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Monday, September 30, 2019

Phffft (1954)

After they get a divorce after eight years of marriagea TV writer (Judy Holliday) and a lawyer (Jack Lemmon) find it difficult to adjust to the single life. Based on an original screenplay by George Axelrod (SEVEN YEAR ITCH) and directed by Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE). This romantic comedy seems a forerunner to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies that would flourish a few years later. Shot in B&Wit lacks the glamour and lushness of those Technicolor comedies but in Holliday and Lemmonit has two superb actors with expert comedic timing which the film needs as its script is pretty thin. But at an under 90 minute running timeit doesn't have enough time to wear out its welcome. The film features Kim Novak in her first major role and she's charming as a ditzy Monroe like blonde. FortunatelyColumbia didn't keep casting her in such roles which allowed her career to go in a different path. With Jack CarsonMerry AndersDonald Curtis and Joyce Jameson.

If It's Tuesday This Must Be Belgium (1969)

A British tour guide (Ian McShane)who's also a "love 'em and leave 'em" playboy, takes groups of American tourists on a whirlwind tour of Europe in eighteen days. On his latest tour, an attractive American (Suzanne Pleshette) catches his eye as a possible conquest but she's not a pushover. Directed by Mel Stuart (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY)the movie suffers from the same thing the American tourists suffer from in the film. Namelybeing so rushed that you don't have the time to enjoy the trip. Crammed with a group of ensemble playersthe actors are reduced to playing stereotypes  and that's if they're lucky. Some of the actors get minimal screen time and don't even get a chance to develop even that. The exception is Pleshette and McShane whose sexual attraction becomes the focus of the movie. Cinematicallywhat we get is a Cook's tour of England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy (both Rome and Venice). The massive cast includes John Cassavetes, Virna Lisi, Robert Vaughn, Joan Collins, Vittorio De Sica, Anita Ekberg, Ben Gazzara, Mildred Natwick, Elsa Martinelli, Peggy CassMurray Hamilton, Norman Fell, Catherine Spaak, Senta Berger, Marty Ingels, Sandy Baron, Pamela Britton, Patricia Routledge, Marina Berti, Hilarie Thompson and Michael Constantine. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Ghosts On The Loose (1943)

A guy (Huntz Hall) and his friends decide to redecorate his sister's (Ava Gardner) honeymoon cottage as a wedding present. But the gang mistakenly enter the creepy old house next door which turns out to be the hideout of a nest of Nazi spies! Directed by William Beaudine (BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA)this lowbrow (and I do mean low) comedy is pretty dumb stuff but without the goofiness that can sometimes make lowbrow comedies fun. The tantalizing prospect of seeing Ava Gardner and Bela Lugosi (as the head of the Nazi spies) in a film together evaporates very quickly and they have no scenes together. Gardner is as bland as any ingenue and the smoldering screen presence which would make her a Star is nowhere in evidence. There's a tasteless joke on German measles as the movie's punchline. Stillit's a Monogram filmnot MGM so what do you expect. With Leo GorceyBobby JordanRick Vallin and Minerva Urecal.  

Saturday, September 28, 2019

L'Argent (1928)

A Paris banker (Pierre Alcover) is the head of a failing bank. He sees an opportunity to rescue the bank from disaster by backing a pioneering aviator's (Henry Victor) transatlantic flight. He also sets his sight on the pilot's pretty wife (Marie Glory). Loosely based on the novel by Emile Zola and directed by Marcel L'Herbier (LE BONHEUR). The name of Marcel L'Herbier isn't much discussed in cineaste circles today but he was one of France's most prominent film directors in the 1920s. L'ARGENTwhich is loosely based on the 1882 collapse of the Union Generale bank which precipitated France's plunge into a decade long recessionis about money (L'argent means money in French). How money corruptshow money seduces and is quite timely today as it reflects our own financial crisis in 2008. L'Herbier tends to linger on his scenes longer than necessary. The film is over 2 1/2 hours and could easily have been shorn by 15 minutes. But it remains a riveting accomplishment and the art direction is breathtaking (courtesy of Andre Barsacq and Lazare Meerson). The transfer I saw had a superb underscore by Olivier Massot. With Brigitte Helm (METROPOLIS)Alfred Abel and Antonin Artaud.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Judy (2019)

