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Sunday, April 30, 2017

How To Be A Latin Lover (2017)

A middle aged Latino (Eugenio Derbez) has made a living out of living off rich older women. When his 80 year old wife (Renee Taylor) of 25 years gives him the boot for a new boy toy (Michael Cera), he's penniless (signed a pre-nup) and is forced to move in with his estranged sister (Salma Hayek) and her nerdy 10 year old son (Raphael Alejandro, who's adorable). The feature film directorial debut of actor Ken Marino is a good natured sweet comedy. I know that sounds like damning praise but I don't mean it to be. Its heart is in the right place and there are plenty of legitimate laughs to be found. Derbez isn't well known to U.S. audiences but he's one of Mexico's biggest stars and one can see his appeal. It's definitely not a critics kind of movie but audiences looking for a pleasant two hours will get their money's worth. The film manages to be both family friendly while still offering some bad taste humor: I think I was the only one who laughed when a car hit a man in a wheelchair the first time. The film has a lot of familiar faces in small roles and the entire cast is game for the adventure including Raquel Welch (she's got to be the sexiest 76 year old on the planet!), Kristen Bell, Rob Lowe, Linda Lavin (TV's ALICE), Rob Corddry, Rob Riggle and Rob Huebel (I guess Rob Schneider wasn't available). 

Saraband (2003)

A woman (Liv Ullmann) travels to the country home of an ex-husband (Erland Josephson) she hasn't seen in over 30 years. It's an uncomfortable visitation at first that becomes complicated when the ex-husband's granddaughter (Julia Dufvenius) faces a crisis in the relationship with her father (Borje Ahlstedt). Ingmar Bergman's final film was made for Swedish television but released theatrically everywhere else. Ullmann and Josephson play the same couple they played in Bergman's SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE thirty years earlier. Although at first it might seem aimless, it's a film you have to stay connected with to get the payoff. While this doesn't rank with Bergman's masterpieces, even second tier Bergman provides rewards that lesser artists can only dream about. The film should really be called ANNA because the character of Anna may be dead but she permeates the entire film's narrative. Bergman's theme is love but as it is Bergman, we see the destructive power of unhealthy "love". The relationship between Dufvenius and Ahlstedt is very disturbing and bordering on incest and though I suspect Bergman wants us to have some empathy for Ahlstedt's emotionally weak character, I just found him repugnant. It's Bergman, it needs to be seen and a fitting swan song to one of cinema's great geniuses.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ (1925)

A wealthy Jewish Prince (Ramon Novarro) finds his childhood friend Messala (Francix X. Bushman) quite changed when he returns to Jerusalem as a Roman tribune. When an accident occurs, the tribune uses it as an excuse to banish the Prince to slave labor in a Roman ship's galley and the Prince's mother (Claire McDowell) and sister (Kathleen Key) to the underground dungeons. Based on the 1880 novel by General Lew Wallace and directed by Fred Niblo. As a spectacle, it is the equal of the 1959 Oscar winning remake. Nothing is spared in its lavishness and this is one opulent epic. Like the 1959 film, the movie's centerpiece is the spectacular chariot race between Ben-Hur and Messala and it's still quite amazing. Unfortunately, unlike the 1959 film, after the chariot race the film drags. Most of the acting is weak (especially Novarro) and there's not much complexity in the characters. Messala, for example, is extremely one dimensional compared to the 1959 film. Some of the scenes are in the two strip Technicolor process but the overall cinematography (credited to 4 people no less) is very impressive. With May McAvoy, Betty Bronson, Nigel De Brulier, Mitchell Lewis and in my favorite performance in the film, Carmel Myers as an Egyptian seductress.

Friday, April 28, 2017

I Want To Live! (1958)

A hard living "party girl" (Susan Hayward) has been in prison for perjury and is a sometime prostitute. She tries going straight but when her drug addict husband (Wesley Lau) bails on her, she returns to a life of crime. But when her cohorts in crime are arrested on a murder charge, they point the finger to her but she maintains her innocence even when on death row in San Quentin. Based on the the life of Barbara Graham who was executed in 1955 at the age of 31 for her complicity in the murder of a widow during a robbery attempt. The film takes the view that Graham was innocent although the actual facts in the case indicate that while she may not have murdered the widow, she was a participant in the robbery which she emphatically denied. The film works as a piece of anti-capital punishment propaganda. On that level, it's quite effective and the film spares the viewer no detail in the film's harrowing gas chamber execution scene. Hayward won the Oscar for her performance here and it is her best performance. As an actress, she had a tendency to push too hard (think I'LL CRY TOMORROW) but here, she's perfectly cast and gives a genuinely moving performance. With Simon Oakland, Theodore Bikel, Virginia Vincent, Jack Weston, Brett Halsey, James Philbrook, Gavin McLeod and Gertrude Flynn.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Master Builder (2014)

An aging architect (Wallace Shawn) is visited by a young girl (Lisa Joyce) who he met 10 years earlier. She sees him as a sort of modern day Viking god and challenges him to keep the promise he made to her as a child. Can the middle aged egoist live up to her fantasies or will she be disillusioned? Directed by Jonathan Demme (who died this week) and based on the great Henrik Ibsen play THE MASTER BUILDER, here adapted for the screen from his staged adaptation by Shawn. The film uses a framing device filmed in the 1.85 aspect ratio not in Ibsen's original play while the play itself is filmed in the wide screen 2.35 ratio. Shawn's adaptation is excellent and Demme, aided by his cinematographer Declan Quinn (LEAVING LAS VEGAS), arranges an imperative tone to the proceedings. But the film is not without some major problems. I've never seen a movie with so much fake laughter, a kind of nervous laughter that is so overused to the point of distraction. But the main problem is the casting of Shawn. All three of the female protagonists (Julie Hagerty and Emily Cass McDonnell are the other two) are besotted with him. It's not that Shawn's dumpy looks aren't exactly that of a chick magnet but that he's rather bland in leading roles without the compelling presence that would make you understand why the women are all obsessed with him! Also, his performance as well as Lisa Joyce's play to the balcony and make no concession that they are in a film, not on the stage. Even if you accept that it's essentially filmed theater, it's jarring. The best performance comes from Hagerty as the wife who scales down her performance which only makes the overacting of the rest of the company obvious. With Andre Gregory, Larry Pine and Jeff Biehl.

Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)

In 1787, the HMS Bounty sets sail for Tahiti under the leadership of Captain William Bligh (Charles Laughton). Their mission is to obtain breadfruit but the voyage is a nightmare as the men are driven to the brink by the sadistic and heartless Captain. The ship's Lieutenant (Clark Gable) tries to reason with the Captain but it soon becomes apparent that if anything is to change, the men must take matters into their own hands. Based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall and directed by Frank Lloyd. The film takes an incredible amount of artistic license regarding the actual facts of the Bounty mutiny and the people involved. If one doesn't take the film as an authentic portrayal one can enjoy it immensely in spite of its many flaws. Clark Gable is very good as Fletcher Christian although he's never believable as an English sailor. He's Clark Gable and that's what audiences wanted to see, he doesn't even attempt an English accent. Franchot Tone, the film's third lead, also doesn't attempt an English accent but his screen presence isn't as potent as Gable's and his "golly gee" performance is hard to take at times. But the film belongs to Laughton whose masterly performance holds the film together. As cinema, I much prefer the 1962 MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY or the 1984 THE BOUNTY which at least attempt to be faithful in spirit to the actual mutiny. With Henry Stephenson, Donald Crisp, Spring Byington, Herbert Mundin, Eddie Quillan, Ian Wolfe and Movita Castaneda.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Magic (1978)

A ventriloquist (Anthony Hopkins) is on the verge of a career breakthrough but unable to face a required medical exam that might reveal his severe psychological issues, he flees to the Catskills where he grew up and re-connects with the woman (Ann-Margret), now unhappily married, he had a teen crush on. Based on the novel by William Goldman, who adapted his book for the screen and directed by Richard Attenborough (GANDHI). By the time of Goldman's novel, stories about ventriloquists losing control of their lives to their wooden creations was hardly original. Perhaps the most famous examples are the Michael Redgrave episode in the 1945 film DEAD OF NIGHT and the 1962 TWILIGHT ZONE episode with Cliff Robertson. Despite his 2 Oscars (ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, BUTCH CASSIDY), Goldman is probably one of the most overrated screenwriters in Hollywood. What makes MAGIC work are the actors especially Hopkins who is terrific here. His out of control psychological breakdown is a direct contrast to the icy calm of his SILENCE OF THE LAMBS performance. Compare Hopkins' compelling performance here to the artificiality of Jack Nicholson's out of control breakdown in THE SHINING and you'll truly appreciate Hopkins' performance. There's a marvelous Jerry Goldsmith score to accompany the proceedings. With Burgess Meredith, David Ogden Stiers and Ed Lauter. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Song At Twilight (1982)

An internationally renowned author and playwright (Paul Scofield) in the autumn of his years agrees to see a former mistress (Deborah Kerr) from over 40 years ago during which time they have never seen each other. Based on the 1966 play by Noel Coward and directed by Cedric Messina. The play was one of Coward's last plays and it was a success on the London stage with Coward as the author and Lilli Palmer as the mistress. While it may lack the playfulness and wit of some of Coward's earlier comedies like PRIVATE LIVES and BLITHE SPIRIT, this one certainly has more depth and even a  touch of poignancy. Essentially a four character piece (June Tobin as the author's wife and Hugo Lidington as a servant are the other two), there's an elegance and levity that is sorely missed in contemporary comedy. It begins with some witty banter before slowly revealing itself to be a strong dose of honesty. Scofield and Kerr, no surprise, bring a wealth of experience to their roles but June Tobin as the German wife who knows more than she lets on provides excellent support.  

They Got Me Covered (1943)

A Pulitzer Prize winning foreign news correspondent (Bob Hope) is in hot water with his newspaper editor (Donald MacBride) for botching a huge news story. But when he gets a tip that Nazis and their allies are set to attack Washington D.C., he expects that not only will the story get him another Pulitzer but it will put him back in his boss's favor. Directed by David Butler (PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE), this is one of Hope's funnier efforts. While WWII propaganda films usually concentrated on the actual war front, this ditzy effort goes a different route and plays it for laughs. Hope's comic persona, that of a clueless and cowardly narcissist, is in full bloom here and his comic timing and masterly way with a quip has never been more razor sharp. It's all nonsense of course but Hope gets a lot of help from his ROAD co-star Dorothy Lamour as his girl, who makes for a wonderful straight woman. The expert supporting cast includes Otto Preminger as the head Nazi, Eduardo Ciannelli standing in for fascist Italy and Philip Ahn representing Japan. With Florence Bates, Margaret Hayes, John Abbott, Lenore Aubert, Marion Martin and Donald Meek, who's hilarious as a nutcase who still thinks it's the Civil War.

Monday, April 24, 2017

House Of Wax (1953)

After a talented sculptor (Vincent Price) is horribly burned in a fire because his partner (Roy Roberts) wants the insurance money on a wax figure exhibit, he becomes mentally unhinged and goes on a killing spree. The first 3D movie in color and stereophonic sound, this is a remake of the 1933 film MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. Ironically, it was directed by Andre De Toth who had only one good eye. It's a fun film and works quite well without the 3D gimmick although it's obviously striving overtime with "in your face" gimmicks like paddle balls practically hitting you in the face and high kicking chorines doing the can-can. After this film, Vincent Price seemed to be the "go to" man for horror films and quickly became a horror movie icon. By contemporary standards, it's not really scary at all but Price is extremely effective and De Toth creates a suitably menacing atmosphere. With Phyllis Kirk, Frank Lovejoy, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Angela Clarke and in an early screen appearance, Charles Bronson as a deaf mute.   

