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Friday, November 30, 2018

Let's Make Love (1960)

A world famous French billionaire (Yves Montand) hears that he is being spoofed in an off Broadway show so he decides to check it out. When he sees the gorgeous star (Marilyn Monroe) suddenly he becomes interested. In a bit of irony, he is cast playing himself in the show while everyone else think he's a lookalike. Directed by George Cukor, this is the weakest of Monroe's starring vehicles. The big problem is there's not enough Marilyn! Indeed, Montand gets the bulk of screen time with Monroe relegated to "the girl". The problem is increased because Monroe and Montand have zero chemistry with each other. Montand is fine in his French films but in his English language films, he's awkward and stilted. There's a third character played by Frankie Vaughan who gets too much screen time and he's a cipher too. The screenplay is hackneyed and at this stage of her career, Monroe deserved better. She does have a terrific opening number singing Cole Porter's My Heart Belongs To Daddy but after that, it does a slow fizzle. With Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Tony Randall, Milton Berle, Wilfrid Hyde White and Madge Kennedy.

Les Aristocrates (1955)

On a country estate in Burgundy, the patriarch (Pierre Fresnay) of an impoverished family of aristocrats finds himself out of step with modern ideas and times. Ideas of money and happiness taking precedence over honor and duty go against the very grain of the traditions of the true aristocracy. His seven children however are ready to break tradition and go on with their lives. Based on the novel by Michel De Saint Pierre and directed by Denys De La Patelliere. A strong drama that should be better known outside of France. While we can see Fresnay's ideas are outdated in a contemporary society, we can't help but feel for him. As we all grow older, who hasn't felt the world change and our status quo challenged? The film is not without humor but the last 12 minutes or so take a very dark turn (a crazed man with a rifle holds a group of children hostage) and the film ends on a downbeat note. There's a strong but subtle underscore by Rene Cloerec. The large cast includes Maurice Ronet, Brigitte Auber (who appeared in Hitchcock's TO CATCH A THIEF the same year), Francois Guerin, Georges Descrieres, Alain Quercy, Jacques Dacqmine and Yolande Laffon.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Lilith (1964)

A troubled young ex-soldier (Warren Beatty) takes a job in a mental institution training as an occupational therapist. But he crosses a line when he falls in love with a beautiful and enigmatic patient (Jean Seberg). Based on the novel by J.R. Salamanca and directed by Robert Rossen (THE HUSTLER), his final film. It's an odd little film, borderline pretentious yet strangely fascinating. Its central protagonist loses our empathy when he crosses that line and becomes sexually involved with a disturbed patient. We can empathize with Seberg's seductress despite her madness because she is IS sick (there's even a suggestion she might be a pedophile). Handsomely shot in crisp B&W by Eugen Schufftan, the film wasn't received particularly well when it was originally released but remains compelling in spite of all its flaws. Seberg is marvelous in what might be her best performance. Mad as a hatter but seductive as her mythical namesake. With Gene Hackman, Peter Fonda, Jessica Walter, Kim Hunter, Rene Auberjonois and Anne Meacham.

Easy To Love (1953)

The swimming star (Esther Williams) of a Cypress Gardens (in Florida) water spectacular is taken advantage of by her boss (Van Johnson), who doesn't know she's in love with him. When he takes her on a trip to New York, things change when she meets a popular crooner (Tony Martin). Directed by Charles Walters (GOOD NEWS), this is a typical Esther Williams vehicle. Water ballets, songs, Technicolor, romance and some weak comedy. Audiences ate it up and this was one of MGM's big hits of 1953. How does one critique a movie like this? As far as Williams' filmography goes, this one is middling. Although directed by Walters, the film's production numbers were created by Busby Berkeley. It's too predictable to be much fun but if you're a sucker for Esther Williams movies, this should please you. With Carroll Baker (in her film debut), Cyd Charisse, John Bromfield, King Donovan and Edna Skinner.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Legacy (1978)

An American interior designer (Katharine Ross) and her boyfriend (Sam Elliott) are traveling in England when they have a motorcycle accident. A seemingly good Samaritan (John Standing) invites them into his home, ostensibly for tea. But when they arrive there, not only do they find they are expected but there are an eccentric array of other house guests too. Co-written by the Hammer writer and director Jimmy Sangster and directed by Richard Marquand (RETURN OF THE JEDI). This rather absurd horror film is surprisingly tame for a movie featuring some rather graphic violent images. I can't make a case for it being any good at all but it's rather entertaining in its silliness. Ross is lovely (she has sensual hair) and Elliott is solid but it's the debauched and/or malevolent supporting characters including a scene stealing white cat that make it watchable. There's a dreadful underscore by Michael J. Lewis. With Roger Daltrey, Margaret Tyzack, Hildegard Neil, Charles Gray and Lee Montague.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

All Is True (2018)

When the Globe theatre burns to the ground in a fire in 1613, a shattered William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) returns home to Stratford where he will live out the remainder of his life without ever writing another play. Clearly a labor of love for Branagh, the film was greenlit in early 2018, quickly cast, filmed in 30 days and rushed out for a December 21st release in Los Angeles for one week only to qualify for the 2018 Oscars. It opens elsewhere in early 2019. Branagh told the audience I was in that we were literally only the third audience to have seen the completed film. Fortunately the film doesn't look or feel like a rush job, far from it. It's an intelligent and engrossing look at Shakespeare's last years and quite lively it is, too. Don't expect one of those tasteful and stuffy Masterpiece Theatre productions, this one breathes. Branagh's physical transformation is remarkable and his make up is seamless (there's nothing worse than obvious make up and a bad wig to mar a performance). Branagh is matched by Judi Dench who brings a potent gravitas to her Anne Hathaway Shakespeare, so much so that you can see what attracted such a woman to The Bard. Shakespeare buffs should be most pleased with this one! With Ian McKellen, Kathryn Wilder and Lydia Wilson.

