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Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Heidi Chronicles (1995)

Beginning in 1965, the film follows a young woman (Jamie Lee Curtis) from high school to a career as an acclaimed art historian in the mid-90s through America's changing landscape from Vietnam to feminism to AIDS, etc. Wendy Wasserstein adapted her Tony award winning play for the small screen (it debuted on Turner Network Television). I haven't seen Wasserstein's acclaimed 1989 play so I must come to the conclusion that it worked better on stage or that perhaps time hasn't been kind to it. Wasserstein's dialogue wants to be profound when it comes across as trite and one wishes Woody Allen would come along and rewrite it and skewer her characters rather than treat them as if as if they were icons of the boomer generation. I couldn't help but scratch my head at Heidi's (Curtis) affectionate attachment to the narcissistic character played by the charmless and uncharismatic Peter Friedman. Curtis tries and with a few exceptions (the speech at a woman's luncheon), she can't bring Heidi to life. Directed by Paul Bogart. With Tom Hulce (who won an Emmy for his performance), Kim Cattrall, Sharon Lawrence, Shari Belafonte and Roma Maffia.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Phone Call From A Stranger (1952)

Four strangers board a plane and become friendly very quickly: a stripper (Shelley Winters), a doctor (Michael Rennie), a traveling salesman (Keenan Wynn) and a lawyer (Gary Merrill). But when the plane crashes, only the lawyer survives. He takes on the mission of visiting the family of the three others and discovers their backstories. A decent melodrama that takes a page out of GRAND HOTEL and ably directed by Jean Negulesco who would soon add CinemaScope and Technicolor to his melodramas and become 20th Century Fox's "go to" man for this sort of thing. The screenplay by Nunnally Johnson is decent (though its best screenplay win at the Venice film festival is dubious) although the handling of the sequence where Merrill visits Winters' husband (Craig Stevens) and mother in law (Evelyn Varden) borders on silliness and poor taste. There's a good score by Franz Waxman. It's polished and overly plotted but not without entertainment value. With Bette Davis, Beatrice Straight (in her film debut), George Nader, Warren Stevens, Hugh Beaumont and Helen Westcott.

Celine et Julie Vont En Bateau (aka Celine And Julie Go Boating) (1974)

A young woman (Dominique Labourier) is sitting on a park bench when she spots a woman (Juliet Berto) walking at a frantic pace while slowly dropping articles from her person. She follows the stranger and like Alice following the White Rabbit down the hole soon finds herself in a parallel Wonderland. Jacques Rivette's 3 hours plus film may seem at times an incomprehensible fantasy but if you stick with it, you'll be rewarded with a rich surrealistic adventure. Don't attempt to place restrictive narrative principles on it but just go with it. The movie lends itself to a variety of interpretations (if you must) and magic, felines, wordplay, death, childhood memory, interactive imaginations etc. are only a part of many thematic weapons one could use to try and project "meaning" onto the film. The first half of the film is dominated by Labourier and Berto while the second half of the film focuses on the mysterious mansion where two women (Bulle Ogier, Marie France Pisier) attempt to seduce a widower (Barbet Schroeder) while a child's (Nathalie Asnar) life hangs in the balance.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Full Of Life (1956)

A writer (Richard Conte) and his wife (Judy Holliday) are expecting their first baby. When a home repair becomes is too expensive for their budget, they ask his father (Salvatore Baccaloni), an old school Italian, for help. But clashes over family values and religious tradition make for turmoil. For the first hour, this is a rather sweet good natured comedy before stumbling in the final half hour. As directed by Richard Quine (STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET), the film manages to avoid falling into sitcom traps and brings often provocative issues to the foreground. Holliday is an expert as this kind of thing and while one doesn't think Richard Conte when the subject of comedy comes up, he holds his own. But the film belongs to Baccaloni, who is somehow able to make the often meddlesome and single minded father quite likable. I stand to be corrected but this is the first time I can recall seeing a pregnant woman look pregnant in a film of this era. That aside, it was amusing (or not) to see the pregnant Holliday drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Oh, those 1950s! With Joe De Santis, Esther Minciotti and Eleanor Audley.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stagecoach (1939)

A disparate group of strangers travel by stagecoach from Arizona to New Mexico: a prostitute (Claire Trevor), a drunken doctor (Thomas Mitchell), a gambler (John Carradine), a whiskey salesman (Donald Meek), a pregnant woman (Louise Platt), a bank manager (Berton Churchill) absconding with funds, an outlaw (John Wayne) and two drivers (George Bancroft, Andy Devine). But first they have to go through hostile Apache territory to get there. Based on the short story STAGE TO LORDSBURG by Ernest Haycox, this is one of the most admired and revered films in American cinema. It's the prototype for those "people in peril" films that would eventually gestate into the disaster films of the 1970s. However, unlike those films, since there is no disaster, there is more room for detailed characterization and John Ford's direction is impeccable (Orson Welles thought it the perfect film). The film was a breakthrough for Wayne who had been toiling in films since the silent era and would soon become one of cinema's most iconic stars. Rich and textured, it's truly a landmark film. With Tim Holt and Chris-Pin Martin.

