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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

A recovering addict (Anne Hathaway in an Oscar nominated performance) is temporarily discharged from a drug rehab so that she can attend her sister's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. But she brings a lot of emotional baggage with her that will bring family tensions to the forefront. Directed by Jonathan Demme (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), the film was heralded as a "return to form" by many critics. There is a lot to recommend about the film. Notably, Anne Hathaway's raw performance. Demme uses a cinema verite  approach to the film but it backfires. Everyone seems to be trying too hard to be "real" so that the naturalism that cinema verite usually displays looks forced, too contrived. We're too aware of the obvious effort. It works with Hathaway's "jumping out of her skin" performance because her character is a drama queen and a recovering junkie but there's no excuse for the extremisms of everyone else's acting. When Debra Winger as Hathaway's mother comes on with her underacting, you just want to applaud. Her ease just puts everyone else's acting to shame. Robert Altman did this kind of thing much better. But it's definitely worth seeing for Hathaway's bravura performance which feels authentic and ultimately heartbreaking. With Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith and Anisa George.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Good Neighbor Sam (1964)

In order to help his wife's (Dorothy Provine) best friend (Romy Schneider) receive an inheritance from her grandfather's willan advertising executive (Jack Lemmon) pretends to be her husband. The will specifies that she must be married or lose the inheritance. Things get complicated when greedy relatives (Anne SeymourCharles Lane) hire a private detective (Louis Nye) to keep an eye on the woman's activities and when the real husband (Mike Connors) shows upthings get really messy. Based on the novel by Jack Finney (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) and directed by David Swift (THE PARENT TRAP). This comedic farce would have benefited from some editing shears as it runs past the two hour mark and the material has exhausted itself by then. It's formulaic but there's still a bit of charm to the proceedings. Lemmon hadn't yet resorted to the sometimes over the top hysteria which marred many of his later performanceshe's still a wonderful light comic actor here. Fluff but engaging nonetheless. With Edward G. Robinson's as a conservative right wing client of Lemmon'sEdward AndrewsJoyce Jameson and Linda Watkins.

Il Gattopardo (aka The Leopard) (1963)

Set in 1860 Sicilya nobleman (Burt Lancaster) watches as history changes the landscape of his country. The aristocracy is fading while a more democratic but not necessarily better society emerges. He realizes his family must adapt to survive in the new Sicily yet he wants no part of it. Based on the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa and directed by Luchino Visconti (ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS). A genuine epic in every sense of the word and visuallyone of the most stunning films ever made. Words like sumptuous and opulent come to mind. Praise to cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno for his ravishing camera work. The lengthy ball sequence which ends the film (it runs about 45 minutes long) is the highlight of the film and you've likely never seen anything like it. The logistics of filming the sequence boggle the mind. Remarkablywhen the film was originally releasedthe reviews were mixed to middling (in spite of it winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival). Fortunatelyposterity has realized the film for the sweeping masterwork it is. Piero Tosi's impressive costuming received the film's only Oscar nomination. With Claudia CardinaleAlain DelonTerence HillPaolo StoppaRomolo ValliSerge Reggiani and Leslie French.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Time Is My Enemy (1954)

A small time crook (Dennis Price)believed to be have been killed in WWIIkills a man during a jewel robbery. Unable to find a fence for the "hot" jewels since it involves murder and not just thefthe looks up his wife (Renee Asherson) whobelieving him deadhas remarried to a wealthy publisher (Patrick Barr). He demands money from her to leave the country or he will tell her husband. Based on the play SECOND CHANCE by Ella Adkins and directed by Don Chaffey (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS). This efficient economical little thriller is good fun with its share of twists and turns. Of courseif the wife did the logical thing from the start and tell her husband about the blackmail and then gone to the policeshe could have avoided all the trouble that follows. But thenwe wouldn't have much a moviewould we? If you're into thrillers and/or noir then this should be right up your alley. It's a minor film but manages to keep the tension quotient fairly high. With Duncan LamontSusan ShawDandy NicholsMavis Villiers and Alfie Bass.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Valentino (1977)