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Thousand Acres (1997)

An aging prosperous Iowa farmer (Jason Robards) decides to retire and splits his thousand acres of land to this three daughters (Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Jason Leigh). But this "gift" sets forth a series of tragic events that will wrench the dynasty apart. Based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Jane Smiley and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. The film (and its source material novel) are a reworking of Shakespeare's KING LEAR. One would assume based on the near savage reviews the film received when released in 1997 that this would be the most dreadful of soap operas. What I found was an emotionally stirring drama with two fierce performances by Pfeiffer and Lange (Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is underwritten). Naturally, it doesn't reach the heights of Shakespearean tragedy that LEAR does but it's not about Kings and kingdoms, it's scaled down to mortal but identifiable generational conflicts, gender roles, the image of truth vs. the actual reality and how power/money breaks down the family structure. And in an age of Oprah like "forgive those who have harmed you" homilies, it was refreshing to hear Pfeiffer proudly rage that she would not "forgive the unforgivable". With Colin Firth, Keith Carradine, Michelle Williams, Elisabeth Moss, Pat Hingle, Kevin Anderson, John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant. 

Marty (1953)

At 36 years of age, a homely overweight butcher (Rod Steiger) still lives at home with his mother (Esther Minciotti). She constantly nags him that it's time he got married. But he's been rejected so many times, he's given up. Written by Paddy Chayefsky (NETWORK) and directed by Delbert Mann (SEPARATE TABLES). Originally done for and performed live on TV in 1953, it was so successful that two years later, it was turned into an Oscar winning film with Ernest Borgnine replacing Steiger. The narrative is simplicity itself and Steiger's touching performance is the cornerstone of the production. Steiger often gets accused (and justifiably so) for his over the top histrionics but here, he shows what a powerful actor he can be when restrained. It's refreshing to see a real love story with real people instead of beautiful actor types and one can only imagine the impact it had in 1953. With Nancy Marchand, Betsy Palmer, Nehemiah Persoff, Lee Philips, Joe Mantell, Don Gordon and George Maharis.  

Sunday, November 25, 2018

My Sister Eileen (1955)

Two sisters arrive from a small town in Ohio to Greenwich Village in New York where they hope to pursue careers. One (Betty Garrett) wants to be a writer while the other (Janet Leigh) has ambitions of being an actress. Based on a series of semi autobiographical short stories published in the New Yorker by Ruth McKenney which later became a 1940 Broadway play then made into a 1942 film and eventually a 1953 Broadway musical. The musical's creators wanted a larger sum of money than Columbia was willing to shell out so they hired Leo Robin (GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES) and Jule Styne (GYPSY) to write new songs. Coming full circle, the film is directed by Richard Quine who co-starred in the 1940 Broadway show and the 1942 film. The result is a charming and nimble musical with Leigh (who acquits herself nicely in the dance numbers) and Garrett particularly delightful. The songs aren't particularly memorable but what is memorable is the sensational Bob Fosse (who also plays Leigh's soda jerk boyfriend) choreography! The dance highlight is the dance duel between Fosse and Tommy Rall (KISS ME KATE), no slouch in the dance department himself.  With Jack Lemmon, Kurt Kasznar, Dick York, Lucy Marlowe and Richard Deacon. 

My Favorite Wife (1940)

Seven years after his wife (Irene Dunne) was lost at sea, an attorney (Cary Grant) petitions the court to declare her legally dead so he can marry his fiancee (Gail Patrick). However, as they go off on their honeymoon, his first wife arrives back having been rescued off a desert island. Co-written by Leo McCarey (LOVE AFFAIR) and directed by Garson Kanin. Adapted from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem ENOCH ARDEN, this is a sparkling screwball comedy though it can't sustain itself towards the end where it becomes a rehash of THE AWFUL TRUTH. Grant and Dunne are expert farceurs so naturally they shine. Randolph Scott as the muscular vegetarian shipwrecked with Dunne is a bit of a bonehead so comedic chops aren't required. Which leaves Gail Patrick who doesn't seem to have a comedic bone in her body. Still, I felt sorry for her character as Grant treats her shabbily and even though she's a bit of a bitch, she deserved better. Remade in 1963 as MOVE OVER DARLING with Doris Day and James Garner in the Dunne and Grant roles. With Ann Shoemaker, Scotty Beckett and Donald MacBride.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Adventures Of Hajji Baba (1954)

A young Persian barber's apprentice (John Derek) finds himself in the position of escorting an ill tempered and haughty Princess (Elaine Stewart) to her wedding against her father's wishes. But it will be a journey fraught with peril. Based on the 1824 novel by James Justinian Morier and directed by Don Weis (LOOKING FOR LOVE). This piece of Arabian Nights hokum is corny as they come but wonderfully entertaining, cliches and all. It's not all that different than those sword and sandal fantasies Universal was churning out with Maria Montez in the 1940s or Tony Curtis in the 1950s but for the first time, in CinemaScope and stereophonic sound!  George Hoyningen Huene is the color consultant, Renie did the costumes, Dimitri Tiomkin did the underscore and Harold Lipstein (DAMN YANKEES) did the lensing although the exterior shots of old Persia look suspiciously like Southern California. The film is unusual in having a renegade band of ex-slave girls who rob merchants and slave traders (and freeing their slaves). The title song by Nat King Cole, once heard, will be hard to get out of your head. With Amanda Blake, Thomas Gomez, Rosemarie Bowe (later Mrs. Robert Stack), Paul Picerni and Claude Akins. 

