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Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Babadook (2014)

A single mother (Essie Davis) works at a residence for senior citizens while trying to raise her son (Noah Wiseman), who is seemingly psychologically disturbed with an obsession about monsters who want to kill him and his mother. A bedtime story about The Babadook, a supernatural monster that will terrorize you once you acknowledge his existence, convinces the child that the monster is real and out to get them. It's taken me awhile to get around to this acclaimed horror film from last year which received near unanimous praise. I went in with lowered expectations and I'm glad I did because if I had gone in expecting it to live up to its rapturous reviews, I would have been mightily disappointed. I didn't find it particularly fresh, it seems cobbled with pieces of other (better) horror films like THE EXORCIST and REPULSION. It's directed with style by Jennifer Kent (who also wrote the screenplay) in her directorial film debut and while I can admire the effort she put into it, the end result is a patchwork of horror cliches. I guess I liked it overall but ..... not very much. With Hayley McElhinney and Benjamin Winspear.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

French Cancan (1954)

In 1890s Paris, a theatrical entrepreneur (Jean Gabin) decides to open a music hall in Montmartre which, while featuring other musical acts, will have Cancan dancers at the core of his revue. He will call his music hall the Moulin Rouge. Directed by the great Jean Renoir, this rambunctious musical is a pure delight. Beautifully shot by Michel Kelber in candy colored pastels, the film is a homage to both the Impressionist painters of the period as well as the music hall artists of late 19th century Paris. The plot itself is a whisper of a thing, a necessary device to move the images along. Montmartre, the Moulin Rouge and the Cancan have attracted film makers more than once: John Huston's MOULIN ROUGE, Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE! and the 1960 Cole Porter musical CAN-CAN to name just three. But Renoir's images and affection for the period brings a perceived authenticity to the proceedings that the other films lacked. With Maria Felix, Francoise Arnoul, Giani Esposito, Philippe Clay and Edith Piaf.

The Driver's Seat (aka Identikit) (1974)

A psychologically disturbed woman (Elizabeth Taylor) travels to Rome to meet someone, someone she doesn't know but hopes to find. Someone who will murder her. Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Muriel Spark (PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE), to call this movie bizarre is an understatement. I've not read the Spark novel but apparently it gave Taylor's character a backstory so that her shocking mission had some logic to it. The film gives no character history so she comes off as a wacko. The dialogue is almost impossible for the actors to say with any measure of believability, example: Ian Bannen "I have to have an orgasm a day for my macrobiotic diet" to which Taylor responds, "When I diet, I diet. When I orgasm, I orgasm. I don't mix the two". That being said, the film's horrendous reputation is unfair. The film remains a fascinating mess. One can see what the film makers were attempting, it just didn't come together. Taylor is is good though Bannen is too over the top to take seriously. Directed by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi. With Andy Warhol, Mona Washbourne, Maxence Malifort and Guido Mannari.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Seven Year Itch (1955)

After sending his wife (Evelyn Keyes) and son (Butch Bernard) to Maine for the summer, a Manhattan publishing executive (Tom Ewell) finds himself attracted to the blonde (Marilyn Monroe) living upstairs. He contemplates adultery but can he go through with it? Based on the hit play by George Axelrod, who co-wrote the screenplay with its director Billy Wilder, the film suffers from not being able to shake off its theatrical origins. It's a theatrical device to have a character speak his thoughts out loud so the audience knows what he's thinking but in cinema, it comes across as artificial and unrealistic. Tom Ewell is recreating his stage role and he's just not an appealing screen actor. The film would sink under the weight of its own tediousness except for one thing ..... Monroe! Whenever she's on screen, she's so radiant that she lights everything up and even Ewell begins to seem tolerable. The film contains one of the most iconic images in all cinema, Monroe standing over a subway grate as her white halter dress billows up around her. With Carolyn Jones, Oscar Homolka, Marguerite Chapman, Sonny Tufts and Victor Moore.

Return To Oz (1985)

Six months after returning to Kansas from the land of Oz, young Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) is troubled and can't sleep. Her Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) takes her to a dubious doctor (Nicol Williamson) who specializes in electric healing in the hopes he can help. But Dorothy escapes with the help of another young girl (Emma Ridley) during a thunderstorm and soon finds herself back in Oz. Loosely based on the L. Frank Baum books, MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ and OZMA OF OZ, the film was not a success at the box office. Perhaps audiences (and critics) were expecting a bright cheerful film like the 1939 classic instead of this dark, unsettling yet touching fantasy. Closer to the Baum books than the MGM musical film, this is a wonderful film that is slowly but surely getting the recognition it deserves. It's disturbing undercurrent makes it unsuitable for young children (when I showed it to my 6 year old nephew many years ago, he was quite upset). But I maintain that it is a poignant look at childhood fears. Expertly directed by Walter Murch (whose only feature film this is) with a highly effective score by David Shire. With Jean Marsh, Matt Clark and Sophie Ward.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bikini Beach (1964)

It's summer and the Beach Party gang are up to their old tricks at the beach but a wealthy newspaper publisher (Keenan Wynn) wages an anti-surfer campaign in his newspaper. Meanwhile, a British Beatles like pop star (Frankie Avalon) threatens to steal the girlfriend (Annette Funicello) of our beach hero (Frankie Avalon). One of the weakest entries in the Beach Party franchise, this one is on auto control. The songs (except for Stevie Wonder) are a yawn and the jokes are lamer than usual and Harvey Lembeck's Von Zipper act was getting pretty tedious. And one has to wonder what Martha Hyer (she even has to kiss an ape) and Keenan Wynn are doing here. That "ape" is so obviously an actor in a monkey suit that one wonders how dim the characters are that they can't even notice! Directed by William Asher. With Boris Karloff, Don Rickles, John Ashley, Donna Loren, Jody McCrea, Candy Johnson, Meredith MacRae, Michael Nader and Timothy Carey.

