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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Real Glory (1939)

In 1906, a medical doctor (Gary Cooper) arrives in a war torn outpost in the Philippines. A Moro chieftain (Tetsu Komai) is terrorizing the local villagers but the instead of fighting the Moro terrorists, the U.S. Army intends to train the local villagers to fight their own battle. Based on the novel by Charles L. Clifford and directed by Henry Hathaway (TRUE GRIT), the film attempts to be a stirring war adventure and while it's really quite a decent film, it's not very fresh. It's formulaic right down to the little Moro boy (Benny Inocencio) who risks his life for the Yankees, the Cholera epidemic, the commander (Reginald Owen) going blind and keeping it secret and the feisty heroine bandaging the casualties while the men fight. The film is actually rather similar to the same year's GUNGA DIN but with Moros replacing the Thuggees and without the laughs. It's the kind of film that you probably already know if you're partial to (or not) going in. With David Niven, Broderick Crawford, Andrea Leeds (STAGE DOOR),  Kay Johnson and Vladimir Sokoloff.   

8 Femmes (2002)

Set sometime in the 1950s, on a cold winter morning, the only male (Dominique Lamure) in a household of women is found murdered with a knife in his back. It soon becomes clear that the murderer or in this case murderess is part of the extended family. The problem is that they all have motives. Directed by Francois Ozon, this dark comedy can best be described as Douglas Sirk meets Agatha Christie in an MGM musical. The cream of French actresses headline the movie and they include: Catherine Deneuve as the wife, Danielle Darrieux as the mother in law, Isabelle Huppert as the sister in law, Emmanuelle Beart as the maid, Fanny Ardant as the sister, Ludivine Sagnier and Virginie Ledoyen as the daughters and Firmine Richard as the cook. Ozon's homage to Douglas Sirk includes IMITATION OF LIFE and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS and he has Deneuve done up like Lana Turner. All the actresses are given at least one musical number. His film is a love to letter to 50s Hollywood and its actresses but even if you're not familiar with Sirk or classic Hollywood, you can still enjoy Ozon's delirious cocktail. A jewel of a film. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Pirates Of Tortuga (1961)

At the commission of the crown, a Captain (Ken Scott) and his crew go undercover as pirates in order to ferret out the notorious Morgan The Pirate (Robert Stephens) and put an end to his reign of terror. Directed by Robert D. Webb (BENEATH THE 12 MILE REEF), this routine swashbuckler is patched together with bits and pieces of a hundred other pirate movies. For a "B" programmer, it has a rich look to it courtesy of Ellis W. Carter's (INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) cinematography, Jack Martin Smith and George Van Marter's art direction and the uncredited costumer. But it's clearly a Fox back lot Jamaica and a generous amount of stock footage which if my eye doesn't deceived me is lifted from Fox's own ANNE OF THE INDIES and perhaps THE BLACK SWAN. Ken Scott was a contract player that Fox frequently used but he wasn't anything more than a good looking cipher and the public never bit. As Morgan, Robert Stephens overacts but Leticia Roman as a wench has a certain charm. With John Richardson, Dave King, Rafer Johnson, Stanley Adams and Rachel Stephens.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Nowhere To Go (1958)

Set in Great Britain, a Canadian expatriate (George Nader) escapes from prison with the intention of recovering the 50,000 pounds (or it might be dollars) he stashed away after defrauding a wealthy woman (Bessie Love). But things don't go as smoothly as he planned. In fact, everything starts falling apart. Based on a novel by Donald MacKenzie and co-written (along with Kenneth Tynan) and directed by Seth Holt. This little seen noir flavored crime thriller is a real find. Cut by 20 minutes (which has since been restored) and placed on the lower half of a double bill on its original release, this movie is reminiscent of ODD MAN OUT and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE as it traces its man on the run racing against the clock as time runs out. Its bleak, downbeat but inevitable ending perfectly in tune with everything that precedes. George Nader is surprisingly good in a part better than anything Universal (where he was a poor man's Rock Hudson) ever gave him and indicates they misused him. In her film debut, a young Maggie Smith as a forlorn ex-debutante turned party girl already comes across as an assured actress. There's an improvisational jazz score by Dizzy Reece. With Bernard Lee, Georffrey Keen, Lionel Jeffries and Harry H. Corbett.

A Scandal In Paris (1946)

Based on the life of Eugene Francois Vidocq (George Sanders), a gentleman thief of the early 1800s in Napoleonic France who reformed and became the Prefect of Police in Paris. Directed by Douglas Sirk (WRITTEN ON THE WIND), this is an elegant period film which remains romantic and witty for most of its running time until turning dark in the film's last 20 minutes or so. The role of the debonair thief, born in prison and rising above his station through crime and cleverness, is a role that fits Sanders like a tailor made glove. Sirk balances the romanticism with the sharply observed cynic's eye on the thin line between respectability and corruption and love's ability to destroy or reform. Sanders isn't the only actor to shine here. Carole Landis as chapeau loving vixen who bites off more than she can chew is charming. The superior production design and art direction (that carousel is a thing of beauty!) are by Gordon Wiles and Frank Paul Sylos and the lovely underscore by Hanns Eisler. With Signe Hasso, Akim Tamiroff, Gene Lockhart, Alan Napier, Alma Kruger, Vladimir Sokoloff and the delightful child actress, Jo Ann Marlowe (MILDRED PIERCE). 

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Global Affair (1964)

When a baby is abandoned at the United Nations, a United Nations official (Bob Hope) takes charge of the baby until the United Nations can assign a designated country to adopt the child. Since almost every nation is eager to claim the child as its own, a bevy of international beauties attempt to seduce him and influence his opinion. Directed by Jack Arnold (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON), the film comes across as a public relations vehicle for the United Nations. I'm not complaining, the U.N. does great things for international children as the movie repeatedly reminds us and its heart is in the right place. But as a Bob Hop comedy vehicle, it's middling at best. The laughs are there (when changing the baby's diaper, Hope has no baby powder so he uses powdered sugar) but there's just not enough of them. Among the international beauties: Yvonne De Carlo, Liselotte Pulver, Michele Mercier, Miiko Taka, Elga Andersen, Barbara Bouchet and Susan Hart. The rest of the cast includes Robert Sterling, Nehemiah Persoff, Mickey Shaughnessy, Jacques Bergerac, John McGiver and Reta Shaw.

