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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Set in WWI London, a down on her luck American chorus girl (Mae Clarke) resorts to prostitution to support herself. When she meets an unsophisticated American soldier (Douglass Montgomery), who is unaware of her profession, they begin a romance. But she can't bring herself to tell him the truth. Based on a play by Robert E. Sherwood and directed by James Whale (FRANKENSTEIN). This is the first film version of the Sherwood play which would be remade in 1940 with Vivien Leigh and in 1956 with Leslie Caron. Since this was a pre-code film, Whale didn't have to dance around the fact that Clarke was a streetwalker. Clarke is enormously appealing and you're pushing for her to find happiness. Montgomery is a bit of a stiff but his performance grows on you until by the end of the film, you quite like him. The ending seems a bit forced (I liked the 1940 version's ending better) but this is a solid and often quite moving wartime romance. With a young Bette Davis, Doris Lloyd, Ethel Griffies and Enid Bennett.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Robin And Marian (1976)

The Crusades over and King Richard (Richard Harris) dead, Robin Hood (Sean Connery) and his companion Little John (Nicol Williamson) return to England after being away for 20 years. He finds that his love Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn) is now a nun but their love for each other is too strong and in spite of the years that have passed, it is inevitable that they will reunite. But a happy ending is not in the cards. Directed by Richard Lester (PETULIA), this is a lovely companion piece to the classic 1938 ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, the definitive film on the Robin Hood legend. Connery and Hepburn are dream casting and they embody their roles with the all the power of their collective stardom and talent that have matured through the years. I have some problems about the morality of the film's ending but outside of that, I admire Lester's robust direction which doesn't romanticize either the Crusades or the Robin Hood legend yet is still romantic in its grit. The direction and performances are given excellent support by David Watkin's handsome cinematography and John Barry's aching underscore. With Robert Shaw, Ian Holm, Denholm Elliott, Kenneth Haigh and Ronnie Barker. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Haemoo (aka Sea Fog) (2014)

Struggling to make ends meet and keep his boat, the captain (Kim Yoon Seok) agrees to smuggle illegal immigrants into South Korea without consulting his crew. What follows is a horrifying tragedy of near operatic proportions involving insanity and murder. The directorial debut of screenwriter Shim Sung Bo (MEMORIES OF MURDER), the film uses the real life tragedy of Chinese-Korean immigrants who suffocated to death in the storage tank of a vessel and whose bodies were dumped into the sea. Shim Sung Bo turns this tragedy into a large scale melodrama with a budding romance between the youngest crew member (pop star Park Yoochun) and an a female migrant (Han Ye Ri) at its center. It's an intense and very disturbing movie yet it doesn't feel exploitative of a real life tragedy. It does highlight the horrors of human trafficking and the frequent abuse they must endure by their "couriers". Shim Sung Bo gives us a bittersweet ambiguous ending rather than a conventional ending that might have provided closure for both its lead protagonist and the audience. Strong stuff but well worth seeking out. With Moon Sung Keun, Yoo Seung Mok and Lee Hee Joon. 

The Mummy's Ghost (1944)

In a small New England college town, a professor (Frank Reicher) of Egyptology is killed during the early hours of the morning. Evidence points to the return of a mummy (Lon Chaney Jr.) who had previously terrorized the town and believed dead. Directed by Reginald Le Borg (WEIRD WOMAN), this was the fourth entry in Universal Mummy franchise. Frankly, outside of ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (for obvious reasons), it's difficult to tell these mummy movies apart. Their plots are so similar, only the character's names change that they blend into each other. This one is no different although its ending is more of a downer than the others. I'm actually partial to the franchise so I suppose I'm more tolerant than others of the sameness. It's not the kind of movie where the acting matters much but still, when the best performance in the movie is given by a dog, you have to wonder. With John Carradine, Ramsay Ames, Robert Lowery, Barton MacLane and Martha Vickers.   

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Virgin And The Gypsy (1970)

Set in the 1920s, a young woman (Joanna Shimkus) and her sister (Harriet Harper) return from a boarding school in France to the cold repressive atmosphere of their father's (Maurice Denham) home. Also in the household are a belligerent grandmother (Fay Compton) and a mean spirited Aunt (Kay Walsh). But things change when the young woman meets a handsome gypsy (Franco Nero) who awakens her budding sexuality. Based on the novella by D.H. Lawrence and directed by Christopher Miles (PRIEST OF LOVE). The film goes beyond Lawrence's book by having the virgin and the gypsy consummate their sexual passion which doesn't occur in the book. The ending is also less ambiguous and the film has her walking away from her family. It's a lovely little film and Shimkus (who would retire a few years later to marry Sidney Poitier) conveys a quiet sensuality underneath her dissatisfaction with the conventionality of her prejudiced family and her emotional growth is slow but inevitable. Nero doesn't have to do much other than reek of sex and he does that easily. In supporting roles, Honor Blackman and Mark Burns are very good as an older woman and her younger lover waiting for her divorce to go through. The flood sequence at the film's end is nicely done. With Imogen Hassall and Norman Bird.  