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Lost City Of Z (2017)

In 1905, the Royal Geological Society assigns a British military man (Charlie Hunnam) to survey the borders of Bolivia and Brazil. But when he discovers evidence of a long lost civilization that might pre-date modern man, it turns into an obsession that will consume him. Based on the non fiction book by David Grann and directed by James Gray (THE IMMIGRANT). Although based on the true story of Percy Fawcett, Gann's book has been attacked for gross exaggerations and inaccuracies. Since I don't go to the movies for history lessons, I took Gray's film, which covers 25 years, on face value. The first 2/3rds of the film are very good. More than very good, in fact excellent. It seemed to be evolving into something very special. Alas, when the film reaches WWI, it stops dead in its tracks and never recovers. Worse still, it meanders into a mystic and sentimental ending that seems to drag on forever! I started to feel angry that it began to ruin the good will that the first 2/3 had built up. The acting is first rate especially Hunnam in his best film role to date. High marks to Christopher Spelman's wonderful Oscar worthy score. With Sienna Miller (who does wonders with the dreaded "wife" role), Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Franco Nero and Angus Macfadyen, so good in his whimpering selfishness that you want to rip his face off!   

Insomnia (1997)

A Swedish detective (Stellan Skarsgard) and his partner (Sverre Anker Ousdal) travel to Norway to assist a murder case, that of a 17 year old girl brutally beaten to death. A plan to trap the suspected killer (Bjorn Floberg) goes horribly wrong and the detective kills his partner instead. But was it an accident? The directorial feature film debut of Erik Skjoldbjaerg is a compelling thriller with a complex ambiguous protagonist at its core. Not only is he unlikable, he's downright disgusting! But Skjoldbjaerg isn't interested in a sympathetic portrait but rather the opaque moral culpability of a guilt consumed man. As Skarsgard impeccably plays him, we're never able to break through his glass wall while ironically, we're able to understand Floberg's equally vile murderer which renders his character more human. Unsettling on several levels, nonetheless a gripping suspense film that challenges you as it entertains you. An English language remake directed by Christopher Nolan came out in 2002. With Gisken Armand and Bjorn Moan.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Gosford Park (2001)

In 1932, a group of British aristocrats gather for a weekend in the country at an estate owned by a wealthy factory owner (Michael Gambon) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). But what should have been an ordinary weekend is interrupted by a murder. Robert Altman would be the last director one would think of for this both witty and incisive look at the British class system which suddenly turns into an Agatha Christie mystery in its last hour. This is Merchant/Ivory territory and the film is a hybrid of REMAINS OF THE DAY and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. But since this is Altman and not Merchant/Ivory, the film is fluid rather than stiff, open rather than stuffy. Julian Fellowes' Oscar winning screenplay glides between the downstairs servants and the upstairs aristocrats giving us a peek at their private lives and if the servants seem to be more interesting than the aristocrats, it's probably because they're more relatable to us. The murder mystery aspect is only interesting because of the motive. The victim is extremely unlikable so we don't really care who killed him and the incompetence of the police detective (Stephen Fry) investigating the case insures the murder will never be solved. The impeccable ensemble cast includes Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, Ryan Phillippe, Eileen Atkins, Jeremy Northam, Richard E. Grant and Kelly Macdonald.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Mr. Moto Takes A Vacation (1939)

An American archaeologist (John Dusty King) discovers the crown of the Queen of Sheba during a dig. The famed Japanese detective Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) takes it upon himself to guard the crown on its sea journey to a San Francisco museum. But a criminal mastermind has already set a plan in motion to steal the priceless crown. Directed by Norman Foster (WOMAN ON THE RUN), this was the seventh film in the Mr. Moto franchise. If you're a fan of the series (as I am) and mysteries in general, it's quite fun. At barely over an hour long, it gets its business done without dawdling though I could easily have done without the comic relief provided by G.P. Huntley as a bumbling British twit who is more annoying than amusing. It's not very difficult to figure out the villain. When you cast a younger actor and then cover him up with old age make up, it's practically a dead giveaway. All in all, one of the more enjoyable entries in the series. With Joseph Schildkraut, Virginia Field, Lionel Atwill, Victor Wong and Willie Best.   

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stazione Termini (1953)

An American woman (Jennifer Jones) on vacation in Italy begins an affair with an Italian teacher (Montgomery Clift). But she can't bring herself to leave her husband and child and decides to return home. Directed by Vittorio De Sica, the film had a troubled history. The producer of the film, David O. Selznick (Jones's husband at the time), saw a more traditional romance but De Sica saw a more complex end of the affair. Selznick edited De Sica's version and cut almost 24 minutes out of the film and retitled it INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE. The version I watched was De Sica's original 90 minute cut. Films about American women traveling to Europe and having brief encounters with foreign men have been done several times for the screen. Perhaps the most notable is David Lean's SUMMERTIME but there's also Douglas Sirk's INTERLUDE. De Sica sets his film in what feels like real time and the entire film plays out at a train station. Unlike the romanticized Technicolor SUMMERTIME, De Sica's film is a bleak B&W look at at a romance falling apart. Clift brings a great empathy to his Italian (he's no gigolo) while Jones uses her talent for suppressed neuroticism to great advantage. If you're looking for a glossy movie romance, this isn't it but it's still an involving film. With Richard Beymer (WEST SIDE STORY).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bluebeard (1972)

A young American (Joey Heatherton) touring as a showgirl in 1930s Europe is courted by a Hungarian aristocrat (Richard Burton), who has had multiple wives. They marry and he gives her a set of keys to the castle and tells her she must never use the gold one. Of course, her curiosity gets the better of her and what that key unlocks could be the death of her. Directed by Edward Dmytryk (CROSSFIRE) and based on the classic French folk tale which has "inspired" several previous films including the 1944 Edgar G. Ulmer film. This version is presented as a black comedy though it takes awhile before one realizes it is a comedy. Burton's last line in the film is, "This is ridiculous! This is absurd!" and that about sums up the movie. A bevy of international beauties are cast as his lovers and mistresses and the more amusing segments include Virna Lisi as the wife who drives him crazy because she won't stop singing pop songs all the time and Raquel Welch as an ex-nun who feels the need to confess her entire sexual history which is prolific! I could have done without the hunting montage with hunters shooting various animals which I found distasteful, however. The Ennio Morricone underscore is aces! With Nathalie Delon, Sybil Danning, Marilu Tolo, Agostina Belli and Karin Schubert.