In 1926the death of silent film star Rudolph Valentino (Rudolf Nureyev) causes a sensation not only in the headlines but with thousands of fans trying to crash his funeral. His life story is then told in flashbacks by the women in his life as he rises from a nightclub dancer to Hollywood star. Directed by Ken Russell (WOMEN IN LOVE)the film is a mess. Russell's flamboyant but often excessive style is problematic. Depending on the materialRussell's style can often be exhilarating (TOMMY) or an unpleasant shambles (THE MUSIC LOVERS). There's very little "truth" in this movie bio of Valentino but lots of Russell's extravagant style. It's a great looking film thanks to Philip Harrison's art directionShirley Russell's costumes and Peter Suschitzky's (EASTERN PROMISES) cinematography. As for Nureyevwhile I can appreciate the eager to please charm he brings to the parthe's not an actor (at least judging by his work here). Russell's take on some of the real life characters (notably Alla Nazimova) is rather nasty and unsubstantiated. Russell hits a new low in a disgusting sequence in a Mexican jail that I won't even attempt to describe here. Reputedlyeven Russell dislikes the film! With Leslie Caron as Alla NazimovaMichelle Phillips as Natasha RambovaCarol KaneSeymour CasselHuntz HallFelicity KendalAnton DiffringPeter VaughanLeland Palmer and Jennie Linden.  

Untel Pere Et Fils (1943)

Spanning the years from 1871 and the Franco Prussian War to 1938 and the ominous clouds of WWIIthe chronicle of one family as they deal with war and its effect on their lives. Directed by Julian Duvivierthis is sort of a French version of the 1933 film CAVALCADE although much superior. Its daunting task of covering over 60 years in a two hour running time doesn't give much opportunity for in depth characterization and what we get are highlights of this family's lives. Stilla couple of the actors manage to create sharply defined characters in the brief time allotted them like Louis Jouvet who suffers the loss of the woman (Renee Devillers) he loves to his brother (Lucien Nat) and goes off to Africa and Raimu as the high living Uncle who eventually loses everything. It's an ambitious film that might not manage to overcome the fragmented nature of its narrative but retains its power nonetheless. The film was started in 1939 but WWII interrupted its filming and it wasn't released until 1943. With Michele MorganLouis JourdanSuzy PrimHarry Krimer and Jean Mercanton.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Magic Sword (1962)

An evil sorcerer (Basil Rathbone) kidnaps a beautiful Princess (Anne Helm) to exact revenge on her father the King (Merritt Stone). He threatens to feed her to his dragon in seven days but a Knight (Liam Sullivan) and a young youth (Gary Lockwood) promise to rescue her. Directed by schlockmeister Bert I. Gordon (EMPIRE OF THE ANTS)this low budget sword and sorcery adventure is rather charming in its amateurism. As if sensing it wouldn't quite work as a straight fantasy filmGordon infuses the film with humor. Most of it provided by Estelle Winwood as an inept sorceress with the Nick and Paul Bon Tempi as her Siamese twins assistants with Rathbone delightfully over the top as the wicked wizard. Both are in on the jokeI'm not sure Lockwood as the doltish hero was. Seven year olds and undiscerning adults should be modestly entertained. With Danielle De Metz and John Mauldin.

The Baron Of Arizona (1950)

The fascinating true (but highly fictionalized) story of swindler James Reavis (Vincent Price)whoin 1880 concocted an elaborate scheme to inherit all the land in the territory of Arizona (not yet a state) and darn near did it. Written and directed by Samuel Fuller. The part of Reavis was reputedly Price's own personal favorite and one can see why. It's an atypical role for Price and a rare non-horror leading man role and he plays it for all it's worth. It's a low budget effort but with some first rate talent involved. In addition to Price and Fullerthe fine B&W cinematography is courtesy of the great James Wong Howe. The film lacks the hard edge that would come to distinguish Fuller's style in the ensuing years but he infuses the film with enough romanticism that you're almost pulling for the fraud to pull it off! Minor Fuller to be sure yet still a minor pleasure and a must for Price fans. With Ellen DrewBeulah BondiVladimir SokoloffMargia Dean and Reed Hadley. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Portrait De La Jeune Fille En Feu (aka Portrait Of A Lady On Fire) (2019)

Set in 18th century Francea young painter (Noemie Meriant) arrives at an isolated island in Brittany where she is expected to paint a portrait of a young girl (Adele Haenel) who is soon to be wed in an arranged marriage. But she must paint the picture surreptitiously as the girl refuses to sit for a portrait. Written and directed by Celine Sciammathis is a painstakingly meticulous (a euphemism for slow moving) historical romance that I wish I liked better. It is a very good movie but when I first saw the trailer for the film sometime agomy movie radar said"No!" but the reviews were glowing and it was showing up on ten best lists so against my better judgment I went. I can tell it's a well made film but I just couldn't get involved in it. It's like movie medicinesee it because it's good for you. OkayI've taken my medicine. I don't want to dissuade anyone from not seeing the film as I trust you'll appreciate its very fine qualities (like Claire Mathon's superb lensing) more than I did. PORTRAIT was on France's short list of films to be submitted to the Oscars international film category but they wisely went with the superior LES MISERABLES instead. With Luana Bajrami and Valeria Golino.