Tightrope (1984)

A New Orleans police detective (Clint Eastwood) is tracking down a serial killer who is murdering sex workers. But slowly the detective comes to realize there's an uncomfortable connection between him and the killer. Written and directed by Richard Tuggle, although reputedly Eastwood took over the direction of the movie quite early in the filming. The narrative which links the detective and the killer and suggests a correlation between the law enforcers and criminals is strong enough to carry the movie which is good since the dialog is simply awful. Eastwood, the actor, is quite good here and his relationship with Genevieve Bujold (who runs a rape crisis center) is well played out. There's a definite sexual attraction but no actual love scenes which is much more interesting. Still, the film isn't without the usual stupid cliches associated with thrillers. Example: a woman opens the door and sees the apartment trashed. Not only does she not turn around and call the police, she goes in and doesn't even turn on the lights! With Dan Hedaya and Alison Eastwood. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Shock (1946)

While waiting for her husband (Frank Latimore) to return home after being a prisoner of war during WWII, a young woman (Anabel Shaw) witnesses a man (Vincent Price) murdering his wife and goes into shock. When a doctor is brought in to treat her ... it's the man she saw murder his wife! This second tier "B" film noir is directed by Alfred L. Werker (HE WALKED BY NIGHT). It's a low budget programmer to be sure and outside of Price and Lynn Bari as his mistress, the acting is subpar. But it's tight and economical at an hour and 10 minutes running time. On the plus side, Werker keeps the mood suitably forceful (including a nice storm sequence) and the atmospheric lensing by Joseph MacDonald and Glen MacWilliams is full of noir shading and shadows. Not essential viewing but for the noir enthusiast it's worth checking out. With Steve Dunne and Reed Hadley.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Scorpio (1973)

A CIA agent (Burt Lancaster) is marked for death by his own boss (John Colicos). The hired assassin (Alain Delon) is a former protege of the CIA agent. A cat and mouse game begins that bounces back between the U.S. and Europe as the two men chase, hunt and trick each other until finally there isn't anywhere to run or hide. Ah, the paranoid 1970s where the government was our enemy and movies like THE PARALLAX VIEW, THE CONVERSATION, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN etc. proliferated. Of course, the paranoia was mostly justified and made for some entertaining thrillers. This cynical nihilist conspiracy thriller may be director Michael Winner's best film. It's not as lean as it should have been, this isn't necessarily a film where you want or need character development. For example, there's a tiresome extraneous scene where Lancaster and Paul Scofield as a Russian agent get drunk. It's totally superfluous and does nothing to advance the story, it just slows it down. I felt the same about Gayle Hunnicutt who plays Delon's girlfriend but at least there's a payoff as far as her character is concerned. But if you're a fan of these 70s conspiracy thrillers, there's every chance you'll like it. One wonders if Delon's feline loving assassin is a homage to Alan Ladd's cat loving hitman in THIS GUN FOR HIRE. With J.D. Cannon, Joanne Linville, James Sikking, William Smithers and Vladek Sheybal.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Texas Carnival (1951)

A down and out carnival sideshow team (Esther Williams, Red Skelton) are mistaken for a wealthy Texas millionaire (Keenan Wynn) and his sister (Paula Raymond) at a swank resort hotel. Before they even know it they've spent over $17,000 of the millionaire's money but things get even more complicated when the millionaire shows up at the hotel. This piffle of a musical comedy is weak in all areas. The songs are a dreadful lot and so forgettable that I already can't remember a single one of them. Skelton is fine when he's in character but when he does his physical comedy schtick, he's intolerable. Chaplin he's not. And Esther Williams gets only one swimming number but she's not even in a pool, she's swimming around Howard Keel's hotel room in a dream sequence! Only the underused effervescent Ann Miller adds some much needed spark to the film but there's not enough of her to keep the movie afloat. Still, the movie was a money maker for MGM, go figure! Directed by Charles Walters. With Hans Conreid and Glenn Strange.

And Then There Were None (2015)

Eight strangers are invited to a secluded island. Most as guests but some as paid employees. They are greeted by a butler and his wife who acts as maid but no host. All of them are then accused of crimes they have gotten away with but when they start getting killed off one by one, the question arises ..... is there a murderer hiding in the mansion or is the killer one of them? Agatha Christie's classic novel has been filmed many times, perhaps the most famous is the 1945 Rene Clair film version. It's one of her 4 or 5 best novels. The screenwriter Sarah Phelps (wisely retaining the 1939 period) has done an amazing job of adapting it by going with the darkness of the Christie source material and running with it and making it even darker. At a 3 hour running time (it was done for British television), we get a methodical and leisurely but still intense murder mystery. My only minor complaints are the addition of profanity, sex scenes and cocaine parties. Not that I disapprove of them on moral purposes but they're so alien to the Christie universe and I seriously doubt she would have approved. Directed by Craig Viveiros. The excellent ensemble are Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill, Toby Stephens, Noah Taylor, Aidan Turner, Maeve Dermody, Burn Gorman, Douglas Booth and Anna Maxwell Martin.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Flaming Star (1960)

When hostilities arise between Kiowa Indians and white settlers, a bi-racial family is caught right in the middle: a Caucasian rancher (John McIntire) and his son (Steve Forrest) from a previous marriage, his Kiowa wife (Dolores Del Rio) and their son (Elvis Presley). The bi-racial son in particular is torn between his two worlds and belonging to neither but that will soon change. This Don Siegel directed western is still one of the most undervalued westerns to date. I suppose it's the taint of Elvis in the movie that keeps it from its rightful place among the best westerns but this isn't an Elvis movie and he's excellent in it in his very best performance. Aside from the over the credits title song, he only sings one song within the movie, a ditty at a birthday party. The emphasis is on acting, not his music. At its core, it's a movie about family loyalties withstanding hate from both sides. By the time of its bleak conclusion, there are no heroes and no winners. Based on the novel by Clair Huffaker, who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Nunnally Johnson. A must see for western fans. With Barbara Eden, Richard Jaeckel, Douglas Dick, Rodolfo Acosta and Virginia Christine.

