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Monday, February 29, 2016

Buccaneer's Girl (1950)

A young woman (Yvonne De Carlo) from Boston stowaways on a ship in the hope that it will take her to New Orleans where she hopes to find her fortune. But when the ship is overtaken by a notorious pirate (Philip Friend), it isn't long before she discovers a secret he doesn't want known. This amiable pirate programmer was just one of many swashbucklers that Universal studios churned out in the early to mid 1950s. It's actually quite enjoyable and looks sumptuous in the gorgeous three strip Technicolor lensing by the great Russell Metty (WRITTEN ON THE WIND). It's a mindless entertainment but with such a sincerity in its simplicity that that picking on it seems almost rude. Still, it wouldn't have hurt to have cast an actor with a little more panache than the generic Philip Friend. No one takes it seriously least of all its cast who all seem to be having a good time, so why should we? Directed by Frederick De Cordova. With Elsa Lanchester, Robert Douglas, Norman Lloyd, Andrea King, Jay C. Flippen, Connie Gilchrist and Peggie Castle.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Crimson Peak (2015)

In late 19th century New York, the daughter (Mia Wasikowska) of a wealthy businessman (Jim Beaver) is courted by a visiting impoverished English Baronet (Tom Hiddleston). The father takes an instant dislike to the young man but the Baronet's sister (Jessica Chastain) is determined they will wed ..... even if it means murder. Guillermo Del Toro's old fashioned (and I mean that in a positive way) Gothic horror film is gussied up with some graphic violent images but at its heart, the spawn of the Bronte sisters and Edgar Allan Poe. While the film features yet another excellent performance by Chastain (as evil as she was, I just couldn't hate her), the true "star" of the film is the stunning monstrosity of a house courtesy of the production design and art direction of Thomas E. Sanders and Brandt Gordon. That house positively drips with evil and Dan Laustsen's camera glides its way into every crevice. As a horror film, it doesn't break any new ground but at least it delivers what it promises. With Charlie Hunnam, Leslie Hope and Jonathan Hyde.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Whirlpool (1949)

Although married to a successful psychoanalyst (Richard Conte), a woman (Gene Tierney) is a kleptomaniac. When she is caught by a store detective (Ian MacDonald) for stealing an expensive broach, she is saved by the interference of a fashionable hypnotist (Jose Ferrer). But she goes from the frying pan into the fire as blackmail and murder enter the picture. Many perfectly fine motion pictures require a suspension of disbelief. Loopholes or flaws that defy logic are pushed aside because in the bigger picture, the artistry or the entertainment value of the film exceeds the implausibility of the narrative. That being said, the plot of WHIRLPOOL is so preposterous, so ludicrous that no amount of suspension of disbelief is possible! Based on the METHINKS THE LADY by Guy Endore, the characters act in such stupid and gullible ways that one just shakes his head in disbelief. The director Otto Preminger does a more than serviceable job and the cast is good (well, maybe not Ferrer) but to no avail. Still, the film does have a cult reputation among film noir enthusiasts. David Raksin's underscore helps a little. With Charles Bickford, Constance Collier, Barbara O'Neil, Fortunio Bonanova, Larry Keating and Eduard Franz. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Barquero (1970)

A cold blooded outlaw (Warren Oates) and his gang of mercenaries massacre a small settlement and pillage the town including a shipment of guns. The outlaws intend on crossing the border to Mexico but first, they need to cross a deep river that is only accessible via a barge. But the barge's boatman (Lee Van Cleef) has other ideas and a stand off ensues that will end in bloodshed. This very good western never quite reaches its potential. The screenplay by George Schenck and William Marks could have been leaner. A subplot involving Van Cleef and a married settler (Mariette Hartley) doesn't pay off and could easily have been eliminated. The direction by Gordon Douglas, that most generic of film directors, has no flair. On the plus side, we have Van Cleef and Oates perfectly cast and doing what they do best though they have almost no screen time together. Oates' character's instability needed more exploration because as it is now, he just goes batty with no detailing. But the movie's concept is strong enough to keep one glued till the very end. With Kerwin Mathews, Forrest Tucker, Marie Gomez and John Davis Chandler. 

Tystnaden (aka The Silence) (1963)

Traveling through an unnamed foreign country on the brink of war, two sisters - the intellectual Ester (Ingrid Thulin) and the carnal Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) - along with Anna's small son (Jorgen Lindstrom) are forced to stay at a baroque hotel until Ester recovers from a sudden illness. Ingmar Bergman's stark film is startling in its simplicity and yet, as usual for Bergman, rich in layered complexities. Not unlike L'AVVENTURA, the film explores the inability to communicate as a sort of emotional malaise or disconnect of modern society. In one scene, after having had sex with a man she doesn't know and doesn't speak her language, Lindblom's Anna notes how lucky it is that they don't understand each other. Ironically, Thulin's Ester is a translator. When it first opened in 1963, it was quite controversial for its sexual frankness but there's not a bit of eroticism in the film. Sex is just another attempt to "communicate" with someone. On a visual level, it may be the most interesting of Bergman's films due in no small part by Sven Nykvist's liquid camera work.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Let's Be Happy (1957)

When a young American girl (Vera Ellen in her last film role) inherits some money from her late grandfather, she decides to travel to Scotland where her ancestors are from. Once there, two men compete for her affections: an American businessman (Tony Martin) and an impoverished Scottish Lord (Robert Flemyng). This British musical may be no great shakes but it's surprisingly pleasant. The songs are tolerable, the dance numbers are lively and the scissor legged Vera Ellen manages to squeak by with her acting. Loosely based on the play JEANNIE by Aimee Stuart (previously filmed in 1941 with Michael Redgrave), the film has the advantage of the handsome CinemaScope lensing of Edinburgh and the Scottish countryside by Erwin Hiller (SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN). An amiable diversion but if you're not into musicals, you'll do well enough without it. Directed by Henry Levin (WHERE THE BOYS ARE). With Zena Marshall (DR. NO), Helen Horton and Gordon Jackson.