Outpost In Morocco (1949)

Set in Morocco, a womanizing officer (George Raft) in the French army is assigned to lead a patrol escorting a local Emir's daughter (Marie Windsor), newly arrived from France, back to her father (Eduard Franz). Her father, however, is anti-colonial and wants the French out of his country. Directed by Robert Florey (THE COCOANUTS), this is a typical desert programmer with its French colonial heroes and the Arabs as the bad guys. An aging Raft is the "dashing" hero and it's rather amusing to see his sudden athleticism in the action scenes courtesy of a stunt double! The Foreign Legion actually cooperated with the film makers in this effort (no hyperbole, there's literally a cast of thousands) and Richard Rosson did the second unit location work which was reused in several 50s desert adventure movies. There is a rather touching moment in the film when the cavalry soldiers must abandon their horses to the desert after their water supply has been cut off, one of the few touches that elevate it out of the "B" movie territory plus an unusually downbeat ending. With Akim Tamiroff, John Litel, John Doucette and Erno Verebes whose comic relief wears out very quickly.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wall Of Noise (1963)

An ambitious horse trainer (Ty Hardin) disregards the loyalty of his loving girlfriend (Dorothy Provine) in his pursuit to enter the winner's circle in the high stakes world of professional horse racing. When he's hired by a self made millionaire (Ralph Meeker) to manage his stables, the millionaire's wife (Suzanne Pleshette) sees him as a way out of an unhappy marriage. Based on the novel by Daniel Michael Stein and directed by Richard Wilson. The film never gets out of the gate due to the casting of Hardin in the male lead. The character is an arrogant and rather unlikable chap so you need a charismatic actor to make the film work, someone like Paul Newman who can play unlikable characters (think HUD) yet still draw you to him. Not only is Hardin not charismatic, he's not a good actor and the role is beyond his meager abilities. Not to mention that Pleshette and Provine are too good for him, both as actresses and their characters. Pleshette is comfortable as the femme fatale but Hardin's blandness renders Provine's loyal girlfriend as nothing more than a doormat. The racing sequences are done very well although the insider's look at horse racing doesn't flatter it.  With Simon Oakland, Murray Matheson and Jimmy Murphy.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Far And Away (1992)

In the Ireland of 1892, a poverty stricken Irishman (Tom Cruise) sets off to America with the headstrong runaway daughter (Nicole Kidman) of a wealthy Irish landowner (Robert Prosky). They  both have their dreams but everything seems against them. Directed by Ron Howard, this is an old fashioned movie but old fashioned in the good sense. It starts off weakly with Howard overdoing the movie Irish bit and one suspects he watched too many John Ford movies while preparing for this. I kept waiting for Victor McLaglen to show up! But once they get to America, things pick up nicely. Tom Cruise isn't remotely believable as an Irishman (his Irish accent is the pits), he's Tom Cruise, Movie Star. And that's just fine because that's what this kind of movie needs, a charismatic star at its center. The film's high point is a stunning recreation of the 1893 Oklahoma land rush, strikingly shot by Mikael Salomon (THE ABYSS) in 70 millimeter (12 cameras were used to film it) although few theaters actually showed it in the format and edited by Daniel Hanley and Mike Hill. With Thomas Gibson, Barbara Babcock, Colm Meaney, Jared Harris, Cyril Cusack and Brendan Gleeson.   

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

While the evil Galactic Empire continues to suppress any resistance to its rule, the rebel alliance headed by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) continues to fight against the tyranny. But the Empire has the upper hand and the resistance is met with a furious might. But the "hope" of the rebels, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) trains with the Jedi master Yoda (Frank Oz). Directed by Irvin Kershner (EYES OF LAURA MARS), this is considered the jewel of the original STAR WARS trilogy and justifiably so. This is a great epic in which everything falls perfectly into place. From the intelligent script by Leigh Brackett (RIO BRAVO) and Lawrence Kasdan (BODY HEAT) which allows for some detailed characterization to Kershner's concise direction (helped by Paul Hirsch's editing, of course). Of course, the trilogy's creator George Lucas' hand is all over this though uncredited for the most part. The film is the most operatic in scope of the trilogy and unlike the other two, it ends so many ends hanging (intentionally) unresolved. One of the genuinely great films of the 1980s decade. With Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker.   