Murder On The Orient Express (2001)

The famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Alfred Molina) is traveling on the Orient Express from Istanbul when a brutal murder occurs on the train. The victim (Peter Strauss)who had earlier attempted to procure Poirot's services but was turned downwas stabbed multiple times in his sleep. When the train becomes stranded because of a rockslidethe railway director (Fritz WepperCABARET) asks him to help solve the case. Based on the classic novel by Agatha Christie and directed by Carl Schenkel (THE MIGHTY QUINN). This misguided attempt to update Agatha Christie must have the poor lady spinning in her grave. Instead of using the "little gray cells" to solve the murderPoirot does it via a laptop computer! Poirot is even given a sexy girlfriend (I'm not joking!). Several of the novel's characters have been eliminated: the butlerthe missionarythe cook/companion. So what are we left with? A watered downmodernized Readers Digest version of the Christie book. Purists will be appalled. The only high spot is Leslie Caron who brings elegance and grace to the part of the Spanish grande dame (the equivalent of the Russian princess in the book). With Meredith BaxterDavid HuntAmira CasarNicolas ChagrinAdam JamesDylan Smith and Natasha Wightman. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Interrupted Journey (1949)

A struggling writer (Richard Todd) is leaving his wife (Valerie Hobson) and running off with his mistress (Christine Norden). As their train speeds off to their destination howeverhe has second thoughts and pulls the emergency cord and gets off the train. But it doesn't end there for himit turns into a nightmare when his mistress turns up murdered and he becomes the prime suspect. Directed by Daniel Birtthis faux Hitchcockian thriller (some refer to it as British noir) has a marvelous premise but that is squandered by a weak script and direction and an ending that's a total ripoff. A contrived ending that had been used before (and unfortunately many times since) when writers painted themselves into a corner and needed a quick out. It's a pity because the film had me intrigued until then. With Tom WallsVida HopeDora Bryan and Alexander Gauge as the mistress's husbandwhose performance is so bad that it threatened to derail the movie even before that heinous ending.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Big Sleep (1946)

A private detective (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by a wealthy old man (Charles Waldron) to deal with his younger daughter's (Martha Vickers) alleged gambling debts. But that's just the tip of the iceberg in a case that involves murdersblackmaildeceit and pornography. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler (William Faulkner had a hand in the screenplay) and directed by Howard Hawks. One of the best of the 1940s film noirsif this never quite reaches the greatness of a MALTESE FALCON or DOUBLE INDEMNITYit's because its array of colorful characters and its convoluted plot have your head spinning and if you find it difficult to follow the baffling plotdon't feel bad. Reportedly the screenwriters didn't understand it either. But its bewildering plot doesn't get in the way of the incredible enjoyment that the movie provides. Snappy dialoguewitty performances and Hawks' assured direction carry the day. The actorsdown to the smallest rolesare all wonderful. Max Steiner delivers one of his best scores. With Lauren Bacall (overdoing the femme fatale bit just a tad)Dorothy Malonethe wonderful Sonia DarrinPeggy KnudsenJohn RidgelyLouis Jean Heydt and Elisha Cook Jr.

Penelope (1966)

The wife (Natalie Wood) of a prominent Manhattan banker (Ian Bannen) has a problem. She's a kleptomaniac. But when she disguises herself as an old woman and robs her husband's bank of $60000she discovers that she just might have gone too far this time. Especially when a police detective (Peter Falk) gets suspicious and keeps his eye on her. Based on the novel by E.V. Cunningham and directed by Arthur Hiller (THE OUT OF TOWNERS). This slight (and that might be an understatement) comedy caper suffers from unnecessary padding in the form of flashbacks which add very little to the film's storyline other than to fill out the 98 minute running time. Natalie Wood is adorable and looks smashing in her Edith Head wardrobe but although she tries hardshe barely manages to keep the movie afloat. Lila Kedrova and Lou Jacobi as a couple of con artists provide some needed comedic flair. I'm a huge Natalie Wood fan so I suppose I'm more tolerant of this kind of fluff. There's a breezy score by a pre-JAWS John Williams. With Dick ShawnNorma CraneJerome CowanArlene GolonkaEdith Evanson and Jonathan Winterswho despite his prominent billing is barely in the movie. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Royal Bed (1931)

