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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Anonymous (2011)

The Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans as the elder, Jamie Campbell Bower as the younger) has a passion for writing but his puritanical father in law (David Thewlis), who is advisor to Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave as the elder, Joely Richardson as the younger) refuses him in having his plays performed. The Earl then asks playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to take credit but instead an illiterate, lazy actor by the name of William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) takes the credit for writing the Earl's plays. Directed by the hack Roland Emmerich (INDEPENDENCE DAY) from a preposterous and offensive script by John Orloff, this is a perfectly dreadful film. There's absolutely no basis in fact for Orloff's assertion (the historical accuracies are multiple) and its portrayal of Shakespeare as an illiterate, blackmailing, womanizing murderer claiming credit for someone else's work is the most ludicrous defamation of character since the portrayal of Mozart as an idiot savant in AMADEUS. Still, audiences ate up AMADEUS and my film companion was swooning over ANONYMOUS so anything's possible though I can't see anyone beyond the conspiracy theorists eating up this garbage. Save for Redgrave, Richardson and Edward Hogg, I can't recall a major film in recent years with such appalling acting. With Derek Jacobi.

Babettes Gaestebud (aka Babette's Feast) (1987)

In 19th century Denmark, two elderly sisters (Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel of Dreyer's ORDET), the daughters of a now deceased but strict minister, take in a French refugee (Stephane Audran). They live in a small, barren village on the coast of Denmark and continue to do their father's religious work though his sect is dying out. On the occasion of the father's 100th birthday, Babette insists on cooking a genuine French dinner for the congregation. Based on the story by Isak Dinesen (famously portrayed by Meryl Streep in OUT OF AFRICA), writer and director Gabriel Axel has given us a poignant story on redemption, generosity, faith and food. The exquisite dinner scene where these pious villagers, for whom food is merely something necessary to survive, discover the sensual pleasure of a great meal as well as food for the soul is a treasure. Vegetarians may wince at the sight of all the chopped up animals, however. Winner of the 1987 Oscar for best foreign film. With Bibi Andersson, Lisbeth Movin (Dreyer's DAY OF WRATH), Jarl Kulle and Jean Philippe Lafont, who overacts as the opera singer.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Once Is Not Enough (1975)

The young daughter (Deborah Raffin) of an Oscar winning film producer (Kirk Douglas) has an Oedipal fixation. When the father remarries to one of the world's wealthiest women (Alexis Smith), she finds a romantic replacement in the form of an older, alcoholic novelist (David Janssen) who her father detests. Based on the best selling potboiler by Jacqueline Susann (it was the second best selling novel of 1973), this is near irresistible glam trash. Beautiful, rich people in large elegant penthouses, the Plaza and Waldorf Astoria in New York, the Beverly Hills Hotel, Switzerland and Spain, mysterious Garbo-esque actresses (Melina Mercouri), playboys (George Hamilton) with bordello red bedrooms etc. All accompanied by Susann's purple prose while Henry Mancini's lush score provides the mood. It doesn't reach the delirious heights of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS or THE CARPETBAGGERS but it'll do. Curiously the film seems reticent in its hetero sex scenes but titillates with a lesbian love scene between Smith and Mercouri which must have seemed daring in 1975. Directed by Guy Green. With Brenda Vaccaro (in an Oscar nominated performance) as a potty mouthed, promiscuous magazine editor, Gary Conway and Lillian Randolph.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sherlock Jr. (1924)

A movie projectionist (Buster Keaton, who also directed) daydreams about being a great detective. One afternoon, he falls asleep and imagines he walks into the movie playing in the auditorium and becomes one of the characters, the great detective Sherlock Jr. This perfectly charming comedy displays Keaton's remarkable talents as a physical comedian. Even a tired old joke like slipping on a banana peel easily gets a belly laugh when Keaton does it. The film is crammed with marvelous "how did they do that?" sight gags like Keaton literally jumping through an old lady or a series of visual jests as when Keaton is unable to adjust to a rapid series of location switches while in the projected movie. I can't help but wonder if Woody Allen's PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO wasn't influenced by Keaton's film. With Kathryn McGuire, Ward Crane, Joe Keaton (Buster's father) and Erwin Connelly.

Halloween H20 (1998)

The headmistress (Jamie Lee Curtis) of a posh boarding school is a neurotic, functioning alcoholic and a single mother of a 17 year old boy (Josh Hartnett). Her condition stems from an incident 20 years earlier when her insane brother (as a child, he murdered his older sister) escaped from a mental institution and slaughtered her friends and unsuccessfully attempted to kill her. Now, 20 years later, he returns. Normally sequels made 20 years after the fact don't work very well but ignoring the four sequels that followed HALLOWEEN II, director Steve Miner (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2) whips up a fairly decent horror film and a strong central performance by Curtis cements the essence of the original 1978 John Carpenter classic. That doesn't mean that the film's screenplay isn't often needlessly sloppy and illogical though as when a character pumped full of bullets is later seen feisty and vibrant with only a bandage around his head! The film has some wit to it such as the casting of Janet Leigh (Curtis' real life mother) as her secretary, who in final scene drives off in the same car she drove in PSYCHO. With Michelle Williams, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Adam Arkin and LL Cool J.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt (1956)

A newspaper publisher (Sidney Blackmer) and a writer (Dana Andrews) concoct a plan to show the inherent flaws of capital punishment by planting false evidence at the scene of a crime suggesting that the writer is guilty of murder. Once the writer is convicted of the murder, the publisher will provide evidence of the writer's innocence. Of course, due to unforeseen circumstances something goes horribly wrong. Directed by Fritz Lang, it's an intriguing little thriller but it doesn't carry the weight of Lang's other (better) 1956 film, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS also starring Andrews. It's ironic "twist" ending can be easily guessed at but it's expertly made nonetheless though Lang doesn't seem much interested in the subject matter. Still, I suppose that won't stop the Lang auteurists from seeing something in it that isn't there. Neither Andrews nor Joan Fontaine as his fiancee seem very present in their scenes but some of the supporting cast, in particular Barbara Nichols, Robin Raymond and Joyce Taylor as three strippers manage to make an impression. This was Lang's last American film before returning to Germany. The cast includes Arthur Franz, Edward Binns, Shepperd Strudwick and Dan Seymour.