In 1968 Londonthe legendary Judy Garland (Renee Zellweger) arrives for a five week run at a nightclub. With her finances in a precarious state and emotionally fragileshe hopes to make enough money to stop touring and stay home with her children. Based on the play END OF THE RAINBOW by Peter Quilter and directed by Rupert Goold. As far as movie bios gothis one is pretty decent although it doesn't tell us anything that we didn't already know about Judy Garland. The movie is strongest when it stays with Garland in London and at its weakest during the flashbacks to her early days as a juvenile at MGM. But the real reason to see this film is for the amazing performance by Zellweger as Garland. Her transformation is incredible yet it's not an imitation but an inhabitation of Garland. Fortunatelythe film makers let Zellweger do her own singing rather than lip syncing to Garland (like Judy Davis did in the TV bio) and Zellweger is able to add another layer to her performance. I also very much liked Jessie Buckley's subtle work as Garland's harried assistance. With Rufus SewellFinn WittrockMichael Gambon and Darci Shaw as the young Judy Garland.

Rally Round The Flag, Boys! (1958)

A public relations man (Paul Newman) is married to a woman (Joanne Woodward) who devotes herself to community service which leaves very little time for romance. When the U.S. Army decides to build a top secret installation in their communityshe forms a committee to protest. Which leaves the husband at the mercy of the Army (who makes him a liaison between the town and the Army) and the town's predatory femme fatale (Joan Collins). Based on the best selling novel by Max Shulman and directed by Leo McCarey (THE AWFUL TRUTH). This big screen sitcom gets a lot of negativity but I found it modestly enjoyable. Newman and Woodward are overqualified for fluff like this but I suppose it was a change of pace for them after the heavy dramas (like CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and THREE FACES OF EVE) that they were usually cast in. The humor is is overplayed and clearly Newman and Woodward aren't farceurs though even a Cary Grant and Irene Dunne would be hard put to squeeze much laughs from the material. But it does give Joan Collins a chance to show her comic chops and she manages to milk some laughs. With Jack CarsonGale GordonDwayne HickmanMurvyn Vye and Tuesday Weldwho manages to steal what few scenes she has.     

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Too Many Girls (1940)

When a spoiled heiress (Lucille Ball) goes off to a small college in New Mexicoher father (Harry Shannon) hires four football players (Richard CarlsonEddie BrackenDesi ArnazHal Le Roy) to act as bodyguards. Based on the Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and directed by George Abbott (PAJAMA GAME). This lightweight college musical has nothing on its mind but football and girls and songs. It's no GOOD NEWS (the best college movie musical) but it's inoffensive. The film version retains most of the Rodgers & Hart songs from the Broadway show but it's not one of their best scores. The most famous song from the show is the lovely ballad I Didn't Know What Time It Was. Musicallythe film's two highlights are the Latin production numbers choreographed by Leroy PrinzSpic And Spanish with Arnaz and Ann Miller and the Conga number which ends the film. ArnazBracken and Van Johnson were in the original Broadway cast and yesthis was the film where Ball and Arnaz met and fell in love and married two months after the film's release. Also in the cast: Frances Langford and Grady Sutton. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Sentinel (1977)

A beautiful but unstable model (Cristina RainesNASHVILLE) rents an apartment in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. It isn't long before she discovers there is something very wrong with the building ..... like dead people giving a birthday party for a cat! Based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz and directed by Michael Winner. A perfectly silly horror film with more unintentional giggles than chills. Ifsaysomeone like Ken Russell had directed itit might have been outrageous fun but Michael Winner is a director who never rose above competence at his best. During the movie's big finaleit appears to exploit real malformed people (or "freaks" if you prefer) which gives off a bad taste. But thenthen the whole movie leaves you with a bad taste. The film is crammed with many celebrated actors (20 Oscar nominations among them) and it may rival only THE SWARM as the worst film with so many famous faces. They include Ava GardnerChristopher WalkenBurgess MeredithJeff GoldblumEli WallachJose FerrerMartin BalsamChris SarandonArthur KennedySylvia MilesTom BerengerDeborah RaffinBeverly D'AngeloJerry Orbach and John Carradine. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Gunfighter (1950)

