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Monday, May 31, 2010

Love Is A Many Splendored Thing (1955)

This glossy romance between an American correspondent (William Holden) and a Eurasian doctor (Jennifer Jones) is one of the seminal 1950s celluloid love stories. In comparison to most movie romances of this period (like AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER), it’s solidly written with a restraint in the romanticism. Holden is solid but the film belongs to Jones who is positively radiant here. The handsome Hong Kong locales (expertly shot by Leon Shamroy, Oscar nominated here), Alfred Newman’s Oscar winning beautiful score (incorporating the popular title song) assist in making this one of the more memorable movie romances. With Torin Thatcher, Murray Matheson, Isobel Elsom, Donna Martell and Virginia Gregg.

Some Came Running (1958)

One of the great films of the 1950s, this is one of the cinematic highpoints in the Vincente Minnelli canon. Only Douglas Sirk has better exploited the melodrama into an art form and infused it with such incisiveness. Based on the massive 1200 page James Jones best seller, the film follows an ex-serviceman’s and failed writer (Frank Sinatra) unwilling return to the small mid-western town of his birth where his presence disturbs his social climbing brother (Arthur Kennedy). Two women, an uneducated but goodhearted tramp (Shirley MacLaine in an Oscar nominated performance) and a cultivated schoolteacher (Martha Hyer, also Oscar nominated) both pull him in opposite directions. Minnelli almost pushes it to the heights of tragedy, using visual imagery (the stunning carnival sequence was borrowed by Brian De Palma for his BLOW OUT) to create both the conflicts and hypocrisy of a small post war Midwestern town struggling with the new morality and the changing climate of class and respectability. With Dean Martin, Nancy Gates, Leora Dana, Betty Lou Keim, Larry Gates, Connie Gilchrist, Marion Ross and Carmen Phillips.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ladies Of The House (2008)

Three women (Florence Henderson, Pam Grier, Donna Mills) are asked by their pastor (Michael Ensign) to help refurbish a dilapidated old house left to the church by a parishioner. Each woman must also deal with a crisis within their own marriages. Directed by James A. Contner, this is listed as a "Faith Family Production" and that about says it all. The movie means to be inspirational but it trudges along dutifully with homilies sprinkled through out. The ladies do their best to punch it up (though Donna Mills' plastic surgery has caused her to eerily morph into Faye Dunaway) and they have a nice chemistry camaraderie between them. Richard Roundtree, Lance Henriksen and Gordon Thomson are the men in their lives. 

Search For Beauty (1934)

Two con artists (Robert Armstrong, Gertrude Michael) fresh out of prison join forces with a third (James Gleason) using an exercise and health magazine as a front for more nefarious activities. To this end, they lure two Olympic swimming champions (Ida Lupino, Buster Crabbe) to front for them. Based on a play by Schuyler E. Grey and Paul Milton and directed by Erle C. Kenton, this pre-code film isn't as saucy as some. Some bouncing braless bosoms, male nudity and a handful of double entendres. Lupino hadn't quite defined her persona yet but she's a spirited ingenue though Crabbe is hopelessly wooden but then I don't think he was hired for his acting. There's an international "search for beauty" health contest for the best specimens that is kind of creepy as everyone is distinctly Aryan in their look (nary a Spaniard or Italian in the bunch). There's a major production number with all the specimens marching and exercising while patriotic music plays and I couldn't help but be reminded of Leni Riefenstahl's TRIUMPH OF THE WILL. With Toby Wing and Bradley Page.

Strawberry Shortcakes (2006)

Hitoshi Yazaki’s quietly knowing film focuses on four young women in contemporary Tokyo as each grapples with the messiness of love. A receptionist (Chizuru Ikewaki) at an escort service, a call girl (Yuko Nakimura) so fatalistic she sleeps in a coffin, a graphic artist (Kiriko Nananan) and an office clerical (Noriko Nakagoshi). Each looking for that special someone but for some of us, it never happens and this journey takes them through the process of accepting it and realizing that a contentment can still be had from life, even for those who never quite find romantic happiness. The film is near remarkable in its subtlety, lacking the obviousness that many such themed films would hit you over the head with. Isao Ishii’s cinematography and Chie Matsumoto’s production design make enormous contributions to the telling. Highly recommended and a big thank you to Kerpan for sharing this film with me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rachel, Rachel (1968)

Still living at home with her mother (Kate Harrington), a 35 year old virgin (Joanne Woodward) lives a life of quiet desperation in a small town. When a visiting high school teacher (James Olson) comes to town to visit his parents, she loses her virginity but the chance for happiness she hoped for doesn't come. Based on the novel A JEST OF GOD by Margaret Laurence and directed by Paul Newman. Tedious to the extreme, this is like a Tennessee Williams play but without the poetry. The film has lots of unnecessary flashbacks with Rachel as a little girl (played by Newman and Woodward's daughter, Nell Potts) to pad it out and annoying little voice overs by Woodward and fantasy sequences that don't ring true. There is one marvelous sequence however. A religious revival meeting lead by Geraldine Fitzgerald that perfectly captures the feverishness of such an even as well as Woodward's growing claustrophobia. The unobtrusive score is by Jerome Moross. Inexplicably admired in its day (it still has its admirers), it even got a best picture nomination. With Estelle Parsons, Frank Corsaro, Terry Kiser and Donald Moffat.

Unknown Island (1948)

A motley group of adventurers (Richard Denning, Virginia Grey, Barton MacLane, Phillip Reed) search out an unchartered island where prehistoric animals still exist. Directed by Jack Bernhard, this is a tacky low budget precursor to JURASSIC PARK with a little bit of KING KONG tossed in. Instead of the Ray Harryhausen stop motion technique which would have been cost prohibitive, we get rubber dinosaurs and men in gorilla suits. It's purely a sound stage jungle and desert island with lots of process shots and backdrops. It was filmed in the ugly CineColor process which gives the film the look of a colorized film though, to be fair, it might have been the condition of the transfer I watched. Still, it's amusing in its cheesy "B" movie way. 

