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Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Vortex (1969)

Fearing aging and the loss of her youthful beauty, a society woman (Margaret Leighton) takes on a much younger lover (Barry Justice) and doesn't bother to hide it from her husband (Patrick Barr). When her son (Richard Warwick) returns home after a year in Paris with a fiancee (Felicity Gibson), it facilitates a showdown. Based on the 1924 play by Noel Coward and directed by Philip Dudley. Quite controversial for its day with the subject of drug use (possibly a metaphor for homosexuality), Coward's aristocratic circle features such shallow and vain or weak willed inhabitants that it's difficult to drum up much empathy for them. Even as the play ends and the mother and son promise to change, you know they'll continue to go on just as they are: deluded and feeble. The acting is quite good with Leighton giving a stellar performance and Warwick ambiguous enough to make you wonder. With Alan Melville, Nancie Jackson and Jennifer Daniel. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Adventurers (1970)

A young boy (Loris Loddi) in a war torn South American country survives the massacre of his family and is sent to Italy to be educated. As he grows into a man (Bekim Fehmiu), he lives off wealthy women as either a gigolo or marrying them. But try as he can, he can't forget his roots as he inevitably finds himself tied to his country. Based on the trashy potboiler by Harold Robbins (THE CARPETBAGGERS) and directed by Lewis Gilbert (ALFIE). Robbins' sordid best seller gets the deluxe treatment: an all star cast, glamorous locations, a three hour running time with an intermission etc. As directed by Gilbert, the film takes itself too seriously to be much fun. It's an uneasy mix of exploitation (lots of rape and bloodletting in the film's first 10 minutes) and pretentious pontificating on the horror of war and corrupt dictators. It seems to think it's an important epic with something to say rather than a juicy slice of kitsch. It's actually quite entertaining when focusing on the glamorous goings on of the jaded jet set but when it returns to the third world revolution, it becomes quite tedious. The handsome cinematography is by Claude Renoir and there's an excellent underscore by Antonio Carlos Jobim. The massive cast includes Olivia De Havilland, Candice Bergen, Ernest Borgnine, Rossano Brazzi, Leigh Taylor Young, John Ireland, Jaclyn Smith, Fernando Rey, Alan Badel, Thommy Berggren (ELVIRA MADIGAN), Anna Moffo, Lois Maxwell, Angela Scoular, Yolande Donlan and Yorgo Voyagis.

The Sisters Brothers (2018)

Two brothers (Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly) are employed as professional killers by a man simply known as The Commodore (Rutger Hauer). Their latest assignment is to find and torture a chemist (Riz Ahmed) to get his chemical formula for extracting gold. Based on the novel by Patrick DeWitt and directed by Jacques Audiard (RUST AND BONE), his first film in the English language. Westerns (along with musicals) are my favorite genre so I'm favorably disposed to them and tend to be lenient in my assessments. In this particular case, this western stands on its own strengths which are many. The movie brims with unorthodox (for a western) dialog if slightly anachronistic (did uneducated cowboys use words like pretentious and victimized?). But brotherly love is at the core of this western. Not the sentimental kind, these brothers are constantly at odds with each other but the bonds are unbreakable. If Reilly's performance (his best in a long time) seems to stand out more than Phoenix, it's only because we've seen Phoenix do this kind of character before. He does it impeccably but there are no surprises. As a more educated tracker, Jake Gyllenhaal's low keyed acting is surprisingly effective. There's a wonderful jazz tinged score by Alexandre Desplat that's also anachronistic but in this case it works beautifully. With Carol Kane and Rebecca Root.    

Friday, September 28, 2018

You Only Live Once (1937)

A two time offender (Henry Fonda) is released from prison and attempts to go straight. With encouragement from his wife (Sylvia Sidney), it looks like he might make it. But societal prejudices and circumstances doom him and her. Directed by Fritz Lang, this critically admired film just didn't work for me. Everything and I mean everything is stacked up against them to the point that I'm surprised Lang didn't have the bloodhounds snapping at their rear ends as they fled across the ice! The film is fortunate in having the enormously appealing Sidney as the wife but even she loses that appeal when her character behaves irrationally. When she gets pregnant, the child is regulated to her disapproving sister (Jean Dixon) while she runs off to her doom with Fonda. Lang's direction is first rate and it's well done, I'll give it that but I found its thematic structure dubious at best. With William Gargan, Margaret Hamilton, Barton MacLane and Jerome Cowan.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (1972)

A young girl (Fiona Fullerton) follows a white rabbit (Michael Crawford) down a rabbit hole and falls down the hole until she lands in a most curious kingdom where the most amazing adventures await her. Based on the classic novel by Lewis Carroll and directed by William Sterling. Carroll's ALICE has been the basis of countless film, TV, stage, ballet and opera adaptations. This film adaptation is a musical with music by John Barry (who also did the lovely underscore) and lyrics by Don Black (which incorporate Carroll's dialog from the book). Alas, my viewing was hindered by watching a subpar transfer of the film which compromised the visuals (Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography and Anthony Mendleson's costumes won BAFTA awards). The songs tend to be monotonous and the film might have been better served without them. Perhaps it's my over familiarity with the story but I found most of it tedious. The two highlights were the tea party with Peter Sellers as the March Hare, Dudley Moore as the Dormouse and Robert Helpmann as the Mad Hatter and the Mock Turtle sequence with Michael Hordern as the turtle and Spike Milligan as the Gryphon. 13 years later, Fullerton would be a Bond girl in A VIEW TO A KILL. With Ralph Richardson, Flora Robson, Hywel Bennett, Roy Kinnear, Michael Jayston, Dennis Price and Peter Bull.   