Antony And Cleopatra (1972)

William Shakespeare's tale of the intense and tragic romance of Antony and Cleopatra with its historical, panoramic background would seem ideal for cinema. And indeed, director and star Charlton Heston (who had played Antony two years earlier in an unsuccessful film adaptation of JULIUS CAESAR) has created a rich looking film that belies its modest budget. More importantly, it is not a static "Old Vic" reproduction but a vibrant cinematic experience that still manages to retain its Shakespearean authority. Heston concocts all kinds of clever visual conceits, like Proculeius' (Julian Glover) entry into Cleopatra's monument, that were not in Shakespeare's text but add a cinematic touch to the proceedings. The film's modest budget precludes any detailed battle scenes which seem quickly telegraphed but other than that, one doesn't feel cheated. While Heston makes for a commanding and robust Antony, the film suffers somewhat from the anemic Cleopatra of Hildegard Neil (A TOUCH OF CLASS) while the actress who could have made an imposing Cleopatra, Jane Lapotaire, plays the handmaiden Charmian. There's a sumptuous score by John Scott that positively shimmers and the accomplished cinematography by Rafael Pacheco . With Fernando Rey, John Castle, Freddie Jones, Carmen Sevilla and Eric Porter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

King Of The Khyber Rifles (1953)

A newly arrived Captain (Tyrone Power) to the North West Frontier must deal with the prejudice of being a half caste (a British father, a Muslim mother). The situation intensifies when it is discovered that his adopted brother (Guy Rolfe) is an anti-British fanatic who is leading a rebellion against the British and also, when he begins romancing the daughter (Terry Moore) of his garrison's General (Michael Rennie). Based on the novel of the same name and previously made in 1929 by John Ford, this early CinemaScope offering is a grand "Boys' Own" adventure tale with all the requisite ingredients. A dashing and handsome hero, a lovely damsel, thrilling battles, desert storms, an exotic and colorful background. Leon Shamroy's (PLANET OF THE APES) majestic cinematography makes the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lone Pine, California locations look like 1857 India! Directed by Henry King and with a glorious Bernard Herrmann score which gets the film's pulse going. With John Justin, Murray Matheson, Frank DeKova and Argentina Brunetti.

Simon And Laura (1955)

At the BBC, a "reality" television show with the cameras following the daily home life of a happily married famous acting couple (Peter Finch, Kay Kendall) becomes a big hit. In actuality, their marriage is on shaky ground. The surfeit of reality TV shows in today's culture are a given so it's a bit surprising to see that over 50 years ago, the idea of a so called "reality" show was already given credence. Of course, the TV show isn't real at all, it's every bit as scripted as the reality TV shows of today and audiences in the film eat it up and buy it just as they do in the present. Directed by Muriel Box, the film plays it safe and doesn't take advantage of the full potential of the premise that it initially promises. It's a bit amusing to see Finch in a film that satirizes the TV medium that he would return to satirizing 20 years later in his Oscar winning role in NETWORK. But Finch doesn't have the spirit of a farceur but the delightful Kendall (looking great in her Julie Harris wardrobe) does which allows her to walk away with the film, what there is of it worth taking anyway. The benign score is by Benjamin Frankel. With Ian Carmichael, Muriel Pavlow, Maurice Denham, Thora Hird and Jill Ireland.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

First Olympics Athens 1896 (1984)

The behind the scenes story of the creation of the first Olympic games held in the modern era. The emphasis is on the American team with the focus on two specific characters, a Boston Irish working class track and field runner (David Caruso) and an upper class Princeton man (Hunt Block). Also prominent an Australian (Benedict Taylor in the film's best performance) at Oxford and a Greek peasant (Nicos Ziagos) both also competing. Despite its lengthy four hour running time, the film manages to not only retain one's interest but stir your emotions and create suspense. Toward the very end, it bogs down a bit with a little schmaltz but not enough to spoil it. The emphasis on the American team has the misfortune of suggesting that they dominated the first Olympics and while they won 11 gold medals, more than any other country, other countries like Greece, France and Germany had multiple wins also but no time is spent on them. Directed by Alvin Rakoff with an Emmy winning score by Bruce Broughton. The large cast includes Angela Lansbury, Louis Jourdan, Honor Blackman, Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Gayle Hunnicutt, Titos Vandis and in an Emmy nominated role, David Ogden Stiers.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Absent Minded Professor (1961)

A chemistry professor (Fred MacMurray) is so absent minded that he has missed his wedding twice. He misses it a third time when he accidentally invents "flubber" (flying rubber) which attracts the attention of a greedy businessman (Keenan Wynn). But the professor is still determined to win back the girl (Nancy Olson, SUNSET BOULEVARD) he loves. This beloved Walt Disney film spawned a sequel as well as a remake and a sequel to the remake. The original still retains its simplistic (or should I say simple minded?) charm though it requires a chunk of suspension of belief. Directed by Disney's in house director Robert Stevenson (THE LOVE BUG), the Oscar nominated special effects hold up surprisingly well after some 50 years. Still, it plays today like a kid friendly Nickelodeon or Disney channel sitcom and I suspect nostalgia may play a part in one's affection for it. With Tommy Kirk, Leon Ames, Ed Wynn, Edward Andrews, Elliott Reid, Wally Brown and Harriet MacGibbon (TV's THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bright Leaf (1950)

The son (Gary Cooper) of a North Carolina tenant farmer, who was run out of town many years ago, returns home to get his revenge on the tobacco baron (Donald Crisp) who sent him packing. Meanwhile, two women will have an important role in his plans. The madam (Lauren Bacall) of the local brothel who loves him and the tobacco baron's daughter (Patricia Neal) who he loves. This succulent piece of melodrama is a corker of an entertainment. The director, Michael Curtiz, keeps the storyline on the straight and narrow without any extraneous secondary plots or characters to slow it down. Cooper's Brant Royle is the epitome of a man driven more by hate than by ambition in his rise to power. But the film belongs to Patricia Neal's arrogant, flirtatious Southern belle. Neal is so mesmerizing that it's easy to see why Cooper's character chooses her over Bacall despite the fact that she is obviously so wrong for him. Based on the novel by Foster Fitsimmons with the screenplay by Ranald MacDougall. The strong score is by Victor Young. With Jack Carson, Jeff Corey, Gladys George, Elizabeth Patterson, Cleo Moore, Nita Talbot and Marietta Canty.