Salem's Lot (1979)

A novelist (David Soul) returns to the hometown of his youth in Maine, a town called Salem's Lot. But when a series of mysterious disappearances and deaths begin occurring, it doesn't take long before the writer ties it into the Marsden House on the hill and its new tenant (James Mason). Based on the novel by Stephen King (though there are changes from the book) and directed by Tobe Hooper, who died this week. Originally done for television with a 3 hour running time which allowed for a more detailed and leisurely storytelling. Perhaps too leisurely as it could use some tightening up in a few places. On the plus side since it was made for network TV, there were some restraints on the violence which forced Hooper to rely less on the gore factor and more on atmosphere. Overall, it's a highly effective piece of horror with some genuinely terrifying moments and scenes. Unfortunately, David Soul is pretty much a cipher as an actor which renders the film's leading character uninteresting. But James Mason by his very presence alone makes up for Soul's banality. The rest of the cast is variable from very good (Ed Flanders) to poor (Geoffrey Lewis). Also with Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Marie Windsor, Fred Willard, Lance Kerwin, George Dzundza, Barbara Babcock, Kenneth McMillan and Elisha Cook Jr.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Only Living Boy In New York (2017)

A college dropout (Callum Turner) is struggling to find his way. When he discovers his father (Pierce Brosnan) is cheating on his mother (Cynthia Nixon) with a stunning beauty (Kate Beckinsale), his life suddenly begins emerging. But not for the better. Directed by Marc Webb (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN). This could have been so much better but what we have here resembles one of those Woody Allen New York movies about Upper West Side (or is it East Side?) literary and artistic intellectuals but without the laughs. The boy at the center of it all isn't particularly likable (though the actor playing him is) and the film makers seem to give him more credit than he deserves. He seems a rather spoiled privileged brat, so does he deserve our empathy? It's very well acted especially by Beckinsale (my favorite character in the movie) although Jeff Bridges as a grizzly alcoholic sage seems to have shown up to just say his lines. As an actor, he needs a new act. Comparisons have been made to THE GRADUATE which seems apt. It's just as hollow at its core. With Kiersey Clemons (good enough that she deserves a better film), Wallace Shawn and Debi Mazar.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Robin Hood (1991)

A Saxon nobleman (Patrick Bergin) is branded an outlaw for insulting a knight (Jurgen Prochnow). His lands forfeited, he escapes into the forests of Sherwood where he gathers a group of men to fight. Directed by John Irvin (GHOST STORY). The story of Robin Hood is so familiar that there are no surprises and the pleasure comes (or should come) from the telling of the tale. This one may not come near the joys of the 1938 Errol Flynn classic but it's a more than decent effort. The film has a dark and gritty look, looking more realistic and true to its late medieval times than the usual glossy and lush Hollywood productions. Unfortunately, although he looks the part, Patrick Bergin seems an anachronistic Robin Hood. His attitude and acting style very contemporary against the more "classic" performances by the rest of the cast. Thurman makes for a fiery and defiant Maid Marion, no demure damsel she! There's a nice underscore by Geoffrey Burgon. With Jeroen Krabbe, Edward Fox and David Morrisey.

Manon 70 (1968)

A journalist (Sami Frey) falls head over heels in love with a beautiful girl (Catherine Deneuve) who lives off rich men, usually introduced to her by her parasitic brother (Jean Claude Brialy) who acts as a go between. She falls in love with him and promises fidelity but it isn't long before the lure of haute couture clothes, jewelry, luxury apartments and traveling to exciting places changes her mind. Based on the 18th century novel MANON LESCAUT by Antoine Francois Prevost and directed by Jean Aurel. The source material has been used in ballet, the stage, cinema and opera many times. The most notable being Puccini's opera MANON LESCAUT. This modernization of Prevost's novel eschews the tragic ending but it remains an unsatisfying piece of film. Dressed by Emmanuel Ungaro, Deneuve looks impossibly beautiful but her amoral character is so shallow and without any redeeming qualities that it's hard to give her any empathy and even less for Frey's character when he decides to live off her and then whines about it. Worth checking out for Deneuve completists but others may find it irritating. With Elsa Martinelli, Robert Webber and Paul Hubschmid.

Friday, August 25, 2017

L'uccello Dalle Piume Di Cristallo (aka Bird With The Crystal Plumage) (1970)

An American (Tony Musante) in Rome is passing by an art gallery when he witnesses a young woman (Eva Renzi) being stabbed by an unknown assailant. Her attacker gets away but soon he finds himself being stalked by the serial killer. Loosely based on the novel THE SCREAMING MIMI by Frederic Brown (previously filmed in 1958), this was the directorial film debut of Dario Argento. It remains a career high point and a defining moment in the rise of the Italian giallo. Dripping with style, the film is somewhat restrained in its use of violence compared to Argento's later films. This is his most Hitchcock like film with the film's final explanation by the psychiatrist of the killer's motive a tip of the hat to the final moments of Hitchcock's PSYCHO and Reggie Nalder as a hired assassin, a role he played in Hitchcock's 1956 MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. Argento is aided by Vittorio Storaro's confident cinematography and an intense underscore by the great Ennio Morricone. With Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno and Mario Adorf as a cat eating artist.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Blockade (1938)