Colossal (2017)

After being kicked out of their apartment by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens), an alcoholic (Anne Hathaway) returns to the small town she came from to try and get her life back together. Meanwhile, in South Korea, a reptilian like monster terrorizes the city. It isn't long before the woman realizes there's a connection between her and the creature. I'm not familiar with the work of Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo (who also wrote the screenplay) but I'm impressed with what I see here. In the 1956 FORBIDDEN PLANET, Walter Pidgeon's subconscious creates a monster and here Vigalondo takes that premise and expands it. However, those expecting a Godzilla like monster movie are going to be sorely disappointed. The film actually has more in common with Hathaway's RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. The film is about her and Jason Sudeikis (as a bar owner) and how their self destructive behavior physically manifests itself. In his comedies, Sudeikis has turned smarminess into an acting style and here (in his best performance yet) he elevates it to sociopathic proportions. The film's trailer does a poor job of selling the film emphasizing the film's few comedic moments when, in fact, it's a very dark film. While it's not a complete success, I applaud the attempt to move outside of the genre box. With Tim Blake Nelson. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Iron Petticoat (1956)

A Soviet military pilot (Katharine Hepburn) is furious when she is passed over for a promotion by an under qualified male so she flees Russia in a stolen jet but she is forced down over West Germany. An American Captain (Bob Hope) in the U.S. Army is assigned against his will to woo her over to the capitalism way of western life. Directed by Ralph Thomas, the movie owes a lot to the 1939 Lubitsch film NINOTCHKA in its basic premise. The film's reputation is that it's a stinker and while it's not as bad as its reputation suggests, it's simply not a funny film. Katharine Hepburn's spectacularly awful performance aside (she has been worse but I'll be a gentleman and not mention in what), the punchlines fall flat and the film can't seem to decide whether it wants to be a typical Bob Hope comedy or a witty satire on Cold War politics and so it fails on both counts. To be fair, Hepburn was on board first and pleased by Ben Hecht's script but once Hope came on board, he had his gag writers change the script to favor him rather than Hepburn. The result pleased nobody although surprisingly, the film was a modest hit at the box office. With James Robertson Justice, Robert Helpmann and Noelle Middleton.   

Ladies Should Listen (1934)

The switchboard operator (Frances Drake) in an apartment building takes it upon herself to stop a businessman (Cary Grant) from getting involved with a married woman (Rosita Moreno) who's plotting with her husband (Rafael Corio) to swindle him. This amusing farce has all the right elements including a witty script and a game cast up for the shenanigans. But it never quite sparkles and I'll lay that at the feet of the director Frank Tuttle (THIS GUN FOR HIRE). The pacing feels lethargic when the action should fizz and gallop. Perhaps Ernst Lubitsch could have made something of it all. That aside, it's still modestly entertaining and a couple of the performances, notably Nydia Westman's ditzy heiress and the ever dependable Edward Everett Horton, show a true farceur spirit. The film's one hour running time assures that it won't wear out its welcome. With Ann Sheridan, Charles Ray and George Barbier.   

L'Assassino (1961)

An antiques dealer (Marcello Mastroianni) is arrested on suspicion of murdering his mistress (Micheline Presle). The evidence against him is circumstantial but it begins a Kafkaesque nightmare of police harassment and abuse of power. Directed by Elio Petri (INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION), the film is interesting in that its protagonist isn't so much an "innocent" man as how he is judged by his lifestyle. He's duplicitous, a liar, an opportunist, no moral backbone and a rotten son. Clearly he's guilty of a great many things but does that make him a killer? And the film's ending may be the most ambiguous since BASIC INSTINCT! But it's not the character's guilt or innocence that interests Petri but rather the police state's and society's presumptions of guilt. Even if one is just accused, can one ever get rid of the "Oh yes, he's the one that was arrested for that murder" taint? Mastroianni gives a fine performance, deftly keeping the viewer unsure of his guilt but ready to convict him of his moral crimes. The jazzy score is by Piero Piccioni. With Andrea Checchi, Salvo Randone and Cristina Gaioni.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Alla Ricerca Del Piacere (aka Amuck) (1972)

A young American girl (Barbara Bouchet) is hired by a writer (Farley Granger) living in Venice, Italy. The writer and his mistress (Rosalba Neri) are part of a swinging sex party set. But the secretary is really there to discover what happened to her friend, the writer's last secretary who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. This Italian giallo directed by Silvio Amadio is heavy on the sex and light on the blood. We're treated to a couple of girl on girl sex scenes in slow motion while Bouchet seems to be taking off her clothes at the drop of a hat but the gore is fairly minimal (unless you count the cutting up of an eel). Still, unless you're a prude, it's a fairly entertaining thriller. Granger seems embarrassed being in the movie (in an orgy scene, he's the only one keeping his clothes on) but the fetching Bouchet and Neri throw themselves into the film with complete commitment. The cinematographer Aldo Giordani takes full advantage of the lovely Venetian locations and there's an excellent underscore by Teo Usuelli which sounds slightly Morricone-ish. With Umberto Raho, Nino Segurini and Petar Martinovitch. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Hoodlum (1919)

The granddaughter (Mary Pickford) of a wealthy but corrupt businessman is a spoiled brat used to getting her own way. When she spurns her grandfather's offer to travel to Europe and decides to live with her father instead, she finds it difficult to adjust as her father lives in the slums of lower New York City. Based on the novel BURKESES AMY by Julie Matilde Lippman and directed by Sidney Franklin (THE GOOD EARTH). I'm not a huge Mary Pickford fan so I don't know where this film ranks among her fans but I enjoyed it. Even though she starts off playing a self centered brat, we know it's only a matter of time until she sees the light and does the right thing, after all she's Mary Pickford, America's sweetheart! The humor isn't too broad and the movie has a good moral without being too treacly. The print I saw had a very nice orchestral score by Bonnie Ruth Janofsky that propels the movie along nicely. With Ralph Lewis, Kenneth Harlan and T.D. Crittenden.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)

