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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Kind Lady (1951)

A con man (Maurice Evans) charms an elderly woman (Ethel Barrymore) into letting he and his wife (Betsy Blair) stay in her home while his wife recovers from her "illness". But an act of kindness turns into terror as the woman finds herself a prisoner in her own home. Based on the 1935 play by Edward Chodorov which was previously made into a film in 1935 and directed by John Sturges (BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK). The film makes several changes from the 1935 film and all for the better. The elderly woman isn't so gullible, she's got spunk and is more determined. Evans' con man isn't so obvious as Basil Rathbone was in the 1935 film so you can believe she might be taken in. The supporting conspirators played by Angela Lansbury, Keenan Wynn and Blair are also fleshed out and not so cardboard. Sturges manages to make it seem less contrived although the basic premise of a home invasion has been handled in better films like PANIC ROOM and THE DESPERATE HOURS. With John Williams, Moyna Macgill and Doris Lloyd who played the niece in the 1935 version.

The Post (2017)

In 1971, The Washington Post is in a crisis. The family owned newspaper is losing money and now decides to go public to raise capital. But more importantly, they have an opportunity to publish the so called Pentagon Papers which expose the government corruption and lies behind the Vietnam war going back to the Truman era. But publishing it may be the very destruction of their paper. Political films are problematic. Often well intentioned, they are too often heavy handed and preachy. At best, we're lectured to and at worse, we're treated like morons and get hammered over the head until we "get it". If you're going to make a political film, this is the way to make it! While Steven Spielberg's hand is assured, it does sometimes get just a wee bit heavy but this is a solid political thriller along the lines of Z and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. Meryl Streep as Kay Graham, the paper's owner and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, the paper's editor give first rate performances. The kind of solid acting that is too often taken for granted. Streep can be annoying actress-y at times but here, she shows why she's considered the best actress of her generation. I'm not much of a fan of Spielberg's "serious" films but this may be his best "serious" film yet. Good stuff. The impeccable cast includes Sarah Paulson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Bradley Whitford and Bob Odenkirk who gives my favorite performance in the movie.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Gun Fury (1953)

A rancher (Rock Hudson) and his fiancee (Donna Reed) are heading toward California when the stagecoach they are riding is held up by a renegade group of ex-Confederate soldiers. The rancher is left for dead and the gang kidnaps the girl but he sets out after the bandits. Based on the novel TEN AGAINST CAESAR by Kathleen and Robert Granger and directed by veteran Raoul Walsh. This is a routine western which was originally filmed in 3D and the gimmick is the only novel thing about it. We get rocks, plates and knives tossed at us, even a leaping rattlesnake! Hudson makes for a rather benign protagonist for most of the film. A peace loving man who refuses to carry a gun until forced to when he realizes that the film's villain (Philip Carey) will stop at nothing including betrayal and murder in his bid to get what he wants. The cinematography of Lester White (PUSHOVER) makes striking use of the Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona. With Lee Marvin, Neville Brand, Roberta Haynes and in the film's best performance, Leo Gordon.  

The Wild Duck (1971)

A family consisting of a photographer father (Denholm Elliott), his wife (Rosemary Leach), their daughter (Jenny Agutter) and a grandfather (John Robinson) may not have much money but they seem reasonably happy. But when the father's friend (Derek Godfrey) moves in, he feels the family is living a lie and by facing the truth, they will be able to build an honest and better family foundation. What it will do, in fact, is destroy them. Based on the 1884 play by Henrik Ibsen and directed by Alan Bridges (RETURN OF THE SOLDIER). This is my least favorite work by Ibsen. Not because it isn't well written, it surely is but I find it impossibly cruel. None of the male characters are worth a damn and I hate seeing innocent people paying for the stupidity of others. Godfrey's well intentioned friend sticks his nose where it's none of his business and instead of the redemption he hopes for, he sees a family poisoned by things that were well to be kept hidden. This adaptation is well cast and directed but that doesn't ease the misgivings I have about the play itself. With Mark Dignam and Stephanie Bidmead.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Hidden (1987)

The police are perplexed when a quiet citizen (Chris Mulkey) with no previous criminal past goes on a killing spree. When another ordinary man (William Boyett) with no criminal history goes berserk, it becomes clear something extraordinary is going on. A rather mysterious FBI agent (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives and a detective (Michael Nouri) is assigned to assist him. What follows is indeed extraordinary. Directed by Jack Sholder, this sleeper hit has since become a cult film and deservedly so. The screenplay by Bob Hunt is clever and Sholder keeps the focus on the intense action sequences with just the right amount of human element to bring some heart to the film but without diverting it from its true aims. It's intelligent enough not to insult its audience but never quite manages to rise above a perfect piece of sci-fi/horror pulp. And why should it? Better a grade A piece of pulp then a pretentious piece of sci-fi that attempts to be something more than what it is. With Claudia Christian, Clu Gulager, Ed O'Ross and Clarence Felder.

All The Money In The World (2017)

In 1973 Rome, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), the grandson of the world's (reputedly) richest man (Christopher Plummer) is kidnapped and held for a $17 million dollar ransom. Based on the true story of the notorious Getty kidnapping with the usual artistic licenses taken for dramatic effect. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is how very good it is considering what was working against it. With a few exceptions (like THE MARTIAN), director Ridley Scott's films for the last 20 years have been weak (I hated GLADIATOR). Add to that having to recast a major role and shoot it in 2 weeks just weeks before the film was due to open and it screams "Trouble!". Instead, we get an absorbing crackerjack "real life" thriller showing the 80 year old Scott in peak form. Plummer is terrific but the soul of the movie is Michelle Williams as Getty III's mother. An ordinary woman who marries into the family but proves to have a moral backbone greater than the money worshiping Getty. Acknowledgment must be given to Dariusz Wolski's cinematography which seems to have bleached out all color and Daniel Pemberton's tense underscore. With Mark Wahlberg, Timothy Hutton, Romain Duris and Andrew Buchan.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

OSS 117 Se Dechaine (aka OSS 117 Is Unleashed) (1963)

After an American agent (Jacques Harden) is killed in the Mediterranean, the secret service sends another American agent (Kerwin Mathews) to investigate. Based on the novel by Jean Bruce which is part of the popular (at least in France) OSS 117 books and directed by Andre Hunebelle. The character of Hubert Bath aka OSS 117 made his film debut in 1956. But in the wake of the 1962 success of James Bond and DR. NO, he was resurrected with success and there were four more OSS 117 between 1964 and 1968. Mathews would play the role once more in 1964 before giving way to Frederick Stafford for two films and John Gavin for the final entry. This one is a fairly low key entry in B&W and filmed in the 1.66 aspect ratio. All the others would be in color and in 2.35 scope. It's the standard spy stuff with over ambitious villains (Roger Dutoit) and beautiful girls (Nadia Sanders, Irina Demick). The handsome locations (shot in Corsica and Toulon) would have benefited from being shot in color but cinematographer Raymond Pierre Lemoigne still manages to make them stunning in B&W images. With Henri Jacques Huet and Albert Dagnant. 