In 1936 Spain during the onset of the Spanish Civil War, a Spanish peasant (Henry Fonda) falls in love with a Russian drifter (Madeleine Carroll). But soon both become involved with the Spanish Civil War except they find themselves on opposite sides! Mostly dreadful. In 1938, Hollywood was hardly progressively liberal so they didn't want to step on any toes with a film like this which is clearly propaganda. Propaganda for the right side of course but still propaganda. Fonda is ludicrous as a Spanish peasant, Midwestern twang firmly in place though Carroll is hardly convincing as a Russian. It's pretty heavy handed although Fonda's final "stirring" speech as he directly faces the camera and addresses the audience had me chuckling. Not surprisingly, the film's preachy screenplay received an Oscar nomination as well as Werner Janssen's score. Directed by William Dieterle. With Leo Carrillo providing unwelcome comedy relief, Reginald Denny, Vladimir Sokoloff and John Halliday who overdoes the smarminess as the film's chief villain.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Captain Newman M.D. (1963)

In a 1944 Arizona army psychiatric base, a doctor (Gregory Peck) deals with post traumatic stress disorder which is a relatively new concept. Based on the novel by Leo Rosten and directed by David Miller (LONELY ARE THE BRAVE). While I give the film an A for good intentions, the execution leaves much to be desired. While I haven't read Rosten's novel, I have a hard time believing the sophomoric humor was so prevalent in the book. The film balances serious issues and complex situations with lame humor. For example, a mental patient's tragic suicide is followed by a comedic scene with sheep invading an airplane landing field. It comes across as insensitive. That pretty much sums up the film: tragic, comic schtick, tragic, more laughs, tragic, lame humor etc. Some of the dramatic situations seem contrived and some of the over the top acting (like Eddie Albert) doesn't help matters any. There's Peck for the dramatic stuff and Tony Curtis as an orderly for the comedic stuff but Martin and Lewis they're not. The best performance comes from Robert Duvall who underacts which is a relief. With Angie Dickinson, James Gregory, Bethel Leslie, Larry Storch, Jane Withers, Dick Sargent and in a "Quick, gimme an Oscar" performance, Bobby Darin, who didn't get an Oscar, just a nomination. 

Nurse Betty (2000)

After witnessing the murder of her husband (Aaron Eckhart), a waitress (Renee Zellweger) becomes traumatized and blots out the incident. She leaves Oklahoma for Los Angeles, where she plans to seek out an actor (Greg Kinnear) who plays a doctor on a soap opera. Meanwhile, her husband's killers (Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock) are in pursuit of her. Directed by Neil LaBute, this may be his most mainstream film but there's still a lot of the dark pessimism of his indie films. It doesn't go mushy until the film's final 7 minutes which I could have done without frankly. Up until then however, this is an excellent black comedy with sterling performances especially by Freeman and Rock (who seemed to have walked in from a Tarantino film) who have a great give and take chemistry here. It's an original spin on a potentially ludicrous set up but LaBute and his cast pull it off. With Allison Janney, Crispin Glover, Elizabeth Mitchell, Tia Texada and Kathleen Wilhoite.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

White Cargo (1942)

In 1910 Africa, the white men working at a rubber plantation are driven to everything from alcoholism to madness because of the incessant jungle heat and boredom but most notably the half caste jungle beauty (Hedy Lamarr) who drives them wild. Based on the 1923 play by Leon Gordon by way of the novel HELL'S PLAYGROUND by Ida Vera Simonton and directed by Richard Thorpe (IVANHOE). Gordon also did the screenplay and he does nothing to disguise its theatrical origins, it's an MGM backlot Africa (what little we see of it). With the exception of the whiskey guzzling doctor played by Frank Morgan, the men in the film are all insufferable and none more so than the prig played by Richard Carlson. What pushes the film into "camp" territory is Lamarr slinking around in dark Egyptian make up, speaking pidgin English in a baby voice and emoting in a manner that I assume is meant to be sexy. She finally got it right in SAMSON AND DELILAH but here she's ludicrous. It's hard to overlook the film's inherent racism and misogyny when a little sympathy toward Lamarr's half caste wouldn't be out of line. But no, she's evil and must be destroyed so the obnoxious white characters can be saved from her clutches. With Bramwell Fletcher and Henry O'Neill.

Milano Calibro 9 (1972)

After being released from prison after serving three years for a bungled robbery, a man (Gastone Moschin) is harassed and coerced into returning to a life of crime by his former boss (Lionel Stander), who believes that the ex-con has the missing $300,000 that was never found. Directed by Fernando Di Leo, this violent crime thriller is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino and it's easy to see why. Even before the opening credits, we're treated to a brutal series of beatings and murders that's still shocking to view some 40 years later! The film has a political subtext but it's buried under the body count. Curiously, the only "good" person in the movie, the police inspector played by Luigi Pistilli is portrayed as an ineffective weakling while the professional assassin played by Philippe Leroy is seen as honorable because although he is a killer, he has his own moral code that he lives by. The film's bloody nihilistic finale leaves a rather sour aftertaste. Still, of its genre, the poliziotteschi, it's a highly effective piece. With Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf (way over the top) and Frank Wolff.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pardners (1956)

The son (Jerry Lewis) of a wealthy shipping magnate (Agnes Moorehead) runs off with a cowboy (Dean Martin) to achieve his dream of living life in the West. But the devious leader (John Baragrey) of a gang of masked bandits arranges for the greenhorn to become the town's new sheriff. Directed by Norman Taurog, this is a very loose remake of RHYTHM ON THE RANGE (1936), a Bing Crosby film also directed by Taurog. It follows the Martin & Lewis formula pretty tightly with Lewis providing the laughs and Martin the tunes although the best number in the film Buckskin Beauty is performed by Lewis, who passed away this week. This may not be the strongest of Lewis's vehicles but he and Martin's chemistry go a long way in keeping the high spirits that propel the movie forward. Lewis was one of the true comic geniuses of 20th century cinema and he'll be missed. With Agnes Moorehead, who plays both Lewis's wife and mother, Lori Nelson, Jeff Morrow, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Jackie Loughery and Lon Chaney Jr.   

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

A mentally unstable woman (Aubrey Plaza) is released from a mental health facility after attacking a social media friend (Meredith Hagner) on her wedding day. When she discovers an Instagram celebrity (Elizabeth Olsen) with a seemingly trendy and fashionable life out in Los Angeles, she moves to L.A. and inveigles herself into the woman's life. So when a psychotic stalker hooks up with a narcissistic shallow L.A. media celebrity, it's only a matter of time before the shit hits the fan! Produced by Plaza (best known for PARKS AND RECREATION) and directed by Matt Spicer. This black comedy puts the spotlight on the social media generation. The people who have their Iphones attached to their hand and check messages every 5 minutes and even sleep with their phones. The ones who validate their lives by having thousands of "followers" and "going viral". Plaza's Ingrid is a hybrid of Travis Bickle and Adele H. She's psychotic but you can't help but feel her pain. The film is funny but the laughter often sticks in your craw. I'll be interested in others take on the film's ending which some might take as irony or even a happy ending. For me, it put the film in horror movie category. A monster has been unleashed. With O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Plaza's Batman obsessed landlord, Billy Magnussen and Wyatt Russell. 

Kurutta Kajitsu (aka Crazed Fruit) (1956)

During the summer, a group of bored and aimless young people drink, gamble, go boating and clubbing but the most innocent (Masahiko Tsugawa) of the group falls in love with a pretty young girl (Mie Kitahara), who's not quite who he thinks she is. Based on the novel by Shintaro Ishihara and directed by Ko Nakahira. This film was quite controversial in Japan when it opened because of its portrayal of the so called "Sun Tribe" youth culture. The young people in this film are of the post WWII generation who are unable to relate to the traditional Japanese culture of their parents. They justify their aimlessness by waiting for something to happen rather than actively participating in change. At its core, this is a coming of age story but Nakahira permeates the film with a sort of pessimism that reaches its apogee in the fatal finale. Kitahara's amoral femme fatale not only deceives her American husband (Harold Conway) but beds her innocent lover's older brother (Yujiro Ishihara) as well. Like Ray's REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, Nakahira's film captures youth on the cusp of change. I will say the movie has one of the worst scores I've ever heard (attributed to Masaru Sato and Toru Takemitsu), it sounds like music they would play at a Hawaiian luau. With Masumi Okada.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

China Rose (1983)

When a Minnesota businessman (George C. Scott) travels to China in search of his son (Michael Biehn, THE TERMINATOR) who went missing during the Cultural Revolution in communist China. With the assistance of his translator and guide (Ali MacGraw), he tries to unravel the truth behind his son's disappearance. A standard mystery/adventure with few (if any) surprises, this made for television movie (although it apparently was released theatrically overseas) is harmless fodder. The Hong Kong and Macao locations bring a flavor of authenticity as well as color to the proceedings while Scott and MacGraw make for an unlikely coupling. With James Hong, Dennis Lill and David Snell.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Gaudi Afternoon (2001)

Set in Barcelona, a Spanish to English translator (Judy Davis) is approached by a mysterious woman (Marcia Gay Harden) from San Francisco and offered a large sum of money to help find her missing husband. Almost broke, she is unable to resist the large sum of money but she soon finds herself caught in a web of mistaken identities, double crosses and kidnapping among a group of lesbians, transsexuals, bisexuals and drag performers. Based on the award winning mystery novel by Barbara Wilson and directed by Susan Seidelman (DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN). This quirky off kilter movie would seem ideal fodder for Seidelman based on DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN but what the film really needed was Pedro Almodovar who would have given the movie the impudent wit and madcap nuttiness it needs. While I can appreciate the film's daring (for its day) gender bending politics, one doesn't get the feeling that Sieidelman loves her spirited misfits the way Almodovar does. The film's title seems to be a homonym. It identifies the architecture of Antoni Gaudi prevalent in Barcelona but also the films' gaudy characters. The cinematography of Josep M. Civit is quite handsome as is the film's main title sequence created by Juan Gatti. With Juliette Lewis, Lili Taylor, Christopher Bowen and Courtney Jines. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

City Lights (1931)

A happy go lucky tramp (Charlie Chaplin) meets a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) who lives in poverty with her grandmother (Florence Lee). She mistakes him for a millionaire and he does nothing to dissuade her and when she needs an operation, he goes to work to get the money. I'm not Chaplin's biggest fan and I can see why some are not taken with him. That being said, this is Chaplin's masterpiece and considered by many one of the greatest films of all time and I won't disagree with them. Indeed, the film is highly regarded by Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Woody Allen and Andrei Tarkovsky as one of the great films. This is Chaplin at his best, balancing pratfalls and pathos with equal dexterity. You may find yourself chuckling through out the movie but the film's final moments are among the most heartbreaking in all cinema. By 1931, talkies were in full force but Chaplin's insistence on making it a silent film didn't hurt the film at all as it was one of Chaplin's biggest hits. Even if Chaplin or silent cinema isn't your "thing", this should be mandatory viewing to anyone remotely interested in film. It's about as close to perfection as cinema gets. With Harry Myers as the drunken millionaire.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tom Horn (1980)

A famed but notorious scout and gunfighter (Steve McQueen) is hired by a cattleman's association to investigate and deter cattle rustling. But when he becomes too good at the job he was hired to do, the association decides to cut ties with him. Based on the writings of the real Tom Horn and directed by William Wiard (mostly known for his TV episodic work), this underrated western is a sparse but straightforward film. Beautifully shot in earth tones (not a splash of red, yellow or green) by John Alonzo (CHINATOWN) in Arizona locations. The character of Tom Horn is a perfect fit for Steve McQueen in one of his last film roles. But as written, the character is problematic. He seems so complicit in his own destruction that it's hard to be sympathetic. Historically, whether he was guilty of the murder for which he was hung is still debated. The film itself is only slightly ambiguous but seems to favor the "not guilty" charge. That the film works is surprising considering its troubled history. It went through 3 directors (including Don Siegel) before Wiard was brought in to finish the film. With a deglamorized Linda Evans in her best performance as a frontier schoolmarm, Richard Farnsworth, Billy Green Bush, Slim Pickens and Elisha Cook.    

Brand (1959)

A religious fanatic (Patrick McGoohan) returns to the Norwegian mountains of his childhood where he becomes the village priest. But he is a hard unforgiving man who believes in the often cold and cruel God of the Old Testament and he places near impossible responsibility on his parishioners and even his own wife (Dilys Hamlett). Based on the play by Henrik Ibsen and directed by Michael Elliott. If an artist, like Ibsen, is great then it stands to reason that therefore everything he writes is great. But BRAND gives rise to the notion that even great writers have their off days/plays. I'll concede that BRAND probably reads better on the page than when played out on stage where it's a rather dull play with ideas on God and faith and one's duty to God are bantered about to the point of exhaustion. It doesn't help that McGoohan's performance is a really bad imitation of Richard Burton and he's played or at least comes off very unsympathetically. With Patrick Wymark and Peter Sallis.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

From Here To Eternity (2014)

Set in a 1941 army base in Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. A career Sergeant (Darius Campbell) falls in love with his Captain's (Martin Marquez) wife (Rebecca Thornhill) and a private (Robert Lonsdale) fall in love with a prostitute (Siubhan Harrison) who works in a Waikiki brothel. Directed by Tamara Harvey, this musical is based on the James Jones novel, not the 1953 film adaptation. The idea of a musical version of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY sounds ghastly but it's not bad at all though wildly uneven. The musical restores the brothel and the prostitutes, the venereal disease and the gay sex in the military that were all removed from the 1953 film. The songs (music by Stuart Brayson and lyrics by EVITA's Tim Rice) are a mixed lot but generally weak. The film is basically a straight on filmed play performance. The two male leads have strong voices but are weak actors while the 2 leading ladies fortunately are strong in both departments. The fifth major character Maggio (Ryan Sampson) is not a singer so he talk/sings his way thru his big number but he's a strong actor so he pulls it off. With the addition of the songs, it leaves very little room for in depth characterization so it helps if you're familiar with the novel or the 1953 movie. The choreography by Javier De Frutos is uneven. The numbers with the soldiers looks like their doing calisthenics rather than dancing but the big number in the brothel with the hookers is a dance highlight. I think the material might have played smoother as an opera rather than as a musical. The Pearl Harbor attack is done with slow motion and lighting and looks rather tacky and the final number sounds a LES MISERABLES reject.   

Ride In The Whirlwind (1966)

Three drifters (Jack Nicholson, Cameron Mitchell, Tom Filer) wander into the hideout of a group of stagecoach robbers by chance. When the law comes to take the robbers in, they assume the drifters are part of the gang and when they escape, they are pursued as outlaws. Directed by Monte Hellman from a screenplay by Nicholson, this western was shot back to back with Hellman's THE SHOOTING which had some of the same cast. Like that existential western, this one is equally fatalistic. The cowboys here are victims of circumstance by being in the wrong place at the wrong time which seals their fate. Beautifully shot in Utah by Gregory Sandor (De Palma's SISTERS), the film's rich look belies the film's minimal budget restrictions. Never released theatrically in the U.S. (it went straight to TV), it was released in Europe where it was a hit and played in Paris for six months. It has since moved from cult status to a critically acclaimed western. With Millie Perkins, Harry Dean Stanton, George Mitchell, Rupert Crosse and Katherine Squire.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Greenwich Village (1944)

A young composer (Don Ameche) from Kansas arrives in 1922 Greenwich Village with the hopes of having his concerto performed. But when he falls in love with a nightclub singer (Vivian Blaine), the club's owner (William Bendix) isn't pleased since he has designs on her himself. Directed by Walter Lang (THE KING AND I), this Technicolor piece of cinematic cotton candy should be more fun than it its. It's creaky storyline could be forgiven if the musical numbers were good but they're a dull lot. Not even Carmen Miranda in her platform heels and fruit salad headgear can liven things up. The movie's chief asset is Leon Shamroy's (PLANET OF THE APES) eye popping three strip Technicolor lensing. Three notable names make their feature film debut here: Judy Holliday, Betty Comden and Adolph Green but their parts have all been cut out of the film leaving them briefly seen in a party scene. With Felix Bressart and B.S. Pully, who manages to get a few laughs. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)

A wealthy widow (Shelley Winters) hosts an annual Christmas party for the local orphanage at her mansion. But this Christmas, she becomes taken with a little girl (Chloe Franks, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC) who resembles her deceased daughter. This does not please the girl's brother (Mark Lester, OLIVER). Directed by Curtis Harrington, this is an updating of the fairy tale HANSEL AND GRETEL. Only this one has a twist. Instead of being poor little innocents, the children are ungrateful brats who are also murderers, liars and thieves (they steal the widow's jewelry). This has the effect (at least for me) of making the mentally unhinged "witch" perversely sympathetic! Winters is deliciously over the top here which livens up the movie considerably. Has anyone overacted by simply eating an apple before? Harrington appears to encourage the self knowing humor whenever possible but never quite crossing over into "camp". Rather fun! With Ralph Richardson, Hugh Griffith, Lionel Jeffries, Rosalie Crutchley, Pat Heywood and Michael Gothard.

The Glass Castle (2017)

In 1989 Manhattan, a magazine journalist (Brie Larson) reflects on her childhood and growing up with irresponsible counter culture parents (Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts). Growing up in poverty, going hungry and the parents skipping town every time the bill collectors are after them. Based on the autobiographical book by Jeannette Walls and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. I haven't read Walls' non fiction book but I suspect it's richer in detail and complexity than the film we're given. There's a lot to admire in Cretton's film especially the quality of the acting. But Walls' journey to forgiveness of her father (who's an alcoholic abuser) just seems to come so easily in the film. One moment she's outraged and refuses to ever see him again and suddenly we're in an episode of THE WALTONS. It's not so easy to overlook the abuse and near psychotic behavior of Harrelson's father and to a far lesser extent Watts' mother. So when the movie goes all Oprah on us, there's a certain amount of resentment. It's not fair of me to judge a life I've never lived through but it's the film maker's responsibility to get me to empathize. I didn't. Still, there's no denying the emotional power of many of the scenes in the film and it's worth seeing for the actors if nothing else. With Max Greenfield and Ella Anderson and Chandler Head playing the younger versions of Larson. 

Madame de... (aka The Earrings Of Madame de...) (1953)

The wife (Danielle Darrieux) of a French aristocrat (Charles Boyer) has debts to pay because of her spending. Without telling her husband, she sells an expensive pair of diamond earrings that her husband gave her to relieve her debts. But those earrings will return to her and play a pivotal part in her destruction. Based on the novel by Leveque de Vilmorin and directed by Max Ophuls, this is one of the most exquisite pieces of cinema. While Ophuls' technique has never been more brilliantly on display (the ball montage designating the passage of time is remarkable), this is not just a visual film. Like his previous masterpiece LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, Ophuls delves into an obsessive love that literally kills its heroine. Darrieux's Madame de is a heartbreaking creature, a shallow pretty thing completely unprepared for the flood of passion that envelops her to the point of no return. All three leads are superb. Vittorio De Sica's performance as her lover reminds us that not only was he one of cinema's great directors but an excellent actor too. With Jean Debucourt, Mireille Perrey and Lia De Leo.  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Between Heaven And Hell (1956)

It's 1945 during WWII and on a remote Pacific island, a sergeant (Robert Wagner) who has been busted to a private for assaulting an officer reflects on his life before the war. Based on the novel by Francis Gwaltney and directed by Richard Fleischer (THE VIKINGS). As a war movie, it's decent enough without ever rising to anything special but there are two interesting aspects of the film, one of which is underdeveloped. The flashback sequences to Wagner's life before the war as a wealthy Southern cotton farmer who exploits his sharecroppers against his wife's (Terry Moore) wishes suggests something more complicated than we're given here. It seems more like superficial exposition than anything and else and indeed, although second billed Terry Moore's role consists of very little screen time. The most interesting portion of the film involves Broderick Crawford in the film's best performance as a possibly psychotic and definitely paranoid Army Captain. The film's portrait of army life is hardly jingoistic and often unflattering which sets it off from most routine WII war flicks. The Oscar nominated underscore is by Hugo Friedhofer. With Buddy Ebsen (terrible!), Robert Keith, Brad Dexter, Mark Damon, Frank Gorshin, Skip Homeier and Ken Clark. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Go Naked In The World (1961)

Returning home after a stint in the Army, a young man (Anthony Franciosa) is trying to move out of the shadow of his domineering Greek father (Ernest Borgnine). He falls in love with a beautiful woman (Gina Lollobrigida), who at first discourages his attention. What he doesn't know is that she's one of Manhattan's highest paid call girls! Based on the novel by Tom T. Chamales and directed by Ranald MacDougall, this is essentially an updated version of CAMILLE. While it's quite blunt and frank (for its day) about Lollobrigida's profession, this is still 1961 Hollywood. You can't be a whore and live and although she doesn't die of consumption like Garbo in the 1936 film, she's still punished by death. Funny how a hooker's clients are never punished in these movies. Sexual frankness aside, it doesn't do the movie much good as the dialog is dreadful. Even taking that into account, there's no accounting for Borgnine's awful performance! For fans of Lollobrigida, she looks stunning in her Helen Rose creations and though that's a meager asset, it's something at least. With Luana Patten, Will Kuluva and Nancy R. Pollock.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

White Woman (1933)

Set in Malaya, after her husband commits suicide under mysterious circumstances, a woman (Carole Lombard) is shunned by the British community. When she resorts to singing in a "native" nightclub in order to support herself, the white community insists she be deported. She agrees to marry a plantation owner (Charles Laughton) just to escape their persecution. But when he turns out to be a sadistic madman, things grow worse. Based on the play HANGMAN'S WHIP by Norman Reilly Raine and Frank Butler and directed by Stuart Walker. This pre-code potboiler is one of those movies where the tropic nights are humid and native drums beat all night long while "forbidden" love flourishes. It all sounds more fun than it actually is. It's weird but Laughton is relatively restrained here yet he still seems to be overacting! The most interesting character is the crude plantation overseer played by Charles Bickford who still manages to be appealing. This being a pre-code, the violence (decapitations, monkeys shot to death) is a bit more in your face than other films of the 30s. With Kent Taylor, Percy Kilbride (the most sympathetic character in the film), Ethel Griffies and Marc Lawrence.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Road To Rio (1947)

Two out of work musicians (Bing Crosby, Bob Hope) stowaway on a cruise liner going to Rio De Janeiro in Brazil. On board, they meet a young woman (Dorothy Lamour) who is being forced to marry the brother (George Meeker) of her guardian (Gale Sondergaard). Directed by Norman Z. McLeod, this was the last Crosby/Hope/Lamour Road picture of the 1940s and there would be only two more (in 1952 and 1962). This is one of the best ones with some of Crosby and Hope's best gags and routines. If you're a fan of the series, you've probably already seen it and if you're not, if given half a chance you're likely to fall under its featherbrained spell. The supporting cast is good notably Gale Sondergaard at her villainess best and there's a trio of goofballs by name of the Wiere Brothers. There also several musical numbers which are painless including a duet between Crosby and The Andrews Sisters. With Frank Faylen, Joseph Vitale and Jerry Colonna.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Follies In Concert (1986)

A group of showgirls from the Weismann Follies in the 1940s reunite in the 1970s. But there are ghosts from the past in the theater that will take them back and confront their younger selves. Originally produced in 1971 where it was a critical success but not a financial one, Stephen Sondheim's musical may well be his masterpiece. In 1985, a staged concert of his musical directed by Herbert Ross (STEEL MAGNOLIAS) has taken on near legendary proportions. As thrilling as this document is of that night, it's frustrating because it's not complete. We're given bits and pieces of the production and even some of the full length numbers are abbreviated for the documentary. The first half is devoted to the rehearsals, the actors discuss the show and we see them in rehearsal. The second half is devoted to the concert itself. And what performers! The great Barbara Cook (who died this week) is a heartbreaking Sally and Elaine Stritch, whose upstaging of the other performers becomes irritating, kills it with her rendition of Broadway Baby. I'm grateful for this archival record of the production but it's such a teaser making us hungry to see it all! The excellent cast includes Lee Remick, Carol Burnett, George Hearn, Phyllis Newman, Adolph Green, Betty Comden, Andre Gregory and Liliane Montevecchi. 