Take A Girl Like You (1970)

A young girl (Hayley Mills) leaves her Northern England home and moves close to London. However, her strict adherence on keeping her virginity while waiting for the "right" man is at odds with the caddish playboy (Oliver Reed), who pursues her vigorously with no intention of marriage. Based on the novel by Kingsley Amis and directed by the satirist Jonathan Miller (the only film he directed). The film goes in a different direction from the book. It's more of a romantic comedy which the book most assuredly is not and Oliver Reed's character is cleaned up from the often loathsome character in the book so that there is an option of a happy ending. Unlike the book, the film's ending is ambiguous. The film plays differently than it did in 1970 when a girl holding on to her virginity seemed quaint in the swinging 60s. However, with today's #MeToo movement, a woman's right to say no and not be pawed and slobbered over by oversexed males makes a different comment. There's a nice underscore by Stanley Myers. With Noel Harrison, Penelope Keith, Sheila Hancock, Dick Bird and Ronald Lacey.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Casper Meets Wendy (1998)

Three witches (Teri Garr, Shelley Duvall, Cathy Moriarty) and their niece (11 year old Hilary Duff) go into hiding when a powerful warlock (George Hamilton) views the child witch as a threat to his power. The little witch finds an ally in Casper the friendly ghost (Jeremy Foley). Directed by Sean McNamara, this is intended for the 5 to 10 year old market (under 5 children may find it too scary) so the humor is juvenile and the acting cartoonish and very broad. The grown ups can enjoy George Hamilton's campy performance and Garr, Duvall and Moriarty bring an enthusiastic ridiculousness to their amiable witches. The special effects are surprisingly good for such a low budget effort. With Alan Thicke, Casper Van Dien, Pauly Shore and Vincent Schiavelli. 

The Couch (1962)

A homicidal psychopath (Grant Williams) calls the police to notify them whenever he kills someone and it's always at the same time, 7:00 PM. Written by Robert Bloch (PSYCHO) from a story by Blake Edwards and Owen Crump, the film's director. This may be a minor entry but it is a genuinely creepy psychological thriller. Curiously, the film's director Owen Crump's background is in documentary films and THE COUCH is only one of two feature films he directed. Grant Williams' serial killer could be a cinematic cousin to Norman Bates but the film's finale is as unsatisfying as the psychiatrist's exposition at the end of PSYCHO. I had problems with Shirley Knight's character. I say character but maybe it's her performance. Williams' psychopath sends off all kinds of red flags that she overlooks (I know he's cute but still) and even when she discovers his true character she seems oddly enervated. But there's no denying the effectiveness of this vigorous chiller. The film's coda should put a smile on your face. With Onslow Stevens, Anne Helm, William Leslie and Hope Summers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Woman On The Beach (1947)

A sailor (Robert Ryan) suffering from WWII post traumatic stress disorder is recovering when he falls under the spell of the wife (Joan Bennett) of a blind painter (Charles Bickford). His obsession with her threatens to undo his tenuous recovery. Based on the novel NONE SO BLIND by Mitchell Wilson and directed by Jean Renoir (his last Hollywood film). After a ruinous sneak preview, the film was taken away from Renoir and re-edited and portions re-shot. Renoir disowned it saying it wasn't the film he intended to make. Still, despite an ending that feels totally false, one can still get a sense of what Renoir was attempting to accomplish. The complex love/hate relationship between Bennet and Bickford fuels the film. One can see what Bennett sees in Bickford's fierce artist but one questions what she sees (unless she's just using him) in Ryan's dullard. Normally, Ryan is a compelling actor but he's neutered here. We'll never know what might have been but there's enough of Renoir's vision to hold our attention. With Irene Ryan (THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES), Nan Leslie and Walter Sande. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Man In The Brown Suit (1989)

An American woman (Stephanie Zimbalist) on vacation in Egypt sees a man (Federico Luciano) killed and discovers a piece of paper the man had on him on which is written a cryptic note with a name and some numbers. Thus begins an exciting and dangerous adventure. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie and directed by Alan Grint. The screenplay roughly follows the Christie novel with many changes including making the heroine American rather than English, setting the story in the Middle East rather than South Africa and weak attempts at humor which are not in the Christie source material. Rather than a murder mystery, the Christie novel is a thriller with a constantly in danger damsel in distress. It's one of her lesser works. It's a lazy piece of film making. For example, one of the characters disguises himself as a woman but he's still instantly recognizable as his character and not only does no one notice, they are shocked when it is revealed. The acting is adequate and in Tony Randall (as a missionary), less than that, he's embarrassingly bad. With Ken Howard, Rue McClanahan, Edward Woodward, Nickolas Grace, Maria Casal and Simon Dutton.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Shivers (aka They Came From Within) (1975)

A modern high rise complex situated on an island near Montreal becomes infested with parasites that enter humans through their orifices and turns them into insatiable sex maniacs. Directed by David Cronenberg (his first feature film), this horror film was shot in fifteen days and it feels like it! It's not frightening at all and most of its shocks come from its gross out effects. I'm not sure how much humor is intentional and how much is unintentional but I found myself chuckling at it frequently. I've seen student films that look more professional and the amateurish acting with one exception is godawful.  The one exception is Barbara Steele (BLACK SUNDAY) in a very small role. And I've never seen a film with such unattractive (male) actors. There's not a good looking actor in the entire film. Which isn't to say I wasn't entertained by it, I was. It's a silly movie and the mind boggling bad acting, imbecilic writing and overall senseless plotting soon turns into one of those bad movies that are grandly entertaining. Still, you'd never guess from this project that Cronenberg would eventually emerge as a major talent. There are a lot of other actors in the movie besides Barbara Steele but I won't embarrass them by naming them here.

