of Argento's weakest films. With one exception, the suspense factor is feeble and the two leads, Brandon and Mimsy Farmer as his wife, are uninteresting actors. The one scene that stands out is Francine Racette hiding in a closet from the killer and her eventual murder. But aside from that, the narrative is disjointed and when everything is explained to us at the very end, it doesn't make up for the lack of structure. I get it that Argento's films are defined by his style but here it's just not enough to carry the film. Ennio Morricone's score is a mixed bag. With Bud Spencer and Jean Pierrre Marielle as a gay private detective. I like the idea of a gay private eye but it's a pity that Argento goes for the stereotype.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Loot (1970)

Two young bank robbers (Hywel Bennett, Roy Holder) have pulled off a successful heist. They hide the money in the casket of Holder's recently deceased mother intending to later remove the money and put mother back in her casket. However, everything that could go wrong does. Based on the farce by Joe Orton (ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE) and directed by Silvio Narizzano (GEORGY GIRL). This diabolical black comedy does little to hide its theatrical origins and indeed, I suspect it might play better on stage than on screen. Which is not to say, it's not amusing in its celluloid incarnation but the broad play acting and stylized frenzy may put some people off. Acting wise, the film belongs to two actors not normally associated with comedy. Lee Remick is hilarious as a gold digging nurse who's been married 7 times ("I can't marry you. You're the wrong faith and income bracket!") and Richard Attenborough as a corrupt and sadistic police detective ("Anything you say may be taken down, twisted round, altered and used in evidence against you"). With Milo O'Shea and Dick Emery.

Cyborg 2087 (1966)

In the year 2087, the fascist state controls the population through something called "radio telepathy". A group of anti-fascist revolutionaries send a cyborg (Michael Rennie) back in time to the year 1966 to find the inventor (Eduard Franz) and stop the discovery of "radio telepathy". Directed by Franklin Adreon, this low budget slice of science fiction isn't outrageous enough to qualify as "camp" but its cheesy ineptness provides an eminently watchable "B" movie experience. Actually intended as a TV movie, it was released into cinemas instead. With Rennie as the cyborg of the title, one can't help but be reminded of the similarities of his Klaatu in the classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. But plot wise, the film resembles and anticipates Cameron's THE TERMINATOR (1984) more than anything else. The film is very much of its time (1966), the film has a flat TV look and shot in bright colors and there's even a sequence where the movie stops so we can watch some teenagers do The Jerk! With Wendell Corey, Karen Steele, Warren Stevens, Jo Ann Pflug, John Beck and Adam Roarke.    

L'Amour D'une Femme (1953)

A young female doctor (Micheline Presle) arrives at a desolate French island in the English Channel to take the place of the 70 year old doctor (Robert Naly) who is retiring. She has to overcome prejudice toward women doctors from the island's male population but she quickly finds romance with an Italian engineer (Massimo Girotti), who also has old fashioned ideas about women. Directed by Jean Gremillon. Although it would be perhaps stretching it to call this a feminist drama, the film is remarkably prescient in its observations regarding the pressure women have of choosing between a husband and family and a career. Presle's character is a dedicated doctor yet to the "macho" Italian who wants to marry her, a career is something a woman has until she gets married and doesn't have to work anymore. The film and Presle are very good at showing the complexities on all sides and avoids the strict black and white lines that a more contemporary film would most likely have on the subject. The film's final close up of Presle displays the pain of a decision which may be "right" but doesn't make it any easier. With Gaby Morlay and Paolo Stoppa.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Scream 2 (1997)

When a new movie opens based on a true story about a pair of serial killers, the survivor (Neve Campbell) of that event finds herself once again thrust into the unwelcome media limelight. Things go from bad to horrible, when a copycat killer begins terrorizing the small college town. Directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, the men behind the original SCREAM (1996). This is that rarity, a sequel that surpasses the original. This is one hell of a rollercoaster ride! Craven and Williamson jack up the body count and increase the intensity, all the while savoring every bit of black humor they can squeeze out. Williamson's script is smart and full of surprises and Craven doesn't let go of his grip and delivers a terrific finish. The film's killer (no pun intended) opening says a lot about horror movies and horror movie fans! Which isn't to say that the film doesn't have its flaws. There's a lame sequence of Jerry O'Connell serenading Campbell in the school cafeteria that could have easily been excised with no harm to the film. The performances are fine except for Timothy Olyphant, who's pretty embarrassing. The rest of the large cast includes David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Liev Schreiber, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jada Pinkett, Heather Graham, Luke Wilson, David Warner, Laurie Metcalf, Jamie Kennedy, Portia De Rossi, Tori Spelling and Omar Epps.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Last Unicorn (1982)