The Silver Horde (1930)

Set in the Alaskan wilderness, a former gold prospector (Joel McCrea) joins forces with an ex-prostitute (Evelyn Brent) in starting a fishing cannery business. But his business and romantic rival (Gavin Gordon, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) vows to stop him anyway he can. Based on the Rex Beach novel which was previously filmed in 1920. The character of Cherry Malotte who figured prominently in Beach's THE SPOILERS (she was played by Dietrich in the 1942 film version) shows up again here, this time played by the appealing Brent who starred in a few Von Sternberg silents like UNDERWORLD and THE LAST COMMAND. McCrea is still a bit wet behind the ears at the stage of his career but also in the cast as his socialite fiancee is Jean Arthur who would soon become a major star in her own right. As for the film itself, it benefits from being shot on location in the Alaskan outdoors rather than studio sets and if you ever wanted to see how salmon is caught and canned, this is the movie for you! For an early talkie, it's quite fluid and lively. A mixture of action and romance nicely balanced. Directed by George Archainbaud. With Louis Wolheim, Blanche Sweet and Raymond Hatton.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Texasville (1990)

A wealthy oilman (Jeff Bridges) finds his company going bankrupt and his family life disintegrating around him. When his old high school girlfriend (Cybill Shepherd) returns to the small Texas town after moving away to Italy, he finds himself conflicted as she toys with him. 19 years after THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, director Peter Bogdanovich revisits the characters of the first film and like PICTURE SHOW, based on a novel by Larry McMurtry. Lightning definitely doesn't strike twice in this case. The stark beauty and poignancy of the 1971 B&W film, a portrait of young people growing up in a dying town is gone and replaced by an aimlessly plotted color comedy with all the depth of a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT movie. Probably the most disturbing aspect of the film is how Bogdanovich condescends to his characters, something he never did in the 1971 film. The film seems to be about musical beds as everybody is sleeping with everybody and it's just an ugly movie. With the exception of Annie Potts (whose character wasn't in the original film), the acting is subpar Thankfully Ellen Burstyn doesn't return to embarrass herself but Bridges, Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman and Eileen Brennan all do exactly that. Perfectly dreadful about sums it up.

Young Man With Ideas (1952)

An attorney (Glenn Ford) in Montana quits his job and relocates his family to Los Angeles which necessitates taking another bar exam. Their new home once served as a bookie joint and complications arise when his wife (Ruth Roman) takes a bet over the phone and is unable to "pay off" after the horse wins. Meanwhile, he's studying law at night with a very attractive blonde (Nina Foch) and gets involved with a French nightclub singer (Denise Darcel). Mitchell Leisen was an underrated director of the mid to late 1930s (he directed MIDNIGHT and EASY LIVING) through the 1940s but by the time of the 1950s, the good scripts were drying up and he ended his career directing episodic TV. If Arthur Sheekman's screenplay had been better perhaps Leisen could have whipped up some of the old magic but as it is, it's a decent minor comedy that doesn't insult your intelligence with a nice lead performance by Ford and of the three actresses, Foch comes off best. With Mary Wickes, Sheldon Leonard, Ray Collins, Donna Corcoran and Barbara Billingsley.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pretty In Pink (1986)

In her senior year of high school, a working class girl (Molly Ringwald) from the "wrong side of the tracks" and a preppy rich kid (Andrew McCarthy) are attracted to each other. But the class distinction as well as pressure from each of their friends threaten to derail the romance before it even begins. In the 1980s, screenwriter (and director) John Hughes had his pulse on the youth scene in America. He perfectly captured the angst of being an outsider in an increasingly formulaic structured society, high school as a microcosm of life itself. Still, as well crafted as they were, movies like SIXTEEN CANDLES, BREAKFAST CLUB, FERRIS BUELLER as well as PRETTY IN PINK often took the easy way out by the film's end rather than spoiling the fun by showing us that sometimes you just have to suck it up! McCarthy's preppy with his weak backbone isn't worthy of Ringwald yet she's given him as her prize. The one who she should end up with, Jon Cryer's "duckman" comes off as kind of creepy today so it's a no win situation. Still, there's no denying the perceptive charms of Hughes' script. Directed by Howard Deutch. With Harry Dean Stanton, James Spader, Annie Potts, Kate Vernon, Andrew Dice Clay, Gina Gershon and Kristy Swanson.

Red River (1948)

After losing the woman (Coleen Gray) he loves in an Indian attack, a cattleman (John Wayne) discovers a young boy (Mickey Kuhn), who survived the Indian attack, wandering in the wilderness. He adopts him and as a young man (now played by Montgomery Clift), they set out to take their cattle to Missouri to sell. But the trek proves far more treacherous than expected and a split comes between the two men. This Howard Hawks western is one of the great films in the genre. The detailed focus on characterization rather than action is unusual in a western of this period. It's also one of Wayne's 2 or 3 best performances and one of the more complex characters he's played. After screening the film, John Ford is reputed to have said, "I didn't know the SOB could act!". The untrained Wayne and the "method" acting Clift would seem, in theory, not a good idea but they play beautifully together. Only Joanne Dru as Clift's love interest seems out of place. Russell Harlan's (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) B&W images give the film an epic feel though I could have done without Dimitri Tiomkin's over emphatic underscore. With Walter Brennan, John Ireland, Harry Carey (both Sr. and Jr.), Paul Fix, Chief Yowlachie and Shelley Winters in a don't blink or you'll miss her bit part. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