The Young Savages (1961)

Three teenage gang members (John Davis Chandler, Neil Nephew, Stanley Kristien) from an Italian neighborhood march into a Puerto Rican neighborhood where they proceed to stab to death a blind Puerto Rican boy playing his harmonica. The D.A.'s office assigns the case to a rising attorney (Burt Lancaster) who grew up in the Italian neighborhood but he is hampered by the D.A. (Edward Andrews) who sees the case as his ticket to the governor's mansion, his socialite wife's (Dina Merrill) liberal social agenda and his past relationship with the mother (Shelley Winters) of one of the killers. This John Frankenheimer directed vehicle is a product of its times. It's too contrived in its attempt to please both the liberal ("these poor boys are the product of their environment") and conservative ("kill the punks") elements. While I suppose it's admirable to see both sides of the argument, the film ends up being a civics lesson of the Stanley Kramer variety rather than an authentic look at racism and juvenile delinquency and whether Frankenheimer and company intended it or not, the Puerto Ricans get the short end of the stick. Best to stick with WEST SIDE STORY. A good score by David Amram (SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS). With Telly Savalas, Larry Gates, Roberta Shore, Vivian Nathan and Pilar Seurat.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Last September (1999)

Set in 1920 Ireland during the waning days of British occupation, an aristocratic Anglo-Irish couple (Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon) seem intentionally oblivious to the political turmoil around them. With the arrival of several house guests as well as the budding romance between their niece (the dreary Keeley Hawes) and an English captain (David Tennant), everything they had attempted to shut out, comes crashing in. Based on the 1929 novel by Elizabeth Bowen, what should have been a provocative piece of cinema comes across as a dull Masterpiece Theatre production. I've not read Ms. Bowen's novel but surely her characters could not have been as drearily insipid as they play out here. And characters' actions are often so stupid that we can't help but withhold our sympathy as when one character is killed due to his own imprudence. Slawomir Idziak's cinematography borders on pretentious what with shooting through green and amber filters, the wrong end of a telescope, one petal falling off a rose, etc. Smith, as always, is marvelous as the snobbish doyenne who refuses to see beyond her own socio-economic class. Directed by Deborah Warner, the bland score is by Zbigniew Preisner (TROIS COULEURS). With Jane Birkin (looking like Lily Tomlin), Fiona Shaw (very good), Lambert Wilson and Gary Lydon.

Marlowe (1969)

L.A. private eye Philip Marlowe (James Garner) is hired by a girl (Sharon Farrell, far too shrill) from Kansas to find her brother (Roger Newman). What starts out as a simple missing person case evolves into a series of blackmail, karate killers, mobsters and icepick murders. Based on the Raymond Chandler novel THE LITTLE SISTER, the film eschews Chandler's gritty 1940s L.A. to a then contemporary "hip" L.A. during the hippie era. Unlike Robert Altman's marvelous re-imagination of Philip Marlowe in contemporary terms in his LONG GOODBYE from 1973, it doesn't work here. The tone of the film varies from flip and comic to hard boiled neo-noir and the film makers (director Paul Bogart and screenwriter Sterling Silliphant) can't seem to find a balance the plays. Garner is all wrong for Marlowe, Chandler's Marlowe anyway, and adopts the casual persona that apparently worked well his TV show THE ROCKFORD FILES (I've never seen it myself). This is one film that could use a remake to do justice to the Chandler novel. Standing out among the cast is Rita Moreno in a showy performance as a stripper and best friend to the blackmailed heroine (lovely Gayle Hunnicutt). There's a typically pop 1970s score by Peter Matz with a dreadful, dated title song. Also with Carroll O'Connor, Kenneth Tobey, Jackie Coogan, William Daniels, H.M. Wynant and Bruce Lee who would have to wait a few more years for his turn at stardom.

Hitori Musuko (aka The Only Son) (1936)

At the urging of her son's teacher (Chishu Ryu), a country widow (Choko Iida) makes many sacrifices so that her young son (Masao Hayama) can be educated properly to ensure his success as an adult. Thirteen years later, when she goes to Tokyo to visit him as an adult (Shinichi Himori), she finds her dreams for her son have not been fulfilled. This lovely and touching film by the great Yasujiro Ozu is a poignant reflection on the dreams all parents have for their children and how success isn't always measured in financial status. I can't think of any director who so skillfully and consistently delves into family dynamics as much as Ozu and THE ONLY SON (which could just as easily have been called THE GOOD MOTHER) does it with an insightful simplicity that is near remarkable. Both Iida and Himori give excellent, subtle performances. With Yoshiko Tsubouchi as Himori's wife and Tomio Aoki as a neighbor's child whose accident becomes a catalyst for Iida's evaluation of her son though the film's final shot seems somewhat ambiguous. Is she still regretful? And is that a portrait of Joan Crawford hanging in Himori's bedroom?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Devotion (1946)

A highly fictionalized account of the Bronte sisters, Emily (Ida Lupino) and Charlotte (Olivia De Havilland), who wrote two of the greatest novels of the 19th century, WUTHERING HEIGHTS and JANE EYRE. As conceived by the three writers and director Curtis Bernhardt, the film attempts to turn the lives of the Brontes, which include the poetess sister Anne (Nancy Coleman) and painter brother Bramwell (Arthur Kennedy), into something resembling their respective novels. As a result, it ends up as a rather modestly involving costume melodrama about two sisters and the man (Paul Henreid) who comes between them. There's nothing in it indicating the genuine passion the Brontes had for their art, for their writing. It seems almost secondary to the love triangle. It's decently acted and the last scene between Lupino and De Havilland is beautifully played out. But the film's acting honors go to Kennedy as the dissolute and dissipated alcoholic brother. There's an exquisite underscore by Erich Wolfgang Korngold that may well be his greatest film score. With Sydney Greenstreet in the small but showy part of William Makepeace Thackery, Dame May Whitty, Ethel Griffies, Victor Francen and in his final film role, Montagu Love as the Bronte father. The film was completed in early 1943 but not released until 1946 by which time Love had been deceased for almost three years.

This Side Of The Law (1950)

A man (Kent Smith), trapped in the bottom of a closed well with no way of escape, ponders the circumstances that got him there. In flashback, we see he was sentenced to jail for 30 days on vagrancy charges when a stranger (Robert Douglas, THE FOUNTAINHEAD) bails him out and proposes that he assume a missing man's identity for a large sum of money. Crosses and double crosses and murder follow. If the screenplay had been a little less far fetched and the hero not so dimwitted, this might have been an efficient, tight little second tier noir. It also doesn't help that Smith is the blandest of actors. The most interesting character is the venomous and duplicitous sister in law (Janis Paige) of the missing man, the most noir-ish of the characters. The massive mansion on the edge of some cliffs, reminiscent of REBECCA's Manderley, is the impressive work of Hugh Reticker. Viveca Lindfors is the missing man's long suffering wife and John Alvin as his weak brother. Directed by Richard L. Bare.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Invitation To The Dance (1956)