The King (Lowell Sherman) of a small middle European country must not only deal with an impending revolution by his subjects but also with his daughter (Mary Astor) refusing to accept a politically arranged marriage. Based on the 1928 play THE QUEEN'S HUSBAND by Robert E. Sherwood (THE PETRIFIED FOREST) and directed by Lowell Sherman. The word quaint comes to mind when viewing this stage bound pre-code political satire. Although it half heartedly shows us some brief "action" scenes (the storming of the palace)it's still not very cinematic. As in a playthe actors make their entrances and exits and play to the balcony. But it's not badreally. As an actordirector Sherman gives a droll delivery to his lines and Nance O'Neill as the domineering Queen makes a good foil for him. There was also a French language version (with Francoise Rosay) shot simultaneously. A not unpleasant example of early sound film. With J. Carrol NaishAnthony Bushell and Robert Warwick.   

Sailor Of The King (aka Single Handed) (1953)

During WWIa young Royal Navy officer (Michael Rennie) has a brief encounter with a young woman (Wendy Hiller) when they stay overnight at an inn when they miss their train. Jump to WWIIwhen his cruiser is sunk by the Nazisa young Canadian signalman (Jeffrey Hunter) is taken as a POW by the Germans. These two stories are connected. Based on the novel BROWN ON RESOLUTION by C.S. Forester and directed by Roy Boulting (THERE'S A GIRL IN MY SOUP). A brisk and economical war movie that combines both romance and action albeit in two separate sections. I quite enjoyed it. The film is unusual in that it was filmed with two different endings and apparently both were shown in cinemas (though obviously not at the same time)one in which the signalman survives and one where he doesn't but the old lovers are reunited. I prefer the latter but to each his own. With Peter Van Eyck and Bernard Lee.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982)

Set at the turn of the 20th centuryan inventor (Woody Allen) and his wife (Mary Steenburgen) host a weekend for a well known philosopher (Jose Ferrer) and his bride to be (Mia Farrow) and a doctor (Tony Roberts) and his nurse (Julie Hagerty). Written and directed by Woody Allen. This bit of romantic whimsy is one of Allen's weaker vehicles. It's not as bad as say WHATEVER WORKSat least it has some redeeming value. Notably the lovely camera work of Gordon Willis which turns the Pocantico Hills hamlet in Westchester CountyNew York into a magical forest. The film's trio of lovely comediennes (FarrowSteenburgenHagerty all cut from the same ethereal cloth) is also a plus as they bring a lot to the movie but overallthere's not enough enchantment to over come the film's essential flimsiness. It's only spottily entertaining. When the movie endsyou're still hungry.  

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Frightened City (1961)

A mobster (Herbert Lom) concocts a plan to unite London's key racketeers so that instead of competing against each otherthey all share in one major "protection" racket. An ex-convict (Sean Connery) is lured into working for the organization as a henchman for the mobsters. Directed by John Lemontthis is a nifty little noir-ish British crime movie. There's nothing remarkable about it in the least but it's done with a such a flamboyant confidence of style that it siphons your attention immediately. Although third billedit's an on the cusp of stardom Connery's movie all the way. Brimming over with sex appeal and a strong masculine presencehe holds the screen like a champ and the following yearhe would star in DR. NO and mega stardom would follow. If you're into gangster moviesthis should appeal to you. With John Gregson, Alfred MarksYvonne RomainOlive McFarlandKenneth Griffith and Marianne Stone.  

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil (2019)

The Queen of the Moors (Elle Fanning) accepts a marriage proposal from Prince Philip of Ulstead (Harris Dickinson) which will unite their two kingdoms and (hopefully) end years of hostility between the two lands. But her Godmother (Angelina Jolie) is against the marriage and the Prince's duplicitous mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) has plans of her own. A sequel to the hit 2014 film and directed by Joachim Ronning. I was partial to the 2014 movie mainly because of Jolie but I also liked its fresh take on the classic fairy tale SLEEPING BEAUTY. It should have ended there but if there's a dollar to squeezed or a franchise to be milkedDisney will do it! This one lack's the fresh perspective of the 2014 film and it covers similar terrain so that it has a deja vu quality about it. It's not without entertainment value but the film seems so cluttered (there's something to be said for simplicity) that it's a disappointment nonetheless. Jolie and Fanning are fine but Pfeiffer seems adrift as the evil Queen. But Fanning looks so eerily like a young Pfeiffer that they could believably play mother and daughter. With Chiwetel EjioforSam RileyImelda StauntonJuno Temple and Lesley Manville. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Pete 'n' Tillie (1972)