In a small New England university town, the wife (Elizabeth Taylor) of a history professor (Richard Burton) invites a young biology teacher (George Segal) and his wife (Sandy Dennis) for a nightcap in the wee hours of the morning after a late night campus get together. It will be a long night's journey into dawn. Edward Albee's award winning play was a landmark production when it first opened on Broadway in 1962. Its use of language alone had many thinking it could never be filmed without compromise but with a little tweaking by Ernest Lehman's screenplay, it arrived on screen basically intact. Albee's raw and searing look at a marriage held together by the most tenuous of illusions is perhaps indebted somewhat to Eugene O'Neill but it has spawned its own cottage industry in the theater, AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY being a recent example. There was much buzz at the time on the casting of Taylor, known more for her beauty and private life than her acting and whether she was up to the demands of the role. She was and got her second Oscar for it. In his best screen performance, Burton puts aside the ham and over emoting that too often ruins his work and he's stunning here. This was Mike Nichols' feature film debut as a director but its directed with an assured hand. A timeless adaptation of a great American play. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Witch (2016)

In 1630 New England, a man (Ralph Ineson) and his family are banished from his community because of his refusal to conform to their specific religious beliefs. He finds a piece of land at the edge of the forest to build his new home. But when the family infant disappears, it is only the beginning of a descent into horror. I went in to THE WITCH with lowered expectations since the last over hyped horror film THE BABADOOK underwhelmed me considerably. I needn't have worried, this is first rate stuff. As a horror film, you might be disappointed if you're expecting a "Boo!" horror flick with jumps. Its horror lies in its psychological profile of a family being torn apart by the unknown and a challenge to their religious beliefs. For awhile, I thought the film was going to be an indictment at how religious superstition can damage innocent souls but as it slowly progresses, it becomes more and more literal. Finally, the director Robert Eggers gives in and gives us what horror fans want or rather what he thinks we want. Personally, I could have done with less is more. Nevertheless, this is one of the best horror films I've seen in years. The cast is excellent right down the line: besides Ineson, there's Anna Taylor Joy, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson.

Salome (2013)

Salome (Jessica Chastain), the Princess of Judea, is attracted to John The Baptist (Kevin Anderson) who is imprisoned by her stepfather King Herod (Al Pacino). But as a man of God, the prophet is repulsed by her. But her stepfather is not and, in fact, lusts after her much to the displeasure of her mother (Roxanne Hart). Based on Oscar Wilde's 1893 play which has been the basis of several film adaptations as well as an opera by Richard Strauss. It's a difficult play to carry off for modern audiences as Wilde's florid dialogue rests uneasily on most contemporary ears. Originally directed on stage by the actress Estelle Parsons, Pacino took over the directorial reins when it came to filming it and it is a filmed play. But what Pacino has done is to make the play alive and vital and suddenly Wilde's elaborate prose no longer sounds archaic. At first, Pacino's Herod seems like a mannered acting trick but once you get used to the rhythms of Pacino's performance, it works beautifully and his long speech at the end to Salome is superbly done. Whether as an archival record of the stage production or as a piece of cinema, highly recommended if you're familiar with Wilde's play. If you're not, you might consider reading it first.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

The adult daughter (an off camera Kim Stanley narrates) of a small town lawyer (Gregory Peck) recollects her childhood in 1930s Alabama. The two summers that were turning points in her young life: the trial of a black man (Brock Peters) accused of raping a white woman (Collin Wilcox) with her father as the defense attorney and the mysterious Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) who lives next door. It had been years since I've seen MOCKINGBIRD and with the passing of Harper Lee (who wrote the novel) this week, I thought it would be a good time to revisit it. Lee's novel was adapted by Horton Foote for the screen and directed by Robert Mulligan. This is a lovely movie. Mulligan's film has the wistful feel of childhood memories and Lee shows us the horror of racism through a child's eyes. The two child actors, Mary Badham and Phillip Alford, are just right but Peck's imposing Atticus Finch is the film's backbone. At turns, charming and poignant but always with a sense of pensive sadness. There have been some naysayers who complain (and perhaps not without some justification) that the film is calculated and manipulative. But what it has is a sincere sense of righteousness. With Rosemary Murphy, William Windom, Frank Overton, Alice Ghostley, Ruth White, James Anderson, Estelle Evans and young John Megna.   

Friday, February 19, 2016

Destry Rides Again (1939)

A corrupt saloon owner (Brian Donlevy) who runs a small western town with an iron fist has the town drunk (Charles Winninger) appointed sheriff as a joke. But the drunkard not only sobers up but sends away for an honest law abiding young man (James Stewart) to be his deputy. The problem is that the new deputy refuses to wear or use a gun! This amiable and engaging western comedy is hard to resist. Although I prefer the darker James Stewart of the Hitchcock and Anthony Mann films to his "aw shucks, m'am" persona, he's rather sweet here. And what did director George Marshall do to get such a lively and vivacious performance from Marlene Dietrich? Use a cattle prod? Dietrich dumps the frozen ennui femme fatale bit and she's a tigress! The movie shifts the lighthearted tone in the film's last 15 minutes when two major characters are killed which seems slightly jarring (what if the Indians had killed Bob Hope in THE PALEFACE?). Still, one would be hard pressed to resist the fun! With Jack Carson, Una Merkel (who has a sensational catfight with Dietrich), Mischa Auer, Irene Hervey and Allen Jenkins.

