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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1993)

A wealthy and beautiful heiress (Daryl Hannah) would seem to have it all. But her mean spirited father (William Windom) wants control of her money and her cheating husband (Daniel Baldwin) doesn't love her, just her wealth. She lacks the confidence to stand up on her own until she encounters an alien spaceship. A remake of the 1958 sci-fi classic and directed by Christopher Guest (BEST IN SHOW). The screenplay by Joseph Dougherty updates Mark Hanna's original screenplay with a feminist slant and the humor is intentional (which wasn't always the case with the 1958 movie) which makes the story less "campy". The feminist slant while obvious isn't heavy handed but humorously injected into the story. Well acted except for Daniel Baldwin (the least talented of the Baldwin brothers). Fans of the 1958 cult film should enjoy this one too. With Frances Fisher, Cristi Conaway and Xander Berkeley. 

The Menu (2022)

A foodie (Nicholas Hoult) and his date (Anya Taylor Joy) travel to an exclusive island restaurant where the chef (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a pricey, lavish menu. But it soon becomes clear that the dinner guests are about to be served some shocking surprises. Directed by Mark Mylod (THE BIG WHITE), this delicious black comedy is an audacious satire as it pokes fun at pretentious foodies, diners and chefs while slowly evolving into a horror movie! It avoids the obvious (no cannibalism, thank you) while it amazes you with its wickedly amusing shocks. I was worried that it wouldn't be able to sustain itself and peter out but it remains iniquitous to the very last shot. The acting is decent and in the case of the wonderful Anya Taylor Joy as our surrogate conscience, better than that. Perhaps not to everyone's palate but I loved it. With John Leguizamo Janet McTeer, Hong Chau, Judith Light and Paul Adelstein. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Murder Ahoy! (1964)

Recently installed as a member of a Trust that oversees the rehabilitation of young criminals, Miss Jane Marple (Margaret Rutherford) witnesses the murder of a fellow trustee (Henry B. Longhurst). She suspects he was killed because he saw or found something on a recent visit to a ship that houses the wayward youths. She takes it upon herself to visit the ship to find out what was discovered and lead to his death. Directed by George Pollock (MURDER SHE SAID), this was the fourth and final film in the Margaret Rutherford as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series. Unlike the previous three movies however, this was not based on a Christie novel but was an original screenplay. It's the weakest of the four films. As marvelous as she is in these movies, Rutherford is not Christie's Miss Marple as any reader of Christie will know and these films often placed Miss Marple in situations that Christie would never condone in her books. For example, the movie has Miss Marple in a duel with swords with the movie's villain toward the end. The mind shudders! One could put up with all of that if the mystery were clever or fun but it's dull and trite. With Lionel Jeffries, Charles Tingwell, Stringer Davis and Derek Nimmo.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Blue Sky (1994)

Set in 1962, a nuclear engineer (Tommy Lee Jones) who is a Major in the army must deal with the pressures of his high stress job and the unstable emotional and mental health of his wife (Jessica Lange in an Oscar winning performance). Directed by Tony Richardson (TOM JONES) in his final film. Filmed in 1990, BLUE SKY wasn't released until 1994 (three years after Richardson's death) because of the bankruptcy of Orion pictures. It's far from Richardson's best work and I wish it were better but the movie is still good enough to stand on its own. But it's one of those films where a brilliant performance justifies the movie's existence. I'm talking about Lange's stunning work here. Evoking Marilyn Monroe without aping her, Lange is sensual, vulnerable and on the edge. I kept waiting for some false note to pop up but it never happened. She walked that tightrope without blinking! Tommy Lee Jones also does terrific work here. With Powers Boothe, Carrie Snodgress, Chris O'Donnell, Amy Locane, Mitchell Ryan and Annie Ross.

The Legend Of Hell House (1973)

Having literally destroyed a team of researchers except one in 1953, a brooding mansion is referred to as the Mt. Everest of haunted houses. 20 years later, a second group of psychic investigators attempt to unravel its deadly secret: a physicist (Clive Revill) and his wife (Gayle Hunnicutt), a mental medium (Pamela Franklin) and a physical medium (Roddy McDowall), who is the only survivor from 1953. Based on the novel by Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND) and directed by John Hough (WATCHER IN THE WOODS). The template for this film is the superior THE HAUNTING (1963) which could justifiably be called the Mt. Everest of haunted house movies. Matheson has cleaned up his novel for this film adaptation eliminating most of the sex and sadism in the original book. What we get is an entertaining piece of second rate horror pulp that should satisfy most horror fans if they don't expect too much but it's not a memorable film although it has its defenders. With Roland Culver and Michael Gough.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Penthouse (1933)

A lawyer (Warner Baxter) is notorious for defending gangsters. So much so that his law firm asks him to resign. But when a friend (Phillips Holmes) is accused of murdering a party girl (Mae Clarke), the attorney accepts the case and takes up with a call girl (Myrna Loy) in helping solve the murder. Based on the novel by Arthur Somers Roche and directed by W.S. Van Dyke (SAN FRANCISCO). This crime movie has the advantage of being a pre-code film which allows them to make it very clear what Loy's profession is and Loy is the reason to watch the movie. This was the kind of potboilers that MGM were assigning Loy until she was rescued the next year with THE THIN MAN (1934) and moved up to MGM's A list stars. The film is entertaining in its own B movie way although it's not very good but in addition to Loy, there are two supporting performances that stand out: Mae Clarke makes the most of her brief part before she's killed off and Nat Pendleton as a racketeer brought a smile to my lips whenever he popped up. With Charles Butterworth, Martha Sleeper, C. Henry Gordon and Theresa Harris.  