A confirmed bachelor (Walter Matthau) is set up by a matchmaking friend (Geraldine Page) with a 33 year old woman (Carol Burnett) who is still a virgin. They eventually marry but the marriage is not without its difficulties. Based on the book WITCH'S MILK by Peter De Vries and directed by Martin Ritt (HUD). The film was a piece of tedious twaddle in 1972 and time hasn't been any kinder to it. Who wants to see Carol Burnettone of the great comediennessuffering a la Irene Dunne (the film seems like the spawn of PENNY SERENADE). She's dour through out most of the movie and only gets to break out once when she and Geraldine Page fight each other tooth and claw in an amusing cat fight. Other than thatshe's pretty much a pill. What a waste! Matthau does his usual grumpy bit and we never see what draws these two together. And when their child (Lee H. Montgomery) gets seriously illit just creaks! InexplicablyJulius J. Epstein's retread screenplay got an Oscar nomination and somewhat less inexplicablyGeraldine Page got a supporting actress nomination. Even John Williams' underscore can't rise to the occasion. With Barry NelsonHenry JonesKent Smith and Rene Auberjonois. 

Downhill (2020)

While on a family vacation in the Austrian Alpswhen an avalanche threatens to destroy the outdoor restaurant they're lunching atthe father (Will Ferrell) flees in a panic leaving his wife (Julia Louis Dreyfus) and two sons (Julian GreyAmmon Jacob Ford) at the mercy of the avalanche. This act of seeming cowardice will mark a turning point in their marriage. Based on the 2014 Scandinavian film (the credits say "inspired") FORCE MAJEURE and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (THE WAY WAY BACK). With the very rare exception (like THE BIRDCAGE)most English language remakes of foreign language films fail to capture what made the original film good in the first place. Attempts to improve upon it or Americanize it almost inevitably destroy the qualities which attracted us to the original material. DOWNHILL jacks up the humor in this reinvention (FORCE MAJEURE's humor was much more subtle) which actually detracts from the film. One can't help but wonder who the film was designed for. Audiences expecting a typical Will Ferrell comedy are going to be disappointed and bored and the audience who might actually see a film like this are going to avoid a Will Ferrell movie like the plague! Which is a pity because the film is just good enough to make you wish it were better instead of a movie miscalculation. If FORCE MAJEURE never existedI might have been impressed but it does exist. With Miranda OttoZach Woods and Zoe Chao. 

La Fin Du Jour (1939)

An agingself centered stage actor named Saint Clair (Louis Jouvet) decides to retire but since he has no moneyhe is forced to go to an old age home for actors in the country. Among the residents of the home is an actor (Victor Francen) whose deceased wife had an affair with Saint Clair and died shortly afterward under mysterious circumstances. Co-written and directed by Julien Duvivier (PEPE LE MOKO). Although critically acclaimed in its dayLA FIN DU JOUR doesn't seem to be discussed very often when talking about great French cinema. It's a lovely film which creates an accurate milieu of aging actors but fortunatelyalthough you can sense Duvivier's affection for the actorshe doesn't go all sentimental on us. Indeedin spite of the humor in the filmthe narrative follows a darker path than the movie's lighter beginnings would suggest. The inconsiderate aren't redeemedthe perennial understudy doesn't get his big chance and even in deaththe cruel truth takes precedence over kindness. The film never goes where you think it's goingtaking unexpected turns instead. It's an ensemble film and the performances are all quite good. With Michel Simon and Madeleine Ozeray.   

Friday, February 14, 2020

The World Of Suzie Wong (1960)

An American architect (William Holden) arrives in Hong Kong with the intention to make a living as a painter. With limited fundshe stays at a rundown hotel which is frequented by prostitutes and their customers. It is there he becomes emotionally involved with one of the prostitutes called Suzie Wong (Nancy Kwan). Based on the award winning 1958 Broadway play by way of the novel by Richard Mason and directed by Richard Quine (BELL BOOK AND CANDLE). Unlike the original novel which was more seriousthe film (and the play) is more of a dramedy with the emphasis on its romcom elements. Its portrayal of its "heart of gold" prostitutes is in line with other films like NEVER ON SUNDAY and IRMA LA DOUCE which sees prostitutes living happy go lucky lives while waiting for a "prince charming" to rescue them. The film also reinforces the stereotype of the exotic and submissive Asian woman. For exampleafter a sailor beats her upa beaming Kwan runs to her friends and proudly tells them Holden beat her up because he was jealous. I don't mean to be too harsh on the film because it's quite entertaining although its 2 hours plus running time seems excessive for such a slight story. Although the 42 year old Holden is on the mature side for the struggling young artist of the book and playhe and the appealing Kwan (in her film debut) are fine. The film benefits from the Hong Kong and Macao locations handsomely shot by the great Geoffrey Unsworth (2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY). With Sylvia SymsMichael WildingLaurence NaismithYvonne Shima and Jacqui Chan.  