A notorious gunfighter (Gregory Peck) is weary and tired of having to prove himself to every trigger happy punk who wants to make a name for himself. He arrives in the small town where his estranged wife (Helen Westcott) is living under an assumed identity with their son (B.G. Norman) where he hopes to reconcile with her. But he must contend with a young gunslinger (Skip Homeier) who wants to make a reputation for himself. Directed by Henry King (SONG OF BERNADETTE) from an Oscar nominated screenplay. This is one of the best westerns (and perhaps still a bit underrated) of the 1950s with Peck giving one of his very best performances. It doesn't romanticize the old west and from the very beginningwe have a sense that our hero is doomed yet despite his killing backgroundit's hard not to empathize with him. In a sensekarma has come around and he knows it. There's very little in the film that isn't essential and every scene has purpose. Unusual for a movie of the erathere's no underscorejust a main title (and a terrific one by Alfred Newman) and a brief end title that total less than three minutes at most. There's strong support from Karl MaldenMillard MitchellJean ParkerRichard JaeckelVerna Felton and Ellen Corby.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Can't Stop The Music (1980)

A struggling songwriter (Steve Guttenberg) and a high fashion model (Valerie Perrine) put together a disco group consisting of a policeman (Ray Simpson)a construction worker (David Hodo)an Indian (Felipe Rose)a cowboy (Randy Jones)a leather man (Glenn Hughes) and a G.I. (Alex Briley) and call them the Village People. Directed by actress turned director Nancy Walker (MURDER BY DEATH). Perfectly dreadful! An attempt to cash in on the success of the Village Peoplethis stinker has the morbid fascination of watching a train wreck. The Village People were a gimmick act and sucked as a singing group and posterity hasn't done anything to alleviate their awfulness. Indeedthe only thing more awful than their singing is their "acting".  They aren't the only bad actors in the film. Caitlyn Jenner (then called Bruce)Paul Sand and Altovise Davis (Mrs. Sammy Davis Jr.) are lousy too. There is some actual talent in the movie. In addition to Valerie Perrinethere's Tammy GrimesBarbara RushJack WestonLeigh Taylor Young and June Havoc although none of them can rise above the drek. Not surprisinglythe film has a "so bad it's good" cult following.  

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Psych Out (1968)

A deaf runaway (Susan Strasberg) travels to San Francisco in search of her brother (Bruce Dern). It's 1968 and the Haight Ashbury scene is in full flower children bloom as hippies and psychedelic drugs take over. Directed by Richard Rush (THE STUNT MAN)this isn't a serious exploration of the counterculture era but rather an exploitation of it. And as usualHollywood gets it wrong. I should know as I lived in San Francisco during the time this movie takes place. The dialogue is often unintentionally funny and the "hippies" here don't resemble any of the non conformist drop outs I knew. Todaymuch of it is kitsch like a pony tailed Jack Nicholson playing in an acid band or Strasberg's STP "trip" as flames chase her around the streets of San Francisco. But as an artifacthowever compromisedof the erait has its moments. The movie was produced by Dick Clark so there's a strong anti-drug message. The cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs is quite good. With Dean StockwellAdam RoarkeGarry Marshall, Ken ScottHenry Jaglom and as themselvesthe Strawberry Alarm Clock.  

Molly And Lawless John (1972)

An outlaw (Sam Elliott) in jail awaiting trial sees that the sheriff's (John Anderson) wife (Vera Miles) is lonely and unhappy. He takes advantage of her loneliness by sweet talking her into helping him escape and taking her with him. But she soon finds that she's traded one abusive relationship for another. Directed by Gary Nelson (THE BLACK HOLE)this western drama is a rather listless affair. While it's interesting to see Sam Elliott (and already charismatic) so early in his careerultimately the movie is as dry as the desert landscape where much of the film takes place. I suppose one could make a (weak) case for it as a feminist western but I'd write it off as a small indie with good ideas but a mediocre execution. The underscore is by Johnny Mandel (THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY) and the theme song with lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman received a Golden Globe nomination. With Clu Gulager and Cynthia Myers (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS).  