Gun Glory (1957)

A gunslinger (Stewart Granger) who abandoned his wife and son (the pretty but untalented Steve Rowland, the director's son) returns home after many years to find his wife is dead and his son resentful toward him. The peaceful town isn't happy with his return either but when a bully of a cattleman (James Gregory) threatens to drive his cattle through town, they have second thoughts. Based on the novel MAN OF THE WEST (whose title was used the following year for a Gary Cooper western) by Philip Yordan and directed by Roy Rowland (5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T). This is a middling western with enough action to keep one's attention. The ultra British Granger might not be your idea of a cowboy but he manages not to embarrass himself. There's not much you can say about a western like this. It's not memorable but it's passable entertainment. With Rhonda Fleming as the red-haired beauty who works as Granger's housekeeper causing the town gossips to wag their tongues. Burl Ives sings the movie's title song. With Chill Wills (particularly restrained as the town's preacher), Jacques Aubuchon and Arch Johnson.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Vivre Sa Vie (aka My Life To Live) (1962)

An aimless young girl (Anna Karina) half heartedly aspires to become an actress but drifts into prostitution which ultimately proves fatal. Directed by Jean Luc Godard, this is one of his most successfully audacious films. I say successful because it is in the sense that he accomplishes exactly what he set out to do but without alienating certain segments of his audience (not that he'd care). That doesn't mean the endeavor is not without obstacles. Godard is fortunate that the camera (and Godard) adores Anna Karina who is the film's subject. Without Karina, I can't imagine the film existing with the same impact. Godard presents the film in twelve chapters, his camera seemingly as aimless as Karina's Nana but you can be sure the camera is exactly where Godard wants it to be. Some of it may come across as a bit coy like a scene in a restaurant where the action is played by focusing on the back of the heads of the actors rather than their faces. Others are inspired like another restaurant scene where the street outside the window is obviously a backdrop with walking figures frozen in motion (or is it merely wallpaper?). Occasionally, it's self indulgent but those moments are more than made up for by moments like Karina's spontaneous dance at a pool hall which may be the most blissful moment in any of Godard's films. The music is by Michel Legrand. With Sady Rebbot and Brice Parain. 

Wedding Night (1935)

Unusual King Vidor film for its day in that it manages to eschew the usual clichés of the usual “forbidden love” romances and is surprisingly and refreshingly adult. A novelist (a particularly charmless Gary Cooper) has a horrible case of writers block so he and his wife (Helen Vinson in the film’s best performance) leave Manhattan for the rural Connecticut countryside near a community of Polish immigrants. The community, in particular a young girl (Anna Sten), gives Cooper inspiration for his next novel while his bored wife goes back to New York. Inevitably, they fall in love but the film doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go and avoids the usual clichés about adultery. Sten is quite appealing but Samuel Goldwyn’s attempt into make a her major Star flopped every bit as much as her films. Pity, she’s likable and talented. The most interesting character is Vinson’s wife, who’s witty and nice and who acknowledges the other woman but won’t give him up because she loves him rather being vindictive which would make it so much easier to dislike her. With Ralph Bellamy as Sten’s brute of a fiancé, Walter Brennan, Esther Dale and Sig Ruman.

La Boheme (1926)

Set in the Bohemian district of 1830 Parisa fragile young seamstress (Lillian Gish) and a struggling playwright (John Gilbert) fall in love. But poverty and jealousy has a negative effect on their relationship. Based on the Giacomo Puccini opera which in turn was based on SCENES DE LA VIE DE BOHEME by Henri Murger and directed by King Vidor (DUEL IN THE SUN). Has any actress in silent cinema suffered as much as Lillian Gish? Tossed out into a snow storm and floating on ice to a waterfall death in WAY DOWN EASThiding terrified in a closet from an abusive father in BROKEN BLOSSOMSdriven mad in the desert in THE WIND etc. Heredyingshe literally drags herself through the cobblestoned streets of Paris to see her love for the last time! Vidor's BOHEME is a lovely film that allows the legendary Gish to give one of her best performances as the doomed waifMimi. Gish has one of the longest death scenes in movies but it's hard to keep the tear ducts dry. The tinny piano score that accompanied the transfer I saw doesn't do the film justice. With Renee Adoree (THE BIG PARADE) and Edward Everett Horton. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tony Rome (1967)

A down on his luck Miami private eye (Frank Sinatra) is hired by his ex-partner (Robert J. Wilke) to return a millionaire's daughter (Sue Lyon), who went on a drunken binge and passed out at a cheap motel to her father (Simon Oakland). Based on the novel by Marvin H. Albert and directed by Gordon Douglas. If it had been shot in B&W and directed by Don Siegel and starred Robert Mitchum, this might have made a terrific noir. As it is, it's shot in bright candy pastels in color and Panavision. It has that "ring-a-ding-ding" swinging Sinatra vibes which automatically causes us to take the events portrayed less seriously than we should. It may have one of the most complicated plots since THE BIG SLEEP but lacks that film's style. The large cast includes Gena Rowlands, Jill St. John, Richard Conte, Jeffrey Lynn, Shecky Greene, Lloyd Bochner, Virginia Vincent, Jeanne Cooper and Elisabeth Fraser.

Marie (1985)

A single mother (Sissy Spacek) with three children goes back to college to get a degree and eventually becomes the head of the Tennessee parole board. But the governor's office is corrupt and accepts bribes for clemency pardons and paroles. Eventuallyshe is fired for not playing ball but instead of accepting itshe fights back. Based on the non fiction book by Peter Maas which tells the true story of Marie Ragghiantia woman who exposed corruption in the Tennessee legal system and whose subsequent actions including a court trial for wrongful dismissal sent several people including the governor (Don Hood) to prison. It's a pretty dramatic and juicy story but director Roger Donaldson (NO WAY OUT) and his screenwriter John Briley (an Oscar winner for his GANDHI screenplay) offer up a nondescript TV movie. The court trial which should be the centerpiece of the film is shockingly tepid. Steven Soderbergh showed how to handle a similar subject the right way with ERIN BROCKOVICH. Sissy Spacek tries in the title role but it's underwritten. Francis Lai composed the subtly effective score. With Morgan FreemanJeff DanielsJohn Cullum and playing himselfFred Dalton Thompson who was Marie's attorney before embarking on an acting career and the U.S. Senate. 

