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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Alien (1979)

A commercial space ship towing 20 million tons of ore is on its way home to Earth when it receives a transmission to interrupt its journey and investigate a mysterious signal from a planet. While investigating the signal, one of the group (John Hurt) discovers a massive cavern which hosts a field of large eggs when one of them bursts and a creature attaches itself to his face. The terror escalates when the creature morphs into something more horrible and more powerful than they ever imagined. Directed by Ridley Scott, whose commercial breakthrough this film was, this is one of the greatest horror (despite it's sci-fi setting, it's undeniably a horror film) films of all time. There's no way to describe the impact this film had on audiences seeing it for the first time and the "chest burster" scene ranks with the shower murder in PSYCHO as one of the most shocking sequences of the horror genre. Scott slowly and carefully builds up the tension and increases it in doses as the film reaches its nail biting climax. The awesome art direction and set design is by Michael Seymour, Roger Christian and Leslie Dilley, the intense score by Jerry Goldsmith. With a perfect cast that includes Sigourney Weaver (in her breakthrough role) as the first of the modern action film heroines, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto.

Les Demoiselles De Rochefort (aka Young Girls Of Rochefort) (1967)

In the small seaside town of Rochefort, a carnival comes to town for the weekend. The carnival serves as a background for various characters who are destined to be together but haven't met yet as their paths criss cross but always missing each other. Two sisters, a dancer (Catherine Deneuve) and a composer (Francoise Dorleac, who would be killed shortly in an auto crash after the filming), their mother (Danielle Darrieux), a lovesick sailor (Jacques Perrin), a music store owner (Michel Piccoli), two carnies (George Chakiris, Grover Dale) and a visiting American (Gene Kelly). This candy colored musical courtesy of Jacques Demy (LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG) is a loving homage to the MGM musicals of the 40s and 50s. Demy has shot the film in creamy pastels, hot pinks, oranges, lavender and turquoise and people walking down the street suddenly twirl and do leaps! While film lacks the verve and wit of the great MGM musicals like SINGIN' IN THE RAIN or THE BAND WAGON, Demy clearly has a genuine affection for the genre and those films that one would be churlish to nitpick. Besides, there's much to admire and at times, the film is downright exhilarating! With the exception of Darrieux, all the actors' singing is dubbed. The lively choreography is by Norman Maens and bouncy, jazzy score and songs by the great Michel Legrand.

Away We Go (2009)

An unmarried but committed thirty something couple (John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph) are struggling to make ends meet. When she becomes pregnant, they discover his self centered parents (Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara) are moving to Belgium and won't be around for the baby so they decide to go on a road trip (Arizona, Wisconsin, Montreal, Florida) to find the right place to raise their daughter. This gentle "road" movie is filled with detailed characterizations by a superb cast. Director Sam Mendes (AMERICAN BEAUTY) displays a deft touch in handling the shifting emotional landscape while balancing the stronger comedic elements without eclipsing the more subtle dramatic ones. Each place they visit finds a mini story all its own. Arizona: the mentally unbalanced Allison Janney married to the paranoid Jim Gaffigan (their atrocious parenting skills are both funny and frightening) and Rudolph's sister, Carmen Ejogo. Wisconsin: the pretentious whack job (a terrific Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her husband (Josh Hamilton) with questionable, unconventional ideas on parenting. Montreal: the seemingly happy couple (Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey) with a houseful of adopted children. Florida: Krasinski's confused, hapless brother (Paul Schneider) trying to cope with life as a single father. A lovely film.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Wife Versus Secretary (1936)

A magazine publisher (Clark Gable) is happily married to his wife (Myrna Loy) of three years. But gossip mongers and do gooders plant the seed of distrust in her ear that his secretary (Jean Harlow) may be more than just a secretary. Slowly, her trust in him begins to unravel as circumstantial evidence points to his being unfaithful. Directed by Clarence Brown, it's an earnest cautionary tale out of MGM without the zing that its notable cast promises, James Stewart is in it too as Harlow's dull boyfriend. The most interesting character is Harlow's secretary and while it's nice to see Harlow playing something other than a brassy, wisecracking blonde, robbed of her strong sexual presence she comes across as rather bland. There's something off putting about the predatory innuendo inflicted on Loy from so called friends and family (even mother in law May Robson tells her to get rid of the secretary) that's never fully explored. Still, the star wattage of its four leads is almost enough to keep you hooked to the screen. With Gloria Holden and John Qualen.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Virgin Queen (1955)

Determined to obtain the three ships he needs in order to sail to the New World, Walter Raleigh (Richard Todd) inveigles himself into the court and confidence of Elizabeth I (Bette Davis). But what he doesn't count on is her romantic infatuation with him. Though titled THE VIRGIN QUEEN, the film is really about Sir Walter Raleigh with Elizabeth a supporting character. This is the second time Davis takes on the role of Elizabeth (the first was in 1939's PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX) and by this time, she had grown into the role so she didn't have to overcompensate by trying so hard. Alas, while she had the dashing Errol Flynn in ELIZABETH AND ESSEX, here she has to settle for the charmless Todd. Joan Collins plays Elizabeth's romantic rival and while undeniably lovely, she's no match for Davis in their scenes together. The handsome production design is by Leland Fuller and Lyle Wheeler and the costumes, the handiwork of Mary Wills. Henry Koster's direction is adequate but there's not much he can do with the anemic screenplay. The potent score is by Franz Waxman. With Herbert Marshall, Dan O'Herlihy, Jay Robinson, Robert Douglas and Leslie Parrish. In CinemaScope.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Frantic (1988)

An American surgeon (Harrison Ford) and his wife (Betty Buckley) are visiting Paris for a medical conference. When he gets out of the shower at the hotel, his wife has disappeared and to find her he must take an excursion into a dark and deadly world of drugs, terrorists and murder. This first rate, crackerjack thriller is directed by Roman Polanski and I doubt Hitchcock could do any bettter. Ford's (in one of his best performances, I'd say best if it weren't for MOSQUITO COAST) role could easily have been played by James Stewart or Cary Grant in their prime. He perfectly embodies the strong, solid American image on a strange soil yet with enough humility that he doesn't come across as an "ugly American". The sexy Emmanuelle Seigner is captivating as the naive smuggler who picks up the wrong suitcase (which belonged to Buckley) and thus spins both their worlds into a maelstrom of precariousness. Polanski keeps things twisting and turning as rapidly as possible, accompanied by an intense and atmospheric Ennio Morricone score. With John Mahoney, Alexandra Stewart, David Huddleston and Gerard Klein.

