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Monday, October 31, 2016

Duffy (1968)

A retired master thief (James Coburn) agrees to help a group of rich and spoiled amateurs steal 2 million dollars from a tycoon's (James Mason) ships. The group includes the tycoon's two sons (James Fox, John Alderton) and a playgirl (Susannah York). Oh, those swinging 60s! This film is a perfect candidate for a time capsule of the era. Words and phrases like "groovy", "it's a happening", "soul brother" etc. leave no doubt what era it was filmed in and if it didn't, the film's chintzy 1960s swinging score does. As directed by Robert Parrish (1967's CASINO ROYALE), nostalgia is about all the picture has going for it. For a heist movie, it's humdrum and incoherent. Donald Cammell (PERFORMANCE) had a hand in the script which might explain the lack of coherency. On the plus side, there's Otto Heller's lush lensing of the Spanish locations (standing in for Tangiers) and Philip Harrison's art direction: Coburn's porno chic pad is a hoot! There's also a marvelous "twist" ending that I didn't see coming but oh what tedium you have to put up with to get there! With Marne Maitland and Guy Deghy.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Stories Of Lost Souls (2005)

Six unconnected short films by six different directors filmed at different periods (1999-2002) and in three different countries (Australia, England and the U.S.) collected under the title STORIES OF LOST SOULS: an alcoholic (James Gandolfini) wakes up to not only find his wife and kids are gone but so is all the furniture, a man (Paul Bettany) bets his sports car against a bottle of champagne, a group of people (Hugh Jackman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Gambon, Andy Serkis, Joanna Lumley) wait in line for tickets to a play, a 32 year old man (Stephen Mangan) hits on a girl (Keira Knightley) at a party not realizing she's 15 years old, a soldier (Billy Boyd) in outer space must contend with loneliness, a woman (Cate Blanchett) undergoes a breakdown while cooking dinner. Like all portmanteau films, the episodes vary in quality but none of them are especially good. Gandolfini and Blanchett get to give flashy performances but it's the near silent performance of Boyd as the sniper in space that stood out the most, perhaps because it was the most subtle. 

Hedda Gabler (1962)

Returning from her honeymoon, the wife (Ingrid Bergman) of an academic (Michael Redgrave) displays signs of dissatisfaction with her marriage and her state in life in general. Based on the classic 1891 play by Henrik Ibsen, the role of Hedda Gabler is one of the greatest parts for an actress in the theater. It ranks right up there with Blanche DuBois and Lady MacBeth and many great actresses have taken on the role from Eleonora Duse and Alla Nazimova to Maggie Smith and Glenda Jackson. Here, Ingrid Bergman takes on the part. Hedda is a tricky part to play as we're never sure why she behaves the way she does, what makes her tick. One can surmise that in pre-feminist times, she's frustrated playing the wife and sees her best days behind her as she settles into the dull routine of a professor's spouse. Bergman is wonderful here as she paces around the room like a wound up cat, snapping at her husband or hissing at an old school chum (Ursula Jeans). This is a woman for whom control is everything and when it is finally wrested from her, it's disastrous. Directed by Alex Segal. With Ralph Richardson and Trevor Howard.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Jackie (2016)

In 1963 shortly after the assassination of her husband (Caspar Phillipson), Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) gives an interview to a reporter (Billy Crudup) for LIFE magazine reflecting on the death of her husband, his legacy, her legacy while we look at the period between the assassination and his funeral and her state of mind. Directed by Pablo Larrain, a Chilean director making his English language debut. It's difficult to assess this as cinema, as a film because it is so dominated by a single performance that defines the film and puts everything else in her shadow. The buzz on Portman's performance was very good but I was not prepared for the sheer brilliance of it. When playing real people who are known to the public, it can be a trap to do an imitation of the person rather than inhabiting them. Portman inhabits Jackie Kennedy. How accurate is the film? I don't know, I don't go to the movies for history lessons (and I hope no one else does either). It's clear that the film took artistic license. For example, one of the highlights of the film is a distraught Jackie listening to the cast album of CAMELOT while trying on different dresses and jewelry and wandering around an empty White House when obviously it would be filled with staffers and secret service during that period. Mica Levi's underscore is the best film score I've heard all year. With Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, Max Casella, John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant as Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Swiss Conspiracy (1976)

After several clients of a Swiss bank have their accounts compromised and are blackmailed, the bank's head (Ray Milland) hires an American (David Janssen) who once worked for the U.S. Treasury but now residing in Switzerland to investigate. Directed by Jack Arnold (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON). In spite of the handsome Swiss locations (primarily Zurich), this theatrical feature film plays out like a TV movie or an episode of THE MAN FROM UNCLE. When the mystery is finally resolved, it's pretty lame. I might have enjoyed it more if the print I saw had been more pristine but it wouldn't have made it a better movie. But to be fair, it was clear that the transfer I saw was sourced from a TV print and cut by about 7 minutes eliminating a love scene with Janssen and Senta Berger for one. Also, whenever a character said a curse word or obscenity, it was blipped out. With Elke Sommer, John Saxon, John Ireland and Anton Diffring.  

A Touch Of Class (1973)

A chance meeting between a married American (George Segal) living in London and a British divorcee (Glenda Jackson) begins as an affair but becomes complicated when love enters the picture. Directed by Melvin Frank (THE COURT JESTER), this pedestrian "adult" romcom is probably most remembered today for Glenda Jackson's inexplicable Oscar win for best actress. Oh, it's sophisticated and fairly intelligent but it's also contrived. Naturally, Segal is given a nagging wife (Hildegard Neil) so the adultery can seem more sympathetic and while we see Jackson with her two children at the beginning, we never see them for the rest of the movie so we're not reminded that she's a mother although I couldn't help but think of the enormous babysitting tab she was running up while she sets up housekeeping and cooks Coq Au Vin suppers for her lover. Segal is an old hand at this type of thing but while Jackson proved she could do comedy with her hilarious cameo in THE BOY FRIEND, here she's rather brittle. Deadpan deliveries are one thing but some of her line readings are downright flat. With Paul Sorvino and K. Callan.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Island Of Lost Souls (1932)

On his way to meet his fiancee (Leila Hyams), a man (Richard Arlen) finds himself stranded on a remote island after his ship is sunk. To his horror, he discovers that the doctor (Charles Laughton) who rules over the island with an iron fist is conducting ghastly experiments! Based on the 1896 novel by H.G. Wells and directed by Erle C. Kenton. Welles' novel has been remade officially twice, in the 70s with Burt Lancaster and the 90s with Marlon Brando. Unofficially, it's been ripped off many times. This pre-code version remains the most effective. Like Browning's FREAKS, it's an unsettling and disturbing piece of horror film making. Kudos must also go to Karl Struss's (Murnau's SUNRISE) expressionistic cinematography and the marvelous art direction by Hans Dreier. The acting is rather crude but Laughton brings a quiet malevolence to his delusional Dr. Moreau. This is the movie that coined the phrase, "The natives are restless tonight." With Kathleen Burke, Arthur Hohl and Bela Lugosi as the mutant Sayer Of The Law. 

Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (aka The Good, The Bad And The Ugly) (1966)

During the Civil War between the states, three gunslingers known as the good (Clint Eastwood), the bad (Lee Van Cleef) and the ugly (Eli Wallach) work at odds with each other, sometimes in an uneasy alliance as they look for a graveyard where $200,000 in Confederate gold is hidden. Sergio Leone's epic western (3 hours long) wasn't embraced by mainstream critics when first released. The casualness of the violence and brutality was considered "vulgar" but audiences flocked to it and it paved the way for Peckinpah's WILD BUNCH. Today, the critical consensus is that it is one of the screen's great westerns. Of course, I've seen the film before but this time around I really appreciated Leone's use of the wide screen format (in collaboration with his cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli) which is stunning. Every frame a master composition that could hang on a museum wall. Leone's visuals are the thing here and very often there are long stretches of silence but the narrative continues, dialog isn't missed. Ennio Morricone's score is one of the best film scores ever written and it becomes as important a character as the three leads. The "ecstasy of gold" sequence which runs about 6 minutes with no dialog, just Morricone's score accompanying Wallach's search for the grave is justifiably famous. Speaking of Wallach, his performance is terrific and he really should have been nominated for an Oscar (movies like this weren't considered Oscar material) and he would be today!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Holcroft Covenant (1985)

40 years after the end of WWII, the son (Michael Caine) of a high ranking Nazi General (Alexander Kerst) is made aware of a covenant signed by his father and two of his comrades before they died in a murder/suicide pact. The covenant makes an incredible amount of money (in the billions) available to be used to make reparations for their crimes. But the son's mother (Lilli Palmer) distrusts the document and urges her son to have nothing to do with it. Based on the novel by Robert Ludlum (the Bourne franchise) and directed by John Frankenheimer, this is another of those "Nazis reaching from beyond the grave" scenarios, perhaps the most famous of these being THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL. While its plot is not as ludicrous as BRAZIL, it's still pretty far fetched. It's tricky to make something like this believable and at one time, Frankenheimer would have seemed the man to do it. In the 1960s, he did two of the best conspiracy thrillers, MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. But by the 1980s, he'd pretty much lost his way and his output was pretty mediocre. It doesn't help that the audience is always one step ahead of Caine's character who seems pretty gullible. With the exception of Lilli Palmer, the acting ranges from indifferent (Anthony Andrews) to downright enervated (Victoria Tennant). With Mario Adorf, Michael Lonsdale and Shane Rimmer.    

Les Amants De Verona (aka The Lovers Of Verona) (1949)

Set in Venice and Verona, a glassblower (Serge Reggiani) and the daughter (Anouk Aimee) of a corrupt ex-fascist magistrate (Louis Salou) are given jobs as stand ins for the two lead actors in a movie being made of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET. They fall in love and their romance parallels the story of Romeo and Juliet. Directed by Andre Cayatte who co-wrote the screenplay with Jacques Prevert. Shakespeare's romantic tragedy of star crossed lovers has been filmed many times, both in faithful retellings (like Zeffirelli's 1968 film) or re-imagined versions (like WEST SIDE STORY). This graceful and lush version shot in shimmering B&W by Henri Alekan (Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) is one of the better ones. Reggiani and Aimee are not only appealing but so beautiful that one begins to pray that Cayatte and Prevert have rewritten Shakespeare. Cayatte keeps the romanticism on full throttle without going overboard and the supporting characters provide enough acidity that it never becomes mush. A lovely film. With Martine Carol, Pierre Brasseur, Marcel Dalio and Marianne Oswald.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fallen Angel (1945)

A drifter (Dana Andrews) arrives in a small California coastal town and immediately gets the hots for a sexy but cold hearted waitress (Linda Darnell at her sluttiest). He concocts a plan to marry a well off spinster (Alice Faye), get her money, dump her and marry the waitress. But when murder enters the picture, he's the prime suspect! Based on the novel by Marty Holland and directed by Otto Preminger. This B&W noir may not have the reputation of his LAURA but it's still pretty good. This was when Preminger still made tight economical features before the bloat set in during the late 1950s. Unfortunately when Darnell leaves the picture, some of the film's juice goes with her. Faye's angelic understanding doormat is no substitute for Darnell's sultry femme fatale. Though it's well done, as a whodunit it's on the weaker side as the element of surprise is missing for it's not too difficult to guess the murderer. The moody cinematography is by Joseph LaShelle (THE APARTMENT) and the underscore by David Raksin (LAURA) gives the film a needed lift. Faye left the movies after this film and wouldn't make another movie for 17 years. With Charles Bickford, Anne Revere, Percy Kilbride and Bruce Cabot.

Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951)

Scotland Yard asks retired Army officer Bulldog Drummond (Walter Pidgeon) for his help in going undercover and infiltrating a gang of thieves working for a criminal mastermind who they suspect has military experience. He agrees but is less than thrilled about being saddled with a female partner (Margaret Leighton). Directed by Victor Saville (GREEN DOLPHIN STREET), Pidgeon steps into the shoes of several actors (Ronald Colman, Ray Milland) who had played Bulldog Drummond before him. At age 53, Pidgeon was getting a bit long in the tooth for action films like these and it's obvious in the fight scenes that it's a stunt double. Still, as a British programmer, it moves along nicely if predictably and Leighton has probably never been sexier in an early example of a policewoman figuring prominently in the plot when it was still considered a male profession. The B&W cinematography is by Freddie Young (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA). With David Tomlinson, Bernard Lee, Peggy Evans, Laurence Naismith and in a minor role, Richard Johnson who would go on to play Drummond in DEADLIER THAN THE MALE (1968).