The Life Before Her Eyes (2008)

An art professor (Uma Thurman) at a university has never gotten over the traumatic experience of surviving a mass Columbine like shooting when she was in high school. It seriously affects both her relationship with her husband (Brett Cullen) and young daughter (Gabrielle Brennan). The narrative jumps back and forth between her present life and her teen life (where she's played by Evan Rachel Wood) when she was a wild child just before the shootings. Vadim Perelman's powerful HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG was one of my favorite films of 2004 so I was excited about his follow up film LIFE BEFORE HER EYES. I was disappointed as it seemed Perelman had too much on his cinematic plate. Not only was there the jumping back and forth in time but other issues like an abortion, infidelity and a willful daughter that reflects her own past. Upon this second viewing some 8 years later, things are clarified and seemed clearer and I appreciate it much more though it's still a flawed movie but at least I "get it" now. Sadly, the talented Perelman has yet to direct another feature film. With Oscar Isaac, Jack Gilpin and Eva Amurri as Wood's wholesome Christian best friend.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Americano (1955)

A rancher (Glenn Ford) travels to Brazil to deliver a valuable cargo of Brahma bulls to a Brazilian rancher only to find he has been murdered. But before he can return home, he finds himself caught up in a war between a rapacious land grabber (Frank Lovejoy) and a woman rancher (Ursula Thiess) trying to keep her land from being taken over. Glenn Ford was quite the busy thespian in 1955. THE AMERICANO was one of five movies he had released in 1955 but unlike the other four which were "A" list MGM productions, this was a "B" programmer distributed by RKO. Its director William Castle would go on in a few years to acquire a reputation as a horror director with films like HOMICIDAL and STRAIT JACKET. As for the film itself, it's a serviceable fish out of water western that goes through its predictable paces with some exotic touches like man eating piranhas, jungle pythons and Abbe Lane stopping the movie cold to sing and bump and grind, her number supervised by then husband Xavier Cugat. But even for a "B" movie, the ending feels slipshod. With Cesar Romero, who steals the movie as a cigar loving bandit. 

Testament (1983)

A typical American family consisting of father (William Devane), mother (Jane Alexander), two sons (Rossie Harris, Lukas Haas) and a daughter (Roxanna Zal) in a small middle class suburban Northern California town live out their lives without any major drama. Until one day, a nuclear explosion (one of several) occurs. Based on the short story THE LAST TESTAMENT by Carol Amen and directed by Lynne Littman, this was originally intended for public television but Paramount opted to show it theatrically first. The mundane simplicity with which it begins is a stratagem that pays off very quickly as the film is a devastating portrait of ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances. The film contains no special effects and the actual cause of the nuclear detonation is never given to us. It's about how humanity can rise above the horror and persist at the most impossible odds. Jane Alexander gives a powerhouse performance and was justifiably Oscar nominated for best actress anchors the film like a magnet. With Kevin Costner, Rebecca De Mornay, Mako, Leon Ames, Lilia Skala, Lurene Tuttle and Philip Anglim. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Shurayukihime (aka Lady Snowblood) (1973)

A young girl (Mayumi Maemura as a child, Meiko Kaji as an adult) is trained as a sword wielding assassin to avenge her dead mother's (Miyoko Akaza) torture and rape. There are three men (Eiji Okada, Noboru Nakaya, Takeo Chii) and a woman (Sanae Nakahara) who were responsible that she must track down and kill. This low budget revenge action movie directed by Toshiya Fujita has a cult following and was a direct inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL epic including the over the top bloodletting. It's assets are the stunning wide screen imagery of Masaki Tamura and some excellent choreographed swordplay. It may not be Art but there's a beauty and elegance in the pulp that transcends its exploitation roots. Successful enough that it spawned a sequel, LADY SNOWBLOOD: SONG OF VENGEANCE, which I've not seen but hope to get to soon.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rope (1948)

Two intellectually minded young men (John Dall, Farley Granger) strangle a friend (Dick Hogan) as an experiment to see if they can get away with murder. They feel they are "superior" beings and thus exempt from the societal taboos of ordinary men. They hide the body in a chest and then throw a party for the dead boy's friends and relatives serving a buffet on the chest hiding his body. Based on the 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton (GASLIGHT) which was inspired by the 1924 Leopold & Loeb murder of a 14 year old boy. ROPE is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most audacious films on both a technical and thematic level. The film takes place in "real time" and in one long continuous take without any obvious cuts but, of course, there were cuts which Hitchcock disguised by panning past a dark exterior like someone's back. The film all takes place on a single set but it never feels like a filmed play as the camera glides through the characters and crannies of the Manhattan apartment. The intense film is not without humor as when Joan Chandler and Constance Collier try to remember the name of Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS. The homosexual angle is so blatant that one has wonder how Hitchcock got away with it in 1948. With James Stewart, Cedric Hardwicke, Douglas Dick and Edith Evanson.

The Son-Daughter (1932)

As the 1911 Xinhai Revolution rages in China, in San Francisco, patriotic Chinese immigrants raise money to smuggle arms into the Homeland. All this serves as a backdrop to the romance of a Chinese student (Ramon Novarro) and the daughter (Helen Hayes) of a revered Chinese doctor (Lewis Stone). Based on a 1919 play by George Scarborough and David Belasco that does very little to hide its proscenium roots. The director Clarence Brown (NATIONAL VELVET) does what he can with the material but even in 1932, it seems antiquated. The political stuff is interesting but the romantic elements are musty. It doesn't help that all the Chinese (except for the background actors) are played by Caucasian actors. None of them remotely believable as Asian. Novarro gets off the easiest because there's such a sweetness about him that he wins you over. Hayes' emoting is too artificial but in her last scenes, when she drops the Cio-Cio-san act and turns into a raging  fireball, she's quite good. With Warner Oland, Lewis Stone, Ralph Morgan, Louise Closser Hale and H.B. Warner.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Immortal Story (1968)