At Bertram's Hotel (1987)

While spending a holiday at Bertram's hotel in London, a hotel that caters to those who prefer the Edwardian formality of a past era, Miss Marple (Joan Hickson) can't help but feel that something is wrong with the surroundings. Everything looks and feels authentic but there's an atmosphere of falsity that encompasses the milieu. When an absent minded clergyman (Preston Lockwood) disappears, the hotel's dark secret begins to unravel. Not one of Agatha Christie's best late works but for the most part, there are enough twists and turns to keep the viewer engrossed in the proceedings. Hickson is, of course, the definitive Miss Marple to anyone who has read the Christie's Marple mysteries. The ending is a bit of a letdown though with a rather silly chase that would have had Christie cringing. Directed by Mary McMurray and with Joan Greenwood, whose beauty has faded but there's no mistaking that plum voice of hers, George Baker and Caroline Blakiston as an aging, international playgirl whose past is a key to solving the mystery.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sins Of Rachel Cade (1961)

In the Belgian Congo of 1939, a Protestant missionary and nurse (Angie Dickinson) with strict moral views arrives to work in a jungle hospital but when the doctor (Douglas Spencer) in charge dies of a heart attack, it falls upon her to maintain the mission hospital with the help of two natives. But the sexual freedom of the native populace as well as the presence of a Belgian official (Peter Finch) and an American flier (Roger Moore) begins to unravel her sexual repression. The film is interesting for its frankness in sexual matters. For example, the film brings up and condemns the tribal ritual of genital mutilation on young girls (not much talked about in 1961) as well as questioning the projection of one's value system on another culture. The unorthodox casting of sexy Angie Dickinson as an uptight, sexually repressed missionary pays off here. She's really quite good, reining in her innate sexuality and convincingly displaying the inner conflict of a woman at war with herself regarding her sexual nature. It's a pity the film isn't better though her performance seems to make it so, at times. Moore is dull and Finch seems to be doing a retread of a similar character he played in THE NUN'S STORY. Directed by Gordon Douglas with a reheated score by Max Steiner which sounds right out a 40s romance like NOW VOYAGER. With Mary Wickes, Errol John, Juano Hernandez, Woody Strode and Scatman Crothers.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Based (with lots of additional material from other sources as well as a liberal dramatic license) on the book of Exodus from the Bible, the film follows the story of Moses from an infant (Fraser Heston) plucked from the Nile by Pharaoh's daughter (Nina Foch) to a Prince of Egypt (Charlton Heston) and the deliverer of the Hebrews out of slavery from Egypt to the Promised Land. This Cecil B. DeMille film, a remake of his 1923 silent film, is surely one of the most entertaining movies ever made. Whatever his flaws as a film maker, and there were many, he was a great storyteller and his telling here is grand kitschy movie making at its best. It's a bit ponderous at times (including DeMille's pompous narration) but the florid, overripe dialogue in addition to an inspired cast and still impressive special effects make it, well ... timeless. I don't think the movie would be the same without Heston as Moses. He often seems an actor out of his time, which may account for his success at playing historical characters for times past. When he commands the Red Sea to part, you damn well believe he could do it! The thrilling score is by Elmer Bernstein. The stellar cast includes Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke, Martha Scott, John Carradine, Woody Strode, Olive Deering, Eduard Franz, Douglass Dumbrille, Michael Ansara, Mike Connors and Henry Wilcoxon.

Bruno (2009)

A flamboyantly gay fashionista and TV host named Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen) loses his TV show and his dwarf lover so he flies to America in the hopes of being a mega Star. Directed by Larry Charles, this mockumentary is based, like BORAT, on a character previously created by Cohen for DA ALI G SHOW television show. The film is uneven in its humor but Cohen is so outrageous and pushing the envelope that one can't help but gasp and laugh at the same time. Some segments just lie there but when it hits its target, it's hilarious. The comedic highpoint is probably a live TV show aimed at African American Christians where Bruno flaunts the black infant (named O.J.) he swapped for an ipod in Africa, along with photos of the child in questionable taste (like hanging on a cross) to the horror and outrage of the audience. Cohen manages to sucker in a few celebrities like Harrison Ford, Paula Abdul and politician Ron Paul into the proceedings. Certainly not for everybody with its graphic nudity and sexual situations but I found myself laughing out loud more often than not. With Elton John, Bono, Sting, Snoop Dogg and Gustaf Hammarsten as Bruno's smitten and abused sidekick.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shall We Dance (1937)

In Paris, a Russian ballet dancer (Fred Astaire), who's really from Philadelphia, sets his sights on a showgirl (Ginger Rogers) and books passage on a luxury liner in order to follow her back to New York. This, the seventh pairing of Astaire and Rogers lacks a consistently witty screenplay and the usual assortment of engaging supporting characters that are the earmark of their best vehicles. Fortunately, there's a terrific batch of original songs by George and Ira Gershwin including the haunting They Can't Take That Away From Me, They All Laughed and the clever Let's Call The Whole Thing Off as well as several memorable dance numbers: Astaire's solo to Slap That Bass, Astaire and Rogers' dance on roller skates in Central Park and the finale with Astaire dancing with dozens of girls wearing Ginger Rogers masks. Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore are around doing their patented specialties, befuddlement for Horton and indignation for Blore as well as Jerome Cowan, Ann Shoemaker, the purring voiced Ketti Gallian and ballerina Harriet Hoctor whose specialty is dancing en pointe while doing a back-bend.

The 39 Steps (1959)

A British diplomat (Kenneth More) finds himself embroiled in an espionage crisis when a spy (Faith Brook) is murdered in his flat and he is accused of her murder. With the information provided to him from the woman before she was killed, More escapes to Scotland where he hopes to pass on this information to one of her confederates. But, of course, it's never as easy as that and miscalculations and complications ensue. Based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film (itself based on the John Buchan novel), this film has a broader comedic element to it than the original film version as well as color and location shooting. It's pleasing in a docile, inoffensive sort of way though lacking the bite and wit of the Hitchcock film. Directed by Ralph Thomas, the film is also less successful in the casting of the new lead roles. More is a rather stodgy hero and Taina Elg (LES GIRLS) as the heroine handcuffed to More, while lovely, seems most uncomfortable. Music by Clifton Parker. With Brenda De Banzie, Joan Hickson and Barry Jones.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Red House (1947)