Turnabout (1940)

An upper class Manhattan couple (Carole Landis, John Hubbard) constantly bicker with each other. When they each make a wish that they could switch lives with their spouse, an Indian idol grants their wish and they wake up in the body of their spouse. Based on the novel by Thorne Smith (TOPPER) and directed by Hal Roach. This screwball comedy was a forerunner in the body switching genre which includes movies like FREAKY FRIDAY, SWITCH, GOODBYE CHARLIE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978) among others. It's fairly amusing and quite fun although it could have used a more physical comic actor than John Hubbard whose swishing around after the switch doesn't come off right, it feels cheesy. Most of the comedy comes not from the body switching so much as the reaction of the first rate supporting cast toward the switch. It must have been quite a gender bending eye opener in 1940 and I can't help but wonder how 1940 audiences reacted. With Mary Astor, Adolphe Menjou, William Gargan, Donald Meek (who steals the movie), Marjorie Main and Joyce Compton.  

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Stranger In The House (aka Cop Out) (1967)

A washed up alcoholic (James Mason) was once a brilliant defense attorney. But when his estranged daughter's (Geraldine Chaplin) boyfriend (Paul Bertoya, who's just awful) is accused of murdering an American criminal (Bobby Darin) in hiding from the law, he takes on the case as the boy's lawyer. Based on the 1940 novel LES INCONNUS DANS LA MAISON  by Georges Simenon (previously made as a film in 1942 with Raimu) and directed by Pierre Rouve. The 1940 source material is gussied up with 1960s swinging London trimmings. The youth in the film are all wild kids on a lark but behavior that seemed trendy and hip and anti establishment in the 1960s comes across as jerk-ish today. The film is incoherent for most of its running time before coalescing somewhat in the film's last half hour that comes across as the finale of a PERRY MASON episode. The acting is poor all around and I don't think I've seen James Mason gives a worse performance though I can't tell if it's unintentional bad acting or Mason hates his part so much he actively sabotages his own performance. The best thing about the film is the underscore by John Scott. With Yootha Joyce, Ian Oglivy, Megs Jenkins, Moira Lister and Bryan Stanyon.  

Night Train To L.A. (1975)

A night train going from San Francisco to Los Angeles has 27 passengers and crew. The majority of passengers are policemen including a San Francisco Police commissioner (Rock Hudson) heading to a police convention in L.A. Also on board is an author (Michael Callan) who has written a tell all book exposing police corruption and brutality. When he gets shot to death, will the Police Commissioner be able to solve the murder before they reach L.A.? This telefilm was orginally shown as part of the MCMILLAN & WIFE TV murder mysteries. I'm a pushover for murder mysteries set on trains (Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS being the granddaddy of them all), so I was primed for this. I pegged the murderer quite early and was hoping to be proven wrong but I wasn't. Still, I'm the demographic for this sort of thing and I enjoyed most of it up until the very end when it arrives in L.A. and ends with a conventional chase and shoot out. Nothing special but for fellow murder mysteries set on train fans, it's worth checking out. Directed by Leonard Horn. With Linda Evans, Paul Burke, Murray Matheson, John Schuck, Nancy Walker (more annoying than amusing) and Susan Saint James.

The Hoodlum Saint (1946)

Returning home from WWI, a soldier (William Powell) finds he can't get his old job as a reporter back. A chance meeting with a socialite (Esther Williams) gets him a job with her Uncle's (Charles Trowbridge) newspaper but he soon decides to throw in with an unethical tycoon (Henry O'Neill) because that's where the money is. Directed by Norman Taurog (BOYS TOWN) and "inspired" by an actual person. A rather dreary film that its appealing cast makes tolerable for most of its running time until the last half hour or so when it gets religion, literally. Then it becomes near intolerable. Powell has his usual charm, Williams makes her dramatic debut (she doesn't swim in this one) and she's charming and poor Angela Lansbury gets stuck in the kind of role that sent her screaming from MGM! There's a Runyonesque quality to the proceedings but it lacks the distinctive affection Damon Runyon had for his characters. With James Gleason, Lewis Stone, Frank McHugh, Rags Ragland and Slim Summerville.   

Friday, December 22, 2017

Miracle Mile (1988)

A musician (Anthony Edwards) randomly answers a ringing phone in a phone booth outside a diner. The frantic caller at the other end thinking he's called his father explains that a nuclear war is imminent. With only a few hours left, the musician seeks out the woman (Mare Winningham) he loves and attempts to escape via helicopter. Written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt, this apocalyptic romantic thriller is erratic if not in its execution, certainly in its screenplay. Edwards' character too often comes across as the dumbest guy in L.A. in his actions. His behavior is too far fetched to keep it rooted in reality. But hey, this isn't reality, it's borderline sci-fi and I suppose I shouldn't take it too seriously but the film wants to be taken seriously. On the plus side, De Jarnatt does a fabulous job of creating a paranoid chaotic atmosphere and there's a wonderful chemistry between Edwards and Winningham which makes the romance believable. I'm not a fan of synthesizer scores but this one by Tangerine Dream is very effective. With John Agar, Mykelti Williamson, Denise Crosby, Kurt Fuller, O-lan Jones, Jenette Goldstein and Robert DoQui. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Doctor You've Got To Be Kidding (1967)

After being rushed to the hospital to give birth with three suitors (Bill Bixby, Dwayne Hickman, Dick Kallman) in tow, an unmarried aspiring singer (Sandra Dee) reflects on the circumstances leading up to her pregnancy. Based on the book THREE FOR THE WEDDING by Patte Lee Mahan and directed by Peter Tewksbury (SUNDAY IN NEW YORK). By 1967, Sandra Dee's career was in transition. She was getting too old to play the perky teen ingenue that made her one of the country's most popular actresses. This film was an attempt to turn her into a more sophisticated Doris Day (junior grade) sex comedy star. It might have worked if the material had been better but this wan attempt at comedic hijinks was already starting to get out of date in the year of films like BONNIE AND CLYDE and THE GRADUATE. Dee is the only reason to watch this, charming as ever and still a formidable screen presence but unless you're a Sandra Dee fan, I suspect this will be excruciating to sit through. Could they have found a duller bunch of leading men? With George Hamilton as Dee's boss, Celeste Holm as her mother, Mort Sahl and Allen Jenkins.