In 19th century Macao, a wealthy dying merchant (Orson Welles) discovers a story he once heard to be not true. Before he dies, he is determined to make the story come true. To this end, his assistant (Roger Coggio) hires a woman (Jeanne Moreau) and a sailor (Norman Eshley) to act out the story and validate it. Based on a short story by Isak Dinesen (OUT OF AFRICA). In addition to starring in it, Welles also directed and wrote the screenplay. It was originally made for French television but released (barely) theatrically everywhere else. Madrid stands in for Macao but you'd never know it from Willy Kurant's (MASCULIN FEMININ) savory cinematography which gives it an air of authenticity. Running just under an hour, the film plays out like a good short story aided by Welles' narration and he was wise not to pad it out to feature length. Welles brings his usual gravitas to the old merchant and Moreau brings her star presence. Coggio is also good and only Eshley comes across as an amateur. Welles makes excellent use of Erik Satie's music. With Fernando Rey. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Eddy Duchin Story (1956)

A young pianist (Tyrone Power) from Boston arrives in 1920s New York with aspirations of joining a big band. His dreams comes true and though he will become famous, his future will be clouded with tragedy. I doubt many people remember Eddy Duchin today but he was a popular pianist and bandleader in the 1930s and 40s who died of leukemia at the age of 41. When cast in the film, Tyrone Power was already 41 so it's rather embarrassing to see the 41 year old Power acting all boyish and naive during the beginning of the film when he supposed to be in his early 20s. And frankly, Duchin's life while sad isn't all that interesting. Novak is drop dead gorgeous in her Jean Louis gowns but she's terrible when she tries to "act". The movie was hugely popular in its day and one of the highest grossing films of 1956 and the soundtrack album was a best seller. Today, what makes if watchable is the glamour of the settings, the lush CinemaScope photography and the movie star presence of Power and Novak however awful their performances are. In fact, I wouldn't recommend the film except to Power and Novak fans. Directed stolidly by George Sidney. With Victoria Shaw, James Whitmore, Rex Thompson, Frieda Inescort, Shepperd Strudwick, Larry Keating and Gloria Holden. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Shock Treatment (1964)

When a mentally unbalanced gardener (Roddy McDowall) murders his wealthy employer (Beatrice Grenough), he is declared insane and sent to a mental institution. But her nearest relative (Judson Laire) believes the gardener is faking madness and has, in fact, hidden her millions. To prove this, he hires an actor (Stuart Whitman) to fake insanity in order to be committed and get the information from the gardener. Based on the novel by Winfred Van Atta, this movie had the misfortune to follow the similar but far superior Samuel Fuller film SHOCK CORRIDOR by a year. But even if CORRIDOR never existed, this poorly written thriller would never have amounted to much other than a guilty pleasure. The film is devoid of artistry and outside of Jerry Goldsmith's strong underscore, it has all the elements of a "B" movie programmer. The actors can't do much and Lauren Bacall as an unethical doctor is pretty bad here. Only Carol Lynley manages to bring a bit of depth to her cliche ridden schizophrenic. Directed by Denis Sanders. With Ossie Davis, Olive Deering and Robert J. Wilke.

Ohayo (aka Good Morning) (1959)

Set in the outskirts of Tokyo, when their parents (Chishu Ryu, Kuniko Miyake) refuse to buy them a television, two boys (Shitara Koji, Masahiko Shimazu) refuse to talk or eat. A very loose remake of his own 1932 silent film I WAS BORN BUT..., director Yasujiro Ozu turns his eye to a more contemporary westernized Japan. His theme here is communication, both the lack of it and the dancing around it as well as how misunderstanding and gossip cause unnecessary problems. It's a winsome tidbit of a movie that benefits from an engaging cast and a twinkle in Ozu's eye. The obstinance and willfulness of the two children wouldn't have been tolerated in the pre-war Japan but the western contamination (i.e. TV) gives them a determination that surprises even their parents. Some of the humor doesn't hold up too well or maybe it's just me but fart jokes, even if provided by the great Ozu, grow monotonous very quickly. With Haruko Sugimura and Eijiro Tono.

The Jungle Book (2016)

A young orphan boy (Neel Sethi), referred to as a "man-cub", has been brought up by wolves in the jungles of India. But when the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) demands the boy be turned over to him, the panther (Ben Kingsley) who found him feels it is best if the boy return to civilization to be with his own kind. A live action version of the 1967 Disney animated classic incorporating computer generated images for both the jungle landscape and the myriad of animals in the narrative. Normally, I find CGI tiresome and artificial but in this case, it works beautifully. It creates a stunning other world full of awe and magic, realism isn't wanted or needed here. The director Jon Favreau (IRON MAN) does a splendid job of balancing excitement, pathos and humor that works across generational boundaries. It doesn't matter what your age, this is the kind of movie that will pull you in. The voice actors are superb although I quickly got tired of Billy Murray's comedic relief as a bear, perhaps too much of a good thing. Also, the film seemed overly dark at times (visually, not the content) but that's just nitpicking. The hearty underscore is by John Debney. With Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyong'o, Garry Shandling and Giancarlo Esposito.   

Friday, April 15, 2016

Curtain Call (1998)

A book publisher (James Spader) moves into a posh Manhattan townhouse. But there's a problem. The long deceased former residents, a married acting couple (Michael Caine, Maggie Smith), still reside there. Essentially an updated version of TOPPER with Spader in the Topper role and Caine and Smith as the ghosts but whereas TOPPER sparkled, CURTAIN CALL can't quite get any juice going. The main problem is the derivative script by Todd Alcott which even Caine and Smith can't breathe life into but Spader lacks the necessary comedic chops for this kind of role. An often strong dramatic actor, charm has never been Spader's strong suit and this is the kind of thing a young Hugh Grant or Tom Hanks could have done effortlessly. It's one of those films that one can't call good but you can't call it bad either so mediocre pretty much sums it up. Directed by Peter Yates (BULLITT), his last theatrical feature. With Marcia Gay Harden, Sam Shepard, Valerie Perrine, Buck Henry, Frances Sternhagen, Polly Walker and Julianne Nicholson.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Providence (1977)