Down To Earth (1947)

When one of the nine Muses, Terpsichore (Rita Hayworth) gets wind of a Broadway musical that portrays her as a man hungry trollop, she coerces Mr. Jordan (Roland Culver) to let her go down to Earth. He allows her to but for his own reasons. A musical sequel to the 1941 hit HERE COMES MR. JORDAN but utilizing only three of the characters from the previous film. James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton reprise their roles while Culver replaces Claude Rains. DOWN TO EARTH was very loosely remade in 1980 as XANADU but without being credited. Unfortunately for a musical, the songs are a dim bunch but on the plus side there's Jack Cole's wonderful choreography. Then, of course, there's the love goddess herself, Hayworth playing an actual goddess and she's succulent in Technicolor and when she dances, her vivacity adds another layer to her appeal. Alas, she's stuck with Larry Parks as her leading man and he's no Astaire or Kelly. If you're not a fan of Hayworth's, some of the comedic performances (Gleason, Horton) might engage you but otherwise ..... Directorial reins are in the hands of Alexander Hall, who directed the 1941 original. With George Macready, Marc Platt, Dorothy Hart, William Frawley, Jean Willes and Adele Jergens (whose singing voiced is dubbed by Kay Starr).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Written On The Wind (1956)

The wealthy playboy son (Robert Stack) of an oil millionaire (Robert Keith) marries a secretary (Lauren Bacall) and straightens out his life. But personal demons and the idea that his wife is having an affair with his best friend (Rock Hudson) which is encouraged by his spiteful sister (Dorothy Malone) threaten to destroy his new found happiness. Based on the Robert Wilder novel (reputedly based on the mysterious death of tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds), this is one of the crown jewels in Douglas Sirk's filmography. Hudson and Bacall are the "romantic" leads but the film belongs to Malone and Stack as the self destructive siblings. Born into wealth with everything they could possibly want except a father's acceptance (Stack) and a man she can never have (Malone), their wealth is poisonous rather than their salvation. Russell Metty's luscious and velvety Technicolor images enhance Sirk's baleful look at the American dream gone sour. Malone's Oscar winning performance is really amazing. There are very few actresses as carnal as her and her sad eyed nymphomaniac wears her emotions on her sleeve. The title song was also Oscar nominated. With Grant Williams, Edward Platt, John Larch, Roy Glenn and Maidie Norman.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Day Of The Jackal (1973)

In 1963, a militant underground right wing organization known as the OAS (Organisation Armee Secrete) hires a professional assassin known as The Jackal (Edward Fox) to assassinate President De Gaulle of France. But information is secured by the French police that an assassination plot is underway and thus begins the race against time to find The Jackal before the assassination can take place. Based on the best seller by Frederick Forsyth, director Fred Zinnemann has made a crackerjack thriller of the highest order. Since we know from history that De Gaulle was not assassinated, one would think the suspense element would be lessened but far from it. Zinnemann and his screenwriter Kenneth Ross have given the film an almost semi-documentary feel to it. Even though the film runs past the two hour mark, there's no bloat and nothing unnecessary to slow down the film's resolute pace. Fox as The Jackal is perfect with his cold gaze and matter of fact body language. Hitchcock couldn't have done it any better. The large ensemble cast includes Delphine Seyrig, Michael Lonsdale, Derek Jacobi, Cyril Cusack, Alan Badel, Jean Sorel, Maurice Denham, Timothy West and Olga Georges Picot.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pourquoi Viens Tu Si Tard? (1959)

A carefree Paris bachelor (Henri Vidal), who is also a news photographer, meets an attorney (Michele Morgan) in a small French village while waiting for his car to be repaired. He pursues her romantically but she is aloof. But her backstory will soon come out. Directed by Henri Decoin, this is a rather schizophrenic film. The first hour appears to be a romantic comedy between two opposites but after the first hour, there is a rape and the film turns into something different. What were Decoin and his three co-writers trying to do? The sudden shift in tone is not unprecedented (before or since) but the transition doesn't play smoothly here. It seems Decoin and company are trying to say something about alcoholism but it seems superficial and glossed over. Fortunately, Morgan and Vidal work well together (they were married in real life) and their star presence holds the film together, barely. Sadly, Vidal would die of a heart attack at the age of 40 just 7 months after the movie was released. With Claude Dauphin as Morgan's despicable client and ex-lover.

Girls Of The White Orchid (aka Death Ride To Osaka) (1983)

A struggling singer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in L.A. gets an offer to go to Japan to work in a nightclub. She thinks it's a big break but when she gets there, she discovers that she's a victim of a Yakuza scam and that her "singing" duties include sleeping with the club's customers. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan (THE ACCUSED), this was originally shown on NBC as a TV movie under the title GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID. The version I saw was titled DEATH RIDE TO OSAKA and must have been intended for overseas viewing because it contained copious amounts of onscreen nudity not contained in the NBC showing. The film has a rather sleazy and exploitative feel to it. This was still early in Jennifer Jason Leigh's career, she was just coming off of FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, so one can forgive her rather clunky performance as she doesn't get any help from the script. Ann Jillian as an older dancer justifying what she does comes off best. With Mako, Carolyn Seymour, Soon Tek Oh and Richard Narita. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Careful He Might Hear You (1983)

In 1930s Australia, a young orphan (Nicholas Gledhill) lives with his aunt (Robyn Nevin) and uncle (Peter Whitford), a working class family. But when another aunt (Wendy Hughes), who has money and social position, decides the boy would be better off living with her, the child's life becomes a battlefield. Based on the award winning semi-autobiographical novel by Sumner Locke Elliott, this is a beautifully made film. Without any condescension, the director Carl Schultz (THE SEVENTH SIGN) lets us see through a child's eyes how the a family's complicated history threatens to destroy his childhood years. All of the adult characters are flawed to some degree but even at their worst, there's a compassion to them that prevents us from judging them too harshly. The acting is uniformly excellent with the 8 year old Gledhill giving a nuanced performance, Hughes turning our dislike into sympathy and a marvelous turn by John Hargreaves as the boy's absent father. There's also an old fashioned non stop score by Ray Cook that's gorgeous. 