A unicorn (Mia Farrow) lives in a magical forest where she is the protector of the forest's animals. But she leaves the forest in order to find others of her own kind ..... or is she the last unicorn? Along her journey, she finds two human companions: an inept magician (Alan Arkin) and a cook (Tammy Grimes). Based on the popular 1968 fantasy novel by Peter S. Beagle who adapts his novel for the screen and directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. (FROSTY THE SNOWMAN). The animation, which has a lovely simplicity, was done in Japan by a group of animation designers that would later be a creative force behind Studio Ghibli and indeed, the film does have the rough feel of a Miyazaki anime. Although not a musical per se, the songs by Jimmy Webb (who also did the underscore) are very good and performed by America with Mia Farrow and Jeff Bridges (as a Prince) each having a solo number. The voice talent is of an unusually high caliber and Beagle was very enthusiastic about the voice work. Young children should love this and there's enough texture that adults can fully enjoy it too. With Angela Lansbury as an old witch, Christopher Lee as a King, Keenan Wynn as a bandit, Robert Klein as a butterfly and Rene Auberjonois who's hilarious as a wine loving skeleton.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) (2017)

An eccentric artist (Dustin Hoffman)  and his fourth wife (Emma Thompson), who is an alcoholic, welcome his adult children from his prior marriages who all have a strained relationship with their father: the unemployed and recently divorced oldest son (Adam Sandler), the quiet recessive daughter (Elizabeth Marvel) and the only successful member of the family, the son (Ben Stiller) who lives out in L.A. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, this is the kind of movie he does best. Like his THE SQUID AND THE WHALE and MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, he explores a dysfunctional family with acidic insight as well as generous doses of humor. The film is divided into chapters focusing on the adult children's conflicted relationship with their egocentric father. The rich dialog is often rapid fire reminding one of the films of both Robert Altman and Woody Allen. The fragmented nature of the film allows Baumbach to address the specificities of dysfunction in the family rather than generics. The acting is first rate with Hoffman giving his best performance in years as well as a career best performance by Sandler (he'll be surprising a lot of people). The score is by Randy Newman. With Candice Bergen, Adam Driver, Sigourney Weaver, Judd Hirsch, Rebecca Miller and Grace Van Patten, who is someone to watch.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

True Confession (1937)

A pathological liar (Carole Lombard) is married to a struggling lawyer (Fred MacMurray) who hates liars! She confesses to a murder she didn't commit so her husband can defend her and make a name for himself after he acquits her. But she gets more than she bargained for! Based on the play MON CRIME by Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil and directed by Wesley Ruggles (I'M NO ANGEL). This screwball comedy with with a macabre sense of wit is fairly enjoyable. Lombard is still manic but somehow the mannerisms which are insufferable in comedies like TWENTIETH CENTURY and MY MAN GODFREY work for her character here. Frequent co-star MacMurray once again proves a perfect foil for her. Add John Barrymore in a flashy performance that threatens to venture into ham territory at any minute and you've got yourself a pleasant slice of entertainment. Remade in 1946 with Betty Hutton in Lombard's old role. With Una Merkel, Porter Hall, Hattie McDaniel and Edgar Kennedy.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

After escaping from an insane asylum, former Chief Inspector (Herbert Lom) of the Paris Surete kidnaps a scientist (Richard Vernon) and his daughter (Briony McRoberts). He blackmails the scientist into building a doomsday weapon that he will use against the world ..... unless they turn over Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) to him. Directed by Blake Edwards, this was the 4th entry in the Pink Panther franchise. It has a threadbare plot (if you could call it that) that is really just an excuse for slapstick and gags galore. Fortunately, most of the gags are quite funny and if in the end, the film is uneven, it works more often than it does not. The first two PANTHER films are still my favorites because they have a stronger narrative and structure to hold the humor together. This slapdash approach is more hit and miss but I laughed often so I can't really complain. The title credits are hilarious and once again, Henry Mancini provides a slick underscore. With Omar Sharif, Lesley Anne Down, Leonard Rossiter, Colin Blakely and Burt Kwouk. 