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Asylum (1972)

A young doctor (Robert Powell) arrives at an asylum to interview for the position of chief doctor. In order to determine his suitability for the posthe is asked to interview four patients. This framing device constitutes the frame work for an anthology of four stories: 1) a man (Richard Todd) and his mistress (Barbara Parkins) plot to murder his wife (Sylvia Syms). 2) A tailor (Barry Morse) is hired by a stranger (Peter Cushing) to make a suit out of a mysterious material. 3) Returning home after being released from the hospital due to a breakdowna young girl (Charlotte Rampling) engages with her best friend (Britt Ekland)who is a bad influence on her. 4) A doctor (Herbert Lom) experiments with soul transference using automatons. Written by Robert Bloch (PSYCHO) and directed by Roy War Baker (QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT). This is one of the very best of those portmanteau horror films of the 1970s made by both Hammer and Amicus. Because anthology films have more than one storythey can often be uneven but in this case all four stories and its framing device are excellent and well acted. It's an accomplished piece of pulp horror and what more can one ask for? With Geoffrey BayldonMegs Jenkins and James Villiers.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

One Fine Day (1996)

When their children miss a school field trip because they are latean architect and single mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a divorced newspaper columnist (George Clooney) who has his daughter every other weekendtake shifts babysitting during the day allowing the other to honor work commitments. Directed by Michael Hoffman (SOAPDISH)this is a by the numbers romantic comedy. When the two parents start bickeringwe know in the world of romcoms that they'll fall in love before the movie is over. What makes the movie entirely watchable are Pfeiffer and Clooney. They're genuine movie stars and so much more beautifulcharismatic and likable than we mortals that we bask in their screen presence and root for them even when the corny script isn't worthy of them. It's a breezy piece of whimsy that one would work awfully hard to resist. Stillif you require more meaty entertainment or (gasp) are not a fan of the leadsyou just might find this saccharine and intolerable. With Charles DurningEllen GreeneAmanda PeetJoe GrifasiHolland TaylorAlex D. LinzRachel York and Mae Whitman.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Underwater! (1955)

Set in the Caribbeana group of people band together in search of a 17th century sunken ship with a cargo of gold. They are a struggling couple (Jane RussellRichard Egan) barely making a livinga mercenary (Gilbert Roland)the yacht's owner (Lori Nelson) and a priest (Robert Keith). Directed by John Sturges (BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK)this adventure film was sold on Jane Russell's physical attributes and its undersea cinematography (shot in SuperScope). And truth to tellthose are the best things about the film. Narratively speakingit's a rather simplistic adventure yarn without much going for it except its likable cast and that gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Harry J. Wild (GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES) that includes location filming in Hawaii and Mexico. That undersea lensing was impressive for its day though it has since been rendered commonplace in the ensuing years with films like THUNDERBALL and THE DEEP. As a Jane Russell fanI enjoyed it though others may find it on the dull side. With Joseph Calleia and Eugene Iglesias. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Oscar (1966)

The story of a heel (Stephen Boyd) and how he rises from a front man for a stripper (Jill St. John) to a famous Hollywood movie star using and stepping on others in his climb to success. Based on the novel by Richard Sale and directed by Russell Rouse (NEW YORK CONFIDENTIAL). In the annals of bad moviesTHE OSCAR is in a class all by itself. Featuring bad actingbad direction, bad dialoguebad script and all done in the most earnest manner which is what makes it deliciously irresistible. In the lead rolea severely miscast Boyd is not merely badhe's jaw dropping bad. If you hadn't seen him in other moviesyou'd never know the man can actually act. The part needed a young Steve McQueen type. Watching itone can't help but think"What the hell were they thinking?". Did someone not read the screenplay before giving this the greenlight? How did so many talented people get roped into this? Adjectives like luridsleazy and sordid come to mind. I don't much care for the term guilty pleasure but if any movie defines the termit's THE OSCAR. Ironicallythe one actor who emerges unscathed is comedian Milton Berle in a dramatic role. Everyone else sinks. The kind of movie that needs to be seen to be believed. The massive cast (including several actors playing themselves) includes Frank SinatraBob HopeEleanor ParkerJoseph CottenErnest BorgnineEdie AdamsBroderick CrawfordNancy SinatraWalter BrennanEd BegleyPeter LawfordEdith HeadJames Dunn and in his one and only film roleTony Bennett.