Black Horse Canyon (1954)

A rancher (Mari Blanchard) has trouble holding on to a wild stallion she raised when he was a colt. His yearning to be free has him constantly escaping and running away to run with wild horses. When a cowboy (Joel McCrea) and his young sidekick (Race Gentry, whose acting is awful) move into the ranch next to hers, they help her in trying to locate the stallion and finally domesticate him. Based on the novel by Les Savage Jr. and directed by Jesse Hibbs (TO HELL AND BACK). This is a family friendly western with a horse at the center. The stallion itself is a beauty and one can't help but feel sorry for him. He's happy being wild and free and it seems a shame to "break" him so he can be ridden and fenced in a corral. I mean it's one thing if he's born on a ranch and that's all he knows, it's another thing to have known freedom and have that taken away from you, even if you are an animal. But I digress, the film is not concerned with that. It's an amiable western that takes advantage of the Arizona locations. McCrea is an old hand at stuff like and it's nice to see Blanchard playing the nice girl for a change. With Murvyn Vye and Irving Bacon.  

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Baron Blood (1972)

As a prank, a visiting American (Antonio Cantafora) and an assistant (Elke Sommer) in restoring an old castle read an incantation that will bring up the dead Baron Blood who was notorious for his bloody deeds. Only the joke is on them, when he comes back to life and terrorizes anew. Directed by Mario Bava, the film is quite admired by his coterie and hardcore fans. Personally, I found it very run of the mill (and often less than that) with only its cinematography (courtesy of Antonio Rinaldi and an uncredited Bava) to distinguish it from the crowd of Italian horror (I wouldn't call it a giallo though it's often described as such). Its initial reviews weren't very good (but apt) but it has since developed a cult as much of Bava's filmography has. But to be fair, what the tepid screenplay lacks, Bava tries to make up with an atmospheric sense of dread and it almost works but not quite. Joseph Cotten brings a sinister presence as the new owner of the castle and Elke Sommer proves she can scream as loud as Hollywood's own scream queens. With Massimo Girotti and Rada Rossimov.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Bad Times At The El Royale (2018)

A man enters a hotel room on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada and buries a suitcase under the floor but he is killed shortly afterward. Jump ten years later and a group of disparate strangers check into the once thriving hotel, each with their own backstory but their lives will soon crash into each others and not all of them will make it out alive. Written and directed by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS), this is a piece of celluloid dynamite! Framed with chapters (each focused on a particular character), this at first seems Tarantino territory but Goddard gives us a fresh composite thriller that keeps you riveted for its near 2 1/2 hour running time. Beware of first impressions because almost no one turns out to be what they seem. The cast is the very definition of ensemble with each actor taking center stage when it's their time but working as an entity to the film's structure. Performances are ace. After coasting on his laurels, Jeff Bridges gives his best performance in years, remember the name Cynthia Erivo because this girl is poised for stardom (she's terrific in WIDOWS too). Everyone at the top of their game including Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman and Cailee Spaeny. It's the kind of movie where it's best knowing as little as possible going in!

Peril En La Demeure (1985)

A struggling guitar teacher (Christophe Malavoy) is hired to give music lessons to the nubile daughter (Anais Jeanneret) of a well to do couple (Michel Piccoli, Nicole Garcia). He starts an affair with the wife when shortly after, he is attacked by a stranger. That begins a series of events that will lead him down a murderous path. Based on the novel by Rene Belletto and directed by Michel Deville who won the best director Cesar (the French Oscar) for his work here. If it were the 1940s and shot in B&W, this would be referred to as film noir. Right from the beginning, there's something unspoken, something off kilter and it takes awhile for all the layers to drop. But anyone who's seen films like DOUBLE INDEMNITY and BODY HEAT can pretty much guess the direction the film is going. Everyone seems suspicious including the enigmatic neighbor (Anemone, who steals the movie) and a hitman (Richard Bohringer, who may or may not be gay). No one is really likable and when the cold blooded hitman is the film's most likable character, there's no one to really care about. That being said, it's never less than engrossing as it goes through its twists and turns to the inevitable outcome.  

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Our Man In Havana (1959)

Set in pre-revolutionary Cuba, a vacuum cleaner salesman (Alec Guinness) is approached by a representative (Noel Coward) from British Intelligence to spy for them. In desperate need of money, he agrees. But when he has nothing to report, he makes up things to satisfy their need for information. But things turn deadly when innocent people are killed because of his creative reports. Based on the novel by Graham Greene, who also adapted his book into its screenplay and directed by Carol Reed who directed the 1949 film of Greene's THE THIRD MAN. What begins as a witty satire on the international spy genre grows darker as the film explores how good people are capable of evil things. Guinness's vacuum cleaner salesman is an innocuous gent that you probably wouldn't look at twice. He certainly doesn't intend the tragic consequences that he innocently causes because he doesn't take the whole thing seriously. The great Oswald Morris (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF) does a splendid job of capturing bustling Cuba (this was filmed only a few months after Castro took reins of the government) in CinemaScope. The impeccable cast includes Maureen O'Hara, Ralph Richardson, Ernie Kovacs, Burl Ives, Jo Morrow, Gregoire Aslan, Ferdy Mayne, Maxine Audley and Rachel Roberts. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Widows (2018)

Set in Chicago, a woman (Viola Davis) living a luxurious life in a penthouse with her professional criminal husband (Liam Neeson) finds herself a widow after he is killed in a million dollar heist that goes terribly wrong. When the man (Brian Tyree Henry) her husband stole the money from gives her a month to repay him the money or else, she contacts the other widows of the men killed in the heist. Based on the novel by Lynda La Plante and directed by Steve McQueen in his first film since the Oscar winning 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Wow! All I can say is wow! Let's face it, most crime films even the most stylish and entertaining ones are usually pretty shallow. However, this being Steve McQueen, you know it's going to be more than just another heist movie and wow, does this movie deliver! Most heist films spend a lot of time on how the criminals are going to carry off their plan but McQueen minimizes that because that's not what he's really interested in. But this is still one hell of a rollercoaster ride with twists and turns you didn't see coming while investing the film with strong female characters with layered emotionally complex lives. Davis gives another fierce performance (and a prime Oscar contender) but the other actresses (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo) are pretty spectacular too. If this film isn't a huge hit, I'll be shocked! With Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Jacki Weaver and Lukas Haas. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Dangerous (1935)