Sans dialogue, three short stories told in mime and dance choreographed and directed by Gene Kelly. CIRCUS, with music by Jacques Ibert, has a clown (Kelly) secretly in love with a bareback rider (Claire Sombert) who loves a high wire walker (Igor Youskevitch). Depending on your tolerance for mimes and clowns, both of which I have an aversion to, one might enjoy this but I found it insufferable. RING AROUND THE ROSY is a roundelay with a bracelet that goes from lover to lover to lover until it ends up with its original owner. Andre Previn did the music for this one and it's the best of the three. In addition to Kelly and Youskevitch, it features Tamara Toumanova (TORN CURTAIN), Tommy Rall (KISS ME KATE) and Belita. The third, SINBAD THE SAILOR, danced to Rimsky-Korsakov, is partially animated and features Carol Haney. Outside of an amusing dance with Kelly and an animated lady dragon, it's pretty tedious. I'm all for encouraging dance on film but for a movie about dance, there's simply not enough dancing. A lot of movement yes, but not dancing. Apparently it was filmed in 1952 but not completely finished until four years later. It's a pity it isn't better because it's clearly a labor of love for Kelly. But it lacks imagination and passion.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stagecoach (1966)

A disparate group of passengers are thrown together by circumstances on a stagecoach traveling through Sioux territory making their way to Cheyenne. If John Ford's 1939 masterwork STAGECOACH had never existed, this film would be seen as an above average exciting western. But when you're a remake of one of the great American films of all time, it's near impossible to stand on your own without being compared. Of course, a film like this, despite some genuine virtues, is going to suffer under comparisons. As it is, it's a solid western with colorful characters traveling amid the glorious Colorado mountains majestically lensed in CinemaScope by William Clothier (MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE). The film, not surprisingly considering the almost 30 years that have passed, is more violent. It opens with a soldier getting a tomahawk to the face, a man being dragged through fire and a horse stomping a solider to death. Some of the casting is off. Ann-Margret, in particular, with her Sydney Guilaroff hairstyles and anachronistic false fingernails is simply too young for the role of the prostitute Dallas and Robert Cummings, who normally can barely make an effort to act, overacts terribly. Directed by Gordon Douglas, music by Jerry Goldsmith. With Bing Crosby (very good), Van Heflin, Stefanie Powers, Red Buttons, Mike Connors, Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn and in the role that made John Wayne a star, Alex Cord.

Docks Of New York (1928)

After putting into port, a burly stoker (George Bancroft, Ford's STAGECOACH) has one night ashore. He saves a young woman (the luscious Betty Compson) from a suicide attempt and carelessly flirts with her and marries her. The morning after proves more difficult than anticipated. This is an absolutely lovely and poignant movie with an atmosphere so thick you can almost breathe it. The director, Josef von Sternberg, mercifully doesn't condescend to his subjects but rather tosses us into the thick of it so we feel part of the milieu. He's abetted in this by the striking black and white images of Harold Rosson (THE WIZARD OF OZ) and the superb, authentic waterfront and its dives from art director Hans Dreier (SUNSET BOULEVARD). In addition to Bancroft and Compson, there's a third major character and solid performance by Olga Baclanova (FREAKS) as Bancroft's disenchanted ex-wife or girlfriend (it's never quite made clear).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Woman In Green (1945)

In London, the police are baffled by a series of random murders of young girls because there appears to be no common bond or motive. The girls are not sexually molested or robbed but the killer cuts off the forefinger of each victim. So what's Scotland Yard to do? Ask for help from Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone), of course. This Holmes film is not based on any of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories but an original screenplay. Unlike the Conan Doyle stories which are set in the late 1800s or early 1900s, the film takes place in contemporary London circa 1945. The contemporary setting removes much of the atmosphere and color of the Conan Doyle stories and Holmes films which were appropriate to the originals. There is one scene that stands out, at least it did for me. The elegant Hillary Brooke (as the title character) hypnotizes Holmes and the scene is fairly lengthy and Brooke's gentle voice and prodding of Rathbone to sleep almost did me in! Still, it's quite fun and Rathbone by this time didn't even try as he had made the role his own as does Nigel Bruce as the befuddled Dr. Watson. Directed by Roy William Neill. With Henry Daniell as Holmes' great nemesis Dr. Moriarty and Mary Gordon as the housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Horsemen (2009)

A recently widowed police detective (Dennis Quaid) is assigned to a grisly case of serial killings by a group who refer to themselves as the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. They torture and mutilate their victims before killing them and promise as the Bible predicts that all Hell will follow after the fourth death. This was the first feature film of the Swedish director Jonas Akerlund best known for his stylish commercials and Madonna music videos. The film is actually quite striking visually but the script is bottom of the barrel. We've come a long way from the artistry of a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to this drek. It's so inept and poorly written that we're always one jump ahead of Quaid's detective. We're actually supposed to believe that a father hasn't been in his son's room in years? The hideously soppy ending would be laughable but it's so badly composed that we're groaning instead of laughing. I doubt it would even please the "gross out" horror crowd. With the exception of Zhang Ziyi (quite a fall from her days as Zhang Yimou's leading lady) as the second victim's psychotic daughter, the acting is terrible with Patrick Fugit and Eric Balfour whose performances as brothers are particularly awful. With Peter Stormare and Paul Dooley. Avoid.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Margin Call (2011)

Set just before the Wall Street financial collapse, the film takes place in the 24 hours after an investment firm discovers its overextended to the point of bankruptcy and the disastrous measures it takes which will have far reaching effects on millions of Americans and the economy. The film is very good, good enough that it's a pity it isn't better because it flirts with vital issues and seems on the verge of something spectacular that never happens. But I'm grateful for what director and writer J.C. Chandor (in his feature film debut) has given us. The film is shot in the form of a thriller and even though we all know the outcome, Chandor brings a pressure and immediacy to the proceedings that is near spellbinding. The ensemble cast, with the exception of Jeremy Irons who overacts, is perfect. Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany and Penn Badgley perform with great authority with only Mary McDonnell (DANCES WITH WOLVES) wasted in her one scene. The modest score is by Nathan Larson.