Grâce à Dieu (aka By The Grace Of God) (2019)

A bank executive and practicing Catholic (Melvil Poupaud) is assailed by memories of sexual abuse by his priest (Bernard Verley) when he was a boy. He is horrified when he learns that the priest is still active within the church and working with children. But he isn't the only victim of the priest. Directed by Francois Ozon (UNDER THE SAND) and based on the 2019 conviction of Cardinal Barbarin (played here by Francois Marthouret) for concealing the conduct of Father Bernard Preynot (played by Verley), who molested children for decades before eventually defrocked and convicted. Ozon is known for his strong work with actresses (Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert to name three) but here it's the male characters that dominate the movie. The Oscar winning film SPOTLIGHT (2015) also covered sexual abuse by priests and the Catholic church's covering up but Ozon concentrates on three adult male protagonists (Denis Menochet and Swann Arlaud are the other two) and focuses on what the effect of the sexual abuse had on their lives (guilt, shame, loss of faith in the Catholic church, sexual dysfunction etc.). Rather than a deja vu "we've heard it all before" experience, this allows the film to center on the victims rather than the institutional whitewashing. A potent film. With Josiane Balasko and Aurelia Petit.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Smilin' Through (1941)

A young English lass (Jeanette MacDonald) falls in love with a young American (Gene Raymond). The romance is opposed by her guardian (Brian Aherne) who resents the young American, who is the son of the man (Gene Raymond) who murdered his great love (Jeanette MacDonald). Based on the 1919 play by Jane Cowl and Jane Murfin (previously filmed in 1922 and 1932) and directed by Frank Borzage (A FAREWELL TO ARMS). Boy, does this one positively creak! Unlike the previous film versions, musical numbers have been added to accomodate MacDonald but even so she's used here more as an actress than as a singer. She plays dual roles (an aunt and her niece) but if her characters didn't have different names, you'd never be able to tell the difference. In his dual roles, Gene Raymond fares somewhat better. Technicolor has also been added but it's a slog to get through. If you hadn't seen Borzage's better films, you'd never know he wasn't a hack judging by this one. Unfortunately, the print I saw had faded colors and the transfer I saw was on the soft side. Maybe if I had seen a pristine print, I might have enjoyed it more ..... maybe. With Ian Hunter and Patrick O'Moore.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Blue Hawaii (1961)

Just released from the Army, a young man (Elvis Presley) is eager to return to his beach lifestyle of surfing and hanging out with his friends. But his mother (Angela Lansbury) is pushing for him to follow in his father's (Roland Winters) footsteps and take over the management of the family's pineapple factory. Directed by Norman Taurog (GIRL CRAZY), this formulaic Elvis musical is strictly for the diehard Elvis fans. Presley was just coming off two dramatic films (FLAMING STAR, WILD IN THE COUNTRY) where the emphasis was on his acting, not his singing. They weren't smash hits but BLUE HAWAII was and this Elvis formula (with the occasional detour) continued for the rest of his movie career: light but thin "barely there" plots, lots of pretty girls and a load of cranked out Elvis songs (some good, most mediocre). Angela Lansbury (only 10 years older than Elvis) brings a bit of humor as his Southern belle mother and Charles Lang's wide screen (Panavision) lensing accents the beauty of the Hawaiian islands. In fact, the whole movie seems like a long and expensive commercial for Hawaiian tourism. With Joan Blackman, Nancy Walters, John Archer, Jenny Maxwell and Iris Adrian.

Ambush (1950)

The U.S. Cavalry knows that traveling through unmapped hostile Apache territory in search of a woman (Marta Mitrovich) kidnapped by Apaches could mean a trap. So they ask a prospector and scout (Robert Taylor) who knows both the terrain and ways of the Apache for help. Based on the short story by Luke Short and directed by Sam Wood (GOODBYE MR. CHIPS). As a fan of movie westerns, I always enjoy coming across a new (to me) western that's above average. APACHE isn't a great western but it has a lot going for it including a solid screenplay by Marguerite Roberts, who adapted the book TRUE GRIT (1969) for the screen and a strong performance by Robert Taylor. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is a subplot involing an abused wife (Jean Hagen), her brute husband (Bruce Cowling) and the Cavalry Lieutenant (Don Taylor) who loves her. The outdoor B&W cinematography by Harold Lipstein (HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS) is very good and makes good use of the New Mexico and Simi Valley, California locations. The public liked it enough to make it a modest hit. With Arlene Dahl, John Hodiak, John McIntire, Leon Ames and Chief Thundercloud.