The Beast Within (1982)

Quite possibly, if not the worst, the most disgusting horror film I’ve seen. A young couple (Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch) traveling thru a small Southern town have their car breakdown. He leaves her alone in the car to get help but she is brutally raped by an unseen attacker. Jump 17 years and their 17 year old “son” is having major medical problems that may kill him. So, they travel back to the small town to find the “father”. What follows is bloody and graphic but filled with such boneheaded characters that can’t seem to add 2 and 2 and come up with 4. The writing, directing and acting are stupendous in their ineptness . When one character goes thru a hideous horrifying physical transformation, does anyone scream? Run for help? Get their asses out of the room? No, they all watch and stare open mouthed! The score is by Les Baxter.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

S.O.B. (1981)

After his expensive movie becomes a notorious flop, a famous director (Richard Mulligan) loses his mind and after several failed suicide attempts, decides to turn his flop into a softcore  erotic flick including nude scenes by his wife (Julie Andrews), a wholesome actress known as America's Sweetheart. After his unpleasant experience with Paramount and DARLING LILI, Blake Edwards wrote this black comedy, an outrageous satire on the swinish excesses, hedonism and self indulgence of Hollywood, which still hasn't quite found its audience almost thirty years after it was made. It's uneven to be sure but filled with witty arrows and amusing stings. It's a venomous fairy tale (with a little payback) and while one wishes it were better, it's good enough. The huge cast includes William Holden, Robert Preston, Shelley Winters, Rosanna Arquette, Larry Hagman, Robert Loggia, Marisa Berenson, Robert Webber, Robert Vaughn, Gene Nelson, Loretta Swit, Craig Stevens, Paul Stewart and Virginia Gregg.

Valentine's Day (2010)

Garry Marshall directs this omnibus on romance with decidedly mixed results, mostly negative. The films takes about 20 characters in various stages of romantic love and criss crosses their paths for two hours. The conceit is too slight to carry the burden placed on its shoulders. There’s no time to know everyone so everything is telegraphed for us, there are no surprises, no romance and very few laughs. Two characters, a florist (Ashton Kutcher) and his school teacher best friend (Jennifer Garner), anchor the story while everyone and everything else moves around them. Marshall simply tries to pack too much into a small container. The huge cast includes Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper (in the film’s one surprise scene), Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Queen Latifah (who has the film’s best lines), Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Joe Mantegna, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts and Taylor Swift.

Dr. Renault's Secret (1942)

A young doctor (Shepperd Strudwick) arrives in France to meet his fiancee's (Lynne Roberts) uncle (George Zucco) who has been conducting some unethical scientific experiments. His assistant is a strangesimple minded simian like man called Noel (J. Carrol Naish). Loosely based on BALAOO by Gaston Leroux (PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) and directed by Harry Lachman. This minor Fox programmer is barely an hour long which is just as well as it's not very good. It's suggestive of H.G. Wells' ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU and it doesn't take us long to connect the dots. The most interesting aspect of the film is the affecting and touching portrayal of Naish's Noelwho is a sympathetic figure rather than of horrorsort of like Quasimodo. The film features an early score by David Raksin (LAURA). With Mike MazurkiAnn Codee and Arthur Shields.

The Rains Came (1939)

Set in the Indian city of Ranchipura jaded playgirl (Myrna Loy) married to a titled British aristocrat (Nigel Bruce) has her eyes set on the local native physician (Tyrone Powerweak but looking impossibly handsome). A dissolute painter (George Brent) finds himself the object of affection from a missionary's daughter (Brenda Joyce). When a horrendous earthquake and flood  followed by a plague epidemic threatens to destroy the cityduty must be put forward before personal lives. Based on the novel by Louis Bromfield and directed by Clarence Brown (THE YEARLING). 20th Century Fox spared no expense in this lavish adaptation of Bromfield's novel. They imported Loy and director Brown from MGM as well as Brent from Warner Brothers. Loy is particularly good playing against type rather than the usual perfect wives she played at MGM. The special effects were top notch for its day and good enough to win the best special effects Oscar over THE WIZARD OF OZ. A first rate melodrama. Remade in 1955 under the title THE RAINS OF RANCHIPUR in CinemaScope. Also in the cast: Maria OuspenskayaJoseph SchildkrautJane DarwellMarjorie RambeauHenry Travers and H.B. Warner.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Conspirator (1949)

On her first trip to Englanda young 18 year old girl (Elizabeth Taylor) has a whirlwind romance and marries a dashing Army officer (Robert Taylor). What begins as a blissful happy marriage turns dark when she discovers to her horror that her husband is actually a Communist spy working for the Soviets. Based on the novel by Humphrey Slater and directed by Victor Saville (GREEN DOLPHIN STREET). It's a surprisingly well doneif dated cold war spy thriller. The screws get tightened as the husband realizes that he may have to kill her to shut her up. There's more than a little Hitchcock influence going on here. There's even a scene of Robert Taylor going up the stairs with a drink in his hand a la Cary Grant in SUSPICION.  Howeverunlike that compromised filmCONSPIRATOR continues to its inevitable downbeat conclusion. While Robert Taylor can't quite bring the conflict the role requires to the foreElizabeth Taylor is perfect as the naive young bride forced to grow up in a hurry. With Honor BlackmanWilfrid Hyde WhiteThora HirdRobert FlemyngKarel Stepanek and Helen Haye.