A reclusive farmer (Edward G. Robinson) and his sister (Judith Anderson) have raised a young girl (Allene Roberts) as their own after the mysterious disappearance of her parents. When a young man (Lon McCallister) comes into the young girl's life, the farmer begins to unravel and the dark secrets of the abandoned red house in the woods threaten to destroy their peaceful existence. This taut psychological thriller, directed by Delmer Daves, has a plot that is fairly transparent and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the "secret" of the red house but Daves manages to create a turbulent and threatening ambience that keeps the viewer intrigued. Robinson, in particular, gives an unsettling portrait of repressed guilt and sexual repression. The eerie score by Miklos Rozsa which features the theremin contributes to the unsettling mood of the film. With Rory Calhoun, Ona Munson and a very sexy, young Julie London as the teenaged tease juggling both McCallister and Calhoun.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Painting The Clouds With Sunshine (1951)

Three showgirls (Virginia Mayo, Lucille Norman, Virginia Gibson) head to Las Vegas in search of rich husbands. They are pursued there by a dancer (Gene Nelson) and an ex-boyfriend (Dennis Morgan), both in love with the same girl, Norman. Very loosely based on GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, it's a diverting piece of piffle in bright Technicolor and a handful of tuneful standards like Birth Of The Blues, Tip Toe Through The Tulips and We're In The Money effectively staged by choreographer Leroy Prinz with the highlight being the Mambo Man number danced by Mayo, Nelson and Gibson. The duets by Morgan and Norman, unfortunately, have the unwelcome ghost of MacDonald and Eddy hovering over them. But the flimsy plot is amusing enough to entertain in between the songs. Directed by David Butler (CALAMITY JANE), who hated the film. With S.Z. Sakall, Wallace Ford and Tom Conway.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Brave One (2007)

After she and her fiancee (Naveen Andrews) are brutally attacked in Central Park by three thugs resulting in her boyfriend's death, a radio talk show host (Jodie Foster) suffers a breakdown and, unable to sleep, goes through the night as sort of an avenging angel randomly killing criminals. While the plot may sound like a typical vigilante thriller, this is no gender reversed DEATH WISH. The distasteful Charles Bronson vigilante thriller (and its many sequels) served up a one dimensional portrait of one man, without remorse, taking the law into his own hands. Foster's Erica is much more complex. She's disgusted by what she's doing but she has literally been destroyed and this new creature she has become is the only way she is able to survive, to cope. She's eating herself up inside to the point that she doesn't care if she gets caught and, indeed, in one scene attempts to give herself up. Directed by Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME), the film's first 20 minutes of awkward exposition prepare you to expect the worst but then the film finds its legs and it becomes a compelling journey into the urban landscape and the grip of fear hovering over it. With Terrence Howard as the police detective who becomes Foster's conscience, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Adams.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Invitation (1952)

A young and very happily married wife (Dorothy McGuire), who is suffering from a bad heart, doesn't know how critically ill she is. As her marriage reaches its near one year mark, she discovers that her father (Louis Calhern) "bought" her a husband (Van Johnson) and now she must face, not only her mortality, but the possible fraud of her marriage. This MGM melodrama, directed by Gottfried Reinhardt (TOWN WITHOUT PITY), is a nice example of its genre. But it lacks the texture and layers that a Sirk or Minnelli or Ray would have brought to such material. It's the kind of weepie that pulls you in but so disposable that a few weeks later you have a hard time remembering the details. It provides the wonderful Dorothy McGuire with a rare meaty leading role which she handles nicely and with restraint. But it's Ruth Roman as Johnson's bitchy ex-girlfriend who steals what acting honors the film has. The lovely score is by Bronislau Kaper and its main theme became a popular standard. With Michael Chekhov, Ray Collins, Barbara Ruick and Barbara Billingsley.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Paris When It Sizzles (1964)

Paris when it fizzles is more like it. Set in Paris, a hard drinking screenwriter (William Holden) finds himself without a written screenplay two days before the deadline when the script is due. He hires a secretary (Audrey Hepburn) and with her inspiration concocts a romantic heist film which borrows heavily from long standing film cliches. Directed by Richard Quine (BELL BOOK AND CANDLE), who normally has quite the light touch when it comes to stylish romantic comedies, this is a pretty dismal "comedy". Holden and Hepburn are up for it but the material is dead on arrival and any whimsy the film may have had evaporated somewhere between the written page and the execution and what we get is flat. Proof positive that not even the Star power of Hepburn can save a dud. The film is an uninspired remake of Julien Duvivier's HOLIDAY FOR HENRIETTA. Givenchy did Hepburn's clothes but he even, amusingly, gets a screen credit for her perfume. With Tony Curtis (who somehow manages to be consistently amusing), Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Mel Ferrer and Gregoire Aslan.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

All Fall Down (1962)

Set in Florida, a 16 year old boy (Brandon De Wilde) idolizes his older brother (Warren Beatty) who is nihilistic, misogynistic and narcissistic. After being thrown in jail, Beatty returns home to the mother (Angela Lansbury) he hates and romances an older woman (Eva Marie Saint) who his younger brother has a crush on. This will be the turning point in the family's blind adoration of the selfish Beatty. Directed by John Frankenheimer with a screenplay by William Inge (PICNIC) based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy (MIDNIGHT COWBOY), this comes across as faux Tennessee Williams. The characters have names like Echo and Berry-Berry and the film almost becomes a parody in spite of itself when instead of lines like "Have some breakfast" or "Why are you mad?", the characters say "Have some breakfast, Berry-Berry" and "Why are you mad, Berry-Berry?" to the point of exhaustion. The audience knows right off that Beatty's Berry-Berry is a prick and all we have to do is wait until everyone on the screen finds out too. Beatty's acting is truly awful here, surely a career low point as he apes Brando and James Dean. The rest of the cast fares better with Saint, Lansbury and Karl Malden as Beatty's aging socialist father doing fine work but alas, there's not much poor De Wilde can do with his cliched coming of age role. The score by Alex North is gold. With Barbara Baxley and Constance Ford.

The Conspirator (2011)

In the aftermath of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, eight people are arrested and charged with conspiracy to kill the President. One of the eight is a woman, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), who would become the first woman to be executed in the United States. Robert Redford, never one of the most cinematic of directors, directs in a forthright straight ahead style, almost like a filmed play. But his decision to do so is correct and smart one as it allows the audience to concentrate on the human drama and systematic dismantling of constitutional rights by a nation seeking revenge rather than justice. Most of the film plays out like a courtroom drama and as such it holds its own with the best of them (THE VERDICT, ANATOMY OF A MURDER). Normally, I'm not a fan of these Kramer-esque "civics lessons" movies but Redford never hammers the message nor does he let it overshadow the mortal turmoil being played out. Wright is superb as Mary Surratt, avoiding the histrionics that a lesser actress might have fallen prey to instead showing us a victim of circumstance beyond her control. The muted score is by Mark Isham. The stellar cast includes James McAvoy as Surratt's initially unwilling attorney, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood (excellent), Tom Wilkinson, Justin Long, John McCullum, Colm Meaney and Alexis Bledel.