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Lion (2016)

A child (Sunny Pawar) from a small village in India gets separated from his older brother (Abhishek Bharate) and accidentally finds himself on a train to Calcutta. Unable to identify where he is from or who his family is, he lives on the streets of Calcutta for awhile before being put in an orphanage. He is eventually adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham). But when he grows into a young man (Dev Patel, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), he yearns for the family he lost. Based on a true story and directed by Garth Davis in his feature film directorial debut. The first part of the film is astonishing with some of the raw power of early De Sica. When we get to the section where Patel takes over, it becomes more conventional and not as interesting. My interest shifted away from Patel and toward Kidman's mother and Divian Ladwa as his troubled adopted brother. The film eventually builds to an emotional climax where I felt slightly manipulated and while the audience around me sobbed, I didn't cry. But damn if the film didn't have an ace up its sleeve saved up for the very end and it got me too. Bring kleenex, tears will be shed. Kidman has a good shot at a supporting actress nomination. With Rooney Mara and Priyanka Bose.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Loving (2016)

In 1958 Virginia, a white man (Joel Edgerton) and a black woman (Ruth Negga)  are arrested and imprisoned for breaking Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws by marrying. They are quiet unsophisticated country folk who just want to live their life in peace and raise a family in a home of their own. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (TAKE SHELTER) and based on the landmark 1967 Loving vs. Virginia case which went all the way to the Supreme Court and a historic ruling. This film is different from anything Nichols has ever done and something I suspect even the Nichols haters (and I've met a few) would like. At its core, this is a love story. Its power lies in its simplicity and Nichols doesn't impede the telling with heavy handed lecturing. This isn't a mediocrity like GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER? with Sidney Poitier as a famous doctor any white girl would be lucky to get and set among posh San Franciscans. These are real people struggling to survive against almost insurmountable odds. But always at its center, the love story of Richard and Mildred Loving. The performances by Edgerton and Negga are impeccable though perhaps it's ironic that something so American are played by Australian (Edgerton) and Irish (Negga) actors. A subtle telling of a still pertinent subject on marriage rights. With Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas and Nick Kroll.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

How To Save A Marriage And Ruin Your Life (1968)

When an attorney (Dean Martin) finds out his married best friend (Eli Wallach) has a mistress (Anne Jackson), he decides to break it up by seducing the mistress thus proving to his friend she was no good. He sets his plan in motion but in a case of mistaken identity, he targets the wrong girl (Stella Stevens). By 1968, Doris Day was getting too old to play in these sort of romantic sex comedies and Stella Stevens fits her pumps very nicely with Martin substituting for Rock Hudson. It's a lightweight offering but so attractive and amiable with likable performers that it's hard to resist and I wasn't even trying. Stevens was one of those actresses whose career never really caught fire but she was luscious and quite talented in both comedy and drama, the girl next door or the brassy blonde. She carries this movie on her sexy shoulders. Fielder Cook (PATTERNS) isn't necessarily a director you'd associate with material like this but he gives it the fizz needed to follow through. The melodic underscore is by Michel Legrand (can that man write!). With Betty Field, Jack Albertson, Katharine Bard and George Furth. 

Die Ehe Der Maria Braun (aka The Marriage Of Maria Braun) (1979)

In post WWII Germany, a woman (Hanna Schygulla) remains true to the man (Klaus Lowitsch) she was married to for only 2 days before he left to fight in the war. Emotionally true to their love but not physically true as she does what she has to in order to survive and even succeed in the postwar years. Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this was his breakthrough film in the sense of international recognition combined with box office success. Some look to it as an allegory of Germany itself during its post war years but for me, it works quite well at face value, the destruction of a woman's soul when she strays from her purest intent. Schygulla is marvelous here, her performance a myriad of mysterious and conflicting layers. But unfortunately the rest of the cast isn't up to her level. Indeed, some of the supporting performances are downright amateurish. Considered the first of a trilogy but I find it far superior to the two that followed, LOLA and VERONIKA VOSS. With Ivan Desny, Gisela Uhlen and Gottfried John.     

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hallelujah I'm A Bum (1933)

A hobo (Al Jolson) who is known as the "Mayor of Central Park" enjoys his carefree life and has no desire for material things or a steady job. But  when he falls in love with a young girl (Madge Evans) he saves from a suicide attempt and who has lost her memory in the process, little does he know she's the mistress of the Mayor of New York (Frank Morgan). Directed by Lewis Milestone, this is a lovely and lilting stylized musical with Rodgers & Hart (PAL JOEY) providing the songs and musical dialog and includes one of their standards, You Are Too Beautiful. Influenced by the musicals of Rene Clair and Rouben Mamoulian, the film is both witty and affecting. Normally, I'm not a fan of Jolson's broad brand of acting but his easy going demeanor here is quite welcome. This movie got in just under the wire of the Production Code crackdown so the leading lady being the mistress of a famous man and a startling suggestion of nudity got by with no big deal being made about it. The film is also notable for one of characters (Harry Langdon's trash collector) being an unapologetic communist and still be a good guy and Jolson's best friend being a black man (Edgar Connor). Reissued under the title THE HEART OF NEW YORK IN 1941. With Chester Conklin and Louise Carver.

Tender Mercies (1983)

A once famous country and western singer (Robert Duvall) finds himself stranded in a small roadside motel after a night of drinking. Without funds, he offers to work off the money he owes to the young widow (Tess Harper) who owns the motel. With her help, he begins a long road to recovery. Directed by Bruce Beresford (DRIVING MISS DAISY) from an original screenplay by Horton Foote. Foote (TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) has a feel for characters like these and the terrain they inhabit. They're the real thing and he never condescends to them, they're allowed their complexities rather than being made "simple" because they're country people. Foote's story, however, is deceptively simple. It's a quiet unassuming film with a lot going on. Duvall's Oscar winning performance is the film's linchpin, his best work but the rest of the cast are all very good. At first, I thought Harper's role was underwritten and now I'm not sure if I was wrong or it's just that Harper brings a strong authenticity to the part. With Betty Buckley (excellent), Ellen Barkin, Wilford Brimley, James Gleason and Allan Hubbard. 