Dependent on the tourist trade, the mayor (William Devane) of a small hick town in Florida finds his town in financial jeopardy when a newly built freeway bypasses their town without an exit. The townspeople take desperate measures to bring people back into their town. Directed by John Schlesinger (MIDNIGHT COWBOY), this movie is very much in the vein of those multi character comedies where everyone is running around hysterically. Movies like IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING and Spielberg's 1941 for example. It's a genre I'm quite partial too and I kept on waiting for this one to catch fire but it never quite does. Not all of the plot lines work. For instance, the Beau Bridges as an erring husband and Beverly D'Angelo as nymphomaniac story line just sits there! David Rasche as a greasy pimp is so unappealing that he pulled me out of the story and there was no payoff to Paul Jabara as a singing truck driver. On the upside, Hume Cronyn as a retired advertising executive and Jessica Tandy as his alcoholic wife are quite charming and Geraldine Page and Deborah Rush as two squabbling nuns on their way to Miami are amusing. I enjoyed it but it never quite grabbed me. The large cast includes Teri Garr, Daniel Stern, Howard Hesseman, George Dzundza, Celia Weston, Joe Grifasi and Frances Lee McCain.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Door With Seven Locks (aka Chamber Of Horrors) (1940)

A doctor (Leslie Banks) holds the seven keys to a crypt that contains the body of a Lord (Aubrey Mallalieu) who was buried with a fortune in jewels. But when one of the keys turns up missing, the girl (Lilli Palmer) who was given the stolen key by a murdered man (J.H. Roberts) is in terrible danger ..... but from whom? Based on the novel by Edgar Wallace and directed by Norman Lee. Even if you're a die hard fan of mysteries, this one creaks! It has an appealing heroine in the lovely Lilli Palmer and an oily villain in Banks (THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) but it's saddled with an annoying pair of comedy relief in the form of Palmer's wisecracking Aunt (Gina Malo) in the kind of role Eve Arden excelled in and a sleep deprived policeman (Richard Bird) that aren't remotely amusing. But it does have a marvelous old mansion complete with a torture chamber and a creepy crypt courtesy of J. Charles Gilbert's art direction. The kind of movie that one might enjoy on a cold rainy afternoon. Unfortunately, it wasn't raining when I watched it. With Cathleen Nesbitt and as the romantic interest for Palmer, Romilly Lunge who retired from acting after this film at the age of 36.

Battle Of The Bulge (1965)

A military intelligence officer (Henry Fonda) suspects that the Germans are plotting an all out offensive but his superiors, a General (Robert Ryan) and a Colonel (Dana Andrews), dismiss his worries because of lack of evidence. But the Germans are, in fact, planning an all out offensive. This is one of the better war films of the 1960s but if you're expecting an accurate depiction of the actual Ardennes Counteroffensive, forget it. The major characters are all fictional, the circumstances surrounding the actual battle are rife with omissions and fabrications. But hopefully you're not someone who goes to the movies for a history lesson. Taking it strictly as a war movie, it's very good! Filmed in 70 millimeter by Jack Hildyard (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI), this is a handsome looking film. With the emphasis on action, there's very little time for developing character but a few actors manage give fleshed out performances, notably Robert Shaw as German Colonel who lives for war, Telly Savalas as a black marketeer and Hans Christian Blech as a disillusioned German soldier. The superb score is by Benjamin Frankel. The large cast includes Charles Bronson, Pier Angeli, James MacArthur, George Montgomery, Ty Hardin, Werner Peters and Barbara Werle.   

Monday, April 10, 2017

Another Man's Poison (1951)

A man (Gary Merrill) who has been double crossed by his partner in a bank robbery goes to the secluded home of the man's estranged wife (Bette Davis), a famous mystery writer, in an attempt to confront him. However, he finds the man dead and the wife admits she killed him. They form an uneasy alliance but is blackmail and murder ever a good basis for a partnership? Based on the play DEADLOCK by Leslie Sands and directed by Irving Rapper (NOW VOYAGER). The film never transcends its theatrical roots, it's a very verbose movie. Although the film is occasionally "opened up" with a few outdoor scenes, the film mostly takes place in the writer's home. Mystery fans will have no problem figuring everything out fairly easily. If one can get past the fact that the matronly looking Davis is about 10 years too old for the spider woman femme fatale role she plays here, she provides the catnip for the viewer. It's the kind of juicy role her fans lap up and she doesn't disappoint. But there's no denying the enterprise feels like an also ran. Emlyn Williams as a meddling neighbor is so irritating (any normal person would have kicked him out of their house) that one wishes he were the initial victim! With Anthony Steel and Barbara Murray providing the triangle subplot.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Month By The Lake (1995)

As the clouds of war hover over 1937 Italy, a vacationing English spinster (Vanessa Redgrave) sets her cap on an ex-Army Major (Edward Fox) and they get along quite well. But when a capricious young American girl (Uma Thurman) who works as a nanny for an Italian couple enters the picture, the Major's head is turned and the spinster finds she has competition. Based on the novel by H.E. Bates and directed by John Irvin (GHOST STORY). There's not much you can say about a film like this. Its charming, slightly whimsical with quirky characters and gorgeous scenery of the Lake Como region in Italy which is lovingly shot by Pasqualino De Santis (DEATH IN VENICE). It's perfectly cast with the film's principals giving their characters just the right shade of eccentricity which helps considering they're all essentially stereotypes. Definitely lightweight but when fluff is done this well, it's not to be dismissed so lightly. The lovely underscore is by Nicola Piovani. With Alida Valli and Alessandro Gassman.  

Kimi No Na Wa (aka Your Name) (2016)

As a comet approaches Earth, a girl in a small Japanese mountain village and a boy living in Tokyo suddenly find that they are switching bodies intermittently but with very little memory of the process. But this is only the beginning of a complex tale of connection. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, this piece of Japanese anime was a huge success in Japan last year and at this time is the 4th highest grossing film of all time in Japan. The film changes tone several times during its running time. It's starts out as a seemingly teen body switching comedy before turning into a disaster movie and ending as an emotional love story. The animation is drop dead stunning and that in itself is reason to seek out the movie but its narrative, balancing humor and an intricate emotional core, has a resonance that propels the film. The only downside is that Shinkai drags out the inevitable ending a bit longer than necessary. Alas, the theater I saw the matinee was showing the dubbed into English version during the day and the original Japanese language version (which I would have preferred) during the evening.   

Saturday, April 8, 2017

September Storm (1960)

A drifter (Mark Stevens) convinces a model (Joanne Dru) on vacation in Majorca to talk a young man (Asher Dann), who has access to a boat, into a treasure hunt for a sunken ship with gold doubloons. In spite of some heavyweights behind the camera like director Byron Haskin (WAR OF THE WORLDS), screenwriter W.R. Burnett (THE ASPHALT JUNGLE) and art director Boris Leven (WEST SIDE STORY), this is a rather lackluster action caper. Originally shot in 3D, the majority of theaters showed the "flat" CinemaScope version. The film could have used more of the striking Majorca locations but most of the film is shot on or under the water. I watched the 2D version so without the 3D effects, it's a routine adventure with shark attacks and the men fighting over the woman. For 3D addicts, I imagine the appeal is higher. In fact, the film was restored largely with the help of a kickstarter Go Fund Me account with 3D fans making contributions. With Robert Strauss and Jean Pierre Kerien. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Woman In White (1948)

A young artist (Gig Young) meets a mysterious woman (Eleanor Parker) in white while walking through the woods at night. The morning after he meets he meets a young heiress (Eleanor Parker) who is the exact double of the mysterious "woman in white". And so begins a tale of murder, insanity, switched identities and greed. Based on the classic 1859 novel by Wilkie Collins (considered the prototype of the 20th century mystery novel) and directed by Peter Godfrey (CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT). Collins' rather convoluted novel is given the streamlined treatment with some major changes (characters eliminated, different ending etc.) but it remains a good example of an old fashioned Gothic influenced romantic mystery. Godfrey manages to give the movie an appropriate atmosphere and with one exception, the performances are very nice. The one exception is Gig Young who seems like a fish out of water here but the others are just right. Sydney Greenstreet makes for a marvelously diabolical villain and Parker in her dual roles gets to go from A to Z with her acting. Even Max Steiner seems inspired and manages to give a better than average score. With Alexis Smith, Agnes Moorehead, John Emery and John Abbott. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Camelot (1967)

On the eve of a great battle, King Arthur (Richard Harris) reflects on his first meeting with his bride Guenevere (Vanessa Redgrave), his dreams of uniting all of England, the forming of the knights of the Round Table, of his friend Lancelot (Franco Nero) and how it all lead to the battlefield. Based on the Tony award winning hit 1960 Broadway Lerner & Loewe (MY FAIR LADY) musical and directed by Joshua Logan (PICNIC). I watched the 3 hour roadshow cut. The general release version was cut by almost 30 minutes including overture, intermission and entr'acte. Behind the camera, two contributions stand out. The production design and costumes of John Truscott and the musical supervision of the legendary Alfred Newman who makes the Lerner & Loewe score soar. Both men justifiably won Oscars for their work here. In front of the camera, the film belongs to Vanessa Redgrave who brings a great actress's authority to the underwritten role of Guenevere. Franco Nero's Lancelot is also a standout but while Richard Harris is on firm ground when singing, he can't seem to say the simplest line without acting it to death. After awhile, it becomes amusing to see how much he's going to squeeze out of a line and indeed, he overacts even when whispering! With David Hemmings, Lionel Jeffries, Laurence Naismith and Estelle Winwood.   

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

El Bruto (1953)

When his tenants protest their eviction, a ruthless landlord (Andres Soler) hires a muscular but simple minded slaughterhouse employee (Pedro Armendariz) to frighten the tenants into leaving. But when he accidentally kills one of the tenants, it will eventually prove his downfall. Directed by the great Luis Bunuel, this is not one of his masterpieces and if one calls it second tier Bunuel, it is not meant as derogatory. It's actually very good but somehow never quite reaches the operatic tragedy that it appears to be aiming toward. Armendariz' "El Bruto" with his brute strength and underdeveloped mind should be a tragic figure and he is to an extent. But Bunuel keeps it low keyed with its emphasis on gritty realism when a more melodramatic approach might have benefited the film more. The performances are excellent though and Armendariz manages to make his repulsive brute touching by the film's end and Katy Jurado as the landlord's sexy vengeful wife gives a spectacular performance. With Rosa Arenas and Paco Martinez.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

When Time Ran Out (1980)

A dormant volcano on a South Pacific island unexpectedly erupts and puts hundreds of guests at a luxury hotel in danger. They must make a choice of listening to the hotel owner (James Franciscus) who insists the hotel is like a fortress and they will be safe or follow the oil rigger (Paul Newman)  who will lead them to higher and safer ground on the other side of the island. Marginally based on the novel DAY THE WORLD ENDED by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts and directed by James Goldstone. This Irwin Allen (POSEIDON ADVENTURE) disaster film came at the end of the disaster genre's popularity. By 1980, audiences had seen earthquakes, burning skyscrapers, avalanches, capsized ships and killer bees and were pretty exhausted. This effort closely resembles the 1961 DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK in that it follows a group of people on a dangerous trek through tropical jungles to the sea where boats will be waiting for them. The characters are pretty stock and there's zero opportunities for the actors to develop anything resembling a layered human being. Still, for fans of the genre, it's more than watchable. The huge cast includes William Holden, Jacqueline Bisset, Ernest Borgnine, Burgess Meredith, Red Buttons, Valentina Cortese, Edward Albert, Alex Karras, Pat Morita, Barbara Carrera, Veronica Hamel, John Considine and Sheila Allen.

