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Friday, June 30, 2017

J'accuse! (1938)

During WWI, a soldier (Victor Francen) acknowledges to a fellow soldier (Marcel Delaitre) that he is in love with his wife (Line Noro). But before they both go on a mission where it is highly unlikely they will ever return, he makes a promise to that soldier that will affect him long after the war is over. Directed by Abel Gance (NAPOLEON), this is a remake of his 1919 silent film of the same name. The first portion of the film (about 45 minutes) is devoted to the war and I expected another anti-war film like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (a film I dislike) but the following hour and 15 minutes switches gears until toward the end it almost turns into an apocalyptic horror movie. The film is a fantasy of a man driven mad by war and promises almost impossible to keep. The very end of the film is a pipe dream, Gance has more faith in mankind than I have though with WWII looming on the horizon while he was making this movie, surely he must have been aware of what was coming and how the film's conclusion would look more like a fairy tale than ever. Francen gives a superb performance and there's no denying there are moments of great power in the film. With Marie Lou, Jean-Max and Renee Devillers.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

U Turn (1997)

A drifter (Sean Penn) is on his way to Las Vegas to pay off a debt to a gangster (Valery Nikolaev) when his car breaks down in a dusty isolated desert town. That town soon turns into a living Hell where its citizens are all crazy and he soon finds himself being dragged into a morass of murder, lies and revenge. Based on the novel STRAY DOGS by John Ridley (who adapted his book for the screen) and directed by Oliver Stone. This was Stone's last great film. It's an insane black comedy/film noir that has you laughing out loud one moment and on the edge of your seat the next. The closest film of its kind that I kind think of is DUEL IN THE SUN, also an insane movie! Clearly it influenced Ridley as the bloody finale is a homage to the 1946 King Vidor film. Nobody in the entire film is likable, a nastier nest of vipers you'll never meet. The performances are spot on, especially Jennifer Lopez's classic noir femme fatale and Billy Bob Thornton who steals the movie as devious white trash mechanic. The gorgeous underscore is by the great Ennio Morricone. With Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Jon Voight, Claire Danes, Liv Tyler, Laurie Metcalf, Bo Hopkins and Julie Hagerty.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Collection (1976)

An older man (Laurence Olivier) lives with a much younger man (Malcolm McDowell) who may or may not be his lover. The younger man is accosted by a stranger (Alan Bates) who accuses him of having an affair with his wife (Helen Mirren). But did they? When so much lies abound, how can you tell the truth? The plays of Harold Pinter are an acquired taste. So much of what is being said sounds trivial yet the dialog is rife with ambiguity and unspoken implications. This is a fascinating piece as the four characters dance around each other and clearly so much more is going on than is spoken about. And is what is finally revealed the truth or a lie that the characters want to believe is the truth because it's easier for everybody. McDowell and Mirren play their character's feelings close to the chest while Olivier and Bates spill forth their pain. Fine writing, excellent performances and perceptive direction by Michael Apted (COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER). 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Skyjacked (1972)

When a passenger (Susan Dey) on a Boeng 707 en route to Minneapolis discovers a message written in lipstick on a mirror stating there is a bomb on board the plane, the Captain (Charlton Heston) works frantically to discover who the bomber is in an attempt to avert disaster. His only clue is that it is one of the first class passengers. Based on the novel by David Harper and directed by John Guillermin. As long as the movie stays on the actual hijacking, Guillermin does a decent job of keeping the tension quotient strong. But when it diverts to the human stories among the passengers and crew, the cliches and cringe inducing dialog proliferate. There are unnecessary flashbacks to the adulterous affair between the married Heston and the chief flight attendant (Yvette Mimieux) and indicative of the dumb dialog, the co-pilot (Mike Henry) comforts girlfriend Mimieux with, "Don't worry, honey. It's only a bomb".  Then there's the very pregnant Mariette Hartley who you know is going to pop the kid out mid air when all hell breaks loose! Guillermin does manage a neat bit of suspense when the jet enters Russian air space. There's only one really bad performance and that's James Brolin as a crazed Vietnam vet. If you're a fan of the "disaster" genre, don't expect too much but it's better than AIRPORT 1975. With Jeanne Crain, Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Uggams, John Hillerman, Claude Akins, Roosevelt Grier and Ken Swofford. 

If A Man Answers (1962)

The young daughter (Sandra Dee) of a conservative Bostonian (John Lund) and an ex- Folies Bergere showgirl (Micheline Presle) falls in love with a playboy (Bobby Darin) and somehow manages to snag him into marriage. But how to keep him happy? She turns to her French mother for advice which backfires! Based on the novel by Winifred Wolfe and drected by Henry Levin (WHERE THE BOYS ARE). This being a Ross Hunter production, Dee is a junior grade Doris Day who wears a glamorous Jean Louis wardrobe cooking gourmet meals in spite of the fact her husband is a struggling photographer. It's also a pre-feminist 1962 so it's all about getting a man and keeping him happy! It's a souffle of a romantic comedy but the laughs are of the sitcom kind and not a very good sitcom at that. Still, if you have an attachment to Sandra Dee (as I do!) and early 60s Ross Hunter then you'll be in hog heaven. If you're not, chances are you'll be looking at your watch a lot. With Stefanie Powers as Dee's shallow bitchy friend, Cesar Romero (who doesn't turn up until the last 20 minutes) and Charlene Holt.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Lady in The Lake (1947)