My Man Godfrey (1957)

Engaged in a scavenger hunt for charity, a rather kooky heiress (June Allyson) discovers a homeless man (David Niven) hiding near the docks. She hires him as her butler but the man soon discovers that the entire family is a bit "different". A remake of the classic 1936 screwball comedy which was based on the novel by Eric Hatch. Once again in the position of an iconoclast, I have to confess I'm not one of the fans of the 1936 beloved original. I don't dislike it but it seems to be trying too hard and I find Carole Lombard quite unappealing, more grating and annoying than funny. Ross Hunter (PILLOW TALK) produced this version in CinemaScope and Technicolor and it gets the full glam treatment with posh Manhattan upper West side settings and Allyson, Martha Hyer and Eva Gabor in chic frocks courtesy of Bill Thomas. Niven is an adequate substitute for William Powell but while screwball comedy isn't Allyson's forte, she seems more down to earth than Lombard thus giving the role a slightly more root in reality. Niven was a quick replacement for the Austrian actor O.W. Fischer who was to have made his American film debut. Directed by Henry Koster (FLOWER DRUM SONG). With Jessie Royce Landis, Robert Keith and Jay Robinson. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Theater Of Blood (1973)

A group of London theater critics find themselves slowly being killed off one by one in the manner of Shakespeare's plays. It would seem the person with the biggest motive would be the renowned Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) except that he's dead ..... or is he? Directed by Douglas Hickox, this is a devilishly clever horror comedy. Price clearly relishes hamming it up as Lionheart and the film balances wit, horror and even poignance equally well. The film is a macabre lark and it shouldn't be looked at too closely as there things that just don't make sense. For example, how did the decapitated head get from the murdered man's bedroom to Ian Hendry's door? Or why though supposedly under police protection, Hendry is allowed unaccompanied to attend a fencing class which turns deadly. But a movie like this isn't supposed to be put under a cinematic microscope lest it unravel. The critics themselves are played by a who's who of British character actors including Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Coral Browne (who would later marry Price), Harry Andrews, Michael Hordern, Robert Coote and Arthur Lowe. With Diana Rigg as Price's daughter, Milo O'Shea, Diana Dors and Joan Hickson.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Manchester By The Sea (2016)

A janitor (Casey Affleck) is emotionally dead after a tragedy destroyed his life. There's a rage inside him he can't control and he can't connect to other human beings on the simplest level. When his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies suddenly and makes him the guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges), he must unwillingly confront his past. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (YOU CAN COUNT ON ME), the film is a showcase for Casey Affleck's dynamic performance. For quite awhile I feared the worst ... bonding, tears and a sentimental end but Lonergan is too good a writer for that and he sticks to the straight and narrow path to a more believable conclusion.  The film is not without its flaws, it could have used a good editor to pare some 15 minutes and Lesley Barber's underscore is over emphatic and unsubtle. But that's nitpicking really, Lonergan's script and direction are strong enough to weather the nuisances at the center, Affleck's potent performance is flawless. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes' lensing of the Massachusetts location is spot on. With Michelle Williams as Affleck's ex-wife, Matthew Broderick, Tate Donovan and Gretchen Mol.

Dial M For Murder (1954)

An ex-tennis pro (Ray Milland) has quit playing professionally due to his wife's (Grace Kelly) urging. Since she is the one who holds the money strings and is having an affair with a writer (Robert Cummings), he concocts an elaborate murder scheme that will end with her going to the gallows and he inheriting her wealth. But, of course, the best laid plans don't always work as smoothly as they do on paper. Based on the hit play by Frederick Knott (WAIT UNTIL DARK) and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Originally shot in 3D, a process Hitchcock felt had been "forced" on him by the studio, he barely uses the possibilities of 3D except during the attempted murder scene. It's really one of Hitchcock's least cinematic offerings and it looks like what it is ... a filmed play. Visually, it's one of his most unattractive films (Kelly's beauty notwithstanding) despite the masterful Robert Burks being in charge of the cinematography. Milland is very good and Kelly icily effective but Cummings is just terrible here! Knott adapted his play for the screen and the complicated plot is clever enough to hold our attention in spite of the lackluster talky presentation. With Anthony Dawson (DR. NO) and Martin Milner. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Night Has A Thousand Eyes (1948)

A nightclub psychic (Edward G. Robinson) uses tricks to con his audience into thinking he can read minds. But suddenly he begins experiencing genuine psychic visions and they aren't pleasant. This sudden gift is tortuous and something he doesn't want and he runs away into anonymity. But 20 years later, he must use his gift once more. Based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW) and directed by John Farrow. This is a good thriller with a sympathetic performance by Robinson. As long as the film focuses on Robinson and Gail Russell as the young woman he's trying to help, it's a fascinating puzzle. But unfortunately once the dull police (in the form of William Demarest) are brought in, it really puts a damper on the movie. So much so that I'd say it stops the movie from being what it could have been. Namely a first rate intense mystery. The dim unimaginative boyfriend (John Lund) isn't much help either. Luckily, it's not enough to ruin the movie but a little more ingenuity wouldn't have hurt. John F. Seitz noir-ish cinematography gives the film an appropriate sense of cataclysm. With Virginia Bruce, Jerome Cowan, John Alexander and Richard Webb. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Seven Minutes (1971)

Two undercover vice cops (Charles Drake, Charles Napier) arrest a bookstore clerk (Robert Moloney) for selling an obscene book called THE SEVEN MINUTES. The publisher (Tom Selleck) hires an attorney (Wayne Maunder) to defend the young man but when a copy of the book is found in the car of a youth (John Sarno) charged with a brutal rape, the D.A. (Philip Carey) bases his case on the premise that the boy was driven to commit the rape by the book. Softcore porn director Russ Meyer made an attempt to go "legit" in the 1970s when his BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS was backed by a major studio, 20th Century Fox. This was his second and final effort in that direction. Based on the novel by Irving Wallace, Meyer doesn't seem comfortable with the material. The unfettered outrageousness which made his films so fun isn't here. The film's provocative subject matter (freedom of speech, the banning of books) aside, this is more or less a typical courtroom drama. The film's two leads, Maunder and Marianne McAndrew (HELLO DOLLY), are a rather bland lot but there are enough familiar character actors surrounding them to help prop them up. Watching the movie, my mind wandered and I wondered if they still ban books in America? The huge cast includes Yvonne De Carlo in perhaps the film's most important role, Jay C. Flippen, Edy Williams, Lyle Bettger, Ron Randell, John Carradine, Harold J. Stone, David Brian, Barry Kroeger and Edith Evanson.   

