Search This Blog

Friday, October 30, 2015

Dracula (1992)

A solicitor (Keanu Reeves) travels to 1897 Transylvania to arrange the purchase of some London properties on behalf of Count Dracula (Gary Oldman). After seeing a picture of the solicitor's fiancee (Winona Ryder), the Count is sure that she is the reincarnation of his beloved wife, who committed suicide. Has any novel been adapted (more or less) more often than Bram Stoker's classic horror novel? But director Francis Ford Coppola isn't interested in making just another horror movie. Indeed, his DRACULA is a passionate romance in the grand Gothic style. This a vampire movie channeled through the Bronte sisters where love is so strong that not only can it not die but one willingly embraces the dark side to be with your soul mate. No vampire film has ever looked this good. Michael Ballhaus's (GOODFELLAS) superb imagery, Thomas E. Sanders' stunning production design, Eiko Ishioka's gorgeous costumes and Wojciech Kilar's achingly beautiful underscore all elevate Coppola's sensuous horror film to a unique one of a kind achievement in the genre. An impressive accomplishment and my favorite DRACULA movie. With Anthony Hopkins, Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant, Sadie Frost, Bill Campbell, Tom Waits and Monica Belluci. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Night Stalker (1972)

In Las Vegas, a series of unsolved murders finds its victims bodies drained of blood. When an investigative reporter (Darren McGavin) suggests that the killer (Barry Atwater) might actually be a vampire, the authorities attempt to downplay the theory and cover up the facts. Based on a then unpublished novel called THE KOLCHAK PAPERS by Jeff Rice, this made for TV movie was popular enough (it had the highest ratings for any TV movie at that time) to spawn a sequel before turning into a TV series that lasted one season. It's the equivalent of a "B" movie, tight and economical out of necessity and without pretension. Its dated 1970s look actually gives the movie a period flavor that works in its favor. The script by Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND) isn't always consistent. Example: McGavin declares only a stake through the heart can kill a vampire yet appears shocked when he shoots him and he has no reaction to the bullets. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (CITY OF THE DEAD). With Carol Lynley (just eye candy here), Ralph Meeker, Charles McGraw, Simon Oakland, Kent Smith and Elisha Cook Jr.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Escape From Fort Bravo (1953)

In 1893 Arizona as the Civil War rages on, an isolated Union prison camp in the desert doesn't worry too much about its Confederate prisoners trying to escape as hostile Mescalero Indians roam the countryside. But when a beautiful visitor (Eleanor Parker) arrives at the fort and attracts the eye of the fort's Captain (William Holden), her intentions aren't quite what they seem. An early effort from director John Sturges, who would go on to direct classics like THE GREAT ESCAPE and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, this is a first rate western. The film is divided into two halves. The first part is devoted to Parker's seduction of Holden and her treachery while the second half is an intense and lengthy showdown with the Mescalero's trapping a small handful of soldiers, prisoners and the woman in a gully. The screenplay by Frank Fenton doesn't insult our intelligence and he's created a believable triangle between Holden, Parker and John Forsythe. The action scenes are exciting and well executed. Even if you're not a fan of westerns, you should find much to like here. With Polly Bergen, William Demarest, Richard Anderson, William Campbell, John Lupton and Carl Benton Reid.

How to Murder Your Wife (1965)

A successful cartoonist (Jack Lemmon) enjoys the bachelor life in a posh New York townhouse with a dedicated manservant (Terry Thomas) at his beck and call. But everything changes when he wakes up one morning after a night of boozing to find he's married a beautiful Italian blonde (Virna Lisi) he met at a bachelor party. Written and produced by George Axelrod, perhaps most famous for writing THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH which this movie resembles in many ways. As SEVEN YEAR ITCH was very much of its time (the 1950s), so this film is a remnant of the mid 1960s. The film revels unashamedly in its misogyny. Women are the enemy, who take over and destroy the joys of the masculine life. Indeed, I doubt the film would ever get greenlit today but if it was, I can hear the outrage and hissing from women's groups. Its archaic attitudes aside, the film has a nice polish to it and with the ever likable Lemmon, the arch Terry Thomas and the stunning Lisi as the three leading players, it's easy to get happily duped into it. And there are some undeniably funny bits. Directed by Richard Quine. With Claire Trevor, Eddie Mayehoff, Jack Albertson, Mary Wickes and Sidney Blackmer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Deep Six (1958)

It's 1942 during WWII and a naval officer (Alan Ladd) is conflicted between carrying out his duty, which includes shooting at the enemy, while his non-violent Quaker upbringing preys on his conscience. Loosely based on the novel by Martin Dibner, the film's premise has potential and, in fact, was previously addressed two years earlier in FRIENDLY PERSUASION which took place during the Civil War. This film addresses the subject on a superficial level and is unnecessarily padded out. It should have run about 90 minutes but the film has two subplots that do nothing to move the movie forward: a seriously ill executive officer (Keenan Wynn) who takes an instant dislike to Ladd's character and too much time is wasted on a bunch of dumb girl crazy sailors headed by Joey Bishop, who we are supposed to (I think) find amusing. The film drops the book's more controversial issues like racial discrimination, homosexual rape and sadism by officers toward their crew. What we end up with is just another WWII movie. Directed by Rudolph Mate. With William Bendix, James Whitmore, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Dianne Foster, Perry Lopez, Ann Doran and Jeanette Nolan.  

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)

During WWII, Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) attends the patients at Musgrave Hall, a stately English country home being utilized for shell shocked soldiers. When a doctor (Arthur Margetson) is stabbed while taking a walk, Watson calls in his friend Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) to investigate. Based on a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this is one of the better Sherlock Holmes adventures courtesy of Universal. While it never rises above routine, it's short (69 minutes) and to the point. As directed by Roy William Neill, who directed 11 Holmes mysteries, it moves along nicely while providing a suitable atmosphere. Mystery fans and especially Holmes fan should find it pleasing. With Hillary Brooke, Milburn Stone, Halliwell Hobbes and Norma Varden.