Violent Saturday (1955)

Into a small Arizona copper mining town comes a trio of bank robbers: Lee Marvin as a sadistic, woman hating hypochondriac, Stephen McNally, J. Carrol Naish. As they plan the robbery, the various townspeople who will play out their lives in this crime drama are introduced. The wealthy alcoholic (Richard Egan) married to a nymphomaniac (Margaret Hayes) who is having an affair with a bachelor (Brad Dexter) who preys on married women, a librarian (Sylvia Sidney) in financial trouble who resorts to theft, an Amish farmer (Ernest Borgnine) and his family, a sexy nurse (Virginia Leith), a bank manager (Tommy Noonan) who turns into a Peeping Tom at night, a father (Victor Mature) who is considered a coward in his son's eyes. Their lives eventually converging toward the eventual bank heist on violent Saturday. This is a terrific crime thriller directed by Richard Fleischer, usually the most generic of directors. Fleischer keeps the tension taut and tight and at the forefront. Of course, some of the cliches are tiresome like the town tramp having to be punished for her promiscuity or the man of peace who is forced into a violent act against his principles. Handsomely shot in CinemaScope by Charles Clarke (CAROUSEL) and solidly scored by Hugo Friedhofer. With Dorothy Patrick.

Arabian Adventure (1979)

A wicked caliph (Christopher Lee) must obtain a rare rose in order to completely eradicate good from the land and dominate the country with absolute power. But the rose can only be plucked by the pure of heart, which leaves him out. To this end, he sends a young prince (Oliver Tobias) on a quest for the rose with the promise of his ward, the Princess Zuleira (Emma Samms, TV's Dynasty), as his bride. The film's title says it all. It's an Arabian nights fantasy pastiche with a little THIEF OF BAGDAD (the adorable Puneet Sira subbing for Sabu) mixed in with a dash of Greek mythology, principally Jason's quest for the golden fleece. All derivative. There's the genie in the bottle, the flying magic carpet, peach pits that turn into sapphires etc., all the elements of an Arabian Nights fantasy but very little genuine magic. The special effects are about on a par with a Japanese creature feature movie. Still, the kiddies may enjoy it in a Saturday matinee kind of way. With Mickey Rooney (at his hammiest) as the keeper of the rose, Capucine as the genie of the sapphire, Peter Cushing as a political prisoner and Milo O'Shea as Lee's evil henchman.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ikimono No Kiruku (aka I Live In Fear) (1955)

The patriarch (a near unrecognizable Toshiro Mifune) of a large extended family and owner of a profitable foundry becomes paranoid about atom and hydrogen bombs. When he makes plans to sell the foundry and move the family to Brazil, the family takes him to court to rule on his competence. Fear of the H-bomb and nuclear war were prevalent in the 1950s to the point of paranoia. Director Akira Kurosawa's film asks is that paranoia justified? Are the ones who fear the horror of radiation poisoning and nuclear annihilation the sick ones or are the ones who blithely ignore it and give it up to fate the ill? Of course, Kurosawa's film takes it to the most extreme example. Mifune's character becomes paranoid to the point of insanity and the film's last scene is most disturbing as well as heartbreaking. Considering the events in Japan this past month, the film feels more timely than ever. Over 50 years since the film was made and the question mark still remains. With Takashi Shimura as a family court arbitrator who takes a personal interest in Mifune's case. Strong stuff.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Kiss Me Kate (1958)

During an out of town try out in Baltimore of a musical version of Shakespeare's TAMING OF THE SHREW, backstage tensions rise between the director/leading man (Alfred Drake) and his co-star (Patricia Morison) who also happens to be his ex-wife that spill out into their performances. Directed by George Schaefer, this production is far more faithful to the 1948 Cole Porter musical than the 1953 MGM film version. The "risque" Porter lyrics which were cleaned up for the film are back in their original form a mere five years later. Two songs, Too Darn Hot and Bianca have been dropped but the rest of the Porter score is there. Morison (who, along with Drake, starred in the original Broadway cast) is marvelous, so good that it's a pity she didn't get a chance to recreate her role for the MGM film. Julie Wilson makes for a bland Lois Lane though she's in terrific voice (she almost oversells Why Can't You Behave?) and Bill Hayes plays her gambling lover Bill. Jack Klugman and Harvey Lembeck as two gun toting thugs get to do Brush Up Your Shakespeare. The choreography by Ernie Flatt is, well ..... flat. Lorenzo Fuller's singing of Another Op'nin, Another Show is pretty bad so you can see why his big number Too Darn Hot was dropped. While the entire production in general lacks that certain spark, for archival purposes and the chance to see Drake and Morison recreate their original roles, it's worth seeking out.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blindfold (1966)

A psychiatrist (Rock Hudson), while blindfolded, is taken by a national security chief (Jack Warden) to an unknown location to treat a scientist (Alejandro Rey) who has had a mental breakdown. But when the scientist's sister (Claudia Cardinale) and a CIA agent (Guy Stockwell) demand to know the scientist's whereabouts, Hudson begins to wonder if he is being used as a dupe. This comedy thriller written (adapted from a novel by Lucille Fletcher, SORRY WRONG NUMBER) and directed by Philip Dunne succeeds on its thriller aspects but falls flat when it comes to comedy. The template for this kind of romantic/comedy/thriller is Donen's CHARADE but the comedic aspects here simply aren't amusing or witty. It doesn't help that Cardinale's difficulty with the English language all but torpedoes her line deliveries. She looks sensational, of course, but the part cries out for a Stella Stevens or a Carol Lynley. The flat score is by Lalo Schifrin. The large cast includes Brad Dexter, Anne Seymour, Vito Scotti, Angela Clarke and Ned Glass.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Outrageous Fortune (1987)

Two struggling actresses with opposite personalities, one (Shelley Long) is refined but uptight while the other (Bette Midler) is brash and loud, who dislike each other find themselves involved with the same man, a teacher (Peter Coyote). But what seems like a romantic rivalry takes a bizarre turn when he fakes his own death and both the CIA and KGB chase the girls across the country. This rather silly female buddy comedy is quite enjoyable in the mindless way of those Hope and Crosby ROAD movies. Director Arthur Hiller stays out of the way of this two lead actresses, both of whom know their way around a quip, and lets them strut their stuff. George Carlin gets a chance to share the spotlight as a stoned aging hippie but the remainder of the players are pretty negligible. It would be nice if the actresses had stronger material but if they don't turn dross into gold, at least their comedic timing covers up a multitude of sins. The annoying 80s synthesizer score is by Alan Silvestri. With Robert Prosky, John Schuck, Christopher McDonald and in an amusing turn as an airline ticket agent, Florence Stanley.