The Greatest Showman (2017)

The story of the rise of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) who brought us the greatest show on Earth, the Barnum & Bailey circus. I'm a pushover for musicals and very forgiving and bend over backwards. That being said, there's only one word for this film ..... dreadful! If you thought Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE! was the epitome of the film musical, I suppose you might find something to admire in this abomination. I could easily forgive its trite narrative if the musical numbers were good but every song in the movie is an anachronistic (the film takes place in the 19th century) pop power ballad and not good ones either. I began to feel like I was trapped at auditions for AMERICAN IDOL. I won't even go in the calisthenics masquerading as choreography! When Barnum brings the legendary Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) to make her New York debut, does she sing an operatic aria? Of course not, she hammers us over the head with yet another big power ballad in a non operatic singing voice (Loren Allred dubs Ferguson). The only one who doesn't get a big power ballad is an undubbed Michelle Williams as Mrs. Barnum and I suspect it's because she can't hit the high notes.  There's not a moment in this big bombastic elephant that equals the simplicity and grace of Ryan Gosling quietly singing City Of Stars on the pier in LA LA LAND. If you must, you must but don't say you haven't been warned. Directed by Michael Gracey, who no surprise comes from the world of music videos. With Zac Efron, Zendaya, Keala Settle and Paul Sparks.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Return To Fantasy Island (1978)

On a luxurious island resort, a mysterious man (Ricardo Montalban) has the ability to make fantasies come true but those fantasies don't always turn out the way their participants had hoped for: an assistant (George Maharis) longs to be stranded on an island with his career woman boss (Adrienne Barbeau), an infertile couple (Pat Crowley, Joseph Campanella) long to see the child they gave up for adoption 12 years ago, a woman (Karen Valentine) who lost her memory on her honeymoon wants to recreate the traumatic event that lead to her memory loss. It wasn't unusual in the 60s and 70s to do TV movies to test their potential as a TV series. ABC had aired a FANTASY ISLAND telefilm in 1977 and this sequel came the year after and 9 months later, the TV series began its 6 year run. In this feature length telefilm, Montalban's character isn't as benevolent as he would later become. He's rather sinister and arrogant, not something you'd want to see on a weekly basis. The stories are all hackneyed but the veteran actors all do their best. With Joseph Cotten, Horst Buchholz, France Nuyen, Laraine Day, Cameron Mitchell, George Chakiris and Herve Villechaize.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Kind Lady (1935)

A wealthy woman (Aline MacMahon) with a kind disposition proves an easy mark for a treacherous con man (Basil Rathbone) who tricks her into letting him and his "ill" wife (Justine Chase) into staying in her home until the wife recovers. But what was intended as an act of generosity turns into terror as the con man and his gang take over her house and terrorize her. Based on the play by Edward Chodorov and directed by George B. Seitz. This unsettling thriller offers Rathbone an opportunity to display his talent for elegant malevolence and a rare leading role for the character actress Aline MacMahon. It's a nail biter alright but I find myself irritated by people who let themselves be used and Rathbone's duplicity is fairly obvious right from the start and MacMahon's common sense seems to evaporate. Still, it's a necessary contrivance to get the narrative going I suppose. I just wish they didn't make her such a pushover dupe. Remade in 1951 by John Sturges. With Frank Albertson, Doris Lloyd, Dudley Digges, Donald Meek and Eily Malyon.

The Law And Jake Wade (1958)

A reformed outlaw (Robert Taylor) is now the respectable sheriff of a small town and engaged to a beautiful woman (Patricia Owens). But his former outlaw partner (Richard Widmark) resurfaces for some unfinished business which includes forcing the sheriff and his fiancee to accompany him through hostile Comanche territory in a search for buried money. Based on the novel by Marvin H. Albert (TONY ROME) and directed by John Sturges (THE GREAT ESCAPE). Sturges had a sure hand when it came to directing westerns. GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL was probably his best but others included ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO and HOUR OF THE GUN. This film is a well done tight western with good performances and Sturges keeps a firm rein on the suspense and tension factors. Taylor is one of those actors who was known more for his looks early in his career but turned into a solid actor as the years progressed. By the 1950s, he was doing some of his best work. Widmark does his specialty, the cold blooded killer and the lovely Owens gets a chance to be more than just "the girl". The handsome CinemaScope lensing is by Robert Surtees (BEN-HUR). With Robert Middleton (very good), Henry Silva and DeForest Kelley.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Cry In The Night (1956)

A policeman's daughter (Natalie Wood) is abducted by a mother obsessed psychotic (Raymond Burr) while out on a date with her boyfriend (Richard Anderson). Based on the novel ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT by Whit Masterson (TOUCH OF EVIL) and directed by Frank Tuttle (THIS GUN FOR HIRE). The film makes several major changes from the book. For example, Wood's kidnap victim is unconscious for most of the book and Burr's psychopath isn't a mama's boy in the novel. Edmond O'Brien as Wood's father overacts shamefully and comes across as psychotic as the kidnapper. The film is an economical quickie produced by Alan Ladd's (who does the opening narration) production company. At a brief running time of one hour and 15 minutes, the movie feels at times like an extended episode of a 1950s TV cop show. Burr plays the child-like psycho like Lennie from OF MICE AND MEN and he's not very good. A year later, he would become TV's Perry Mason and put movie villainy behind him. Wood doesn't have much to do except portray fear and hysteria which she does well. With Brian Donlevy, Irene Hervey, Anthony Caruso and Tina Carver. 

The Christmas Wife (1988)

A recent widower (Jason Robards) is facing his first Christmas alone. He goes to an agency specializing in "social introductions" in search of a companion to spend Christmas with. He meets a reserved and shy woman (Julie Harris) who agrees to spend Christmas under one condition: no questions asked. Based on the short story by Helen Norris and directed by David Hugh Jones (84 CHARING CROSS ROAD). This is a bittersweet Christmas story which eschews the usual Christmas sentimentality present in most Christmas movies. It's obvious that the Julie Harris character has a secret and you wait until it's revealed (no, she's not dying) and realize that no happy ending is possible but at least one of the characters can move forward in their lives. Robards and Harris perform well together, there's a nice simplicity to their acting and you can't help but hope for the best outcome possible. A nice change of pace for those seeking something different in their Christmas movies. With Don Francks and James Eckhouse.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Hairy Ape (1944)

Traveling on a small freighter during WWII from Lisbon to New York, a spoiled rich girl (Susan Hayward) encounters the ship's chief stoker (William Bendix). She is repulsed by his neanderthal brutish look and way and insults him by calling him a hairy ape. This has a devastating effect on the simple minded brute. Very loosely based on the 1922 play by Eugene O'Neill and directed by Alfred Santell. O'Neill's play was an expressionistic piece with a political and social subtext about social class and industrialization with a downbeat ending. This film adaptation jettisons all that and even gives us a ridiculously lame "happy" ending. I rather liked Hayward's rich bitch because everyone else around her was either dumb enough to do her bidding or not see through her manipulation. She had a contempt for everyone and I can't say that I blame her, at least as they are written. The film appears to be leading to something terrible, it's almost a horror film with the neanderthal Bendix stalking Hayward and when he finally confronts her, you expect the worst. What we get is ludicrous. With John Loder, Dorothy Comingore (CITIZEN KANE), Alan Napier and Tom Fadden.

The Shape Of Water (2017)

Set in 1961 Baltimore, a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaning woman at a government research center. When an amphibian humanoid creature (Doug Jones) discovered in South America is brought in, she is drawn to it and they form a kinship. Co-written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, this much praised film proved a major disappointment. Based on the reviews and the film's trailer, I was expecting something transcendent and magical. What I got was good but far from great. Del Toro's homage to CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON takes the 1954 film's monster's attraction to Julie Adams one step further to the obvious next step. I had a major problem with Michael Shannon's character, an abusive psychotic military man, which is a ghastly movie cliche right out of a 1950's B sci-fi movie. And that's exactly how Shannon plays him ..... a cliche. Contrast that with Octavia Spencer, who also plays a movie cliche, the black cleaning woman but Spencer infuses her character with humanity and layers. Fortunately in the center of it all is a terrific performance by Sally Hawkins which almost makes the movie something special. With Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nick Searcy and Morgan Kelly.   

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Le Gitan (1975)

A criminal (Alain Delon) of "Gypsy" heritage is hiding from the police along with his two accomplices (Renato Salvatori, Maurice Barrier). Concurrently, the police are also investigating a jewel thief (Paul Meurisse) suspected of killing his wife. Written and directed by Jose Giovanni from his novel HISTOIRE DE FOU. I've not read Giovanni's novel but perhaps as the author of the source material, he was too close to the material to turn it into a viable film. I understand Giovanni's intent to portray the discrimination of and marginalization of the vanishing Gypsy culture but Delon's gypsy may be a minority but he's still a cold blooded killer. There's no denying Delon's strong screen presence but he was never much of an actor so his character just isn't very interesting. Much more interesting is Meurisse's slightly enigmatic mastermind jewel thief. The two stories run parallel and eventually merge in the film's last 20 minutes or so. Not without interest but an overall disappointment. The nice supporting cast includes Annie Girardot, Marcel Bozzuffi and Bernard Giraudeau. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Ruby (1977)

An ex-mobster's mistress (Piper Laurie) is running a drive in theater in a rural part of the country. 16 years earlier, her lover (Sal Vecchio) had been murdered in a gangland killing and that very night, she gave birth to their daughter. Now, suddenly the men responsible for his death are dying violent deaths and she has visions of her dead lover returning. Directed by Curtis Harrington (WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?), this low budget exploitation film taking place at a drive in seems made for the drive in trade! For most of its running time, it appears to be a ghost story but suddenly in the movie's last half hour it turns into THE EXORCIST. Outside of Piper Laurie, who's very good and Stuart Whitman, who's okay, the acting is pretty lousy. For a horror film, it lacks any sense of dread or tension. To Harrington's credit, he infuses the film with a nice visual atmosphere and sense of period detail. With Janit Baldwin, Fred Kohler Jr. and Roger Davis. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Man With Two Brains (1983)

A world famous brain surgeon (Steve Martin) marries a duplicitous gold digger (Kathleen Turner) who taunts him by withholding sex from him while she has sex with the gardener and room service waiters. But when he comes across a brain (Sissy Spacek) in a jar in a scientist's (David Warner) laboratory, it's love! Directed by Carl Reiner, who co-wrote the screenplay along with Martin and George Gipe. This parody of science fiction "mad scientist" movies is quite funny. It's totally silly of course so don't look for logic or realism, just enjoy the jokes. Kathleen Turner is hilarious as the evil, ball busting vixen in what might be described as her BODY HEAT character  for laughs. Spacek proves that voice acting can be just as important as "real" acting as her brain is a charmer and you can see why Martin would fall in love with her/it. All in all, one of the funniest comedies of the 1980s. The underscore is by Joel Goldsmith (son of Jerry). With James Cromwell, George Furth, Estelle Reiner, Randi Brooks, Jeffrey Combs and Merv Griffin. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Hired Gun (1957)

A Texas woman (Anne Francis) accused of murdering her husband escapes from jail with the help of a family friend (Chuck Connors) to New Mexico. When New Mexico refuses to extradite her, the murdered man's father (John Litel) hires a gunslinger (Rory Calhoun) to bring her back. Directed by Ray Nazarro, this economical B&W western shot in CinemaScope is a programmer that has the feel of an episode from a western TV series. It's padded out to feature length with superfluous things like an Indian attack but it's a moderately enjoyable mid range western that turned a modest profit when released 60 years ago. Surprisingly, the film doesn't attempt a romance between Calhoun and Francis. Instead it concentrates on the gunslinger letting his guard down and open to a human connection instead of acting the professional mercenary. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone except western buffs. With Vince Edwards and Robert Burton.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Housekeeper's Daughter (1939)

A feeble minded flower peddler (George E. Stone) has a crush on a Broadway actress (Lilian Bond). When she's threatened by a gangster (Marc Lawrence), he puts poison in the thug's coffee but the actress drinks it instead. The gangster dumps her body in the river. This is just the start of a screwball comedy about a housekeeper's daughter (Joan Bennett), a fast talking reporter (Adolphe Menjou), a naive rich boy (John Hubbard) and newspaper editor (Donald Meek). Directed by Hal Roach, the film never lives up to the comedic potential its premise suggests. The movie takes too long to get its rhythm going and it only starts popping in the film's last half hour. The film is a testament to star power as Joan Bennett and Adolphe Menjou make the most of their lines but the charmless John Hubbard is a hole in the screen. Lovers of comedy murder mysteries will most likely be agreeable to this offering but others may not be so forgiving. I enjoyed it more than not. With Victor Mature (in his screen debut), Peggy Wood (THE SOUND OF MUSIC), William Gargan and Leila McIntyre.  

A Wedding (1961)

A bridegroom's (Dennis Edwards) plan to have a General attend his wedding backfires when the "General" turns out to be a lowly naval captain (Robert Gillespie). Based on the 1889 one act play by Anton Chekhov and directed by Rosemary Hill. Chekhov's curtain raiser is a slight piece of amusing social commentary about social status and anti-intellectual attitudes among the working class in late 19th century Russia. The length is perfect as Chekhov manages to say enough without over extending himself. The acting is broad but not offensively so. The cast includes Roy Kinnear, Graham Armitage, Hilary Mason, Julia McCarthy and Anne Robson.

Travels With My Aunt (1972)

At his mother's funeral, a strait laced bank manager (Alec McCowen) meets his eccentric and flamboyant Aunt Augusta (Maggie Smith) for the first time since he was an infant. The Aunt is trying to raise the ransom money for an old lover (Robert Stephens) and coerces her unwilling nephew into helping her. Based on the novel by Graham Greene (THE THIRD MAN) and directed by George Cukor. This delightful comic romp owes everything to Maggie Smith's Oscar nominated performance. Whether whooping about or dripping sarcasm, Smith is magnificent. Every time she's off screen, the film drags a bit and the scenes on the train between McCowen and Cindy Williams (as an American hippie) just about stop the movie cold. It's a great looking film thanks to Douglas Slocombe's lensing (it was filmed in England, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Turkey and Yugoslavia), John Box's production design and Anthony Powell's Oscar winning costumes. It's no AUNTIE MAME but it's still an Aunt worth spending some time with. With Louis Gossett Jr., Robert Flemyng and Corinne Marchand.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Gidget (1959)

A 16 year old girl (Sandra Dee) finds herself out of sync with her boy crazy girlfriends. But when she discovers surfing while at the beach, she becomes the mascot for a group of older surfers lead by The Kahuna (Cliff Robertson) and finds herself attracted to one (James Darren), in particular. Based on the novel GIDGET, THE LITTLE GIRL WITH BIG IDEAS by Frederick Kohner and directed by Paul Wendkos (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ). A popular hit, it spawned several movie sequels as well as a TV sitcom and is credited for mainstreaming surfing in the U.S. It's a sweet little movie with a more realistic look at the Southern California surfing culture than the BEACH PARTY movies which would follow four years later. 1959 was Sandra Dee's breakthrough year and this was one of the three films that would make her one of Hollywood's biggest box office stars, a sort of junior Doris Day, for the next several years. Not great art by any means but a reminder that movies are sometimes propelled by minor pleasures. Still, the idea of a 16 year old girl hanging out with a group of older guys probably wouldn't play well with contemporary thinking. With Arthur O'Connell, Jo Morrow, Doug McClureYvonne Craig, Tom LaughlinMary LaRoche and Joby Baker. 

One Million B.C. (1940)

A group of hikers seek shelter in a cave during a sudden storm in the mountains. An anthropologist (Conrad Nagel) already in the cave explains the drawings on the cave walls and the story of the rock people and the shell people in prehistoric times. Directed by Hal Roach and his son, Hal Roach Jr. It's an interesting piece of fantasy adventure but rather slow moving which make its hour and 21 minute running time on the sluggish side. The film's Oscar nominated special effects were quite impressive for its day although the use of enlarged lizards and crocodiles to play dinosaurs may be bothersome for some. I was fine with it. The volcano eruption is very well done. The minimal dialog consists of grunts and a made up "cave man" language. The focus of the film is on the romance between the neanderthal "rock" man (Victor Mature) and the enlightened "shell" woman (Carole Landis). Oddly enough, this film made them stars and 20th Century Fox signed them both to contracts where their careers would blossom. Remade in 1966 with Raquel Welch. With Lon Chaney Jr. as Mature's father.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Disaster Artist (2017)

In 1998 San Francisco, an aspiring actor (Dave Franco) meets an eccentric and mysterious guy by the name of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in his acting class. Drawn to him because of his fearless personality, on impulse he moves to Los Angeles with the guy to break into the movies. Based on the non-fiction book by Greg Sestero (played by Dave Franco) and directed by James Franco. It would have been easy to make THE DISASTER ARTIST which focuses on the filming of THE ROOM, considered by many as the best "worst movie ever made", into an all out ha-ha comedy condescending to its film makers' ambitions vs. lack of talent. But the film's power lies not in its humor but in its poignancy, that there's a real person with emotions behind that delusional front. The film is about dreams and friendship at its core and Franco's Tommy Wiseau is an outsider wanting to fit in but he has no talent, he's not good looking, he has an abrasive personality and no one likes him until he meets Greg. James Franco is absolutely fantastic here in what might well be a career defining performance. You may be repelled by him but your heart still aches for him. The massive cast include Seth Rogen, Sharon Stone, Zac Efron, Melanie Griffith, Bryan Cranston, Jacki Weaver, Kristen Bell, Judd Apatow, Megan Mullally, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie and Josh Hutcherson.     

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sayonara (1957)

Set during the Korean war, an ace Air Force pilot (Marlon Brando) is re-assigned to Japan at the request of his fiancee's (Patricia Owens) father (Kent Smith), an Air Force General. But instead of being reunited with his fiancee, he finds himself attracted to a Japanese entertainer (Miiko Taka). Based on the novel by James Michener (HAWAII) and directed by Joshua Logan (PICNIC). Pushing the 2 1/2 hour mark, this lush romance focuses on racism and prejudice and the clash of cultures. Beautifully shot in the Technirama format entirely on location in Japan by Ellsworth Fredericks (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY), the screenplay by Paul Osborn carefully covers the appalling military policy at that time of not allowing Japanese wives to emigrate to the U.S. with their spouses. Fortunately, it's done without the heavy handed preachy hammer of tolerance that a less skilled film maker (cough*Stanley Kramer*cough) would probably have done. The film's only downside is the casting of Ricardo Montalban as a Japanese Kabuki actor which plays even worse today than it did in 1957. Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki as an interracial couple both received Oscars for their performances. There's a lovely Franz Waxman underscore. With James Garner, Martha Scott and Reiko Kuba. 

Fashions Of 1934 (1934)

A con man (William Powell), his assistant (Frank McHugh) and a designer (Bette Davis) travel to Paris where they plan to make knock offs of the exclusive haute couture fashion house designs for the U.S. market. Based on THE FASHION PLATE by Harry Collins and Warren Duff and directed by William Dieterle (PORTRAIT OF JENNIE), this is a throwaway of a movie. Davis has never looked more glamorous but you'd never guess she would soon become one of the screen's great actresses. She might as well be Ruby Keeler here! Powell lays the charm on but it's an uphill battle. The film has two big production numbers. One, a fashion show is entertaining enough but the other (this being a Warners picture) is one of those godawful overproduced Busby Berkeley musical numbers with girls as human harps and ostrich feathers everywhere. Mercifully at a running time of one hour and 18 minutes, it's not too tedious a sit. With Reginald Owen, Verree Teasdale, Hugh Herbert and Jane Darwell.   

Power (1986)

A high powered media consultant (Richard Gere) takes on the campaign of a wealthy businessman (J.T. Walsh) for a Senate seat being vacated by a personal friend (E.G. Marshall) who is dropping out due to illness or so he says. But something isn't right and it isn't long before the consultant discovers his phones are being tapped as he attempts to uncover the truth. Directed by the overrated Sidney Lumet, the film might have made for a decent conspiracy thriller if it weren't for the heavy handed direction and screenplay (by David Himmelstein). This is the kind of film Stanley Kramer did in the late 50s and 1960s, where the characters pontificate and lecture us. We haven't been hammered this hard over the head since Lumet's NETWORK! It's a rather self congratulatory film that could have used a bit of wit. The acting is all over the place ranging from excellent (Denzel Washington, Julie Christie) to bad (Kate Capshaw, Matt Salinger). With Gene Hackman, Beatrice Straight, Fritz Weaver, Michael Learned, E. Katherine Kerr and Noel Harrison. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Battle Of The Sexes (1960)

A chance meeting on a train causes a Scottish businessman (Robert Morley) to invite an American efficiency expert (Constance Cummings) to bring his fabric business into the 20th century. However, her methods alienate the all male employees and a mild mannered accountant (Peter Sellers) takes it upon himself to rid the company of the woman. Based on THE CATBIRD SEAT by James Thurber (SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY) and directed by Charles Crichton (A FISH CALLED WANDA). I didn't find much to laugh at until the film's last half hour when there's a hilarious segment with Sellers attempting to murder Cummings that is marvelous! Still, it's hard to get over the misogyny inherent in the material. Cummings, who's excellent, is portrayed as a ball breaker and the film can't end until she's given her comeuppance and the all male office (except for the girl who makes tea) can go back to their patriarchal ways. But this was 1960 after all and that was, unfortunately, the prevailing attitude. With Donald Pleasence and Ernest Thesiger.     

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Non Si Sevizia Un Paperino (aka Don't Torture A Duckling) (1972)

A series of child murders occurs in a small Southern Italian village. The locals are rather ignorant and suspicious people and innocent people get accused before the real killer is exposed. Directed by Lucio Fulci (LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN). This giallo is very disturbing on several levels. Fulci does an expert job at keeping the tension quotient high and casts a cynical eye on the villagers who are portrayed as uneducated and mistrustful and in their own way, as guilty as the psycho who's killing the village's young boys. It's pretty easy to identify the killer from the first shot but Fulci attempts to throw us off the scent with several red herrings but it doesn't work, the killer is that obvious. But Fulci seems almost gleeful in the violent aspects of the movie. Florinda Bolkan's murder is done slowly with the camera lingering on her suffering and so graphic that I had to turn my eyes away. The killer's death is also graphic but he's the killer so who cares. There's also a scene with a nude Barbara Bouchet taunting a little boy that would never get the greenlight today, at least in the U.S. The underscore is by Riz Ortolani (YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE). With Irene Papas and Tomas Milian.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Secret Heart (1946)

A woman (Claudette Colbert) becomes concerned when her stepdaughter (June Allyson) shows signs of the psychological instability that destroyed her father (Richard Derr). The girl's psychiatrist (Lionel Barrymore) suggests returning to the scene of the father's suicide, the family farm which they haven't seen in 10 years. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, this melodrama contains the same dubious psychological theories of other 1940s films that dabbled in psychology like SPELLBOUND and THE SEVENTH VEIL. The screenplay doesn't have the courage to follow through with the darker aspects of the story and a possible pessimistic conclusion. Instead, we get instant healing and a ever after happy ending. Cast against type, June Allyson abandons the fresh scrubbed girl next door persona and is effective as the disturbed father-obsessed daughter with an Electra complex. With Walter Pidgeon, Robert Sterling, Patricia Medina, Marshall Thompson, Barbara Billingsley and Eily Malyon.

Arms And The Man (1989)

During the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War, a Swiss soldier (Pip Torrens) fighting for the Serbs is on the run from Bulgarian soldiers. He breaks into the bedroom of a young Bulgarian woman (Helena Bonham Carter) who has romanticized ideas about war and hides him from the Serb forces. After the war has ended, he returns to the woman's household and that's when the "fun" starts. Based on the 1894 play by George Bernard Shaw and directed by James Cellan Jones. This is one of Shaw's wittiest and pungent plays and this is a very good production of it. But it's harmed by Patrick Ryecart's (as Carter's soldier fiance) performance which throws the production off kilter. The rest of the cast all seem to be on the same page. They know they're in a farce and play for high comedy but at least they are actually recognizable as human beings. Ryecart is so bizarrely over the top that he resembles an animated cartoon than an actual human! Shaw's theme that war is not a romantic adventure is still relevant today. Made into the operetta THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER by Franz Lehar. With Patsy Kensit, Kika Markham, Dinsdale Landen and Nicolas Chagrin. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

In 1885, two con men and ex-officers of the Indian Army (Sean Connery, Michael Caine) devise a plot to travel to the desolate and remote country of Kafiristan, overthrow its King and become kings themselves. Based on the novella by Rudyard Kipling and directed by John Huston. The film feels old fashioned (in a good way) but also fresh. Everything aligns perfectly from the screenplay (by Huston and Gladys Hill) to Oswald Morris's glistening cinematography (it was filmed in Morocco) and expert performances by Caine and Connery (it may possibly be Connery's best work). The two con men with their superior imperialist attitude should be repugnant yet you can't help but like them. Connery and Caine's camaraderie is tangible and goes a long way in keeping the movie afloat. It's great fun but also moving in its own way as its two protagonists discover too late that they're in way over their heads. Edith Head's costumes were justifiably Oscar nominated but shockingly Maurice Jarre's most effective underscore was not. With Christopher Plummer as Kipling, Saeed Jaffrey and Shakira Caine (Michael's wife).

Mrs. O'Malley And Mr. Malone (1950)

A shyster lawyer (James Whitmore) and a Montana widow (Marjorie Main) meet up on a train going to New York. When they discover a dead body that's been stabbed to death in the lawyer's compartment, they put their brains together in an attempt to solve the murder. I love murder mysteries and I'm quite fond of movie that take place on trains. So a comedy whodunit set on a train is right up my alley. Unfortunately, the "hilarity" seems forced, the list of suspects is too short and it's not very difficult to identify the killer. The players seem up for it and it looks like MGM was setting up a franchise with Main and Whitmore as a pair of opposing sleuths but the film was not a success so there were no further films. Still, at a brief one hour and nine minutes, it doesn't have an opportunity to wear out its welcome. Directed by Norman Taurog. With Dorothy Malone, Phyllis Kirk, Ann Dvorak, Fred Clark, Clinton Sundberg, Don Porter and Douglas Fowley.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Counterfeit Plan (1957)

Escaping from the French police on his way to prison, a convicted murderer (Zachary Scott) flees across the English channel and seeks out a former expert forger (Mervyn Johns). The ex-forger is leading a respectable country life now but the murderer blackmails him into helping him flood the country with counterfeit money. Directed by Montgomery Tully. Despite the presence of its two American stars (Scott and Peggie Castle as Johns' daughter), this is a British programmer that was quite popular in the United Kingdom. It's moderately enjoyable but it's held back by some poor choices made by its characters which don't ring true. The actions they do seem to be written in to move the story forward rather than organic to their characters. I mean that the characters appear to be fairly intelligent people yet they behave in dubious ways and act foolishly. Scott perfected the slimy cad during his tenure at Warners in the 1940s but he outdoes himself here. He positively makes your skin crawl. The ending is too convenient and implausible as if the writers got tired and just wanted to end the story. With Lee Patterson, Robert Arden (MR. ARKADIN) and Eric Pohlmann.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Salome, Where She Danced (1945)

In 1866, a war correspondent (Rod Cameron) in Germany persuades a famous dancer (Yvonne De Carlo) to spy on a Prussian officer (Albert Dekker) in an attempt to get information on Germany's plans to attack Austria. The plan fails and the dancer and correspondent flee to America but the Prussian is not done with them. Very loosely based on the story of Lola Montes and directed by Charles Lamont (ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY). The meandering storyline doesn't do the film any service but the film's worst offense is in its two leading men, who compete with each other to see who can be the biggest bore. Both Rod Cameron and David Bruce as an ex-Confederate turned outlaw are stiffs and when De Carlo is willing to sacrifice all for the love of Bruce, one can't help but scratch ones head. This was De Carlo's breakthrough role and made her a star and she's the best thing about the film. But it's a potboiler through and through. For De Carlo fans only. With Walter Slezak, Marjorie Rambeau, J. Edward Bromberg and Abner Biberman.

Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool (2017)

The Oscar winning actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) has fallen on hard times and is performing Sadie Thompson in RAIN in Liverpool when she meets a young struggling actor (Jamie Bell). Thus begins an intense two year relationship that ends in death before it can be resolved. Based on the non fiction book by Peter Turner (played by Bell) and directed by Paul McGuigan. It's a sketchy film that I wish had more time to develop but it works as a memory piece, Peter Turner's memory piece and we see Gloria Grahame (he didn't know who she was when they met) through his eyes. So we don't get to know Grahame outside the 2 year period when she was dying of cancer. Bening wisely doesn't try to ape Grahame's mannerisms or looks and she only slightly uses Grahame's famous lisp. So by not imitating her, Bening is free to develop Grahame as a character without the limitations a full on impersonation would preclude. And let's face it, outside of film buffs, Gloria Grahame just isn't well known today. A lot of the flashbacks are stylized, played out on obvious backdrops (probably due to budget constraints rather than artistic choices) which adds an even more atmospheric mood to the memory piece. With Vanessa Redgrave as Grahame's mother, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Frances Barber and Stephen Graham. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

A single mother (Carol Lynley) has relocated from America to London with her 4 year old daughter. But when the daughter goes missing, no one recalls seeing the child and the police superintendent (Laurence Olivier) in charge of the case suspects the child may not actually exist. Based on the novel by Evelyn Piper and directed by Otto Preminger, this was Preminger's last good movie (he would go on to direct six more). Preminger specialized in mystery/thrillers in his early career. Movies like LAURA, FALLEN ANGEL, WHIRLPOOL, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS etc. before moving on to "important" prestigious films like ANATOMY OF A MURDER, EXODUS, ADVISE AND CONSENT etc. Fortunately, in this case at least, he proves you can go home again. He hasn't lost his touch and he imbues BUNNY with an atmosphere of classic B&W noir-ish style as well as a sense of Hitchcockian dread. My only problem and it's a minor one is with Keir Dullea as Lynley's brother. His casting is a little too obvious and he overtips his hand. There was some talk of Ryan O'Neal for the part and he actually might have been better. The lovely underscore is by Paul Glass. With Noel Coward as a creepy pervert, Martita Hunt, Anna Massey, Clive Revill, Adrienne Corri, Suky Appleby, Finlay Currie and even The Zombies show up. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Three Desperate Men (1951)

Two brothers (Preston Foster, Jim Davis) are deputies in a small Texas town. When they hear their younger brother (Kim Spalding) is in a California jail for robbing a train, they go out there to clear his name. But their attempt to save him is a disaster when a guard is killed and they find themselves on the run from the law. Directed by Sam Newfield (TERROR OF TINY TOWN), this poverty row western is very loosely based on the Dalton brothers outlaw gang. It's hard to muster up much empathy for these men who are totally responsible for the pickle they're in and when they embrace the outlaw lifestyle, however reluctantly, there's zero sympathy. Even their own mother (Margaret Seddon) won't let them in the door. And when they use information told to them in confidence thus implicating an innocent woman (Virginia Grey) to rob a train, one hopes they get caught and get their just desserts. It's a short movie, about an hour and ten minutes, but a tedious "comic" scene involving Sid Melton as a telegraph worker stops the movie cold and could easily have been cut. With Monte Blue and Rory Mallinson.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Phantom Thread (2017)

Set in the haute couture world of 1950's London, a famous but eccentric fashion designer (Daniel Day Lewis) insists on being in control of his life and environment. When he meets a young waitress (Vicky Krieps), he takes her under his wing and acts as Pygmalion to her Galatea. But he underestimates her and soon they battle over dominance in their relationship. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (MAGNOLIA), this ambitious look at the dynamics of power shifts in a personal relationship is a visual treat. Once again, Daniel Day Lewis (reputedly his swan song to acting) proves the premier film actor of his generation. His fashion designer is a carefully crafted and intimate creation, unable to stand even the slightest deviation of his perfectly controlled life. Alas, Anderson meets his Waterloo when he is unable to construct a satisfactory conclusion. I was expecting something dark and sick but what we get is something sick and sentimental. It feels like Anderson doesn't trust us to accept the perverse nature of these characters (he may be right, I could feel the audience turning against the movie) and sprinkles sugar over the last few frames. A pity because there's so much good stuff here. I'd rank it somewhere between THE MASTER and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. With Lesley Manville, excellent as Day Lewis's strong willed sister.

Putting It Together (2000)

At an all night cocktail party in Manhattan, an older married couple (Carol Burnett, George Hearn) face their disillusions and marital problems while a younger couple (Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman) struggle with their emotions and desires while a commentator (Bronson Pinchot) oversees and influences the action. Directed by Don Roy King and Eric D. Schaeffer, the thinnest of plots is merely there to connect the exquisite Stephen Sondheim songs. It's not an original score but comprised of Sondheim's songs from shows like A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, COMPANY, FOLLIES, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, SWEENEY TODD, ASSASSINS, THE FROGS and the movie DICK TRACY. But the songs are placed strategically so they comment on the characters' state of mind. It's not even a full blown "book" musical but a musical revue. But when you're spending 90 minutes in the company of one of the great American musical composers of the 20th century, you're in such bliss just to listen. Burnett is the biggest name in the cast so the show is more or less thrown her way but the other four actors (well, maybe not Pinchot) really shine here as well.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg (1972)

A young married couple, a school teacher (Alan Bates) and an actress (Janet Suzman) have a daughter with severe cerebral palsy (she's in a wheelchair and unable to speak) and the child requires round the clock attention and it's taking its toll on their marriage. They cope with the situation with humor but the husband is starting to have fantasies of killing the child. Based on the 1967 play by Peter Nichols (who adapted his play for the screen) which was a success both on the London stage and the Broadway stage and directed by Peter Medak (THE RULING CLASS). This is a very English black comedy and although Nichols tweaks it with cinematic touches, its theatrical origins are very much in evidence. Its politically incorrect humor isn't as funny as it thinks it is or perhaps more likely, it's English sensibility isn't to my taste. Although he didn't create the role on the stage, Alan Bates' performance is very theatrical but thankfully Janet Suzman gives a more natural performance. While I can appreciate the pessimism of the situation and admire Nichols for keeping the play's bleak ending, it's still a very difficult film to sit through and frankly, I didn't laugh at all. With Joan Hickson, Peter Bowles, Sheila Gish, Jean Marsh and Murray Melvin.  

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Since there have been no arrests and no progress in the investigation of her daughter's rape and murder, her angry mother (Frances McDormand) pays for three billboards calling out the police for their inactivity. The small town does not react favorably to her actions, especially the cops. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (IN BRUGES), there's a reason to see this movie and that is Frances McDormand who gives a fierce performance. Easily her best performance since FARGO and quite possibly even better. Which makes it a pity that the film isn't really worthy of her. When the film is good, it's very good but it shoots itself in the foot with the ludicrous character of the racist redneck cop played by Sam Rockwell. Not Rockwell's fault at all, he's excellent. But are racist rednecks cops ever really funny? Only in the movies I suppose but this is a guy who beats up and tortures black people, bashes a man in the head and throws him out a second story window because he doesn't agree with him and we're supposed to be amused? Well, I suppose if you're a fellow racist. And when the movie tries to redeem him, all is forgiven? Gimme a break! But McDormand's searing performance overrides the ludicrousness of the film. If McDonagh had laid off the laughs and gone straight for the jugular, this might have been a great film. With Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, Zeljko Ivanek and Abbie Cornish.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Return Of The Jedi (1983)

The Rebel Alliance has learned that the Galatic Empire has constructed a new Death Star personally supervised by the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) himself. Jedi in training Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) learns some surprising and important news from Yoda (Frank Oz) while Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) reaffirm their love for each other. Directed by Richard Marquand (JAGGED EDGE), the final installment of the first STAR WARS trilogy starts off awkwardly. The Jabba The Hutt palace sequence isn't very interesting and it plays out like a second rate Fellini movie. Once out of the palace however, the film picks up steam and soars the rest of the way to its fully satisfying conclusion. Under Marquand's direction, the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas balances humor and thrills in equal measures and some exciting set pieces like the spectacular air bike chase through the forest. The Ewoks may be a bit too precious but they're wisely kept in check so we don't overdose on their cuteness. John Williams' underscore may be his best for the entire series. With Alec Guinness, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader and Sebastian Shaw as the unmasked Darth Vader.