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Escape In The Fog (1945)

Set during WWII, a nurse (Nina Foch) recovering from a nervous breakdown has a nightmare of witnessing a man (William Wright) being murdered in the fog. When she wakes up, the man in her dream is standing in front of her. What follows is a tale of espionage, Nazi spies and a missing package. Directed by Budd Boetticher, this B programmer is an acceptable if unexceptional mixture of noir-ish pulp and WWII propaganda. At a brief hour and three minutes, it gets the job done without wearing out its welcome. Foch makes for an attractive damsel in peril but Wright is a negligible hero. For fans of Boetticher, who would blossom in the 1950s with his Randolph Scott westerns, this is an enjoyable early effort but even fans of film noir might be engaged by it. With a pre-stardom Shelley Winters as a cab driver, Otto Kruger, Ivan Triesault and Konstantin Shayne.

Design For Living (1979)

In 1932 Paris, a Bohemian interior designer (Rula Lenska) lives with a painter (Clive Arrindell) but when her old flame (John Steiner) returns, she reattaches herself to him. The men are both good friends and all three seem to be attached at the hip. She tries to break free of them by leaving them both but it's only a matter of time before they track her down. Directed by Philip Saville, this "shocking" (for its day) play opened on Broadway in 1932 but it wasn't until 1939 that it made its way to London. It's a difficult play to pull off and a lot of it depends on the casting. The three characters are so self involved, impervious to others and amoral that it's hard to warm to them so you need likable actors with crack comedic timing or it all falls flat. This production falls flat. The two male protagonists are played by actors who are effete, sexless and they swish and pose (which isn't Coward's intention) that you wonder what Lenska sees in them. None of the actors have comedic timing but at least Lenska has a strong sexual presence and she gives a sense of what Coward had in mind. The homosexual undercurrent that is only hinted at in the play is given full exposure (certainly by the way the actors play it) in this production and the director even has the two men take a shower together before falling into each other's arms. Painfully unfunny. With John Bluthal, Dandy Nichols (giving the best performance) and Helen Horton. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Home From The Hill (1960)

Set in a small East Texas town, the most powerful man (Robert Mitchum) in town and the one looked up to by most of the town's citizenry clashes with his wife (Eleanor Parker) over the upbringing of their son (George Hamilton). He's a chronic womanizer and his wife has had no relations with him since the birth of their son. But as he tries to pull his son away from the clutches of his wife to make a man of him, it sets forth a series of events that will have tragic consequences. Based on the novel by William Humphrey and directed by Vincente Minnelli (GIGI). There was a time in Hollywood when they were storytellers who told good stories. You'd be pulled into the lives of its characters, you liked them (or didn't) and their fates were of concern to you. As each scene unfolded, you learned a little more, just like chapters in a book. HOME FROM THE HILL is a perfect specimen of the Hollywood dream factory (in this case, MGM) at work. Everything is just right, the acting, the screenplay, the direction, the cinematography, the music etc. This was early in the careers of George Peppard and George Hamilton yet neither has ever been better. In one of his best performances, Mitchum shows what a sterling actor he was but he holds the screen like a true Movie Star and Eleanor Parker shows what an underrated screen presence she was. It's Minnelli at his best. You may find tears running down your cheeks by the end of the film but it's not manipulation, it's honest tears. A superior melodrama. With Luana Patten, Everett Sloane, Constance Ford, Anne Seymour and Ray Teal.  

Old Ironsides (1926)

It's the year 1798 and a farm boy (Charles Farrell) wants to join the Navy but he's shanghaied by a boatswain (Wallace Beery) who gets him liquored up and put on a merchant ship. But when the ship reaches the Mediterranean, they are attacked by Barbary pirates who capture them and take them to Tripoli to be sold as slaves. All except the pretty girl (Esther Ralston) on board who'll be given as a gift to the Sultan. Directed by James Cruze (THE COVERED WAGON), this ambitious sea epic silent would benefit by having some of the fat trimmed off it. The battle scenes are impressive and the production values are first rate. Curiously, the normally appealing Charles Farrell comes off as rather anemic here, not much of a dashing hero type but Esther Ralston as his love interest is lovely. Notable for its time, the film features a strong black character (George Godfrey) who plays the ship's cook. He's not played as a stereotype or used for comic relief and he's an active participant in the action. The transfer I saw had a tinny sounding piano score while the film needed a lush orchestral underscore. With George Bancroft and Johnnie Walker.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Man Who Loved Women (1983)