The Naked City (1948)

When a fashion model is murdered, it falls on a veteran detective (Barry Fitzgerald) and his young protege (Don Taylor) to find her killer which leads them through a maze of the model's friends, associates and victims until the murderer is unmasked. Revolutionary for its time in that the entire film was shot on actual location in New York City in a faux documentary style rather than Hollywood backlots and soundstages, the film has lost some of its freshness mainly because its gritty realism in depicting police procedures and cases has been usurped by countless television shows like its most recent spawn, the CSI franchise. The film benefits by the realistic look of the entire cast from the leads to the smallest bit part, no one looks like an actor or movie star, they look like authentic. Alas, the acting is pretty bad right down the line, some of it expected like Barry Fitzgerald but also from others who've proved themselves in the past like Howard Duff. But Jules Dassin's direction is taut and lean and he propels the film at a galloping pace right up to its big chase finale. The score is by Miklos Rozsa (whose scoring for the finale is a beauty) and Frank Skinner. The massive cast includes Dorothy Hart, Ted De Corsia, Paul Ford, James Gregory, Kathleen Freeman, Robert H. Harris, Molly Picon and David Opatoshu.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stranger On The Run (1967)

A drifter (Henry Fonda) riding the boxcars on the railway gets off in a small railroad town looking for a girl (Madlyn Rhue). When he asks about her, the townspeople get nervous and refuse to talk or they threaten him but when she turns up dead, he is accused of the killing. This pedestrian western was directed by Don Siegel (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), who clearly wasn't interested in the material and who can blame him? It's negligible stuff and there wasn't much anyone could do with the material. Fonda goes through the motions and the other performances range from good (Dan Duryea) to bad (Michael Parks). The generic score is by Leonard Rosenman. With Anne Baxter (who looks great), Sal Mineo (wasted as a hired gunslinger), Lloyd Bochner, Bernie Hamilton and Michael Burns.

Anything Goes (1954)

Set in the 1920s, a nightclub singer (Ethel Merman) is leaving for England to marry an English lord (Arthur Gould Porter) but her ex-boyfriend (Frank Sinatra) stowaways on the ship in order to win her back. Also on board is a minor gangster (Bert Lahr) and his moll (Sheree North). Directed by (or perhaps staged would be more accurate) Peter Barnum and Fred Hamilton, the plot is changed somewhat from the 1934 Cole Porter musical to emphasize Merman, recreating the role of Reno Sweeney that she originated on Broadway. The flimsy plot is paper thin, merely there to hang some terrific Cole Porter songs and who's complaining when we get the opportunity to hear Merman and Sinatra at their vocal peak singing some of Porter's greatest songs. Still, Merman and Sinatra make quite an odd romantic pairing and their lack of chemistry is palpable. The acting is very broad in that "play to the last row" way even though it was filmed for television. The lively choreography is by Robert Sidney. With Barbara Morrison and Nestor Paiva.

Made In Paris (1966)

A naive young American girl (Ann-Margret), a fashion buyer for an upscale New York store, is sent on her first trip to Paris. When a top fashion designer (Louis Jourdan) romances her, her "American" values collide with his "continental" morals. This lightweight piece of puff pastry directed by Boris Sagal is a showcase for the young Ann-Margret who gets the deluxe MGM treatment, coiffed by the legendary Sydney Guilaroff and gowned by the Oscar winning Helen Rose and lovingly photographed by Oscar winner Milton Krasner (ALL ABOUT EVE). Of course, this being the mid 1960s, Ann-Margret is given a dance number in a discotheque, pouting and hip twitching in her inimitable style. But this is the MGM backlot Hollywood version of Paris, not the real thing, the Paris Americans know only from the movies. It's all rather retro today but that's part of its charm actually. The irresistibly catchy title tune is by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (incorporated into the score by Georgie Stoll in his last film assignment) and sung by Trini Lopez. With Richard Crenna, Edie Adams, Chad Everett, John McGiver, Marcel Dalio, Jacqueline Beer and Reta Shaw.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Her Highness And The Bellboy (1945)

A bellboy (Robert Walker) at a posh New York hotel and his co-worker friend (Rags Ragland) look after a poor crippled girl (June Allyson) who paints plastic Santa Clauses to make ends meet. But when a European princess (Hedy Lamarr) comes to stay at the hotel, the bellboy becomes infatuated. It's as mawkish as it sounds. What should have been a whimsical yet sweet natured adult fairy tale is needlessly padded out. There's even a dream musical number that stops the movie in its tracks. It might have helped if the film were shot in Technicolor to give it that candy box fantasy quality but the B&W cinematography keeps the film firmly on the ground. Poor Allyson is stuck with an unbearably saccharine part with nothing to do but quiver her lower lip as her eyes water. Lamarr is gorgeous but her sex appeal is hidden by both the ugly princess dresses she has to wear as well as the wholesomeness and naivete of her character. Directed by Richard Thorpe and with Agnes Moorehead (wasted), Audrey Totter, Carl Esmond and Warner Anderson.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Twenty Plus Two (1961)

A private investigator (David Janssen) is digging into an old case about a 16 year old heiress who disappeared 12 years ago without a trace. When a secretary who handles fan mail for movie stars is brutally murdered, her death begins a trail that will finally unlock the ugly truth about the heiress's disappearance. This potboiler is crammed with so many unlikely coincidences (otherwise the plot wouldn't make any sense) that any semblance of logic or reality flies out the window. The film also cheats. Two photographs which are very important in solving the mystery are viewed by Janssen but not by us, the viewer, because if we see the photographs so early in the film, we don't need Janssen to solve the mystery for us, we can figure it out for ourselves. The dialogue by Frank Gruber (who also produced) is pretty awful and some of the casting is dubious. Poor Jeanne Crain! Despite being second billed, her character is so extraneous to anything pertinent that the film drops her from the film midway through without any explanation. The jazz score is by Gerald Fried. With Dina Merrill (who at 37 has to pass for 19 in one scene), Agnes Moorehead (who has the best scene in the film), William Demarest, Brad Dexter, Robert Strauss and Jacques Aubuchon.