During a long long night, a dying writer (John Gielgud) in great pain from cancer uses his family as characters in his new novel: his son (Dirk Bogarde), daughter in law (Ellen Burstyn), illegitimate son (David Warner), even his deceased wife (Elaine Stritch). Directed by Alain Resnais (LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD) from an original screenplay by David Mercer. Although the film is very dark, it's also quite witty. The exploration of the creative process while peppered with such other themes as death, moral codes and familial bonds provides a stimulating  film in both content and style (of which there is a lot of). There's often an artifice to both the brittle dialogue and the sets which are both real and stage bound. The film is anchored by a powerhouse of a performance by John Gielgud in what is possibly his best film role. I appreciate the efforts of the rest of the cast because Mercer's dialogue is almost impossible to deliver naturally (this is not a complaint). It's narrative structure is often splintered so to attempt to follow it logically is futile. Kudos to Ricardo Aronovich's precise lensing and to Miklos Rozsa's killer underscore. American critics were hostile during the original film release but it did much better in Europe where it won 7 Caesars (the French Oscar). With Tanya Lopert, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Cyril Luckham.  

Smooth Talk (1985)

During summer vacation between her freshman and sophomore years, a teenage girl (Laura Dern) is going through a sexual awakening while continually at odds with her mother (Mary Kay Place) who doesn't understand her. But a mysterious stranger (Treat Williams) may be the catalyst to growing up. Loosely based on the Joyce Carol Oates short story WHERE ARE YOU GOING? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?, director Joyce Chopra uses Oates' dark allegory as a look at a contemporary (Oates' story takes places in the 1960s) teen girls growing up and alienated from their parents while exploring their budding sexuality. But the film's last half hour owes a lot to Oates' literary conceit which clashes with the "realism" of what preceded it in the film. It's jarring and takes a leap of faith to make it work within the overall context of the movie. Nevertheless, it remains a compelling if uneven piece of cinema. Dern is wonderful as she captures every nuance of the confused rebellious teen and Williams makes for a highly effective and sinister menace. With Levon Helm, Elizabeth Berridge, William Ragsdale and Margaret Welsh.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Affairs Of Susan (1945)

A man (Walter Abel) proposes to an actress (Joan Fontaine) that he's only known for five weeks. Although she insists he knows very little about her, she accepts. However, when the fiance asks her ex-husband (George Brent) and two ex-boyfriends (Don DeFore, Dennis O'Keefe) over for cocktails to find out more about her, he gets more than he bargained for. Directed by William A. Seiter, this is a rather innocuous comedy that gives Fontaine an opportunity to essentially play four different characters in one movie. The way that that her three exes see her and her "true" self. While not exactly one of the screen's most notable comediennes, she's up to the challenge and mangaes to get by ... just. Actually, the best performance in the film comes from George Brent. Normally the dullest of leading men, comedy seems to give him a needed kick in the pants and his double takes and line readings are pretty good. Still, the film's Oscar nomination for its screenplay does seem a bit much. With Rita Johnson and Mary Field. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Loving (1970)

A commercial illustrator (George Segal) lives in the Connecticut suburbs with a wife (Eva Marie Saint) and two small daughters. His career is going well, not great, but well. But it's clear he hates his job and his life, he's a womanizer and drinks too much. How long before he self destructs? Based on the novel BROOKS WILSON LTD by J.M. Ryan (a pseudonym for John McDermott), this still under seen jewel is one of the best films of the 1970s. As directed by Irvin Kershner (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), this is an incisive (but not without humor) look at a middle class "artist" whose drinking and womanizing is a form of denial. That he isn't an artist but just mediocre and he hates himself for it. Segal was a fertile actor duing this period doing the best work of his career in movies like BORN TO WIN, OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT and this film. As the wife, Saint grabs a role that in the hands of a lesser actress would be an uninteresting stereotype and floods it with intelligence and emotion. There's a world of experience playing out on that face. Luckily, Kershner doesn't condescend to his characters, we don't feel superior to them and perhaps we even see our own lives reflected. With Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Roy Scheider, David Doyle, Janis Young, Diana Douglas, Nancie Phillips, Edgar Stehli, Betsy Von Furstenberg and Sherry Lansing, who would go on to become CEO of Paramount pictures and president at 20th Century Fox!

Monday, April 11, 2016

80,000 Suspects (1963)

A doctor (Richard Johnson) on staff at a hospital and his nurse wife (Claire Bloom) approach a marital crisis. But their problems must be put aside when a major smallpox epidemic breaks out. Based on the novel PILLARS OF MIDNIGHT by Trevor Dudley Smith and written and directed by Val Guest. The film blends two genres and the mix isn't always a smooth fit. One is a domestic melodrama concerning marriage, trust, communication and infidelity, the other is a medical thriller as the original disease carrier is tracked down, tracking all his contacts and giving the vaccine to the general population. Not surprisingly, the film works best at the almost documentary like medical and police sequences. The relationship sequences aren't as bad as they could have been but they seem almost trivial when placed against the bigger picture. It's always a treat to see the wonderful Claire Bloom and she as well as Richard Johnson, Yolande Donlan and Michael Goodliffe bring some nice shading to the marital portions. With Kay Walsh and Cyril Cusack. 