Battle Of Britain (1969)

In 1940, the British defeats in France cause them to retreat to England. Outnumbered by the Germans, the British prepare to defend their homeland against the imminent attack on London by the Germans. Directed by Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER), the film is a fairly accurate account of the British defeat of the Luftwaffe in the summer of 1940. This isn't a story with much character development and the film's weakest link is the domestic scenes between a married couple played by Christopher Plummer and Susannah York. The movie is crammed with major stars playing small roles which is probably the only way we can keep the characters straight as there isn't enough time for us to get to know them as people. The real "stars" of the film are the remarkable aerial sequences, beautifully shot by Freddie Young (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA). As meticulously choreographed as a musical dance number, the air battles are thrilling. I watched the film with the original underscore by Sir William Walton which was replaced when released in 1969 with a score by Ron Goodwin. The massive cast includes Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Robert Shaw, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Trevor Howard, Kenneth More, Ian McShane, Harry Andrews, Curt Jurgens and Edward Fox.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Zoolander 2 (2016)

When the world's leading pop stars are being murdered, they die with the "Blue Steel" look on their faces. Since this was the trademark of a former top male model (Ben Stiller, who also directed) now living in seclusion, an Interpol agent (Penelope Cruz) seeks his assistance in solving the killings. Is 15 years for a sequel a good idea? I think not. The film feels stale and it's simply not funny. It's ludicrous plot defies believability but that's not the problem, who goes to a silly raunchy comedy for believability anyway? It seems like a comic retread and there's an air of desperation about it. What laughs are to be had are provided by Kristen Wiig (who doesn't have enough to do) and Will Ferrell. I've never seen a film with so much name dropping. There are a ton of cameos and the actors say things like, "Oh, hello Katy Perry" as if we don't know who Katy Perry is and poor Sting actually has his name printed on the screen to remind us of who he is. Granted, he's wearing a beard but there's no mistaking that voice. Stiller roped fashion icons like Valentino, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Anna Wintour into playing themselves and the massive cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch (as a transgender model), Owen Wilson, Kiefer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Justin Bieber, Milla Jovovich, Billy Zane, Justin Theroux, Susan Boyle and Katie Couric among a slew of others.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Fort Algiers (1953)

A cabaret singer (Yvonne De Carlo) is a spy for the French government. Her mission is to extract information from an Arab Amir (Raymond Burr) who is suspected of masterminding a massacre at a foreign legion post. Complications arise when she runs into an ex-lover (Carlos Thompson), now a soldier in the French foreign legion. This mindless exotic potboiler is luckily very brief (75 minutes) and even at that length threatens to wear out its welcome. Essentially a western with the Arabs standing in for the Indians and the French foreign legion taking the place of the U.S. cavalry. Its narrative offers no surprises whatsoever and since it's in B&W rather than color, there's not even the minor pleasure of De Carlo or desert vistas in Technicolor. I don't want to be too hard on it. It is what it is and does its job efficiently. It was never meant to be anything more than a minor low budget programmer designed to play for a week and disappear. With John Dehner, Anthony Caruso and Leif Erickson whose Italian accent is so bad that at first I thought he was playing a Russian! 

Hawaii (1966)

In the early 19th century, a young minister (Max Von Sydow) and his new bride (Julie Andrews) come to the Hawaiian Islands with a group of Calvinist missionaries with the intention of bringing God to the "heathens". But what they bring is far more destructive than intended. Based only in part on the massive James Michener book (almost a 1,000 pages), the George Roy Hill film takes the third section of the six segment novel and gives its a rich and full presentation. It's uncompromising in its look at how the Caucasian invasion of the islands destroyed a paradise and nearly wiped out an entire civilization. It's quite remarkable that a film in which Christianity doesn't come off very well (indeed, it may be the movie's "villain") got made in 1966. If made today, I wouldn't be surprised if it was softened to not offend. Von Sydow's man of God is one of the most insufferable characters in 60s cinema and Von Sydow plays him uncompromisingly without making him one dimensional. It's Von Sydow's best English language performance and it may be Julie Andrews best non-musical performance. The gorgeous score is by Elmer Bernstein. With Richard Harris, Gene Hackman, Carroll O'Connor, Torin Thatcher, Lou Antonio, Bette Midler (in her film debut) and a superb performance by Jocelyne LaGarde, a non professional, whose Oscar nominated performance as the ali'i nui walks off with the film. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Black Book (aka Reign Of Terror) (1949)

As Robespierre (Richard Basehart) prepares to declare himself dictator of France, a plot is set in motion by patriots to prevent this. The plan entails a volunteer (Robert Cummings) to take the place of the bloodthirsty prosecutor (Charles Gordon) that Robespierre has invited to assist him even though he has never met the man. This low budget historical drama suffers from an anemic leading man (Cummings) but other than that, it's a grand piece of entertainment enhanced by Anthony Mann's skillful direction and John Alton's (ELMER GANTRY) evocative B&W cinematography plus some fine performances. Notably Basehart's Robespierre but Arnold Moss's unscrupulous secret chief of police too. If you're a French revolution history buff, that should only add to your enjoyment of the film. For some reason that escapes me, this film is often referred to as historical noir. With Arlene Dahl, Beulah Bondi, Richard Hart, Jess Barker, Norman Lloyd and Charles McGraw. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Star In The Dust (1956)

A man (Richard Boone) is scheduled to hang at sundown for the killing of three men. The three men killed were farmers and the farmers want to see justice done but the cattlemen feel the killings were justified and plan to prevent his execution. This minor "B" western never elevates itself beyond its second tier western status but it's actually very good. The screenplay by Oscar Brodney (HARVEY) from the novel by Lee Leighton contains interesting elements that makes it stand out from the pack and the director Charles F. Haas keeps the tension quotient high. Also quite unusual for a "B" western, there are three, count 'em three, strong female roles that move beyond the usually passive roles women play in westerns: Coleen Gray as the killer's woman, Randy Stuart (INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) forced into helping an escape and Mamie Van Doren, torn between protecting her criminal brother (Leif Erickson) and her love for the sheriff (John Agar). The film has some inconsequential similarity to HIGH NOON and there's even an on camera singing balladeer (Terry Gilkyson) accompanying the narrative. Minor but worth checking out for western buffs. With Clint Eastwood, James Gleason, Harry Morgan and Paul Fix.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Addams Family (1991)