The Mysterious Lady (1928)

A Captain (Conrad Nagel) in the German army falls under the spell of a Russian seductress (Greta Garbo). They fall in love but it is only later that he discovers she is spy for the Russian government and when she steals secret plans from him, he is declared a traitor and sent to prison. Based on the novel WAR IN THE DARK by Ludwig Wolff and directed by Fred Niblo (1925's BEN-HUR). Ah, the divine Garbo! One of the great faces in cinema history. This romantic spy drama isn't one of Garbo's best vehicles but it's enough to bathe in her extraordinary presence and star power which is in full display here. She more than makes up for the lump that is Conrad Nagel. The print that I saw had a marvelous score by Vivek Maddala which only accentuates how important music is to silent cinema. With Gustav von Seyffertitz.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Migrants (1974)

A family of migrant workers goes where the work is. Picking crops and eking out a living that allows them to exist and nothing more. The son (Ron Howard) hopes for something more but everything seems against him. Based on a story by Tennessee Williams and adapted by the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lanford Wilson (FIFTH OF JULY) and directed by Tom Gries (WILL PENNY). This is a wonderful film! Simply told without sentiment and an eye that allows us to view these disenfranchised people with empathy. Anchored by a superb performance by Cloris Leachman as the family's matriarch. Without any dialog at all, her ravaged face saying so much more about these folks than all of the cloying twaddle of Ford's THE GRAPES OF WRATH and her final angry outburst is heartbreaking and you'll never forget David Clennon's death scene. Definitely worth seeking out. With Sissy Spacek, Cindy Williams, Ed Lauter (unexpectedly weak), Claudia McNeil and Brad Sullivan.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Earth Girls Are Easy (1989)

Three furry multi colored aliens: blue (Jeff Goldblum), orange (Jim Carrey) and green (Damon Wayans) have their spaceship crash in a pool in the California's San Fernando Valley. The three are taken under the wing of the flighty manicurist (Geena Davis) who lives in the house with the pool. Directed by Julien Temple (ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS), this delightful musical comedy has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and while at times it seems all over the map, its silliness is hard to resist. Its failure at the box office suggests audiences weren't quite sure what they were getting but the film has developed a strong cult following. It's also a chance to see Jim Carrey and Daman Wayans exercising their comedy chops shortly before they became big name Hollywood players. It's absurd but that's part of its charm. The film's musical numbers are clearly influenced by the style of the music videos then constantly rotating on MTV. With Julie Brown, Michael McKean, Charles Rocket and L.A. phenomenon Angelyne (those outside of L.A. may not know who she is/was).

Boccaccio 70 (1962)

An anthology of four short films by four different directors: 1) A young married couple (Marisa Solinas, Germano Gilioli) must keep their marriage a secret in order to keep their jobs. Directed by Mario Monicelli (BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET). 2) The self appointed judge of public morality (Peppino De Filippo) is outraged when a sexy billboard of Anita Ekberg is put up in front of his building. Directed by Federico Fellini. 3) After her husband (Tomas Milian) is caught in a public scandal involving call girls, his wife (Romy Schneider) devises her own revenge. Directed by Luchino Visconti. 4) In order to help out a friend who owes taxes, a statuesque beauty (Sophia Loren) offers her body in a raffle. Directed by Vittorio De Sica. The first segment was originally cut from the release print but has been restored which pushes the movie's running time past the three hour mark! It's actually the best of the bunch. The other three feel extended beyond their welcome with the Visconti segment particularly chatty without much of a payoff. Not among their directors best work but there are worse ways of spending one's time than with Loren, Ekberg and Schneider at their most beautiful.

Detroit (2017)

In 1967 Detroit, riots ensued when police raided an illegal after hours club in a black neighborhood. At the height of the riots, police invade a local motel where ten black men and two white women are beaten and terrorized by the police with three of the black men murdered. After the one-two punch of THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY, I'll concede it's three in a row for director Kathryn Bigelow but this is by far the weakest of the three. It couldn't be more timely what with aggressive police tactics toward citizens (specifically African Americans) in the headlines for the past few years. It starts off with a bang in a semi documentary style setting up the background but once the storyline reaches the motel, its predictability causes it to lose steam. I think a major case of casting deflates the power of this sequence. Will Poulter who plays the racist cop in charge of the motel siege has, to put it bluntly, the face of a serial killer. He looks psychotic from our first view of him. If the role had been played by an actor with a more "normal" face, it would have added the necessary power to keep us off our balance. Instead, it's "Oh yeah, he's going to go all psycho on everyone here!". At 2 1/2 hours, the film is way overlong and frankly, we could have done without the entire courtroom section and Algee Smith's church moment. An epilogue would have sufficed. Outside of Poulter, the acting is excellent including John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Valley Of Gwangi (1969)

In turn of the century Mexico, a carnival stuntman (James Franciscus), a paleontologist (Laurence Naismith), a cowgirl (Gila Golan) and her manager (Richard Carlson) stumble across a hidden valley where long thought extinct creatures still survive. When they see a Tyrannosaurus, their first thought is to capture it and turn it into a sideshow at their traveling rodeo. Directed by Jim O'Connolly, this lacks the magic of the previous Ray Harryhausen/Charles H. Schneer collaborations like 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS because the lack of mythological fantasy elements. However, it's a still an entertaining action film elevated by Harryhausen's superior creature effects. In films like this, where the creature is kidnapped by humans, I have no sympathy for the humans when the creature turns and gobbles them up. The film has a fiery finale but I felt sorry for the creature rather than satisfaction that he had been destroyed. The characters are a greedy and annoying lot anyway. There's a thrilling underscore by Jerome Moross (THE BIG COUNTRY). With Gustavo Rojo and Freda Jackson.