The Time Of His Life (1955)

An ex-convict (Richard Hearne) is the father of the social climbing wife (Ellen Pollock) of a knighted political figure (Frederick Leister). She's told everyone her father is dead but when he's released from prisonhe's sent to live with her. She promptly locks him in an upstairs room and plots to have him sent to Australia. Directed by Leslie S. Hiscottthis British farce would seem to have opportunities galore for both humorous situations as well as satire. What we get is weak slapstick. I've nothing against slapstickin factI enjoy a good piece of slapstick but the movie seems to think it's funnier than it is. You know a comedy is in trouble when you have characters in the movie laughing at the slapstick thus cuing the audience"Heythis is funny! Why don't you laugh too?". I'm not familiar with Richard Hearne but apparently he was a popular English comic who had played the character he plays here (Mr. Pastry) on stage and TV. I'm not a fan of English comedies in general but I don't think my attitude comes into play here. It's just not very good. With Richard Wattis and Anne Smith.   

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Ad Astra (2019)

Set in the near futurethe solar system is being bombarded with destructive power surges of unknown origin. An astronaut (Brad Pitt) is selected to go on a top secret mission whose eventual destination is Neptune where his father (Tommy Lee Jones)once believed deadis thought to be alive and somehow responsible for the destructive surges. Directed by James Gray (THE IMMIGRANT)this is the best science fiction film since 2013's GRAVITY (not that there have been a whole lot of candidates). This is an intelligent thinking man's sci-fi that concentrates on one man's interior journey (including living without the presence of a father that is considered a hero) which is reflected in the film's austere visuals (and the score by Max Richter) rather than action and expository dialog. While not on the level of a 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or SOLARISit appeals to our intellect and those going in expecting a big payoff are bound to be disappointed. Pitt gives a terrific performanceproving once again that he is one of the best actors working in film today. Considering Pitt's other sensational 2019 performance in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOODthe Academy will have a tough time deciding which performance to nominate. With Donald SutherlandRuth NeggaNatasha LyonneLoren DeanKimberly Elise and Liv Tyler (whose role seems to have been cut to shreds).  

Blue White And Perfect (1942)

A private detective (Lloyd Nolan) is hired by a defense plant to look out for possible sabotage. Insteadhe finds himself in the middle of a theft of industrial diamonds and on a cruise liner to Hawaii with several possible suspects. Directed by Herbert I. Leedsthis was the final entry in a four movie franchise from 20th Century Fox featuring Nolan as detective Michael Shayne. The series would continue at another studio with another actor playing Shayne. It's a typical detective mystery utilizing a WWII Nazi plot. It's competent and does what it sets out to do but Nolan's Shayne doesn't have the likability of a Nick Charles or Charlie Chan. He's a rather self centered guy who exploits the girl (Mary Beth Hughes) who loves him by constantly lying to her and even bilking her out of money. As an actorNolan lacks the charm of a William Powell who might have made us give him a pass. But if you're a fan of detective stories or murder mysteriesyou should find this moderately enjoyable. With George ReevesHelene Reynolds (who makes for a nice femme fatale)Steven GerayMae Marsh and Ann Doran  

Friday, September 20, 2019

Satan Never Sleeps (1962)

Set in 1949 China during the Communist cultural revolution of chairman Mao Zedonga Catholic priest (William Holden) is sent to replace a much older priest (Clifton Webb) at a mission. But when the Red Chinese take over the areathe mission becomes a battle zone between the priests and the appointed leader (Weaver Lee) of the Red Chinese army. Based on the novel by Pearl Buck and directed by Leo McCarey (THE AWFUL TRUTH) in his final film. This is a misguided project all around. One of McCarey's biggest hits was GOING MY WAY which featured Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald as contentious priests and he tries the formula again here. This film is an awkward blend of realism (rapetorture) and folksy humor that simply doesn't work. Holden is terribly miscast and he seems to have sensed it as he seems ill at ease in the part and it shows. Only Webb (in his last film role) as the irascible older priest doesn't embarrass himself. The film also features some of the worst rear projection I've seen in a major film. The score is by Richard Rodney Bennett (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS). With France Nuyen, Burt KwoukAthene Seyler and Martin Benson.  