Cave Of Outlaws (1951)

A young boy (Russ Tamblyn) is the only survivor of a gang of outlaws that robbed a train. Although the money is never recovered, he is sent to prison. 15 years later, he (now Macdonald Carey) returns to the town near the caves where the money is hidden. The townspeople even advance him credit in anticipation of his recovering the stolen money. But a Wells Fargo detective (Edgar Buchanan) is determined to get the money back. Directed by William Castle (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), this western programmer's main distinction are the stunning Carlsbad Caverns caves in New Mexico which serves as the background for much of the film and handsomely shot in Technicolor by Irving Glassberg (THE TARNISHED ANGELS). The film is a rather slow moving effort with not much action until the film's last 20 minutes or so. It's a film about greed and while better films (like TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE) have been done on the subject, this one is modestly adept. I wouldn't go out of my way but if you're a westerns buff, it's an unassuming diversion. With Alexis Smith, Hugh O'Brian and Victor Jory. 

The Seventh Victim (1943)

When a young schoolgirl (Kim Hunter) is informed that her older sister (Jean Brooks) is missing, she heads for Manhattan to try and locate her. It soon becomes clear that certain people don't want her sister found. Directed by Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE) in his first directorial effort. This may be my favorite of the classic Val Lewton RKO horror films, sort of the ROSEMARY'S BABY of its day. It still blows me away that something so bleak and nihilistic could come out of 1940s Hollywood. Most films would probably end after the Lord's Prayer being recited by Tom Conway (playing the same character he played in Lewton's CAT PEOPLE) and Orford Gage or perhaps on the two lovers (Hunter and LEAVE IT TO BEAVER's Hugh Beaumont). But instead, it ends on a startling morbid moment! Needless to say, audiences stayed away in 1943. Critics weren't very kind either but its stature has grown significantly since then to the point where it's now recognized as a psychological horror classic. The excellent shadowy lensing is by Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST). With Evelyn Brent, Isabel Jewell, Lou Lubin and Barbara Hale.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Victoria And Abdul (2017)

A young Muslim (Ali Fazal) is sent from India to England to present Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) with a gift for her golden jubilee. The Queen unexpectedly takes a liking to him and soon they become very close which disturbs the inner circle of politicians and family. Based on a book by Shrabani Basu and directed by Stephen Frears (PHILOMENA). First, the good: Judi Dench. A first rate and award worthy performance. Then, the bad: everything else! I walked out of Dench's previous effort as Victoria, MRS. BROWN and I probably should have bolted this one as well. It's worth seeing for Dench's performance but she can't redeem something as shameless as this. The film states at its beginning "based on real events" instead of "this is a true story" and they were smart to do so as everything that follows rings false. The film has a slight revisionist tone to it that I found disturbing and I was cringing by the film's sappy finale. There were some sniffles around me but all I kept thinking was, "Oh God, will this movie never end?". It finally did and I leapt from my seat without staying for the end credits like I normally do. With Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon, Tim Piggott Smith, Olivia Williams and Simon Callow.   

Saturday, October 7, 2017

They Came To Cordura (1959)

In 1916 Mexico as the U.S. Army wages an attack on the forces of Pancho Villa, a Major (Gary Cooper) is assigned the task of leading five Medal Of Honor candidates (Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Richard Conte, Michael Callan, Dick York) and a female prisoner (Rita Hayworth) accused of aiding and abetting the enemy to the military base of Cordura. First on horseback, then on foot. The Major is determined to find out what causes men to engage in heroic behavior at the risk of their lives. Based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout (WHERE THE BOYS ARE) and directed by Robert Rossen (ALL THE KING'S MEN). This potent look at the thin line between bravery and cowardice still hasn't received its proper due. Not surprisingly, the film failed at the box office when first released. 1959 audiences didn't want to see Gary Cooper as a coward and masochist, an aging and deglamorized Rita Hayworth as a traitor, teen heartthrob Tab Hunter go crazy or Van Heflin and Richard Conte as rapists. The film raises some provocative questions and the answers aren't always what we want to hear or see. It's not a great film by any means but definitely worth seeking out if you haven't seen it. The excellent underscore is by the classical composer Elie Siegmeister, the only film score he ever wrote. With Robert Keith and Edward Platt.   