When his long lost brother Fester (Christopher Lloyd) reappears after 25 years, Gomez Addams (Raul Julia) is overjoyed at first. But it isn't long before he suspects that Fester is, in fact, a fraud and not really his brother. Based on the single panel cartoons of Charles Addams, most of which appeared in the New Yorker magazine and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (MEN IN BLACK). Although it's perfectly in the spirit of the Addams cartoons, the film is more of an extended film version of the 1964 TV series also based on the Addams source material. There's really not much to it but what's been given us is morbidly amusing in generous spurts and some moments are truly hilarious such as the Shakespeare duel by Wednesday (perfectly embodied by Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) at a school play. As Morticia Addams, Anjelica Huston is inspired casting, right out of the panels of Addams' cartoon! Popular enough that a sequel ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES came along two years later. With Elizabeth Wilson, Dan Hedaya, Dana Ivey and Carel Struycken.

Easy Living (1937)

A young working girl (Jean Arthur) is mistakenly assumed to be the mistress of a wealthy banker (Edward Arnold) and so she's extended credit by expensive shops and a hotel as well as being sought after for stock market advice. Working from a smart and clever script by Preston Sturges, director Mitchell Leisen (HOLD BACK THE DAWN) has whipped up one of the best screwball comedies made in Hollywood. It's fast and frantic but never losing its easy going charm. Jean Arthur shows why she was one of the screen's ace comediennes and she's never been more adorable. If there were any flaws I didn't see them, it was a genuine pleasure from beginning to end. The cast is flawless and includes Ray Milland as Arnold's son, Mary Nash, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, Esther Dale and Luis Alberni stealing scenes while mangling the English language ("You're a sight for eye sores!").   

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Out Of Africa (1985)

In 1913, a a moneyed Danish woman (Meryl Streep) enters a marriage of convenience with an impoverished Baron (Klaus Maria Brandauer) and they move to Africa to start a coffee farm. Loosely based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Karen Blixen (writing under the name Isak Dinesen) and directed by Sydney Pollack. Although based on Blixen's time in Africa, Kurt Luedtke's screenplay takes great liberties with the actual facts of Blixen's story and her relationship with the British hunter played by Robert Redford (sans accent). What Pollack intended and succeeded in doing was making a romance that is both epic and intimate. Pushing close to the three hour mark, the film suffers a bit from bloat but it's so beautifully done that one never gets bored. The contributions of cinematographer David Watkin and composer John Barry to the film's success (it was a box office hit and won seven Oscars) are invaluable in providing texture and ambience to what could have been a rather ordinary movie. Despite his top billing, this is Streep's movie all the way and Redford is off the screen for great chunks of time. With Michael Gough, Michael Kitchen, Malick Bowens, Susanna Hamilton, Rachel Kempson and Iman.  

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Big Operator (1959)

A corrupt labor union boss (Mickey Rooney) is under federal investigation. When he denies knowing a convicted felon (Ray Danton) who strong arms for him, to avoid perjury charges he has his thugs put the screws on the witness (Steve Cochran) who can tie the two men together. This "B" picture courtesy of exploitation producer Albert Zugsmith (HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL) is, for the most part, a tough little crime thriller not all that unlike the Warners gangster movies from the 1930s. While it gets rather silly during the film's final seven minutes, it's an acceptable programmer. It's also possibly the only movie where Mamie Van Doren isn't playing some sort of sexpot. Here, she plays an ordinary housewife and mother serving waffles for breakfast and sending her kid (Jay North, TV's DENNIS THE MENACE) to bed without supper for misbehaving. June Cleaver, she ain't! Rooney is suitably repellent as a Jimmy Hoffa stand in and director Charles F. Haas manages to move things swiftly along. With Mel Torme, Jackie Coogan, Leo Gordon, Donald Barry and Ziva Rodann.  

East Of Sudan (1964)

When the Mahdi forces siege the village of Barash in the Sudan, a small group consisting of two soldiers (Anthony Quayle, Derek Fowlds), a governess (Sylvia Syms) and her ward (Jenny Agutter) take flight down the treacherous Nile towards Khartoum. Directed by Nathan Juran (7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD), this low budget action programmer never set foot outside of Shepperton Studios in Surrey, England. It's a sound stage bound Egyptian locale supplemented by lots of inserted footage from THE FOUR FEATHERS (1939) blown up from 1.37 and formatted for the scope process, rear projections and lots of stock footage from other movies filmed in Africa. It actually becomes amusing after awhile because the difference in the footage is not only obvious but when the protagonists attempt to start an elephant stampede in front of a rear projection of elephants, it almost becomes surreal. It was nice to see Anthony Quayle, normally a supporting character actor, playing the action hero for a change though I wish Syms' character weren't written as such a ninny. As cinema, it's routine fare. With Johnny Sekka.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Welcome To L.A. (1977)

Set in Los Angeles during Christmas, a group of various characters interact with each other searching for something. But what? Love? Sex? Communication? If they're in a relationship, they're unhappy, if they're not in a relationship, they want one. They are a songwriter (Keith Carradine), an agent (Viveca Lindfors), a free spirited maid (Sissy Spacek), a realtor (Sally Kellerman), a businessman (Harvey Keitel), a photographer (Lauren Hutton), a millionaire (Denver Pyle), a spaced out housewife (Geraldine Chaplin), a furniture salesman (John Considine) and a pop star (Richard Baskin). Produced by Robert Altman and directed by Alan Rudolph, the film's sensibilities are clearly influenced by Altman but the film lacks Altman's essence. It would take a few more movies under his belt before Rudolph found his own voice. In fact, the film seems like a trial run for Rudolph's later and superior CHOOSE ME. I liked the Richard Baskin songs that hold the film together but the only character I had any feeling for was Chaplin's lost waif (it may be my favorite Chaplin performance). The film is too aimless for its own good without any artistic content to justify it. With Diahnne Abbott and Allan F. Nicholls.