Saboteur (1942)

A factory worker (Robert Cummings) is accused of sabotage when an aircraft works is set on fire and an employee is killed. To prove his innocencehe escapes and travels cross country to find the real saboteur (Norman Lloyd). Directed by Alfred Hitchcockthis is one of his lesser films but lesser Hitchcock is nothing to sneeze at. The film comes across as a rough blueprint for Hitchcock's later (and much superior) NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959). It doesn't help that the two leads (Priscilla Lane is the female lead) are bland with no screen presence. But there are still those marvelous Hitchcock touches like the train with the circus "freaks" and the Statue Of Liberty finale. It also comes across as a WWII propaganda film with its speeches (courtesy of Dorothy Parker) about standing up to the enemyetc. More entertaining than most propaganda films of the era but stillits agenda shows. With Otto KrugerVaughan GlaserAlma KrugerIan Wolfe and Margaret Hayes.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Nancy Drew... Trouble Shooter (1939)

Nancy Drew (Bonita Granville) and her attorney father (John Litel) go to a rural area of the state to help defend an old family friend (Aldrich Bowker) who is accused of murder. Directed by William Clemensthis movie isn't based on any of the Nancy Drew books by Mildred Benson (writing under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene) but uses the series' characters. Of the four Nancy Drew movies that Granville starred inthis entry is probably my favorite. None of the four films captured the innocence of the Nancy Drew books and only two of them were actually based on the books. This one is rather simple in execution but the mystery is engaging and Granville and Frankie Thomas (as her reluctant boyfriend Ted) are appealing youngsters. With Charlotte Wynters, Renie RianoWillie Best and Edgar Edwards. 

Eight Legged Freaks (2002)

In a small Arizona towna barrel of toxic waste falls off a truck and into a river. Spiders have ingested the toxin and they begin to grow in size and soon are terrorizing the townspeople. Directed by Ellory Elkayemthis amusing horror comedy is an affectionate tribute to those 1950s creature features like TARANTULATHE DEADLY MANTISTHEM etc. The actors are in on the joke and there's always a wink in the dialogueat one point David Arquette screams "Get backyou eight legged freaks!". Elkayem manages to both parody the genre but still give us some genuine thrills and jumps. The film was anticipated to be a big hit with a sequel planned but the film underperformed so that never happened. If you're a fan of those 1950s giant insect moviesyou should enjoy the film's riff but if those films are beneath you then you can safely skip this. With Scarlett JohanssonKari WuhrerDoug E. DougScott Terra and Eileen Ryan.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Rome Adventure (1962)

A librarian (Suzanne Pleshette) decides she's too inexperienced in the matters of love so she quits her job and heads to Rome where she hopes to get more life experience and does she ever find it. Based on the 1932 novel LOVERS MUST LEARN by Irving Fineman and directed by Delmer Daves (3:10 TO YUMA). As cinemathis is a great travelogue of Italy. Beautifully shot by Charles Lawton Jr. (THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI)we're treated to the delights of RomeTuscanyUmbriaVeronaAlto Adige and Lake Maggiore in all their splendor. In between the sight seeingthere's a rather pedestrian love story between Pleshette and Troy Donahue. The film pushes the boundaries of belief when both Pleshette and Angie Dickinson battle it out over Donahue. What two of the most charismatic and attractive actresses of the 1960s see in the bland Donahue is anybody's guess! Acting wiseit's Dickinson's wily and manipulative femme fatale that steals whatever's worth stealing here. At leastshe's fun in a vamp-ish way. There's a nice score by Max Steiner. With Rossano BrazziConstance FordHampton FancherPamela AustinGertrude Flynn and Norma Varden. 

Milk (2008)

The story of gay activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) from 1970 to his assassination by Dan White (Josh Brolin) in 1978. Inspired the 1984 documentaryTHE LIFE AND TIMES OF HARVEY MILK as well as the book THE MAYOR OF CASTRO STREET by Randy Shilts and directed by Gus Van Sant (GOOD WILL HUNTING). As usual with biopicsit faces the difficulty of cramming some eight years into a two hour time slot which it does admirably but more importantlyVan Sant gets to the heart of the man and creates an authentic atmosphere of San Francisco in that era (yesI was there!). What is painful is that 20 years after this filmthe same battle continues to be fought as the current administration continues to attack and rollback LGBT rights that Milk fought and died for. In that respectsadlythe film is still all too timely. Sean Penn is excellent as Milk but the supporting cast is also (mostly) flawless. With James FrancoEmile HirschVictor GarberDiego LunaAlison Pill and Denis O'Hare.   