Along Came Jones (1945)

A mild mannered cowpoke (Gary Cooper) and his companion (William Demarest) are mistaken for a notorious gunman (Dan Duryea) and his uncle. The gunman's girl (Loretta Young) comes to his rescue and helps him escape but the posse still pursues him under the impression he is the gunman. Based on the novel USELESS COWBOY by Alan Le May (THE SEARCHERS) and directed by Stuart Heisler (THE GLASS KEY). Cooper produced the film which satirizes his cowboy image. Cooper's Melody Jones can't shoot to save his life and he's not the brightest bulb in the West. In factit's the feisty Loretta Young (at her most appealing) who can sharpshoot and has the smarts and is forever saving Cooper from the bad guysthe law and himself. For most of the film's 90 minute running timethis enough to amuse but Cooper eventually overplays the doltish aspect and his stupidity becomes annoying. But comedy westerns were still pretty rare in the 1940s so I give it a pass. With Frank Sully and Ray Teal.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Sweet Bird Of Youth (1962)

A handsome but aging gigolo (Paul Newman) returns to his hometown in the company of an older fading film star (Geraldine Page)who is both an alcoholic and drug user. It is his intention to blackmail the actress into signing both him and the girl (Shirley Knight) he loves to a film contract. Based on the play by Tennesse Williams and directed by Richard Brooks (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF). It's not one of Williams' essential plays but unfortunatelythe movie dilutes much of what power the play had by cleaning up the material. Thus the girl's contracting an STD and having a hysterectomy is now an abortion and the hero's castration is now a brutal beating. Thankfullythe film makers were smart enough to let Page recreate her stage role for the film version. Her bravura performance is a master class in acting in itself. Her scene on the telephone with a columnist is the kind of stuff that make performances legendary. With Ed Begley (who won an Oscar for his work here)Rip Torn, Madeleine SherwoodMildred Dunnock and Roy Glenn.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Die Monster Die! (1965)

An American (Nick Adams) travels to England to visit his fiancee (Suzan Farmer) at her family estate. But when he arrives at the small villagethe townspeople turn their backs to him when he mentions the family name and refuse him transportation to the secluded family mansion. Loosely based on THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE by H.P. Lovecraft and directed by art director turned director Daniel Haller (THE DUNWICH HORROR). This silly nonsense has all the trappings of an American International Poe adaptation but is really a cheesy bit of science fiction hokum. The house itself is a Gothic wonderno complaints there but its actors talk and walk continuously and tediously around and through the house without any sense of purpose except for when the occasional scream in the night stimulates them into activity. Top billed Boris Karloff lends his gravitas and his screen presence but this is the kind of stuff he could do in his sleep. With Freda JacksonPatrick Magee and Terence De Marney. 

Frenchie (1950)

A woman (Shelley Winters) from New Orleans returns to the western town where her father was murdered. She's seeking revenge for her father's death. Although she knows one of the killers (Paul Kelly)she wants to know who his secret partner is. A very loose remake of the 1939 film DESTRY RIDES AGAIN and directed by Louis King. The emphasis this time is not on the "Destry" character (here played by Joel McCrea) but on the woman and her backstory. As a westernit's quite entertaining and handsomely shot in Technicolor by Maury Gertsman (TO HELL AND BACK). The most pleasant surprise is Shelley Winters in the title role! The shrillness and neuroticism which mars some of her later work is absent here and she's sexy and appealing. With Elsa LanchesterMarie Windsor (who participates in DESTRY'S famous catfight with Winters),  John Emery and John Russell.    

Secret Mission (1942)

During WWIIfour British Intelligence agents (James MasonMichael WildingHugh WilliamsRoland Culver) go behind enemy lines in occupied France to gather information on German fortifications. Directed by Harold French (THE MAN WHO WATCHED TRAINS GO BY)this slice of WWII British propaganda isn't half bad. Director French marches it along at an energetic tempo though the romantic subplot between Williams and Carla Lehmann clutters it up a bit. Stillthe movie manages to give us a smidgen of what it was like for the French folk living under Nazi occupation. As cinemait may be run of the mill fare but it hasn't forgotten the entertainment value amidst the stoicism and fortitude. With Stewart GrangerHerbert Lom and Nancy Price.   