Rebecca (1962)

A demure young girl (Joan Hackett) working as a paid companion is swept off her feet by an older aristocrat (James Mason). They marry quickly and he takes her to the family estate called Manderley. She finds herself intimidated by both the place and the head of the household, Mrs. Danvers (Nina Foch) but most importantly, by the unspoken presence of Rebecca, the deceased first wife who died tragically. In the 1950s and early 60s, it was common for anthology series to often have hour long versions of well known films. This version was performed live and the sense of immediacy that live television gives is in its favor. On the downside, by cramming a 2 hour film into a one hour time slot requires that a lot be left out so it seems more like highlights from REBECCA than a fully played out version. It affects the actors too as the dialogue seems rushed as if the actors realized they had to get the whole thing done in an hour. It's a pity it wasn't given a full 2 hours because the three leads are perfectly cast. The 1940 film formed the basis of the teleplay so the actual circumstances of Rebecca's death aren't taken from the Daphne Du Maurier novel. Directed by Boris Sagal. With Lloyd Bochner and Murray Matheson.

Goin' To Town (1935)

After she inherits millions, a former saloon singer (Mae West) attempts to break into high society after she falls for a titled Englishman (Paul Cavanagh). Not one of La West's better vehicles but entertaining enough. By 1935, the motion picture production code was gutting the sexual entendres and suggestions of her first films, the ones that made her a box office star. A watered down Mae West doesn't do either her or the audience a favor. Still, she manages to get a few Westian zingers in: West: "For a long time I was ashamed of the way I lived", Man: "You mean you reformed?", West: "No, I got over being ashamed". The highlight of the film is a production of Saint-Saens' opera SAMSON ET DALILA with West singing Delilah! Directed by Alexander Hall (MY SISTER EILEEN). With Gilbert Emery, Marjorie Gateson and Ivan Lebedeff.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Scarlet Angel (1952)

Hiding out from the law, a New Orleans saloon girl (Yvonne De Carlo) is taking care of a very ill Civil War widow (Bodil Miller) and her baby. When the widow suddenly dies, she takes the baby and moves to San Francisco where she passes herself off to the wealthy society family as the widow of their slain son. But how long can she keep the ruse up when her new found cousin (Amanda Blake, TV's GUNSMOKE) is suspicious and then a face from her past, a sea Captain (Rock Hudson) unexpectedly shows up. This formulaic Technicolor potboiler is exceptionally entertaining. One knows exactly where it's going and where it will end up especially if you listen carefully early in the film when a big clue is given. But it's foolish fun and the cinematographer Russell Metty provides lots of lushness. I could have done without the two barroom brawls when even the first one was overkill. Directed by Sidney Salkow. With Richard Denning, Henry Brandon and Dabbs Greer.

The Boss (2016)

After getting out of prison for insider trading, a self made financial wizard (Melissa McCarthy) finds her empire and assets sold off by the government. Since she screwed so many people over, she's a pariah so she's forced to move in with her former assistant (the appealing Kristen Bell) and her daughter (Ella Anderson). McCarthy has talent to burn to be sure but I sure wish she chose better vehicles. This one is fun for about the first third or so before jumping the shark and sinking into a morass of sentimental twaddle and dumb action. McCarthy proved in the little seen ST. VINCENT that she can play something else besides loud, uncouth broads. Here, as usual, she just steamrolls over everybody in her path. Kathy Bates has about five minutes of screen time as McCarthy's mentor but in those few minutes she manages to show everybody up including McCarthy. Directed by Ben Falcone. With Peter Dinklage,  Margo Martindale, Tyler Labine, Gayle King and Cecily Strong.

Blue Denim (1959)

A sexually inexperienced teenage boy (Brandon De Wilde) and girl (Carol Lynley) find themselves in "trouble" as they said in the 1950s. But abortion was still illegal in 1959 and the grown ups aren't listening to their children. Based on a play by James Leo Herlihy (MIDNIGHT COWBOY) and William Noble with Lynley recreating her stage role, the film is steeped in 1950s morality and attitudes. The production code was still influential in Hollywood at the time which necessitated a rewrite of the play's original more realistic ending. The boy's mother (Marsha Hunt) is a real Stepford wife who chastises her daughter (Nina Shipman) for not lighting her father's (Macdonald Carey) pipe! In the film's favor, the teenagers actually look like teenagers, both Lynley and De Wilde were 17 at the time of filming. Despite the film's 50s morality, it does show the disadvantages of "back alley" abortions. The one thing that bothered me most is that none of the seemingly intelligent characters thinks of the obvious solution: having the baby and giving it up for adoption to a good home! A Bernard Herrmann underscore adds some depth to the film. With Warren Berlinger, Vaughn Taylor, Roberta Shore, William Schallert and Jenny Maxwell.   

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sliding Doors (1998)

Set in London, a young woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) is fired from her public relations job. As she heads home, she just misses her tube train when the doors close on her. But in a parallel universe, she makes the train on time. But those sliding doors will significantly change her life in both universes but for different reasons. This romantic dramedy benefits from Peter Howitt's (who also directed) clever screenplay and a charming performance by Paltrow. There are those who can call the premise a gimmick and I suppose it is but it transcends gimmickry in its appeal and grace. And it's nice to see a "gimmick" not take itself so seriously as something like MEMENTO which isn't any more profound than SLIDING DOORS, just more heavy handed. It's a pity a more charismatic actor than John Lynch wasn't cast as the cheating boyfriend, one can't help but wonder what Paltrow or Jeanne Tripplehorn see in him. But there's a nice chemistry between Paltrow and John Hannah. With Virginia McKenna, Zara Turner and Douglas McFerran.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Broadway: The Golden Age, By The Legends Who Were There (2003)