Show Boat (1936)

In the 1880s, a show boat run by Captian Andy (Charles Winninger) traveling the Mississippi river picks up a gambling man (Allan Jones) to act in his show. Despite the disapproval of his wife (Helen Westley), his young daughter (Irene Dunne) falls in love with the gambler. One of the greatest musicals of the American theatre, SHOW BOAT has yet to receive a definitive film version in spite of being made three times (it was also made in 1929 and 1951). This one, directed by James Whale (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN), is generally considered the best of the three though frankly, in spite of its flaws, I prefer the 1951 MGM Technicolor version. Dunne and especially Jones are insufferable as the romantic leads. Fortunately, the film has Helen Morgan in one of her rare film roles recreating the role of the bi-racial Julie which she played in the original show. Then there's the great Paul Robeson whose rendition of Old Man River gives one goosebumps and whose acting style seems the most contemporary of anyone in the film. Also in fine support are Hattie McDaniel who gets a chance to show off her singing talent and Queenie Smith and Sammy White as Frank and Ellie. The film's ending defines schmaltz!  One of my favorite songs from the show Life Upon The Wicked Stage is eliminated from this version but was put back in the 1951 movie. With Donald Cook and Sunnie O'Dea.

For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943)

During the Spanish Civil War in the year 1937, an American professor (Gary Cooper) joins the Republican guerrilla forces fighting against the fascist forces of Francisco Franco. An assignment to blow up a strategic bridge finds him holed up in the mountains with other guerrilla fighters. It is there where he meets the girl Maria (Ingrid Bergman) and falls in love. Based on the celebrated novel by Ernest Hemingway, the film can't hope to approximate the Hemingway novel (at least with the restrictive cultural taboos of the time) but director Sam Wood has done a pretty decent job of transferring the novel to the screen nonetheless. It helps that he has Cooper and Bergman who have a nice romantic chemistry (a chemistry that spilled over in real life reputedly) that anchors the film. Wood does a neat balancing act with the romantic elements and the action scenes and a fine supporting cast who bolster the film considerably. The film was a huge moneymaker in its day. The score by Victor Young was very popular, too. With Katina Paxinou in her justifiably Oscar winning performance. The scene where she describes her life as an ugly woman is simply terrific. Also in the cast: Akim Tamiroff, Joseph Calleia, Arturo De Cordova, Vladimir Sokoloff and Fortunio Bonanova.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)

A scientist (Hugh Marlowe, ALL ABOUT EVE) in charge of a space program is contacted by aliens from outer space. Their planet is dying and they want to colonize Earth. But how to stop them? This modestly entertaining piece of 1950s science fiction suffers from over earnestness. With the dullest of second tier leading men like Hugh Marlowe (where's Kenneth Tobey when you need him?) and poor Joan Taylor saddled with the drab "wife" role, the movie desperately needs an infusion of humor to leaven things out. Tim Burton's homage to EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, the witty MARS ATTACKS succeeded in doing just that. The special effects work by the legendary Ray Harryhausen is noteworthy and the film isn't long enough for any lethargy to set in. Directed by Fred F. Sears. With Morris Ankrum, Donald Curtis and Thomas Browne Henry.  

Monday, May 25, 2015

Run Silent Run Deep (1958)

It's 1943 during WWII and at Pearl Harbor, a Navy submarine commander (Clark Gable) is currently holding a desk job after losing his submarine to a Japanese destroyer one year before. When he is given a new submarine command, there's only one thing on his mind ..... getting the Japanese destroyer that downed his submarine. Based on the novel by Edward L. Beach Jr., this is a tight and lean action film with no flabby subplots or extraneous romance (the only female in the film is Mary LaRoche briefly seen as Gable's wife) to hold it back. Directed by Robert Wise, the film is as focused as Gable's character in getting down to business. Once we're on the submarine, we're in there for the remainder of the film with no respite from the tension from either the ship's crew which threatens to snap at any minute nor the sub's dangerous mission. Only once did it falter: a minor character that may as well have had "I'm going to die before this movie is over" tattooed on his forehead!  With Burt Lancaster as Gable's adversarial second in command, Jack Warden, Don Rickles, Brad Dexter and Joe Maross.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nasty Habits (1977)

At an obscure convent in Philadelphia, a nun (Glenda Jackson) conspires to win the election as the new Abbess when the current Abbess (Edith Evans) passes away. She is aided in her plot by two other nuns (Geraldine Page, Anne Jackson). However, she must first defeat her competition, a younger nun (Susan Penhaligon). But an in house scandal may soon bring her reign to a crashing halt! Based on the novel THE ABBESS OF CREWE by Muriel Sparks (PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE), time has caused this movie to lose much of its edge. It's a satire on the Watergate scandal of 1973 and the eventual fall of Richard Nixon as U.S. President. Over forty years have passed and its topicality has faded to the pages of the history books. So, can one enjoy the comedy without a detailed knowledge of the Watergate scandal? I think so but it assuredly helps if you're familiar with it. But even in 1977, the movie was hit and miss in its humor. There's no lack of talent in the project and Jackson makes for an icy and ambitious power hungry leader. But the real scene stealer is Sandy Dennis who is hilarious as the John Dean fall guy stand in. While the other actresses try to keep it relatively subtle, Dennis gives an all out broadly comedic performance. Directed by Michael Lindsay Hogg. With Melina Mercouri (doing Henry Kissinger), Eli Wallach, Rip Torn, Jerry Stiller, Mike Douglas, Jessica Savitch and the late Anne Meara as Gerald Ford's parallel. 

Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock And Roll (2014)

In the 1950s and 1960s, pop music took hold in Cambodia. First, there was the French influences (from Edith Piaf to Johnny Hallyday) but then came the English (Cliff Richard and the Shadows) and, of course, American. It was a fusion of American pop/rock and Afrro-Cuban (think Santana). The music scene thrived and created their own pop stars but when the Khmer Rouge took power, pop music wasn't merely censored, it was systematically dismantled (only "patriotic" songs were allowed) and many of the country's biggest stars were sent to forced labor camps. This fascinating and often moving documentary can't help but also include Southeast Asia's political turmoil (and U.S. involvement) in its influence on the music scene (U.S. soldiers introduced Cambodians to a lot of American rock). What film clearly shows is that Art will survive. You may even destroy the artist but you cannot destroy his Art. Art is influential so it is necessary for a fascist government to suppress or censor it but you can't destroy it. Alas, since so much actual footage of the artists was destroyed, the director John Pirozzi is often forced to use stills, repeated footage, voice overs etc. to recreate the era. Luckily, some of the artists survived to tell their story. Well worth seeking out.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Noi Vivi (aka We The Living) (1942)

In 1920s post revolutionary Russia, a young girl (Alida Valli) moves to Petrograd with her family whose textile business has been seized by the new Communist government. Struggling in poverty, she meets a young anti-revolutionary (Rossano Brazzi) and they fall in love. She also becomes involved with a student revolutionary (Fosco Giachetti) who is a member of the secret police. Based on the novel by Ayn Rand, the film was made in Fascist Italy during WWII and without her permission. The film was never released in the U.S. but Rand liked most of what she saw and before her death cooperated in turning the four hour film (released in Italy in two parts) into one three hour film. As directed by Goffredo Alessandrini, what we get is a potent look at how "socialism" (at least as practiced by the Soviets) is destructive to the human condition. While Valli's character remains resolute in her ideals, the two men become disillusioned. Indeed, the film's hero is the policeman who sees the State corrupt the very ideals he fought for while the anti-revolutionary becomes corrupt and exploitative. We're spared the novel's depressing end and given an uncommitted more open end which at least gives us hope. A film that demands to be seen at least once whatever your political beliefs. With Emilio Cigoli, Guguelmo Sinaz and Cesarina Gheraldi.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Outland (1981)

Set on Io, one of Jupiter's moons, where a major corporation mines titanium, a federal marshal (Sean Connery) discovers that an amphetamine like drug is being fed to its workers to increase productivity. As written and directed by Peter Hyams (CAPRICORN ONE), this is an uncredited remake of HIGH NOON set in outer space. The premise of setting an iconic western deep in the cosmos is intriguing but Hyams barely taps into it, he merely uses its shell. On a visual level, the film is a marvelous looking  toy. But Hyams has failed to flesh out his characters beyond stereotypes so that we get potentially interesting or underdeveloped characters spouting tripe. Frances Sternhagen as a grouchy doctor who aids Connery manages to dress up a rather ordinary role and make it stand out, heaven knows it's not in the writing. The hyper score is by Jerry Goldsmith. With Peter Boyle, James Sikking, Steven Berkoff and Kika Markham (Truffaut's TWO ENGLISH GIRLS) as Connery's wife. 

Warlock (1959)

In a small Utah mining town, the citizens hire a professional gunfighter (Henry Fonda) to protect them from a gang of cowboys who kill anyone from getting in their way. The gunfighter brings his own henchman (Anthony Quinn) with him but when an official deputy (Richard Widmark) is appointed, it is inevitable there will be a showdown. Based on the novel by Oakley Hall, this is a first rate "adult" western. The relationships between the five main characters (Dorothy Malone and Dolores Michaels are the women) are complex and layered. Notably a none too subtle gay subtext to the Fonda/Quinn relationship. The townspeople as a group are also more detailed than the usual stereotypical western. At times, engaging in revolting behavior (like lynch mobs) but at times, standing up and doing themselves proud (watching the deputy's back). Edward Dmytryk (THE CAINE MUTINY) directs with a strong grip on the narrative and Joseph MacDonald's CinemaScope lensing makes nice use of the Utah exteriors. With Tom Drake, Wallace Ford, Frank Gorshin, DeForest Kelley, Richard Arlen, Regis Toomey, Ann Doran and June Blair.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hell's Angels (1930)

Two British brothers couldn't be more different. One (Ben Lyon) is self centered and a womanizer and the other is more idealistic (James Hall) and in love with a girl (Jean Harlow) who is less than he thinks she is. When WWI breaks out, the brothers join the Royal Flying Corps. Originally conceived as a silent film, Howard Hughes had most of the film re-shot as a talking motion picture. James Whale (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) is credited with "staging the dialogue". The narrative involving the brothers is fairly hackneyed and tedious and it doesn't help that with the exception of Harlow, the acting is dreadful. What makes the film special and watchable today are the awesome aerial sequences. In the first half (the film has an intermission), the German dirigible over London sequence is beautifully shot (there are six cinematographers credited) and in the second half, there's a humdinger of a dogfight over Germany that's amazing. The film is shot in B&W, tinted and two strip Technicolor. This was a pre-code film but still, I was taken aback to hear epithets like "son of a bitch" and "goddam it". 

Marvin's Room (1996)

A spinster (Diane Keaton) living in Florida, who is the caretaker for her bedridden father (Hume Cronyn) and her dotty Aunt (Gwen Verdon), is diagnosed with leukemia. She contacts her estranged sister (Meryl Streep) in Ohio who she hasn't seen in almost 20 years because she needs a bone marrow transplant. The sister arrives with her two sons, the oldest (Leonardo DiCaprio) on leave from a mental hospital for burning down their house. Based on the award winning play by Scott McPherson (who gets the sole screenplay credit although he died 4 years before the movie came out), the material is ripe for sentimentality and tears but the director Jerry Zaks and his expert cast of actors don't go there. It's a tightly knit piece of work and if it sometimes veers toward Lifetime movie, it respects its audience. As the leukemia stricken sister, Diane Keaton gives one of her 4 or 5 very best performances here. Streep, as if instinctively sensing this is Keaton's movie, keeps lobbing the ball in her direction. With Robert De Niro, Kelly Ripa, Cynthia Nixon, Margo Martindale, Dan Hedaya and Hal Scardino.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Crash! (1977)

Confined to a wheelchair, a jealous husband (Jose Ferrer) plots to have his young wife (Sue Lyon) killed by his pet dog while she's out driving. She manages to survive the attack but when she regains consciousness, she has amnesia. A doctor (John Ericson) and nurse (Leslie Parrish) try and help her get her memory back. Meanwhile, a driverless car wreaks havoc on the California highways. Is there a connection? You bet! Following in his father's footsteps, this super low budget "B" movie was the directorial debut of Charles Band, son of schlockmeister Albert Band. The narrative makes no logical sense whatsoever but the film is just an excuse to have an orgy of automobile destruction as cars pile up, crash and burn, explode and fly in the air! Actually, considering this was the era of pre-CGI, the car crashes are pretty impressive. And that's all the film has to offer ..... cars crashing. Unfortunately, the lovely Lyon spends much of the movie covered up in bandages but she's the only cast member who doesn't seem to realize she's in a piece of cheese. With John Carradine and Reggie Nalder.