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Death Ray Of Dr. Mabuse (1964)

A British secret agent (Peter Van Eyck) is sent to the island of Malta to protect the inventor (O.E. Hasse) of a death ray weapon after it is discovered that the diabolical criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse has designs on the weapon too. Directed by Hugo Fregonese (MAN IN THE ATTIC)this was the last entry in a series of four films made in the 1960s which revived the Dr. Mabuse character. Unfortunatelyits plot is nearly incoherent to the point that it's almost impossible to decipher what's going on and who is who! After awhileI stopped trying although I did check the film's running time to see if I was watching the complete film (I was) and not some edited version. This entry seems heavily influenced by the Bond films of which two (DR. NOFROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) had been released. Filmed in B&Wthe addition of color would have helped the film somewhat to emphasize the handsome Malta and Italian locations. The international cast includes Yvonne FurneauxLeo Genn, Yoko TaniRobert BeattyGustavo RojoWolfgang PreissWalter Rilla and Rika Dialina. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Follow Me (aka The Public Eye) (1972)

An accountant (Michael JaystonNICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA) suspects his wife (Mia Farrow) of less than a year is having an affair. He hires a private detective (TopolFIDDLER ON THE ROOF) to follow her and expose her affair. Based on the play by Peter Shaffer (who adapted his play for the screen) and directed by Carol Reed (his final film). This agreeable dramedy never found an audience when it was originally released although both Farrow and Topol took the top acting honors at the San Sebastian film festival. I'd hesitate to call it a love story since Farrow and Topol's characters never so much as speak much less have sex but the film shows how two people can bond and become intimate without the usual romantic entanglements. Does it constitute adultery? The film doesn't address that issue. Topol is one of those actors (like Zero Mostel) who at times seems too big for the screen. It works for something like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF but herehe's often in danger of being too big but seems to rein it in just when it looks like he's about to eat the scenery. But actuallyin the endit contrasts nicely with Farrow's underacting. The movie doesn't always work but when it doesit works beautifully. The haunting score is by John Barry. With Annette Crosbie and Margaret Rawlings.

Oh Rosalinda! (1955)

Set in 1955 Vienna when it is still under Allied occupation: U.S.RussiaGreat BritainFrance. When an Austrian black marketeer (Anton Walbrook)who glides gracefully among the most elite and politically powerful echelons in Viennais the victim of a practical joke by a French officer (Michael Redgrave)he carefully plots his revenge! Based on the operetta DIE FLEDERMAUS by Johann Strauss and written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (THE RED SHOES). Powell and Pressburger have updated Strauss' operetta which allows them to satirize the political situation in Europe as well as eliminate some of the cobwebs that 19th century operettas often bring with them. Photographed by Christopher Challis (TWO FOR THE ROAD) in CinemaScopePowell makes excellent use of the CinemaScope framefilling it with activity in every corner with the production design and costumes taking advantage of the vibrant Technicolor (Redgrave's purple pajamas just pop off the screen). Operetta is an acquired taste and even if it's not your bagyou would be hard pressed to resist this film's farcical charms. The cast is superb right down the line and it's a delight to see Redgrave singing (yes it's his own voice) and dancing with aplomb. With Ludmilla TcherinaMel FerrerAnthony Quayle (who does his own singing)Dennis PriceAnneliese Rothenberger (who does her own singing) and Jill Ireland. 

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice (2019)

A documentary on Linda Ronstadtone of the seminal female singers in the 1970s and 1980s. Directed by Rob Epstein (THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK) and Jeffrey Friedman (THE CELLULOID CLOSET)this documentary follows Ronstadt's childhood in New Mexico to the L.A. music scene burgeoning in the 70s to superstardom and the debilitating illness that robbed her of her singing voice. One of the superstars of the 70sRonstadt literally could sing anything: rockcountrypopstandards, folk and opera and did. The film serves as a reminder of her remarkable voice and its range and as a trailblazer for women in rock. Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease which prevents her from singingshe handles it with grace and a quiet bravery. The film is chock full of archive footage of her singing and if you weren't already a fan of hersyou will be. The film features interviews with her friends and colleagues who were there with her in her journey including Dolly PartonDon HenleyEmmylou HarrisBonnie RaittAaron NevilleJackson Browne, Ry Cooder and J.D. Souther. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Chosen Survivors (1974)