A successful architect (Franchot Tone) falls under the spell of a washed up alcoholic actress (Bette Davis in an Oscar winning performance). But her self destructive behavior may well be his downfall too. Based on HARD LUCK DAME by Laird Doyle and directed by Alfred E. Green. This rather hoary melodrama is bolstered by Davis's pull out all the stops performance and if she never quite turns a sow's ear into a silk purse, she takes yet another step in establishing herself as the screen's greatest actress. Poor Franchot Tone doesn't know what hit him! What her character sees in this dry piece of white bread is a mystery. Indeed, even Margaret Lindsay as Tone's fiancee seems no match for him. This is Davis's show all the way although I did like Alison Skipworth as Tone's housekeeper. But oh that schmaltzy ending! With Dick Foran and John Eldredge as Davis's creepily masochistic husband. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Nothing Like A Dame (aka Tea With The Dames) (2018)

Four great actresses of the British Empire, all of them anointed Dames (the feminine equivalent of a knighthood), gather on a rainy afternoon in Plowright's home to discuss their lives and careers: Eileen Atkins (GOSFORD PARK), Judi Dench (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), Joan Plowright (THE ENTERTAINER) and Maggie Smith (PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE). Directed by Roger Michell (NOTTING HILL), this is an absolutely charming documentary that gives us a peek into the working and private lives of these great actresses. They've been friends for decades, since the beginning of their careers, and gatherings like this aren't unusual. Only this time, they let the cameras in. They're all robust (although Plowright is now blind) and have wonderful stories to tell. It's all very casual although Smith can get a bit testy at times but hey, she's Dame Maggie Smith, she's allowed. If you're a fan of any of these actresses, this is a must see.  

The Ghost Of Frankenstein (1942)

When the torch carrying villagers storm the Frankenstein castle and burn it down, the Monster (Lon Chaney Jr.) and the malevolent Ygor (Bela Lugosi) escape. They flee to the town where Frankenstein's son (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) runs a medical institute and blackmail him into giving the Monster a new brain. Directed by Erle C. Kenton, this was the fourth entry in Universal's Frankenstein franchise. As far as Frankenstein movies go, this one doesn't embarrass itself and it has some unsettling moments (the Monster's desire to have the brain of a little girl) and there's a genuinely creepy performance by Lugosi, more of a monster here than the poor creature. Still, it's a far cry from the artistry of the first two Frankenstein films. With Ralph Bellamy and Evelyn Ankers as the dreary lovers, Lionel Atwill, Doris Lloyd and Janet Ann Gallow.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Man From Bitter Ridge (1955)

Tension mounts in the town of Tomahawk during the election of a sheriff. A corrupt  charlatan (John Dehner) behind a series of stagecoach robberies is trying to win the election (by bribing the townspeople) over the current hard working honest sheriff (Trevor Bardette). Enter a stranger (Lex Barker), who has a mission. Based on the novel by William MacLeod Raine and directed by Jack Arnold (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN). Although known for his sci-fi classics, Arnold directed some above average westerns. Most notably the underrated NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959). This one is quite decent if unexceptional. Aided by his great cinematographer Russell Metty (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS), Arnold doesn't quite transform a pedestrian screenplay into something special but it's a pleasing diversion that should satisfy western fans. If you're not into westerns, you might find yourself getting restless. The only problem I had was with Barker's character. He doesn't seem to use his head and places himself in dangerous situations without thinking of possible consequences. For example, when he rides out of town, we know the bad guys are going to follow him so why doesn't he? Instead, he rides right into their clutches. With Mara Corday, Stephen McNally, Warren Stevens and Ray Teal. 

Florence Nightingale (1985)

A young woman (Jaclyn Smith), born into an aristocratic family, forsakes her privileged background and dedicates herself to improving patient care and conditions in British hospitals. Based on the life of Florence Nightingale and directed by Daryl Duke (THE THORN BIRDS). This is a straightforward telling of Nightingale's tenacious pursuit of her passion in spite of family and societal disapproval. It's watchable and certainly not dull but it's a generic made for television biography. Something as routine as this might have been helped by a strong central performance but the lovely Jaclyn Smith (whose English accent comes and goes) isn't a very interesting actress and a project like this really needs a star performance. The film is divided into two parts. The first half focuses on her struggle to be taken seriously and a romance with a supportive suitor (Timothy Dalton) and the second part focuses on her time during the Crimean War and the resistance and hardships she and her nurses faced in Turkey. With Claire Bloom, Brian Cox, Jeremy Brett, Peter McEnery and Timothy West. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Colossus Of Rhodes (1961)

It's 280 B.C. and on the island of Rhodes, the Colossus (a statue of Apollo approximately 110 feet high and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) has just been built. But a visiting Greek (Rory Calhoun) soon finds himself embroiled in political intrigue when he discovers a plan to overthrow the King by a group of traitors led by the King's trusted adviser (Conrado San Martin). Co-written and directed by Sergio Leone (THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY), this is a superior example of the peplum genre. Its production values and special effects are first rate, there's a fine underscore by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino and a longer two hours plus running time (although about 20 minutes were cut from the U.S. print) gives the film more detail. Clearly a step above the Hercules movies in terms of quality. However, an aging Rory Calhoun (more American than ever, you'd think he was in a western) seems out of place here and a poor substitute for Steve Reeves. In actuality, the real Colossus was destroyed in an earthquake some 50 years before the film's plot begins. Lea Massari (L'AVVENTURA) makes for a splendid femme fatale however. With George Rigaud, Mabel Karr and Angel Aranda.