A private detective (Robert Montgomery) is hired by a publishing executive (Audrey Totter) to find the missing wife of her boss (Leon Ames). But this missing person's case soon turns into a bloody trail of deception and multiple murders. Based on the 1944 novel by Raymond Chandler and directed by the film's star, Robert Montgomery. The film is notable for the point of view use of the camera which stands in for Montgomery's Philip Marlowe who we hear but never see except in a mirror (although we do see him at various points in the film as he narrates the story from a desk). The film is also shot in long takes which allows the other actors to shine especially Jayne Meadows in her finest screen moment. The POV use of the camera is still a gimmick however without a payoff. It's novel for about a half hour before becoming tedious. This is a movie I wouldn't mind seeing remade without the POV gimmick. The narrative is intriguing enough to keep us glued until a sappy segment with Montgomery and Totter over Christmas day that stops the movie cold. With Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Richard Simmons, Morris Ankrum and Kathleen Lockhart.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Someone To Watch Over Me (1987)

A newly appointed police detective (Tom Berenger) from Queens is assigned to protect a Manhattan socialite (Mimi Rogers) after she witnesses a murder. The elegance and pedigree of the socialite contrasts with the down to earth brassiness of the detective's wife (Lorraine Bracco), an ex-policewoman, and he finds himself crossing a dangerous line. Directed by Ridley Scott (ALIEN), the movie manages to overcome some hard to swallow plot points and this is mainly due to a combination of style and some strong camera work by Steven Poster (DONNIE DARKO). The film's biggest flaw is the killer (Andreas Katsulas), who is so moronic in his actions. He has every opportunity to get out of town and away from the police but instead he plows in like a bull in a china shop, practically begging to be caught by the cops. Does he really think that by piling up the body count, he won't get caught and convicted? If you can overlook that, it just might work for you. It would have helped too if they had made Bracco less shrill and more likable or appealing. The way it stands, who wouldn't want to exchange her for Rogers? With John Rubinstein, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Tony Di Benedetto and Meg Mundy.

Beatriz At Dinner (2017)

A massage therapist and healer (Salma Hayek) finds that her car won't start after treating a wealthy client (Connie Britton) in the posh Newport Beach community. The client asks her to stay for the dinner party she and her husband (David Warshofsky) are giving for a select group of business friends. It can't possibly end well and it doesn't. Written by Mike White specifically for Hayek and directed by Miguel Arteta (THE GOOD GIRL). An intriguing premise that delivers the goods until its misguided conclusion. As cinema, it's certainly timely as it mirrors the fractious and divisive feelings that are currently impacting the U.S. As Americans, we like to think we are a classless and equal culture, a class system is what they have in Great Britain but not here. But the truth is, we do have a class system here and BEATRIZ is one of the rare films that address the issue. Save John Litghgow's reactionary conservative, the upscale party guests pat themselves on the back for being "liberal" and Beatriz is referred to as "family" when the truth of the matter is they are condescending and live behind huge security gates to keep her "kind" out. The film is fair to them and doesn't portray them as bad people, just hypocritical. The acting is first rate, the dialog provocative but I wish they could have come up with a more organic and natural ending. With Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass and Amy Landecker.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bird On A Wire (1990)

A man (Mel Gibson) in the witness protection program finds his new identity compromised when an ex-girlfriend (Goldie Hawn) accidentally runs into him. Things go from bad to worse when the man (David Carradine) he helped convict is released from prison and determined to get revenge with the assistance of a corrupt FBI agent (Stephen Tobolowsky). Directed by John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER), this comedic action/thriller is the kind of movie deal whipped up by movie studios and talent agencies. Get two box office stars, stick them in a high profile guns and chase movie and the fill up the seats! The movie isn't bad, just average but its appeal rests heavily (too heavily) on one's appreciation of the two leads. Hawn and a pre-jerk Gibson are doing star turns here and if you're a fan, you'll have a good time. If you're not, look elsewhere. The film runs about 20 minutes too long and I wouldn't have minded if the distasteful "gay" sequence with Gibson playing gay for laughs among a group of stereotypical queens had been shortened or even eliminated altogether. But the big zoo finale is impressive. With Bill Duke and Jeff Corey.

Twice Told Tales (1963)

Three short stories from the pen of Nathaniel Hawthorne: in DR. HEIDEGGER'S EXPERIMENT, two aging friends (Vincent Price, Sebastian Cabot) discover an opportunity to turn back the clock and become young again. In RAPPACCINI'S DAUGHTER, a father (Vincent Price) keeps his daughter (Joyce Taylor) a prisoner in an enchanted garden through a diabolical experiment. In HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES, a man (Vincent Price) and his bride (Beverly Garland) return to his ancestral home that has a 100 year old curse placed on it. Only the first story is actually from Hawthorne's TWICE TOLD TALES, the other two Hawthorne tales came elsewhere. It's a rather turgid affair with no true sense of horror or the supernatural. The best of the trio RAPPACCINI'S DAUGHTER should have been a corker but it's hampered by its low budget, inferior dialog and a terrible performance by Brett Halsey as the daughter's suitor. The destruction of the house in SEVEN GABLES is well done, however. It's a nice looking film thanks to Ellis W. Carter (INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) and Richard LaSalle's score is nice but overall, a disappointment. Directed by Sidney Salkow. With Mari Blanchard, Richard Denning and Jacqueline DeWit.    