Little Giant (1933)

After the repeal of prohibitiona Chicago gangster (Edward G. Robinson) decides to go straight and using the profits from his bootlegging yearshe heads to Santa BarbaraCalifornia to break into respectable society. He's a babe in the woods however as a gold digging heiress (Helen VinsonI WAS A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG) whose family is near bankruptcy sinks her claws into him. Directed by Roy Del Ruththis is an amusing "fish out of water" comedy. Robinson displays some fine comedy chops and there's a rugged sweetness about him that's charmingeven when threatening to put his foot down the throat of a dowager. With Mary Astor as the financially strapped heiress that rents her mansion to Robinson and Russell Hopton as Robinson's humorous sidekick. 

Queen Bee (1955)

A young girl (Lucy MarlowA STAR IS BORN) comes to stay at her cousin's home in Georgia. Thereshe finds a family on the edgeruled by a manipulative bitch (Joan Crawford), the Queen Bee of the title. Based on the novel by Edna L. Lee and directed by Ranald MacDougallwho scripted the 1945 MILDRED PIERCE. Irresistible trashbadly acted (except by Betsy Palmer) and as subtle as a sledgehammer. This is perhaps the quintessential Joan Crawford vehicle. Crawford overdoes the wickedness to the extreme that you'd think she was playing the evil queen in Snow White. Any attempts at taking it at all seriously go right out the window. It may be her worst performancethere's not a note of sincerity in her entire performance. Her breakdown in front of a mirror with cold cream is simply godawful. Stillit's enjoyable in the way that only some truly bad movies can be. Except for Betsy Palmer's touching performance as one of Crawford's victimsthe rest of the cast seems stunned into submission by La Crawford. They include Barry SullivanJohn IrelandFay Wray and William Leslie.

Monday, May 24, 2010

5 Against The House (1955)

Flabby heist thriller courtesy of director Phil Karlson who’s done better work in the thriller genre. A group of annoying, aimless, aging college students (Guy Madison, Brian Keith, Kerwin Mathews, Alvy Moore) concoct a plan to rob a Reno casino. The plot is fairly ridiculous and riddled with plot holes. There’s very little tension which is death to a thriller and the characters so pedestrian that you don’t care if their plan is successful or not but one can’t help wishing they’ll get caught as punishment for putting you through it all. Fortunately, there’s Kim Novak (as Madison’s girlfriend) looking all movie goddessy to remind us why she became a Star. Kathryn Grant, Jean Willes and William Conrad co-star.

Bug (2006)

A lonely, disaffected cocktail waitress (Ashley Judd) meets a strange young man (Michael Shannon) and what begins as a seemingly benign relationship between two emotionally isolated people turns into a dark tale of paranoia and psychological horror. Based on the play by Tracy Letts (AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY) and directed by William Friedkin (THE FRENCH CONNECTION). An unsettling and disturbing film which as a play had some success in London and New York (off-Broadway). With a couple of exceptions, the entire movie takes place in a shoddy motel room which in most cases would betray its stage bound roots but in this case heightens the claustrophobia so integral to the story. Judd is sensational in what might well be a career best performance as the girl and Shannon gives an intense and genuinely creepy performance as the ex-soldier. It was marketed as a horror film but it's not a traditional horror movie and audiences stayed away. Like Darren Aronofsky's misunderstood MOTHER!, mainstream audiences didn't get it. Not for the faint of heart. With Harry Connick Jr. and Lynn Collins. 

He's Just Not That Into You (2009)

This ensemble romantic comedy doesn’t explore any new territory but it’s quite engaging and a notch above most of the standard run of the mill romcoms. Sort of a LA RONDE re-imagined with 20 somethings, the story is lucky to be populated by five of the most likeable young actresses working today: Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Scarlett Johansson, Ginnifer Goodwin plus the likeable Kevin Connelly as it twists and turns as everyone plays romantic musical chairs and the occasional nugget of truth emerges amongst the romcom clichés. Alas, Johansson has her two best scenes cut from the film (including one with Theresa Russell as her mother) which is unfortunate as they give us a little more insight into her character. Ben Affleck, Kris Kristofferson and Justin Long co-star.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pearl Of The South Pacific (1955)

Three con artists (Virginia MayoDennis MorganDavid Farrar) arrive at a secluded island intent on stealing black pearls from the island's lagoon. Directed by the veteran Allan Dwanwhose career goes all the way back to the silent era and who's done much better. This south seas adventure is a Saturday matinee potboiler set on a sound stage desert island with a rubber giant squid in a stage bound lagoon. Virginia Mayo masquerades as a missionary and I love the way the film has her clothes stolen so she can wander around preaching Jesus in a sarong! Dennis Morgan provides minimal romantic interest and David Farrar is a cardboard villain. Basil Ruysdael is the white man who lords over the natives and is justifiably suspicious of his shady visitors. It's all pretty hokey and must have seemed so even in 1955. With Lance FullerLisa Montell and Murvyn Vye.

On The Town (1949)

On their first trip to the Big Applethree sailors (Gene KellyFrank SinatraJules Munshin) are on a 24 hour shore leave in New York where they fall in love with three girls (Betty GarrettAnn MillerVera Ellen). Based on the 1944 hit Broadway musical and directed by Gene Kelly (who I assume was responsible for the uncredited choreography) and Stanley Donen. Not really as innovative (except for its on location shooting) as its prominent reputation would suggest but it sure sparkles. The word exuberant comes to mind. Inexplicablyjust about all the Leonard Bernstein and Betty Comden and Adolph Green songs from the show were junked and replaced by Roger Edens' music with Comden and Green again doing the lyrics.  The new songs aren't a bad lot (Prehistoric Man is a delightful musical highpoint) but I Can Cook Too is sorely missed. As much as I love this movieit would be nice if a film more faithful to the original musical could be made. With Alice Pearce (repeating her stage role)Florence Bates and Carol Haney.