Colette (2018)

A young country girl (Keira Knightley) marries an older man (Dominic West) from Paris. After their marriage, she blossoms into a talented writer and Bohemian free spirit. But her writing which is enormously successful is published under her husband's name and she begins to chafe at his insensitivity. Based on the life of the French novelist Colette (GIGI) and directed by Wash Westmoreland (STILL ALICE). Anyone expecting a tasteful (as in stuffy) and proper period film a la Masterpiece Theater had better think again! This isn't a film designed for blue haired ladies. It's a vibrant and very relevant piece dealing with gender fluidity and alpha male suppression. But it doesn't preach us down with it, it's marvelously entertaining. Coincidentally, it touches on areas also dealt with in the recent film THE WIFE but while Knightley, who's excellent, may not reach the acting heights of Glenn Close, it's a much better film. Handsomely shot with Budapest standing in for Paris and an excellent score by Thomas Ades, a period piece about a woman writer in turn of the century Paris may be a hard sell but the reviews have been good so I hope this movie finds an audience, it deserves it. With Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough and Eleanor Tomlinson.

Count Your Blessings (1959)

During WWII, a dashing French officer (Rossano Brazzi) sweeps an Englishwoman (Deborah Kerr) off her feet and they marry quickly without time to get to know each other as he is called back to service. When he finally returns home, they find they must get reacquainted all over again and their cultural differences, like his mistress (Patricia Medina), prove an impediment. Based on the novel THE BLESSING by Nancy Mitford and directed by Jean Negulesco (THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN). A rather inane comedy by a lot of talented people who've done better elsewhere. The lead actors aren't particularly known for their comedic abilities but truth to tell, I don't think Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn could done much better although at least they would have chemistry with each other which Kerr and Brazzi most assuredly do not! For Deborah Kerr fans only. With Maurice Chevalier (who for once doesn't overdo his Frenchness), Mona Washbourne, Tom Helmore and young Martin Stephens who would be reunited two years later with Kerr more memorably in THE INNOCENTS.    

Friday, September 14, 2018

Beautiful Boy (2018)

A father (Steve Carell) must cope with the drug addiction of his son (Timothee Chalamet) and watch helplessly as his son spirals to the lowest depths. Based on two separate memoirs by David Sheff (played by Carell) and Nic Sheff (played by Chalamet) and directed by Felix Van Groeningen in his English language feature film debut. Held together by powerful performances by Carell and especially Chalamet, the film suffers from a sense of deja vu. Ever since the startling (for its day) THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM in 1955, drug addiction has been a constant fountain for Hollywood movies. While BEAUTIFUL BOY doesn't give us anything fresh or new on the subject, it's still a harrowing film. How can it not be? Fortunately the immaculate performances by Carell and Chalamet with strong assistance by Maura Tierney as Carell's current wife and Amy Ryan as his first wife take center stage and pull you in. But how many more movies can we take watching people shooting up, throwing up and giving up? Yes, it's based on a true story but even real life can be commonplace. See it for the acting but don't expect any profundity. With Timothy Hutton, Kaitlyn Dever and LisaGay Hamilton who only has one small scene but it's a killer. 

The Black Scorpion (1957)

After a massive earthquake hits Mexico, two geologists (Richard Denning, Carlos Rivas) are sent to study a new volcano born out of the quake. But what they discover is that the earthquake has unearthed some giant prehistoric scorpions that will soon rampage the Mexican countryside and eventually Mexico City. Directed by Edward Ludwig (WAKE OF THE RED WITCH). The 1950s saw a proliferation of giant insect movies terrifying mankind. Among them ants (THEM!), locusts (BEGINNING OF THE END), spiders (TARANTULA) and even a mantis (THE DEADLY MANTIS). This one has scorpions but it resembles one of those Japanese Toho monster movies as much as anything. The stop motion animation effects are by the legendary Willis O'Brien (1933's KING KONG) and they're pretty good actually. The scorpion attack on a passenger train is very well done. But it's the lame script that gets the movie into trouble. Films like this have the most mundane protagonists and then there's the requisite "adorable" moppet who's really a pain in the ass because he doesn't listen and do as he's told and puts himself in peril and has to be rescued by the hero. The lovely Mara Corday as a lady rancher provides the romantic interest. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Remember? (1939)

When a man (Lew Ayres) introduces his fiancee (Greer Garson) to his best friend (Robert Taylor), he didn't expect to be dumped and the two run off and elope. But he's loyal to them both and when their marriage begins to deteriorate rapidly after the first few weeks, he takes drastic measures to save the marriage. Directed by Norman Z. McLeod (HORSE FEATHERS), this slight screwball romcom has a decent script that doesn't take full advantage of its possibilities. The casting is also off. While Ayres is charming, Robert Taylor and Greer Garson aren't the first two actors who come to mind when you think of romantic comedy. There are two genuinely hilarious scenes in the film: the first when Taylor and Garson have a fight in a room unaware that it's a surprise party and the guests are all hiding in the room and can hear every word. The other involves amnesia and they forget they're married. If only Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell had taken over. With Billie Burke doing her patented scatterbrain act, Reginald Owen, Henry Travers, Sara Haden and Sig Ruman. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Town Like Alice (1956)

An English woman (Virginia McKenna) working in Malaya when the Japanese invade is taken prisoner along with a group of other women and children. They are supposed to be interned in a prison camp but even though they are prisoners of war, no one wants them and they are forced to trek hundreds of miles along with a solitary Japanese guard (Takagi) looking for a haven. Based on the novel by Neil Shute (ON THE BEACH) and directed by Jack Lee. The film only uses a portion of the Shute novel, the WWII Malayan years and omits the Australian portion of the book. While the film doesn't hesitate from showing the horrors of the experience and the Japanese brutality toward prisoners, not all the Japanese are portrayed as yellow peril and the sergeant accompanying the women played Takagi is very sympathetic. Indeed, his death scene is the most moving in the film. The romance between McKenna and an Australian POW (Peter Finch) is given a focus that tends to distract from the horrors of the women's experience but I suspect that romance is what made the film a hit. With Jean Anderson, Renee Houston, Marie Lohr, Nora Nicholson, Maureen Swanson and Tran Van Khe. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Murders In The Rue Morgue (1971)