Spoorloos (aka The Vanishing) (1988)

A Dutch couple (Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege) on vacation in France stop at a gas station convenience market. The girl goes to get some cold drinks but she never returns, she's vanished. The film jumps three years later when Bervoets, although in another relationship, is still obsessed with finding out what happened to ter Steege. During all this, the sociopath (Bernard Pierre Donnadieu) who kidnapped the girl has been watching him. This disturbing, unsettling thriller while riveting is compromised by two things. First, Donnadieu who is supposed to be an innocuous family man on the surface looks so creepy that he may as well have "pervert" tattooed on his forehead. Second, Bervoets' actions in the film's final act when engaged with Donnadieu make no logical sense at all and we're left with "What the hell was he thinking?". Still, there's no denying that this twisted, fascinating film is a dark classic of its kind even if by the film's end, you wonder what the point of it all is. Based on the novel THE GOLDEN EGG by Tim Krabbe who co-wrote the screenplay with the director, George Sluizer. Sluizer made the mistake of directing an English language version in 1993 that was compromised by a ridiculous, phony ending.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

In the mid 19th century, a greenhorn by the name of Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford) goes up to the Rocky Mountains to become a trapper and mountain man. He's mentored by a grizzly hunter (Will Geer in a performance that defines ham) until he's confident enough to set off on his own. The film steers dangerously close to a vanity project for Redford as the title hero. Johnson becomes a folk hero of almost mythological proportions among the Indians and the settlers and Redford lets it rest on his shoulders as if it were his due. In beard and bearskins, he's more a movie star than ever and at the final freeze frame on his face, I couldn't help but break out into a grin. In the film's quest for authenticity, it's almost sadistic in its depiction of killing both humans and animals and co-screenwriter John Milius' hand is quite apparent. The first part of the film, however, is quite persuasive but after the film's intermission, it becomes an uninteresting revenge piece. This is one sensational looking movie though. The cinematography by Duke Callaghan is stunning. The folksy score is by Tim McIntire and John Rubenstein. Directed by Sydney Pollack. With Allyn Ann McLerie, Matt Clark, Stefan Gierasch and Tanya Tucker.

Return From The Ashes (1965)

Shortly before the Nazis invade Paris, a wealthy Jewish doctor (Ingrid Thulin, CRIES AND WHISPERS) marries her chess playing gigolo lover (Maximilian Schell). But she is soon arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. Schell then becomes lovers with Thulin's daughter (Samantha Eggar) assuming his wife died in the Holocaust. But when she returns, it sets in motion a diabolical plot and a double murder. The plot's machinations are far fetched but director J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE) maneuvers the storyline so precisely that it almost becomes plausible. Schell makes for a marvelous, debauched boytoy and Eggar a petulant brat. Thulin's character is more problematic. Normally, she would be the sympathetic character, the one the audience sides with. But although she sees right through Schell's greedy, selfish lifestyle and that he really doesn't love her, she willingly humiliates herself to keep him. The screenplay is by Oscar winning Julius Epstein (CASABLANCA) from the novel by Hubert Monteihet. The crisp wide screen Panavision lensing is by Christopher Challis (TWO FOR THE ROAD) and the sinewy score is by John Dankworth. With Herbert Lom and Vladek Sheybal.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Stranglers Of Bombay (1959)

Set in early 19th century India while under British rule, a captain (Guy Rolfe) in the East India Company investigates the thousands of disappearances of natives while the local British merchants complain of their caravans vanishing without a trace. It's the Thuggee cult, who worship the goddess Kali and do her bidding which is to kill the infidels bloodlessly hence strangling them with silk scarves, behind it all. This Hammer mixture of adventure and horror boasts that it is based on facts but the execution is uneven. The characters often behave stupidly and without logic which detracts from the genuine suspense. Hammermeister Terence Fisher directs efficiently from a script by David Zelag Goodman (STRAW DOGS) and the striking black and white wide screen (MegaScope) lensing is by Arthur Grant (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) with Surrey and Buckinghamshire substituting for India. It's very likely that this film was seen by Steven Spielberg whose INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM appears to be influenced by it. With Allan Cuthbertson doing his usual smug act, Jan Holden, Andrew Cruickshank, George Pastell and Marne Maitland.

Young Cassidy (1965)

In 1911 Ireland, a young labourer (Rod Taylor) has ambitions of being a writer. But poverty, working to overthrow the British invaders and romance slow his progress. Based on the life of the great Irish playwright Sean O'Casey, inexplicably called Johnny Cassidy in the film, and began by John Ford (reputedly he directed the film for only two weeks) and completed by Jack Cardiff. The film opens with "A John Ford Production" however and it has the feel of a Ford film, particularly in the propensity for Irish brawls but Cardiff brings his own sensibility to the film which also has the same empathy for the Irish poor that he brought to the Welsh miners in his film of SONS AND LOVERS. Still, O'Casey's life, at least as portrayed here, simply wasn't interesting enough to sustain much interest for a feature film and despite a rousing performance by Taylor, the film follows the usual path of movie bios: poverty, struggle, success, fame, fade out. There is a compelling riot scene where the British overcome the Irish rebels by brute force. The suitably drab photography is by Edward Scaife (THE DIRTY DOZEN) and the authentically Irish score by Sean O'Riada. With Maggie Smith, Julie Christie, Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans, Flora Robson, Sian Phillips and Jack MacGowran.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What The Deaf Man Heard (1997)

While traveling on a bus, a young mother (Bernadette Peters) leaves her sleeping son (Frankie Muniz) on the bus to get a cold drink during a half hour rest stop. She never returns (she was raped and murdered). When the bus arrives at the end of the line, the traumatized boy pretends to be a deaf mute and is informally "adopted" by the bus station manager (Tom Skerritt) and a waitress (Judith Ivey) at the bus stop restaurant. He grows up into the town's handyman (Matthew Modine) where he knows all the town's secrets as they assume he's deaf. Based on the novel by G.D. Gearino (the book's mute is replaced by man in the film's title), it's a rather sweetly endearing film without any surprises. Even the one "twist", the reason for the mother's journey which isn't revealed until the end, is predictable. There's an amusing sequence based on John Lennon's infamous "We're bigger than Jesus" remark, in which the town's minister (Jerry O'Connell) orders a bonfire to burn a rock group's records because of the blasphemy but the fire gets out of control. Unexceptional fare. Directed by John Kent Harrison. With James Earl Jones, Claire Bloom and Anne Bobby.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Happy Thieves (1961)

A master thief (Rex Harrison) steals expensive and famous original paintings with the help of his assistant (Joseph Wiseman), who paints forgeries which Harrison puts in place of the original paintings. When Harrison's new wife (Rita Hayworth) insists that he stop his life of crime, he promises to do so after one last heist ..... stealing a Goya from the Prado! This type of heist film has been done much better in such films as TOKAPI and HOW TO STEAL A MILLION. The film can't seem to find a tone. On one hand, it's a comedy heist caper but there are two cold blooded murders which simply aren't amusing. There's no suspense which is fatal in a heist movie and it's a pity that Paul Beeson's (TO SIR WITH LOVE) cinematography is in black and white rather than color to take fuller advantage of the handsome Spanish locations. It doesn't help that Hayworth is not a comedienne and lines which would have got a laugh if delivered by, say, Jean Arthur or Audrey Hepburn simply fall flat. Directed by George Marshall from a novel by Richard Condon (MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE). The annoying perky score is by Mario Nascimbene (THE VIKINGS). With Alida Valli, Britt Ekland and Gregoire Aslan.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Raiders Of The Seven Seas (1953)