Man Proof (1938)

After the man (Walter Pidgeon) she loves jilts her for another woman (Rosalind Russell), a headstrong young woman (Myrna Loy) thinks she's over him and wants to be friends. But what the heart wants, the heart wants. Based on the novel THE FOUR MARYS by Fanny Heaslip Lea and directed by Richard Thorpe (JAILHOUSE ROCK). There's a jarring shift in tone in this film which appears to be a sophisticated romcom at the beginning before switching over to a melodramatic romantic triangle before quickly going back to breezy romcom for the fade out. In an unusual role for Loy who usually plays likable and sensible down to earth characters, here she's a neurotic woman who won't let go of her romantic fantasies. The four leading players (Franchot Tone is the 4th) are all engaging screen actors so that helps override the inconsistencies in the narrative. If the film belongs to anybody, it belongs to Rosalind Russell who's the most likable character in the movie and way too good for the man she's married to, indeed too good for everyone else either. She also has the best scene in the film when she realizes what a sad cad her husband is. With Nana Bryant and John Miljan.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Valdez Is Coming (1971)

After being forced to kill an innocent man because he was misidentified by a powerful rancher (Jon Cypher), a Mexican constable (Burt Lancaster) asks for $100 to help the slain man's wife (Juanita Penalosa). Not only does the rancher refuse but he has the Mexican tied to a cross and sent into the wilderness. Eventually he kidnaps the rancher's woman (Susan Clark) and the chase is on! Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard and directed by Edwin Sherin. It's difficult to get past the film's biggest flaw which is the miscasting of Lancaster. I'm all for casting an actor in any role that he can play convincingly but Lancaster is simply not convincing as a Mexican and the tepid accent he uses is worthless. It's a pity because if cast correctly, the script is full of possibilities but without a convincing central performance to hold the movie together, the film is just another chase western. Coming from the Broadway stage where he had a great success with THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, this was Sherin's directorial film debut and he doesn't appear to have an affinity for the western and it's a fairly mediocre film visually. With Richard Jordan, Hector Elizondo and Frank Silvera.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Maltese Bippy (1969)

Partners (Dan Rowan, Dick Martin) in a low budget porno movie company move into a creepy old old house next to a cemetery. When a mutilated and half eaten body is discovered in the cemetery, one of them (Martin) suspects he might be a werewolf. Flush off the success of their hit TV show LAUGH IN, it was inevitable that Rowan and Martin would try their hand at the movies. Directed by comedy veteran Norman Panama (THE COURT JESTER), this is a silly movie but silly in a good way. It's reminiscent of movies like THE GHOST BREAKERS or those Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein/The Invisible Man/The Mummy/Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Universal comedies. The gags are thrown at us right and left in the hopes that some will click and while it misses more often than it hits, I enjoyed it and actually laughed out loud a few times. The film's multiple endings anticipates 1985's CLUE and the cast seems to be having a good time especially Mildred Natwick as the housekeeper. Comedy being subjective and all that, I don't know that as I can recommend it outright but the more adventurous might be pleasantly surprised. With Carol Lynley, Julie Newmar, Fritz Weaver, Robert Reed, Eddra Gale (8 1/2) and Dana Elcar.

The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)

As the Germans invade Poland in 1939, a zookeeper (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife (Jessica Chastain) are devastated as their zoo is destroyed by Nazi bombs and the surviving animals slaughtered by the Germans. But they devise an elaborate plan to sneak Jews out of the Warsaw ghetto and hide them until "safe houses" can be found for them. Based on a true story as documented in the non-fiction book by Diane Ackerman. After SCHINDLER'S LIST, where can movies like this go? As directed by Niki Caro (WHALE RIDER), the film dutifully goes through its paces without much surprises. Rescuing Jews from the Nazis was a brave and noble thing to do but as cinema, it's all too familiar. Of course, it's impossible not to react emotionally to what we're seeing (if you can, I'm not sure I want to know you) but the movie paints itself into a corner. And it's difficult for the film to top the early scene of the bombing of the zoo and the slaughter of the animals. Fortunately, there's a strong central performance by Jessica Chastain who luckily resists the urge to go all Streep's SOPHIE'S CHOICE (Polish accent and all) on us and Daniel Bruhl gives his Nazi a shade more subtlety than is usual in such stock parts. A more than decent film but so deja vu

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Psycho (1960)

Out of frustration, a young woman (Janet Leigh in an Oscar nominated performance) steals $40,000 from her employer (Vaughn Taylor) with the intent of going to her lover (John Gavin) who needs the money. But rain forces her to stop at a secluded motel for the night. What can one say about an iconic film like PSYCHO that hasn't already been said. Has any other film been more analyzed, dissected, poured over and picked over than Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece? 57 years later, it remains a compelling and complex piece of cinema. It's easy to overlook how revolutionary the film was in 1960! There hadn't been anything like the shocking violence of the shower murder in a mainstream Hollywood film up to that point, not to mention the killing of the film's naked leading lady (and the film's biggest star) halfway through the movie. Incredibly it's also the first movie to show a toilet in a bathroom which had never been done at that point. The film features a magnificent performance by Anthony Perkins, a performance so iconic that it typecast him forever. Hard to believe that although it was embraced by the public which made it a huge hit, it received mixed notices including one from the clueless Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. The legendary score is by Bernard Herrmann. With Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Simon Oakland, Frank Albertson and Patricia Hitchcock.

The Scavengers (1959)

An American smuggler (Vince Edwards) operating out of Hong Kong spots his missing wife (Carol Ohmart), who ran out on him five years earlier, on a boat leaving for Macao. Tracking her down and confronting her, he discovers she is involved in drugs and stolen government bonds. Directed by the Hollywood veteran John Cromwell (OF HUMAN BONDAGE) and filmed in Hong Kong and the Philippines. This is a poverty row attempt at film noir but the muddled script by Eddie Romero resists any coherence or originality and instead gives us tired cliches. I don't know who's to blame for the lackluster performances. Both Edwards and Ohmart have shown talent in past films but here they comes across as the rankest of amateurs. Felipe Sacdalan's cinematography doesn't take advantage of the exotic Hong Kong locale that it may as well have been shot in on a Hollywood sound stage! With Richard Loo, Vic Diaz and the dancer Tamar Benamy, who's lovely but has all the expressiveness of a mask.