Quantum Of Solace (2008)

Seeking revenge for the death of the woman he loved, James Bond (Daniel Craig) eventually finds himself in Haiti where he teams up with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who is also seeking revenge for the death of her family at the hands of an exiled Bolivian (Joaquin Cosio). But a supposed "environmentalist" (Mathieu Amalric) is a key player for both of them. While this 22nd entry in the Bond franchise is better than I remembered it, it's still one of the weakest of all the Bond movies. The film isn't as coherent as it should be and all the rock 'em sock 'em flash can't hide the screenplay's deficiencies. It's rather conventional and just not memorable enough. Craig maintains the necessary gravitas that he nurtured in his Bond debut CASINO ROYALE but both the villain (Amalric) and Bond girl (Kurylenko) are too generic to make much of an impression. Two supporting players do bring a touch of interest to their roles, Giancarlo Giannini (returning from CASINO) and Gemma Arterton. Directed by Marc Forster. With Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Rory Kinnear, Tim Piggott Smith and Oona Chaplin.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Town Called Bastard (aka A Town Called Hell) (1971)

In 1895 Mexico, an entire church in a small village and its priest are massacred by a band of Mexican revolutionaries. Jump several years later, the town is run by a corrupt despot (Telly Savalas), one of the revolutionaries is now a priest (Robert Shaw), another is a General (Martin Landau) in the federales and mysterious woman (Stella Stevens) arrives in town seeking revenge. Technically, this isn't a "spaghetti" western since it's a Spanish and British production, not Italian. But it has the feel of a spaghetti western. The film suffers from its fractured status, at times it seems to be several different films with its narrative often incoherent. One major character is killed off halfway through the film, leaving a hole in the storyline. It's ambitious, I'll give it that as it seems to want to be more than what it is. The director Robert Parrish has directed a couple of good westerns (THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY, SADDLE THE WIND) but he can't shape the material here. With Fernando Rey, Michael Craig, Dudley Sutton and Al Lettieri.

An Affair To Remember (1957)

A playboy (Cary Grant) and a singer (Deborah Kerr) meet aboard a Transatlantic luxury liner going from Europe to New York. Though both are engaged to marry others, they find themselves reluctantly falling in love. One of the most beloved romance movies, this is the second incarnation. It was previously filmed in 1939 by Leo McCarey (who also directed this version) and it was remade again in 1994 by Glenn Gordon Caron. But this is the one everyone remembers and seem to love (it was an inspiration for SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE). Truth to tell, I don't think any of the three versions are particularly good but this has a bit more going for it. Notably, Grant and Kerr who are attractive and appealing and play off each other nicely. The first half of the film is actually good but after Kerr's accident, the film flounders. It becomes rather treacly and there are a couple of sequences with singing schoolchildren that are so cringe inducing that they make THE SOUND OF MUSIC look like a Tarantino film. The title song, sung over the credits by Vic Damone, is rather lovely though. With Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt and Fortunio Bonanova. 

Steve Jobs (2015)

Set in the years 1984, 1988 and 1998 at launches of innovative computer ware brought under Steve Jobs' (Michael Fassbender) watch. First with Macintosh (84), then NeXT (88) and finally IMac (98). At each launch, we get more insight into the man behind the computer. LOVED it! Surprisingly so since I'm computer illiterate and couldn't give a rat's arse about Steve Jobs. But isn't that what great film making is supposed to do? Make us care about something that we ordinarily don't care about or disinterests us? Loosely based on Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, Aaron Sorkin's detailed and complex screenplay is given a bang up presentation by director Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE). There's a lengthy piece with Fassbender and Jeff Daniels that jumps back and forth in time, beautifully accompanied by Daniel Pemberton's underscore that is as good a piece of editing as I've ever seen. Kudos to Boyle for letting Pemberton's score carry large chunks of the film. I suppose some could say the film is overscored but Boyle realizes the potency when music and celluloid are welded together. Fassbender is superb as are Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels. One of the best films of 2015. With Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg and Katherine Waterston (INHERENT VICE). 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

A man (Jean Paul Belmondo) recently fired from his job and stuck in an unhappy marriage runs off with the babysitter (Anna Karina). They go on an aimless crime spree, robbing and killing, while both the law and the mobster they stole from go after them. One of the highpoints of Jean Luc Godard's filmography, PIERROT LE FOU is an exhilarating blend of cinematic technique, existential questions, political satire and movie love. It's both playful and provocative. On a strictly visual level, this is probably the handsomest of Godard's film, thanks to cinematographer Raoul Coutard Techniscope lensing. Inexplicably despite being a huge hit in France, it took four years for it to be released in the U.S. thus defusing the film's mixture of humor and violence that BONNIE AND CLYDE had echoed two years after PIERROT's European release. The film's fractured narrative is held together by the near iconic presence of Belmondo and the kitttenish amorality of Karina. A unique one of a kind film experience from one of the mavericks of world cinema. With Dirk Sanders, Graziella Galvani and as himself, the director Samuel Fuller.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tower Of Evil (1972)

On a small secluded island off the English coast, three teenagers are murdered. While on the face of it, it appears the surviving teen (Candace Glendenning) killed her friends, the investigator (Bryant Haliday) on the case isn't so sure. He goes to the island along with a group of archaeologists, who are looking for Phoenician artifacts, to investigate. Dismissed upon its release, the film has a small cult following today. The film is probably the first teen slasher flick some eight years before FRIDAY THE 13TH debuted. There's copious amounts of gratuitous nudity, both male and female, and of course, if you have sex you die. The film is set mostly at night and shrouded in fog which attempts to hide the fact that they're actually on a film sound stage rather than a real island. With radio communication cut off and the island's only boat burned up, the movie begins to feel like a variation of Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE as the one by one they're killed off. It's not particularly difficult to identify the "killer". Directed by Jim O'Connolly (VALLEY OF GWANGI). With Jill Haworth (EXODUS), Dennis Price, George Coulouris, Anna Palk and John Hamill.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

A struggling actor (John Cassavetes) and his wife (Mia Farrow) move into a plush New York apartment building that's slightly beyond their means. But the apartment has a strange history of witchcraft and cannibalism and when one of their neighbors (Victoria Vetri) kills herself by jumping out a window, it's only the beginning of an unspeakable horror. One of the masterpieces of the American horror film, this was the American film debut of Roman Polanski, who not only directed but adapted Ira Levin's best selling novel for the screen. It remains one of the best novel to film adaptations ever made though the rumor is that Polanski didn't know he was allowed to make any changes from the book. It's not a "scary" horror film in the sense of an ALIEN or EXORCIST. The true horror is more subtle as it slowly dawns upon the heroine that her pregnancy is not a normal one and she realizes she is alone and no one will believe the conspiracy against her. It's a film that works on several levels and holds up beautifully upon repeated viewings. Farrow's perfect performance is the glue that holds the film together. If we didn't believer her, the film would fall apart. With Ruth Gordon in her Oscar winning performance, Ralph Bellamy, Maurice Evans, Charles Grodin, Sidney Blackmer, Patsy Kelly and Emmaline Henry.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Cheap Detective (1978)

When his partner (Wally K. Berns) is murdered, a San Francisco private detective (Peter Falk doing Bogart) attempts to find the killer. But an ex-lover (Louise Fletcher doing Ingrid Bergman) as well as a mysterious liar (Madeline Kahn doing Mary Astor) are only two of the many distractions that complicate the case. Writer Neil Simon had a popular success two years earlier with MURDER BY DEATH, an affectionate satire of murder mysteries. This time he does the same thing to the hard boiled detective and the film noir genre. While he uses many bits and pieces from the genre, he concentrates on three classics: THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA and MURDER MY SWEET. If one is unfamiliar with the films he's satirizing, you may find it only mildly amusing. But if you've seen and love the movies, it's a film buff's treat. The film may play out like an extended sketch on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW or SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE but it never wears out its welcome. Directed by Robert Moore. The large ensemble cast includes Ann-Margret (doing Claire Trevor), Marsha Mason (doing Gladys George), Eileen Brennan (doing Rita Hayworth), Stockard Channing (doing Lee Patrick), Fernando Lamas (doing Paul Henreid), John Houseman (doing Sydney Greenstreet), Nicol Williamson (doing Conrad Veidt), Dom DeLuise (doing Peter Lorre), Paul Williams (doing Elisha Cook) and Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, James Coco, James Cromwell, Vic Tayback and Abe Vigoda. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

In turn of the century Italy, a pair of young lovers (Dominic West, Anna Friels) flee into the forest to escape an arranged marriage forced upon her. They are followed into the forest by the girl (Calista Flockhart) who loves him and the betrothed (Christian Bale) of the fleeing girl. Meanwhile, the King of the Faeries (Rupert Everett) who resides in the forest is having domestic problems with his Queen (Michelle Pfeiffer). William Shakespeare's romantic comedy needs a lot of magic and whimsy to work and for the most part, the director Michael Hoffman (SOAPDISH) provides it. The production design by Luciana Arrighi is appropriately lush and sumptuous and the actors seem in the spirit of things. The one part where it falters is during the enactment of the Pyramus and Thisbe playlet. Hoffman and the actors (especially Kevin Kline) push too hard as if afraid they won't get the appropriate laughs and the charm of the piece is lost. With Stanley Tucci, Sam Rockwell, Sophie Marceau, David Strathairn, Roger Rees and Bill Irwin.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

After The Thin Man (1936)

While visiting San Francisco for the New Year holiday, retired detective Nick Charles (William Powell) and his wife Nora (Myrna Loy) become involved in the murder of the husband (Alan Marshal) of Nora's cousin (Elissa Landi). It won't be easy to solve as there are a multitude of suspects, all with a motive. The second entry in the THIN MAN franchise maintains the bright and breezy tone of the first film while still providing a satisfying murder mystery. Their chemistry on full power, Powell and Loy banter back and forth wittily (the screenplay even received an Oscar nomination) while their terrier Asta steals scenes. The film pushes the two hour mark but you never feel that the film is running out of steam. Wonderful fun! W.S. Van Dyke is once again at the helm. With a young pre-stardom James Stewart, Joseph Calleia, Sam Levene, Paul Fix, Jessie Ralph, Penny Singleton and George Zucco.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Naked Dawn (1955)

An ex-convict (Arthur Kennedy) who spends his money as soon as he earns or steals it meets up with a conscientious and honest young farmer (Eugene Iglesias) with a pretty wife (Betta St. John). But he soon finds out how easily corruptible this "honest" farmer is. This low budget western directed by Edgar G. Ulmer with a romantic triangle at its center was inexplicably admired by Francois Truffaut. In his review of the film, Truffaut wrote "THE NAKED DAWN is the first film to make me feel that a cinematic JULES AND JIM is feasible". I found it a rather misguided effort. For most of its short running time I wasn't sure if it was a comedy or drama and even at 79 minutes, the pacing felt sluggish. The love triangle is daring for 1955 but I suppose it was inevitable that it would take the hopelessly conventional route rather than what seems like the more honest one. Set in Mexico, it doesn't help that only one of the three protagonists is actually Hispanic (Iglesias is Puerto Rican) while the other two are played by an American (Kennedy) and a Brit (St. John) and not remotely authentic. Indeed, this is the worst performance I've seen by the normally reliable Kennedy. With Roy Engel and Charlita.

Crossfire (1947)

A police detective (Robert Young) investigates the brutal murder of a man (Sam Levene) found dead in his hotel room. The main suspect appears to be a soldier (George Cooper) but after questioning his army buddy (Robert Mitchum) and a prostitute (Gloria Grahame in an Oscar nominated performance), he's not so sure. Based on the novel THE BRICK FOXHOLE by Richard Brooks (who would later carve out a career as a director), this is film noir with a social conscience. Fortunately except for one scene near the film's end, the scenarist John Paxton and director Edward Dmytryk don't shove it down our throats. The novel's homophobia was re-written to anti-semitism to placate the Breen Office censors. The film packs as strong a punch today as it did in 1947. Robert Ryan (also Oscar nominated) is excellent as the anti-Semite, his very demeanor raising the hair on the back of your neck. I found the film's final moments very conventional which is a shame considering how potent everything before it is but it doesn't harm the film. With Paul Kelly, Jacqueline White, Lex Barker, Steve Brodie and William Phipps. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Lost World (1960)

A world famous anthropologist (Claude Rains) leads an expedition to the Amazon where he claims he has discovered a "lost world" where dinosaurs still live. Loosely based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which had been filmed previously in 1925. The previous year Jules Verne's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH had been a great success for 20th Century Fox and hoping for a repeat success, this "B" film with an "A" budget was whipped up but it simply lacks the charm and magic of the 1959 Jules Verne film. On its own, it's an undiscriminating and modestly entertaining boys' adventure but ultimately a routine effort. One can't help but wish that Ray Harryhausen had been brought in to do some of that movie sorcery that makes his films so special. But youngsters should find it agreeable. Directed by Irwin Allen (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA). With Michael Rennie, Jill St. John, Fernando Lamas, David Hedison, Richard Haydn and Ray Stricklyn.

Room (2015)

A young woman (Brie Larson) kidnapped 7 years ago and raped by her captor is imprisoned in a small room with her 5 year old son (Jacob Tremblay), the result of being the captor's sex slave with only a skylight to indicate there's an outside world. To the boy, the room is the world and everything he sees on TV isn't real. But soon reality will be thrust upon him. Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay), nothing you've read about Lenny Abrahamson's shattering film will prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster ride. At turns, disturbing, affirming, ugly and beautiful, the movie touches on so many issues that it's amazing that it doesn't overextend itself. Larson's performance is generating a lot of Oscar buzz (and justifiably so) but young Tremblay gives one of the best child performances I've seen. Abrahamson eschews the tabloid sensationalism that such material could easily engender. One of the very best films I've seen this year and highly recommended but don't read too much about it. With Joan Allen in a strong performance as Larson's mother, William H. Macy, Wendy Crewson and Tom McCamus.

Cosi Come Sei (aka Stay As You Are) (1978)

An architect (Marcello Mastroianni) meets a young teenage girl (Nastassja Kinski) while on a business trip to Florence. They spend the night together and a mutual attraction exists and they continue to see each other. But she may, in fact, be his daughter. Directed by Alberto Lattuada, this May-December romance has a creepy vibe. The film dances around the are they or aren't they incest theme until the film (and we) don't give a damn anymore. The film comes across as an old man's sex fantasy and the way Lattuada photographs or should I say poses Kinski in various stages of nudity, he makes leches of us all the way camera slowly leers across Kinski's body. This isn't an honest and mature "she's naked, so what?" treatment of nudity in a film but a hypocritical soft porn take passing itself off as "art". Mastroianni's wishy washy character is infuriating and one wants to scream at him, "Just spit it out and say it, man!". Naturally, we all see the inevitable end well before it arrives and when it comes accompanied by Ennio Morricone's sappy score (it's not his finest hour), all I could think of was what a pointless movie. Fortunately Mastroianni and Kinski are appealing performers which helps. With Francisco Rabal, Barbara De Rossi and Ania Pieroni.    

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Hindenburg (1975)

In 1937, when the Third Reich receives information that the zeppelin Hindenburg will explode upon its arrival in the U.S., it takes the threat seriously enough to assign a Luftwaffe Colonel (George C. Scott) as security aboard the airship's transatlantic flight. An unsubstantiated hypothetical "disaster" film based on the horrific Hindenburg disaster when it burst into flames while attempting to land in New Jersey. Unlike other disaster films of the era (POSEIDON ADVENTURE, EARTHQUAKE, TOWERING INFERNO) in which the disaster occurs early in the film, THE HINDENBURG is more like the original AIRPORT (1970) which was essentially a melodrama with a big bang at the end. Indeed, halfway through the film as if sensing it needed something to keep the suspense going, there's a tense sequence where a hole in the airship's fabric needs to be repaired. For the film's fiery finale, the movie switches from color to B&W and is intercut with actual footage from the 1937 disaster. It's effective but the movie shoots itself in the foot with a lame epilogue about fictitious survivors. The film benefits from Robert Surtees Oscar nominated cinematography which gives the film a sumptuous and elegant sheen as well as Edward C. Carfagno's impressive production design. Directed by Robert Wise. The large cast includes Anne Bancroft, Gig Young, Burgess Meredith, William Atherton, Charles Durning, Roy Thinnes, Joanna Moore, Katherine Helmond, Rene Auberjonois and in the film's worst performance, Robert Clary.

At War With The Army (1951)

Set in a Kentucky army base during WWII, a sergeant (Dean Martin) is frustrated with his desk job when what he really wants is to go overseas. Meanwhile, his friend (Jerry Lewis) who is a private wants leave to see his newly born baby boy. After playing supporting roles in two MY FRIEND IRMA movies, this was the first movie that Martin and Lewis carried on their own. It's based on a play by James B. Allardice with several of the show's original cast repeating their stage performances. The play's theatrical origins are obvious as the majority of the film is set in an Army Captain's office with actors entering and exiting and doors opening and slamming galore. There are a couple of scenes that "open up" the play as when Lewis in blonde drag goes to a bar and does a Dietrich impersonation. That scene along with a farcical mix-up of mistaken identities at the film's end are the highpoints. The rest of the film is pretty much a drag (no pun intended) and indeed, this might be the comedy team's worst film. Some dull songs are inserted for Martin and Lewis to sing and the film's low point is probably their Bing Crosby/Barry Fitzgerald schtick. Directed by Hal Walker. With Polly Bergen (wasted but at least she gets to sing), Mike Kellin, William Mendrek and Tommy Farrell.

Battle Of The Coral Sea (1959)

In 1942, WWII rages in the South Pacific. A submarine commander (Cliff Robertson) and his crew are captured and taken to a POW camp on a small Japanese held island. The commander has top secret information that can change the course of the war. Is he willing to sacrifice the lives of all his men or will he talk? The battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 was one of the decisive naval battles of WWII. Despite the title of the film, the actual battle is relegated to about 4 minutes of archival footage at the end of the movie. The focus of the film is the commander protecting his men while still not giving the Japanese vital information. As a POW drama, it's no GREAT ESCAPE but it's an agreeable if minor action flick that is able to generate suspense and entertain. While most films of this ilk are predominantly all male, the film cleverly manages to insert two females in prominent roles. Gia Scala as an interpreter for the Japanese and Patricia Cutts (THE TINGLER) as an Australian nurse, the only female prisoner. Directed by Paul Wendkos (GIDGET). With Teru Shimada, Tom Laughlin and Rian Garrick.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)

When a noted scientist (George Gaynes) is killed in an auto accident, his daughter (Rachel Ward, THORN BIRDS) hires a private detective (Steve Martin) to investigate as she believes it was not an accident but murder. A delight parody of and loving homage to the film noir genre, director Carl Reiner and co-writer Steve Martin (along with George Gipe) have given us a pastiche of noir films utilizing actual clips from classic noir and combining it with a new plot intercut with new footage so that we have Cary Grant (one of many) and Steve Martin interacting together in a scene. A gimmick? Sure but a one trick pony it ain't. The screenplay is clever enough that it all seems seamless. The cinematographer Michael Chapman does an inspired job of recreating the noir look and lighting while film veterans who actually worked on classic noir like composer Miklos Rozsa and costume designer Edith Head (this was the last film of both) recreate the sound and look that gives the film its authenticity. A film buff's delight. With Carl Reiner, Reni Santoni and Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Burt Lancaster, Alan Ladd, Kirk Douglas, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, James Cagney, Ava Gardner, Fred MacMurray, Veronica Lake, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price and Edward Arnold.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Casino Royale (2006)

After receiving his double O status, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent to play in a high stakes poker game against a notorious banker (Mads Mikkelsen) for terrorist organizations. The banker has used funds given to him by the terrorist organizations and lost millions in a stock market gamble gone wrong. The stakes are high and it could cost Bond his life. Based on the novel by Ian Fleming, CASINO ROYALE was previously done for TV in 1954 with Barry Nelson as James Bond and later as a spy satire in 1967 with Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. This was Craig's first outing as Bond and the film is tougher, grittier and darker than most of the Bonds that followed Sean Connery's exit. The puns, double entendres and winks are all gone. Craig's Bond is ruthless, careless and cold blooded. The narrative tends to be over complicated but the film contains some of the best action sequences in any Bond film from the amazing chase on foot in an African village to the pursuit through a Miami airport to the spectacular destruction of a Venetian palace. Craig may well be the first Bond worthy to walk in Connery's shoes. Directed by Martin Campbell. With Judi Dench, Eva Green, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright and Tsai Chin (who was a Bond girl in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (1947)

In turn of the century London, a young widow (Gene Tierney) decides it's time to leave the home of her mother in law (Isobel Elsom) and strike out on her own. So she and her young daughter (Natalie Wood) move into an old house on the seacoast. But she finds the house is haunted by its former owner, a sea captain (Rex Harrison). Simply put, this is one of the greatest movie romances ever made. Two people who fall in love but can never consummate that love (for obvious reasons) so it's a movie about a deeper love than the physical kind. Harrison's sea captain may be dead but his performance isn't. He's never exuded more sex appeal in any of his other films. His gruff and bawdy sea captain pairs nicely with the prim and proper Victorian widow played by Tierney. She can't match him in the acting department but she's enormously appealing. I've seen the film countless times and like clockwork, my tear ducts water at the film's finale. Bernard Herrmann's score is a thing of beauty. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. With George Sanders, Edna Best, Vanessa Brown, Robert Coote and Anna Lee.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Poppy Is Also A Flower (1966)

A narcotics agent (Stephen Boyd) is on a mission to track down who is buying huge shipments of opium from a nomadic tribal chief (Hugh Griffith). After he is killed in the Iranian desert, two United Nation investigators (Trevor Howard, E.G. Marshall) attempt to complete the investigation. The trail leads them to the lowest dives and the most glamorous arenas. Based on a story by Bond creator Ian Fleming and directed by Terence Young, who directed three Bond films. The film was produced by the United Nations and its star studded cast were all paid a dollar, yes a dollar! The film was a public service effort more than anything but surprisingly, it's not preachy nor is it heavy handed in its execution. While not a great movie thriller, it's serviceable and its fun spotting the star laden cast. It debuted as a television special in the U.S. but played as a theatrical feature through out the rest of the world. The massive cast includes Marcello Mastroianni, Rita Hayworth, Yul Brynner, Omar Sharif, Eli Wallach (who won an Emmy for his performance), Angie Dickinson, Gilbert Roland, Senta Berger, Jack Hawkins, Barry Sullivan, Anthony Quayle, Trini Lopez, Nadja Tiller, Harold Sakata (GOLDFINGER), Jocelyn Lane, Laya Raki and Marilu Tolo.

The Rat (1937)

A famous Parisian jewel thief (Anton Walbrook) is known as "The Rat". When his friend (George Merritt) is sentenced to death, he asks The Rat to look after his daughter (Rene Ray). Not surprisingly, the young girl fall in love her protector but when a wealthy woman (Ruth Chatterton) enters the picture, complications ensue. Based on the play by Ivor Novello which was previously made into a film in 1925 starring Novello. This is rather enjoyable albeit minor melodrama with juicy roles for Walbrook and Chatterton. It's not a serious enough film to invest too much of one's self into it but it moves quickly (it has a 70 minutes running time) and smoothly. Its characters are all archetypes (smooth thief, rich matron, innocent ingenue etc.) and it's quite obvious where the movie is going but there's a certain shabby charm to it all. Directed by Jack Raymond. With Leo Genn, Felix Aylmer, Beatrix Lehmann and Mary Clare. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Basic Instinct (1992)

After a retired rock star (Bill Cable) is brutally stabbed to death with an ice pick, suspicion points to a bi-sexual writer (Sharon Stone) he had been sleeping with. The detective (Michael Douglas) on the case, a loose cannon with psychological problems himself, is attracted to the suspect but it's a dangerous attraction as the bodies start piling up. When it premiered in 1992, BASIC INSTINCT was a hot button for the gay community who objected to its depiction of gay/bi-sexual women as killers and the sexual content pushed the envelope. The director Paul Verhoeven had to cut the film to avoid an NC-17 rating. Fortunately, the edits have since been restored. The reviews were mixed but the film was an international massive hit that made Sharon Stone a star. I think it's an excellent, if flawed, film and the animosity toward it misguided. Verhoeven has made an erotic thriller that has content to it rather than just visceral kicks. He's not only made a film in the style of Hitchcock but unlike many of the Hitchcock clones, like Hitchcock he's given the movie a subtext. Compare this to a dud wannabe like STILL OF THE NIGHT and you'll get what I mean. The often stunning lensing by Jan De Bont and the terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith elevate the film. With Dorothy Malone, Jeanne Tripplehorn, George Dzundza, Wayne Knight and Leilani Sarelle.

Ich Seh, Ich Seh (aka Goodnight Mommy) (2014)

A TV game show hostess (Susanne Wuest) retires to the secluded countryside to recuperate from plastic surgery. When she starts showing signs of erratic behavior, her two young sons (Lucas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz) begin to suspect that the woman under the bandages may not be their mother. Written and directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, this "horror" film tips its hand early in the movie and I figured out the "twist" in the film's first 10 minutes. So will anyone who's seen some of the more notable horror films of the last few decades. Since I'd already guessed the big reveal, it was a matter of seeing how well it was executed. The directors impart a sense of dread (but what's up with the red herrings?) and it was interesting for a while. But when it started turning into torture porn towards the end, I muttered "What a crock of shit!" and walked out. It felt good. Funny how people question placing child actors in sexual situations but no one seems to question placing them in sadistic and violent ones. But the film is garnering excellent reviews so if this sounds like your thing, go for it!  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Satan Bug (1965)

A top secret government bio-weapons laboratory in the California desert is broken in to and a deadly virus stolen. A security expert (George Maharis) is put in charge of the investigation but will he be able to break the case before the virus is exposed to an unsuspecting population? Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean (GUNS OF NAVARONE) and directed by John Sturges (THE GREAT ESCAPE). These "virus that can wipe out mankind" thrillers are almost sure things in the suspense department. The king of this genre is probably THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN but this minor entry is skillfully directed and Sturges pushes it to an intense extreme at times. The mastermind behind the crime is fairly easy to detect but that doesn't stop it from keeping you on the edge of your seat. Some of it is pretty hokey but for the most part one can overlook it. It's not the kind of movie where the acting matters much but the cast gives it their best shot. The skittish score is by Jerry Goldsmith. With Anne Francis, Dana Andrews, Richard Basehart, Edward Asner, Simon Oakland and James Hong. 

The Private War Of Major Benson (1955)

A Major (Charlton Heston) in the U.S. Army is a tough martinet with a no nonsense "tell it like it is" way of talking. This upsets some of his superiors so as a punishment, he's sent to an all boys Catholic military school to shape up the ROTC cadets. This is the kind of family fare comedy one would expect from Walt Disney. Once Heston arrives at the military academy and his gruff insensitive ways clashes with the boys, we know where the movie is heading. By the end of the movie, he'll be humanized. One doesn't think of Charlton Heston and comedy and he plays the role as if he were doing a drama and it works for his performance and the film. The film overextends its welcome by about 20 minutes, it tends to go in circles after awhile. But its heart is in the right place and there's a sweetness to it that's hard to dismiss. Still, the Oscar nomination for its rather generic script is a head scratcher. Directed by Jerry Hopper. With Julie Adams, Sal Mineo, David Janssen,  William Demarest, Nana Bryant, Tim Considine, Milburn Stone and the most adorable of child actors, Tim Hovey.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Old Gringo (1989)

An American spinster (Jane Fonda) travels to Mexico to work as a governess to a wealthy Mexican family. But upon arrival, she finds herself in the midst of the Mexican Revolution and attracted to two men: a young hot headed Mexican revolutionary (Jimmy Smits) and the "old gringo" (Gregory Peck) with a death wish. Based on the novel GRINGO VIEJO by Carlos Fuentes and directed by Luis Puenzo (THE OFFICIAL STORY), who co-wrote the screenplay. Puenzo gives the film the feel and scope of a genuine epic. He's aided in this by his cinematographer Felix Monti and composer Lee Holdridge. But the revolution itself seems merely a backdrop to Fonda's story, much the same way the Civil War is a backdrop to Scarlett O'Hara's story in GONE WITH THE WIND rather than being about the revolution. Peck acquits himself very well in the title role but there are problems with the two other leads. Fonda seems just too innately intelligent for the wide eyed naive old maid she's playing and Smits is too eloquent (though that's the fault of the script) and polished for the uneducated revolutionary. I liked it but I would have preferred a grittier look rather than the romanticized version we get here but I appreciate the attempt. With Pedro Armendariz Jr. as Pancho Villa, Jenny Gago and Annie Pitoniak. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Il Sepolcro Dei Re (aka Cleopatra's Daughter) (1960)