Source Code (2011)

An army Captain (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens on a commuter train headed into Chicago with no memory of how he got there. But when a bomb goes off and destroys the train, killing all passengers, he finds himself returned to a secret government Air Force facility where he is told he must go back and continue to go back (in 8 minute increments) to the moment of impact until he can discover both the bomb and the identity of the bomber. Directed by Duncan Jones (MOON), this is a first rate sci-fi action/thriller that is able to sustain the constant return to the scene of the crime (GROUNDHOG DAY it's not) without dissipating the tension. Gyllenhaal's character has more layers (and heart) than your typical action hero which allows for more inner conflict. Oh sure, it's a big CGI laden action thriller but it doesn't insult our intelligence and doesn't depend on loud and noisy explosions every ten minutes to hold our interest. Anyway, I had a great time at it and if the ending is a bit more sentimental than it should be, I can live with it. The suitably intense score is by Chris Bacon. With Vera Farmiga (UP IN THE AIR) who brings more to an underwritten part than most, Michele Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright.

Nothing But The Truth (1941)

An ambitious stockbroker (Bob Hope) is proud of the fact that he's honest and truthful. His less than honest compatriots at the brokerage bet him $10,000 that he can't go 24 hours without telling at least one lie and he accepts the bet. To this end, they all spend a weekend on a houseboat so they can keep an eye on him. This comedy, directed by Elliott Nugent, is rarely mentioned when talking about Hope's best comedies but it should. It's very, very funny and Hope is not only in peak form but he has a nice chemistry with his leading lady Paulette Goddard in their third and final film together. The quips are fast and furious and whether slinking around in a negligee, having his groin attacked by a crab or insulting people in Spanish, Hope milks his laughs for every ounce. The supporting players are all in fine fettle too including Edward Arnold, Willie Best, Helen Vinson, Leif Erickson, Glenn Anders and Rose Hobart. Remade in 1997 under the title LIAR, LIAR with Jim Carrey taking over the reins from Hope.

The Reluctant Debutante (1958)

Set during the height of the London social debutante season when all the young daughters from the "good" families are introduced into society, a young American girl (Sandra Dee) comes to live with her English father (Rex Harrison) and his new wife (Kay Kendall) and finds herself in a whirl of fancy dress balls and dinners. Has any director had as great a year as Vincente Minnelli in 1958? The elegant Oscar winning musical confection GIGI and the stunning melodrama SOME CAME RUNNING and this delightful piece of whimsy. The entire idea of "coming out" in society seems a bit antiquated now which only adds to the charm. Based on a play by William Douglas Home (and Minnelli doesn't bother to shake off its proscenium origins much), the film benefits enormously by the expert comedic timing of Harrison (whose best moments are when he's simply reacting) and Kendall and Dee is adorable. You can see why she quickly became America's teen sweetheart. The Pierre Balmain gowns for Kendall and Angela Lansbury (quite amusing as a snooty social climber) are equally matched by the Helen Rose creations for Dee. Curiously for a film set at the height of the London social season, the film was actually shot in Paris. With John Saxon and Diane Clare.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Night Digger (1971)

An aging spinster (Patricia Neal) leads a suffocating and dreary life taking care of her demanding, blind mother (Pamela Brown) in a rundown mansion. Into their lives comes a young drifter (Nicholas Clay) who the mother takes in as he fixes the house and garden in exchange for room and board. Neal slowly falls in love with the young drifter, unaware he is a dangerous serial killer. This twisted tale of deviance and a bizarre May-December romance plays out as a horror movie for most of its running time but the director Alastair Reid and writer Roald Dahl (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) switch gears towards the end and give us a darkly perverse love story instead. Aided immeasurably by a marvelously atmospheric score by the great Bernard Herrmann and a strong central performance by Neal, the film manages to hold one's interest despite the uneven narrative which seems to be fighting itself as to which way it should go ... Hitchcockian thriller or Polanskian perversity and ends up neither fish nor fowl. With Jean Anderson and Yootha Joyce.

The Money Trap (1965)

A good cop (Glenn Ford) married to a woman (Elke Sommer) whose lifestyle exceeds his income comes across a case involving money and drugs. Temptation rears its ugly head and he contemplates robbing the bad guys and when his greedy partner (Ricardo Montalban) insists on being cut in, the die is cast. Based on the novel by Lionel White and directed by Burt Kennedy (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF). The film has many elements of film noir but never quite fuses into the genre itself but ends up as a tidy little crime thriller nonetheless. Kennedy does a decent job directing but the film lacks both a visual style (the wide screen Panavision cinematography by Paul Vogel is adequate, nothing more) nor a sense of fatalism that usually infuses the genre. Sommer looks gorgeous but doesn't have much to do which is probably all for the best considering how stilted she is here. In the film's best performance, Ford's GILDA co-star Rita Hayworth plays a down on her luck lush whose dead husband provides the opportunity for Ford and Montalban to pull the heist involving a crooked doctor (Joseph Cotten) who is a front for the East Coast mob. The jazz score is by Hal Schaefer. With William Campbell, Ted De Corsia, James Mitchum and Argentina Brunetti.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Home Before Dark (1958)

A young woman (Jean Simmons) is released from a mental hospital, where she had undergone shock treatments, in the care of her college professor husband (Dan O'Herlihy). But the slow road to a complete recovery is impeded by the very situation which drove her to a breakdown in the first place and which threaten to challenge her sanity again. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy (I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG), the film takes it time (it runs over two hours) to let the story unfold which allows Simmons to give a nuanced, detailed but subtle performance, indeed it may well be the best performance of her career in what is usually referred to as a tour de force. The film manages to avoid the cliches of movies about the mentally ill for the most part. Simmons doesn't have any big scene going bonkers and her delusions are based on a reality, not fantasies. While the film is anchored by Simmons' central performance, the other players are allowed roles which gives them a chance to shine. In addition to O'Herlihy, who's perfect as her chilly husband, there's Rhonda Fleming in an unsympathetic role as her selfish stepsister, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Joanna Barnes, Joan Weldon, Steve Dunne and Mabel Albertson.

Desert Fury (1947)

After quitting school, a young girl (Lizabeth Scott) returns to her mother (Mary Astor) who runs a gambling casino in a Nevada desert town. When she becomes involved with a racketeer (John Hodiak), several people including Astor, lawman Burt Lancaster and Hodiak's companion (Wendell Corey) attempt to break up the relationship, all for reasons of their own. One of the rare examples of a genuine film noir in color, the film's desert locations reap the greatest benefit of the Technicolor cinematography courtesy of Charles Lang and Edward Cronjager. The most intriguing aspect of the film is the homoerotic relationship between Hodiak and Corey wherein Corey's obsession with Hodiak and his jealousy over Scott threatens to boil over at any minute and in the film's tense finale, it does. Mary Astor as Scott's unyielding mother gives the best performance but the usually wooden Scott manages to drum up enough enthusiasm to actually give a performance. The assured direction is by Lewis Allen (THE UNINVITED) from a screenplay by Robert Rossen based on the novel by Ramona Stewart. Music by Miklos Rozsa.