A Strange Adventure (1956)

Two armored car robbers (Jan Merlin, Nick Adams) and their moll (Marla English) force a young hot rodder (Ben Cooper) to be their driver during the hold up. But their plans to escape hit a snag when they find themselves holed up in a snowbound cabin with no means of escape until the snow thaws. Directed by the veteran B western director William Witney. I miss small and efficient programmers like this one which usually ran a compact  hour and 5 to 15 minutes. Films today are often overly and unnecessarily long running past the two hour mark. Films like this little crime thriller don't waste time and get down to business with just enough characterization (if slightly simplified) to carry the plot along. No fat, just lean. This one is nicely shot in B&W by Bud Thackery (COOGAN'S BLUFF) and enough tension to hold your interest through out. My one complaint is the rushed deus ex machina ending. Merlin's trigger happy thug is a bit overdone but the rest of the performances are just fine. With Joan Evans and Peter Miller. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Martian Chronicles (1980)

After two failed expeditions to Mars, a third mission proves successful. But not before one of the astronauts, an archaeologist (Bernie Casey), turns "Martian" and attempts to eradicate his fellow astronauts in order to save Mars from the corruption of humans. But it won't belong before the settlers arrive to colonize the planet. Loosely based on the 1950 book by Ray Bradbury, adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND) and directed by Michael Anderson (AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS). Reputedly Bradbury wasn't pleased with this adaptation of his book but on its own, it's an intelligent well thought out piece of science fiction. Divided into three parts (The Expeditions, The Settlers, The Martians), the film touches on some interesting aspects of space colonization. Do we have the right to "invade" a world that has its own culture that is alien to us? The film's portrait of mankind isn't flattering at all but I wouldn't call it unfair either. Filmed in Malta and the Canary Islands which provide a nice substitute for the Martian terrain by Ted Moore (A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS). The film's running time pushes the five hour mark and is inhabited by many characters. Anderson's direction is decent although he seems to hold a shot much longer that he needs to instead of moving forward. The large cast includes Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowall, Bernadette Peters, Maria Schell, Darren McGavin, Fritz Weaver, Gayle Hunnicutt, Jon Finch, Barry Morse, Joyce Van Patten, James Faulkner, Nyree Dawn Porter, Barry Morse, Robert Beatty, Christopher Connelly and Michael Anderson Jr.       

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Mrs. Warren's Profession (1972)

An independent young woman (Penelope Wilton) is visited by her mother (Coral Browne) who she has had little interaction with through out her growing up years. But when she discovers how her mother earned the money to support and educate her, she finds her belief system challenged. Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw and directed by Herbert Wise. Shaw's attitude toward prostitution was controversial for its day and although written in 1893, censorship wouldn't allow it to be publicly performed until 1902. In its own way, it's a feminist play although her daughter's reaction seems rather priggish today, even as the daughter represents an independent strong woman who finds no need for a man or romance to complete her life. This production is rather straightforward with the two actresses (Browne, Wilton) giving convincing performances. The male roles aren't as interesting so one can excuse the rather antiseptic performances. It's a bold play that still resonates today. With Robert Powell, Derek Godfrey, Richard Pearson and James Grout.     

Bird Box (2018)

A mysterious unknown force causes mass suicides globally. The only way to avoid it is not to make eye contact with it. Into this apocalypse, a pregnant woman (Sandra Bullock) struggles to survive in a house with a small group of random strangers. Based on the novel by Josh Malerman and directed by Susanne Bier. An intelligent thinking man's horror film with a strong performance by Bullock. This is a very intense and visceral roller coaster ride that balances thrills with some some well delineated characters. The latter is important in a movie like this because if you don't care about the characters, their fate mean nothing to you. Bier grabs you right at the beginning and keeps on squeezing you until the film's finale which is borderline mawkish but not sappy enough to spoil the the journey that got us there. I was dubious about the film's premise which sounded suspiciously like the recent A QUIET PLACE but I needn't have been. It's based on a book that came out way before that movie. The stellar cast includes John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Trevante Rhodes (MOONLIGHT), Jacki Weaver, Danielle MacDonald, BD Wong, Tom Hollander and two excellent child actors, Vivien Lyra Blair and Julian Edwards. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Lola (1961)

Set in the coastal city of Nantes, France. A young man (Marc Michel) drifts aimlessly through life until he meets his first love Lola (Anouk Aimee) again. She is now a cabaret singer but she has her own romantic dreams which don't include the young man. Written and directed by Jacques Demy, this was his feature film debut and it's an enchanting if bittersweet romantic fantasy born out of the Hollywood dream factories. Although exquisitely shot in B&W scope by Raoul Coutard rather than Technicolor, it's as much a candy coated confection as an MGM Technicolor musical. Aimee's Lola lives in an optimistic bubble waiting for a fairy tale end and she gets it. This is in contrast to Michel's Roland who will forever remember Lola as the love of his life and the one that got away. Coincidence is a factor (as it is in other Demy films) here as it ties unrelated characters together. For example, a character will go to see a Gary Cooper movie by chance and that same Gary Cooper film ties in to another unrelated character's circumstance. The lovely underscore is by Michel Legrand. An elegant piece of film making. With Elina Labourdette, Jacques Harden, Allan Scott and Annie Duperoux.   

Monday, November 19, 2018

Nightwing (1979)

Set in New Mexico, a young Maskai Native American (Nick Mancuso) is a tribal deputy on an Indian reservation. When animals start turning up dead under mysterious circumstances (strange bites to the bone, drained of blood, the scent of ammonia), it will lead him to confront both his tribal legacy and deadly vampire bats. Based on the novel by Martin Cruz Smith (GORKY PARK) and directed by Arthur Hiller (LOVE STORY). The 1975  film of JAWS spawned a proliferation of animals terrorizing humans movies like ORCA (killer whale), PIRANHA, TENTACLES (squid) etc. This focuses on vampire bats. As a horror film, it's a failure. The bat effects are weak, there's little tension and it's steeped in Native American mysticism (or superstition if you prefer) that muddles the waters. Three of the four leads are ciphers. Nick Mancuso, Kathryn Harrold and Stephen Macht. Who you may ask? Indeed. Three bland actors who can't hold the screen to save their life (or the movie). Only David Warner as a British scientist brings any gravitas to his role. There is one all too brief moment of genuine tension when the protagonists are in a mesh cage when attacked by the bats and the film could have used more moments like that one. The best thing about the film is the terrific score by Henry Mancini. With Ben Piazza, Strother Martin and George Clutesi.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pendulum (1969)