At the funeral of a renowned sculptor (Burt Reynolds) attended almost exclusively by women, his former analyst and lover (Julie Andrews) recollects how he loved them all in his way and they loved him back. An English language remake of the 1977 Francois Truffaut film and directed by Blake Edwards. The 1977 film was one of Truffaut's lesser works and I'm surprised Edwards thought it would translate well into an American film. The sculptor's obsession with the female sex and his inability to commit is not unlike the protagonist of SHAMPOO which came out some eight years earlier. But that film was not only better written and structured but had an actor (Warren Beatty) that was able to convey the angst of loving women perhaps too much yet unable to commit to a monogamous relationship which eventually leaves him alone. Reynolds is defeated by the role and I'm not sure if it's a case of miscasting or he just didn't have the acting chops. There's a sequence set in Houston involving Kim Basinger that's horrendous and just stops the movie cold and it never recovers. With Marilu Henner, Sela Ward, Jennifer Edwards, Barry Corbin and Cynthia Sikes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Arizona (1940)

Set in 1860 in the territory of Arizona, a drifter (William Holden) on his way to California takes a fancy to a whip wielding, pie baking hellcat (Jean Arthur). But he's not ready to settle down yet and when he moseys off to California, she begins to build her empire while awaiting his return. Based on the novel by Clarence Budington Kelland and directed by Wesley Ruggles. Running slightly over two hours, this large scale "epic" western covers a lot of territory. There are Indian attacks, stampedes, the Civil War, cattle drives, murder and robbery with some romance squeezed in. But it's just different enough to keep you glued to the screen. Most interesting are the role reversals. It's Holden who's romantic and marriage minded while Arthur is bossy and career driven. It's not until the very end of the movie where Holden's male dominance takes over. Another surprising twist is that the film's climactic gunfight between Holden and Warren William as a thieving dandy is done off screen whereas a traditional western would have milked it. The Oscar nominated score is by Victor Young. With Edgar Buchanan, Porter Hall, Regis Toomey and George Chandler.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

La Donna Del Lago (aka The Possessed) (1965)

A melancholy novelist (Peter Baldwin) returns to a remote lakeside hotel hoping to reconnect with an attractive maid (Virna Lisi) working there that he had previously been involved with. But to his shock, he discovers that during his absence, she has committed suicide. But rumors circulate that it was not suicide but, in fact, murder. Based on the novel by Giovanni Comisso and directed by Luigi Bazzoni and Franco Rossellini. A most unusual mystery film that is more artistic than usual for the genre. The novelist's crisis is not all that different than the malady infecting the protagonists of L'AVVENTURA or LA NOTTE. But rather than exploring the novelist's personal critical period, it evolves into a complicated thriller involving a family's dark secrets that will eventually destroy them. The creative B&W cinematography of Leonida Barboni (AFTER THE FOX) aids the film immeasurably. If the film's vague denouement proves unsatisfactory, the journey to it is quite intriguing. With Valentina Cortese, Philippe Leroy, Salvo Randone and Pia Lindstrom (Ingrid Bergman's daughter).   

Monday, February 18, 2019

Anna Karenina (1948)

A married woman (Vivien Leigh) visits her brother (Hugh Dempster) in Moscow and it is there that she meets the dashing Count Vronsky (Kieron Moore). Their love affair will ruin lives and end in tragedy. Based on the classic novel by Leo Tolstoy and directed by Julien Duvivier (PEPE LE MOKO). Tolstoy's novel has been filmed countless times for both film and television. The novel, of course, is too rich to satisfactorily translate to cinema without losing most of its complexity and most filmed versions eliminate everything outside of the Karenin(a)/Vronsky triangle. But of all the Annas I've seen, Vivien Leigh comes closest to capturing the angst and depth of Anna's suffering, much of it brought on by herself. Anna Karenina is a difficult character to embrace, a woman who leaves her child for her lover is never going to find many supporters. This handsomely shot (by Henri Alekan, ROMAN HOLIDAY) production is a solid adaptation all things considering. The underscore by Constant Lambert is a real beauty. With Ralph Richardson as Karenin, Sally Ann Howes, Martita Hunt, Michael Gough, Helen Haye, Mary Kerridge and Niall MacGinnis.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Bon Voyage (1962)

A family from Indiana takes an ocean liner to Paris for a holiday. But the father (Fred MacMurray) must deal with his daughter's (Deborah Walley) falling in love with a wealthy playboy (Michael Callan) and his older son's (Tommy Kirk) moody behavior. Meanwhile, the wife (Jane Wyman) finds herself pursued by a Hungarian lothario (Ivan Desny). Based on the novel by Merrjane and Joseph Hayes and directed by James Neilson (NIGHT PASSAGE). Typical 1960s live action fluff, essentially a sitcom on the big screen. This being a Disney film, "decadent" Paris is cleaned up to be family friendly. For example, Francoise Prevost as a hooker is the most G rated hooker you'll ever see. Also Deborah Walley is allowed to wear a bikini but she has a bow stuck in her navel! Even Fred MacMurray's swim trunks cover his belly button! I'm surprised the film allowed a bidet to be referenced though not by name. Still, audiences ate it up and the film was a big hit and was one of the year's top 10 grossing movies. With that bane of Disney moppets Kevin Corcoran, Jessie Royce Landis, Max Showalter and Georgette Anys.