In turn of the 20th century Paris, a theatre troupe specializes in performing Grand Guignol horror. But the horror becomes a reality when members and ex-members of the company start turning up dead! Very loosely based (I'd say suggested) on the novel by Edgar Allan Poe and directed by Gordon Hessler (GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD). Can a horror film get any more dreary? Other than the title and the use of an ape, the film has very little to do with the Poe tale. There's no tension, no atmosphere, no genuine sense of horror. As the head of the theatre company, Jason Robards gives an enervated performance that needed a Vincent Price or Christopher Lee to breathe life into it. Robards is strictly collecting a paycheck but to be fair, just about everyone else is too. Filmed in Spain, the production values are nice but this is predictable down to its silly finale. With Lilli Palmer, Herbert Lom, Adolfo Celi, Christine Kaufmann, Michael Dunn and Maria Perschy.   

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Tiger By The Tail (1970)

A Vietnam war vet (Christopher George) returns home to mend his relationship with his older brother (Dennis Patrick). Instead, he finds that his brother has been murdered during a racetrack robbery and he's the principal suspect! Directed by R.G. Springsteen (this was his final film), this is precisely what a good B movie should be: modest, unpretentious, painless and entertaining. Filmed entirely on location in New Mexico, the mostly tawdry surroundings (oh, that hideous 1960s decor) befits its characters and plot. One couldn't call it a heist film since after the initial robbery most of the movie is devoted to who's framing Christopher George's character and why. The film is crammed with veteran character actors like Dean Jagger, Glenda Farrell, Lloyd Bochner, John Dehner, Skip Homeier, R.G. Armstrong and Alan Hale Jr. while Tippi Hedren (wasted) and Charo (whose "acting" is painful) provide feminine decoration.   

A Life At Stake (1954)

An architect (Keith Andes) enters a business deal with a woman (Angela Lansbury) and her wealthy husband (Douglass Dumbrille). But when he's asked to take out a pricey insurance policy on himself, he becomes suspicious and paranoid even while having an illicit affair with the wife. Directed by Paul Guilfoyle. Anyone who's seen DOUBLE INDEMNITY knows exactly where this movie is headed and that's exactly the path it follows. There's no equivalent of the Edward G. Robinson character but Lansbury and Andes are obvious stand ins for Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Lansbury is as good an actress as Stanwyck but the material doesn't allow her to do much beyond going through the motions. Alas, Andes is no Fred MacMurray and his dupe isn't very interesting. The film occasionally suggests it might veer off the beaten path but that's just a tease. Still, at a brief running time of an hour and 17 minutes it doesn't wear out its welcome. The score is by Les Baxter. With Jane Darwell, Gavin Gordon and Claudia Barrett.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The American (1998)

A rich young self made American (Matthew Modine) is in Paris trying to soak up culture and perhaps find a wife. When he meets a young widow (Aisling O'Sullivan), he is smitten. But her family harbors dark secrets and the woman's mother (Diana Rigg) fiercely opposes any marriage. Based on the novel by Henry James and directed by Paul Unwin. The film departs from the Henry James source material and not for the better. Like James's Daisy Miller, Modine's Christopher Newman is a gauche American lost among the machinations of decadent old European aristocrats. But the film makers have thrown in sex scenes and makes the De Bellegarde family even more corrupt than they were in the book in an attempt to spice it up. They've also completely changed a secondary character's (a mediocre artist played by Eva Birthistle) story line. Modine's blandness, normally a detriment to any film, is used to great effect here. But it's Rigg's scornful matriarch that dominates the film. I wouldn't mind seeing a film more faithful to the Henry James book. With Brenda Fricker and Andrew Scott.  

The Wife (2018)

When her husband (Jonathan Pryce) wins the Nobel prize for literature, his wife (Glenn Close) accompanies him to Stockholm for the ceremonies. But it is there that she begins to question her life's choices in sacrificing her own talent in deference to her spouse. Based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer and directed by Bjorn Runge. There's an idiom that says behind every great man is a great woman. But what if it's a great woman behind a mediocre man? The seeds of this film begin in 1958, pre-feminism. When women didn't have the career opportunities that men had and a wife was expected to stand by and support her man. But what of the slow rage simmering for decades behind the facade of the good wife? Unfortunately, the film isn't worthy of its protagonist anymore than her husband is. It's one of those movies that justifies its existence by a spectacular performance, in this case, a killer performance by Glenn Close. In her bid for her 7th Oscar nomination (she's never won), Close seizes the opportunity to knock it out of the ballpark. Alas, none of her fellow actors rises to her and the film never equals her power. The only other performance I liked was Elizabeth McGovern who has one scene that crackles and I wish the film had used her more. There's a nice underscore by Jocelyn Pook (EYES WIDE SHUT). With Christian Slater, Max Irons (Jeremy's son), Annie Starke (Close's daughter) and Harry Lloyd. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Taste Of Honey (1961)

A young teenage school girl (Rita Tushingham) lives with her promiscuous hard drinking mother (Dora Bryan) who often abandons her when she goes off with her latest boyfriend. When her mother runs off with her latest man (Robert Stephens), she finds herself on her own with only her new gay friend (Murray Melvin) to take care of her. Based on the 1959 play by Shelagh Delaney and directed by Tony Richardson. This slice of "kitchen sink" realism broke new ground in its day addressing issues not normally presented on the stage or screen: an unmarried teenage girl pregnant by her black lover (Paul Danquah) with a homosexual friend to care for her while her good time mother abandons her to enjoy her own selfish pleasures while ignoring the responsibilities of motherhood. It's a lovely if bittersweet character piece with various forms of "love" taking center stage with its characters all trying to stave off loneliness. Superb performances all around with sensitive direction by Richardson.   

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Golden Blade (1953)

Seeking the murderer of his father, a young man (Rock Hudson) goes to Baghdad. But his mission is interrupted by a beautiful maiden (Piper Laurie), who unbeknownst to him is a princess and the discovery of a sword with mystical powers. Directed by Nathan Juran, this colorful piece of nonsense with Arthurian trappings almost seems a run through for Juran's later Arabian nights fantasy 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. It's not remotely authentic or believable but it's lively and full of action and its attractive leads at the dawn of their careers play with an innocence that's winning. One would have to be a true curmudgeon to grumble. The kind of silliness that gives mindless movies a good name. With George Macready, Gene Evans, Steven Geray and Kathleen Hughes.    

Best Friends (1982)

Two Hollywood screenwriters (Burt Reynolds, Goldie Hawn) have been in a romantic relationship for five years but are unmarried. When he presses the marriage issue, she reluctantly agrees to get married. For their honeymoon, they will travel by train back East to meet their respective in laws. Directed by Norman Jewison (MOONSTRUCK), this is Neil Simon territory but without Simon's sharp rhetoric. This leaves the two stars floundering to bring some depth to their lines. There's a sweetness to the movie but that's because of the two leads. A film likes this needs charismatic stars like Reynolds and Hawn who we can latch onto precisely because the thin material doesn't have enough meat to flesh out characters. So we're left to bask in the glow of Hawn and Reynolds, not their characters. If that's enough for you, there's every chance you might enjoy this. The score by Michel Legrand features one of the all time great movie love songs, the Oscar nominated How Do You Keep Music Playing. With Jessica Tandy, Keenan Wynn, Ron Silver, Barnard Hughes and Audra Lindley.

Under Capricorn (1949)

In early 19th century Australia, the new governor (Cecil Parker) arrives bringing with him his ne'er do well cousin (Michael Wilding). The cousin becomes involved with the unstable wife (Ingrid Bergman) of a former convict (Joseph Cotten), now a prosperous businessman. Something is very wrong in their mysterious household and the cousin will soon find himself at the very core of it. Based on the novel by Helen Simpson and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This period costume melodrama is an atypical film for Hitchcock. Not much suspense and lots and lots of chatter. Assuredly second tier Hitchcock but still, it's far better than its reputation suggests (even Hitch disliked the film). Bergman and Cotten are very good but the acting honors go to Margaret Leighton as a malevolent housekeeper (not unlike REBECCA's Mrs. Danvers). Unfortunately, we're saddled with that dullard of an actor Michael Wilding in a role that really needs an actor able to hold our attention. Remarkably, Hitchcock would use him again the following year in STAGE FRIGHT! Similar to the previous year's ROPE, Hitchcock uses long takes with minimal cutting away. An uneven, often tedious film but not without its virtues. With Denis O'Dea and Jack Watling. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Leonor (1975)

After his wife (Liv Ullmann) dies, a medieval nobleman (Michel Piccoli) remarries quickly to a much younger woman (Ornella Muti) who gives him two sons. But he can't forget his beloved first wife. When a mysterious stranger tells him to "leave the dead alone", he ignores the advice. But soon he'll live to regret it. Based on a story by the 19th century German poet Ludwig Tieck and directed by Juan Luis Bunuel (son of Luis Bunuel). This is a rather artsy horror film with languid pacing. Clearly, young Bunuel has no interest in frightening us but creating an ambience of mood and atmosphere. He is assisted in this by the talented cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (SUSPIRIA) and composer Ennio Morricone. But the horror elements don't kick in until about the halfway mark which leaves a lot of exposition and not all of it necessary (about 12 minutes were cut for the U.S. market). I know it sounds like damning praise when I call this interesting but it's just that ... interesting but it never quite feels finished. With Antonio Ferrandis and Angel Del Pozo.    

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Shanghai Cobra (1945)

The renowned Chinese detective Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is called in to investigate a series of murders by cobra venom. Chan recalls a similar case ten years earlier in Shanghai but the main suspect escaped. Could he be behind the new murders? An early directorial effort by Phil Karlson (KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL), this entry in the Chan franchise is middling. Not one of the best in the series but not terrible either. It follows the usual pattern of the Chan movies with Benson Fong as Chan's bumbling son and Mantan Moreland as Chan's wisecracking chauffeur providing the comedy relief. As to the mystery itself, it's not terribly interesting (a plan on raiding the government's radium stash) so you're not invested in the outcome. For once, the romantic leads (James Cardwell, Joan Barclay) are rather appealing so you don't mind the romance padding to fill up the film's brief running time. For Chan fans only. With Addison Richards, George Chandler and Cyril Delevanti. 

Voyage To The Planet Of Prehistoric Women (1968)

A spaceship with three astronauts lands on Venus to search for two other astronauts who landed there previously. Unbeknownst to them, the planet is populated by sexy blonde women led by Mamie Van Doren! Directed by Peter Bogdanovich (LAST PICTURE SHOW) under the pseudonym of Derek Thomas. Inept seems like such an insufficient word in describing this film. Roger Corman took the Russian sci-fi film PLANETA BUR and dubbing scenes from the film into English while having Bogdanovich shoot new scenes with Mamie Van Doren on a Malibu beach to pad out the rest of the movie to create this piece of nonsense. The plot makes no sense and the two story lines never quite match up. The film has lots of narration read by Bogdanovich which is just dreadful. I suppose if one is in the right mood it might qualify as camp but anyway you look at it, it's a jaw dropper. Of course, all the Russian actors are credited with western sounding names like James David (Georgiy Teykh), Aldo Romani (Gennadi Vernov) and Ralph Phillips (Yuriy Sarantsev).  