When his wife (Jean Seberg) and her married lover (Harry Lewis) are found murdered, a Washington D.C. police captain (George Peppard) becomes the primary suspect. It's with some irony that he chooses the civil rights attorney (Richard Kiley) responsible for freeing the rapist/murderer (Robert F. Lyons overacting terribly) the police captain helped put away to defend him. Directed by George Schaefer (DOCTORS' WIVES), this is a rather contrived if decent police drama that tries to walk both sides of the fence when it comes down to civil rights vs. law enforcement. Instead of taking a position, it gives an argument for both sides thus leaving a rather confusing finish. But it's good enough to hold your attention even though you know exactly where it's going. Despite being second billed, the lovely Jean Seberg's role is fairly small but she brings a nice presence to a stereotypical (the adulterous wife) part. With Madeleine Sherwood (in the film's best performance), Charles MacGraw, Isabel Sanford, Marj Dusay, Dana Elcar and Robin Raymond. 

Arabian Nights (1942)

Set in Persia, the brother (Leif Erickson) of the Caliph (Jon Hall) attempts to take over the throne by revolt. During one battle, the Caliph is left for dead while his brother usurps the throne. But a beautiful dancing girl (Maria Montez) nurses him back to health. Directed by John Rawlins (SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR). What can one say about a piece of mindless Technicolor fantasy like this? It's nowhere near the caliber of genuine classics like THE THIEF OF BAGAD (1940) or 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958). But it's harmless fun and the three strip Technicolor pops off the screen and the art direction by Alexander Golitzen and Jack Otterson is impressive. Less impressive are the gaudy costumes by Vera West which detracts from Montez's beauty. Thankfully it's not the kind of movie where acting matters because Montez is pretty awful and during her big dance number, it's clearly a dance double doing all the bumping and grinding. But she's gorgeous and that's all the part requires of her. There is a bit of tiresome comedy courtesy of Billy Gilbert and John Qualen (as Aladdin) but overall, a pleasing slice of kitsch. With Sabu, Turhan Bey, Edgar Barrier, Thomas Gomez, Jeni Le Gon, Robin Raymond and Shemp Howard as Sinbad 

Illegal (1955)

After it turns out he sent an innocent man (DeForest Kelley) to the electric chair, a District Attorney (Edward G. Robinson) resigns and spirals downward in drink and self pity. When he recovers, he turns to defending criminals until he gets a case that hits close to home. Directed by Lewis Allen (THE UNINVITED), this is a taught little crime melodrama without pretension. Robinson gets to show what a firecracker he is in parts like this: cocky and unethical but you can't help but like him anyway. Some refer to it as film noir but without getting into a definition of what constitutes film noir, I wouldn't define it as such. It's not unlike the gritty little mobster movies Robinson was doing in the 1930s at Warners although Albert Dekker has the role Robinson would have played back then. So it's fitting that the underscore was composed by Max Steiner. I wasn't thrilled with the ambiguous ending where we we're not allowed to see Robinson's fate. With Nina Foch, Jayne Mansfield, Hugh Marlowe, Jay Adler, Edward Platt, Ellen Corby and Howard St. John.  

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Great Expectations (1974)

Circa 1812, a young boy (Simon Gipps Kent) lives with his abusive sister (Rachel Roberts) and her kind hearted blacksmith husband (Joss Ackland). But an act of kindness will change his future when he (now grown up to be played by Michael York) is the recipient of a mysterious benefactor's generous financial gift that will enable him to become a gentleman. Based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens and directed by Joseph Hardy. When released in 1974 (television in the U.S. but cinemas in the rest of the world), it was dismissed as an inferior version of the Dickens novel with the 1946 David Lean film held as the definitive version of the Dickens book which I feel is unfair. There have been over 25 (at least) adaptations of the Dickens novel for film, TV and the stage. I find this a more than decent version. York may be a rather innocuous Pip and Sarah Miles not quite the destructive beauty that Estella should be but some of the performances are excellent. Notably Margaret Leighton as Miss Havisham who brings a pathos to the part instead of just playing to her eccentricities and James Mason makes for a formidable Magwitch, the escaped convict. Maurice Jarre did the lovely score. With Anthony Quayle, Robert Morley, Heather Sears, Andrew Ray and James Faulkner.  

Vice (2018)

A young man (Christian Bale) journeys from an aimless party animal life in rural Wyoming to arguably the most powerful Vice President in U.S. history, Dick Cheney. Directed by Adam McKay (THE BIG SHORT). The film acknowledges right off the bat that Cheney is a secretive (their word, not mine) and private man. The film then proceeds to give us the backstory of the rise of Cheney but while the public facts cannot be disputed, the behind the scenes story is merely speculation and not substantiated. Being left of center myself, I have no problems at all with the film's "liberal" agenda but it's done with all the subtlety of a hammer. The film is a political satire (or black comedy if you prefer) and it's very clever and there are some truly inspired moments. But it's the kind of film I worry that people will see and accept as fact because they saw it in the movie so it must be true. I enjoyed it but I remained skeptic through out. With one exception, the performances are flawless and Bale and Amy Adams (as Mrs. Cheney) are awesome. I had a problem with Sam Rockwell's George W. Bush which came off as a caricature (not unlike Alec Baldwin's Trump on SNL) rather than a real person. With Steve Carell, Tyler Perry (as Colin Powell), Lily Rabe, Alison Pill and Shea Whigham.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

The Banks children are grown up and struggling to keep hold of their family home during the great depression. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a widower with three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson) while Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) is a social activist living on her own. Enter their childhood nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) to set a few things right. Based on the books of P.L. Travers and directed by Rob Marshall (INTO THE WOODS). Absolutely charming! Walt Disney would have been proud. I didn't think of Julie Andrews once as soon as Blunt's Mary descended down from the clouds. The hand drawn animation is a treat, the production numbers are wonderful and only a curmudgeon wouldn't fall under its spell. When 91 year old Dick Van Dyke broke into a dance, the audience broke into applause. Meryl Streep steals the movie during her big musical number but it's the delightful Emily Blunt who is the glue that holds the movie together. This isn't a remake of the 1964 film, this is just another chapter in the life of the Poppins character. With Lin Manuel Miranda, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, Julie Walters and David Warner.

Coma (2012)

A medical student (Lauren Ambrose) becomes concerned when she notices a pattern of seemingly healthy patients falling into comas during routine surgeries. Based on the novel by Robin Cook and directed by Mikael Salomon. Cook's book had previously been filmed in 1978. The 1978 film was a brisk thriller with a strong central performance by Genevieve Bujold and ran under two hours. This version has been padded out by more than a half hour and added characters and a more convoluted plot and the result is a mess. There's less tension and a perfectly ridiculous hit man (Michael Weston) who is given too much attention. His counterpart in the 1978 film had minimal dialog and was much more frightening. Ambrose and the male lead (Steven Pasquale) have zero chemistry and aren't strong enough actors to overcome the tedium. There are two very good performances though, both by women. Ellen Burstyn as the Jefferson institute manager which has been expanded from the 1978 film and in this case, it works. The other performance is an unscrupulous psychiatrist played by Geena Davis, a character not in the 1978 film. Every time they show up, the film is elevated by their performances. With Richard Dreyfuss, James Woods, Joseph Mazzello, Joe Morton and James Rebhorn.   

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Charlie Chan In Rio (1941)

The renowned Chinese detective Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) arrives from Honolulu to Rio De Janeiro in order to arrest a nightclub singer (Jacqueline Dalya) for murder. But before he and his Brazilian counterpart (Harold Huber) can make the arrest, she is found murdered. Based on the characters created by Earl Derr Biggers and directed by Harry Lachman. This is one of the more enjoyable entries in the Charlie Chan franchise. The film is generously laced with humor (most of it provided by Victor Sen Yung as Chan's son) and the mystery is sufficiently involving although if you put your mind to it, it's not that difficult to come up with the killer's identity. The psychic's (Victor Jory) use of coffee and cigarettes to induce a semi comatose state is pretty silly and far fetched but movies like these are not to be taken too literally. The suspects include Mary Beth Hughes, Richard Derr, Kay Linaker, Ted North, Truman Bradley, Hamilton MacFadden, Ann Codee and Cobina Wright Jr.

On The Basis Of Sex (2018)

In 1956, a young female Harvard law student (Felicity Jones) juggles an ill husband (Armie Hammer), a baby and her studies. Defying sexism at almost every corner (after all it is the 1950s), it only fortifies her determination to level the playing field. In 1972, she will get to strike the first blow in the historic Moritz vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue discrimination case. Directed by Mimi Leder (DEEP IMPACT), the film documents the early struggles of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a straight forward manner from 1956 to 1972 with the emphasis on the case which would turn the tide in her career as a lawyer. As far as bio pics go, it's a solid if unexceptional entry. It's no more than an HBO movie (that's not meant as a put down, HBO does good stuff) really but in the current political climate, its message couldn't be more timely. The performances are solid right down the line. With Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates, Sam Waterston, Cailee Spaeny, Chris Mulkey and Wendy Crewson.   

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Jet Storm (1959)

A disparate group of passengers and crew are aboard a jet airliner flying from London to New York. Among the passengers is a mentally unstable man (Richard Attenborough) who has planted a bomb on the plane in revenge for the death of his 7 year old daughter by a fellow passenger (George Rose). Since he thinks all human beings are despicable, it doesn't concern him that everyone on board will also die. Directed by Cy Endfield (ZULU). If this all sounds familiar, this film is a British version of those "passengers in peril" disaster films along the lines of AIRPORT, SKYJACKED and THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY. The various passengers reaction to facing death varies from hysteria to calmness, from humor to violence. The film manages to whip up a suitable amount of tension until the film's last 10 minutes when it turns into sentimental twaddle (though some might call it child abuse). I've a fondness for the genre so I enjoyed it until it collapsed at the end. There's a ghastly title song over the opening credits that has to be heard to be believed. The massive cast includes Stanley Baker, Diane Cilento, Mai Zetterling, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Harry Secombe, Elizabeth Sellars, Hermione Baddeley, David Kossoff, Jocelyn Lane, Virginia Maskell, Patrick Allen, Neil McCallum and Megs Jenkins.

The Black Arrow (1948)

In 16th century England, a knight (Louis Hayward) returns home from the War of the Roses only to discover his father (Russell Hicks) has been murdered under mysterious circumstances. As he delves into the facts behind his father's killing, he discovers the murderer is close to home. Based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and directed by Gordon Douglas (TONY ROME). I found this routine swashbuckler from Columbia's programmer factory more enjoyable than I probably should have. There's absolutely nothing special about it and the studio knew it or I suspect they would have shot it in Technicolor instead of B&W. But I found it a great deal of fun and at a running time of an hour and 16 minutes it doesn't wear out its welcome. Hayward was an old hand at this sort of nonsense and glides through it effortlessly, George Macready makes for a suitably nasty villain and Janet Blair makes for a fetching damsel. If you're into this sort of thing and in a generous mood, you should be pleasantly surprised. With Edgar Buchanan, miscast as a 16th century Brit who acts as if he's in a western. Also with Ray Teal and Rhys Williams.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Starting in 1970, the film follows the journey of a young Indian Brit (Rami Malek) who joins a local band which transforms itself into the super rock group Queen. Directed by Bryan Singer although the film was finished by Dexter Fletcher after Singer was fired. If you're a fan of Queen's music, the film should be a real treat for you. The concert and performance sequences are spectacular and superbly done and the central performance of Malek as Freddie Mercury is surprisingly effective (although it took awhile for his performance to grow on me). As cinema however, it can't escape the cliches of the biopic genre and as it dutifully goes through its paces, we're always one step ahead of it. After all, we've seen this all before except with different names, haven't we? More seriously, the film takes liberties with the facts or if you prefer, dramatic license. Either way, don't take this as the way it really happened. Enjoy it for the marvelous music and Malek's first rate performance. With Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aaron McCusker and Mike Myers.   

Shadrach (1998)

Set during the great depression of the 1930s, a 100 year old former slave (John Franklin Sawyer) travels by foot from Alabama to Virginia to be buried on the property where he was born into slavery. The property is now owned by a poor white family fallen on hard times where the father (Harvey Keitel) makes moonshine liquor to support his family. Based on a short story by William Styron (SOPHIE'S CHOICE) and directed by his daughter, Susanna Styron. This is a deceptively sweet story that could almost be a Disney film if it weren't for the use of the "N" word and the potty mouth of Keitel's character. Sadly, it's only an okay film without a sharper focus and point of view that might have made it something special like SOUNDER. The film has an authentic look to it courtesy of Hiro Narita's (HOCUS POCUS) use of the North Carolina locations. With Andie MacDowell, who gives a warm performance as Keitel's earthy wife, Darrell Larson, Scott Terra and Martin Sheen doing the narration.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Incident (1967)

At almost 3 A.M. in the morning, a New York subway car full of passengers is terrorized by two thugs (Martin Sheen, Tony Musante). The passengers include an old couple (Thelma Ritter, Jack Gilford), an unhappily married couple (Jan Sterling, Mike Kellin), two soldiers (Beau Bridges, Robert Bannard), a black couple (Ruby Dee, Brock Peters), a suburban couple (Ed McMahon, Diana Van Der Vlis), a recovering alcoholic (Gary Merrill), a man (Robert Fields) who may or may not be gay and a stud (Victor Arnold) on a date with a virgin (Donna Mills). Directed by Larry Peerce (GOODBYE COLUMBUS), the film is based on a TV play called RIDE WITH TERROR from 1963 with Musante recreating his TV role. It's a heavy handed "allegory" that plays out like a play. The thugs terrorize and humiliate the passengers in turn while the passengers watch the others being terrorized waiting their turn like good little victims. Finally, one of them has had enough and stands up to them but one can't help but think that there are 14 passengers and 2 thugs and why didn't they stand together and kick hoodlum butt? Well, of course, there would be no movie then, would there? A little too self important for me but outside of the exaggerated performances of Musante and Sheen, the rest of the cast is pretty good.

Rawhide (1951)

A quartet of outlaws (Hugh Marlowe, Dean Jagger, Jack Elam, George Tobias) who've escaped from prison take over a stagecoach station in order to rob a stagecoach of its gold the following day. Their two prisoners, a station worker (Tyrone Power) and a woman passenger (Susan Hayward) with a child (Judy Ann Dunn), fight to stay alive and survive the ordeal. Directed by Henry Hathaway (NORTH TO ALASKA), this is an intense and brutal (for its day) western. By the film's finale, the body count is high. In its way, it's as much a thriller as a western. Jack Elam's creepy bandit is particularly revolting. If he's not trying to rape Hayward, he's gleefully terrorizing the baby girl by shooting at her. Even the usually enervated Hugh Marlowe gives some spark to his performance as the outlaw band's leader. The movie comes in at a lean hour and 27 minutes and there's not an ounce of fat in it. Even if you're not a fan of westerns, this makes for a riveting piece of entertainment. With Edgar Buchanan, Jeff Corey, Kenneth Tobey and Edith Evanson.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Meet Me In St. Louis (1966)

At the turn of century, a young girl (Shelley Fabares) becomes jealous when she thinks the boy next door (Michael Blodgett, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) has fallen for the new girl (Judy Lang) in the neighborhood. Since her mother (Celeste Holm) is throwing a party in the new neighbor's honor, she whips up a scheme that backfires. Based on the novel 5135 KENSINGTON by Sally Benson (who wrote the script for this adaptation) by way of the classic 1944 MGM musical of the same name based on her book and directed by Jeffrey Hayden. This is actually a TV pilot produced by MGM but it didn't sell and one can see why. It's generic to the nth degree and without those wonderful musical numbers, it's flat as a pancake. Fabares is perky but she's no Judy Garland. The Vincent Minnelli film had a strong conflict with the family being uprooted from the St. Louis home they love and moving to New York. No such conflict here other than the banal bit of adolescent jealousy. With Reta Shaw, Wesley Addy and Morgan Brittany. 

A Man For All Seasons (1988)

The 16th century Chancellor of England (Charlton Heston) finds himself in a moral quandary when King Henry VIII (Martin Chamberlain) seeks from him the approval of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn and the break from the Roman church. Does he stand by his principles or give in to the King's demands? Based on the play by Robert Bolt and directed by Charlton Heston. This is essentially Bolt's play which serves as the screenplay which had previously been adapted for the screen in 1966. This production runs a half hour longer than the 1966 film and restores two major characters that were cut from the 1966 film: the "common man" played by Roy Kinnear in various guises and the Spanish ambassador played by Nicholas Amer. The "common man" is a theatrical device (not only does he play multiple characters, he talks to the audience) that is uncinematic so I can see why it was eliminated from the stripped down Fred Zinnemann film. But as a record of Bolt's play, this is fine and in some instances more than fine. For example, the final parting between Heston and his wife (Vanessa Redgrave, who played Anne Boleyn in the 1966 film) is much more powerful and both actors shine. With John Gielgud, Richard Johnson, Adrienne Thomas, Benjamin Whitrow and Jonathan Hackett.   

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

A misanthropic writer (Melissa McCarthy) falls on hard times financially. So she begins forging letters from famous people and selling them to collectors. The money begins pouring in but how long before she's discovered as the fraud she is? Based on the autobiography by Lee Israel and directed by Marielle Heller. I thought the film's trailer looked lousy so I was pleasantly surprised at how good this turned out to be. There's a dark undercurrent of wit running through out the film which is a good thing considering the film's two main protagonists (Richard E. Grant as her street pal is the other) are essentially despicable people. Well, McCarthy's character gets some plus points for being a cat lover but these are not people you'd want to spend time with nor would they want to spend time with you. McCarthy gives a career best performance and it's a treat to see her step outside of her usually blustery and vulgar comic persona and give a terrific performance. This could have been a one note performance in the hands of a lesser actress but McCarthy lets us see all her shadings. With Jane Curtin (very good), Dolly Wells and Anna Deavere Smith.  

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Lady Says No (1952)

A photographer (David Niven) on assignment from Life magazine is scheduled to do a photo layout of the best selling author (Joan Caulfield) of a feminist best seller. He immediately finds her attractive but they clash over their different outlooks. Directed by Frank Ross, who was married to the film's star Joan Caulfield at the time. It's a rather inane romantic comedy typical of the period in which a woman with feminist leanings is looked at as some sort of freak and, of course, it all ends happily when she realizes that what she needs is a man to make her happy! One could still enjoy it considering the era in which it was made if it were remotely amusing but it's a dull affair. Niven is certainly an expert in sophisticated comedy and Caulfield has a certain animated charm but neither can do anything to elevate the script. The handsome Carmel and Monterey locations are nicely shot by James Wong Howe so it's a pity that the film wasn't shot in color as it might have given the movie a needed shot in the arm. With Henry Jones, James Robertson Justice, Frances Bavier, Peggy Maley and Jeff York.

The Nanny (1965)

A 10 year old boy (William Dix) returns home after being institutionalized for two years after his little sister (Angharad Aubrey) died under mysterious circumstances. Upon his arrival home, he turns against his nanny (Bette Davis) believing she was responsible for his sister's death and that she intends him to be her next victim. Based on the novel by Evelyn Piper (BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING) and directed by Seth Holt. This is a well done thriller with an excellent performance by Bette Davis but sabotaged by a piece of miscalculated casting. William Dix is a lousy child actor (his idea of acting appears to be sticking out his lower lip in a permanent pouting position) and his character is such a brat that you want Davis to kill the little beast! Which is really a pity because with a decent child actor in the part who would be able to get us to sympathize with him, this could have been a classic Hammer thriller instead of a decent one. Davis, of course, is as eminently watchable as always and gives us just enough ambiguity that we're never quite sure of her motives. The underscore is by Richard Rodney Bennett. With Pamela Franklin, Jill Bennett, Wendy Craig and James Villiers.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

A film director (Joel McCrea) is tired of making comedies and wants to make a socially relevant film about the downtrodden who are struggling to survive. So he decides to go undercover as a hobo and live among the homeless. Written and directed by Preston Sturges, this is a greatly admired film which many consider (along with THE LADY EVE) to be Sturges' crowning achievement. I'm not convinced. I enjoyed it alright but it veers dangerously close to CapraCorn territory though thankfully Sturges never gets as sentimental as Frank Capra. Whereas, Capra would squeeze all the mawkish attitude about the "little people" he could, Sturges shows what bastards they could be and even kills one off in a "serves you right" bit of karma. But when he isn't dabbling in Capra territory, Sturges often offers a sly satire of Hollywood pretension. There's a lovely sequence involving a black church that manages to avoid sentiment yet still be heartwarming. With Veronica Lake at her most appealing, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Eric Blore, Margaret Hayes, Robert Warwick, Porter Hall, Esther Howard and Richard Webb. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Thunder Over The Plains (1953)

In 1869 post-Civil War Texas, the state has not yet been readmitted into the Union. An army officer and native Texan (Randolph Scott) tries to keep the peace between the poverty stricken farmers and the corrupt carpetbaggers taking advantage of their plight. Directed by Andre De Toth (HOUSE OF WAX), this is a routine western barely distinguishable from the rest of the pack. It's one of those westerns which were prolific in the 40s and 50s with an inordinate sympathy for the defeated South and portraying the Northern victors as rigid and unyielding. It's gussied up a bit by an uninteresting domestic subplot with Phyllis Kirk as Scott's unhappy wife and Lex Barker as the sneaky army captain who attempts to seduce her. Other than that, it's a straight forward oater. I wish the script had made Scott's character a little smarter. We're always one step ahead of the naive doofus. With Charles McGraw, Fess Parker, Henry Hull and Elisha Cook Jr.  

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Shampoo (1975)

Set in Beverly Hills on election eve 1968, a hairdresser (Warren Beatty) juggles the women in his life while trying to raise the capital to start his own beauty salon. Directed by Hal Ashby, this is one of the seminal films of the 1970s before STAR WARS (1977) opened and changed Hollywood film making. As a romantic/sex farce, this is right up there with Renoir's RULES OF THE GAME and Bergman's SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT. Despite the political setting (1968 was the year of Nixon's victory), the film doesn't hammer it at us. It's always there buzzing in the background as poor George (Beatty) grasping at straws tries to keep his head above the water when he's in over his head. But it's really the women who drive this movie: Julie Christie as Jack Warden's mistress, Goldie Hawn as Beatty's girlfriend, Lee Grant (in an Oscar winning performance) as Warden's wife and Carrie Fisher (in her film debut) as Warden's daughter. They're all so much more interesting than the shallow Beatty who's a rather sad (pathetic is too harsh) character. A pointed satire and a simply terrific film. With Tony Bill, Jay Robinson, Brad Dexter, Luana Anders, William Castle (yes, the director), George Furth and Joan Marshall.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Night Gallery (1969)

Three tales of the supernatural all written by Rod Serling: 1) The greedy nephew (Roddy McDowall) of a dying man (George Macready) hastens his death. But he will soon discover that hate is stronger than death. Directed by Boris Sagal. 2) A wealthy blind woman (Joan Crawford) literally buys herself a new pair of eyes. Directed by Steven Spielberg. 3) An escaped Nazi war criminal (Richard Kiley) hides in Argentina and lives in fear of being discovered. Directed by Barry Shear. Back in the day, TV networks made TV movies to see how the public would respond to a possible TV series based on the movie. This movie was greeted enthusiastically and the following year, it became a weekly TV series. As with all anthology films, the quality is uneven. The third one is the weakest as it has a deja vu quality to it and Serling had worked this theme on his TWILIGHT ZONE series. The first is entertaining enough but highly predictable. The second one by a young Spielberg is the strongest. Crawford is remarkably restrained (for her) and gives a solid performance and Spielberg gives it just enough style to make it work. With Barry Sullivan, Ossie Davis, Sam Jaffe, Tom Bosley and Norma Crane.  

Don't Bother To Knock (1952)

After breaking up with his girlfriend (Anne Bancroft in her film debut), an airline pilot (Richard Widmark) spots a beautiful girl (Marilyn Monroe) in a window across the way from his hotel room. Lonely, he invites himself over. But what he doesn't know is that she's just recently released from a mental hospital and unstable. Based on the novel MISCHIEF by Charlotte Armstrong and directed by Roy Ward Baker (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT). This is a nifty B&W psychological thriller with noir-ish undertones at a tight and economical hour and 16 minutes. Not yet the love goddess she would soon become the next year in films like GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, Monroe gives an unsettling performance as the mousy (but not for long) babysitter suffering from mental illness. Clearly, she had the acting chops early in her career before being typecast as a blonde bombshell. As always (well, except for SAINT JOAN), Widmark is wonderful. Handsomely shot in B&W by Lucien Ballard (THE WILD BUNCH). With Elisha Cook Jr, Donna Corcoran, Jim Backus, Lurene Tuttle, Verna Felton, Willis Bouchey and Jeanne Cagney.       

The Other Side Of The Wind (2018)

A legendary film director (John Huston) finds the money has run out in the middle of shooting his latest movie. That evening he attends a birthday party in his honor thrown by a famous actress (Lilli Palmer). Directed by Orson Welles. Begun in 1970 but still never completed for a myriad of reason when Welles died in 1985, the film has taken on mythic proportions for the cineaste community. Here, others (principally Frank Marshall, Filip Jan Rymsza and Peter Bogdanovich) have taken on the task of posthumously completing the film with (presumably) Welles intentions. Alas, it's not the masterpiece everyone had been hoping for and who knows if this is the film Welles would have wanted released. But it is Welles so there's much to admire here. There's a film within the film that appears to be a parody of 1970s cinema (EASY RIDER, ZABRISKIE POINT come to mind) that cries out (intentionally) pretentious. That movie is woven into the fabric of the narrative of the party sequence. Here, Welles gets his revenge on Pauline Kael as embodied by Susan Strasberg's pushy film critic. The film runs over the two hour mark but I suspect Welles would have edited down easily to something like 90 to 100 minutes. I liked it a lot but it's nowhere near Welles' greatest achievements and frankly, outside of film buffs, I don't think the film will have much appeal to anyone. With Peter Bogdanovich (as annoying a screen presence as ever), Edmond O'Brien, Mercedes McCambridge, Cameron Mitchell, Paul Stewart, Norman Foster (in the film's best performance), Dan Tobin, Dennis Hopper, Paul Mazursky, Tonio Selwart, Oja Kodar and Robert Random.      

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Guilt Of Janet Ames (1947)

A bitter woman (Rosalind Russell) whose husband was killed in WWII saving five men attempts to seek out those men to see if they were worthy of being saved. But fate has something else in store for her when she is struck by a truck and paralyzed. Directed by Henry Levin (WHERE THE BOYS ARE). This overly ambitious melodrama bites off more than it can chew. It goes overboard with the dime story Psychology 101 and its heavy handed surrealistic visions of the lives of the men saved. The film can't help but collapse under all the "artistic" weight placed on its shoulders. It thinks it's being complex when it's being simplistic. Even Rosalind Russell, normally a strong and attractive screen presence, is ultimately rendered unappealing. With Melvyn Douglas, Sid Caesar (channeling Danny Kaye), Nina Foch, Betsy Blair and Hugh Beaumont. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Ben Is Back (2018)

On Christmas Eve, a recovering drug addict (Lucas Hedges) 77 days sober returns home to his family unexpectedly. But the next 24 hours which should have been celebratory turns into a dark descent into hell. Written and directed by Peter Hedges (PIECES OF APRIL). As cinema, far superior to the recent BEAUTIFUL BOY which dealt with similar themes but with a father and son. Here, the boy's relationship with his mother (Julia Roberts) is the focus of the film. But BEN IS BACK has advantage over BEAUTIFUL BOY (which spanned several years) by concentrating on a 24 hour period and going straight to the heart of what drug addiction has done to this family. How far does or should mother love go when you can no longer trust your own flesh and blood? It's a heartbreaking and harrowing film as the son takes his mother on a journey in the life of an addict. Thankfully, director Hedges doesn't simplify it or wrap it up in a neat little package by the film's end. It ends abruptly and we don't know Hedges' fate, if he can be repaired or if the family can put the pieces back together again. This is Hedges' year what with this and BOY ERASED and Roberts gives a beautifully structured performance as a loving mother pushed to the limits of a mother's love. With Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton and David Zaldivar.  

Venom (1981)

An international terrorist (Klaus Kinski) plots with a maid (Susan George) and a chauffeur (Oliver Reed) to kidnap the son (Lance Holcomb) of the wealthy owner of a hotel chain. But everything goes horribly wrong when the boy's "harmless" new pet snake turns out to be a deadly Black Mamba, who's crawling around the house! Based on the novel by Alan Scholefield and directed by Piers Haggard. The film was begun by Tobe Hooper (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) who left over the usual "creative differences" and completed by Haggard. The film is really nothing more than JAWS with a snake but it's surprisingly effective. If you have ophidiophobia, this is not the film for you! I can't stand snakes myself and the film literally makes my flesh crawl but it's pretty nerve wracking if you can take it. Of course, if you're not afraid of snakes, you may well find it dreary going. Michael Kamen's score is suitably intense. With Sterling Hayden, Sarah Miles, Michael Gough and Cornelia Sharpe.