Night Of The Iguana (1964)

An ex-minister (Richard Burton) after suffering a nervous breakdown (and an alcoholic) is reduced to being a tour guide for a third rate travel agency. At the end of his rope and desperatehe kidnaps a tour bus of female school teachers and at a rundown hotel in Mexico overlooking the sea must come to terms with his demons. Based on the play by Tennessee Williams and directed by John Huston. While NIGHT OF THE IGUANA doesn't have the regard of some of Williams' more renown works like A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE or CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOFit features some of Williams' most eloquent writing. Huston maks some additions (like the sequences prior to the arrival at Maxine's hotel) and some deletions (like the German hotel guests) but for the most part is quite faithful to the play. No American playwright (with the possible exception of Eugene O'Neill) expresses the beauty and pain of the human condition as well as Williams. The performances are impeccable with Deborah Kerr as the New England spinsteralso at the end of her ropewho has the play's best lines. Handsomely shot in B&Wone can't help wonder what color would have added to the film but perhaps the lushness of the tropical setting would have been too distracting. The subdued score is by Benjamin Frankel. With Ava GardnerSue LyonGrayson Hall (in an Oscar nominated performance)Cyril Delevanti and Skip Ward. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

MacGruber (2010)

How do you take an amusing 2 or 3 minute recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live and turn it into a 90 minute feature length film? Well, you can’t, not successfully. At least if MACGRUBER is any indication. Hardly as bad as the critics are proclaiming but there’s no denying that the film just doesn’t work. Oh sure, there’s bound to be the occasional laugh. A cemetery sex scene had me chuckling and the amazing Kristen Wiig can bring a smile to your lips with the weakest of material. But a lot of it is just sophomoric adolescent humor and if celery stalks up the butt is your idea of funny then you might enjoy it. Will Forte is a talented comic but not enough to overcome the half witted screenplay. With Ryan Phillippe, Maya Rudolph, Powers Boothe and Val Kilmer.

Letters To Juliet (2010)

An aspiring writer (Amanda Seyfried) is on vacation with her fiance (Gael Garcia Bernal) in VeronaItaly when she finds a letter written over 50 years ago by a distressed English teenage girl in love with an Italian boy she must abandon. When the Englishwoman (Vanessa Redgrave) comes to Italy many decades later with her stodgy grandson (Christopher Egan) to seek out the Italian boy she lovedthe writer decides to accompany them on their quest. Directed by Gary Winick (TADPOLE)this unabashedly romantic tale is fairly predictable but if you're a hopeless romanticyou're likely to drop all pretense and revel in it. For the rest of youthere's the gorgeous Italian scenery and landscape. Seyfried is an attractive and likable screen presence but it's the glorious Redgrave who spins gold out of the most mundane dialogue. The film takes on an added poignancy if you know the real life history of Redgrave and Franco Nero (who plays the Italian boy as an adult). With Oliver Platt and Luisa Ranieri.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Haeundae (aka Tidal Wave) (2009)

Set in Haeundaea popular Korean beach resort located in the Busan districtan assortment of characters cross pathsform allegiances and fall in love while a series of undersea earthquakes grow stronger eventually building to a tsunami that hits the beach town with disastrous results. Directed by Yoon Je Kyoonthis Korean disaster film is about as good as any of Hollywood's offerings and in some casesa damn sight better. Unlike many of its Hollywood counterparts (at least recent ones)Kyoon's film gives ample time to the development of the charactersletting us get to know them in detail and their backstories rather than the stick figures Hollywood often gives who are there simply to perish. So when the Tsunami hitswe are invested in their fate. There is a lot humor in the movie which seems out of place but then again I'm beginning to suspect I don't get Korean humor anymore than I get British humor. I didn't much "get" the humor in THE HOST either. As with all multiple storyline filmsthe cast is large but I particularly liked Min Ki Lee as a lifeguard and rescue worker. Kim Yeong Ho's wide screen compositions are excellent with a fireworks sequence particularly poignant and romantic and there's a solid score by Lee Byung Woo. With Sol Kyung GuHa Ji Won and Uhm Jung Hwa.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mr. Imperium (1951)

An American singer (Lana Turner) working in Italy meets a Prince (Ezio Pinza) and they fall in love but duty call and the Prince returns to his country. Jump 12 years latershe is a famous Hollywood actress and he is a King. They have a rendezvous in Palm Springs which rekindles their romance. Based on the play by Edwin H. Knopf and directed by Don Hartman (HOLIDAY AFFAIR). Opera singer Ezio Pinza had a great success on Broadway in SOUTH PACIFIC. MGM attempted to repeat the success by turning him into a film star. It backfired! Pinza is a weak actorhas zero screen presence and one cringes for poor Lana Turner whenever he attempts to make love to her (in actualityshe couldn't stand him). MGM released his second film STRICTLY DISHONORABLE first and then MR. IMPERIUM. After thatit was back to opera for him. The songs are by Harold Arlen and Dorothy Fieldnormally terrific songwriters but they come up with mediocrities here. Some spark is provided by a young Debbie Reynolds and Marjorie Main. With Barry SullivanCedric Hardwicke and Ann Codee. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mayday At 40,000 Feet (1976)

A convicted murderer (Marjoe Gortnerrecycling his EARTHQUAKE performance) is being transported on a passenger airline and overcomes the Federal Marshal (Broderick Crawford) accompanying himtakes his gun and goes amokshooting several passengers and disabling the plane's hydraulic system. Based on JET STREAM by Andrew Ferguson and directed by Robert Butler (NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER). This telefilm is an attempt to ride on the coattails of the AIRPORT movie franchise though not nearly as fun. It lacks production values and glamour and the "all star" cast is far from Star laden. The film espouses the usual cliches in the genre and the poor actors can't do much with their stereotypical parts. The one exception is Shani Wallis (OLIVER!) who brings some vigor to her flight attendant. The rest of the cast includes David Janssen as the pilotChristopher George as the co-pilotJane PowellRay MillandLynda Day GeorgeMargaret Blye and Philip Baker Hall. 