The daughter (Debra Paget) of Cleopatra is forced into a loveless marriage with a neurotic and unstable Pharaoh (Corrado Pani). When he is murdered, he declares his wife the murderess and decrees that she be buried with him alive. But her lover, the court physician (Ettore Manni), has a plan. First off, I saw this via a wretched pan and scan public domain transfer which appears to have been edited but even taking that into account, I doubt it would be much improved even if I saw it under better circumstances. It's a typical sword and sandal potboiler and in spite of using Cleopatra's daughter (the only one of her four children to survive to adulthood) as the central character, there isn't a shred of historical accuracy in the narrative. The production values and the costumes are good, Paget is fetching but the story line is often difficult to follow. But I've a soft spot for corn like this so I was modestly (very modestly) entertained. Directed by Fernando Cerchio with an underscore by Giovanni Fusco (L'AVVENTURA). With Robert Alda, Erno Crisa and Yvette Lebon.

Feher Isten (aka White God) (2014)

When her mother has to go to Australia on business, a 13 year old girl (Zsofia Psotta) is sent to stay with her estranged father (Sandor Zsofer). She brings her dog (played by two dogs, Bodie and Luke) with her. But the father dislikes dogs and when he refuses to pay the fine imposed by the government for "mongrel" dogs, he abandons the dog by the side of the road. Thus a girl's pet is found, abused and turned into a killer. The film is an allegory about the "misfits" or "unwanted" in society. For the first 90 minutes of the film, it's very realistic and animal lovers will have a difficult time with scenes of (simulated) graphic animal cruelty and abuse. The last 30 minutes leaves realism behind as it becomes almost a horror movie with the dogs getting their revenge on mankind for decades of abuse and neglect. The director Kornel Mundruczo paints himself into a corner until he has nowhere to go so he just ends the movie. That being said, the final shot (Marcell Rev did the superb cinematography) is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen in a film. Still, one can't help wonder what the film's point is. Why are we subjected to 90 minutes of animal brutality only to reach an ending that is without a catharsis or an inkling of what lies ahead? 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

After the death her father, Count Dracula's daughter (Gloria Holden) hopes that his death has released her from the curse of vampirism. But she finds that it hasn't and she still craves the blood of humans. So she contacts a psychiatrist (Otto Kruger) in the longing that he can "cure" her. The first of Universal's several Dracula sequels, the movie has garnered a cult following for several reasons, one of which is the lesbian undertones of the film (it was featured in THE CELLULOID CLOSET). But as horror cinema, it's rather anemic and sluggishly paced. Directed by Lambert Hillyer, the movie is rich in atmosphere and Holden in the title role bring an interesting angst to her character. But we're stuck with the dull as dishwater Kruger for a leading man and it doesn't help that the psychiatrist he plays is fairly incompetent. The highlight of the film is the seduction of Nan Grey (in the film's most natural performance) by Holden which conjures a genuine sense of fear. With Marguerite Churchill, Irving Pichel, Hedda Hopper, Edward Van Sloan and Eily Malyon. 

Beat The Devil (1953)

An American (Humphrey Bogart) down on his luck has fallen in with a motley gang of swindlers headed by an Englishman (Robert Morley) who plan to acquire land in East Africa that is rich in uranium deposits. While they wait in an Italian port for their ship to leave, a pompous Brit (Edward Underdown) and his pathological liar of a wife (Jennifer Jones) enter the picture and put their plan at risk. Marginally based on the novel by James Helvick, apparently the film's script (credited to Truman Capote and director John Huston) was written as it was being filmed with the cast getting the pages daily. There are those who consider the film an unholy mess but there are others (like me) who consider it an understated droll and witty comedy. It's like the Crosby and Hope ROAD movies only at a slightly more sophisticated level. Bogart seems slightly exasperated and befuddled through out as if he wasn't quite sure where all this was heading but the rest of the cast seem to get the joke. Especially Jennifer Jones who walks off with the movie (based on this and CLUNY BROWN, she should have concentrated on comedies). With Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Bernard Lee, Manuel Serano and Ivor Barnard.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tulsa (1949)

Set in the 1920s, after the death of her cattle rancher father (Harry Shannon), a young woman (Susan Hayward) vows revenge on the wealthy oil baron (Lloyd Gough) whose oil wells were responsible for her father's death. Instead, she finds herself bitten by the oil bug and revenge is forgotten as she becomes obsessed with oil profits and uses inherited drilling rights to make her known as The Oil Queen of Tulsa. While it's amusing to see Hayward as a greedy oil baroness who'll stop at nothing including betrayal as she climbs to the top of the oil hierarchy, this potboiler is really no more entertaining than an average episode of DYNASTY (which also dealt with oil) except that Hayward doesn't have Joan Collins' fabulous wardrobe. There is one thrilling oil wells on fire sequence that's pretty spectacular (the film received an Oscar nomination for special effects). Directed by Stuart Heisler. With Robert Preston, Pedro Armendariz, Chill Wills (whose contrived folksiness wears out very quickly), Lola Albright and Ed Begley.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Best House In London (1969)

In Victorian London, prostitutes throng the streets blocking tradesmen's shops. What to do? The Home Secretary (John Bird) has the idea of opening a secretly funded government brothel to take them off the streets. But a young feminist (Joanna Pettet, THE GROUP) from a prestigious family makes it her mission to take the fallen women off the streets and teach them respectable professions. Directed by Philip Saville, this late 60s sex romp was originally rated X (since changed to NC-17) and one can see why. While tame by contemporary standards, the movie's sense of humor doesn't play well in today's PC climate. We're more sensitive to the problem of international sex trade and young girls being exploited against their will. In the film, mothers sell off their virgin daughters to become prostitutes. Let me remind you this is a comedy! There's also a scene with a little girl singing about a certain part of her body that would never get the okay today. I won't even go into the rape jokes. But it's biggest problem is that the laughs just aren't there. I think I grinned once when a not too bright wench quips "He had carnival knowledge of me!". The actors are game including David Hemmings playing a dual role as both hero and villain. With George Sanders, Dany Robin, John Cleese, Martita Hunt, Maurice Denham, Tessie O'Shea, Marianne Stone and Warren Mitchell.