The Golden Age of the Broadway theater is usually considered the post WWII period through the 1960s. Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, William Inge and Edward Albee were in their prime. The Actors Studio was turning out actors like Brando, Kim Stanley, Paul Newman and Geraldine Page. Theater was affordable and not elitist and every actor dreamed of going to Broadway to act on the stage, not Hollywood. Then somewhere along the way in the late 60s and early 70s, things changed. This spellbinding documentary by Rick McKay is de rigeur for anyone remotely interested in the American theater. McKay has amassed an astounding group of actors who lived and worked on the Broadway stage during this period and give an oral history of what it was like to be in the theater during that era. It's funny, fascinating and poignant and you want it to go on forever. This is pure magic, great stuff. The list of interviewees is too massive to list all of them but it includes (in alphabetical order) Elizabeth Ashley, Alec Baldwin, Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, Barbara Cook, Hume Cronyn, Arlene Dahl, Charles Durning, Nanette Fabray, Ben Gazzara, Farley Granger, Tammy Grimes, Uta Hagen, Julie Harris, June Havoc, Celeste Holm, Kim Hunter, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Martin Landau, Frank Langella, Angela Lansbury, Carol Lawrence, Michele Lee, Shirley MacLaine, Karl Malden, Ann Miller, Robert Morse, Patricia Neal, Phyllis Newman, Janis Paige, Jane Powell, John Raitt, Diana Rigg, Chita Rivera, Gena Rowlands, Eva Marie Saint, Stephen Sondheim, Maureen Stapleton, Elaine Stritch, Gwen Verdon, Eli Wallach and Fay Wray.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

No Time At All (1958)

An airplane with passengers and cargo leaves Miami on its way to New York. But suddenly it disappears without a trace. It may sound like a "disaster" film but we never see the crew or the passengers. The focus of the film is on a various group of characters on the ground who are affected in some way by the airline's fate: among them a nightclub singer (Jane Greer) and her agent (Jack Haley), a boxer (Charles Bronson) and his manager (Jay C. Flippen), an opportunistic reporter (William Lundigan), the airline's owner (Keenan Wynn), a couple (Sylvia Sidney, Chico Marx) whose daughter is on the plane and the pilot's girlfriend (Betsy Palmer). It's well done and fairly gripping though it shows its age in the way we are supposed to perceive certain characters. For instance, Lundigan's reporter is our "hero" yet he takes information given to him in confidence and uses it to get a headline story. He later demands the passenger list (forget about such things as privacy) from an airline executive ... and gets it! Directed by David Swift (THE PARENT TRAP). With Buster Keaton, James Gleason, Mary Beth Hughes, Shepperd Strudwick and Richard Crane.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sweet Liberty (1986)

A history professor (Alan Alda) at a North Carolina university has written a best selling non-fiction book on the Revolutionary War. A film company arrives in town to make a movie out of his book. But reading the screenplay only to find out that it doesn't resemble his book in the least is just the start of this Hollywood takes over a small town tale. Alda also wrote and directed the film and the domestic scenes with his girlfriend (Lise Hilboldt) are the most trite scenes in the movie. The film is most fun when dealing with the rather arrogant film company since for the most part, they are the most interesting characters: the womanizing leading man (Michael Caine), the driven method actress (Michelle Pfeiffer), the high strung screenwriter (Bob Hoskins) and the film's pompous director (Saul Rubinek). It's an amiable if forgettable film that could have used more bite but it's entertaining enough while watching it. With Lillian Gish, Lois Chiles (the best of the non-film characters), Linda Thorson, John C. McGinley and Lynne Thigpen.

Run Of The Arrow (1957)

At the end of the war between the states, a bitter Confederate (Rod Steiger) refuses to accept defeat and heads out West which is still not part of the Union. His hatred for the U.S. causes him to join the Sioux tribe and he vows to fight the white man as a true Sioux. But can he ever truly renounce the "tribe" he came from? Produced, written and directed by Samuel Fuller and one of his strongest films. A tough and brutal western, it's one of the most provocative and thought provoking oaters of the 1950s. Made in 1957 at the height of civil rights violations in the South, one can't help but think that Fuller was addressing the South's resistance to change as represented by Steiger's character. The film was obviously a huge influence in Costner's inferior DANCES WITH WOLVES but Fuller's film seems less manipulative and unsentimental. It's one of Steiger's best performances but with one exception, the entire cast is very good. The one exception is Ralph Meeker who overplays his Indian hating cavalry Lieutenant. Sarita Montiel is dubbed by Angie Dickinson, whose speaking voice is unmistakable. With Brian Keith, Charles Bronson, Frank DeKova, Olive Carey and Jay C. Flippen.

Un Flic (1972)

A burned out police detective (Alain Delon) is friends with a nightclub owner (Richard Crenna), who is also a master thief. When a bank robbery on the French seacoast occurs, it will eventually lead to a final confrontation between the two friends. There is also a woman (Catherine Deneuve) that stands between them. The final film of the great director Jean Pierre Melville is a chilly dispassionate exercise in style. Delon's police detective is cold and unlikable so our (or at least my) empathy is with the bad guys. Crenna's master criminal and his crew (Michael Conrad and Riccardo Cucciolla among them) are much more sympathetic. Perhaps that's Melville's point, that police work inevitably wears down one's humanity. Deneuve is underused, she's merely "the girl" so I assume she took the thankless part just for the chance to work with Melville. The film is all in blues, grays and silvers and Walter Wottitz's (an Oscar winner for THE LONGEST DAY) cinematography is gorgeous. In particular, the opening bank heist which takes place in a stormy beach town. With Jean Desailly (Truffaut's THE SOFT SKIN) as a homosexual robbed by a hustler and Valerie Wilson as a transvestite who bear the brunt of the film's homophobia. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Flaxy Martin (1949)

A mob attorney (Zachary Scott) is tired of defending guilty thugs and wants out. But his duplicitous money grubbing girlfriend (Virginia Mayo) has other ideas and sets him up to take the rap for a murder while she moves in on the head mobster (Douglas Kennedy). Although she is top billed and the film is named after her, the movie is really about Scott's mob shyster. It provides Scott with a nice role in which he walks the line between decency and criminality. The film's movie poster cried out that Mayo was "a girl with a heart of ice!" and this time, this wasn't hyperbole. Mayo's career seemed divided between the peaches and cream beauties of her Goldwyn Technicolor period and the hard edged babes she played at Warners and she was almost always more interesting when she was the bad girl. As for the film itself, it's a quasi-noir that's efficiently directed by Richard L. Bare and moves along nicely if not particularly original. With Dorothy Malone, Elisha Cook Jr., Helen Westcott, Tom D'Andrea and Douglas Fowley.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Five Came Back (1939)