The Admirable Crichton (aka Paradise Lagoon) (1957)

In 1902, a yacht of British aristocrats and their two servants vacationing in the South Seas runs afoul of a storm and they must abandon ship. Eventually, they are marooned on an uninhabited desert island and it's the butler (Kenneth More) who has the ability and the fortitude to take over and save them from starvation. In the two years they are on the island, the class system is reversed with the butler the leader and aristocrats the workers. J.M. Barrie's satirical comedy of manners on the English class system is both amusing and poignant and director Lewis Gilbert (ALFIE) handles the balance artfully. What seems like a Utopia on the island is just another class system and when/if they are rescued, will they have learned anything or will they retreat to their established positions? The Bermuda locations are indeed a paradise and lovingly photographed by Wilkie Cooper (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS). With Diane Cilento, Sally Ann Howes, Cecil Parker and Martita Hunt. Previously filmed in 1919 by Cecil B. DeMille under the title MALE AND FEMALE.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

La Ley Del Deseo (aka Law Of Desire) (1987)

A film director (Eusebio Poncela) casually picks up a handsome young man (Antonio Banderas) and what should have been a one night stand turns deadly when the young man turns out to be a homicidal, obsessive psychotic who will do anything (including murder) to completely possess the director. The director must also deal with his neurotic transgender sister (Carmen Maura) who is raising her niece to be a good Catholic girl. Yes, it's that wild and wacky Pedro Almodovar up to his tricks again. Almodovar's melodrama examines the insanity that desire (it's sure not love) drives us to and the consequences of that follow when we are unable to harness our unbridled emotions. The film is pretty dramatic for the most part until the absurd ending when it becomes a comedy in spite of itself (or I could be wrong, perhaps Almodovar intended it). But then again, the entire film is absurd but who said love is logical? Whatever its flaws, as with most of Almodovar's films, it's riveting. His unique vision is like no one else's and when even not at his best, Almodovar remains more fascinating than most hacks when they do everything right. Maura, no surprise, commands the screen whenever she appears. With Rossy De Palma.

The Big Circus (1959)

A struggling circus owner (Victor Mature) takes out a large loan from a bank in order to save his circus but the loan comes with conditions. A bank accountant (Red Buttons) and a press agent (Rhonda Fleming) are assigned to the circus to watch out for the bank's interest but they are the least of Mature's worries. There's a saboteur right under his nose trying to destroy the circus. Directed by Joseph M. Newman, this is a retread of Cecil B. DeMille's THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH but I like it better than that bloated best picture Oscar winner. It's not burdened down with lengthy globs of time devoted to tedious circus acts that drag the movie down and there's none of that droning and pretentious DeMille narration telling us how noble circus people are. This one moves along swiftly giving us just enough glimpses of the circus to whet our appetite without making it into a documentary. With Vincent Price (wasted as the circus ringmaster), Gilbert Roland, Kathryn Grant, Peter Lorre, David Nelson and Adele Mara.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Player (1992)

A young Hollywood producer (Tim Robbins) is receiving threatening postcards from an unknown writer, one of many whose scripts he had rejected. He confronts the writer (Vincent D'Onofrio) he suspects of sending the postcards and accidentally kills him but disguises it to look like a robbery gone bad. Shortly thereafter, he begins receiving threatening postcards again. Directed by the great Robert Altman, this dark and wicked satire is one of the best movies about Hollywood ever made. It can stand proudly next to SUNSET BOULEVARD and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. The screenplay by Michael Tolkin (based on his novel) is outrageous enough to bring a grin to your face but still enough of the truth to sting. Altman manages to get stabs in without being bitter. The opening tracking shot with no cuts whatsoever lasting almost 8 minutes is Altman's homage to Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL which is openly referenced in the film. The cast includes Whoopi Goldberg, Greta Scacchi, , Peter Gallagher, Lyle Lovett, Dina Merrill, Dean Stockwell, Richard E. Grant, Brion James and Gina Gershon. And a mass of actors and celebrities playing themselves including Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Anjelica Huston, Burt Reynolds, Karen Black, Harry Belafonte, Cher, James Coburn, John Cusack, Jack Lemmon, Lily Tomlin, Scott Glenn, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Teri Garr, Elliott Gould, Jeff Goldblum, Andie MacDowell, Rod Steiger, Mimi Rogers, Felicia Farr, Steve Allen, Marlee Matlin, Joel Grey and Louise Fletcher.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Taking place in the last two years of his life, the film's prolonged title says it all. The story of the killing of Jesse James (Brad Pitt) by Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). Based on the 1983 novel by Ron Hansen and superbly directed by Andrew Dominik (who also did the screenplay), this is one of the great American westerns. It's not your standard shoot 'em up western, in fact, we see only one robbery by the James gang during its 2 hours, 40 minutes running time. The film examines the complex and conflicted relationship between Jesse James and the man who would eventually shoot him in the back. Ford's almost childlike hero worship of James which slowly dissolves into something fearful and sinister and what seems like James' eventual resignation to his fate. Dominik takes his time to let the story unfold and there's an elegiac mood and tone that infuses the film. Pitt as James gives what may be his best performance yet but the film belongs to Casey Affleck as Robert Ford. Affleck is a limited actor but he fits the role like a snug glove. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is stunning, each frame like a postcard lifted from an 1880s photo album and there's a somber but perfect score courtesy of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. With Mary Louise Parker, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Sam Shepard, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Parks, Alison Elliott, James Carville and Paul Schneider.