Friday, October 6, 2017

Dishonored Lady (1947)

A fashion editor (Hedy Lamarr) for a magazine leads two lives. A professional by day but a playgirl with a reputation living life in the fast lane at night. Unhappy with the way her life is going, she attempts suicide but a psychiatrist (Morris Carnovsky) urges her to rethink her life. She leaves her job and takes on a new identity to start a new life but her past will come back to haunt her. Directed by Robert Stevenson (MARY POPPINS) and based on a 1930 play by Margaret Ayer Barnes and Edward Sheldon with Katharine Cornell playing the title role. The film version has been "cleaned up" considerably from the play to appease the 1947 censors and what we're left with is a routine potboiler. The transfer I saw had been cut by about five minutes and I suppose those five minutes could have provided a more consistent narrative rather than the choppy edit I saw but I doubt it would have made for a better film. Lamarr is breathtakingly gorgeous but her acting isn't strong enough (at least not here) to make us care much about her character's fate. With Dennis O'Keefe, William Lundigan, John Loder, Margaret Hamilton and Natalie Schafer.  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)

As a plague called the Red Death ravages the Italian countryside, a Satan worshiping Prince (Vincent Price) and his debauched guests are safe behind his castle walls ..... seemingly. Based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe and directed by Roger Corman. This is easily the best of Corman's Poe films and in its own way, as powerful as Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL. Everyone is working at their highest level here. From Daniel Haller's sumptuous production design, Robert Jones's stunning art direction, Laura Nightingale's colorful costume supervision (there is no "costume designer" credit) and Nicholas Roeg's vivid cinematography (the film's color palette is exquisite). The film has a richer look and creative level than his other Poe films. Perhaps it was shooting in England for the first time rather than Hollywood but this doesn't have the feel of a low budget American International film. Vincent Price too gives his best performance in his Poe canon. With Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Patrick Magee (whose face and voice reeks of decadence and corruption) and Nigel Green.    

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

A Manhattan housewife (Diane Keaton) becomes convinced her next door neighbor (Jerry Adler) has murdered his wife (Lynn Cohen). She enlists the help of her reluctant husband (Woody Allen), who doesn't believe her, in solving the case. But it soon becomes apparent that they are way over their heads as things go from bad to worse. Co-written (along with Marshall Brickman) and directed by Woody Allen. I'm a huge fan of comedy mysteries and Allen's film isn't unlike something Bob Hope might have done with Dorothy Lamour in the 1940s. But it takes awhile for the movie to get its rhythm going and I fear many might have given up by the time the movie finds its groove. Anjelica Huston in a low key performance as a writer who helps the couple crack the case makes a wonderful contrast to the excessive neuroticism of Allen, Keaton and Alan Alda as the fourth collaborator in solving the mystery. The film's finale, a homage to Orson Welles' LADY FROM SHANGHAI should delight film buffs. With Joy Behar, Zach Braff, Marge Redmond, Ron Rifkin and Melanie Norris. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

House Of Dark Shadows (1970)

A handyman (John Karlen) accidentally frees a 175 year old vampire (Jonathan Frid) from the crypt of the Collins family mausoleum. He then goes on a blood sucking rampage until a doctor (Grayson Hall) isolates the vampire "gene" and tries to cure him of his vampirism. Based on the 1966 cult horror soap opera that had a 5 year run and directed by the show's creator Dan Curtis. I'll be upfront and say I never watched the TV version so I don't have any attachment to it and am judging the film on its own merits (or lack of them). It's a pretty generic vampire movie with a nice Hammer like atmosphere and a few unique components (like the doctor's attempt to cure the vampire of his "disease"). The body count is pretty high and the acting is adequate though Nancy Barrett's performance is more than adequate, it's quite good. I didn't find Frid a particularly charismatic vampire, he's rather ordinary really and I wish Joan Bennett as the family matriarch had more to do. With Kathryn Leigh Scott, Thayer David, Roger Davis and Louis Edmonds.

The Angel Wore Red (1960)

Set in 1936 Spain during the Civil War, a disillusioned priest (Dirk Bogarde at his dullest) abandons his calling. However, the Loyalists believe he has a holy relic that they want so he is put on a wanted list. Based on the novel THE FAIR BRIDE by Bruce Marshall and adapted for the screen and directed by Nunnally Johnson (THREE FACES OF EVE). A mess of a movie! I've not read the source material but surely it must have been clearer than Johnson's muddled screenplay. The narrative makes little sense and the actions of the characters seem so arbitrary. And surely, the Loyalists would do a body search of someone they suspect may be carrying the relic they're looking for but no! The B&W lensing by Giuseppe Rotunno (AMARCORD) is quite nice but the film would have benefited from being shot in color. Although she's top billed, Ava Gardner as the "angel" of the title is really a supporting role and it's Bogarde's movie all the way but his pinched up face gets wearisome very quickly. Bronislau Kaper did the underscore. For Ava fans only! With Joseph Cotten (wasted), Vittorio De Sica (badly dubbed), Finlay Currie, Enrico Maria Salerno, Nino Castelnuovo and Rossana Rory.  