Appointment In Honduras (1953)

In 1910 Central America, a plantation owner (Glenn Ford) is assisting the rebels in Honduras by providing a large amount of money to fund their revolution. Unfortunately, he finds himself saddled with a group of unreliable convicts as well as a wealthy American (Zachary Scott) and his wife (Ann Sheridan) as he treks through the jungle to his appointment. Directed by Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST), this is a "B" potboiler with an A cast though the careers of both Sheridan and Scott were pretty much on the down slope at this point. It's a routine jungle adventure though Central American rather than African. Joseph Biroc's (BLAZING SADDLES) Technicolor cinematography is nice but some of the special effects (like attacking insects) are truly shoddy. On the plus side, the attraction between Ford and Sheridan is handled well and considering the circumstances, the ending is realistically left open as to their relationship. With Stuart Whitman, Jack Elam and Rodolfo Acosta.

Eye Of The Needle (1981)

During WWII, a sociopathic German spy (Donald Sutherland) who goes by the code name The Needle is washed ashore on an island off the Scottish coast during a storm when he is on his way to an assignation with a German submarine. The island has only 4 inhabitants: a bitter paraplegic (Christopher Cazenove), his wife (Kate Nelligan), their son (Jonathan and Nicholas Haley) and a drunken lighthouse keeper (Alex McCrindle). But in the end, the war will come down to two people. Based on the best selling novel by Ken Follett and directed by Richard Marquand (RETURN OF THE JEDI). The film is an exceptionally well made romantic thriller. Marquand keeps the pacing tight and while the "romantic" elements are well placed and effective, unlike inferior films of this type, it doesn't slow down the film in any way. Stanley Mann's script leaves room for the actors to develop recognizable humans instead of stock characters. Sutherland may play a sociopath but there are glimmers of how he became that way and he shows a tenderness that allows you to see why Nelligan and others would be drawn to him. This is Nelligan's film though, she gives more than a 100% and I could go on and on about the nuances that make her performance remarkable for a genre film. The fine score is by the great Miklos Rozsa. With Ian Bannen, Faith Brook and Bill Nighy. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

American Pastoral (2016)

Set in the turbulent terrain of 1960s America, a businessman (Ewan McGregor) and his wife (Jennifer Connelly) would seem to have the ideal life. But when their troubled daughter (Ocean James as a child, Dakota Fanning as a teenager) focuses in on the anti-Vietnam war protest scene, it becomes obvious that something is quite wrong and the rage that she channels into the anti-war movement may be a sign of something darker. Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Philip Roth (PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT), this is McGregor's feature film directorial debut. McGregor has streamlined the book while still remaining faithful to it. I had a hard time buying McGregor as a Jewish ex-football player but he lucked out with Connelly and Fanning, both of who inhabit their roles perfectly. The film's topic is unusual in that it focuses on how the daughter's activism ends up destroying the seemingly perfect suburban household. Not because the parents don't share her views but it is clear quite early on that this is a troubled child and that  the rage she channels into anti-war activism may be a sign of something darker. It's not a great film but it's an ambitious one and one can see the passion the film makers put into the project. The 1960s atmosphere is excellent. With Uzo Aduba, Peter Riegert, David Strathairn, Molly Parker and Valorie Curry (this is an actress to watch!).

Thursday, October 13, 2016

An Almost Perfect Affair (1979)

A young unknown American film maker (Keith Carradine) travels to the Cannes film festival in an attempt to sell his first movie. The last thing he expected to find was romance in the form of the wife (Monica Vitti) of a famous Italian producer (Raf Vallone). Directed by Michael Ritchie (DOWNHILL RACER), the film's Cannes festival setting is quite amusing as we get glimpses of "real" wheeling and dealing and it does look glamorous. But the romance is at the forefront and here's where the film fails. Carradine and Vitti have zero chemistry and generate no sparks whatsoever. You can't believe that these two would ever hook up much less fall passionately in love, even as Georges Delerue's underscore goes into overdrive trying to convince us otherwise. So this just about kills the movie dead in its tracks. And Raf Vallone's husband is too forgiving and understanding to the point of incredibility. Still, for film geeks, the Cannes setting is fun. With Dick Anthony Williams, Christian De Sica, Anna Maria Horsford and as themselves: Farrah Fawcett, George Peppard, Brooke Shields, Paul Mazursky, Edy Williams and Rona Barrett. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Moonlight (2016)

Set in a downtrodden section of Miami, a young black boy (Alex Hibbert) grows into a teenager (Ashton Sanders) and finally a man (Trevante Rhodes) all the while struggling to define who he is. As a boy, he briefly finds a mentor (Mahershala Ali) but it's a journey he must travel on his own. Based on the play by Tarell Alvin McCraney and adapted for the screen and directed by Barry Jenkins. This is a beautiful film, something really special. The film is wonderful in defying your expectations, it avoids stereotypes and provides three dimensional characters acted by an impeccable ensemble. Jenkins avoids the cliches of urban dramas about young black men, there's no gunfire, no "ho"s, no rap music underscore, no exploitation by the white man (indeed the film has no Caucasian characters at all). But it's still raw and real yet there are scenes of genuine beauty. Yet one doesn't have to be black to identify with the protagonist's sense of loneliness and longing to be touched by someone yet afraid of the very thing you desire the most. A must see for anyone interested in quality cinema. The incredible cast includes Naomie Harris (in an Oscar worthy performance), Janelle Monae, Andre Holland, Jharrel Jerome and Jaden Piner. 