Liu Lang Di Qiu (aka The Wandering Earth) (2019)

Set in the far future, the sun is fading away and mankind (much of whom have already perished) has moved underground. World leaders have united in an ambitious project to relocate Earth to another solar system in an effort to save mankind but that project will take thousands of years. Meanwhile, Earth is under the gravitational pull of Jupiter and it's only a matter of days before it collides. Based on the novel by Liu Cixin and directed by Frant Gwo. A massive hit in China, the film is being released internationally in the hopes of duplicating its success in China. Unfortunately, the print I saw (and I saw it in a large first run theatre) had small white subtitles that made it difficult to read especially since much of the background is light in color (lots of snow). To make matters worse, they zipped by so quickly that I barely had time to read them before another subtitle zipped on the screen! That aside, it's a bit more intelligent than the usual sci-fi Hollywood blockbuster although there isn't much in the way of character development though the film did manage to get my eyes to water up at the final goodbye of an astronaut father (Wu Jing) in space to his adult son (Qu Chuxiao) that he hasn't seen in 14 years. Being a Chinese (a socialist republic) movie, the film emphasizes self sacrifice and working together for the good of all. I was entertained but hopefully the subtitle problem will be remedied in any future transfers. With Ng Man Tat, Zhao Jinmai, Mike Sui and Arkady Sharogradsky. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Producers (2005)

A washed up theatrical producer (Nathan Lane) entices a young accountant (Matthew Broderick) to join him in a scheme to raise more money than they need for a Broadway flop and keep the excess capital. But first, they have to find the worst play ever written. Based on the hit Broadway musical which was based on the Oscar winning 1967 Mel Brooks movie comedy and directed by Susan Stroman,  who also directed the stage musical. I'm not a fan of the 1967 film. A little Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder go a long way for me. Not only do I find Lane and Broderick more agreeable but Brooks' bad taste goes down easier with song and dance. The songs were written by Brooks and they vary from serviceable to very good and Stroman's choreography is lively. The film isn't very cinematic which most of the reviews complained about. It's essentially a filmed play but in this case, it worked. Fans of the 1967 original film most likely won't have much patience for this incarnation but I had a wonderful time. With Uma Thurman (looking drop dead gorgeous), Will Ferrell, Gary Beach, Roger Bart, Michael McKean, Jon Lovitz, Debra Monk, John Barrowman and Andrea Martin. 

I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958)

The day before his wedding, a bridegroom (Tom Tryon) has an encounter with an alien from another galaxy. On their honeymoon, his bride (Gloria Talbott) feels alarmed about a change in his personality. A year after their marriage and her concerns are stronger than ever! Directed by Gene Fowler Jr., this cult sci-fi horror movie is similar in tone to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS which had come out two years before. Like that film, the alien invaders can be seen as substitutes for the fear of communism infiltrating our society. The aliens hate dogs and don't drink alcohol, how un-American can you get? More contemporary critics read a gay subtext into the film: wives whose husbands seem to have very little interest in them sexually and seem more comfortable with their own kind. The film is inconsistent but its narrative is strong enough to make for a compelling B movie and Tryon and Talbott gives strong performances which help elevate the tension factor. With Ty Hardin, Valerie Allen, John Eldredge, Peter Baldwin, James Anderson and Jean Carson. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Moulin Rouge (1928)

A young aristocrat (Jean Bradin) has been forbidden by his father (Georges Treville) to marry a young woman (Eve Gray) because her mother (Olga Tschechowa) is a famous dancer at the Moulin Rouge. But that is the least of his problems when he falls in love with his fiancee's mother and that passion will lead to tragedy. Directed by Ewald Andre Dupont (VARIETE), there's a solid movie in here somewhere but it seriously needs some editing shears to bring it out. Running over the two hour mark, there are so many musical numbers that it's as close to a musical as a silent movie can be. But it's not the musical numbers so much as Dupont's insistence on lingering over every scene longer than necessary. The film was edited down to 86 minutes the following year and I don't know what was cut out but I can only guess that the pacing was improved. The lavishness of the production might have thrilled audiences at the time but it's not enough. This is my first exposure to Tschechowa and she's a real find. She single handedly makes the film worth watching. With Marcel Vibert and Andrews Engelmann.  