La Visita (1963)

A lonely woman (Sandra Milo) in a rural town in Northern Italy exchanges letters with a man (Francois Perier) unhappy with his life in Rome. He travels by train one weekend to meet her and see if they are compatible enough for marriage. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli (I KNEW HER WELL)this is a sad little film. The film seems to be sending out mixed messages before finally arriving at its somewhat ambiguous conclusion although it's easy enough to see the two main protagonists' fate. When I say it's sad movieit's because Milo seems so desperate to have someone in her life and settle down that she can't see that she deserves better than this petty little prickwho can only make her miserable. Although the film itself seems to let Perier's jerk off the hookI can't. Milo and Perier are very good though it's hard to take your eyes off Milo's awesome derriere whenever she's in motion. With Mario AdorfGastone Moschin and Angela Minervini. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Borderline (1950)

The Los Angeles Police Department and the Federal government are both pursuing a narcotics smuggler (Raymond Burr) who's been smuggling narcotics from Mexico to the U.S. The LAPD sends an undercover policewoman (Claire Trevor) to Mexico to infiltrate the smuggler's gang. Directed by William A. Seiter (YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER)this minor programmer goes down easily enough. Trevor seems a might "mature" for her rolethis would be her last romantic leading lady role. From here onshe played character parts. Fred MacMurray plays another undercover cop and he's fine. There's a bit too much unnecessary humor in the movie for my taste. I think it would have played better as a straight noir-ish thriller. The film has fallen into the public domain but the transfer I saw pretty good. With Roy RobertsMorris Ankrum and Charles Lane.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Ace In The Hole (aka The Big Carnival) (1951)

A cynical and selfish big city reporter (Kirk Douglas) fallen on hard times finds himself stuck writing for a small newspaper in New Mexico. When he comes across a local man (Richard Benedict) trapped in a collapsed cave in the deserthe exploits the injured man and connives to have his rescue delayed so he can milk the story and get bigger offers on major newspapers. Co-written and directed by Billy Wilderthe film's dark and contemptuous eye toward the fourth estate outraged many mainstream critics when first released. Apparently they were outraged by the suggestion that a journalist could be so corrupt and its examination of human nature at its worst made sure that audiences stayed away. We've lost our innocence since 1951 and posterity has been much kinder to the film and it is now considered one of Wilder's best films. Douglas (who passed away this week at 103) was almost always at his best playing heels and herehe's positively poisonous though he's matched by Jan Sterling as the trapped man's icy wife with the heart of a cash register. Strong stuff but you can't shake it off. With Porter HallRobert ArthurGene Evans and Ray Teal.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Cartier Affair (1984)

Fresh out of prisonan ex-con (David Hasselhoff) is coerced by a thug (Telly Savalas) who "protected" him in prison into a heist job. The job consists of infiltrating the home of a famous actress (Joan Collins)posing as her gay secretary while casing the house's security system for a jewel robbery. Directed by Rod Holcombthis made for television film saw some theatrical showings overseas. It's a rather lame mixture of romcom and action made at the height of Hasselhoff's and Collins' careers as both KNIGHT RIDER and DYNASTY were riding high. AlasCollins and Hasselhoff have zero chemistry together and worsethe stolid Hasselhoff doesn't have the comic touch needed though to be faireven Cary Grant couldn't get away with material like this. With Ed LauterRandi Brooks and Rita Taggart.

The Molly Maguires (1970)

Set in the Pennsylvania coal mines of 1876a detective (Richard Harris) is hired to infiltrate a secret "terrorist" group among the coal miners called the Molly Maguires who are sabotaging coal production and shipments in order to fight the oppressive mine companies who are exploiting the coal miners. Based on the novel by Arthur H. Lewis and directed by Martin Ritt (THE LONG HOT SUMMER). This is a beautifully crafted film which never quite got the praise and attention it deserved. While some facets of the film are weak (the script could have used more clarity and Frank Finlay's policeman is a cliche)the film is so creative in other ways that it transcends its flaws. Ritt takes his time telling the story (it runs over two hours) and much of it is visual as in the film's opening which runs 15 minutes without dialog accompanied only by Henry Mancini's elegiac score. The wide screen Panavision cinematography is by the great James Wong Howe and is it a beauty! Then there's the performances. I don't know that Harris as ever been better and Sean Connery as the leader of the Molly Maguires and Samantha Eggar as Harris's romantic interest bring strength to their underwritten roles. With Bethel LeslieAnthony ZerbeArt Lund and Anthony Holland.