An airplane flying from Los Angeles to Panama crashes in a dense jungle in the Amazon populated by tribes of headhunters. The diverse group includes the pilot (Chester Morris), co-pilot (Kent Taylor), a scarlet woman (Lucille Ball), a condemned murderer (Joseph Calleia), his police escort (John Carradine), a wealthy playboy (Patric Knowles) and his fiancee (Wendy Barrie), a mob gunsel (Allen Jenkins) traveling with a child (Casey Johnson), an elderly professor (C. Aubrey Smith) and his wife (Elisabeth Risdon). Directed by John Farrow, this early precursor to the "disaster" movie genre was remade by Farrow (a rare case of a director remaking his own film) in 1956 as BACK FROM ETERNITY with its plot virtually intact. It's an excellent example of a "B" movie that transcends its pulp roots and provides a gripping and economical (1 hour, 15 minutes) narrative. For a stage bound jungle, the cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca (CAT PEOPLE) manages to give the movie a realistic sheen which keeps you in the story. Ball in a dramatic role stands out as a reminder that she was a good dramatic actress before she became the Queen of Comedy.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Blackbeard's Ghost (1968)

The new track coach (Dean Jones) arrives at a small Maryland seacoast town to begin his new position. However, after winning an antique bed warmer at an auction by the Daughters Of Buccaneers (elderly women descended from pirate crews), he discovers a spell hidden in the bed warmer's handle. After reciting it out loud, the ghost of Blackbeard The Pirate (Peter Ustinov) appears! Walt Disney's live action films were often fantasy oriented: VW bugs that have a mind of their own, fathers and district attorneys turning into shaggy dogs, cats from outer space, absent minded professors inventing flubber etc. This one is very pedestrian but Ustinov manages to add a twinkle to the proceedings. It's very hard to go wrong by having an entity (in this case Ustinov) that no one but the protagonist (in this case Jones) can see and double takes and reactions are the most amusing parts of the movie. But really, it's no more than a big screen sitcom and one's affection for it is probably the result of nostalgia rather than for its qualities. Based on the novel by Ben Stahl and directed by Robert Stevenson (MARY POPPINS). With Suzanne Pleshette, Elsa Lanchester, Joby Baker and Richard Deacon.

Midnight Special (2016)

An 8 year old boy (Jaeden Lieberher) is kidnapped from a religious cult by his birth father (Michael Shannon). The cult's leader (Sam Shepard) wants the child back at any cost as he sees the child as the cult's salvation. In the meantime, the federal government also wants the boy who they see as a threat to national security. I loved Jeff Nichols' 2011 film TAKE SHELTER which was one of my favorites of the year. I was far less impressed with his follow up film, MUD. Nichols, who also wrote the original screenplay, returns (sort of) to SHELTER territory with this intense sci-fi thriller. There are some glaring loopholes and a lack of explanation on a major plot point but Nichols' force of energy keeps such nitpicking at bay. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much so it was nice to see what Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst (who's becoming quite the actress these days) bring to such underwritten roles. There's an underlying intelligence permeating the film which keeps it from being just another multiplex matinee. With Adam Driver and Joel Edgerton.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Infamous (2006)

In 1959, the famed writer and social butterfly Truman Capote (Toby Jones) is intrigued by an article he reads in the newspaper about a farm family being murdered in Kansas. He decides to write a piece for the New Yorker magazine on the town's reaction to the killings. But after two men (Daniel Craig, Lee Pace) are arrested for the murders, he decides to write a non-fiction novel. Sometimes, two films dealing with the same subject matter get greenlighted at the same time. Usually, it's the first one out of the gate that gets the attention and INFAMOUS had the misfortune of following the Oscar winning CAPOTE by a year. They both deal with the period in Capote's life when he was writing IN COLD BLOOD. Personally, while I like both movies, I prefer INFAMOUS for several reasons. Jones' Capote is much more charming in his dizzy way, you can see what draws people to him and why they would confide. I didn't get that with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I also preferred Sandra Bullock's Harper Lee who seemed more genuine and genuinely Southern than Catherine Keener. Clearly, the film takes liberties and much of the scenes are filtered through Capote's eyes which are not to be trusted and there's enough ambiguity in Jones' performance to make you wonder exactly how pure Capote's motives were. Written and directed by Douglas McGrath. With Sigourney Weaver, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Daniels, Isabella Rossellini, Hope Davis, Juliet Stevenson, Peter Bogdanovich and John Benjamin Hickey.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Spiral Staircase (1946)

Set in New England in the early 20th century, a small town is rocked by a series of murders. The victims are all young women with "imperfections": a limp, scarred face or mentally challenged. A young mute (Dorothy McGuire) in a secluded old mansion on a dark and stormy night would seem to be next on the killer's list. Based on the novel SOME MUST WATCH by Lina White and skillfully directed by film noir maestro, Robert Siodmak, this horror thriller is one of the very best "old dark house" movies. Everything falls into place: the acting, the sets, the music and especially the moody B&W cinematography of Nicholas Musuraca. The suspects are limited but it's not so much a whodunit as when will he strike and how will she survive (or will she?). As the mute girl, lovely Dorothy McGuire gives a strong fluid performance that one would have thought would easily have been Oscar nominated but Ethel Barrymore as the bedridden matriarch was the only one in front of or behind the camera that got a nomination. With George Brent, Rhonda Fleming, Elsa Lanchester, Kent Smith, Sara Allgood, Rhys Williams and Gordon Oliver.