Monday, September 3, 2018

Tom Jones (1963)

A foundling is raised by a country squire (George Devine) as his own son. But despite all the advantages of a privileged upbringing including tutors and mentors, the young man (Albert Finney) grows up to be a scalawag and womanizer which turns out to be his downfall as we accompany him on his adventures. Based on the classic novel by Henry Fielding and directed by Tony Richardson. A sensation in 1963 because Richardson bypassed the usual conventions of filmed classics (think of the stiffness of those BBC/Masterpiece Theatre adaptations). Richardson and his ace cinematographer Walter Lassally use handheld cameras, low flying helicopters, sped up camera movement, actors breaking the fourth wall, razor sharp editing etc. that befit this bawdy romp. The pacing rarely lags although Richardson cut out about 7 minutes for his directors cut many years later. One thing I didn't much care for is John Addison's much admired Oscar winning underscore. It just seemed too "Mickey Mouse" for me. The cast is stellar and includes Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Joan Greenwood, Edith Evans, David Warner, Diane Cilento, David Tomlinson, Lynn Redgrave, Joyce Redman, Jack MacGowran and Rachel Kempson.     

Angels Fall (2007)

Recovering from a nervous breakdown after being the only survivor in a mass shooting in Boston, a traumatized woman (Heather Locklear) drifts across the country for over a year until settling in a small town in Wyoming. But it seems murder won't leave her alone ... or is she having another breakdown? Based on the novel by Nora Roberts and directed by Ralph Hemecker. Originally shown on Lifetime, one doesn't expect much if anything at all. So it comes as a surprise how entertaining this was. Oh, it's pulp for sure but like a quick read on a lazy afternoon in a lawn chair, it serves its purpose. The film throws suspicion on a character very early in the film but they make it so obvious that you know it just has to be a red herring. Indeed, there only two other possible suspects and I picked the right one. Still, the nervous breakdown scenario played uncomfortably what with Locklear's mental problems currently making headlines. A lightweight murder mystery that I wouldn't seek out but if it comes across your way, you could do worse. with Johnathon Schaech, Gary Hudson, Derek Hamilton and Linda Darlow.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

A dreamer (Warren Beatty) wanders into a mining town in the Pacific Northwest and it isn't long before his acumen has him building a saloon and a brothel in anticipation of a growing town. When he partners with a whore (Julie Christie) and successfully builds a thriving whorehouse, it's only a matter of time before a powerful mining company wants a piece of the action. Based on the novel MCCABE by Edmund Naughton and directed by Robert Altman. This elegiac western is something to behold! Altman creates a western that feels like this was what it was really like in the early 1900s. It's not glamorized or romanticized yet there's still a dreamy romanticism hovering around it, almost against its will. In some ways, it's a brutal western but without the slight sadism that a Peckinpah might have brought to it. Altman populates the film with great character actors with great character faces and despite being deglamorized, Beatty and Christie are more movie stars than ever. They compel us to watch them. Stunningly shot by Vilmos Zsigmond with a lovely song score by Leonard Cohen, Altman turns western (and film) conventions on its ear yet still manages to furnish us with an intense, impeccable gunfight in the snow at the end. With Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Murphy and William Devane.     

Manhandled (1924)

A shop girl (Gloria Swanson) has a boyfriend who works two jobs. When he's called away by a major company who's interested in an invention of his, she attends a posh society party. Soon, she finds herself swept up with life in the fast lane and over her head. Directed by Allan Dwan, this was a huge box office hit for Swanson but today, it's rather tattered in spite of some remaining charm. There's a wonderful sequence on the subway where Swanson gets to show off her talent for physical comedy but most of the film is devoted to her escaping the clutches of two legged wolves while her upstanding boyfriend (Tom Moore) stands by her. Fortunately, the film is barely over an hour long so it doesn't get tedious. For fans of Swanson, this is a treat but for everybody else, it's pretty rickety. With Frank Morgan (WIZARD OF OZ), Ian Keith, Lilyan Tashman and Arthur Housman.   

Saturday, September 1, 2018

David Copperfield (1969)

After two major tragedies, a troubled young man (Robin Philips) reflects on his life as he attempts to write a memoir. Based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens and directed by Delbert Mann (MARTY). This is a misguided adaptation of Dickens' book. Instead of the linear narrative of the novel, the film is fragmented by being told in a series of flashbacks as Copperfield broods on his misfortunes and the framing device seems like pure padding. A work as rich as DAVID COPPERFIELD needs more than a two hour time frame to tell its story and the framing device only takes away from that story. It's almost highlights from the book, a READER'S DIGEST version abbreviated for those who have no time for the full experience. Robin Philips isn't charismatic or unique enough to hold our attention and he's the central protagonist! Fortunately, the supporting cast consists of the cream of British actors and each manages to bring a strong characterization in the briefest of screen time. The cast includes Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Wendy Hiller, Edith Evans, Pamela Franklin, Susan Hampshire, Anna Massey, Corin Redgrave, Cyril Cusack, James Donald, Sinead Cusack with only Ron Moody as Uriah Heep overacting to the point of distraction. 

The Little Stranger (2018)

Set in postwar England, a young country doctor (Domhnall Gleeson) attends a maid (Liv Hill) in service at a dilapidated mansion that has seen better days. Recalling that he had attended a fete at the hall during its glory days, he becomes fascinated with the family particularly the daughter (Ruth Wilson). But strange unexplained occurrences in the household will lead to tragedy. Based on the novel by Sarah Waters and directed by Lenny Abrahamson (ROOM). This low keyed horror film is more cerebral and may frustrate those looking for more heightened horror rather than a mood piece. It's meticulous pacing pays off eventually but it's not a scare fest. I think the last shot in the film may lead the audience astray, I know it did me. But this isn't a film for a casual watch, if one pays attention to the detail in the film and stays focused, it's all there. The house as a malevolent force fueled by a spirit(s) has a long cinematic history, THE HAUNTING being one of the more notable examples though this film has more in common with the 1980 horror film THE CHANGELING with George C. Scott. It's an easy film to overpraise but also an easy film to recommend to more discerning horror fans. With Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter and Josh Dylan.