Variete (1925)

An ex-trapeze aerialist (Emil Jannings) currently works as a carnival barker to support his wife (Maly Delschaft) and baby. When a young foreign beauty (Lya De Putti) enters the picture, he abandons his wife and baby and they run off together. Success arrives when they unite with a third aerialist (Warwick Ward) and their act becomes a popular success. But infidelity and jealousy will destroy them all. Directed by E.A. Dupont, the film's artistry lies not in its routine story of a love triangle but in its execution and its here that Dupont and his master cinematographer Karl Freund (METROPOLIS) excel. From its heady trapeze shots to its spectacular crowd and group scenes, it's a visual treat. But what really holds the film together is Emil Jannings' performance and this may be my favorite performance by him. This is an excellent example of why he was considered one of the premier actors of his era. For fans of silent cinema, this is a must!

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Last Wagon (1956)

After the Apaches wipe out a wagon train, a condemned prisoner (Richard Widmark) must lead the 6 survivors through Apache territory and hopefully make it to safety. Even if it means there's a noose waiting for him at the end of the journey. Delmer Daves is responsible for some of the best westerns of the 1950s decade. 3:10 TO YUMA and JUBAL are probably the most admired of these but THE LAST WAGON is an (way) above average western that can stand proudly among the best westerns of that decade. Beautifully shot in CinemaScope by Wilfrid M. Cline (1953's CALAMITY JANE) in Sedona, Arizona. The film is strong with limited sentimentality until the very end when it's acceptable. Racism is examined as well as the nature of taking the "law" into your own hands when there is no law but your own sense of justice. Widmark gives a marvelous performance and as the survivors: that underrated lovely Felicia Farr (3:10 TO YUMA), Susan Kohner, Nick Adams, Tommy Rettig, Ray Stricklyn and Stephanie Griffin are all first rate. Also with James Drury, Carl Benton Reid, Timothy Carey and Douglas Kennedy.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The House On Skull Mountain (1974)

Set in Georgia, an elderly black woman (Mary J. Todd McKenzie) of Haitian descent is dying. But before she dies, she request her four remaining relatives be sent for. Directed by Ron Honthaner, this horror potboiler with a predominantly black cast is more entertaining than it has any right to be considering it's mostly terrible. The acting is mostly amateurish to the point that it looks like the actors are reading their lines off cue cards. But it's precisely that amateurishness that gives the film a certain a fascination. Honthaner manages to give off a nice atmosphere and if you're a fan of old mansions on a stormy night movies, it should be easy to overlook the film's transgressions. For example, during a voodoo ceremony where there will be a human sacrifice, Victor French (the only white actor with a major role) sneaks into the ceremony and doesn't bother to hide and nobody notices him! Mike Evans as the jive talking hipster relative is so annoying that one hopes he's the first to get offed! It's not remotely scary but there's pleasure to be had in its amateurish silliness. With Janee Michelle, Jean Durand, Ella Woods and Xernona Clayton. 

La Fille Inconnue (aka The Unknown Girl) (2016)

A young doctor (Adele Haenel) is working overtime with an intern (Olivier Bonnaud) in her office late at night. When a young girl (Ange Deborah Goulehi) rings the bell to be let in, she doesn't open the door. The next day, she discovers the girl has been found dead without any identification as to her identity, possibly a murder victim. Stricken with guilt, the doctor becomes obsessed with finding out who the girl was and why she was killed. Released in Europe last year, the latest film from Luc and Jean Pierre Dardenne is only now getting a low key U.S. release. It's a let down following their TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT from 2014. Although Adele Hanenel is getting positive reviews for her performance, I thought the acting in the film was weak in general. TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT was anchored by a spectacular performance by Marion Cotillard and this film could have used a strong performance as Haenel is in just about every scene in the movie. Characters behave illogically and seem contrived by the Dardennes to behave the way they do so the film makers can have their point made. Those expecting a whodunit type of mystery will be disappointed. The film is about guilt. Not only the guilt of the doctor but the guilt of the person responsible for the girl's death and the guilt of a society that looks the other way and says, "That has nothing to do with me". I appreciate the message and it's a good one. I wish the execution weren't so awkward.