Sylvia (2003)

The story of the troubled American poet Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) from 1956 when she meets the poet Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig) who she would marry to her eventual suicide in 1963. Directed by Christine Jeffs, the film bypasses many of the mistakes made by movie bios who attempt to cram an entire life in two hours of film. Instead, it concentrates on an 8 year period focusing in on her relationship with Hughes and the slow deterioration of her psyche. Paltrow is very good here in a subtle performance of a slow descent into madness, no "snake pit" histrionics here. The film could have used more of Plath the writer, we don't get as much sense of the poet and her passion for poetry as we should. Granted that may not be as cinematic as going crazy but it would have helped us understand Plath more. 3 years before becoming James Bond, Craig is in fine form as the poet unable to cope with his wife's illness. There's a nice underscore by Gabriel Yared. With Blythe Danner, Michael Gambon and Jared Harris. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw (1958)

To avoid his uncle's (Robert Morley) interference, a mild mannered British gentleman (Kenneth More) travels to the American West to sell guns to the local population. Instead, he finds himself mistaken for a gunslinger and appointed as the sheriff in order to stop a range war between two feuding cattle ranchers. Directed by Raoul Walsh, this wan comedy western has a big problem ..... it's not funny! The screenplay could have used a little more wit or at least, poked a little fun at the genre. With a little tweaking, it could have played out as a straight western and it might have played better that way. Kenneth More and a miscast Jayne Mansfield have zero chemistry in roles that Bob Hope and Jane Russell could have sailed through easily. The movie was filmed in Spain, Otto Heller( PEEPING TOM) did the cinematography, but it may as well have been shot on the Fox back lot for all the advantage it makes of the location. Mansfield sings three songs but her singing voice is dubbed by Connie Francis. Originally intended as a vehicle for Clifton Webb. With Henry Hull, Bruce Cabot and William Campbell.   

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What Every Woman Knows (1934)

Set in Scotland, a father (David Torrence) and his two sons (Donald Crisp, Dudley Digges) are concerned that their homely daughter/sister (Helen Hayes) will end up a spinster since she's still unmarried at the age of 27. To this end, they propose to finance a young student's (Brian Aherne) education if he agrees to marry the plain Jane, six years his senior. But is a business arrangement the good basis for a marriage? Based on the 1908 play by J.M. Barrie (PETER PAN) and directed by Gregory La Cava (STAGE DOOR). The handsome and robust Aherne and the mousy and delicate Hayes (who had played the part on Broadway 8 years earlier) embody their roles perfectly. The movie plays out like a filmed play without being overly stage bound. But the premise is so archaic as to be uncomfortable. It's an era when a woman had no say in her fate which was decided by men, first her father then her husband, when a woman lived through her husband rather than her own accomplishments although the film's argument is that behind every successful man is the woman who got him there. If you can get past all that, the performers are agreeable and there's a certain pleasurable quaintness to the whole project although I suspect even in 1934 it seemed old fashioned. With Madge Evans as the other woman, Lucile Watson and Henry Stephenson. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Silkwood (1983)

A worker (Meryl Streep) at a nuclear facility in Oklahoma suspects that the company's practices of cutting corners and falsifying documents are endangering the health and safety of its workers. When she becomes a union activist, she finds herself unpopular with the company and many of its employees. Inspired by the life of Karen Silkwood, who died under mysterious circumstances amid much speculation that her death in an auto crash was no accident. Directed by Mike Nichols, the screenplay by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen doesn't attempt to make Silkwood a Joan of Arc like heroine but presents her warts (and there are a lot of warts) and all as a highly flawed and often irritating woman. Like the political films of Costa-Gavras, Nichols doesn't preach at you but instead gives us the message while still entertaining us. Fortunately, the domestic scenes which usually drag a movie like this down are excellent and allows Streep to flesh out Silkwood even more. But it's not all Streep's show, Kurt Russell as her live in boyfriend and Cher as her lesbian roommate have opportunities to create strong characters on their own. The supporting cast is crammed with excellent actors including Craig T. Nelson, Diana Scarwid, Fred Ward, Tess Harper, David Strathairn, Josef Sommer, Ron Silver, Bruce McGill, Will Patton and E. Katherine Kerr.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Coney Island (1943)

Set in turn of the (20th) century New York, two rivals (George Montgomery, Cesar Romero) cross and double cross each other in the attempt to win the love of a brash entertainer (Betty Grable). Directed by Walter Lang (THE KING AND I), this was one of Grable's biggest hits. But I've never cared much for Grable's period musicals like this one and THE DOLLY SISTERS. I've always preferred her in her contemporary ones like WEEKEND IN HAVANA or MOON OVER MIAMI. Grable gets to act a bit more than in her usual fluff but she's saddled with the stodgy George Montgomery (I guess John Payne wasn't available). I was hoping for a more realistic bittersweet ending than we're given but this is a 1940s Technicolor Betty Grable musical, not LA LA LAND or UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG so we get the dopey happy ending which just doesn't feel right. As for the musical numbers, they're okay with only two standing out. One of them, a jazz number, is uncomfortable with the male dancers in blackface and Grable in a black wig and dark make up as a light skinned "negress". But the splashy finale is fine. The choreography is by Hermes Pan. With Phil Silvers, Charles Winninger and Phyllis Kennedy.