The Last Legion (2007)

As the Roman Empire falls, a centurion (Colin Firth) is given the duty of protecting the boy Caesar (Thomas Brodie Sangster) from the commander of the Goths (Peter Mullan). As betrayal and treachery rises all around them, there is only one hope ..... Britannia! Based on the novel by Valerio Massimo Manfredi and directed by Doug Lefler. An uneasy mixture of historical fact and fantasy, the film lacks the authenticity that might have given it some weight instead of a generic action movie with an ancient setting. The dialog is often too contemporary ("Anytime, anywhere!") and Colin Firth looks like a fish out of water as a Roman centurion. The lovely Aishwarya Rai is too delicate to be convincing as a kick ass female warrior. Cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo (LETTERS TO JULIET) does a credible job of making Tunisia and Slovakia look like ancient Rome and Britannia. Entertaining but I wouldn't go out of my way. With Ben Kingsley, John Hannah and Kevin McKidd.  

Paradis Perdu (aka Paradise Lost) (1940)

Set in Paris, a struggling artist (Fernand Gravey) falls in love with a model (Micheline Presle). But as WWI looms, their happiness will soon be cut short. Directed by Abel Gance (NAPOLEON), this epic movie romance covers some 25 years with Presle playing both the mother and daughter. Gance's film of parental self sacrifice is sort of like STELLA DALLAS but with a father instead of a mother. I know sacrificing one's personal happiness for your children is an admirable trait but after they've reached the age of 18, I say no way. There's something unpleasantly masochistic about a parent putting their own happiness aside for their adult children. But then again, I've never been a parent so what do I know? The film's title refers to Gravey's loss when his wife dies and how he refuses to let his daughter lose her life's love even if it means sacrificing his own last chance at love to save hers. My own personal feelings on the matter aside, it's a beautifully crafted film and I quite enjoyed it. With Elvire Popesco, Gerard Landry, Monique Rolland and Andre Alerme.    

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Adventure (1945)

While on leave in San Francisco, a rough-hewn seaman (Clark Gable) begins an antagonistic relationship with a librarian (Greer Garson) that eventually leads to love. But is that enough for them to sustain a relationship when they're so different? Based on novel THE ANOINTED by Clyde Brion Davis and directed by Victor Fleming (GONE WITH THE WIND). This is an odd movie to come out of the MGM dream factory. It's an overlong (it runs past the two hour mark) film with almost no plot. There's also a subplot with Thomas Mitchell as an alcoholic sailor who's lost his soul (he broke a promise to God) and spends the rest of the film trying to find it. Gable and Garson, while strong screen presences on their own, have no chemistry together which is fatal to a movie romance. The film closes with a tear jerking finale but even as your eyes water, you'll resent it. There's a gorgeous underscore by that most underrated of film composers Herbert Stothart. With Joan Blondell (in the film's best performance), Tom Tully, Kay Medford, Richard Haydn, John Qualen, Lina Romay and Harry Davenport.        

Monday, February 11, 2019

Im Stahlnetz Des Dr. Mabuse (aka The Return Of Dr. Mabuse) (1961)

A police inspector (Gert Frobe) is investigating the murder of a courier who had proof linking a Chicago crime syndicate to a European criminal organization. He is assisted by a man (Lex Barker) who is either an FBI agent or a member of the Chicago crime syndicate. Their efforts suggest that the notorious criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse may behind it but he's been long dead ..... or has he? Directed by Harald Reinl, this was a sequel to Fritz Lang's 1960 THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR. MABUSE (two more sequels would follow). It's a comic book of a movie with sci-fi trimmings, far fetched and rather silly and more dull than fun. It only works if you give the film a huge suspension of belief as there are so many loopholes that you stop counting. The film wasn't even released in the U.S. until 1966, five years after its European release and only then to cash in on Frobe's new found international fame from GOLDFINGER. With Daliah Lavi, Werner Peters, Fausto Tozzi and Wolfgang Preiss.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Singin' In The Rain (1952)

When silent movies make the transition to sound, a popular leading man (Gene Kelly) is able to make the transition smoothly. Not so, his manipulative and mean spirited leading lady (Jean Hagen), who is jealous of his attentions to a young starlet (Debbie Reynolds). Co-directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, this is the crown jewel of film musicals. The superb screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green is a hilarious satire of Hollywood as it makes the transition to sound. The script is so good in fact, that it could work wonderfully without the musical numbers. Fortunately for us, they didn't and we're left with some iconic moments like Kelly's thrilling rendition of the title song, Donald O'Connor's dazzling Make 'Em Laugh number and the sensational Broadway Ballet featuring Kelly and the sizzling Cyd Charisse. It also features one of the great comedic performances, Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont. Just about as perfect as perfection can be. The songs are by Arthur Freed and Nacio Brown. Justifiably lauded as one of the greatest movies of all time. With Rita Moreno, Millard Mitchell, Kathleen Freeman, Douglas Fowley, Dawn Addams, Madge Blake, Mae Clarke and King Donovan.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Laws Of Attraction (2004)

A high powered divorce lawyer (Julianne Moore) takes an immediate dislike to the opposing attorney (Pierce Brosnan) in a divorce case. Though the antagonism in the courtroom finds its way out of the courtroom, it's only a matter of time before they fall in love. Directed by Peter Howitt (SLIDING DOORS), this by the numbers romantic comedy offers no surprises and leans heavily on the appeal of its two leads. It's a time waster of a movie, the kind of movie you watch on an airplane to kill time or watch on cable when you can't sleep. I know that makes the film sound godawful but it isn't, not really. These kinds of movies serve a purpose and it's not painful to sit through at all, far from it. It's innocuous and harmless, the stars are attractive and the Irish locations are handsomely shot by Adrian Bidle (ALIENS). With Michael Sheen, Parker Posey, Frances Fisher and Nora Dunn.