One Girl's Confession (1953)

A waitress (Cleo Moore) in a waterfront dive robs her employer (Leonid Snegoff) of $25,000 because she feels he swindled her late father out of his money. After hiding the money, she turns herself in to the police and goes to prison biding her time. When released from prison for good behavior, she returns to the scene of the crime, still biding her time. This low budget "B" is often and inaccurately referred to as film noir. It isn't. The film's poster promises a lurid exploitation film with the brassy Cleo Moore but what we get is a highly moralistic lecture that "no happiness can come from cursed money". So you if you can put aside your expectations of good trashy fun and settle for a rather innocuous moral fable, it's passable. Moore is appealing which is fortunate since everyone else in the film is a cipher. Written, produced, directed and co-starring Hugo Haas so you know where to lay the blame if you don't like it! With Glenn Langan and Helene Stanton. 

Hellfighters (1968)

The head (John Wayne) of an oil well fire fighting company is reunited with his estranged daughter (Katharine Ross) after being seriously injured in an accident. But when his daughter marries one of his employees (Jim Hutton), it causes complications not only with him but with his estranged wife (Vera Miles). Despite being a John Wayne film, this isn't really an action film but mostly a domestic drama interspersed with some well made action sequences. The fire sequences are really impressive and more than make up for the tedious arguments of whether wives should or shouldn't accompany their husbands on their dangerous missions. The excellent special effects work and exterior locations (Wyoming standing in for South America) give it a more polished look than the usual Universal TV backlot look most of Universal's 60s films of the era had. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. With Bruce Cabot, Jay C. Flippen, Barbara Stuart, Valentin De Vargas and Laraine Stephens.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dead Reckoning (1947)

After his wartime buddy (William Prince) mysteriously disappears, a  paratrooper (Humphrey Bogart) visits the town where his friend last lived before the war in the hopes of finding him. After he finds out his pal has been killed, he's determined to find the murderer. Even if you've never seen DEAD RECKONING before, there's a sense of deja vu watching the film. It doesn't lessen the enjoyment of the film but it's such a by the numbers film noir that you're almost always one step ahead of the film. Not only is the situation similar to THE MALTESE FALCON in parts but even some of the dialog is paraphrased. This is the kind of tough guy roles that Bogart could do in his sleep and Lizabeth Scott as the requisite femme fatale is made to order for her role, too. Scott, never the greatest actress, isn't bad at all here. The artificiality of her acting fits nicely with her character. Definitely a second tier noir. Directed by John Cromwell (ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM). With Morris Carnovsky, George Chandler, Marvin Miller and Wallace Ford. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

1941 (1979)

In the week after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, paranoia grips the California coast as its citizens fear they may be attacked by the Japanese. As a Japanese submarine drifts along the coast looking for Los Angeles, everyone prepares for the big invasion. But there's still time for romancing and jitterbugging! Steven Spielberg's "everything but the kitchen sink" epic comedy is part of that comedy sub-genre: a multitude of characters run around hysterically in a panic while everything falls apart around them, usually accompanied by lots of destruction. The granddaddy of this sub-genre is IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD and either you're partial to it or you're not. I am. The humor is juvenile and obvious most of the time but it's still funny. The kidnapping of Slim Pickens by the Japanese and his subsequent interrogation in the submarine is genuinely hilarious and the film features one of Spielberg's best set pieces: the USO dance and brawl. The logistics of shooting that scene boggles the mind but it's a tour de force and makes one wish Spielberg would do a musical. The huge cast includes Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Toshiro Mifune, Christopher Lee, Treat Williams, Robert Stack, Ned Beatty, Warren Oates, Patti LuPone, Nancy Allen, Murray Hamilton, John Candy, Lorraine Gary, Tim Matheson, Lionel Stander, Elisha Cook, Penny Marshall,  Bobby Di Cicco and the director Samuel Fuller. 

Every Secret Thing (2015)

Two 11 year old white girls (Eva Grace Kellner, Brynne Norquist) kidnap and murder a black infant and convicted as minors sent to juvenile detention. 7 years later, they are released and integrated back into the community. But while one (Dakota Fanning, excellent) attempts to assimilate back into society, the other (Danielle MacDonald) lives at home with her mother (Diane Lane) and spies on the other girl. When history repeats itself and another black child is kidnapped, the girls become the chief suspects. But that's only the tip of the iceberg. I certainly wasn't expecting a horror movie but a horror movie it surely is. Like Frankenstein, it's about the creation of a monster and by the film's end, one is left disturbed that the monsters win. Based on the award winning novel by Laura Lippman, the script by Nicole Holofcener is solid and the film has fine performances. But the listless direction of Amy Berg, an Oscar nominated documentary film maker (DELIVER US FROM EVIL, WEST OF MEMPHIS), making her feature film debut here and her leaden direction just about sabotages the movie. If only Holofcener (FRIENDS WITH MONEY) had directed, the needed stamina might have been there. Produced by Frances McDormand and with Elizabeth Banks, Nate Parker and Common.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Midnight Crossing (1988)

Ostensibly on a vacation cruise to the Bahamas with his wife (Kim Cattrall), her employer (Daniel J. Travanti) and his blind wife (Faye Dunaway), a young man (John Laughlin) is taken aback when the older man suggests visiting a secluded island off the coast of Cuba where over a million dollars is buried. This standard potboiler is more fun than it should be. There's nothing particularly original about it and you can see the "twists" coming but it's the movie equivalent of a paperback stuffed in your bag to read on the airplane. A harmless and mildly pleasant way to kill time till you get to your destination. You don't expect much and the two leading men don't disappoint in that regard. Laughlin is quite handsome with a great bod but his acting is, um ..... sincere and Travanti shows why he never crossed over from TV to the big screen. Cattrall's day was yet to come but you can see the actress in her and Dunaway brings some movie star wattage to the proceedings. Directed by Roger Holzberg. With Ned Beatty doing a bad Australian accent, at least I think it's supposed to be Australian.

Don't Look Now (1973)

Sometime after the death of their daughter (Sharon Williams) from drowning, an art restorer (Donald Sutherland) and his wife (Julie Christie) travel to Venice where he will work on the restoration of a decaying church. It is there where they meet a pair of weird sisters. One (Clelia Matania) is normal but the other (Hilary Mason) is blind with psychic abilities. A series of random murders are occurring in the city that will ultimately touch them. Based on a novella by Daphne Du Maurier (REBECCA), Nicholas Roeg's film is a stylish mosaic (pun intended) of a puzzle, the fragments elegantly connected by the crackerjack editor, Graeme Clifford. All the proper clues are on display if we catch them but Roeg isn't just interested in a Gothic thriller. While it's the married couple's grief that is the elephant in the room, portents are ignored because they don't fit in the husband's logical universe and that will be his undoing. The film's still shocking ending is often dismissed as laughable by a small group of unbelievers but all things considered, not only is it the only satisfying ending but the only plausible one. It's not an invention of the film makers, it's there in the original Du Maurier souce material. The haunting underscore is by Pino Donaggio. With Massimo Serato and Leopoldo Trieste. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

War And Peace (1956)

As Napoleon (Herbert Lom) prepares to invade Russia, a young girl (Audrey Hepburn) finds herself loved by three men: a Prince (Mel Ferrer), a Count (Henry Fonda) and a dashing soldier (Vittorio Gassman). Of course, it's about more than that. But it was a mistake to cram Tolstoy's 1200 page novel into a 3 1/2 hour movie. At least, this one. First off, let me confess that I've never been able to make it through the novel. That being said, King Vidor's film is a turgid slog. It just drags (Nino Rota's dull dirge like underscore doesn't help things) until it becomes an endurance test to get to the end of the film. I think it was near the 2 hour mark when I started wishing it had been directed by Cecil B. DeMille who might have added some much needed vulgarity to the tasteful proceedings. Even the elegant Audrey (who looks lovely) can't seem to muster the much needed energy to make Natasha appealing. Henry Fonda is so incredibly miscast (too old, too American, too dull) and Mel Ferrer is lifeless long before his character bites the dust. Some of the battle scenes are well done and the citizens' abandonment of Moscow is very well done. With John Mills, Anita Ekberg (who surprisingly gives the film's best performance), Oscar Homolka, Barry Jones, May Britt, Milly Vitale, Jeremy Brett and Helmut Dantine. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Choose Me (1984)

An ex-prostitute (Lesley Ann Warren) who now owns her own bar, a man (Keith Carradine) recently released from a mental hospital, a radio talk show host (Genevieve Bujold) who specializes in relationships, a French thug (Patrick Bauchau) and his ditzy wife (Rae Dawn Chong) form a romantic roundelay as each tries to solve the puzzle of love. I suppose one could try and list the reasons why Alan Rudolph's eccentric romantic comedy (but not the ha-ha kind) shouldn't work but it does so why bother. It's a swoony nocturnal dream bathed in red lights in which romantic fantasies long to be fulfilled, sometimes right before our eyes but we don't see it. No one is quite sane and perhaps the film is suggesting one has to be out of one's mind to even try and figure it out. The performances are terrific all the way down the line but I was especially taken with Carradine's performance this time round, possibly his career best. The songs by Teddy Pendergrass not only provide the perfect accompaniment but are essential to the film's theme. With John Larroquette.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

L'Homme De Rio (aka That Man From Rio) (1964)

A soldier (Jean Paul Belmondo) on leave arrives in Paris with plans to spend it with his girlfriend (Francoise Dorleac). But when her employer (Jean Servais) is kidnapped and hours later she is also kidnapped, the young man finds himself on the way to Rio where adventures await! This amusing comedy is a spoof of the Bond films but also accidentally prescient of the Indiana Jones movies too. Philippe De Broca's direction is swift and lively without a moment's repose. Belmondo is a great physical clown (his face is both goofy and handsome) and from what I can see did most of his own stunt work. I wish Dorleac's character wasn't such a nitwit but she's charming and if you don't fall in love after watching her dance the Samba, you're hopeless! It's silly and nonsensical but deliberately so and with the exception of a brawl in a waterfront dive that wears out its welcome, it's a great deal of fun. The movie was a huge success that spawned a sequel a year later. With Adolfo Celi and Simone Renant.

Maciste, L'Eroe Piu Grande Del Mondo (aka Goliath And The Sins Of Babylon) (1963)

After being conquered by the Babylonian Empire, the country of Nephir must provide 30 virgins per year to be sacrificed to the Babylonian gods. A group of rebels plot to overthrow the country's current leader who is in collaboration with the Babylonians and place its Princess (Jose Greci) on its throne. But first they need a hero ..... enter Goliath (Mark Forest). This piece of peplum is a bit more lavish than the usual Italian sword and sandal offerings. It doesn't look cheesy, the cinematography by Guglielmo Mancori is quite nicely rendered, the production design looks impressive and there's even a spectacular chariot race. While the chariot race here doesn't rival BEN-HUR, it's well done and exciting. Unfortunately, the film also has some lame comic moments, mostly featuring a dwarf (Arnaldo Fabrizio) that just doesn't work. As Goliath, Forest has the muscles but perhaps he would be more imposing if he weren't noticeably so short. Directed with some panache by Michele Lupo. With Giuliano Gemma and Paul Muller.

Bird Of Paradise (1932)

A young man (Joel McCrea) working on the crew of a yacht sailing the South Seas is saved from a shark attack by a native girl (Dolores Del Rio). They fall in love and he decides to stay on the island but their relationship is "taboo" to her people. Nominally based on a play by Richard Walton Tully, the producer David O. Selznick and the director King Vidor have jettisoned the majority of the play except for the end. What we get is still hokum but hokum of a very high quality. The dialogue is quite childish but the cinematographer Clyde De Vinna has given the film an attractive sheen with an assist from the Hawaiian locations. The two leads are very attractive and appealing and it doesn't hurt that they spend most of the film in various forms of undress. This is a pre-code film so we have Del Rio (or her body double) swimming in the nude! Max Steiner did the underscore and Busby Berkeley choreographed Miss Del Rio's native dances. Remade in 1951. With John Halliday, Agostino Borgato and Lon Chaney Jr.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

To Catch A Thief (1955)

A former jewel thief (Cary Grant) lives a quiet life in the South of France. But when a series of robberies occur, the police suspect he is up to his old tricks. To prove his innocence, he plots to catch the thief himself. This is Alfred Hitchcock light with none of the darker subtext that are usually to be found in his films. He's in a playful mood and we're treated to Cary Grant at his most debonair, gorgeous Grace Kelly in her stunning Edith Head wardrobe, Robert Burks' handsome lensing of the French Riviera in VistaVision and a witty script courtesy of John Michael Hayes based on the novel by David Dodge and Hitchcock, the chef who takes these ingredients and whips up a delicious souffle of a movie. It may not rank with his greatest achievements but it's one of Hitchcock's most charming and entertaining films. With Jessie Royce Landis in fine form as Kelly's mother, John Williams and Brigitte Auber.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Week-End In Havana (1941)

When a luxury cruise ship bound for Havana runs aground off the coast of Florida, the vice president (John Payne) of the cruise line flies down to get signed waivers from the ship's passengers. When one passenger (Alice Faye) refuses to sign the waiver, he offers to have her flown to Havana at the company's expense. She agrees but will sign the waiver after her Havana vacation. This piece of musical fluff is a yummy candy colored treat visually but the songs are forgettable and there's not a decent production number until the film's finale. The actors dutifully go through their paces bringing what they can to the party. In the case of Alice Faye, not much (I'll be upfront, I'm not a fan) but Payne is charming, Carmen Miranda does her fractured English bit and chica-chica-boom songs while Cesar Romero plays the gigolo. It's harmless fun and you know what you're getting into as clear as the label on the can. Directed by Walter Lang. With Leonid Kinskey, Cobina Wright and Sheldon Leonard.

The Double Man (1967)

When his estranged son's death is reported as a skiing accident, a CIA agent (Yul Brynner) is convinced that his son was murdered. He flies to Switzerland to investigate but it won't be long before he discovers his son's death is part of a greater plot. Based on the novel LEGACY OF A SPY by Henry Maxwell, the film's interesting premise could have been executed better. As it plays out in the movie, it seems far too complicated and surely even in the Cold War, spies realized the more complicated a plan the less likely it would succeed. The film's "reveal" comes at the midway point but it's hardly a surprise given the film's title. Still, the director Franklin J. Schaffner (PATTON) does as well as can be expected and I was never bored for a minute, I'll give it that. The awful cheesy score is by Ernie Freeman. With Britt Ekland, Lloyd Nolan, Clive Revill, Anton Diffring and Moira Lister.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dama S Sobachkoy (aka The Lady With The Dog) (1960)

Vacationing in the coastal town of Yalta, a married banker (Aleksey Batalov) sees a woman (Iya Sawina) walking her pet dog. He pursues her despite the fact that she is also married and expecting her husband (Panteleymon Krymov) to join her. The affair seems to affect her more than it does him and they part to return to their spouses. But when he returns to Moscow, he finds that his life has been changed forever. Based on the short story by Anton Chekhov, this is a beauty of a film. The film remains quite faithful to the Chekhov source material right down to the unresolved ending. Adultery has been common fodder in cinema since the silent era and even when it's handled sensitively as in David Lean's BRIEF ENCOUNTER, there's almost always a touch of romanticism, the lovers who can never be together and must part for the good of others etc. But Iosif Kheifits' film is far from romantic and painful to the extreme. There's just no way out. Dialogue is kept to a minimum and at times the movie is reminiscent of great silent cinema, thanks to handsome B&W cinematography of Dmitriy Meskhiev and Andrei Moskvin.  

Hot Pursuit (2015)

A police officer (Reese Witherspoon) is assigned to protect the wife (Sofia Vergara) of a drug dealer (Vincent Laresca) who is testifying against a drug lord (Joaquin Cosio). But everything goes wrong and she finds herself with a dead partner, a dead witness and on the run with the wife from the bad guys. But who can she trust? Unabashedly giddy, the film rams through the stereotypes and cliches with two ace comediennes who know their way around a laugh. As the uptight by-the-rulebook cop, Witherspoon's affability has us rooting for her while Vergara, like Monroe and Loren before her, has the winning combination of being both sexy and funny. Whether fracturing the English language or teetering in 6 inch heels as she scampers, the woman is a marvel and she and Witherspoon have a nice, easy going chemistry. The director Anne Fletcher (THE GUILT TRIP) knows what she has in her leading ladies and doesn't get in their way, she just prods them in the right direction. With John Carroll Lynch and Robert Kazinsky.

Prince Valiant (1954)

Living in exile in Great Britan from their native Scandia, the dethroned King (Donald Crisp) sends his son Prince Valiant (Robert Wagner) to the court of King Arthur (Brian Aherne) to train for knighthood. Based on the popular comic strip, the screenplay by Dudley Nichols sounds like a comic strip to the point that you almost expect to see the dialogue appearing in balloons as the actors speak! But even given its comic strip roots, one cringes for poor Robert Wagner in a hideous wig floundering with the simplest of dialog.  When he snaps, "Traitor!" to James Mason as Sir Brack, he comes across as an angry child wanting his toy back! Sterling Hayden as a knight of the round table doesn't even try (his attitude suggests, "I'm not going to act and you're not going to make me!"). Fortunately, James Mason gets into the swing of things and Janet Leigh makes for a fetching damsel. The action quotient varies, the storming of the Viking castle is a slog but the final duel between Mason and Wagner is wonderfully staged. The galloping score is by Franz Waxman. Directed by Henry Hathaway. With Debra Paget, Victor McLaglen, Barry Jones, Jarma Lewis and Mary Philips.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Goodbye Girl (1977)

After she and her daughter (Quinn Cummings) have been abandoned for a second time by men, a woman (Marsha Mason) is hostile to the struggling actor (Richard Dreyfuss) who has (unbeknownst to her) subleased the apartment she lives in from her ex-boyfriend.  With no place to go, she grudgingly enters a room mate situation with him. Neil Simon's original comedy is typical Neil Simon: rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, an overdose of wisecracks and a soft center. But in this case, it's one of Simon's best vehicles. Perhaps because it's not based on one of his plays, the film doesn't feel so constricted (though most of the action takes place in an apartment). Simon tailored the title role for his (then) wife Marsha Mason so it fits her like a glove but it's Dreyfuss (in his Oscar winning performance) that gives the film its fuel. He's never been so likable but Drefuss doesn't play on that likability but instead gives his character some swagger and bravado that makes him even more appealing. One of the best romcoms of the 1970s. Directed by Herbert Ross. With Nicol Williamson, Barbara Rhoades, Marilyn Sokol and Theresa Merritt.

Hollywood Or Bust (1956)

In New York City, a film buff (Jerry Lewis) and a gambler (Dean Martin) both win a car at a raffle although the gambler's winning ticket is counterfeit. They take the car on a road trip to Hollywood, the gambler to avoid some gangsters he owes money to and the film buff to meet his favorite actress ..... Anita Ekberg! This was the last Martin & Lewis film. By the time the film opened, they had already ended the partnership and each went his own way. While the title is pure Frank Tashlin, the director is rather restrained in his lunacy here. The songs by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster are an unmemorable lot but there's a Great Dane that does the near impossible ... he steals the movie away from Jerry Lewis! It's not as consistently funny as the best of the Martin & Lewis vehicles but it's a decent swan song for one of cinema's great comedy teams. In addition to Anita Ekberg playing herself, the cast includes Pat Crowley, Maxie Rosenbloom and Kathryn Card in an amusing bit as a gun wielding old lady.

Friday, May 8, 2015

To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar (1995)

Three drag queens (Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo) are driving from New York to Hollywood to enter the Miss Drag Queen Of America pageant. But when their car breaks down in a small hick town, they are not prepared for what happens. Though the film is too close for comfort to the previous year's Australian road film ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, it stands on its own. This is primarily due to the three central performances especially Leguizamo's sassy and hilarious Chi Chi Rodriguez. It helps that of the three leads, Leguizamo is the most convincing as a female and one can see why the naive country boy (Jason London) becomes smitten with "her". The ending is pure fantasy, it's unlikely a small town in the mid-West would be so unequivocally accepting but hey, it's a movie, not real life. The situations may be cliched but the performances have some depth to them allowing us to see the men under the make up. Directed by Beeban Kidron. With Stockard Channing, Blythe Danner, Melinda Dillon, Chris Penn, Arliss Howard, Beth Grant, RuPaul and cameos by Robin Williams and Julie Newmar.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Calamity Jane (1984)

Martha Jane Canary (Jane Alexander), better known as Calamity Jane, falls in love with Wild Bill Hickok (Frederic Forrest). They marry in secret but he abandons her not knowing she is with child. While she gives the child up for adoption to an English sea captain (David Hemmings) and his wife (Gillian Eaton), she will never find the happiness she seeks. The life story of the real Calamity Jane is so rife with inaccuracies, exaggerations and mysteries that an honest to goodness film biography is probably impossible. On film, Calamity Jane has been played by Doris Day, Jane Russell and Yvonne De Carlo among others. Here, Jane Alexander (in an Emmy nominated performance) gives a more detailed performance in the title role. It's a story of a woman brimming with love but no one to give it to or at least no one who wants it. Alexander lets us see the lonely woman underneath the bravado veneer. The scene where she meets her daughter for the first time (though the child is unaware she is her mother) just about breaks your heart. It's Jane Alexander's performance that makes this worth checking out. Directed by James Goldstone (SWASHBUCKLER). With Ken Kercheval and Talia Balsam.

Next Time We Love (1936)

A journalist (James Stewart) whose career is on the rise and an aspiring actress (Margaret Sullavan) marry. But their careers place an obstacle in their marriage and sometimes love is not enough. Based on the novel by Ursula Parrott, this soap opera is a rather tired affair. Sullavan is radiant and the young Stewart, his mannerisms not yet settled in, make for a charming couple. But they can't breath much life into this hoary melodrama but they give it their best shot. Some of the issues raised in the film are still relevant (career over family, for example) but I just wish they had been executed better. The film's ending is so abrupt that it leaves issues unresolved or addressed. It's as if they ran out of time and simply just decided to end the film then and there! Directed by Edward H. Griffith. With Ray Milland as the third member of the triangle, Hattie McDaniel, Grant Mitchell and Anna Demetrio.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Time To Love And A Time To Die (1958)

In 1944, as WWII winds down and Germany's defeat is inevitable, a German soldier (John Gavin) returns from the Russian front on a two weeks leave. But after finding his family home bombed out and his family missing, he meets a girl (Liselotte Pulver, ONE TWO THREE) and they try to forget the war for at least a little while and fall in love. Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque (who also plays the professor in the film), this grim and poignant tale of two people finding love as their world crashes down around them. A TIME TO LOVE is an anomaly in Douglas Sirk's Universal career. Working in Germany for the first time since emigrating to the U.S., unlike the lush melodramas of WRITTEN ON THE WIND and IMITATION OF LIFE,  this film is a strong reminder that not all Germans were stark raving Nazis but everyday people caught up in a maelstrom beyond their control. I'm surprised that Sirk wasn't pressured to give the film a happy ending as its ending as it stands is incredibly painful to watch. Normally, John Gavin is the most wooden of all actors (though he worked with Kubrick, Hitchcock in addition to Sirk) but this is his best performance. He's not great by any means but entirely believable as the disillusioned soldier who just wants the war to be over. The strong underscore is by Miklos Rozsa and the excellent cinematography by Sirk regular, Russell Metty. With Keenan Wynn, Klaus Kinski, Jim Hutton, Don DeFore, Jock Mahoney and Thayer David.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Phantom Of The Opera (1943)

After he has been dismissed from the Paris Opera House after 20 years, a violinist (Claude Rains) attempts to get his concerto published. But when he attacks the publisher (Miles Mander) for stealing his concerto, he gets acid thrown on his face. He hides out in the Paris Opera House and makes plans for the career of a young singer (Susanna Foster) he is infatuated with. Universal went all out for this extravagant remake of the 1925 Lon Chaney silent classic. This wasn't going to be another low budget Universal horror film! The budget neared two million dollars and the production design and costumes were detailed and done to perfection. It was a "prestigious" horror film to be sure. Unfortunately, we're treated to large chunks of poorly staged opera that only hold things up but even worse, that clunky baritone Nelson Eddy is barely tolerable when he sings but when he acts ..... where's Jeanette when you need her? Rains is fine but he seems almost peripheral to the film, too much opera and not enough Phantom! The film won Oscars for art direction and sound. Directed by Arthur Lubin. With Hume Cronyn, Edgar Barrier, Leo Carrillo, Jane Farrar and Steven Geray. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Khartoum (1966)

After an Egyptian army under the command of a British Colonel (Edward Underdown) is slaughtered by Islamic fanatics under the leadership of a Sudanese Arab known as The Mahdi (Laurence Olivier), the Prime Minister (Ralph Richardson)  sends a national hero, the Major General Charles Gordon (Charlton Heston) to the Sudan expecting him to fail. But for the Major General, failure is not an option. Based on the almost year long Siege Of Khartoum in 1884, Basil Dearden's film is an intelligent depiction (its screenplay was Oscar nominated) of the events though, of course, there is much artistic license (there's no evidence that Gordon and The Mahdi ever met). The battle scenes are very exciting, Edward Scaife's 70 millimeter cinematography effectively composed and Frank Cordell's underscore is forceful. Heston is made for movies like this and he effortlessly brings a dignity and sense of righteousness to the part. The only downside is Olivier in brownface with a wonky accent. He's not bad per se, just horribly miscast. With Richard Johnson, Nigel Green,  Alexander Knox, Michael Hordern, Johnny Sekka and Peter Arne.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Trip To Bountiful (2014)

Set in the 1950s, an elderly woman (Cicely Tyson) resents living under the thumb of her daughter in law (Vanessa Williams) and longs to return to her childhood home, the gulf town of Bountiful. With only her pension check in her purse, she impulsively hops on a bus and the long trek that will take her home. But sometimes, you can't go home again. Horton Foote's play first appeared on television in early 1953 with Lillian Gish and debuted on Broadway later the same year with Gish recreating the role of Carrie Watts. Geraldine Page won her Oscar for the 1985 film version, Lois Smith won several awards when she did the play off-Broadway in 2005 and Cicely Tyson won the Tony award for Carrie when she did it on Broadway in 2013. This film is an adaptation of that production with Tyson and Williams recreating their roles. It's a faithful representation of Foote's play, so much so that he's given sole screenplay credit. But as good as she is (and she's impeccable), Tyson can't quite inhabit the role effortlessly. You can see her acting "old" and you're always cognizant she's acting right down to her little old lady shuffle. The best performance comes from Blair Underwood as her son. He's terrific, you can see the frustration and unhappiness barely buried under the surface as he tries to please both wife and mother. Directed by Michael Wilson. With Keke Palmer (adorable) and Clancy Brown.

Interview With The Vampire (1994)

In contemporary San Francisco, a vampire named Louis (Brad Pitt) relates his story to a reporter (Christian Slater) and how in 1790, bereft at the death of his wife and child, he allowed himself to be seduced by another vampire (Tom Cruise). Eventually, Louis turns an 11 year old child (Kirsten Dunst) into a vampire and the three form a family. But they will never find joy in their eternal living Hell.  Directed by Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME) from the novel by Anne Rice (who also did the screenplay), the film doesn't romanticize vampirism as revisionists have done in recent years. It's a hideous, depressing lifestyle lived by "people" who had no choice in the matter. The film is permeated with sadness and melancholy as well as horror. There was much criticism at Cruise's casting initially but he's excellent here, one of only two of his performances (MAGNOLIA is the other one) that impress me. Pitt is also excellent and Dunst gives an amazingly poignant performance considering her tender age. The superb Oscar nominated underscore is by Elliot Goldenthal. With Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea and Thandie Newton.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

It Happened Tomorrow (1944)

In the last half of the 19th century, a newspaper reporter (Dick Powell) is handed a newspaper with the next day's headlines by an elderly co-worker (John Philliber). But this ability to see into the future brings a multitude of problems rather than fortune. This slight whimsical fantasy courtesy of Rene Clair (AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT) takes a thin one joke premise and stretches it out over the course of an hour an a half. Surprisingly, however, it doesn't wear out its welcome. Clair's feathery touch  keeps everything light and playful and moving as quickly as the best of his farces. Powell's career was in transition from the young Warners juvenile to the harder persona he would acquire in the same year's MURDER MY SWEET and he's quite appealing here in a role not very different from his work in Sturges' charming CHRISTMAS IN JULY. The framing device of the 50th wedding anniversary does seem superfluous though. Apparently, Clair wasn't too fond of the film for some reason. With a lovely Linda Darnell, Jack Oakie, George Chandler, Sig Ruman and Edward Brophy. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

A Swiss family on their way to New Guinea are shipwrecked on a desert island after pirates chase their ship into a storm. Not knowing how long they'll be stranded there, they make the best of it. Based on the classic 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss, this Walt Disney production is a first class affair all the way from its cast to the production values. The film updates the Wyss novel and the results are excellent. It's colorful with pirates, lush landscapes (it was filmed in the Caribbean island of Tobago), an assorted collection of wild animals and a nice mixture of action and humor with just enough sentiment, never going saccharine on us. The only downside is Kevin Corcoran's "adorable" kid brother that we're supposed to find so cute when all I could think of is, "This kid needs a spanking!". Good family fun and the film remains one of the most popular of Disney's live action films. The fine cast includes John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur, Sessue Hayakawa, Tommy Kirk and Janet Munro (DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE).