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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Robin Hood (1922)

The Earl of Huntingdon (Douglas Fairbanks) joins King Richard (Wallace Beery) in the Crusades. While Richard is away, his devious brother Prince John (Sam De Grasse) takes over the throne and proceeds to tax the peasants till they are homeless and tosses those loyal to Richard into prison. Directed by Allan Dwan, this was one one of the most expensive films of its era and it looks it. The production design is awesome and it has a cast of what seems like thousands. But it's a disappointment. Fairbanks, the King of swashbucklers, would seem to be the ideal choice to play Robin Hood and he is. But Robin Hood as a character doesn't enter the movie until the second half of the film! The first hour is devoted to Fairbanks as the Earl, his pallid romance with Maid Marian (Enid Bennett) and it's all rather tedious really. It really picks up in the second half and Fairbanks is up to his old swashbuckling tricks and it's pretty enjoyable but oh that first hour! The 1938 Flynn ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD easily remains the definitive Robin Hood movie. The movie is saddled with an awful score by Victor Schertzinger which is typical of bad "silent movie" scores. With Alan Hale (who would play Little John again in the 1938 film), Paul Dickey and Willard Louis.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wild Oats (2016)

A recent widow (Shirley MacLaine) mistakenly receives the wrong amount on her husband's life insurance policy. Instead of a check for $50,000, she receives a check for $5 million! After a bit of guilt, she deposits the check and she and her best friend (Jessica Lange) dash off to the Canary Islands for a holiday in the sun. But an insurance investigator (Howard Hesseman) is soon on their trail. Directed by Andy Tennant (EVER AFTER), this is big screen sitcom stuff. It's like a family friendly version of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS with MacLaine and Lange as Edina and Patsy. The first 3/4s of the movie are rather enjoyable until it descends into silliness with the last quarter. While it's refreshing to see older actresses like MacLaine and Lange look their age, it's too bad they didn't have stronger material. Still, they probably got nice paychecks and a vacation in the Canary Islands so ..... Anyway, while not worthy of its two estimable leading ladies, it's still a pleasant diversion. With a deglamorized Demi Moore as MacLaine's daughter, Billy Connolly, Stephanie Beacham, Santiago Segura and Rebecca Da Costa.  

Man's Favorite Sport (1964)

An admired writer (Rock Hudson) and expert on fishing is a fraud. He's never been fishing in his life, can't swim and hasn't even been on boat. So when a press agent (Paula Prentiss) arranges for him to participate in a fishing tournament, he undergoes a crash course in fishing with her help. Based on the short story THE GIRL WHO ALMOST GOT AWAY by Pat Frank and directed by Howard Hawks. Hawks returns to the screwball territory which he excelled in in such films as BRINGING UP BABY and HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Here, Hudson stands in for Cary Grant and Prentiss doubles for Kate Hepburn and Rosalind Russell. Although the film seems overlong at 2 hours for such a lightweight item, Hawks has some fun revisiting old territory and his his two leads are game for the adventure. Prentiss really was a delicious comedienne and it's a pity her career hit a wall in the 1970s. I dislike fishing myself and seeing fish struggling at the end of a hook isn't my idea of an ideal comedy but if you can get past that, it's quite enjoyable. I could have done without Norman Alden's Indian con man and Maria Perschy's character seems extraneous although she and Hudson get to reenact one of the comic highpoints of Hawks' BRINGING UP BABY. The disposable underscore is by Henry Mancini. With Charlene Holt, John McGiver, Roscoe Karns and Regis Toomey.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

L'Histoire D'Adele H (aka The Story Of Adele H) (1975)

The daughter (Isabelle Adjani) of the renowned author Victor Hugo leaves her family in Europe and relocates to Nova Scotia in pursuit of a soldier (Bruce Robinson) she is in love with. But that obsessive love is a disease that will consume her to the point of madness. Directed by Francois Truffaut and anchored by an extraordinary performance by Isabelle Adjani. We've all seen movies about obsessive love before but they usually involve a wacky stalker who literally terrorizes the object of her/his "affection". But Adele's obsession turns inward and the destruction is toward herself rather than the soldier she loves until the end, it's no longer about him but the obsession itself. I can't praise Adjani's performance enough. In her breakthrough performance, Adjani is both terrifying and heartbreaking and she inhabits the role completely. This really ranks with Truffaut's best work. The effective underscore is comprised of various pieces by Maurice Jaubert who died some 35 years earlier. With Sylvia Marriott and Joseph Blatchley.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

Trauma (1993)

A psychologically disturbed anorexic (Asia Argento) escapes from a rehab clinic and hooks up with an ex-drug addict (Christopher Rydell). But as a string of grisly decapitations by a serial killer terrorize the city, it becomes clear to the young man that the girl is somehow connected to the killings. Directed by giallo master Dario Argento (SUSPIRIA), this is a decent example of the genre. This was Argento's second foray into English language horror (the first was TWO EVIL EYES) and while he gives it the requisite gruesome killings and jittery atmosphere, I wish he had cast a more substantial leading man than the dull Rydell, who's just awful. Asia Argento seems to be channeling Nastassja Kinski which, in this case, isn't a bad thing. But it's the supporting players who bring the necessary intensity to the lurid goings on. If you're not into giallo, you may find it sloppy in its narrative but loopholes and coincidences are pretty common in giallo. There's a suitably eerie underscore by Pino Donaggio (CARRIE). With Piper Laurie, Brad Dourif, Frederic Forrest, James Russo, Laura Johnson and Hope Alexander Willis.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Thin Man (1934)

A retired detective (William Powell) and his rich wife (Myrna Loy) are vacationing in New York when an old friend (Edward Ellis) goes missing. His daughter (Maureen O'Sullivan) asks the detective to find him. But it turns out that the missing man may be hiding out because he's a murderer ..... or is he? Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett and directed by W.S. Van Dyke. The screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich (a married couple) turn Hammett's murder mystery into a screwball comedy so that you get two for the price of one and the result is one of the most entertaining films of the decade. Witty and sassy, the film spawned five more sequels and though they vary in quality, there's not a stinker in the bunch. The chemistry between Powell and Loy leaps off the screen and it's pure bliss to see them interact with each other. Cinematically, it's rather unusual in that we see a married couple thoroughly in love with each other and boozing it up delightedly without the political correctness of suggesting they're functioning alcoholics. With Cesar Romero, Nat Pendleton, Minna Gombell, Porter Hall, Edward Brophy and the scene stealing Skippy as Asta. 

Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)

A struggling singer (Doris Day) in 1920s Chicago finds a mentor in a thug (James Cagney) who runs a protection racket. She uses him to help her jump start her career which soon takes off. But she quickly finds that he has other ideas and he won't be so easy to get rid of. Loosely based on the life of singer Ruth Etting and her relationship with Moe Snyder. It suffers from the usual tried and true biopic predictability: struggle and hardship, followed by success, then comes heartbreak and problems, overcoming the setbacks etc. But the two central performances by Day and Cagney are excellent, among the best in both their long careers. The relationship of Day and Cagney form the core of the film and it's interesting to see Day play a rather manipulative character using an older man as her "sugar daddy" on her climb to the top only to find she can't control him the way she thought she could. Cagney manages to make his bully rather pathetic and fearsome at the same time. The film is crammed with popular standards associated with Etting's career, the musical highlight being the spectacular Ziegfeld Follies number, Shaking The Blues Away which showcases Day's dancing ability. Directed by Charles Vidor (GILDA). With Cameron Mitchell, Robert Keith, Harry Bellaver and Tom Tully.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rehearsal For Murder (1982)

One year after the suicide of his actress fiancee (Lynn Redgrave), a playwright (Robert Preston) gathers together the surviving cast members (Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Macnee, Madolyn Smith), director (Lawrence Pressman) and producer (William Daniels) ostensibly for a reading of his new play. In actuality, his intention is to ferret out his fiancee's murderer. This extremely clever murder mystery is worthy of Agatha Christie! Written by Richard Levinson and William Link, it won a 1983 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers Of America. As directed by David Greene (FATAL VISION), the story line is good enough to keep you compelled to watch but there's a corker of a "twist" ending that I doubt anyone saw coming. Although this was an original script done for CBS television, the production feels like a play adaptation of a good stage mystery by Frederick Knott (DIAL M FOR MURDER) or Christie herself (WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION) and indeed, it has since been adapted for the stage. If, as I am, you're a sucker for murder mysteries, then by all means seek it out though be forewarned that the market is flooded with public domain copies so not all transfers are equal. With William Russ and Buck Young.    

True Grit (1969)

A headstrong young girl (Kim Darby) hires a drunken and uncouth U.S. Marshal (John Wayne in his Oscar winning role) to find her father's (John Pickard) murderer (Jeff Corey). A Texas ranger (Glen Campbell) joins up with them in the pursuit which takes them into "Indian Territory". Based on the novel by Charles Portis and directed by Henry Hathaway. Although the 2010 Coen Brothers' remake was a tad more faithful to the novel, this remains my preferred version. Not only is Wayne's performance iconic (it's really a role he was born to play) but there's a straightforward charm to the film that's absent from the Coens' film. The film's major flaw is Campbell's performance. He was a very popular singer in 1969 and makes his film debut here but he's a terrible actor and says his lines as if memorized phonetically without any concept of what he's actually saying. But other than Campbell, this is a first rate western. With Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeremy Slate, Carlos Rivas, Donald Woods, Edith Atwater and John Doucette.   

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

City On Fire (1979)

After being fired from an oil refinery, a bitter employee (Jonathan Welsh) opens valves to storage vats and floods sewers with chemicals and gasoline. Soon the unnamed city (filmed in Montreal, Canada) explodes into flames. The first half of this disaster film suffers from the incredibly inept situations and dialog and some rather poor acting. It just looks slapdash and shoddy. The second half fares better when the characters shut up and action and adrenaline kicks in. It still doesn't make it a good movie but at least the intensity kicks up several notches and it becomes very watchable. The special effects are a mixed bag, some are good and some look fake though to be fair, much of the "special effects" are actually pre-existing footage from other films and newsreels. The story lines are trite and uninteresting with the exception of a TV news producer (James Franciscus) having to deal with an alcoholic newswoman (Ava Gardner) and trying to keep her sober enough to do her job. The cheesy and noisy underscore by Matthew and William McCauley only adds to the tawdriness. Directed by Alvin Rakoff. With Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Leslie Nielsen, Susan Clark, Barry Newman and Cec Linder.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Too Late For Tears (1949)

Mistaking their car for another, someone drops a $60,000 payoff into the car of a husband (Arthur Kennedy) and wife (Lizabeth Scott). The husband wants to turn it over to the police but in true film noir fashion, his money hungry wife has other plans for that money and nothing and no one will get in her way! Directed by Byron Haskin (THE NAKED JUNGLE), this is an excellent noir. I'm not much of a Lizabeth Scott fan, she's really not much of an actress but she squeezes every bit of juice out of this role! As the ice hearted femme fatale, she's one tough cookie. Hell, even the normally tough guy Dan Duryea (as the guy the money was meant for) is afraid of her and he should be! As long as the movie stays on Scott or Duryea, it's intense stuff. But when it gives time to Don DeFore and Kristine Miller in supporting roles, the picture starts to get soft. I say starts because thankfully Haskin doesn't spend any more than is necessary on them. If you're into noir, then you've already seen it but if you're not, this is definitely worth your checking it out. With Barry Kelley and Denver Pyle. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Kedi (2016)

A documentary on the feral cats of Istanbul where they are not a nuisance but a very part of the city's landscape. The cats wander thru restaurants, walk into shops and stores, nap on car hoods and tap on your window so they can visit. While we would shoo them away or call animal control, in Istanbul they are more than tolerated. They give the city's denizens a chance to connect with their humanity. If you're expecting a cute cat movie, forget it. While it's clear the Turks have a great affection for their feline citizens, the film is unsentimental. We see the unpleasant side as when an abandoned kitten is killed by an adult cat, cats asserting territorial rights as well as patrolling the sewers for  mice and kittens left to fend for themselves saved by the kindness of strangers. The bigger picture is also hinted at as the landscape of Istanbul is being changed from old fashioned charm to new high rises taking over and the very real possibility as the area begins to be demolished that the cats will perish too. But for the most part, the film is a paean to the relationship between man and feline and how their beauty and independence and parceled out affection can bring out the best in us. As I said, not a sentimental movie but I have to confess that during the film's final montage of these beautiful creatures, my eyes started watering up.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mad Max Fury Road (2015) In B&W

Devastated by a nuclear war, the world is now a vast wasteland. A group of survivors are ruled by a disfigured tyrant (Hugh Keays Byrne). When a truck driver (Charlize Theron) aids a group of fashion models to escape the clutches of the evil tyrant who plans to breed them, he goes after her with everything he's got. I've already reviewed MAD MAX FURY ROAD when it opened in 2015. But I just watched director George Miller's B&W cut of the film which he prefers to the color version. As to the film itself, my opinion hasn't changed. It still retains the virtues which made it so compelling as well its flaws which are minor overall. As to the B&W, I found that it made the viewing experience even richer. It seems more stripped down and bleak as well as giving the film an even more mythological feel. Sure, there is some loss in detail with the color gone but only some and what the B&W imagery gives us compensates for the little loss. The starkness and clarity of John Seale's cinematography in B&W adds a bit of elegance which the color version lacked. It's not a matter of which is better but simply of which one prefers.

Madame DuBarry (1919)

By way of sleeping herself to the top, a young girl (Pola Negri) rises from a milliner's assistant to the notorious mistress of King Louis XV (Emil Jannings, THE BLUE ANGEL). Directed by Ernest Lubitsch, this is a sumptuous historical epic which, in fact, is historically inaccurate and totally fabricated. If there's a sense of deja vu, it's because if you switch Madame DuBarry with Marie Antoinette, then you have seen it before in the 1938 MGM film with Norma Shearer or the 1956 French production with Michele Morgan. The famed Lubitsch touch is nowhere to be found here in this rather laborious effort. As King Louis XV, Jannings has very little to do but Negri brings a bit of impish charm to her role but it's a poorly conceived concept of Madame DuBarry. As written, she's a rather shallow, not too bright girl who makes a lot of bad decisions so it's difficult to drum up much empathy for her. The production values are first rate, I'll give it that and it might have benefited from the editor's shears. With Harry Liedtke, Reinhold Schunzel and Else Berna.

Friday, February 17, 2017

One Special Night (1999)

A doctor (Julie Andrews), who's also a widow, visiting a hospice offers a lift to a man (James Garner) visiting his wife who has Alzheimer's. They get lost in a blizzard and when the car breaks down, they are forced to spend the night in an abandoned cabin. Two lonely people thrown together, it isn't difficult to figure out what happens next. Based on the play A WINTER VISITOR by Jan Hartman and directed by Roger Young. Filmed in a snowbound Montreal, this is the kind of predictable if genial drama that is difficult to get excited about one way or the other. One can't find much good to say about it yet one can't really dislike it either. Its story line is contrived and therefore totally dependent on the two leads to sell it. Fortunately, Garner and Andrews are immensely likable and talented that they effortlessly carry the movie on their shoulders. There's much to be said for charisma and professionalism. The only time the film bogs down is when it is focused on the subsidiary characters played by decent but unexceptional actors lacking the screen presence of its stars. With Patricia Charbonneau, Stacy Grant and Stewart Bick.

L'Orrible Segreto Del Dr. Hichcock (aka The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) (1962)

Set in the late 19th century, a doctor (Robert Flemyng) returns to his estate twelve years after the death of his first wife (Maria Teresa Vianello). He brings a new bride (Barbara Steele) with him but it isn't long before she realizes there's something terribly wrong going on. Directed by Riccardo Freda, this is quite a perverse film for 1962 (it was released in the U.S. two years later). Necrophilia was hardly a subject for discussion in polite society so a film with necrophilia as its theme was rather outrageous. Although the "T" has been left out of the Hichcock of the film's title, the film borrows from the master of suspense and the movie references REBECCA, SUSPICION and even a bit of PSYCHO. The film itself is an atmospheric Gothic horror (though it is sometimes inexplicably referenced as a giallo) with a nice central performance by scream Queen Steele as the put upon second wife. It's rather subtle in its creepiness. As in most films of this type, when released in America, most of the Italians were given American sounding names and Freda is credited as Robert Hampton and most amusing, production designer Franco Fumagalli is credited as Frank Smokecocks!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

In Bruges (2008)

Two professional assassins, one experienced (Brendan Gleeson) and one relatively new (Colin Farrell), are sent to the city of Bruges in Belgium to await their next assignment. But it turns out that next assignment will have dire consequences for all concerned. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (an Oscar winner for his short film SIX SHOOTER), this is a gem of a film. Balancing dark humor with intense action, the film is never less than captivating. All the more remarkable because all of the characters are pretty reprehensible on some level yet you can't help liking them, even Ralph Fiennes (who steals the film) as a sociopathic mobster. I'm still unclear as to whether Farrell's rookie hit man is dim witted or an innocent or perhaps a bit of both. Set in the fairy tale city of Bruges, the contrast of the charms of the quaint old city against the violence the hit men bring with them provide a unique narrative. Perhaps more complicated than it should be, it nevertheless provides a satisfying film experience. The delicate underscore is by Carter Burwell. With Clemence Poesy, Jordan Prentice, Thekla Reuten, Jeremie Renier and Zeljko Ivanek.

Every Day's A Holiday (1937)

A sometime actress and con woman (Mae West) has 25 outstanding arrest warrants including selling the Brooklyn Bridge to gullible people. When a producer (Walter Catlett) convinces her to return to the stage, in order to evade arrest, she returns in disguise as a brunette French actress with a thick accent. This film is an excellent example of how West's film career was harmed by the production code which put restrictions on blatant sexual innuendo which was West's stock in trade. As an actress and writer (she wrote the screenplay too), she has her hands tied. And without her bawdy deliveries of suggestive lines, she's just not that interesting. The funniest part of the movie has West bullying Charles Butterworth into breaking into a dress shop and stealing clothes for her. West sings a couple of ditties but again, the lyrics are too wholesome to allow her special brand of suggestive wit. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland. With Lloyd Nolan, Edmund Lowe, Charles Winninger, Herman Bing and way too briefly, Louis Armstrong.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cause For Alarm (1951)

An ill man (Barry Sullivan) with a heart condition is convinced his wife (Loretta Young) and his doctor (Bruce Cowling) are plotting to murder him. He sends a letter to the District Attorney detailing the plot and asks his wife, who is unaware of the contents, to mail the letter. Based on a radio play by Larry Marcus and directed by Tay Garnett (POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE). At a tight and stripped down hour and 15 minutes or thereabouts, Garnett doesn't allow time for any distractions. There's a flashback which is used for exposition early in the proceedings but after that, every moment counts as the tension builds to its nail biting conclusion. I liked the young pre-code Loretta Young but from the late 1930s through out the 1940s, she became almost insufferable. But she's back on track here with a suitably intense performance of barely suppressed hysteria. It's a minor low budget film but it delivers more punch than many a big budget studio project. The score is by Andre Previn. With Margalo Gillmore and Richard Anderson.

L'Amant De Cinq Jours (aka Five Day Lover) (1961)

A young wife (Jean Seberg) with two small children is married to a loving but rather dull husband (Francois Perier). She begins an affair with the lover (Jean Pierre Cassel) of her best friend (Micheline Presle). But how long before they're found out by the husband and friend? Directed by Philippe De Broca (KING OF HEARTS), this is a rather poignant adult romantic comedy. It's certainly far more sophisticated than the Hollywood product we're usually given, more Noel Coward than WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. Seberg's young wife has love, what she wants is romance. Cassel's gigolo living off his mistress's money has romance, what he wants is love. Inevitably, they can't fulfill each other's needs. De Broca's bittersweet tale has the dreaminess of early Rene Clair, the lovers in a garret that overlooks the rooftops of an impossibly romantic Paris. One can't help but like all four protagonists, even Seberg's rather narcissistic little adulteress. She wouldn't dream of leaving her husband yet she seems oblivious to her husband's quiet pain. It's the kind of romance where no one ends happy as some reject what they're given while others accept what they can. The lovely underscore is by Georges Delerue. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sentimental Journey (1946)

When an actress (Maureen O'Hara) discovers she has a terminal illness, she withholds the information from her director husband (John Payne). Instead, she talks him into adopting a child (Connie Marshall) with the hope that she will be a solace to him after her death. Based on the short story THE LITTLE HORSE by Nelia Gardner White and directed by Walter Lang (THE KING AND I). When a movie about a dying woman adopting an orphan has sentimental in the title, expectations are pretty low that this is going to be one soppy tearjerker. But though it pushes the sentiment to the extreme at times, it never crosses over to treacle. Indeed, the story turns rather dark what with the grieving husband unable to relate to the child at all while the child gets the cold shoulder at every attempt at reconciliation. Her fantasy world isn't all that different than the little girl in CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE though this film doesn't have that film's artistry. But there's no getting away from the fact that this is a tearjerker and as tearjerkers go, it's very well done. Fortunately, Connie Marshall is a more than decent child actress. Remade in 1958 as THE GIFT OF LOVE with Lauren Bacall and Robert Stack. With William Bendix, Cedric Hardwicke, Mischa Auer, Glenn Langan, Dorothy Adams and Kurt Kreuger.

Two Minute Warning (1976)

A sniper (Warren Miller) hides himself in a tower in the Los Angeles Coliseum on the day of a big football championship. When he is spotted from the air, an L.A. police captain (Charlton Heston) and a SWAT leader (John Cassavetes) frantically attempt to capture the assassin before he fires on the 90,000 plus crowd. Directed by Larry Peerce (GOODBYE COLUMBUS), this has the usual TV look of Universal's films from the 1970s despite being filmed in wide screen Panavision. I suppose the film fits into the so called "disaster" genre started by AIRPORT at the beginning of the decade but I find it more of a thriller than a "disaster" film. Remarkably, Peerce is able to maintain a high level of tension right from the beginning with very little down time. The final sequence with random shooting and the massive crowd panicking is superbly done and whoever supervised the stunt work (as well as the background actors) is to be congratulated. Most of the supporting cast aren't given substantial roles and there's very little they can do. Of the cast, only Gena Rowlands and David Janssen as an unmarried couple manage to bring some depth to their roles. With Walter Pidgeon, Beau Bridges, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, Marilyn Hassett, Brock Peters and Pamela Bellwood. When the film was first show for TV, it was considered too violent and 45 minutes were removed and 40 minutes of newly shot footage with Rossano Brazzi, Joanna Pettet and James Olson were inserted which changed the basic premise.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

An unfinished manuscript by the American writer James Baldwin (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) reflects on racism in America while reminiscing not only on his own life but his friendships with slain African American civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. I'm often leery of documentaries because their film makers have an agenda (which is perfectly fine) but too often manipulate images to suit their agenda or set up situations that will accommodate their viewpoint (don't get me started on Michael Moore!). Raoul Peck's powerful documentary stands out because the words are those of Baldwin, not the film maker and the images are irrefutable (no re-enactments here), disturbing as they are. In 2017, as we see the last stand of a white patriarchal power trying to turn the clock back, Raoul Peck's film is more relevant than ever. My only quibble is minor and that is that some of the movie clips used are out of context and make no sense. I mean is Doris Day swooning over Rock Hudson really the face of racism? But stuff like that constitutes seconds and what Peck has done bringing Baldwin's powerful and unfettered words makes us realize that we're stepping backward. Highly recommended.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Subway In The Sky (1959)

Set in Berlin, a military doctor (Van Johnson) is suspected of drug peddling and murder. He escapes from the military police and sneaks into his wife's (Katherine Kath) apartment since she is the only one who can prove his innocence. Instead, he finds his wife gone and a nightclub chanteuse (Hildegard Knef) living there instead. Based on the play by Ian Main by way of the novel by Bruce Birch and directed by Muriel Box (RATTLE OF A SIMPLE MAN). For a rather stage bound thriller, the majority of the film takes place in a penthouse apartment, this is pleasantly entertaining. It's rather easy to identify the real killer and most of the suspense comes from whether the police will catch an innocent man before he can prove his innocence. The real murderer is a real twisted piece of work and there's one last shocking killing. All in all, a pedestrian piece of film making but who says it has to be great to be enjoyable? Johnson is serviceable but it's Knef who takes over the film and she even gets to sing! With Cec Linder, Vivian Matalon, Albert Lieven and Edward Judd.

Otto E Mezzo (aka 8 1/2) (1963)

An internationally renowned Italian film director (Marcello Mastroianni) finds himself with a frightening form of director's block. He's paralyzed with doubts and as costs mount on an elaborate film he's set to direct, he has no script! There's a saying that you don't know what you have until you don't have it anymore. When I was younger and attended every new Fellini that opened with anticipation, I don't think I appreciated the enormity of his contribution to cinema. He's been gone for over 20 years now and revisiting 8 1/2, I was astounded by his imagination and creativity. There has never been another director quite like him and when one uses the term "Fellini-esque", one instantly knows what is being referenced. The visuals alone (the B&W cinematography is by Gianni Di Venanzo) justify watching the film but Fellini offers a complex examination of an artist on the brink of artistic bankruptcy. He doesn't give the film's protagonist or us a solution but he does tie the director's inability to create with his flaws and limitations as a human being. A highly influential film on many directors including Woody Allen, Francois Truffaut and Bob Fosse. The massive cast includes Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Barbara Steele, Sandra Milo, Rossella Falk, Madeleine LeBeau and Eddra Gale.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Storyville (1992)

The lawyer son (James Spader) of a powerful Louisiana family is a rising political figure in the state. But a night of sexual games with a Vietnamese prostitute (Charlotte Lewis) not only puts his political career in jeopardy but spirals into blackmail and murder. In the South, it's said that the past is never dead and here, its fingers are far reaching. Based on the novel JURYMAN by Frank Galbally and Robert Macklin and directed by Mark Frost, the co-creator and writer of TWIN PEAKS with David Lynch. It's an uneven film to be sure but overall, I found it a rather engrossing potboiler. I suspect it's inherent in the novel (which I haven't read) but the actions of Spader's character seem illogical and very stupid for someone aiming for a political career. Sure, there are a proliferation of sex scandals in politics every year but Spader's actions seem so self destructive for someone who appears to have a solid head on his shoulders as well as a moral backbone. If you can get past that then you might enjoy the murder mystery aspect of the film including an extremely well done courtroom shoot out. There's an evocative underscore by Carter Burwell. The cast includes Jason Robards, Piper Laurie, Joanne Whalley, Michael Parks, Steve Forrest, Woody Strode and Michael Warren.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Mad Magician (1954)

Set in the late 1800s, a magician and master of disguise (Vincent Price) has his new show canceled when his employer (Donald Randolph) has him served with an injunction. Their contract states that all new works and inventions by the magician are owned by the company. It isn't long before the employer mysteriously "disappears" and it won't be the last death! Directed by John Brahm (1944's THE LODGER), this was Price's third foray into 3D following HOUSE OF WAX and DANGEROUS MISSION. The plot is basically a rehash of WAX but shot in B&W instead of color and without much style. The main problem I had with it is that I found Price's character enormously sympathetic for a villain and some of the supporting characters like the snooping landlady (Lenita Lane) who helps solve the mystery quite annoying. When you find yourself rooting for the bad guy (I wasn't rooting for Price in HOUSE OF WAX), clearly something is awry. Which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. At 1 hour and 13 minutes, it's too brief to wear out its welcome and there's a nice supporting performance by Eva Gabor as Price's conniving ex-wife. With Mary Murphy, Patrick O'Neal, John Emery, Jay Novello and Corey Allen.   

The Wild Party (1975)

Set in the 1920s, a once popular silent film comedian (James Coco) throws a lavish party to showcase his comeback movie and invites the Hollywood elite as well as the hangers on. But the party slowly descends into an evening of debauchery and eventual tragedy. Loosely based on the epic 1928 book length narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, the film invites comparison to the Fatty Arbuckle scandal especially with the casting of the rotund Coco in the lead role. This is an odd little film. Directed by James Ivory (HOWARDS END), not only is the rhyming spoken narrative unusual but there's so much dancing and singing that the film is a borderline musical. It looks smashing but the screenplay by Walter Marks is so poorly constructed that it's hard to imagine how the film could have worked. Coco's character is so inconsistent that he makes no sense and no explanation or backstory is offered to clear it up or give reasons. It's a pity the film isn't better because it contains a very good performance by Raquel Welch as Coco's mistress. She's quite vulnerable and touching as the faithful girlfriend who withstands the constant and erratic abuse dished out to her. With Perry King, David Dukes, Tiffany Bolling, Royal Dano and Bobo Lewis.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

June Moon (1949)

A young lyricist (Jack Lemmon) meets a young dental assistant (Eva Marie Saint) on a train going to New York and is instantly smitten with her. But as he gets pulled into the Manhattan nightlife by the gold digging sister in law (Jean Carson) of his writing partner (Edward Andrews), he loses his way. Based on the 1929 Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner, this version performed live in the early days of television is most notable for seeing the pre-stardom Lemmon and Saint at such an early stage of their careers. Neither had yet made their feature film debut and although their star quality hadn't manifested itself yet, they're an attractive and engaging pair. As for the piece itself, in spite of its happy ending, there's an underlying thread of acrimony running through it, a sense of dissatisfaction among its characters. Directed by Walter Hart. With Glenda Farrell, David Opatoshu and Joshua Shelley.  

Rat Race (2001)

A Las Vegas casino tycoon (John Cleese) stashes two million dollars in a locker in Silver Springs, New Mexico. He then randomly selects a handful of people and gives them each a key to the locker. The first to get there gets the two million. Sounds easy, doesn't it but the impediments and obstacles in getting there are anything but easy! Directed by Jerry Zucker (AIRPLANE!), the film comes off as a homage to IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD. The premise is the same, a group of greedy people willing to do anything to get rich but whereas the Stanley Kramer film remained cynical and mean spirited to the very end, RAT RACE goes all sappy and sentimental on us. But up until then, it's quite funny if  politically incorrect in its humor (lesbians, Jews and PETA are likely to be offended and pedophile jokes? Really?) But the cast which is heavily cast with comic actors are up for it and if you're a fan of those everyone running around hysterically in a frenzy movies like MAD WORLD, 1941 or RUSSIANS ARE COMING then you should find much to like here. If you're not, it's just as well you pass it up. The large cast includes Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Rowan Atkinson, Kathy Bates, Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Kathy Najimy, Wayne Knight, Dean Cain, Amy Smart, Breckin Meyer, Lanai Chapman and Gloria Allred.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Petulia (1968)

An eccentric socialite (Julie Christie), who's married, stumbles into the life of a divorced doctor (George C. Scott) and attempts to pull him out of his shell. Set in San Francisco at the end of the 60s, Richard Lester (A HARD DAY'S NIGHT) takes what appears at first to be an updated screwball comedy and plunges quickly into something darker. Christie's Petulia is a victim of domestic abuse and married to a psychotic (Richard Chamberlain), who may be a repressed homosexual, while Scott's Archie is shut off from his feelings. It's clear from the beginning that they're all wrong for each other but their emotional pain is so great that perhaps they can comfort each other. Lester and his cinematographer Nicholas Roeg and editor Antony Gibbs give us a fragmented puzzle as broken as its protagonists as it flash backs and flash forwards until its painfully poignant last shot. Its look and style may date it but its foundation is solid. One of the best films of its decade. The haunting score is by John Barry. With Shirley Knight, Joseph Cotten, Arthur Hill, Kathleen Widdoes, Pippa Scott, Rene Auberjonois, Austin Pendelton and Janis Joplin.    

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Wizard Of Oz (1939)

When a tornado rages over the Kansas landscape, a young girl (Judy Garland) and her dog are carried off in their house and when it lands, it's in a strange and colorful land called Oz. But how to get back home? Glinda (Billie Burke), the good witch, suggests visiting the wizard of Oz in the Emerald city and it's down the yellow brick road to see the wizard. Well, what can one say that hasn't already been said about one of the most beloved film classics of all time? It's seeped into our collective consciousness and pop culture. Well, I hate to be the spoilsport but I'm just not enamored of the film as most people. It's got a genial sweetness to it and Judy Garland alone should be reason to watch the film (and she is). Her rendition of Over The Rainbow is one of the great movie moments of all time. But I find its message of "there's no place like home" disturbing. Who'd want to go back to Kansas after they've been to Oz? But thematically the film suggests that everything we need is "home" and there's no need to go out into the world and seek adventure or anything else. Hmmm ..... But perhaps I'm projecting something into the film that was never intended but I'm dubious. The hummable songs are by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. With Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, Jack Haley and Frank Morgan. 

David And Bathsheba (1951)

The King of Israel (Gregory Peck) lusts after the wife (Susan Hayward) of one of his soldiers (Kieron Moore). They begin an adulterous affair but God will have none of it so he sends a drought upon Israel. Directed by Henry King (SONG OF BERNADETTE), this is a rather ponderous affair. It plays it straight and seriously when what it really needs is some good old fashioned DeMille vulgarity! The closest it ever comes to that is Gwen Verdon in dark Egyptian make up doing a bump and grind in front of the King. Peck and Hayward are the real deal when it comes to star wattage but star power can do only so much and they're not able to kick some life into this sanctimonious tale. By the time the movie reaches its conclusion and psalm 23 ("the Lord is my shepherd") is set to Alfred Newman's music as Peck and Hayward walk nobly to the rain, you just might be ready to toss your cookies! Unlike its biblical counterpart, the screenwriters make Bathsheba a deliberate temptress luring David rather than the victim of his lust. But audiences ate this stuff up and the film was a big hit. With Raymond Massey, Jayne Meadows, James Robertson Justice, John Sutton and George Zucco. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Murder Most Foul (1964)

When a former actress is found murdered, her lodger is arrested and put on trial for the crime. It seems like an open and shut case but one jury member (Margaret Rutherford) refuses to join her other 11 jury members in a guilty vote. After the mistrial, she takes it upon herself to find the real murderer. Loosely based on Agatha Christie's MRS. MCGINTY'S DEAD, this was the last of the Rutherford Miss Marple movies based on a Christie novel. Rutherford would do one more Miss Marple movie, MURDER AHOY, but it was not based on a Christie work. As with most of the Rutherford Marple films, the tone of the film is much lighter than Christie's novels. Christie found no humor in murder. Rutherford can't help but infuse her Miss Marple with an elfin humor far different than the dour spinster of the Christie books. Directed by George Pollock, FOUL is lightweight, engaging and over quickly and the theatrical setting provides some interest. Christie purists shouldn't be too indignant. With Ron Moody, Dennis Price, Francesca Annis, Charles Tingwell, Stringer Davis and Megs Jenkins.  

Forushande (aka The Salesman) (2016)

A teacher and actor (Shahab Hosseini, who won the Cannes film festival best actor award for his work here) and his actress wife (Taraneh Alidoosti) are performing in a production of Arthur Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN. But after his wife is brutally attacked, their marriage tenses up and the husband seems bent on revenge. Directed by Asghar Farhadi (A SEPARATION), this is Iran's entry in this year's Foreign Language Oscar race. It's an unsettling experience because you never know where Farhadi is leading us. You know he's too talented a director to go down the straight revenge movie route, DEATH WISH this isn't. The "attack" is ambiguous because we never see it, it's done off screen. So we're never really quite sure what transpired. Was it a rape? An assault? An unintentional accident? Or was there even an actual attack? As the film methodically moves towards its final scenes (which Farhadi paces far too slowly), we're placed in the position of questioning our empathy and since we're never really sure of what exactly happened (the wife is reticent to discuss it, the "attacker" may or may not be lying), Farhadi doesn't allow us to choose sides. We just watch in horror as everything goes downhill. Provocative and complex, it's the kind of film that demands much of the audience. Sadly, Farhadi is banned from attending the Oscar ceremonies with the new anti-Muslim ban in place. With Farid Sajadhosseini, Babak Karimi and Mina Sadati. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Lovers And Other Strangers (1970)

Although they have been living together, the groom (Michael Brandon) starts getting cold feet prior to his wedding, the bride to be (Bonnie Bedelia) takes it in stride. Meanwhile, the bride's father (Gig Young) is having an affair with his wife's (Cloris Leachman) best friend (Anne Jackson), the groom's brother (Joseph Hindy) is divorcing his high school sweetheart (Diane Keaton in her film debut) and his parents (Bea Arthur, Richard Castellano) are living a loveless marriage. Based on the play by Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor (who adapted their play with help from David Zelag Goodman) and directed by Cy Howard. Wedding movies almost seems its own genre by now: FATHER OF THE BRIDE, Altman's A WEDDING, MONSOON WEDDING, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING etc. This is one of the better ones although its somewhat misogynistic attitude with a touch of homophobia date it. As with most of these wedding movies, the bride and groom are the least interesting characters and its the offbeat family members that provide the interest. The film is really a series of sketches and its fortunate that the cast members are comfortable in the sketch comedy format. Only one performance really stands out and that's Castellano (in an Oscar nominated performance), who has a wonderful scene talking about marriage with his older son. The film's theme song For All We Know won an Oscar. With Harry Guardino, Anne Meara, Bob Dishy, Marian Hailey and Jerry Stiller. 

Annie (1982)

A young orphan (Aileen Quinn) is chosen to spend a week as the guest of a billionaire (Albert Finney) for publicity purposes. But it isn't long before the girl has attached herself to the billionaire and his staff including his personal secretary (Ann Reinking, those legs!). But the devious orphanage supervisor (Carol Burnett) hatches a plan with her brother (Tim Curry) and his girlfriend (Bernadette Peters) to scam the billionaire for money. Directed by John Huston from the hit Broadway musical, the film is hardly the disaster its reputation would lead you to believe. But it's not very good either. Granted, there's nothing in Huston's filmography to lead one to believe he had the temperament for a movie musical (though the dance sequences in his MOULIN ROUGE are very well done) and his direction is pretty static here. But no one seems willing to address the elephant in the room ... it's just not a very good musical. I'm not just talking about the film but the source material. I've seen ANNIE on stage and it reeks of mediocrity. Without rethinking the musical for film, it was never going to work. But it does provide an opportunity for Carol Burnett who hasn't fared well in her film career with a decent role which she plays to the hilt. I have to confess I broke out into a grin watching Albert Finney dance! The 1999 TV version fared better but it's still not a good musical ... period. With Edward Herrmann as FDR, Geoffrey Holder, Peter Marshall and Lois De Banzie.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Monsoon Wedding (2001)

The modern upper middle class parents (Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey) prepare for the arranged marriage of their daughter (Vasundhaa Das) to a young Indian (Parvin Dabas) from America. But things don't go smoothly as the bride to be is having an affair with a married man (Sameer Arya), the father is overextending himself financially and his niece (Shefali Shah) must deal with the pedophile (Rajat Kapoor) who abused her when she was a child attending the wedding. Directed by Mira Nair, this is a wonderful film that balances melodrama, comedy and music equally to provide an enchanting cinematic experience crammed with emotion and color. The film takes us inside to another culture only to reveal that in spite of cultural differences, families are families the world over and there's not much difference between us. While not a full blown "Bollywood" musical by any stretch, there's enough singing and dancing in the film to make it feel like one. Perceptive and engaging. With Vijay Raaz, Tillotama Shome, Neha Dubey, Ishan Nair and Roshan Seth. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Money Pit (1986)

After being evicted from their Manhattan apartment, a young unmarried couple (Tom Hanks, Shelley Long) decide to buy a house. But what should have been their dream house turns into a nightmare as everything that could go wrong ..... does go wrong. Both with the house and their relationship. Directed by actor turned director Richard Benjamin, this isn't a remake but rather an update of old movies like MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE and GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE which had similar premises. So while one could hardly call the material fresh, the material would appear to be fool proof as it works once again. This is mostly due to Hanks and Long who are such expert farceurs and so likable that they have the knack of even making the regurgitated stale bits funny again. Benjamin brings his comedic expertise as an actor to his modest skills as a director and doesn't linger over the jokes before wisely moving forward. With Maureen Stapleton, Alexander Godunov, Philip Bosco, Joe Mantegna and John van Dreelan.   

Prince Of Foxes (1949)

It's 1500 Renaissance Italy and the Borgia family is expanding its empire under the guidance of the notorious Cesare Borgia (Orson Welles). He sends a spy (Tyrone Power) to the kingdom of Ferrara, a territory he wishes to add to the Borgia empire. But the spy falls under the spell of Ferrara's Duke (Felix Aylmer) and his much younger wife (Wanda Hendrix). Based on the novel by Samuel Shellabarger and directed by Henry King. It's a rather stodgy epic with one good battle scene but a mystery bigger than any in the film is why 20th Century Fox chose to shoot the film in B&W when it screams out for Technicolor. Fox went all the way to Italy to shoot on authentic locations, its excellent cinematography (Leon Shamroy) and costumes (Vittorio Nino Novarese) were justifiably Oscar nominated but Technicolor would have gone a long way to liven up the proceedings. As he proved in THE BLACK SWAN, Power is a suitable swashbuckler but it's Welles who takes the acting honors even if he is shameless in his scene stealing: in a touching reunion between a mother and her tortured son while everyone else is tearing up, Welles munches on his dinner! The rousing score is by Alfred Newman. With Everett Sloane, Katina Paxinou, Marina Berti and Leslie Bradley.