The Anniversary (1968)

A wealthy but malevolent woman (Bette Davis) has an anniversary celebration each year although her husband has been dead for ten years. Her three sons can't stand her but they go through the ritual each year since she holds the purse strings and keeps them under her thumb. But when the youngest son (Christian Roberts) brings a girl (Elaine Taylor) to the party and announces she's his fiancee, it encourages a rebellion among the sons but mother will have none of it. Based on the play by Bill MacIlwraith and adapted for the screen by Jimmy Sangster, this acidic black comedy features a marvelous turn by Davis as the mother from Hell. The role was not written for her (Mona Washbourne played it on stage) but Davis makes it inimitably her own, squeezing every possible laugh from the venomous dialogue. The director Roy Ward Baker (a replacement after Davis clashed with the original director) makes no attempt to disguise the film's theatrical origins, it plays out like a filmed play which in this case is just fine. It's not a great play after all and any distractions from Davis' "this is my show" performance would only weaken the film. With Jack Hedley, Sheila Hancock and James Cossins.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

In 1951 Hollywood, a studio executive's (Josh Brolin) job is to keep the studio's stars out of the newspapers and boy, does he have his hands full: the studio's top star (George Clooney) is kidnapped by a communist cell, their resident aquatic star (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant and unmarried and he's being threatened by a pair of rival sister gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton playing both roles) about exposing a secret that could ruin the career of their top star. This is Coen Brothers lite and lacks their usual dark and pungent wit. It's not worthless and there are enough good moments that it's a double pity that it's not better. The biggest problem is that the Coens don't seem to have a genuine affection for the genres they're spoofing and if there's no love, it's just condescension. In a superb movie parody like YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN for example, it's clear that Mel Brooks loves the B&W horror movies he's spoofing. On the upside, Clooney gets a chance to work out his comedy chops and there's a likability about his dimwit shallow actor, Johansson doesn't have enough to do but her sass and spunk are welcome and Alden Ehrenreich's singing cowboy is just adorable. What I found most interesting though is that the Coens' premise is that there WAS a communist infiltration in Hollywood rather than treat it as "red paranoia". The huge cast includes Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand (in the film's funniest gag),  Clancy Brown, Christopher Lambert and Wayne Knight.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959)

Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) is asked by a country physician (Francis De Wolff) to intercede in the case of the new Lord (Christopher Lee) of Baskerville Hall who inherited the estate when the last Lord died under mysterious circumstances. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's third Sherlock Holmes novel has been adapted for film, stage and television too many times to count. It follows the novel fairly closely but this is a Hammer production, so alterations have been made to try and squeeze it into the horror mold. It's a very good adaptation nonetheless. Directed by Terence Fisher, Cushing makes for a solid and believable Holmes and Andre Morell as Dr. Watson brings a quiet authority to the role rather than the befuddled Watson which Nigel Bruce specialized in. The cinematographer Jack Asher does a nice job of creating an atmospheric Dartmoor grassland. With Marla Landi, Miles Malleson and John Le Mesurier. 

A Tolonc (aka The Undesirable) (1915)

In a rural village, a dying father (Andor Szakacs) tells his daughter (Lili Berky) that he's really her Uncle and that her mother (Mari Jaszai) is in prison for killing her real father. Bereft and alone, she sets out to the big city in search of her future. Directed by Kertesz Mihaly, who would later change his name to Michael Curtiz (CASABLANCA) when he moved to America, this early Hungarian effort is more of a curiosity than anything else. Long thought to be a "lost" film, it was only recently discovered in a basement in the Hungarian House cultural center and extensive restoration has been done. The print is stunning in its clarity and detail and all 100 year old movies should look this good! As cinema, it's a hoary old tale based on a popular Hungarian play but Curtiz already shows a strong sense of storytelling that would make him one of the so called Golden Age's most prolific and popular directors. The acting is generally solid though Victor Varconi (who looks like Omar Sharif) as the romantic lead tends to flail his arms about too much. If you're interested in silent cinema, it's a must see. If you're not, I don't know as you'd get much out of it. There's a wonderful newly commissioned score by Attila Pacsay. With Gyula Nagy and Mariska Simon.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Happy Ending (1969)

A discontented wife (Jean Simmons) walks out on her husband (John Forsythe) on their 16th wedding anniversary and travels alone to the Bahamas. While the film contains a wonderful performance by Simmons, who received an Oscar nomination for her performance, the screenplay by its director Richard Brooks (married to Simmons at the time) is ill conceived. It's an examination of an unhappy marriage from the wife's point of view but the husband's character is so vague that that one wonders why she married him in the first place. It's hard to drum up much empathy when she runs away from the marriage rather than taking the bull by the horns and dealing with it! If anything with all the booze and pills she downs, the sympathy goes to husband if anyone. It's worth seeing for Simmons' performance but don't expect any insights or enlightenment in this pre-feminist melodrama. With Shirley Jones, Bobby Darin, Lloyd Bridges, Teresa Wright, Nanette Fabray, Tina Louise, Dick Shawn and Karen Steele. 