Murder On The Orient Express (1974)

In 1935, the renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) is traveling on the Orient Express when a traveling businessman (Richard Widmark) is murdered in the early hours of the morning when the train is stalled in a heavy snowstorm. The director (Martin Balsam) of the railroad company specifically asks Poirot to help solve the case. There are an abundance of suspects traveling in the coach: a gabby widow (Lauren Bacall), a male secretary (Anthony Perkins), a diplomat (Michael York) and his wife (Jacqueline Bisset), an Army officer (Sean Connery), a manservant (John Gielgud), a missionary (Ingrid Bergman), an English teacher (Vanessa Redgrave), a Russian Princess (Wendy Hiller) and her maid (Rachel Roberts), a car salesman (Denis Quilley), a theatrical agent (Colin Blakely) and the train's conductor (Jean Pierre Cassel). Based on the novel by Agatha Christie and directed by Sidney Lumet. Has there ever been a more elegant and glamorous murder mystery? One can almost swoon over the impeccable production design and costumes which faithfully recreated the 1930s period and the pure pleasure of watching genuine Stars flesh out underwritten characters (they all have that one big scene) is pure joy. Anchoring the film is a superb performance by Albert Finney who catches the essence of the Poirot of the Christie novels better than anyone who's walked in Poirot's shoes. One of the great entertainments of the 1970s. With George Coulouris and Vernon Dobtcheff.

What Men Want (2019)

When a successful sports agent (Taraji P. Henson) finds herself passed over for a partnership in the firm, she is justifiably angry. But after a wild night of drinking and clubbing, she wakes up to find herself in the emergency ward of a hospital ..... and the ability to read men's thoughts! A remake of the 2000 film WHAT WOMEN WANT with the genders reversed and directed by Adam Shankman (the musical HAIRSPRAY). A perfectly disposable piece of R rated fluff that most likely I'll barely remember in six months. Which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy myself, I did. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments but it's all so been there, done that. Taraji P. Henson is a wonderful talent but surely she deserves better than a remake of a Mel Gibson movie. Yes, it's all too predictable but there are some nice things about it. There's a cute budding office romance between Henson's gay assistant (Josh Brener) and a closeted gay (SNL's Pete Davidson) and a scene stealing performance by Erykah Badu (yes, the singer) as a zonked out psychic/shaman. With Tracy Morgan, Wendi McLendon Covey, Aldis Hodge and Richard Roundtree as Henson's father.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Call Her Savage (1932)

A hot tempered young girl (Clara Bow) impulsively marries a wealthy playboy (Monroe Owsley) who is also an alcoholic. When the marriage falls disastrously apart, she goes from prostitution and poverty to inheriting a small fortune from her grandfather. But nothing seems to go right for her. Based on the novel by Tiffany Thayer and directed by John Francis Dillon. Wow! This pre-code melodrama has everything but the kitchen sink tossed in! Alcoholism, rape, interracial romance, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, gigolos, suffocated babies, catfights and even a rattlesnake gets thrown in the mix. It's so crazy that how can you not get drawn in? Clara Bow may not have been one of the screen's great actresses but the lady was a STAR! And a very carnal screen presence, too. Sadly, this was her next to last film before retiring from the screen forever. Fun stuff. With Gilbert Roland, Thelma Todd (her first encounter with Bow is marvelously bitchy), Estelle Taylor and Weldon Heyburn. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Brideshead Revisited (2008)

While attending Oxford University, a young man (Matthew Goode) of middle class upbringing befriends a flamboyant homosexual (Ben Whishaw). When he is brought to his new friend's ancestral home Brideshead, he becomes obsessed with the house (which he thinks is the most magnificent thing he's seen) and the family. Based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh (previously made into a 1981 TV series) and directed by Julian Jarrold (KINKY BOOTS). I've never been enamored of the trials and tribulations of the effete British aristocracy so normally these types of movies aren't for me. I've not read Waugh's source material but apparently, the film makers have made the homosexual element more definite whereas in the novel, it was more suggestive. It doesn't help that Whishaw plays his character as whiny and self pitying which makes him immediately unattractive. Goode is such a cipher here and if I hadn't seen him give strong performances in STOKER and THE IMITATION GAME, I would have assumed he was without talent. What the film does get right is how Catholicism doesn't let go of its children even if they reject the faith, it's always there lurking. Pity the film discarded the book's ending where Goode's character, an atheist, feels the pull of Catholicism. With Emma Thompson (superb), Hayley Atwell, Michael Gambon, Greta Scacchi, Patrick Malahide and Felicity Jones. 

Canadian Pacific (1949)

A surveyor (Randolph Scott) for the Canadian Pacific Railway finds himself targeted by a group of fur trading backwoodsmen who fear the railroad will destroy their livelihood. The antagonism escalates to violence and killing. Directed by Edwin L. Marin, this colorful western was shot in the Cinecolor (which unlike Technicolor was a two strip process) by Fred Jackman Jr. and his lensing of the striking Canadian Rockies location in Alberta as well as British Columbia takes full advantage of the stunning locations. As for the film itself, it's fitfully entertaining if routine. The film does feature a rather unusual romantic triangle. Scott is torn between a pacifist doctor (Jane Wyatt) who believes in avoiding violence at any cost and a much younger fiery backwoods hellcat (Nancy Olson). I doubt there's much veracity to the film's account of the building of the railroad through to British Columbia but western fans should be content with the product. Dimitri Tiomkin does the rather subdued (for him) underscore. With J. Carrol Naish, Victor Jory and Don Haggerty.    

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Run A Crooked Mile (1969)

A school teacher (Louis Jourdan) in London stumbles across a mysterious clandestine group and witnesses a murder. When he attempts to report this to the police, no evidence can be found to substantiate his story. He is knocked unconscious while investigating the matter and when he regains consciousness, he finds that two years have passed, he has a wife (Mary Tyler Moore), he lives in Switzerland and he's a wealthy playboy! Directed by Gene Levitt, this is an enjoyable thriller in the Hitchcock mold, NORTH BY NORTHWEST comes to mind. It's nowhere near as good or clever as Hitchcock's best but it's surprisingly agreeable. There are some minor loopholes along the way but it in no way takes away from the overall fun. The director of cinematography Arthur Grant (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) makes good use of the English and Swiss locations. With Wilfrid Hyde White, Alexander Knox, Stanley Holloway, Laurence Naismith and Jean Anderson.

Dr. Kildare's Strange Case (1940)

When a surgeon (Shepperd Strudwick) is accused of incompetence after an amenesiac patient (John Eldredge) seemingly goes insane after an operation, young Dr. Kildare (Lew Ayres) attempts to prove the patient was mentally ill before the operation. Directed by Harold S. Bucquet, this was the fifth film in MGM's Dr. Kildare franchise. The first half of the film seems almost inconsequential but the second half of the film seemed quite bizarre to me. In the film, Dr. Kildare attempts to give an "insane" patient an overdose of insulin in order to restore his sanity. This seemed cockamamie to me but I looked it up and sure enough, in the 1940s and 1950s insulin shock therapy was frequently used in mental illness cases until it fell out of favor in the 1960s. Today, its practice is frowned upon and its supposed success rate dubious. Other than that, it's a pretty routine effort. If you're a fan of the Kildare series, you should be okay with it. If you're not, you'll probably be bored. With Laraine Day, Lionel Barrymore, Nat Pendleton, Alma Kruger and Horace McMahon. 

Sharu Wi Dansu? (aka Shall We Dance?) (1996)

An accountant (Koji Yakusho) has a wife (Hideko Hara) and daughter (Ayano Nakamura) and a house in the Tokyo suburbs. But something is missing from his life and he seems depressed. Every evening on his way home, he spots a melancholy woman (Tamiyo Kusakari) gazing from a window in a dance studio. On a whim, he enrolls in dance classes in an attempt to get to know her. Directed by Masayuki Suo, this is a lovely film. The movie isn't only about the accountant and his obsession with the dance instructor. The film has a diverse assortment of other characters who either teach or takes lessons at the studio. Dance opens them up, it frees them and removes them from the constraints and burdens of their private and work lives. And it does this simply without hitting us over the head with it. An adroit screenplay and well acted by the entire cast. It swept the Japanese Academy Awards and was popular enough in the U.S. to spawn a 2004 remake. With Naoto Takenaka, Eriko Watanabe and Yu Tokui.  

Monday, February 4, 2019

Caroline? (1990)

14 years after she "died" in a plane crash, a young woman named Caroline (Stephanie Zimbalist) returns to the family home. Her mother dead, her father (George Grizzard) remarried to a younger woman (Pamela Reed) and a new family, two children (Shawn Phelan, Jenny Jacobs). But is she really the prodigal daughter returned and is it just coincidence that she arrives in time to collect an inheritance from her grandmother? Based on the novel FATHER'S ARCANE DAUGHTER by E.L. Konigsburg and directed by Joseph Sargent (TAKING OF PELHAM 123). Winner of four Emmy awards including best drama and best director, this is a decent drama with the added element of a mystery. Is Caroline who she says she is or is she an impostor? Why did she stay away for 14 years and why return home now? We get all the answers by the time the movie wraps it up but there's some strong thematic elements that elevate it. The second wife (Reed) loves her children but is overly protective to the point that she refuses to let her disabled daughter grow up and uses her son as his sister's caretaker which doesn't allow him a normal childhood. Two veteran actresses shine in supporting roles: Patricia Neal as the principal of Caroline's former school and Dorothy McGuire as her grandmother. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Charlie Chan In Egypt (1935)

The world renowned detective Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) is visiting Egypt on the behalf of a museum to find out why priceless objects from excavated tombs are showing up in the hands of private collectors. His first mission is to visit an archaeologist (George Erving) but when he turns up murdered, it's up to Chan to solve his murder and the murders that follow. Based on the character created by Earl Derr Biggers and directed by Louis King. This is one of the less interesting movies in the Charlie Chan franchise. It's rather on the dull side, actually. While there are several suspects, I thought, "Well, it can't be him. He's too obvious." They went for the obvious. The sound stage Egypt doesn't provide much atmosphere and the most interesting aspect of the film was seeing a very young, pre-stardom Rita Hayworth as an Egyptian servant in only her second film. Comedy relief is provided by Stepin Fetchit whose mumbling, shuffling racial stereotype is painful to watch. With Thomas Beck, Pat Paterson, Frank Conroy, Jameson Thomas and James Eagles. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Three short stories by Stephen King: 1) After a shopkeeper (George Kennedy) and his wife (Dorothy Lamour in her final film role) are killed during a robbery, the wooden Indian outside the store comes to life and exacts a revenge. 2) a group of teenagers go swimming in a lake but find themselves trapped on a raft by a deadly black blob. 3) An adulterous wife (Lois Chiles) leaving her lover (David Beecroft) rushes home and accidentally kills a hitchhiker (Tom Wright) but he refuses to die. Written by George A. Romero and directed by Michael Gornick. This sequel to the 1982 cult horror film has only 3 segments instead of 5. The first one is easily the weakest. Poorly written and acted, it's too predictable to whip up any fright. All I could think of was what Dorothy Lamour, one of the stars of Hollywood's "Golden Age", must have felt acting in a film with such graphic violence and the "F" word tossed around freely. The second segment is the best. It generates genuine terror with a clever finish. The third works better if you realize it's actually a horror comedy and have fun with it. With Stephen King, Frank Salsedo (just awful), Page Hannah, Daniel Beer, Jeremy Green and Paul Satterfield.   

Padre Padrone (1977)

In the Sardinian countryside, a shepherd (Omero Antonutti) pulls his six year old son (Fabrizio Forte as the child, Saverio Marconi as the adult) out of school and makes him tend his flock in the mountains. Under the brutal yoke of his father's oppression, he spends the next 14 years in near isolation with only the animals and nature his only companions. But soon an opportunity to escape will present itself. Based on the memoir by Gavino Ledda and adapted for the screen and directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. I must confess the almost universal praise (it won the Palme D'or at the 1977 Cannes film festival) for PADRE PADRONE stymies me. There's no denying the film's power and effectiveness but it's a crude, almost amateurish film. The acting is mostly terrible, it's a pretty ugly looking (it was shot in 16 millimeter) film, the Tavianis tend to linger over a shot way too long (we watch a character walk ... and walk ... and walk). We're too conscious of the effect they're trying for and we're distanced by that rather than plunging into the emotional core of the narrative. Its heavy handedness seems misconstrued as being powerful. In the end, it's the kind of film one can admire without really liking it. With Marcella Michelangeli as the mother and Gavino Ledda appears as himself bookending the film.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Madeline (1998)

Set in Paris in the 1950s, a precocious young orphan named Madeline (Hatty Jones) attends a Catholic boarding school run by a nun called Miss Clavell (Frances McDormand). Based on the series of children's books by Ludwig Bemelmans first published in 1939 and continuing through 1961 (his grandson took over at that point) and directed by Daisy Von Scherler Mayer. The film uses the plots of four of the books so the narrative is very episodic in nature: Madeline has her appendix removed, the school is to be sold and the girls turned out, she almost drowns, there's a lost dog to be found and a kidnapping. This being a kid friendly film, the kidnappers are cartoonish and there's no real threat felt. Unfortunately, the film's lack of cohesion works against it and it seems to meander to no purpose. Hatty Jones as Madeline lacks a distinctive presence that would make her stand out from the other girls at the boarding school. One just thinks, why her? There's a lovely underscore by Michel Legrand and Carly Simon wrote and sings the charming In Two Straight Lines over the end credits. With Nigel Hawthorne, Stephane Audran, Ben Daniels and Kristian De La Osa.