Countess Dracula (1971)

In 17th century Hungary, an aging Countess (Ingrid Pitt) discovers that bathing in the blood of young virgins will restore her youth. She passes herself as her own daughter while she has her real daughter (Lesley Anne Down) locked up. Hammer films began sexing up their horror films in the early 1970s and this movie, along with THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, are representative of that change. Based on the legend of Elizabeth Bathory (an early serial killer), the movie could have used more visceral chills. Most of the killings are done off camera and there's never a real sense of horror. In fact, outside of some bare breasts, it's really quite tame. In the title role, Pitt is appropriately lusty but the acting honors belong to Nigel Green as her sometime lover. He has a sadistic streak and if anyone is to be feared, it's him. The ending is surprisingly abrupt and we're left hanging as to what happens to Down. Fans of the Hammer horrors should be pleased though. Directed by Peter Sasdy. With Sandor Eles, Patience Collier and Maurice Denham.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mata Hari, Agent H21 (1964)

During WWI, an exotic dancer by the name of Mata Hari (Jeanne Moreau) works as a German spy while living in France. When she falls in love with a young soldier (Jean Louis Trintignant), who is one of her victims, she has second thoughts about her profession. But her superiors won't let her resign. Many films have been made about the legendary Dutch dancer executed by a firing squad for spying for Germany during WWI, most notably the 1931 film starring Greta Garbo. The name itself has become a synonym for a femme fatale using her powers of seduction to extract information. Unfortunately, as directed by Jean Louis Richard (who was Moreau's ex-husband) who also wrote the screenplay along with Francois Truffaut, this version is rather peaked. Moreau is one of the world's greatest actresses yet she is unable to breath much life into the routine script. Even the brief snippet we see of her "dancing" is disappointing, a dancer Moreau is not. She remains, of course, an indelible screen presence. When you see Moreau and Trintignant gamboling in the fields to Georges Delerue's delicate underscore you realize the film is routine and isn't going to get any better. With Jean Pierre Leaud, Claude Rich, Albert Remy, Marie Dubois and Nicole Desailly.

The Martian (2015)

When a fierce and deadly storm occurs during an expedition on Mars, a crew member (Matt Damon) is hit by debris and sent flying. After an attempt to locate him proves futile, he is assumed dead and the mission's commander (Jessica Chastain) makes a decision to abort the mission and head for Earth. But he, in fact, survives. Based on the novel by Andy Weir, an alternate title for this could have been ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS if that title hadn't already been taken. I don't know how scientifically accurate the film is but it's a grand piece of entertainment. Frankly I'd lost interest in the output of director Ridley Scott after years of crap like GLADIATOR and PROMETHEUS but this may be his best film since THELMA AND LOUISE some 24 years ago (though to be honest I've skipped a lot of his stuff since then). Matt Damon does an excellent job, it's not easy acting in a vacuum and he spends the majority of the film by himself. The film lacks the grace and beauty of the best science fiction films like 2001 or even FORBIDDEN PLANET. But knowing Scott's filmography, I doubt that was uppermost in his mind. There's an excellent supporting ensemble, most of whom are overqualified for stuff like this. Among them Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Kate Mara. With Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Donald Glover and Mackenzie Davis. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Weapon (1956)

In one of the bombed out buildings left over from WWII in London, a young boy (Jon Whiteley, MOONFLEET) finds a gun and accidentally shoots another boy. As he goes on the run out of fear, his anxious mother (Lizabeth Scott) tries to find him. But the gun was used in a murder ten years earlier to kill a U.S. soldier, so two other people want to find the boy too. An American Army Captain (Steve Cochran) ... and the killer (George Cole). Directed by Val Guest (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT), the premise of the film is intriguing enough to carry the film over some very rough spots. Shot in striking B&W, the cinematographer Reginald H. Wyer gives the movie the atmospheric feel of a film noir. I was most taken how the film's two lead actresses were effectively cast against type. Scott usually plays the femme fatale in noir films but here she's a warm and loving mother (I think it's the only film where she played a mother) and in the film's best performance, the affable French beauty Nicole Maurey plays a hard bitten and bruised prostitute. Not all it could have been but an industrious if minor thriller. With Herbert Marshall and Laurence Naismith. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Miss Firecracker (1989)

Set in Mississippi, an awkward young woman (Holly Hunter) with a promiscuous past and a bad reputation is determined to follow in the footsteps of her prettier cousin (Mary Steenburgen) and win the Miss Firecracker beauty contest. But the odds of her even getting into the pageant seem insurmountable. Based on the play THE MISS FIRECRACKER CONTEST by Beth Henley (CRIMES OF THE HEART), who also adapted it for the screen, this is a quirky rather poignant portrait of an underdog's determination to get some validation. But this isn't ROCKY. Henley keeps it closer to reality than an audience pleasing dark horse victory. Henley doesn't condescend to her characters. When Hunter does her clumsy tap dancing during the talent competition, you're rooting for her even though you know she's awful. Henley doesn't encourage us to laugh and neither do Hunter or the director Thomas Schlamme. In addition to Hunter and Steenburgen, there's Tim Robbins as Hunter's mentally challenged cousin and in a scene stealing performance, Alfre Woodard as the eccentric seamstress (she makes dresses for frogs) with buggy eyes. With Scott Glenn, Christine Lahti, Ann Wedgeworth, Amy Wright, Veanne Cox and Trey Wilson.