Black Legion (1937)

After being passed over for a promotion in favor of an immigrant (Henry Brandon), an angry factory worker (Humphrey Bogart) joins a secret racist and fascist organization that wear black robes and hoods while terrorizing "foreigners". In the 1930s, Warner Brothers was in the forefront of topical social problem films "ripped from the headlines" as they say. Sadly, this gritty and bleak look at xenophobia made almost 80 years ago still resonates today as the current political scene will attest. Bogart was not yet a star (he would have to wait 4 more years) but this was a rare leading role for him and he does quite well. There really was a Black Legion in 1930s Michigan and the film is loosely based on the kidnapping and murder of a WPA organizer by the same. Directed by Archie Mayo (PETRIFIED FOREST), it's primitive film making but it's that very coarseness that makes it so vital. Unsettling and disturbing. With Ann Sheridan, Dick Foran, Erin O'Brien Moore, Joe Sawyer and Addison Richards.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

It Came From Outer Space (1953)

A writer and astronomy buff (Richard Carlson) and his girlfriend (Barbara Rush) are enjoying a quiet evening in the Arizona desert when they see what appears to be a meteor crash nearby. When they investigate, he discovers it's not a meteor but some kind of space vehicle ..... and it's inhabited! Based on an unpublished short story by Ray Bradbury, this is a persuasive piece of sci-fi pulp directed by with flair by Jack Arnold. The characters are pretty stock and it's not the kind of film where the acting matters much but with the exception of Charles Drake who overdoes the dumb lawman bit, the rest of the cast plays it straight. Though I watched a "flat" print of the film, it was originally released in 3D and even in a flat transfer, one can see how effective it might have been in 3D. Clifford Stine's images are carefully composed to maximize the 3D effect, a lot of the desert scenes were actually shot on a soundstage.  The stereophonic sound is directional and very good. With Russell Johnson, Kathleen Hughes and Joe Sawyer.

The Westerner (1940)

In post Civil War Texas, Judge Roy Bean (Walter Brennan in an Oscar winning performance) is a self appointed "Judge" who rules his town with an iron fist and has an obsession with the actress Lily Langtry (Lilian Bond). But when a saddle tramp (Gary Cooper) drifts into his town, he may have met his match. What's remarkable about this amiable William Wyler western is how near plotless it is for much of its running time. Oh sure, there's the generic the cowboys vs. the farmers backdrop but the film is really a series of scenes between Cooper's cowpoke and Brennan's corrupt Roy Bean and the two play off each other marvelously. As an actor, Brennan was often a caricature in much of his performances from the mid 1950s and beyond, so this film serves as a reminder of what a superb actor he could be. Cooper may have been the star but the film belongs to Brennan. Gregg Toland does himself proud with his lensing while Dimitri Tiomkin shames himself with his underscore. With Dana Andrews, Forrest Tucker, Chill Wills and Doris Davenport as the drab love interest for Cooper. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Fair Lady (1964)

A professor (Rex Harrison) of phonetics makes a bet with another phonetics expert (Wilfrid Hyde White) that he can turn a cockney flower girl (Audrey Hepburn) into an elegant lady. Based on PYGMALION by George Bernard Shaw, MY FAIR LADY was turned into a now legendary Broadway musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe. But the George Cukor directed film version is problematic. Lerner wrote the screenplay but the film makers treat the material as if it were untouchable and nothing must be done to it and the play is basically transposed to the movie screen with Harry Stradling's camera basically there to record it for posterity. Which does not for a movie make unless you consider the material sacrosanct. The film looks stunning, there's no question about that but it doesn't move. The casting of Audrey Hepburn doesn't work either. She's perfect as the elegant transformed Eliza (Why wouldn't she be? She's Audrey Hepburn!) but she's hopeless as the cockney Eliza, artificial and unbelievable. Harrison having done the role so many times on stage is perfection if slightly rote. But those songs are heavenly! With Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper, Theodore Bikel, Jeremy Brett, Isobel Elsom, Mona Washbourne and Henry Daniell (who died after one day's shooting).  

Monday, February 1, 2016

Chato's Land (1972)

After shooting an Indian hating sheriff in self defense, an Apache (Charles Bronson) is pursued by a posse led by an ex-Confederate (Jack Palance). But the Captain is unable to keep his men in check and as they descend into savagery and turn against each other, the Apache known as Chato picks them off one by one. Director Michael Winner doesn't have a very good reputation and with some of the turkeys on his resume, one can see why. CHATO'S LAND is probably as close to a genuinely good film as he ever got though admittedly I haven't seen his complete filmography. It's basically your standard revenge western but done very well. It's brutal and often ugly but the pacing is taut and Winner keeps the tension at a high level. This is good because it helps ride over some of the lack of logic in the script. For example, Richard Jordan's character is portrayed as a hot headed brute but after raping a woman, suddenly he gives a little speech which "humanizes" him somewhat that comes out of nowhere. And why when it becomes clear to the men that they are doomed, why do they continue the chase. Is racial hate that strong a motivator? Bronson is used more for his imposing screen presence than as an actor. He doesn't really have that much screen time and probably has less than a dozen lines of dialogue and most of it isn't in English. With Richard Basehart, James Whitmore, Simon Oakland, Ralph Waite, Lee Patterson and Hugh McDermott. 

Signs (2002)

A minister (Mel Gibson) who has lost his faith lives on his farm with his brother (Joaquin Phoenix), son (Rory Culkin) and daughter (Abigail Breslin). When he discovers mysterious crop circles in their field, he at first think it's a prank by some local kids but it isn't long before he discovers the truth. The crop circles are a sort of beacon for a hostile extraterrestrial invasion! For awhile, director M. Night Shyamalan made some decent movies until he stumbled with the dreadful LADY IN THE WATER and he's never recovered since. SIGNS may be his best film but even so, its screenplay is a mess. The script is so heavily burdened with religious elements that if you told me the film was financed by some Christian group, I'd believe you! The movie is at its worst during the domestic scenes with the cringe inducing dialogue and sentimental treacle. On the plus side, Shyamalan knows what he's doing when whipping up an intense atmosphere of dread and taking a cue from Val Lewton, he's careful not to show us the aliens knowing that anticipation is half the enjoyment in a scary movie. The suspense builds up to a taut level which are relieved by a few jump moments. That compensates for the weaker parts of the film. With Cherry Jones and Patricia Kalember.