Milky Way (aka La Voie Lactee) (1969)

Luis Bunuel in an irreverent playful mood again but, alas, not as irreverent as the film would like to think it is. Two beggars (Laurent Terzieff, Paul Frankeur) journey from France to Spain on a pilgrimage to a holy shrine. Along the way, they meet an odd assortment of both contemporary and historical religious and secular characters. The film examines the absurdities and anomalies of the Catholic church’s dogma as well as heresy, the virgin birth, the holy trinity and miracles. The plot is fragmented, not unlike Bunuel’s DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE and PHANTOM OF LIBERTY. Still, as blasphemous satires go, it’s more fun than SIMON OF THE DESERT. Among the more familiar faces in the large cast are Delphine Seyrig, Michel Piccoli, Pierre Clementi, Alain Cuny and Julian Bertheau.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Sniper (1952)

Set in San Franciscoa misogynist serial killer (Arthur Franz) randomly murders women which strikes terror among the populace. The two police detectives (Adolphe MenjouGerald Mohr) assigned to the case are stumped by the lack of clues until a psychiatrist (Richard Kiley) points the way. Directed by Edward Dmytryk (CROSSFIRE)the movie in its own way is as unsettling as PEEPING TOM. For a minor B filmit has some impressive credentials behind the camera. Oscar winning writer Harry Brown (A PLACE IN THE SUN) did the screenplay from a story by Edward and Edna Anhalt (PANIC IN THE STREETS)cinematography by Burnett Guffey (BONNIE AND CLYDE) and a score by George Antheil. Filmed on locationthere's an almost documentary like feel to the film. On the downsidethis was produced by Stanley Kramer so there's a social message. Namelythe early discovery and treatment of sex offenders before they become a threat to society. A noble and good idea but when Richard Kiley's psychiatrist gives his heavy handed big speechthe film shuts down. The movie never gives us an explanation of the killer's motive other than a generic "blame mother" diagnosis. The film walks a fine line between exploitation and social drama. With Marie Windsor as the first victim (and a shocking exit)Frank FaylenRobin RaymondCarl Benton ReidJean Willes and Lilian Bond.

Sherlock Holmes (1922)

A young woman (Carol Dempster) has some incriminating letters against a Prince (Reginald Denny) that she threatens to publish as revenge for her sister's (Peggy Bayfield) suicide for which she considers the Prince responsible. Those letters are wanted by both Sherlock Holmes (John Barrymore) and his nemesis Professor Moriarty (Gustav Von Seyfferitz). Based on a play by William Gillette and directed by Albert Parker. Since this isn't based on any of the Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle but Gillette's pastiche playthere's not much authenticity here. The character of Holmesat least as written heredoesn't give Barrymore much chance to shine which leaves Von Seyfferitz's Moriarty to take the acting honors. It's of archival interest to Holmes buffs and Barrymore fans but it's really not a particularly good film. The cast consists of some familiar faces who would later go on to higher profile careers and it's fun to see them looking so young. They include William Powell and Roland Young (both in their film debuts) as well as Hedda Hopper (who would abandon acting to become a famous gossip columnist). With Louis Wolheim and Anders Randolf. Alasthe transfer I watched had one of those dreadful organ scores so I turned the sound off and substituted Jerry Goldsmith (MAGIC) and Elmer Bernstein (MARIE WARD) scores instead.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Brass Bottle (1964)

An architect (Tony Randall) uncorks a brass bottle which lets out a genie (Burl Ives), who in gratitude for being freed tries to help out the architect but only succeeds in messing up his life consistently. The inspiration for the popular long running television series I DREAM OF JEANNIE, this inoffensive family friendly fantasy comedy plays out like a TV sitcom and even looks it with its familiarly bland Universal back lot houses and streets. The laughs are obvious and infrequent although the dinner party sequence is fairly amusing. It doesn't help that Ives hardly looks Middle Eastern but every bit the Scottish Irishman that he is. Still, it's a modestly pleasant time waster. But the cast is game including Barbara Eden (who would later play TV's JEANNIE) as Randall's fiancee, Kamala Devi, Edward Andrews, Richard Erdman, Ann Doran and Kathie Browne.

The Caretakers (1963)

Well intentioned if agitated melodrama about a mental hospital that becomes a battlefield between a new forward thinking doctor (Robert Stack) and the iron maiden head of the nursing staff (Joan Crawford) who believes in discipline. With one exception, the mental patients represent a “greatest hits” of crazy patients clichés. Polly Bergen has the most screen time among the mentally ill and she can’t seem to resist the opportunity to chew up the scenery with her unbridled hysteria. Only Janis Paige (in the film’s best performance) as a man hating hooker is able to flesh out a human being rather than a stereotype. The B&W cinematography by Lucien Ballard was good enough to get an Oscar nomination and the score by Elmer Bernstein is a killer. The large cast includes Diane McBain, Robert Vaughn, Susan Oliver, Herbert Marshall, Constance Ford, Barbara Barrie, Sharon Hugueny, Ellen Corby and Van Williams.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Letter To Three Wives (1949)

Three wives (Jeanne CrainLinda DarnellAnn Sothern) chaperoning a children's picnic receive a letter from their "friend" (Celeste Holm) notifying them that she has run off with one of their husbands. As the day slowly progresseseach wife reflects on their marriage and the possibility that her husband might be the one. Based on A LETTER TO FIVE WIVES by John Klempner and adapted for the screen and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. This sharp and witty slice of satire earned Mankiewicz two Oscars for his screenplay and directiona hat trick he would repeat the following year for his other sharp and witty slice of satireALL ABOUT EVE. Like EVEthe dialogue is so tartly written that repeated viewings cannot diminish the enjoyment. Fortunately for Mankiewicznone of his cast disappoints. From Crain who gives a career best performance to an immaculate performance from Paul Douglas as Darnell's sugar daddy spouse. Movies don't get any better than this. The film was originally titled A LETTER TO FOUR WIVES with Anne Baxter as the fourth wife but the film ran too long and the Baxter storyline was cut. With Kirk DouglasThelma RitterJeffrey LynnBarbara LawrenceFlorence Bates and Connie Gilchrist.