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)

While in France, an American millionaire (Gary Cooper) falls head over heels for the daughter (Claudette Colbert) of a penniless French aristocrat (Edward Everett Horton). He proposes, she accepts but on the eve of their wedding, she discovers he's been married seven times before! The pedigree to this one is pretty good. The great Ernest Lubitsch directing a script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett with Cooper and Colbert in the leads but a promising start that anticipates a witty, sophisticated comedy with that Lubitsch touch runs out of steam about halfway through the picture. Once Cooper and Colbert get married it becomes a tiresome exercise with Colbert holding on to her virginity while Cooper deploys several attempts to consummate the marriage. Colbert is charming but Cooper is very awkward here. The large supporting cast is good though including David Niven who has one good scene, Franklin Pangborn and Elizabeth Patterson.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mirage (1965)

Shortly after a New York skyscraper has a blackout, a world famous humanitarian (Walter Abel) plunges to his death from the 24th floor and an accountant (Gregory Peck) on the same floor emerges from his office with amnesia. A beautiful woman (Diane Baker) he meets on the stairs knows him but he doesn't remember her and she disappears as suddenly as she appeared and people he doesn't know keep pointing guns at him and demanding information so in desperation he hires a detective (Walter Matthau) to help him find his identity. This modest B&W Hitchcockian (but without Hitchcock's subtext) thriller is a first rate suspenser. Directed by Edward Dmytryk (CROSSFIRE) with a clever screenplay by Peter Stone who wrote the marvelous CHARADE two years earlier, the film moves swiftly along which is a good thing as it doesn't give us the time to dwell on some minor loopholes. Peck did the amnesia thing with Hitchcock 20 years earlier in SPELLBOUND but this time he's more relaxed in front of the camera. It's the kind of film where you might forget the details as months go by but still remember the compelling feeling you got. A nice score by Quincy Jones. With Kevin McCarthy, Jack Weston, George Kennedy, Leif Erickson, Anne Seymour and Robert H. Harris.

On The Double (1961)

The British army recruits an American G.I. (Danny Kaye) with a talent for mimicry to impersonate a British General (Danny Kaye). But they don't tell him the reason for it: the General is an assassination target for Nazi spies. This isn't the first time Kaye has played multiple roles (think SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY or ON THE RIVIERA) and the situation is rife with comic possibilities. Alas, the film doesn't take advantage of them. Indeed, Kaye seems rather lacklustre here with the manic craziness that earmarks his brand of humor appearing only occasionally. The one genuine comedic highlight is a formal party where a cat steals Kaye's contact lens and Kaye is forced to interact without being able to see. That sequence also includes a very amusing Margaret Rutherford as Kaye's belligerent whisky drinking Aunt and a funny Highland Fling which Kaye attempts to participate in. Other than that, it's hit and miss, mostly miss and the last half hour really drags. Plus, I didn't find the "Oh, those crazy, nutty Nazis" caricatures very amusing but then I never quite got that whole Hogan's Heroes comic Nazis thing. Directed by Melville Shavelson (HOUSEBOAT). With Dana Wynter as Kaye's wife, Diana Dors as Kaye's mistress, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Jesse White and Gregory Walcott.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The British government and the Soviet government agree to work together to find out what happened to their submarines which have disappeared without a trace. To this end, each country sends their best agent. Britain send 007 James Bond (Roger Moore) while Russia sends Agent XXX (Barbara Bach). When XXX finds out Bond was responsible for her lover's death, she vows to kill him after the mission is accomplished. The tenth film in the Bond franchise was an enormous success both critically and financially and remains a favorite to this day. Moore's third outing as Bond proved successful as he finally managed to find his own rhythm which hadn't quite in his previous outings. Visually, this is probably the best looking Bond ever. The Ken Adams sets are stunning and they're handsomely shot by Claude Renoir (THE RIVER). Alas, there's still that chintzy Marvin Hamlisch score to contend with. It's still somewhat derivative of the other Bonds, however, especially the tanker finale which is a redoing of the spectacular YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE volcano finale. It's good, so why don't I like it better? It just seems overblown but it's not as if some of the other Bonds aren't. Directed by Lewis Gilbert. With Curt Jurgens as billionaire villain with visions of world domination, Caroline Munro, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, George Baker, Desmond Llewelyn and Richard Kiel as the tiresome "Jaws" who's afford way too much screen time and, alas, is allowed to return in the next installment.

Miral (2010)

Spanning from 1947 through the early 1990s, the film follows three Palestinian women: Hind (Hiam Abbass) who opens a school for Palestinian war orphans, Nadia (Yasmine Al Massri) who comes from a history of sexual abuse by her stepfather and Fatima (Ruba Blal), a nurse who becomes radicalized into a terrorist. But these stories are merely the backstories of the film's main character Miral (Freida Pinto, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) so we can see the history that formed her circumstances. Directed by Julian Schnabel (DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY), like his previous three films, MIRAL is based on a true story. While the film is effective, it stills comes across as anti-Israel propaganda. With one exception, the Israelis come across every bit a caricature as the snarling Nazis in an American 1940s WWII movie which is too bad because it dampens the film's credibility. While the injustices against the Palestinians by Israel are wrong and a valid subject for a film, Schnabel stacks the deck. In some ways, this would make a great double bill with Preminger's EXODUS as both films come from a singular viewpoint. In her meatiest role to date, Pinto proves she's just not pretty face but has the range of an actress. With Vanessa Redgrave, Willem Dafoe, Omar Metwally and in the film's best performance, Alexander Siddig as Miral's father.

Les Voleurs (aka Thieves) (1996)

A cop (Daniel Auteuil), who is the black sheep in a family of professional criminals and treated as an outsider, becomes romantically involved with an unstable petty thief (Laurence Cote), the sister of his brother's (Didier Bezace) punk partner (Benoit Magimel). But he must share her with her philosophy teacher (Catherine Deneuve), who is also her lover. Directed by Andre Techine, the film is fragmented and moves through out various periods, not chronologically, through the characters messy lives. It's a character piece, an excellent one at that, more concerned with the psychological and emotional (or lack of it) landscape of its characters than the police thriller aspect of it. It's slightly overlong but there's so much richness to it that it justifies its length. The striking images are by cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie (8 FEMMES) and the minimal but effective score by Philippe Sarde (TESS). With Ivan Desny and Julien Riviere as the wise beyond his years 10 year old who seems destined to carry on in the family business.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Passionate Friends (1949)

On her way to Switzerland for a holiday, a married woman (Ann Todd) recollects a New Year's Eve party nine years earlier when she rekindled a romance with her former lover (Trevor Howard). Her husband (Claude Rains) forgives her indiscretion but forbids her to ever see him again. So, guess who she meets in Switzerland? Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, this is one of David Lean's romance films of which BRIEF ENCOUNTER and SUMMERTIME are better known but this one fits in snugly in between. It's not as satisfying predominantly because the central character of the wife is rather selfish and narcissistic. She loves Howard in a way she doesn't love her husband but she loves the money and security of the lifestyle Rains can provide her with. Meanwhile, she's only giving the two men in her life only half of herself and frankly, both men deserve better. Fortunately, Todd (PARADINE CASE) is quite good here and does a more than credible job of displaying the contradictory mental state of her character. Guy Green did the cinematography with some lovely French mountains and lakes standing in for Switzerland and Richard Addinsell did the overactive score. With Wilfrid Hyde-White.