Le Amiche (1955)

When a despondent woman (Madeleine Fischer) attempts suicide, her girlfriends not only attempt to make sense of why she did it but begin looking inward at their own bourgeois lives. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, the film examines themes that would infuse his later masterpieces like L'AVVENTURA, LA NOTTE and L'ECLISSE. Namely, the alienation in contemporary society, the inability to feel or care. The characters here are continually saying "I'm tired", "I'm exhausted", "I'm bored" etc. And the few characters who are actually able to feel something find themselves sacrificing opportunities for love or success in their work because it's too late or they simply give in to someone who's not worthy of them. The primary focus is on the female characters which include a career woman (Eleonora Rossi Drago), a sculptress (Valentina Cortese) and a shallow upper class wife (Yvonne Furneaux) as well as the girl (Fischer) who attempted suicide who seems aimless as she searches for a reason to exist and that reason, sadly, seems validation by a man. It's not in the class of his masterworks but a blueprint but on it stands on its own as the work of a great film maker. With Gabriele Ferzetti, Franco Fabrizi and Ettore Manni. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)

Set in Athens (though the setting doesn't resemble Greece in the least), after her father (Grant Mitchell) refuses to allow his daughter (Olivia De Havilland) to marry her love (Dick Powell), they run off with each other but get lost in the woods. They are followed by the man (Ross Alexander) who wants to marry her and the girl (Jean Muir) in love with him. But the forest is ruled by the King of Faeries (Victor Jory) and the lovers are manipulated by his whims. William Shakespeare's comedic romantic fantasy is one of his most enduring works. At the time, Warners was known for their tough gangster movies and depression era musicals, so this lavish production which gets the full roadshow treatment was unusual for them. It reeks of prestige what with Erich Wolfgang Korngold adapting Mendelssohn's music for the underscore and elaborate ballets choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska. Visually, the film is stunning with the art direction of Anton Grot creating a truly magical atmosphere and Max Ree's eye popping costumes. Which brings us to the actors which is a mixed bag. Many of the actors are untrained in Shakespeare and it shows particularly Dick Powell. Mickey Rooney's Puck is greatly admired in some quarters but I found him just awful, his constant giggling and shrieking gave me the heebie jeebies. Directed by Max Reinhardt with assistance from William Dieterle. With James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Anita Louise, Frank McHugh, Ian Hunter and Hugh Herbert. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Battle Cry (1955)

In January 1942 following the December 7th bombing of Pearl Harbor, a disparate group of young men board a train headed for San Diego and basic training Marine boot camp. Based on the best selling novel by Leon Uris (EXODUS), who adapted his book for the screen and directed by the veteran Raoul Walsh. For a 2 1/2 hour film titled BATTLE CRY, there's no actual battle until the movie's last 20 minutes. The focus on the film is on the personal relationships between these young Marines with each other and the women in their lives. Made 10 years after the end of WWII, while the film is different than the wartime propaganda films made during the war, it still comes across as a jingoistic recruiting poster for the U.S. Marines. There are the usual stereotypes: the relentless military martinet (Van Heflin), the kindly older sergeant (James Whitmore), the green all American boy (Tab Hunter), the tough macho ladies man (Aldo Ray) etc., they're all here. As with films of this type, the women's roles aren't very interesting but two stand out: Dorothy Malone as an adulterous wife and Anne Francis as a Marine groupie. Progressive for 1955, the movie actually acknowledges the contribution of Native Americans (specifically the Navajo) in WWII. But I rather liked the film as a whole. Max Steiner's mediocre score was inexplicably nominated for an Oscar. The large cast includes: Raymond Massey, Mona Freeman, Nancy Olson, William Campbell, John Lupton, Perry Lopez, Fess Parker, Allyn Ann McLerie and Rhys Williams. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cover Girl (1944)

When a chorus girl (Rita Hayworth) in a nightclub becomes a magazine cover girl, the opportunity to leave the chorus and become a Broadway star is offered her by a producer (Lee Bowman). But she's in love with the club's owner (Gene Kelly) and is torn between love, loyalty and ambition. Directed by Charles Vidor (GILDA), this lightweight musical has the thinnest of  story lines and offers no surprises. But it still has a lot to offer like Hayworth at her most Technicolor luscious. When she dances, she really comes alive and you can practically feel the joy she has as a dancer. There's the Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin song score including the lovely Long Ago And Far Away and Gene Kelly impressive in his innovative alter ego dance number. The flashbacks to the turn of the century are a nuisance and features the worst number in the movie, Poor John. It will never be considered one of the great movie musicals especially if you consider what the Freed unit was up to at MGM but as the only pairing of Hayworth and Kelly, it has its place in movie musical history. With Eve Arden at her best, Phil Silvers, Otto Kruger, Jinx Falkenberg, Leslie Brooks, Anita Colby and Jess Barker. 

Follow That Dream (1962)

A vagabond family traveling through Florida runs out of gas on a beautiful piece of beach. Since the beach is unincorporated land, they decide to homestead it which causes a myriad of problems from gangsters (Simon Oakland, Jack Kruschen) trying to take over to social workers (Joanna Moore) getting revenge! Based on the novel PIONEER GO HOME by Richard Powell and directed by Gordon Douglas, this easy going Elvis Presley vehicle resembles one of those live action Walt Disney family movies that were churned out on a regular basis during the 1960s and early 1970s. That's not meant to be a disparagement. Elvis sings, of course, but the songs are unmemorable and the film would work just as easily without the songs as an amiable family comedy. Shot by Leo Tover (THE HEIRESS), the movie benefits from the sunny Florida locations and a relaxed screenplay that isn't entirely mindless. I don't know that I can honestly recommend to anyone outside of Elvis fans (who've probably already seen it) but it's a pleasant time waster. With Arthur O'Connell, Anne Helm and Frank DeKova.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Into The Forest (2016)

A father (Callum Keith Rennie) lives in a secluded mountain home with his two young daughters (Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood) when there is an unexplained massive world wide power outage. Without electricity, gas, food etc., they are left to fend for themselves while civilization begins to deteriorate. Based on the novel by Jean Hegland and adapted for the screen and directed by Patricia Rozema. I suppose this could be placed under the banner of post apocalyptic movies but it's more of a cerebral mood piece than a thriller. In other words, it's not PANIC IN YEAR ZERO. Rozema takes her sweet time in letting the events unfold but outside of an unpleasant rape sequence, it's not the kind of film where much "happens" nor is there a resolution to the story. Beautifully shot in the wilds of British Columbia by Daniel Grant, Page and Wood play off each other quite nicely and one has no problem believing them as sisters. There is one sequence I could have done without, a graphic evisceration and skinning of a pig which I felt was pointlessly "in your face". With Max Minghella, Michael Eklund and Wendy Crewson. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Earthquake (1974)

When an early morning tremor shakes Los Angeles up a bit, a disparate group of characters play out their personal problems unaware that these problems will soon be dwarfed when L.A. is hit by an earthquake of catastrophic proportions! Okay, people who watch a movie like EARTHQUAKE aren't watching for a profound narrative, great acting or a witty script! They're watching because they want to see L.A. destroyed! On that level, the movie delivers and then some. Unfortunately, between the destructive set pieces, we're saddled with stock characters spouting cliched dialogue biding time until the next big shake! It's particularly upsetting to see Ava Gardner, one of the great film beauties of all time reduced to playing a shrieking harridan. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much but even so, there's no excuse for a performance as bad as Marjoe Gortner as a whacked out National Guardsman. Poor Genevieve Bujold bears the brunt of the worst dialogue (she looks like she wants to parody her lines and who could blame her?). But it's big and loud and fun in a sadistic way especially if you live in or know Los Angeles. To the film's credit, its downbeat ending is a nice change of pace from the usual heroics. Directed by Mark Robson. With Charlton Heston, Walter Matthau, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Richard Roundtree, Lloyd Nolan, Victoria Principal, Monica Lewis and Barry Sullivan.