Friday, June 23, 2017

Scarface (1932)

Set during prohibition in 1920s Chicago, an ambitious thug (Paul Muni) tires of playing second fiddle to his mob boss (Osgood Perkins) and takes over the gang ..... and the mobster's girl (Karen Morley). Based on the novel by Armitage Trail with a screenplay by Ben Hecht and directed by Howard Hawks, this is the greatest of the 1930s gangster films. LITTLE CAESAR and PUBLIC ENEMY might have made stars of Cagney and Robinson, but as cinema, this is the real deal! From Hawks' beautifully staged opening to the violent finale, the movie blazes along with little spots of wit and humor (notably Vince Barnett's clueless henchman). Ironically, Muni who would rapidly become one of the worst hams in the movies manages to reign it in here when many an actor would have gone full throttle (as Al Pacino did in the 1983 Brian De Palma remake). Muni's Tony Camonte makes no attempt to be likable, his cocky arrogance seethes with malevolence. Although this was a pre-code film, it had trouble with the censors fretting about glamorizing violence but the blatant incest angle, Muni has the hots for his kid sister played by Ann Dvorak, is played out boldly. With Boris Karloff and George Raft.   

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pygmalion (1973)

A professor of phonetics (James Villiers) makes a wager with a fellow linguist (Ronald Fraser) that he can transform a Cockney guttersnipe (Lynn Redgrave) into a lady who could pass for a Duchess among high society. Directed by Cedric Messina and based on the classic play by George Bernard Shaw, perhaps best known as the source material for the musical MY FAIR LADY. A methodical if streamlined production of Shaw's play. In the 1938 film version, the ending was compromised much to the consternation of Shaw by the film's producer Gabriel Pascal, an ending kept for the musical version. A "happier" ending I suppose but I prefer the less sentimental ending of the original text as used here. In most productions, the roles of Higgins and Eliza are equal but Villiers makes for a rather weak Higgins which allows Redgrave's vital Eliza to take over. I've never much cared for the time expended on Alfred Dolittle (here played by Emrys James) in any version. The character seems to suck the life right out of play when he's on though most find him rather amusing. With Lally Bowers, Angela Baddeley and Nicholas Jones. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sudden Fear (1952)

A wealthy and successful playwright and heiress (Joan Crawford) has an actor (Jack Palance) fired from her newest Broadway show. On her way home to San Francisco, they meet up on the train and a romance develops and they are married. But shortly after their marriage, she discovers a diabolical plot with her as the victim! Based on the novel by Edna Sherry and directed by David Miller (MIDNIGHT LACE). This is an excellent "woman in peril" thriller or film noir if you prefer. It's near irresistible in its cleverness. Palance and Gloria Grahame as his mistress are so perfectly cast that it's eerie in its accuracy. Ironically (or perhaps not), the film's major asset is also the film's one liability. Yes, I'm talking about Crawford. The role needs a real movie star like her in the part to take command and she takes center stage and not even Palance and Grahame can upstage her. But her actual acting is ..... awful. She simply can't resist the histrionics and making faces. It's as if someone were calling out the emotions, "fear", "puzzlement", "love", "rage", "irony" and she dutifully trots out the faces from her repertoire. She's simply awful in the long scene when she discovers the plot against her! The B&W cinematography by Charles Lang is first rate and the film features a very early score by Elmer Bernstein. With Mike Connors, Bruce Bennett and Virginia Huston. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

One Night In The Tropics (1940)

An insurance salesman (Allan Jones, SHOW BOAT) convinces his best friend (Robert Cummings) to take out a $1,000,000 insurance policy on his upcoming marriage. But when the bride (Nancy Kelly) to be catches her bridegroom with another woman (Peggy Moran), the wedding is off and the salesman stands to lose a million dollars he can't afford. What to do? Make sure the marriage takes place. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland and based on the novel LOVE INSURANCE by Earl Derr Biggers of the Charlie Chan books. This minor screwball comedy would most likely be forgotten today if it weren't for the film debut of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. They have supporting roles here but they stole the film, got great reviews and from then on, they starred in their own movies and didn't have to support anybody. The film itself isn't bad at all but Abbott & Costello provide the film's comedic highlights doing many of their famous vaudeville and radio bits like "Who's On First?". Mary Boland also steals a few scenes as Kelly's ditzy aunt. Jerome Kern wrote the film's songs but they're an undistinguished lot. With Leo Carrillo and William Frawley.

Peeping Tom (1960)

A seemingly innocuous young man (Karlheinz Bohm) works as a focus puller at a London film studio. But he is also a psychologically disturbed serial killer who films his victims at the moment of their death. Directed by Michael Powell (BLACK NARCISSUS), this is a seriously disturbing and unsettling piece of cinema that has lost none of its shock value in over 55 years. It was shocking enough in its day to pretty much have ruined Powell's career after the hateful and disgusted reviews it received in the British press. This is really an extraordinary film. As the film unfolds, we learn that Bohm's protagonist is also a victim since a child. While, of course, it doesn't justify his sadistic killings, it allows insight and empathy for a "villain" whose character isn't defined by a black and white characterization. What's interesting is how the killer doesn't try to outsmart the police, he knows he'll be caught and is prepared for it, it's his inevitable fate and he almost welcomes it. It's ironic that in the same year (1960) as PEEPING TOM was released in Britain and flopped, Hitchcock's not unsimilar PSYCHO opened to great box office success. With Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley, Shirley Anne Field and Pamela Green. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

South Of Algiers (aka The Golden Mask) (1953)

A writer (Van Heflin) and an archaeologist (Eric Portman) join forces when they trek across the Sahara desert in search of the tomb of a Roman general where they hope to find a legendary mask made of pure gold. But their journey is far from safe as not only are there desert bandits but they are not the only ones in pursuit of the tomb. Directed by Jack Lee, this is a rather staid adventure film with more talk than action. Heflin is no Harrison Ford or Charlton Heston in the action department and he was always better as a character actor than as a romantic leading man. On the plus side, the movie was filmed in Tunisia and Algieria and cinematographer Oswald Morris (LOLITA) takes full advantage of the authentic locations in striking three strip Technicolor. This kind of hokum should be more fun and could have used a dash of humor. Still, it's vivid and colorful and we see the real Algiers, not a studio bound sound stage Algiers. Released in the U.S. as THE GOLDEN MASK. With Wanda Hendrix as the romantic interest, Jacques Francois, Charles Goldner and Simone Silva. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Windmills Of The Gods (1988)

A professor (Jaclyn Smith) at Kansas State University turns down a personal request from the U.S. President (Michael Moriarty) to become the U.S. ambassador to Romania. But when her husband (David Ackroyd) dies under mysterious circumstances, she accepts the President's offer. But she is not prepared for the political intrigue and conspiracies that comes with the job and just who can she trust? Directed by Lee Philips and based on the novel by Sidney Sheldon. From the mid 1970s through the 1980s, Sheldon's potboilers were staples on the best sellers lists and fodder for big screen films, TV movies and mini series. Not having read the original book, I suspect WINDMILLS probably reads better than it plays out as a movie. It's the kind of obvious movie that when early on in the film, a character makes a big deal about a skylight you just know that somehow that skylight is going to be very important later on. To the film's credit, it cleverly toys with ambivalent characters that keep you guessing as to their loyalties, suspicious one moment, then cleared, then under a cloud again. Like Sheldon's novels, it's trash but you know that going in and wallow away anyway. With Robert Wagner, Ian McKellen, Franco Nero, Betsy Palmer, Ruby Dee,  Jean Pierre Aumont (whose part seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor), Christopher Cazenove, J.T. Walsh and in a scene stealing performance, Susan Tyrrell. 

Rough Night (2017)

Five friends get together in Miami for a bachelorette party when one (Scarlett Johansson) of them is getting married. But after a night of binging on cocaine, they accidentally kill the stripper (Ryan Cooper) they hired and things go from bad to worse. Co-written and directed by Lucia Aniello, this should have been a wild and raunchy screwball comedy but it never catches fire. You can't blame the talented cast who rigorously go through their paces and occasionally manage to overcome the weak material but most of the time, it's just wheels spinning. It's not that I expected something fresh or original but I was hoping for a naughty laugh out loud comedy but this is a script that wasn't ready and needed a lot of fine tuning and tweaking. The five actresses (the other four are Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer) are comedy gold and working on all cylinders but when the material isn't there, where can they go? Although female driven, there is one male that stands out and that's Paul W. Downs, who's adorable as Johansson's insecure fiance. Disappointing, yes but I was never bored. With Demi Moore and Ty Burrell who are amusing as a pair of aging swingers.

L'Eclisse (1962)

After breaking up with her boyfriend (Francisco Rabal) following an all night session, a young woman (Monica Vitti) soon takes up with a materialistic stockbroker (Alain Delon). The third entry in Michelangelo Antonioni's trilogy of angst and ennui in contemporary society following L'AVVENTURA (1960) and LA NOTTE (1961). Although greatly admired (and I count myself among the admirers), Antonioni had pretty much exhausted himself on the subject at this point. Yet visually, it may be his most interesting of the three films. L'ECLISSE unfolds as a series of images that say more than what the characters are saying until the film's audacious final 6 minutes which is a series of stunning B&W compositions (Gianni Di Venanzo is the cinematographer) with no dialog and minimal sound. Although top billed, Delon is barely in the film's first hour which leaves Vitti to carry the film and she's such a great camera subject that she easily holds the screen. The movie's structure is not story driven. It's an "intellectual" film and it shows what a sad state cinema is in when this is seen by its detractors as a liability and in today's impatient rat-a-tat-tat storytelling and editing, this kind of film making (save Terrence Malick) seems to have gone out of fashion. With Rosanna Rory and Lilla Brignone.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Goldwyn Follies (1938)

When his last movie bombs, the head (Adolphe Menjou) of a major Hollywood studio hires a simple country girl (Andrea Leeds, STAGE DOOR) for her advice on film scripts in order to get back in touch with the common people. Directed by George Marshall (HOW THE WEST WAS WON), the hokey plot is merely an excuse for this lavish Technicolor musical to cram in as much musical numbers and comedy acts as it can in a 2 hour time slot. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn, the film has a song score by George and Ira Gershwin (including standards like Love Walked In and Our Love Is Here To Stay) and choreography by the legendary George Balanchine no less. There's something for everyone, excerpts from LA TRAVIATA for the highbrows and the comedy of The Ritz Brothers for the lowbrows. The 3 strip Technicolor lensing by Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE) is remarkably restrained and subtle rather than garish. Except for Menjou, the acting is mostly terrible and Leeds and Kenny Baker are barely tolerable as the juvenile leads but Vera Zorina's acting is actually charming in its ineptitude. With Alan Ladd, Phil Baker, Ella Logan (who alas doesn't get a chance to sing), Helen Jepson, Phil Baker, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy (who provide most of the laughs) and tenor Charles Kullman, who gives a wonderful performance in the TRAVIATA excerpts.

Friday, June 16, 2017

After The Sunset (2004)

After pulling one last jewel heist, a master thief (Pierce Brosnan) and his mistress (Salma Hayek) retire to the Bahamas. But an FBI agent (Woody Harrelson) refuses to believe they've left crime behind them and tracks them to their island paradise. When a luxury liner pulls into the harbor carrying a priceless diamond, will it be too much to resist? Directed by Brett Ratner (RUSH HOUR), this is a highly enjoyable heist caper benefiting greatly from the lush tropical Bahamas location beautifully lensed by Dante Spinotti (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). Ratner bungles the last few minutes of the film which leaves a small but decided bad taste but not enough to ruin it. Brosnan and Hayek make for an attractive couple but the scene stealing couple are Harrelson and Naomie Harris (MOONLIGHT) as a Bahamas police detective who have a wonderful chemistry. I wouldn't have minded if the film concentrated more on them than Brosnan and Hayek. Inconsequential really as cinema but a diverting heist movie nevertheless. With Don Cheadle, Chris Penn and cameos by Dyan Cannon and Edward Norton.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Lady From The Sea (1974)

Married to a much older widower (Denholm Elliott) with daughters (Carole Nimmons, Lynne Frederick) nearly her own age, a woman (Eileen Atkins) begins to exhibit strange and anxious behaviors. It is only when her husband discovers a promise she made prior to their marriage that they must deal with the long suppressed aftermath. Based on Henrik Ibsen's 1888 play and directed by Basil Coleman. Like his HEDDA GABLER and A DOLL'S HOUSE, Ibsen's LADY FROM THE SEA has a rich and complex central female character. SEA isn't as accessible as HEDDA and HOUSE so it isn't as frequently performed which is a pity. Like Hedda and Nora, Atkins' Ellida is a victim of a patriarchal society where options for women are severely limited and the ability to control their fate are often decided by males. This is a filmed play, a faithful rendering of Ibsen's material with a fine performance by Atkins that holds the film together. Natasha Kroll's production design is a thing of beauty and her house and garden set makes one dream of living there. With Clifford Rose, Michael Feast and James Laurenson.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Q The Winged Serpent (1982)

An ex-junkie and petty criminal (Michael Moriarty) is part of a diamond robbery that goes wrong and he needs a place to hide from his fellow gang members. Meanwhile, a series of ritual murders (people are skinned alive) and bizarre deaths (a window cleaner in a high rise is decapitated) stump the police. Directed by Larry Cohen (GOD TOLD ME TO), this is a rather unusual entry in the horror canon. Although filmed in 1982, it has that 1970s gritty shot on location in New York vibe rather than the slick Hollywood look courtesy of cinematographer Fred Murphy. Sort of like THE NAKED CITY as a horror movie. The sleazebag character at the center of the movie is a juicy role for Moriarty and allows him to give a layered performance unusual in the horror genre which is usually more concerned with scares than characterizations. Cohen wisely chooses to keep the film's title creature largely unseen except for glimpses until the end which is more effective. THE GIANT CLAW this is not (thankfully)! It's still a "B" movie but even if you're not a horror fan, it's worth checking out for Moriarty's performance. With David Carradine, Richard Roundtree, Candy Clark and Malacy McCourt.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Those Redheads From Seattle (1953)

When she gets a letter from her husband (Frank Wilcox) that sounds strange, his wife (Agnes Moorehead) and her four daughters (Rhonda Fleming, Teresa Brewer, Cynthia and Kay Bell) leave Seattle for Alaska where he runs a newspaper. When they arrive, they are stunned to find out he has been murdered. Directed by Lewis R. Foster, this was the first musical to be released in 3D. Since I watched it in the standard 2D format, I can't vouch for its effectiveness in 3D but as a musical, it leaves a lot to be desired. The songs are an uninteresting bunch except for the lively Mr. Banjo Man. The movie with its rustic and rowdy setting would seem an ideal subject for a decent musical and the next year, 7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS did just that but the film lacks humor and the script is routine. The leading men are an innocuous bunch and the Bell Sisters, apparently a briefly popular singing duo in the 1950s, don't bring much to the party but Fleming looks terrific in Technicolor and Brewer is cute as a button. With Gene Barry, Guy Mitchell and Jean Parker. 

A Reflection Of Fear (1972)

On the Eastern Canadian coast, a disturbed young girl (Sondra Locke) lives with her mother (Mary Ure) and grandmother (Signe Hasso). When her father (Robert Shaw), who she hasn't seen her since she was born, returns to ask his estranged wife for a divorce so he can marry his girlfriend (Sally Kellerman), it precipitates a brutal series of murders. Directed by the renowned cinematographer William A. Fraker (ROSEMARY'S BABY), the film is effective up to a point but Fraker is too methodical for a thriller. For example, he'll have a shot of the exterior of a house but dwells on the shot longer than necessary. We need this movie to move! Also, he inexplicably shot the movie in soft focus which while it gives the film a dream like quality, it just looks out of focus. The film's ace is Sondra Locke who gives a really creepy performance and the movie, if nothing else, serves as a reminder what a very talented actress she was before the Eastwood factor sabotaged her career. With Mitchell Ryan, Liam Dunn and Gordon De Vol.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Amazing Mr. X (aka The Spiritualist) (1948)

A charlatan psychic (Turhan Bey) convinces a wealthy widow (Lynn Bari) that her dead husband (Donald Curtis) is trying to contact her from beyond the grave. But even the fake medium isn't prepared for how far and out of control his plan ends up. One of the last movies directed by Bernard Vorhaus (BURY ME DEAD) before he was blacklisted by HUAC and moved to Europe and eventually gave up the film business. This is one of those low budget "B" programmers that gets by on style and atmosphere, due in no small part to the contribution of cinematographer John Alton (THE BIG COMBO) who invests the film with shadowy interiors and foggy beaches at night. For most of the film, it's a flat out mystery movie until the last 20 minutes when it takes a twist that pushes it into film noir territory. It may be low rent pulp but when it's done with such elevated technique as it is here, there's much to appreciate. Also known as THE SPIRITUALIST. With Cathy O'Donnell, Richard Carlson and Virginia Gregg.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Poltergeist (1982)

In a Southern California suburban community, a family finds their home invaded by malevolent spirits that abduct the youngest child (Heather O'Rourke). To this end, the parents (JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson) seek help from a parapsychologist (Beatrice Straight). Produced by Steven Spielberg, who co-wrote the script, and directed by Tobe Hooper (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) although rumors have subsisted for years that Spielberg also had a hand in the direction which has been verified by some cast members. At its core, this is a "B" movie with an "A" budget and all the trimmings from first rate (at the time) special effects to the excellent Jerry Goldsmith underscore. My only complaint is I wish the characters weren't so formulaic, the nuclear family is straight out of a 60s TV sitcom. That aside, this is a splendid ghostly tale of mother love and the consequences of disrespect for the dead. The exposition is a bit of a drag but once O'Rourke is spirited away, the movie steps on the gas and doesn't let up till the end. With Zelda Rubenstein (who steals the movie), Dominique Dunne (just awful), Oliver Tobias, Richard Lawson and James Karen.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

A cultured and elegant British con man (Michael Caine) meets up with a crass and vulgar American con man (Steve Martin) and reluctantly agrees to mentor him in the hopes that he won't impinge on his territory. When it becomes clear that the French Riviera isn't big enough for the both of them, they make a wager over the fortunes of a naive American soap heiress (Glenne Headly, who passed away this week) and the loser clears out for good. Directed by Frank Oz (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS), this is a remake of the 1965 comedy BEDTIME STORY. For the most part, it's an above average comedy with an effortlessly comedic performance by Caine and a charming one by Headly. But Steve Martin's broad (and I mean broad) performance is out of sync with the rest of the film. Everyone else seems to be on the same page with its faux Lubitsch sophisticated comedy while Martin acts like he's in a sequel to THE JERK. And I could have done without the film's last seven minutes. But those qualms aside, the film remains a pleasant diversion. There's a marvelous score by Miles Goodman that, rare for a comedy, doesn't sound all Mickey Mouse. With Barbara Harris, Anton Rodgers, Dana Ivey, Frances Conroy, Louis Zorich and Ian McDiarmid.

It Comes At Night (2017)

A former teacher (Joel Edgerton) lives deep in the woods with his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and teenaged son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) while an unseen terror menaces the outside world and people are dying of a contagious disease. When someone (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house one night seeking water and supplies for his own family 50 miles away, a gesture of kindness has deadly consequences. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, there is so much that's good about this movie that I wish I liked it more. Shults does a bang up job of creating a paranoid atmosphere where nothing is certain and trusting another human could be fatal. Shults asks us how far are we willing to go to survive and ultimately, is it worth surviving if we're dehumanized? The women's roles are negligible and the film belongs to Edgerton, Abbott and Harrison who are all excellent. On the downside, I'm getting really tired of movies that are literally dark and this one is always dark, even in its daytime scenes. It's not the kind of film you can easily shake off and I suspect it's a film that will grow on me the more I dwell on it. With Riley Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner.  

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969)

After a mobster (Steve Peck) is killed in his nightclub, the owner (Adam West, who died this week) has a contract put out on him by a crime syndicate unless he can find out who was behind the killing. His only lead is the mobster's secretary (Nancy Kwan), who may or may not have been the mobster's mistress. Directed by Francis D. Lyon (CULT OF THE COBRA), this was an attempt to turn West (fresh off his BATMAN gig) into a movie leading man. It didn't work and not just because the movie tanked at the box office. West is one of those actors who work best on TV and simply didn't have what it takes to cross over to movie stardom. The film itself seems like an extended episode of some TV series. It's padded out with two full musical sequences of Buddy Greco (as a lounge piano player) singing and a full length striptease number performed by Diane Van Valin. With its communist paranoia, the film seems like one of those "red scare" movies from the 1950s except this time, it's the Chinese, not the Russians who are trying to topple capitalism. The "with it" score by Joe Greene screams out 1960s! With Nehemiah Persoff, Robert Alda, David Brian, Patricia Smith (who's actually very good) and Mark Roberts.   

Friday, June 9, 2017

The River (1984)

A farmer (Mel Gibson) and his wife (Sissy Spacek) are struggling to keep their farm. Corporations and banks work against them in foreclosing on their farms while mother nature does its share by raining and flooding their crops. Directed by Mark Rydell (ON GOLDEN POND), the film had the misfortune of coming out the same year as two other farm films (PLACES IN THE HEART, COUNTRY) which stole its thunder. I wouldn't call it the best of the three but there's a lot to like here, notably stellar work from Spacek (who was Oscar nominated for her performance here) as well as Vilmos Zsigmond's rich cinematography of the Tennessee rural location. Gibson's performance is good but it's difficult to get past his movie star good looks and the film might have benefited if he had switched roles with the more rugged looking Scott Glenn (as a land developer). The movie does a decent job of looking at how farms are rapidly becoming imperiled by corporations and the complex issue of doing what it takes to survive versus doing the right thing. John Williams' score (also Oscar nominated) is lovely but often inappropriate. In some of the more intense scenes, his score is inexplicably jaunty. With Billy Green Bush and James Tolkan.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tamahine (1963)

After her English father dies, a half Polynesian girl (Nancy Kwan) is sent to England to complete her education under the guidance of her father's cousin (Dennis Price), the headmaster of an all boys school. The girl finds that her island background conflicts with the staid social mores of proper English society. Based on the novel by Thelma Niklaus and directed by Philip Leacock (THE WAR LOVER). It's amusing at first as Kwan's free spirit pricks holes in the stiff upper lip pomposity of the British upper classes but it soon settles down to routine romantic shenanigans and becomes rather tiresome. Kwan is delightful but her vivaciousness can go only so far in propping up the lackluster script. Some of the talent behind the camera are first rate like the cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY), composer Malcolm Arnold (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) and costume designer Julie Harris (DARLING), Oscar winners all but their combined talent only seems to accentuate the thinness of the plot. With James Fox, Coral Browne, John Fraser, Michael Gough, Allan Cuthbertson, Justine Lord and Derek Nimmo. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Sisters (1973)

A journalist (Jennifer Salt, MIDNIGHT COWBOY) sees a young black male (Lisle Wilson) stabbed to death from her window. But before the police arrive, the murderess (Margot Kidder) and her husband (William Finley) have hidden the body. After the police suspect her of making it all up, the reporter decides to investigate on her own. Directed by Brian De Palma, this was the first of his Hitchcock inspired thrillers. It still remains an effective and stylish horror film and like Hitchcock, De Palma laces the film with humor to balance out the horror aspects. The film was clearly shot on a shoestring budget but it gives the movie an edgy feel to it rather than a slick Hollywood vibe. As to the acting, only Kidder gives a really effective performance. At moments, delicate and charming yet psychotic at the turn on a dime. Salt plays the eager beaver reporter with a shrillness that's unappealing. The "unseen" star of the movie is the great Bernard Herrmann, who De Palma brought out of semi retirement to score the film. His underscore pushes the movie forward with a richness that elevates the film from the usual "B" movie scores. With Charles Durning, Olympia Dukakis, Barnard Hughes, Justine Johnson and Dolph Sweet. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

D-Day The Sixth Of June (1956)

Just a few hours before they participate in  the Normandy landing known as D-Day, an American Captain (Robert Taylor) and a British Colonel (Richard Todd) each reflect on the woman they love back in London. But in this case, it's the same woman (Dana Wynter). Based on the novel by Lionel Shapiro and directed by Henry Koster (THE ROBE). Despite the film's title, this is a wartime romance with only about 15 minutes actually devoted to the Normandy invasion. Although second billed, Todd's participation in the film is fairly minimal. The film concentrates on the Taylor/Wynter romance and indeed, the film belongs to Wynter rather than the two males. In fact, Koster gives her the film's very last shot as if to emphasize this. Focusing on what it is (a wartime romance) rather than what it isn't (a historical account of the D-Day invasion), it's very good. Filmed on the Fox backlot with California beaches standing in for the Normandy coast, Koster still manages to give us the convincing atmosphere of wartime England. If there's any downside, it's Edmond O'Brien's overacting, he can't seem to sit still for a minute! Lyn Murray's underscore relies too much on the WWII standard You'll Never Know which permeates the score. With John Williams, Robert Gist, Jerry Paris and Cyril Delevanti. 

Without Honor (1949)

When her married lover (Franchot Tone) announces he's breaking off their affair, a housewife (Laraine Day) accidentally stabs him. Hiding the body, she calls a cab to take her to the police station. But before she can leave, her brother in law (Dane Clark) arrives at the house with a diabolical plan that will change everything. Although based on an original screenplay by James Poe (THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?), it feels like an adaptation of a stage play. With the exception of one brief scene, the entire film takes place in a suburban house in the San Fernando Valley. The film's premise is first rate and rife with possibilities but the execution is bungled. The film needed a firmer hand than director Irving Pichel (MOST DANGEROUS GAME) can give it. The lead role demands a stronger actress than Laraine Day who, while fine in the quieter scenes, tends to overact terribly in the more emotional scenes. The score by Max Steiner is dreadful too! This is a film that needs to be remade. In the right hands, this could be a marvelous film. The film was actually a U.S. entry in the 1949 Cannes film festival. With Agnes Moorehead in the film's best performance and Bruce Bennett.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

Titanic (1996)

As the RMS Titanic sails on her maiden voyage in 1912, a disparate group of passengers are on board: A married woman (Catherine Zeta Jones) returning home meets a former lover (Peter Gallagher) and renews their romance. An unstable nanny (Felicity Waterman) is in charge of two children. A thief (Mike Doyle) plots with the ship's purser (Tim Curry) to rob the wealthy passengers. A young girl (Sonsee Neu) emigrates from Denmark with a religious family. A selfish society woman (Eva Marie Saint) hopes to find a suitable match for her daughter (Molly Parker) and the wealthy nouveau riche Denver millionairess Molly Brown (Marilu Henner). The story of the Titanic disaster is a fascinating one that is near fool proof material. What determines the quality of the film is usually the backstories of the passengers. It is here where this version is lacking. The Zeta Jones/Gallagher romance is decent enough but some of the other story lines are poorly executed like the wacky nanny and there's an unpleasant rape sequence that seems exploitative rather than integral to the narrative. Some of the acting is shockingly poor especially Tim Curry who plays his role like a silent movie villain that you almost expect him to twirl his mustache! Directed by Robert Lieberman. With George C. Scott as the ship's Captain (he and Saint give the film's best performances), Roger Rees, Harley Jane Kozak, Scott Hylands and Kevin Conway.

Outbreak (1995)

A monkey with a deadly virus is brought into the U.S. via a ship. It's not long before the virus spreads to humans and an entire California community is infected. A virologist (Dustin Hoffman) is racing against time trying to find an antidote while a corrupt General (Donald Sutherland) wants to simply annihilate the entire town to stop the spread of the virus. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (DAS BOOT), this is a crackerjack doomsday virus thriller until the movie's final 40 minutes when it goes wobbly. It's not that the last 40 minutes aren't good but it's infested with unnecessary sentiment and some far fetched moments. It doesn't ruin the movie but it does take away points. Petersen still manages to race the movie forward at a breakneck speed and although this isn't a movie where the acting is a major component, the cast goes through their paces with the precision of a marching band. James Newton Howard's underscore is a plus factor in keeping the tension mounted. With Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding Jr. (very good), Patrick Dempsey, Zakes Mokae, J.T. Walsh and Dale Dye.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

On an island hidden from the rest of the world, a tribe of Amazons live in peace but train in the skills of fighting for the inevitable return of man or more specifically, the god Ares who destroyed the Gods of Olympus. But when a WWI American pilot's (Chris Pine) plane crashes near their shores, the daughter (Gal Gadot) of the Amazon Queen (Connie Nielsen) returns with him to war torn Europe to fulfill her destiny. Based on the DC comics character created by William Moulton Marston in 1942 and directed by Patty Jenkins (MONSTER). I was disappointed. I was expecting something special but what I got was a DC comic book movie. What did I expect you might ask. What indeed? I quite enjoyed the film's mythological beginning but once we get to London, it's business as usual and by the time we get to the spectacular CGI battles at the end, I literally could not stop yawning! I enjoyed seeing a woman hero not dependent on her sexuality to lure men to their doom and the enormously appealing Gal Gadot makes up for the enormously unappealing Chris Pine (or was it Chris Evans or Chris Pratt?). I enjoyed it well enough for what it was but I won't be lining up for any sequels as I suspect this is probably going to be the apex of the franchise. The end title sequence was awesome though! With Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Lucy Davis and Elena Anaya.

Appassionata (1974)

A successful dentist (Gabriele Ferzetti, L'AVVENTURA) must deal with an emotionally and mentally unstable wife (Valentina Cortese). But his bitchy teenage daughter (Ornella Muti), who has a decided Electra complex, taunts her father sexually and her best friend (Eleonora Giorgi) seduces him and plays passive/aggressive games with him. Directed by Gianluigi Calderone, this is one disturbing and odd little film. The two teenaged Lolitas are maneaters but at least Giorgi's character has some genuine compassion for the fragile mother while her own daughter (Muti) goes out of her way to torture her. Ferzetti's male seems to think he's in charge of the situation but he's no match for the underage vixens. There's one surreal dream sequence with a half undressed nubile Giorgi, a growling dog and a gun that I'd love to see Freud analyze! There's something distasteful about the whole enterprise and it's not just the borderline softcore sex scenes, it's that everyone is sick on some level and the bourgeois cloak of normalcy makes you want to jump into a shower. But it's compelling, there's no denying that. A nice underscore by Piero Piccioni helps move things along.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Onassis: The Richest Man In The World (1988)

The life of shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (Elias Koteas as the younger, Raul Julia as the older) from his early beginnings in Smyrna under Turkish rule to his rise as one of the world's wealthiest men. Based on the non fiction book, ARI: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ARISTOTLE ONASSIS by Peter Evans and directed by Waris Hussein. As with most biopics, when you try to cram an entire life (in this case 75 years) into a two hour time span, what you get are highlights of a life rather than a detailed account. It would have been far better if the film had concentrated on just one period in Onassis' life or made it into a mini series which would have given it more time. After the first half hour which concentrates on the younger Onassis, the rest of the movie concentrates on the older Onassis and the women in his life: his first wife (Beatie Edney), the opera legend Maria Callas (Jane Seymour) and Jackie Kennedy (Francesca Annis). It is what it is and while there are considerable moments of interest (the Kennedy/Onassis marriage), it never rises to anything more than a standard biopic. Seymour is particularly good (she won an Emmy for her performance). With Anthony Quinn as Onassis' father, Anthony Zerbe, John Kapelos and Dimitra Arliss.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

No Way Out (1987)

A Navy Lt. Commander (Kevin Costner) works for the Secretary of Defense (Gene Hackman). Unbeknownst to the Secretary, the Commander is also sleeping with the woman (Sean Young) who is the Defense Secretary's mistress. When she is killed, the Secretary puts the Commander in charge of finding her killer ..... who is the Secretary of Defense! Based on the novel THE BIG CLOCK by Kenneth Fearing which had previously been made under that title in 1948 by John Farrow. Robert Garland's screenplay gussies it up and gives it a new coat but the 1948 film was tighter and leaner while this version doesn't get going until almost halfway into the movie. The exposition is a drag and the charmless Sean Young is of no help and it's actually a relief when she's removed from the film so we don't have to deal with her any longer. But after that it picks up considerable steam and turns into a real nail biter until the very end when it just goes over the top loopy, particularly evident in Will Patton's (who plays Hackman's right hand man) character. It's entertaining enough but not good enough to take seriously. Directed by Roger Donaldson (THE BOUNTY). With Howard Duff, George Dzundza, Fred Dalton Thompson and Iman (really the only likable character in the movie).

Hannibal (1959)

During the second Punic War after Rome wages a war against Spain, the Carthaginian General Hannibal (Victor Mature) marches toward Rome by way of the Alps with an army of elephants. This piece of Italian peplum was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (DETOUR) and unusual for the genre, it concentrates on the romance as much as the political atmosphere and battles. Elephants marching over the Alps makes for a rather dull movie so the screenwriters have fabricated a romance between Hannibal and the niece (Rita Gam) of a Roman senator (Gabriele Ferzetti, L'AVVENTURA). A visibly aging Mature seems tired but Ulmer does what he can with some of the action scenes. Mature and Gam are the only English speaking actors in the cast so the rest of the film has that hollow post dubbing sound so familiar with sword and sandal flicks. The movie ends on a bizarre note with a quick montage explaining that Hannibal fought on for many more years. Hopefully those interested in the real Hannibal will read their history books rather than depend on this film for historical accuracy. But for fans of peplum, there's a lot less cheese than one would expect. With Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Rik Battaglia and Milly Vitale.