The notorious pirate Barbarossa (a red haired John Payne) raids a Caribbean island and takes the governor's daughter (Donna Reed) as his hostage. He intends to hold her for ransom but falls in love with her instead. This spirited Technicolor pirate nonsense is modestly entertaining if you don't ask for much. As a swashbuckler, the likable Payne lacks the requisite panache of an Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power but he's an engaging presence and wields a sword with conviction. Reed, however, makes for an excellent feisty pirate heroine in the tradition of a Maureen O'Hara which is good as much of the film focuses on their antagonistic relationship. The Caribbean looks to be the Universal back-lot (even though it's a United Artists film) if I can trust my eye. Reed's fetching costumes are by Yvonne Wood and the Technicolor cinematography by Oscar winner W. Howard Greene (1943's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA). Written, produced and directed by Sidney Salkow. With Gerald Mohr, Anthony Caruso, Frank DeKova, Henry Brandon and Lon Chaney Jr.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Goliath And The Vampires (aka Maciste Contro Il Vampiro) (1961)

After his village is pillaged and his fiancee (Leonora Ruffo) carried off along with the other women to an island kingdom to be sold as slaves, Goliath (Gordon Scott) travels to the island to return them. But the island is ruled by a weak Sultan (Mario Feliciani) under the thumb of a diabolical blood drinking monster. I don't know if one could accurately call this silly piece of peplum as a sword and sandal piece. It's a mish mash of styles, more of a fantasy than your typical sword and sandal. Goliath and his people look like ancient Greeks or Romans while the island kingdom is out of an Arabian nights fantasy and the "blue men" (underground rebels) look like medieval knights. Anyway you look at it, it's still pretty ludicrous. I did get two big laughs out of it. Once when the leader of the kidnappers bellowed, "Throw the old women to the sharks!" which somehow struck me as absurdly hilarious and the other time was when a dancing girl in a tavern bumps and grinds to a distinctively anachronistic 1960s pop tune and I swear she even did the Twist! The score is by Les Baxter (who did the U.S. version) who borrows from his score to GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS. Directed by Sergio Corbucci and Giacomo Gentilomo. With Gianna Maria Canale as the villainess and Jacques Sernas (HELEN OF TROY) as the leader of the rebels.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Ides Of March (2011)

The ambitious if idealistic campaign manager (Ryan Gosling) of a Democratic presidential candidate (George Clooney) is determined that his candidate wins because he believes in him as the right man to run the country. But as is well known, ambition and power corrupt and takes no prisoners and souls are sold to the Devil for a lot less. This marvelous film encapsulates everything that is wrong with American politics today. Is there anyone alive so naive as to believe the road to the White House is not littered with deceit, backroom deals, blackmail, moral hypocrisy and worse on both sides? That it doesn't really matter who the President is? What's so disturbing about this film is not the accuracy but that we the voters are willingly part and parcel of this manipulation. Clooney not only stars but directed, co-wrote and produced. His direction is assured and his performance is deceptively astute. The first rate score is by Alexandre Desplat. The cast is superlative all the way down the line from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as veteran campaign managers who know the score, Marisa Tomei as a wily political journalist, Jeffrey Wright as an ambitious U.S. senator, Jennifer Ehle as Clooney's wife and Evan Rachel Wood, the only true innocent in the film, as the intern who suffers the consequences of politics' poisonous fingers.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

La Piel Que Habito (aka The Skin I Live In) (2011)

A renowned surgeon (Antonio Banderas) has developed an abnormally resilient skin that cannot burn. While he claims to have used mice for his testing, in reality, he has been using a young woman (Elena Anaya) who he's keeping prisoner. Based on the novel MYGALE by Thierry Jonquet and directed by Pedro Almodovar. Has there been a more consistently fascinating director these past few decades than Almodovar? Once again, he hits a home run with a complex concoction of horror, sci-fi, Sirkian melodrama and the most shocking piece of revenge since Titus Andronicus served Tamara that pie in Shakespeare's bloody vengeance piece. But it's still 100% pure Almodovar! Stylish, unsettling, humorous and disturbing on so many levels I don't know where to start. Almodovar creates a sense of dread from the first few scenes and that atmosphere remains through out the film. You keep expecting the worst and you're not disappointed. Banderas gives one of his very best performances. Like Penelope Cruz, he seems to do his best work with Almodovar. The superior score is by Alberto Iglesias. With Almodovar regular Marisa Paredes (ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER), Jan Cornet and Roberto Alamo as Paredes' psycho son whose cartoonish performance feels out of sync with the rest of the film. Bravo, Pedro!

Damnation Alley (1977)

After WWIII, a small group of survivors make the long trek from a desert Air Force base in California to Albany, New York (where they're receiving radio signals) through a devastated, apocalyptic landscape. Their encounters include giant scorpions, man eating cockroaches and hillbilly rapists. Despite its large (for the time) $18 million dollar budget, it has the cheesiest and shoddiest special effects ever seen in a major motion picture. Based upon the sci-fi novel by Roger Zelazny, there's very little of his novel left in the final product. The hero of Zelazny's book was a convicted murderer offered a pardon which in the film morphs into a motorcycle riding ex-Air Force Lieutenant played by Jan Michael Vincent! The film retains a strong 1970s vibe from the dialogue to the bell bottoms that Paul Winfield wears. Directed by Jack Smight (AIRPORT 1975) and with one of Jerry Goldsmith's lesser scoring efforts. With George Peppard, Dominique Sanda (THE CONFORMIST) as a songwriter they pick up in Las Vegas, a young Jackie Earle Haley as a boy they also pick up along the way and Murray Hamilton whose part seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor (apparently some TV versions of the films restore some of his scenes).

Bear Island (1979)

Under the auspices of NATO, a group of international scientists arrive on a remote Arctic island to study climate changes. The island was used by the Nazis during WWII as a U-boat base. But after several deaths occur, it becomes clear that someone in the group has an ulterior motive for being on the island that has nothing to do with the scientific expedition. Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean (GUNS OF NAVARONE), this is a rather plodding action-adventure piece, often difficult to follow. The illustrious cast includes Vanessa Redgrave, Donald Sutherland, Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Lloyd Bridges and Barbara Parkins but their generic roles don't give them any opportunities to stretch their acting muscles. There is a fairly exciting chase sequence near the film's end with Redgrave and Sutherland on caterpillars (not the insect, the snowmobile kind) attempting to elude the bad guys. The snowbound Alaskan and British Columbia locations are majestically filmed by Alan Hume (RETURN OF THE JEDI) and the regal score is by Robert Farnon. Directed by Don Sharp and with Lawrence Dane and Bruce Greenwood.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Back Street (1961)