Umberto D (1952)

This masterwork by Vittorio De Sica is as good as anything he’s ever done. Remarkably, its timeliness and relevance are as strong today as they were in 1952. The film deals with the marginalization of the elderly (perhaps only Ozu’s TOKYO STORY is as eloquent), the struggle to survive on a day by day basis, loneliness in an increasingly detached society, the strong bond between people and their pets. There are moments of pure poetry that that one can’t describe in mere words but have to be seen to be appreciated. An aging pensioner (Carlo Battisti) and his dog struggle to live on his meager pension with only a servant girl (the luminous Maria Pia Casilio) to give them any human kindness. The ending is both uplifting and heartbreaking. One of the few films I’d like to know what happened to its characters after the film is over. But perhaps its for the best … it’s a cruel world.

Up In The Air (2009)

I have to confess that I studiously avoid Jason Reitman’s previous films JUNO and THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING. Having said that, the dialogue in this film (Reitman’s and Sheldon Turner’s screenplay based on the Walter Kim novel) is some of the best I’ve heard in years. Witty and on target yet still the way real people talk, not movie characters talk. With a job that keeps him constantly traveling and living in airports, airplanes and hotel rooms, a man (George Clooney) comes to terms with the emptiness of his existence. Clooney gives a superlative performance and is he the last real male Movie Star? He holds the camera as effortlessly as Gable and Cary Grant and is a better actor to boot. Anna Kendrick is getting all the Oscar buzz but it’s Vera Farmiga who really shines here as Clooney’s female equivalent (though the film saves a real kicker for the film’s final moments). Probably as close to perfection as any American film of its year. With Jason Bateman and Melanie Lynskey.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jack The Ripper (1988)

In 1888the Whitechapel district of London is terrorized by the shockingly brutal murder of several prostitutes. A Scotland Yard detective (Michael Caine) is assigned to the case. Directed by David Wickesthe film claims that the documented research corroborates its version of the true identity of the notorious Jack The Ripper. The revelation is pretty preposterous and is not affirmed by any of the most popular theories of this still unsolved crime. If taken purely as a fictional concoctionit's diverting enough but even sothere are too many plot holes and illogical actions and conclusions that make it quite difficult to take seriously. Michael Caine does well enough as the Scotland Yard detective though he has an annoying tendency to shout his lines and Susan George has a nice cameo as one of the Ripper's victims. The case of Jack The Ripper is so fascinating that the production is compelling even with its dubious merits (or lack of them).  With Armand Assante (terrible)Jane Seymour (negligible)Harry AndrewsLewis CollinsRay McAnallyEdward JuddMichael GothardT.P. McKenna and Lysette Anthony.

Friday, May 14, 2010

King Creole (1958)

Set in New Orleansa high school dropout (Elvis Presley) becomes a popular singer in a Bourbon Street dive. When a mobster (Walter Matthau) decides he wants the kid at his own nightclubthings get ugly. Based on A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER by Harold Robbins and directed by Michael Curtiz. This is considered one of Presley's two best films (the other being Don Siegel's FLAMING STAR). Filmed in B&Wit's a gritty film which eschews sentiment for a fairly realistic portrait of a young kid trying to stay on the straight and narrow path but with temptations at every turn. Curtiz and company (including Michael Gazzo who wrote A HATFUL OF RAIN and co-wrote the screenplay) don't make everything black and white but shades of gray. Even the "good" girl (Dolores Hart) isn't all good and the "bad" girl (Carolyn Jones in the film's most poignant performance) isn't all bad. And they keep the ending pretty grim too. Of courseElvis sings a batch of songs but the movie's musical highlight is a lovely early morning rendition of Crawfish sung by Presley and Kitty White. With Dean JaggerVic MorrowPaul StewartLiliane MontevecchiJan Shepard and Ziva Rodann.

Uncle Vanya (1970)

An elderly professor (Roland Culver) and his much younger second wife (Ann Bell) visit the rural country estate that supports them. The professor's brother in law (Freddie Jones) and the local doctor (Anthony Hopkins) fall under the spell of the beautiful wife. Based on the classic play by Anton Chekhov and directed by Christopher Morahan. The plays of Anton Chekhov can be problematic in the sense that they deal with characters who arefor the most partpassive. Life passes them by and as they bemoan their bored livesit's not so much about what they say but the subtext of their words. The narratives of Chekhov's plays are essentially plotless and it's not about the story but about the people who inhabit the story. His plays are often described as comedies but more in the irony than the execution. Unfortunatelythis production of UNCLE VANYA is rather heavy going with the actors beating their chests and whimpering their unhappiness drearily. Freddie Jones plays Uncle Vanya rather creepily so it's easy to see why Ann Bell as Yelena is repulsed. Only Anthony Hopkins gives any texture to his performance. All the other actors seem to be playing on the surface while Hopkins gives us layers. With Jennifer Armitage and Anne Dyson.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Operation Mad Ball (1957)

Set in France right after the end of WWIIa private (Jack Lemmon) is assigned to a temporary Army medical base where fraternization between enlisted men and nurses is strictly forbidden. To keep up the moralehe decides to throw a "mad ball" off the base at a chateau where the men and the nurses can whoop it up but first he has to contend with the obnoxious strictly by the book Captain (Ernie Kovacs in his film debut) in charge. Directed by the underrated Richard Quine (BELL BOOK AND CANDLE). Good military comedies are few and far between and this one comes pretty close to being the cream of the crop thanks to the clever screenplay (Blake Edwards was one of the writers and it's easy to see his hand in the mix). It's a freewheeling farce and one would be foolish to resist it. Wonderful fun. Treat yourself. The talented cast are all up for the antics and the large cast features many familiar faces. Among them Mickey Rooney (he's exhausting but fortunately his role is small), Dick York (TV's BEWITCHED)Kathryn Grant as the Lieutenant that catches Lemmon's eye, James Darren, Arthur O'ConnellRoger SmithPaul PicerniWilliam HickeyMary LaRocheRon Kennedy and Betsy Jones Moreland.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Torch Singer (1933)

An unwed mother (Claudette Colbert) gives up her baby when she is no longer able to take care of the child. She becomes hardened as she climbs the ladder to success in Manhattan's cafe society as a notorious nightclub singer who collects diamonds and men. But when she accidentally becomes the host of a children's radio showshe begins to yearn for the daughter she gave up. Based on the short story MIKE by Grace Perkins and directed by Alexander Hall and George Somnes. While this pre-code film has a solid central performance by Colbertit fails to sustain the provocative story line and goes all sentimental on us during its final moments but until thenit's an engrossing entertainment. There are some minor quibbles. OneColbert's singing voice (it sounds like she's doing her own singing) isn't very good so one wonders how she became such a popular singer. Twothe ending leaves a lot to speculation with its unanswered questions which prevent the finale from being truly satisfying. With Ricardo Cortez and David Manners (DRACULA) as the men in her life. Also with Ethel Griffies, Mildred WashingtonCharley Grapewin, Lyda Roberti and Virginia Hammond.

Bhowani Junction (1956)

Set in 1947 during the waning days of British colonial rule in India as they prepare to withdraw and turn over the country to the native populacethe film follows a young bi-racial Anglo-Indian woman (Ava Gardner) who doesn't feel like she belongs to either culture. Based on the 1954 novel by John Masters and directed by George Cukor. One of MGM's most prestigious directorsCukor was known as a "woman's" directormeaning that he seems to draw the best work from the actresses working for him. This belief is cemented by Ava Gardner's performance hereprobably a career best. Filmed on location in Pakistanit was quite a provocative subject for 1950s Hollywood to undertake and if it seems somewhat white washedthe attempt is not only appreciated but well executed. Stewart Granger as a British colonelBill Travers (BORN FREE) as a half caste who identifies with the British and Francis Matthews as an Indian Sikh are the men in her life. Miklos Rozsa provides the most unique score of his career using only authentic Indian music. With Lionel Jeffries and Abraham Sofaer.

Zeppelin (1971)

Set in 1915a British spy (Michael York) in Germany is gathering information on the new design of a new zeppelin airship that could possibly affect the outcome of WWI. Directed by the Belgian Etienne Perier (BRIDGE TO THE SUN)this is an exciting WWI adventure that is much leaner than some of its similar Alistair MacLean brethren. The suspense reaches momentum during the maiden test voyage which turns out to be not to be a test voyage at all but an actual mission of invading Scotland. While more modest in scale than the bigger WWII adventure films like WHERE EAGLES DARE or THE GUNS OF NAVARONEit still provides its share of thrills as it zips along nicely. The wide screen cinematography by Alan Hume (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) splendidly captures the excitement of a perilous aerial undertaking. The film's reviews were dismissive but if you're a WWI buff or even if you're notthere's a lot to enjoy here. With Elke Sommer (surprisingly good) as the wife of the zeppelin's designer (Marius GoringTHE RED SHOES)both of who find themselves unwilling passengers on the deadly mission. With Alexandra StewartAnton Diffring and Peter Carsten. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chandler (1971)

An ex-private eye (Warren Oates) is hired to protect a government witness (Leslie Caron) from a gangster (Gordon Pinsent)who wants her dead. But things aren't what they seem and the private eye finds himself on his own and unsure of where the real danger is. Directed by Paul Magwood. There were a couple of attempts in the early 1970s to turn character actor Warren Oates into a Bogart like leading man and this was one of the more feeble endeavors. It seems to want to ape the noir genre, even to the point of naming its hero after Raymond Chandler, but can you imagine Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe in a high speed car chase? But as fine an actor as he isunlike Bogart, Oates simply isn’t leading man material. One of the characters refers to him as “that monkey faced detective” and that pretty much explains it. The film is choppy in execution and obviously has been edited severely and the coherence suffers. The Monterey and Carmel locations are nicely captured by the Panavision lens. Leslie Caron is lovely as the requisite femme fatale but noir icon Gloria Grahame is shamefully wasted. With Charles McGrawMarianne McAndrew (HELLO DOLLY!)Scatman Crothers and Mitchell Ryan.

Fallen Sparrow (1943)

A surprisingly dull spy noir that not even the strong screen presence of John Garfield can do much to save. Garfield plays a former prisoner of the Spanish Civil War who, after being hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, returns to New York to solve the murder of his best friend. He begins to suspect that the fascists who tortured him have followed him to New York but have they? Or is it just his paranoia, the residue of his previous mental condition? The villains are so obvious right from the start so there’s no suspense regarding who the bad guys are, just how will they be found out. Maureen O’Hara looks beautiful but she has nothing to do (though there’s a pay off at the end). Handsome B&W cinematography courtesy of Nicholas Musuraca. Co-starring Walter Slezak, Patricia Morison, Martha O’Driscoll and Hugh Beaumont.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Little Drummer Girl (1984)

A young pro-Palestinian actress/activist (Diane Keaton) with psychological baggage is kidnapped by the Israelis and broken down until she becomes a double agent. Working for the Israelisshe infiltrates a terrorist organization but the psychological and emotional conflicts begin to take their toll. Based on the acclaimed novel by John Le Carre and directed by George Roy Hill (THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE). The movie is so contrived in its conception and execution that one must take an enormous leap of faith in order for the film to work. I've not read the Le Carre novel but it was well reviewed so I assume Le Carre was able to make the circumstances more believable. As a filmit just doesn't make any logical sense. In the title role (reputedly based on Vanessa Redgrave)Diane Keaton gives a bravura performance. I took that big leap of faith so as a political thriller as well as an elemental portrait of a blank slate (Keaton) being used by exterior forcesit worked just fine for me. With Yorgo VoyagisKlaus KinskiSami FreyAnna MasseyDavid Suchet and Bill Nighy.