A carefully selected group of 10 people are essentially kidnapped and drugged by the U.S. government and sent to live in an underground habitat when a nuclear war breaks out and devastates the planet. It's the government's hope that these citizens who have been selected for their skills will re-populate the Earth when it is safe to return to the surface. But what no one counted on was that they are not alone in the underground refuge and something horrible will soon emerge. Directed by Sutton Roleya potentially intriguing premise is botched by the sheer ineptitude of an inane scriptlackluster direction and bad acting. Putting the collection of loopholes and the ethical considerations (none of the characters are there by choice) asidecharacterization isn't consistent. In one scenea character is an alcoholic rapist and in the next scenehe's a savvy businessman. As far as the horror aspect goesI suppose it depends how you feel about bats. I'm not fond of them but I'm not inordinately frightened by them but if you have an aversion to batsthe fear factor may be a plus. This was a theatrical feature but it feels like a TV movie of the week. The ensemble cast includes Jackie CooperAlex CordBradford DillmanRichard JaeckelDiana Muldaur and Barbara Babcock

Lydia (1941)

An elderly but wealthy woman (Merle Oberon) reflects on her youth and the men who loved her including a doctor (Joseph Cotten)a football player (George Reeves)a blind composer (Hans Jaray) and the one man (Alan Marshal) she loved but who abandoned her. A loose remake of the 1937 film UN CARNET DE BAL and directed by Julien Duvivierwho also directed the 1937 movie. The film suffers in comparison to its predecessor in that it lacks its haunting sense of regret over a life that impacted so many others and what might have been. This version has been given the Hollywood treatment and it's romanticized although it still retains its own "eyes finally opened" ending rather than a traditional happy ending. Given that it isn't a patch on the originalit still has a solid sense of style thanks to Duvivier. The Oscar nominated score is by Miklos Rozsa. With Edna May Oliver Sara Allgood and John Halliday.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Package (1989)

A Sergeant (Gene Hackman) in the U.S. Army in Germany is given a routine assignment of escorting a rebellious soldier (Tommy Lee Jones) back to the U.S. for a court martial. But when his prisoner escapes, he soon finds himself in the middle of a political conspiracy that makes him a wanted man by both the police and assassins. Directed by Andrew Davis (THE FUGITIVE), its far-fetched plot and lapses are easily forgivable when it's so well made. Davis whips up some authentic tension and you'll find yourself glued to the screen. I really liked Joanna Cassidy as Hackman's ex-wife. She's a smart cookie and nothing gets by her when even Hackman's hero makes some dumb mistakes. For a paranoid conspiracy thriller, Hackman's not paranoid enough! I groaned several times thinking, "What the hell is he doing"? It's pulp but its choice pulp. With John Heard, Pam Grier (not enough screen time), Reni Santoni and Dennis Franz. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Aspern Papers (2019)

Set in late 19th century Venice, an American book editor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) moves into the home of an old woman (Vanessa Redgrave) and her spinster niece (Joely Richardson) under false pretenses. What he really wants are the letters of the long deceased poet (Jon Kortajarena) who was once the old woman's lover. Based on the 1888 novella by Henry James and directed by Julian Landais. Although it has James Ivory (A ROOM WITH A VIEW) as one of its executive producers, the film was not well received and received only a very limited release in the U.S. early this year. Most of the complaints were aimed toward the movie's methodical pacing which is meticulously slow. I had no problem with the film's pacing. It was the painful performance of the colorless Jonathan Rhys Meyers who recites his lines as if he learned them phonetically. Redgrave steals every scene she's in but if the film belongs to anyone, it belongs to Richardson who brings shading and layers to her spinster. The shimmering cinematography is courtesy of Philippe Guilbert and there's a superb score by Vincent Carlo. With Lois Robbins and Poppy Delevingne. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Tomb Of Ligeia (1964)

The death of his wife (Elizabeth Shepherd) causes a man (Vincent Price) to hide from the world. But when a headstrong young woman (Elizabeth Shepherd) enters the picture, he marries her. But the spirit of his dead wife, possibly in the form of a black cat, refuses to let him go and haunts his very existence as well as that of the new wife. The screenplay by Robert Towne (CHINATOWN) is based on the short story LIGEIA by Edgar Allan Poe and directed by Roger Corman. While not in the league of MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH or FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, this is one of the better Poe adaptations directed by Corman and starring Vincent Price. Alas, it can't sustain itself and by the film's finale, it seems to have exhausted itself. The subject of necrophilia is tastefully handled (or as tastefully as a subject like that can be dealt with) but perhaps it might have worked better with a younger actor than Price. Once again, black cats are used as instruments of evil. Won't the poor creatures ever get a break? The film is rich in atmosphere thanks to cinematographer Arthur Grant (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT). With John Westbrook and Derek Francis.  

Oklahoma Crude (1973)

Set during the great depression of the 1930s, a strong and independent woman (Faye Dunaway)  refuses the offers of a major oil conglomerate for her oil well (which has yet to produce any oil). But with only her estranged father (John Mills) and a hired drifter (George C. Scott) to help her, how long can she hold out? Directed by Stanley Kramer (JUDGMENT AT NUREMBURG), Marc Norman's weak screenplay and Kramer's colorless direction defeat the film before it even has a chance to get started. Two things in its favor: Dunaway is quite good in one of her least mannered performances and Robert Surtees' (BEN-HUR) wide screen Panavision cinematography which makes even the most commonplace images look wonderful. I'm not a fan of Kramer's "hit you over the head" message films but fortunately, he's does no proselytizing here. There's a dreadful folksy underscore by Henry Mancini that I could have done without. With Jack Palance and Rafael Campos.  

Monday, September 9, 2019

Wet Gold (1984)

Four adventurers band together to search for sunken gold in the Caribbean waters: a waitress (Brooke Shields), a drunk (Burgess Meredith), an aging surfer (Brian Kerwin) and an ex-drug runner (Thomas Byrd). But tensions rise when the two young bucks fight for the girl's attention and greed starts to poison the venture. Directed by Dick Lowry, this tale of a falling out among thieves when greed and lust sets in is something we've seen countless times before and the cliches are in full force here. We know what's going to happen even before the characters do and if they had any brains at all, they would see it coming too. The cinematographer James Pergola (POLICE ACADEMY 5) doesn't take full advantage of the lush Bahamas location. The camera spends most of its time ogling Brooke Shields in form fitting swimsuits. The droning synthesizer score is by Sylvester Levay.    

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

After the tragic death of his wife (Debra Messing), a journalist (Richard Gere) for the Washington Post finds himself mysteriously drawn to a small West Virginia town. It is there that he discovers many of the town's residents have been beset with strange occurrences. In particular, the sighting of a strange moth-like entity. Based on the non fiction book by John Keel and directed by Mark Pellington (ARLINGTON ROAD). The biggest problem I had with the film is that although the film claims that it is based on "true events", what the movie does is attribute supernatural elements to a real life disaster when, in fact, there was nothing supernatural about it. It's like doing a movie about the Titanic and claiming its sinking was due to witchcraft! For a horror film (which is what this is), it's a slow moving affair without any tension or sense of horror. It's flabby and needed some tightening up, something a good editor should have done. Even thenI'm not so sure it could have been saved. Poorly done all around. With Laura Linney, Alan Bates, Will Patton and Lucinda Jenney.

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

In a small village outside London, a "typical" English family adjusts to the horror of war as it slowly encroaches on their turf. Based on the novel by Jan Struther and directed by William Wyler. During WWII, Hollywood did their bit for the war effort by making propaganda films to boost the morale of the country. Most of them took place in actual battle zones but a handful of films like SINCE YOU WENT AWAY and this one focused on the home front. MRS. MINIVER doesn't get much love these days but I think it's a fine film. Of course, this isn't a typical English family at all, just Hollywood's idea of one. But it shows the courage and tenacity of those who lived under the terror of German bombings, often seeing their loved ones killed and their homes destroyed. Never sure of when their turn will come. It's melodramatic and contrived to a point yes but there's still a nobility about it. It's Oscar win for best film is understandable if debatable although I have no problem with Greer Garson's win playing the title character. The nation took the film to its heart and the movie was a huge box hit. With Walter Pidgeon, Richard Ney, Teresa Wright, Dame May Whitty, Henry Wilcoxon and Henry Travers.