Shortly after the war, a married marine (John Gavin) and a struggling dress designer (Susan Hayward) meet and fall in love. But when she finds out he's married, she is torn between her love for him and her determination not to be a "back street" mistress. The third (1932 and 1941 were the others) film incarnation of Fannie Hurst's (IMITATION OF LIFE) weepie is much more glamorous than the prior versions. Produced by Ross Hunter and directed by David Miller (LONELY ARE THE BRAVE), this gets the lavish Ross Hunter treatment with Hayward pacing and suffering in Paris and Rome and wearing gowns by Jean Louis (who received an Oscar nomination for his work here), jewels by David Webb and furs by Alixandre. You can guess the purplish dialogue even before the characters utter their lines. Still, Hunter and company know what they're doing so don't be surprised if you find your eyes watering during the kitschy, melodramatic finale. Alas, director Miller is no Douglas Sirk so the film never transcends its pulpy roots. There's a glorious score by Frank Skinner. With Vera Miles (never looking more beautiful) in the film's best performance as Gavin's bitchy, alcoholic wife. Also with Virginia Grey, Charles Drake, Reginald Gardiner, Natalie Schafer and Hayden Rorke.

A Wind From The South (1955)

In the Irish countryside, a sheltered young woman (Julie Harris) and her embittered brother (Michael Higgins) run a small inn for tourists. When an unhappily married American couple (Donald Woods, Haila Stoddard) come to stay at the inn, the girl and the husband find themselves attracted to each other. Directed by Daniel Petrie (ELEANOR AND FRANKLIN) and written by James Costigan (LOVE AMONG THE RUINS) who's written better dialogue, this wispy bit of drama isn't much. It's so slight that it's over before you realize that's all there is. One can't help but wonder what the intelligent Irish lass sees in the bland American advertising executive, though to be fair it's most likely the actor rather than the character. Both the actress and her character deserve better. The theme song is sung by Merv Griffin. With James Congdon as an American serviceman who makes an awkward pass at Harris.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Frenchman's Creek (1944)

In mid 17th century England, fed up with her husband's (Ralph Forbes) antics and the unwanted attention of his lecherous friend (Basil Rathbone), a married noblewoman (Joan Fontaine) leaves him and with her two children goes to the Cornish coast. There she falls under the spell of a French pirate (Arturo De Cordova). Four years after her breakthrough role in the film version of Daphne Du Maurier's REBECCA, Fontaine takes on a different Du Maurier heroine. Feisty, adventurous and loving unwisely. Despite the pirates, the film is not so much a swashbuckler as what they used to call a "bodice ripper", a titillating Harlequin like romance. Curiously, the film seems to think nothing of Fontaine ignoring her two children as she risks her life and goes on a thrill raid with the pirates for a few days. Fontaine looks gorgeous in three strip Technicolor and her Raoul Pene Du Bois period costumes but it's a pity she didn't have a more charismatic leading man. There was a brief attempt to make the rather bland Mexican actor a star in Hollywood in the 1940s but the public wasn't biting. Directed by Mitchell Leisen. The Oscar winning art direction is courtesy of Hans Dreier and Ernst Fegte and the score by Victor Young. With Nigel Bruce and Cecil Kellaway, not an Irish imp but a French manservant here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dangerous Mission (1954)

After witnessing a murder in New York, a young woman (Piper Laurie) flees to Montana to hide. But the murderer (Kem Dibbs) and his lawyer (Frank Wilcox) hire a killer to find her and silence her before she talks. This short (75 minutes) film is passable, mindless entertainment highlighted by the gorgeous Technicolor scenery of Glacier National Park in Montana shot by William Snyder (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON). The film's big finale however combines both actual outdoor footage of the glaciers along with a glacier set on a sound stage and the juxtaposition is obvious and jarring. Originally shot in 3D, the film doesn't appear to take advantage of the format. The pedestrian screenplay is by Horace McCoy, author of one of the great American novels THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?, of all people! Victor Mature does his usual slumming as an ex-Marine turned cop pursuing the lovely Piper Laurie in more ways than one, Vincent Price is suitably oleaginous, the comely Betta St. John (THE ROBE) is an Indian maiden and William Bendix is the suspicious forest ranger.

Death Rides A Horse (aka Da Uomo A Uomo) (1967)

A child witnesses the killing of his father and the rape and murder of his mother and sister. When he grows up to be a young man (John Phillip Law), he vows to avenge their deaths. At the same time, a man (Lee Van Cleef) just released from prison vows to track down the men who double crossed him and sent him to prison. But fate has a surprise for both men. This is a terrific spaghetti western, tense and gripping yet with a surprising amount of poignancy and even a soupcon of humor. The glint eyed edgy Van Cleef and the blue eyed boyish Law make for an offbeat but engaging pair. Directed by Giulio Petroni but it would have done Sergio Leone proud. There's a sensational score, one of his very best, by Ennio Morricone which Quentin Tarantino pilfered for KILL BILL. The striking wide screen (Techniscope) cinematography is by Carlo Carlini (Fellini's IL VITELLONI) impressively utilizing the dusty Spanish locations. With Anthony Dawson (Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Licence To Kill (1989)

After being captured, a notorious drug lord (Robert Davi) bribes a DEA agent (Everett McGill) to help him escape. But not before exacting revenge on the CIA operative (David Hedison) who captured him and murdering his new bride (Priscilla Barnes). His friend British agent James Bond (Timothy Dalton) vows to avenge his friend and bring Davi down. The 16th entry in the 007 franchise may well be the nadir of the series. Despite the millions of dollars lavished on the production, it's a pretty shoddy piece of film making, borrowing generously from LIVE AND LET DIE. It plays out more like a Charles Bronson vengeance movie than a Bond film. Surely a Bond villain should be more than just a drug thug. The film hits a low all the way down the line. The worst Bond (Dalton), the worst Bond girls (Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto), the worst villain (Davi), the worst stunt casting (Wayne Newton as an evangelist front for Davi's drug trafficking). John Glen directed and Michael Kamen wrote the noisy score. The title song (sung by Gladys Knight) and the end credit song (sung by Patti LaBelle) are very good though. The last Bond film that had titles by the great Maurice Binder. Filmed in Mexico. With a young Benicio Del Toro as one of Davi's henchman, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, Desmond Llewelyn and Don Stroud.