Patterns (1956)

The manager (Van Heflin) of a large factory is recruited by the head (Everett Sloane) of a major Manhattan industrial empire as a junior executive. He and his wife (Beatrice Straight) are excited about the move to New York and the path his career is headed. But it isn't long before the cutthroat office politics have him questioning if he's the right man for the job. The 1950s are considered the "Golden Age" of television and the quality of dramatic work was extraordinary. Many TV dramas became films including MARTY, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT and THE CATERED AFFAIR among them. PATTERNS was written by Rod Serling and first introduced in 1955's KRAFT TELEVISION THEATER. With some minor changes, Serling adapted his teleplay for the screen and Fielder Cook repeated directorial duties. It remains a strong and solid look at integrity in the corporate world without the later cynicism of movies like WALL STREET. Serling's end shows that even righteousness has its price and we'll never know if it stands its course or will collapse in corruption. With Ed Begley, Elizabeth Wilson, Andrew Duggan and Ronnie Welsh.

True Confessions (1981)

Set in the late 1940s, two brothers find themselves at opposite ends of a murder case that could bring one or both of them down: an ambitious priest (Robert De Niro) who seems more concerned with raising money and public relations than saving souls and a cop (Robert Duvall) determined to redeem himself by bringing down corruption in high places even if it means his sibling will be ruined. Based on the novel by John Gregory Dunne who adapted his novel to the screen with his wife Joan Didion and directed by Ulu Grosbard. Nominally a crime thriller, the film isn't really interested in the murder aspect of the story but uses it as a backdrop for a character piece of the extremely different brothers whose rivalry seems to go all the way back to their childhood. Ironically, both characters are part of a large corrupt institution, one the Catholic church and the other the L.A. police department. Indeed as the movie builds to its apparent climatic conclusion, we never actually see it as suddenly we jump many years later to the aftermath which does seem a bit of a cheat. De Niro retreats so far into his character than he becomes an enigmatic cipher. An acting choice? This allows Duvall, both the actor and his character, to take over center stage which he does quite nicely. With Charles Durning, Burgess Meredith, Ed Flanders, Kenneth McMillan, Cyril Cusack, Jeanette Nolan and in the film's best performance, Rose Gregorio. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Der Mude Tod (aka Destiny) (1921)

When  her fiance (Walter Janssen) is taken from her, Death (Bernhard Goetzke) makes a deal with a young woman (Lil Dagover) that if she can prevent three deaths from occurring, he will restore her lover to her. Directed by the great Fritz Lang, the film's status is derived from its visual elements rather than its narrative. Lang uses the three deaths scenario to give us three different stories set in three different time periods: an exotic Arabian fantasy, a renaissance romance in Venice and an adventure in old China (the best of the three segments). All three are ocular treats that move beyond mere eye candy. The combination of romanticism and expressionism was highly influential and caught the eye of such film makers as Hitchcock, Bunuel and even Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who borrowed from the Arabian sequence for his THIEF OF BAGDAD. Its message that life is precious even to the most miserable among us is done with a discreet irony. Also, it's notable that Death is portrayed kindly rather than something to fear like in THE SEVENTH SEAL. The three lead actors get the opportunity to play in all three tales as well as the wrap around story. With Rudolf Klein Rogge.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Klondike Annie (1936)

After killing her Chinese "lover" (Harold Huber), a woman (Mae West) flees San Francisco for Alaska. But when the law goes after her, she assumes the identity of a dead woman (Helen Jerome Eddy), a missionary on her way to a settlement house in Alaska. Based on the play FRISCO KATE written by West who adapted it for the screen and directed by Raoul Walsh. As usual with West's post code films, the film was watered down somewhat by deleting scenes which were deemed inappropriate (like the actual killing of Huber by West) but the film was still banned in certain places like Georgia. Cleaned up it may have been but the film does contain one of West's most famous lines, "Between two evils, I take the one I've never tried before". I don't know if Walsh's direction had anything to do with it but West actually has some good acting moments that are outside her persona. Victor McLaglen and Phillip Reed provide the romantic interest with McLaglen and West having a nice easy going chemistry that makes their affair entirely believable. I have to wonder though if the moralistic ending was in West's original play or was for the benefit of the code. With Lucile Gleason and Harry Beresford.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Way We Were (1973)

A politically radical working class Jewish girl (Barbra Streisand) with strong opinions and a handsome conservative upper class wasp (Robert Redford) begin a romantic relationship that leads to marriage. But in spite of the love they have for each other, their very cores are so different that the relationship becomes volatile when their beliefs are challenged during the HUAC hearings. One of great romance movies of all time, Arthur Laurents' original script was just as political as it was romantic but slowly the political elements were watered down and the romantic relationship took center stage. I'm not so sure that was a bad thing. There are many fine books and documentaries about the HUAC and blacklist years available but very few intelligent adult romances as good as this one. Directed with a firm hand by Sydney Pollack, Streisand and Redford are so absolutely perfectly cast that it's downright spooky. It's a lovely and heartbreaking drama about two people that are so wrong for each other that they probably should never have been together in the first place. But the film's poignant bittersweet end resonates with all of us, who hasn't been there? The Oscar winning score is by Marvin Hamlisch and it's a beauty. With Bradford Dillman, Lois Chiles, Patrick O'Neal, Viveca Lindfors, James Woods, Murray Hamilton, Allyn Ann McLerie, Sally Kirkland and Susan Blakely.

Made In Italy (1965)

An anthology of vignettes about contemporary Italian life circa 1965, each with its own section ("Women", "Family", "Church" etc.) with a wraparound story about a group of Italian emigrants on a plane bound for Sweden where they have jobs waiting for them. As with all such movies of this type, it's a hit and miss affair, mostly miss. Directed by Nanni Loy, who co-wrote the script along with Ettore Scola. The stories vary in length. Some are literally just a matter of seconds like the nun gazing longingly at a wedding dress in a window. Others are longer or seem overlong like the Lothario (Walter Chiari) who takes great pains to seduce a married woman (Lea Massari, MURMUR OF THE HEART) but after he beds her, he can't wait to get rid of her. The best sequence is around 10 minutes long and it's simply about a woman (Anna Magnani) trying to cross a busy street with her family. Some are amusing, some are depressing, some are poignant. The large cast includes Alberto Sordi, Virna Lisi, Nino Manfredi, Sylva Koscina, Jean Sorel, Catherine Spaak, Rosella Falk, Marina Berti and Andrea Checchi. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Dark Half (1993)

A serious novelist (Timothy Hutton) pens lurid thrillers under the pen name of George Stark that make money while his more cerebral books don't sell. When a blackmailer (Robert Joy) threatens to out him, he goes public and puts an end to "George Stark". But when people around him start getting murdered, he becomes the prime suspect and is not believed when he tells them "George Stark" is the killer. Is George Stark his alter ego? Or does George Stark actually exist? Based on the best seller by Stephen King (who wrote books under the pen name of Richard Bachman) and directed by George A. Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD). This is a rather unsavory film and when it's not being unpleasant, it borders on ludicrous. Which is a pity because the premise is quite intriguing. But the execution isn't good enough that we're able to willingly go with a suspension of disbelief. Hutton is really very good in his best performance since ORDINARY PEOPLE but Romero lets him down by not providing a stronger setting for his performance. As his wife, Amy Madigan is wasted and doesn't even get to play the layers that King gave the wife in the novel. With Julie Harris (wasted), Michael Rooker, Beth Grant, Rutanya Alda, Royal Dano and Chelsea Field.   

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Red Pony (1949)

Unable to bond with his rather stern father (Shepperd Strudwick), a young boy (Peter Miles) has formed an attachment to a ranch hand (Robert Mitchum) as a father figure. In an attempt to bridge the gap with his son, the father gives the boy a red pony to raise. The experience will be painful but it will be a step in the boy's road to maturity. Based on the episodic novel by John Steinbeck who uses two of the chapters for the basis of his screenplay and directed by Lewis Milestone (ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT). Though the film is given a happier ending than the book (for which I, for one, am grateful), like THE YEARLING and NATIONAL VELVET, this is a simple and gentle tale of the special bond that children have with their pet animals and which adults don't (or have forgotten) quite grasp. Milestone has directed the film in a tranquil style which allows the random events to move naturally. Beautifully shot in three strip Technicolor by Tony Gaudio (ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD) and with a gorgeous score by Aaron Copland, who turned it into a concert suite and thus more people have probably heard his score to the film than actually seen the movie. With Myrna Loy, Louis Calhern, Margaret Hamilton and Beau Bridges.

Cowboy (1958)

A young desk clerk (Jack Lemmon) in a Chicago hotel talks his way into becoming partners with a cattleman (Glenn Ford) by loaning him money for a poker game. The cattleman reluctantly accepts but the young greenhorn has a lot to learn about life on a cattle drive. Based on the book MY REMINISCENCES AS A COWBOY by Frank Harris and directed by Delmer Daves. This is probably my least favorite of Daves' 1950s westerns. It's not a bad film at all but although it attempts a realistic look rather than a romanticized look at life on the cattle trail, today it just comes across as one of the better episodes of the RAWHIDE television series. Ford had done several westerns at this point in his career and he's a natural in the saddle but even though he's playing a greenhorn, Lemmon just doesn't feel right in the role. There's just something too contemporary about him, it's an ill fit. On the plus side, there's Charles Lawton Jr.'s nice color lensing and a robust score by George Duning.  With Brian Donlevy, who's potentially the most interesting character in the film and given such short shrift that I wonder if his part was cut. Also with Anna Kashfi, Dick York, Richard Jaeckel and Vaughn Taylor. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

20th Century Women (2016)

Set in 1979 in the California coastal town of Santa Barbara, a single mother (Annette Bening) struggles to raise her 15 year old son (Lucas Jade Zumann). To help understand her son better she enlists the aid of two boarders: a punk rocker (Greta Gerwig) and a handyman (Billy Crudup) as well as her son's older best friend (Elle Fanning).  This autobiographical piece was written and directed by Mike Mills whose BEGINNERS guided Christopher Plummer to an Oscar and he may well accomplish the same thing with Bening here. Whereas BEGINNERS focused on his father's coming out late in life, in 20TH CENTURY WOMEN Mills focuses on his non-conformist mother who is more conventional than she thinks. It is not a film that is heavy on plot, rather it's a series of moments which when accumulated provide a rich coming of age story that is both humorous and poignant. I'm probably doing the film a disservice by making it sound heavy handed when it's anything but. Once again Bening proves what a marvelous actress she is. Her face is a road map of thoughts and emotions without going all actress-y on us. All she has to do is think it and we go, "a-ha!". Highly recommended. With Alison Elliott.

The Desperate Hours (1955)

A family finds their quiet suburban home invaded by three escaped convicts. The leader (Humphrey Bogart) plans to only stay until some needed money is received from his girlfriend but she never arrives and the longer they stay, the chances for discovery increases. Based on the play by Joseph Hayes which was based on his novel of the same name and he does screenplay duties here. Directed by William Wyler, it's an efficient thriller as long as it remains in the confines of the family home and the tension is contained. The scenes outside the home (like the police scenes) are pretty flat. But the film suffers from Wyler's "good taste". The film really needs the visceral punch of a Sam Fuller or Nick Ray who would bring an edgy pulp to the proceedings. Bogart is fine, his character resembles his Duke Mantee from almost 20 years earlier but Fredric March as the patriarch seems miscast. You can never quite believe his domesticated rage at his situation. Remade in 1990 by Michael Cimino. With Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young, Martha Scott, Mary Murphy, Richard Eyer, Dewey Martin, Beverly Garland and Robert Middleton who overdoes his loose cannon brute.