This Time For Keeps (1947)

A returning soldier (Johnny Johnston) finds himself being pushed into both a career in opera and a marriage, neither of which he wants. When he falls in love with an aquacade star (Esther Williams), he keeps his problems and past from her. This slight story is padded out with Williams' water ballets, Johnston's love songs, opera pieces sung by Danish tenor Lauritz Melchior (who plays Johnston's father), novelty numbers by Jimmy Durante and Latin numbers by Xavier Cugat. All the padding does is to elongate the tedium. On the plus side, there's the handsome three strip Technicolor lensing by Karl Freund (Lang's METROPOLIS) and some nice location shots of Mackinac Island in Michigan including the Grand Hotel which served as a backdrop for SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980). Directed by Richard Thorpe with the water ballets and dances choreographed by Stanley Donen (SINGIN' IN THE RAIN). With Dame May Whitty as Williams' grandmother, Kenneth Tobey, Dick Simmons and the sad faced child actress, Sharon McManus.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Drums Of Africa (1963)

Set in 1897 Equatorial East Africa, three men (Frankie Avalon, Lloyd Bochner, Torin Thatcher)and a woman (Mariette Hartley RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY) make their way through the wilds of the jungle but an encounter with slave traders disrupts their journey. Directed by James B. Clark (FLIPPER), this "big white hunter" second feature must have seemed outdated even in 1963. KING SOLOMON'S MINES it's not. MGM certainly didn't spend much on it. It's a sound stage African jungle and the few exteriors look suspiciously like Southern California! The film is crammed with stock shots of the real Africa and its elephants, snakes, zebras etc. which noticeably show wear and tear next to the new footage. The film makers dwell far too long on a disturbing scene with a dying elephant that appears to be genuine footage and I could have done without the scene of a python lunching on some small furry animals, too. But I suppose with not much else going for it, this was an attempt at "realism". Amongst the stampedes and jungle fires, Avalon finds time to sing a mawkish love song. The jazz flavored score is by Johnny Mandel (THE SANDPIPER). With Michael Pate and Hari Rhodes.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Night Editor (1946)

A married cop (William Gargan) is having an affair with a wealthy society dame (Janis Carter). During one of their trysts on the beach, they witness the brutal murder of a young girl. However, because both are married and have respectable lives that would be ruined if their affair was brought out into the open, they don't go to the police. But when an innocent man is arrested and sent to death row for the murder, the cop's conscience starts to bother him but she doesn't have one and couldn't care less. Based on a popular radio show of the 1940s, this is an efficient "B" noir with all the necessary noir trimmings. Dialogue like "this is the end of the line, baby", a tough talking hard boiled hero and Carter as the coldest hearted of noir heroines. She's rotten to the core and makes Stanwyck in DOUBLE INDEMNITY look like Pollyanna. The film contains one of the oddest things I've seen, one of the characters puts salt in his buttermilk before drinking! Curiously, the film is set in the 1920s (it's told as a flashback) but everything from dialogue to costumes is pure 1940s noir. Directed by Henry Levin (WHERE THE BOYS ARE) with a score by Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco. With Jeff Donnell as Gargan's doormat of a wife, Frank Wilcox as the unctuous killer and Anthony Caruso.

Sasom I En Spegel (aka Through A Glass Darkly) (1961)

On a remote and bleak Swedish island, a young wife (Harriet Andersson) struggles with her mental illness while her husband (Max Von Sydow), father (Gunnar Bjornstrand) and younger brother (Lars Passgard) are powerless to prevent her descent into madness. Films about mental illness from THE SNAKE PIT through I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN tend to focus on the journey to the cure. This austere masterpiece from the great Ingmar Bergman does not, which allows for a heartbreaking fully developed bravura performance by Harriet Andersson in a part in which a lesser actress might have chewed up the scenery. Of course, strictly speaking, Bergman's film isn't entirely about mental illness anyway. Bergman is more concerned with what Andersson's character perceives in her madness and God's relevance to an increasingly emotionally sterile society. With only the four characters to work with, Bergman displays his deft hand with actors. The great Sven Nykvist is responsible for the beautiful B&W images but I could have done without the rather pretentious spurts of Bach on the soundtrack. Winner of the 1962 Academy Award for best foreign language film.

Tarzan And The Slave Girl (1950)

A "lost" city in the jungle has its female population decimated due to a strange illness so the King's counselor (Anthony Caruso) kidnaps nubile maidens to keep the population going. But when Jane (Vanessa Brown, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR) is kidnapped, Tarzan (Lex Barker) springs into action. This rather preposterous entry in the Tarzan franchise seems cobbled together but if you're a fan of the series then you may have a tolerance for this sort of nonsense. Directed by the hack Lee Sholem (SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN), the film benefits from the saucy presence of Denise Darcel as a native girl (though her French accent is never explained) with aspirations to be a Queen. Hurd Hatfield, a long way from the classiness of PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, is the King of the jungle kingdom while Alan's dad, Robert Alda is the shiftless guide with eyes for Darcel. With Arthur Shields and can someone explain the supposed "adorableness" of the annoying Cheetah because I don't get it!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dream House (2011)

An editor (Daniel Craig) leaves his job to write a novel and spend more time with his wife (Rachel Weisz) and kids in their new house in the country. But he discovers that the family that lived there five years ago were all murdered and somethings not right in the small town they've moved to. Directed by Jim Sheridan (MY LEFT FOOT), the film begins as a horror film until a twist is revealed and then it becomes a detective story. If you go in expecting a horror flick, you'll be sorely disappointed. The film was taken away from Sheridan by the studio and re-cut and Sheridan and the film's stars were displeased enough to refuse to do any promotion for it. I suspect Sheridan's cut was probably too "artsy" for mainstream audiences but the cut the studio has provided us with, while modestly enjoyable in an AMITYVILLE HORROR sort of way is rather routine considering the pedigree of the director and its cast. I had a good time at it but its potential is never adequately tapped. The creepily effective score is by John Debney. With Naomi Watts (somewhat wasted as a next door neighbor), Jane Alexander, Elias Koteas and Marton Csokas (THE DEBT).

50/50 (2011)

A 27 year old man (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that is growing on his spine. As he deals with his possible mortality as well as chemotherapy, he must also deal with foul mouthed sex hungry best friend (Seth Rogen), his unfaithful girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his clinging mother (Anjelica Huston). I should mention that this is a comedy, yes, a comedy! Written by Will Reiser and based on his own cancer bout, this should have the ring of truth about it but it all comes across as contrived and not as daring as it would like to think it is. A TERMS OF ENDEARMENT for the 2000s but not as good. The characters come across as caricatures despite the consistently fine performances, most notably Rogen and Huston, by the entire cast. Poor Bryce Dallas Howard! After her work in THE HELP and now this, she seems to have cornered the market on playing bitches. The soundtrack is fairly awful between Michael Giacchino's tinkly syrupy score and the pop songs which tell you how you're supposed to feel at that particular moment. I must confess I'm rather perplexed by the positive reviews the film has received. Directed by Jonathan Levine. With Anna Kendrick (UP IN THE AIR), Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer.