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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Salome, Where She Danced (1945)

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

Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool (2017)

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

Three Desperate Men (1951)

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Phantom Thread (2017)

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

Putting It Together (2000)

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

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg (1972)

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

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Return Of The Jedi (1983)

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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Ice Cold In Alex (1958)

In 1942 Libya, as the Germans invade Tobruk, two soldiers (John Mills, Harry Andrews) and two nurses (Sylvia Syms, Diane Clare) evacuate from the besieged city and begin an arduous and dangerous trek through mine filled and German occupied territory to the safety of Alexandria in Egypt. Along the way they pick up a South African soldier (Anthony Quayle) but it isn't long before they suspect he may be a German spy. Based on the novel by Christopher Landon and directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE). Going past the two hours mark, the film remains a tight and tension filled action movie with very little fat. The characters are all well drawn and the journey and its outcome are unpredictable. The bracing B&W cinematography of Gilbert Taylor (STAR WARS) reminds one how detailed and handsome B&W movies can look. The film handles the ambiguity of Quayle's soldier quite well and it's refreshing to see the strength in the character of Syms' nurse, she's more than just the "girl" here. Not released in the U.S. until 1961 and with more than 30 minutes cut. With Richard Leech, Walter Gotell and Allan Cuthbertson.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Study In Terror (1965)

The renowned detective Sherlock Holmes (John Neville) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Donald Houston) become involved in the Whitechapel murders of street prostitutes committed by the serial killer known as Jack The Ripper. Directed by James Hill (BORN FREE), this is not based on any of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories but is an original screenplay utilizing Conan Doyle's characters. The movie is not an accurate rendition of the Ripper killings but taken on its own and as a Sherlock Holmes mystery, it's an above average effort. Neville makes for a decent no nonsense Holmes and as played by Houston, Dr. Watson is less addled than Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson. The film's solution to the identity of the Ripper comes as no surprise but the execution of the finale is disappointing. John Scott's underscore is slightly anachronistic but the production values are quite respectable. In 1978, another Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper film MURDER BY DECREE was made. The large cast includes a very young Judi Dench, Anthony Quayle, Robert Morley, Frank Finlay, Adrienne Corri, Cecil Parker, John Fraser, Barbara Windsor, Georgia Brown, Barry Jones and Kay Walsh.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Penny Serenade (1941)

After she decides to leave her husband (Cary Grant), a woman (Irene Dunne) plays some old phonograph records and relives through the songs, how they met and fell in love, married and the tragedy that tore them apart. Directed by George Stevens, this shamelessly manipulative piece of cinematic sentimentality works in large part due to its two leads. One can feel Stevens pulling the heart strings and tugging at your tear ducts, subtlety isn't the way here. Dunne was an old hand at these weepies so she's on auto control but Grant is wonderful here. His brings a sincerity that doesn't seem spurious at all and his Oscar nomination for his work here was fully deserved. His genuineness goes a long way in patching up the lachrymose material. There are a couple of moments that break through the maudlin atmosphere like the charming first bath scene of their baby and the earthquake in Japan sequence is impressive. With Edgar Buchanan, Beulah Bondi, Ann Doran and Dorothy Adams. 

Mistral's Daughter (1984)

In 1925, a young girl (Stefanie Powers) from the country arrives in Paris with aspirations to be an artists' model. She falls in love with a self centered struggling painter (Stacy Keach) but she has a rival in a rich American heiress (Lee Remick) who sees the artists' potential and who is determined to make him her life's work. Based on the 1982 novel by Judith Krantz about 3 generations of women revolving around a self absorbed artist and directed by Kevin Connor and Douglas Hickox. Trash ... and 8 hours of it. It's based on a book by Judith Krantz, so you know it's trash going in but it could have been more fun than it is if it didn't take itself so damn seriously. One can put up with the hideous dialog (someone actually says"I never knew it could be like this!" after sex) if it weren't all so solemn. This isn't Ibsen! You know it's already gone off the tracks when Stacy Keach first appears as the Mistral of the title. This is a charismatic artist that has women obsessing over him their entire lives. If he had been played by, say, Kirk Douglas possibly it might have had a chance but Stacy Keach? Hardly a chick magnet. He doesn't even bother with a French accent and since a major portion of the cast are played by French actors, it makes it even worse. Even Stefanie Powers tries a French accent, badly but at least she tries.  The large cast includes Timothy Dalton, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephane Audran, Joanna Lumley, Robert Urich, Alexandra Stewart, Ian Richardson, Jonathan Hyde and Caroline Langrishe.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Annie Get Your Gun (1957)

Colonel Buffalo Bill's (William O'Neal) wild west show arrives in Ohio along with its star sharpshooter Frank Butler (John Raitt). When he discovers a local female sharpshooter (Mary Martin) that can out shoot Butler, he invites her to join his show. Based on the 1946 hit Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin which starred Ethel Merman as Annie. It was later made into an MGM musical in 1950 with Betty Hutton as Annie. This production done for television in 1957 is a straight forward rendering of the original Broadway show with some cuts like the secondary romance between Winnie (Susan Luckey) and Tommy (Norman Edwards) entirely eliminated along with their two songs. Mary Martin makes for a wonderful Annie, certainly more tolerable than Hutton's frenetic movie Annie and Raitt perfectly cast as Frank Butler. Ernest Flatt did the lively choreography highlighted by the spectacular Indian ceremonial dance and the I'm An Indian Too production number. That sequence has been eliminated from contemporary productions of the show because of its "insensitivity" toward Native Americans. Be that as it may, it remains a highlight. Directed by Vincent J. Donehue. With Reta Shaw, Patricia Morrow, Luke Halpin and Zachary Charles.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Salamander (1981)

After a high ranking General is assassinated, a special agent (Franco Nero) is assigned to investigate his murder. But what he uncovers is a conspiracy among right wing leaders of the government to overtake Italy. Can they be stopped in time? Based on the novel by Morris West and directed by Peter Zinner. This pulpy conspiracy thriller is quite enjoyable if difficult to follow at times. Outside of Nero's protagonist, you're never sure who you can trust and sometimes you're not even sure about him! The all star cast do well though Paul L. Smith's sadistic assassin borders on "camp". The cinematography by Marcello Gatti (BATTLE OF ALGIERS) benefits from the handsome Italian locations though major portions of the film are supposedly set in Switzerland and there's a nice underscore by Jerry Goldsmith. The large cast includes Anthony Quinn, Claudia Cardinale, Eli Wallach, Christopher Lee, Sybil Danning (used for more than eye candy for a change), Martin Balsam and Cleavon Little.

Wonder (2017)

A young boy (Jacob Tremblay) born with a facial defect (Treacher Collins syndrome) has been home schooled by his mother (Julia Roberts). But she feels that it's time he faced the challenges of the real world and sends him to a public school for the first time. The challenge of "fitting in" which are hard at the best of times becomes even more difficult. Based on the best selling young adult novel by R.J. Palacio and directed by Stephen Chbosky (PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER). This is a beautiful little film on so many levels. Anyone who's ever been the odd man out in a school situation can relate but the film goes beyond the problems of its young protagonist but to those surrounding him: family, friends, schoolmates and each with their little cross to bear. The film manages to be incredibly moving without icky sentimentality. Anyone fearing that young Tremblay's superb performance in ROOM was a one shot deal can relax. He gives a marvelous performance here. Roberts brings an unexpected depth to the mother role and I don't think I've ever found Owen Wilson (who plays the father) more likable. With Mandy Patinkin, Sonia Braga, Izabela Vidovic, Daveed Diggs, Danielle Rose Russell and that marvelous young actor Noah Jupe (SUBURBICON) who equals Tremblay.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Majo No Takkyubin (aka Kiki's Delivery Service) (1989)

As is their tradition, a young witch (Minami Takayama/Kirsten Dunst) leaves home at the age of 13 to seek her fortune in the world. All she takes with her are her broom and her black cat (Rei Sakuma/Phil Hartman). Based on the book by Eiko Kadono and produced, directed and adapted for the screen by the great Hayao Miyazaki. This utterly captivating example of Japanese anime is a charming tale of the process of growing from adolescence into a young woman as the young witch grapples with loneliness, self doubt and independence. As usual for Miyazaki, the animation is stunning. Rich and vibrant with color and precise in the detailing. Although released in 1989, the film didn't reach U.S. shores until nine years later. I watched the original Japanese language version but the English is very well done too I thought. Among the actors voicing the English dub are Debbie Reynolds, Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett, Edie McClurg and Matthew Lawrence. This was one of Phil Hartman's last performances and the U.S. dub is dedicated to him.

Lady Bird (2017)

Set in 2002 Sacramento, a teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan) in her senior year deals with her strong willed mother (Laurie Metcalf) as well as discovering boys. Written and directed by the actress Greta Gerwig, this is a splendid look at the chaos and angst of being an adolescent whose parents just don't (or rather we think they don't) get it. Gerwig's screenplay is sharp and funny but never at the expense of the truth of the material, she doesn't go for the cheap laughs. Two sensational performances drive the film. Ronan continues to impress as one of the best young actresses working in film today and finally, the wonderful Laurie Metcalf gets a movie role worthy of her expansive talents. Their scenes together are pure bliss. If the film's conclusion seems all too familiar and perhaps the tiniest bit predictable, it's still been a thrilling journey to get there. The excellent supporting cast includes Lucas Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA), Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, Lois Smith and Beanie Feldstein.  

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Norliss Tapes (1973)

An investigative writer (Roy Thinnes) doing a book on the occult goes missing after leaving a cryptic message with his publisher (Don Porter). The publisher finds a series of tapes by the writer describing the events leading up to his disappearance. Directed by Dan Curtis (THE NIGHT STALKER) and based on a story by Fred Mustard Stewart (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ). This minor horror film intended as a pilot for a TV series (it never sold) was released as a stand alone telefilm. It's a decent effort with a cult following and it's fun but in spite of some atmospheric locations like San Francisco, Carmel, Big Sur along with a surfeit of rain, there's no genuine sense of dread. The voice over narration by Thinnes gives the film a sense of film noir which is effective but the cheesy underscore by Robert Cobert (THE WINDS OF WAR) undermines whatever tension the film may have had. With Angie Dickinson as a recent widow who starts the plot in motion. Also with Hurd Hatfield, Claude Akins, Michele Carey, Vonetta McGee and Robert Mandan.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tarzan The Ape Man (1959)

Guided by a Watusi (Thomas Yanha) on a hazardous trek through uncharted lands, three people search for an ancient elephant graveyard which yields a fortune in ivory. They include an adventurer (Cesare Danova), his partner (Robert Douglas) and his partner's daughter (Joanna Barnes). The daughter becomes separated from the other two and is saved by a mysterious jungle man (Denny Miller). Directed by Joseph M. Newman (THIS ISLAND EARTH), this is a very low budget and loose remake of the original 1932 MGM Tarzan film with Johnny Weissmuller. It's an odd little film and more enjoyable than it has any right to be considering what a patch job it is. It's an MGM backlot Africa with copious amounts of previously used footage from KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950) and the early MGM Tarzan movies inserted in. The inserted footage doesn't match the new footage and the optical effects are really bad. A scene of Miller and Barnes swimming underwater is clearly the actors shot in a tank and inserted over previously shot underwater footage. Then there's the swinging jazz score by Shorty Rogers which feels out of place. Miller makes for a likable and rather sweet Tarzan (though that name is never used in the film) if you can get over him looking like he wandered in from a beach party movie.  

Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)

When a jockey who threw a race is found murdered at the track, a police Lieutenant (Sam Levene) requests the help of retired detective Nick Charles (William Powell). But two more murders will occur before the case is solved. This is the fourth entry in the Thin Man franchise with Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. It's also the weakest or least interesting of the seven Thin Man films. It seems like forever for the film to actually start, we get a lot of foreplay, and when it does, it's routine. Powell and Loy banter back and forth and they're a treasure but they're spinning in a vacuum. Fortunately, the gathered suspects in a room finale is wonderful but by then the movie is just about over. The acting is good and we get to see the legendary acting teacher Stella Adler in a rare film role (she only did three movies) as a blonde floozy. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. The cast includes Donna Reed, Barry Nelson, Alan Baxter, Louise Beavers and the scene stealing Asta.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Seagull (1975)

In late 19th century Russia, a group of people gather on a country estate including a famous actress (Lee Grant), her writer lover (Kevin McCarthy), her artistic son (Frank Langella), her brother (William Swetland) who is in ill health, a young girl (Blythe Danner) with ambitions to be an actress, a doctor (Louis Zorin), the estate manager (George Ede), his wife (Olympia Dukakis), their daughter (Marian Mercer) and a school teacher (David Clennon). Based on the 1896 play by Anton Chekhov and directed by John J. Desmond. Considered by many to be Chekhov's masterpiece, this is an uneven production but the acting is mostly good and in one case, exceptional. Kevin McCarthy makes for a rather dull Trigorin, he can't seem to muster either a writer's passion nor the casual cruelty that can destroy a girl's life. Langella is a bit too old for Konstantin but that aside, he gives a solid performance and Lee Grant as Arkadina gets to the core of the actress's self absorption. The stand out performance is given by Blythe Danner who makes for a splendid Nina going from tremulous and fragile to ravaged and unraveled. A great play that could have used a more delicate hand to unlock the subtext of Chekhov's dialog. Still, this is a production worth seeing. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Showdown At Abilene (1956)

Returning home from the Civil War, the former sheriff (Jock Mahoney) of Abilene finds the town changed considerably. Instead of the peaceful farm community, he finds the town taken over by cattlemen and tensions run high between the farmers and cattlemen. He also finds his former fiancee (Martha Hyer) engaged to marry his childhood friend (Lyle Bettger). Directed by Charles Haas, this is a decent if unoriginal programmer. However, casting causes a strange shift in empathy. Normally, the hero protagonist would be our focus of interest but as played by the colorless Mahoney, he's just not very interesting. Bettger is a better actor than Mahoney which allows his conflicted cattleman to take center stage despite being the third wheel. The lovely Martha Hyer as the "girl" doesn't have much to do except wring her hands and look pretty. With David Janssen, Grant Williams and Ted De Corsia.

Algiers (1938)

A well known thief (Charles Boyer) lives in the native quarter of Algiers called the Casbah where he is protected from the police by the citizens of the Casbah. But when he encounters a beautiful Parisian tourist (Hedy Lamarr) slumming in the Casbah, his fate is sealed. A painstaking remake of the 1937 Julien Duvivier film PEPE LE MOKO which starred Jean Gabin in the title role which was based on the novel by Henri La Barthe. Directed by John Cromwell, it may not be quite on the level of the Duvivier film but on its own merits, it's quite good. If you were ever curious what made Boyer a star, this film should answer your question. He's almost impossibly romantic yet never soft, there's still a cold intensity that alerts you that this is not a man to mess with. In her American film debut, Lamarr is so incredibly stunning in her beauty that her acting seems irrelevant. Add James Wong Howe's stylish B&W cinematography and you have a smoky treat. With Sigrid Gurie, who's good but her clinging character becomes annoying after awhile. Also with Gene Lockhart (Oscar nominated for his work here), Joseph Calleia, Leonid Kinskey, Joan Woodbury and Alan Hale. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Come Fly With Me (1963)

Three stewardesses (as they were called back in the 1960s) who have the New York to Paris run find themselves attracted to three different men: Dolores Hart has her eye on a titled Austrian aristocrat (Karlheinz Bohm), Pamela Tiffin sets her cap for an airline pilot (Hugh O'Brian) and Lois Nettleton falls for a Texas widower (Karl Malden). Based on the novel GIRL ON A WING by Bernard Glemser and directed by Henry Levin (WHERE THE BOYS ARE). The three girls hunting for a husband scenario is hardly original and goes back to the 1930s. Perhaps the more notable examples are HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953) and THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (1954). This one doesn't add anything fresh to the mix. Fortunately, the actresses are appealing and we do get to see a bit of Paris and Vienna but it's the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy, sweet and airy but unsubstantial. You either have a taste for this kind of movie confection or you don't. With Dawn Addams, Lois Maxwell, George Coulouris and Ferdy Mayne.   

Molly's Game (2017)

A young woman (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic hopeful in free form skiing, gets into the world of high stakes underground poker in L.A. and New York. The FBI takes an interest in her and arrest her for running illegal games in the hope she can provide information on Russian mobsters that will put them behind bars. Based on the non fiction book MOLLY'S GAME by Molly Bloom and written and directed by Aaron Sorkin in his directorial debut. This is a fast moving first rate crime drama which gives us a peek into the world of private high stakes poker games. It helps if you know something about poker but even if you don't, it's easy to get caught up in the thrill of the game. But this isn't a poker movie, not really. It's about one woman's journey in a distinctly masculine and patriarchal landscape: at home, in the business world and even the government. The character of Molly is a rich and complex role for an actress and Chastain puts her formidable talent to peeling the layers and exposing the core of her character's ferocity and vulnerability. Although based on a true story, the character of her attorney so superbly played by Idris Elba is a fictional character but the rest of the events stay close to the truth. With Kevin Costner, excellent as Chastain's father, Chris O'Dowd, Graham Greene, Michael Cera, Brian D'Arcy James and Angela Gots. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

In the 1930s, the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is traveling on the Orient Express on his way back to London. When an American gangster (Johnny Depp) asks for his protection after death threats, Poirot turns him down. When he's later discovered stabbed to death, Poirot is faced with the conclusion that the killer was one of his fellow passengers. Based on the Agatha Christie classic mystery and directed by Branagh. In a word ..... awful! Christie's source novel is foolproof material so it always mystifies me why adapters attempt to "improve" on it. The screenplay by Michael Green adds interracial romance, drug addiction, Nazi sympathizers and a long lost love for Poirot. Branagh isn't remotely believable as Poirot, not Christie's Poirot anyway though to be fair he's better than David Suchet (who wouldn't be?). The film lacks the star power and glamour of the definitive 1974 adaptation but that's not the problem. The CGI laden film looks ugly, the performances except for Penelope Cruz as a missionary range from indifferent to poor. I can't imagine a true Christie fan being satisfied. Even the normally reliable Patrick Doyle's underscore is a drag. The large cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr. and Lucy Boynton.   

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wonder Wheel (2017)

Set in early 1950s Coney Island, an unhappily married woman (Kate Winslet) is having an affair with a lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). But when her 25 year old stepdaughter (Juno Temple) runs away from her gangster husband and moves in with her estranged father (Jim Belushi) and stepmother, tensions reach a boiling point. Woody Allen's latest is one of his dramas rather than one of his comedies and although there is humor in the film, it plays out like a Tennessee Williams play written in the 1950s. Allen writes great roles for women and here, Winslet delivers a powerhouse performance as an emotionally unraveling boardwalk Blanche Du Bois while Juno Temple gives a lovely performance as a young woman attempting to get her life back on track after a horrendous mistake without realizing that she's a match that will set her father's household on fire. Fire is a theme here as Winslet's young son (Jack Gore) is a pyromaniac. Awesome cinematography by the great Vittorio Storaro. It's not the strongest of Allen's recent films but it's far better than the overrated BLUE JASMINE and the performances are terrific. With Steve Schirrpa, Debi Mazar and David Krumholtz.   

Downsizing (2017)

Norwegian scientists make a scientific breakthrough when they discover how to miniaturize humans to five inches in height. The overall plan is to downsize the human population gradually to save the planet from overpopulation. Many years later the plan is put into implementation and a married couple (Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig) decide to take the plunge. But things don't go as planned. Co-written and directed by Alexander Payne (SIDEWAYS), this often witty satire gets darker as it progresses until it becomes quite poignant. Paramount is doing the film a disservice in its marketing and trailers by suggesting a whimsical comedy. While the movie is rich in humor, it's concerned with weightier issues and I fear people going in expecting a whimsical comedy are going to be disappointed and perhaps even resent the film for not being funny enough. The film features a stand out performance by the Vietnamese actress Hong Chau as a political dissident now reduced to cleaning houses. It does run a bit longer than it should but Payne's wit and humanity keeps the schmaltz at bay. With Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Margo Martindale and Udo Keir.  

Son Of Paleface (1952)

A recent Harvard graduate (Bob Hope) heads out West to claim his inheritance from his deceased father. But when he arrives, he discovers an empty chest in the bank's vault and a crowd of his father's creditors demanding payment. Meanwhile, a woman bandit (Jane Russell) and her gang have been ravaging the countryside robbing stagecoaches. A federal agent (Roy Rogers) is hot on her trail. Directed by Frank Tashlin (THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT), this is a sequel of the popular 1948 comedy western THE PALEFACE which also starred Hope and Russell. Tashlin didn't direct that one and this improves on it (though the 1948 film was quite amusing). Tashlin's experience as an animator for Disney and Warner cartoons is on full display here as he turns this into a veritable live action cartoon. Hope is in peak form here with Roy Rogers playing straight man and even his horse Trigger gets into the act. A scene with Trigger and Hope in bed fighting over the bed covers is priceless! Hope and Russell reprise the Oscar winning hit song Buttons And Bows from THE PALEFACE with a little assistance from Rogers. With Bill Williams, Lloyd Corrigan, Douglass Dumbrille and Jean Willes.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (1939)

A young dancer (Ginger Rogers) convinces a vaudeville second banana comic (Fred Astaire) to switch to dancing. He does and eventually they become a famous dancing couple, first in France then in America. Directed by H.C. Potter (MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE), this is by far the weakest of the ten movies Astaire and Rogers made together. Based on the lives of a popular married ballroom dancers in the early 20th century who also appeared on Broadway and silent movies, the film is on the dull side. The dance numbers, usually the highlight of any Astaire and Rogers film, are remarkably listless and the screenplay lacks the sparkle and wit that their best vehicles bubbled over with. The few songs in the film are unmemorable and sentimentality is the order of the day, something you wouldn't call their other movies. Some lively support arrives in the form of two supporting characters played by Edna May Oliver and Walter Brennan doing their specialties, bossy spinster and cantankerous coot respectively. With Lew Fields, Janet Beecher, Leonid Kinskey, Donald MacBride and Frank Faylen.   

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Darkest Hour (2017)

In May 1940, as Hitler continues to bring Europe to its knees, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) resigns as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is invited to take the position by a reluctant King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). Directed by Joe Wright (ATONEMENT), the film focuses on Churchill's first crucial 30 days in office. So unlike most movie biographies, rather than wasting time cramming years into a two hour running time, by concentrating on a particular moment in history, we get detail and structure and character development. As with all historical biographies, artistic license is taken but not at the expense of its historical context. Anthony McCarten's (THEORY OF EVERYTHING) screenplay is solid but make no bones about it, the film's ace is Gary Oldman as Churchill whose performance ranks right up there with George C. Scott's PATTON. After the initial shock of seeing Oldman in Kazuhiro Tsuji's remarkable (and Oscar deserving) make up, we forget Oldman and see only Churchill. A sensational underscore by Dario Marianelli fuels the film. With Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Churchill, Lily James (DOWNTON ABBEY) and Stephen Dillane. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hail The Conquering Hero (1944)

A young man (Eddie Bracken) from a small town is the son of a deceased WWI war hero. During WWII, he enlists in the Marines but is discharged for chronic hay fever. Ashamed to tell his mother (Georgia Caine), he writes her that he is going overseas. When a group of Marines on leave hear about this, they drag him home telling the town he is a war hero. The town goes crazy but the deception is killing him. Written and directed by Preston Sturges, this is essentially a one joke comedy that almost begins to wear thin but the Oscar nominated script is first rate and Sturges' stock company of supporting actors all bring their "A" game. The precision dialog comes so fast that you almost become dizzy trying to keep up with it. The movie plays both sides of the fence. It's a satire on hero worship, patriotism and mother worship and Sturges aims his darts at all of them while still embracing them by the time the film reaches its conclusion. With the lovely Ella Raines, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Bill Edwards, Esther Howard and boxing champion Freddie Steele, very sweet as a mother fixated marine. 

The Odyssey (1997)

Odysseus (Armand Assante), the King of Ithaca, is called to serve in the war against Troy. Although he is victorious in battle, his hubris angers Poseidon (Miles Anderson) who places a curse on him which prevents him from reaching Ithaca for some 20 years. Based on the epic poem by Homer and directed by Andrei Konchalovsky (RUNAWAY TRAIN). With a three hour running time, this adaptation has the time to do Homer's epic justice but it just doesn't feel like an epic. Though its production values are excellent and some scenes are superbly done (like the entry into Hades), the film feels more like a sword and sandal peplum. The principal roles are well cast but the lesser parts like Odysseus' crew are weakly played. I could have done without the attempts at humor but it's clear that the film wants to be an "entertainment" adventure. The creature effects which include a talking pig and a sea serpent were done by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. The large cast includes Isabella Rossellini, Eric Roberts, Greta Scacchi, Geraldine Chaplin, Christopher Lee, Bernadette Peters, Jeroen Krabbe, Vanessa Williams, Michael J. Pollard, Nicholas Clay and Yorgo Voyagis.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Summer Holiday (1963)

A garage mechanic (Cliff Richard) persuades London Transport to loan him an old double decker bus which he and three friends renovate into a hotel on wheels for a road trip across Europe. Directed by Peter Yates (BULLITT), this is the British equivalent of an Elvis movie, only Elvis movies usually had better songs. While the songs may be negligible, the film is heightened by the colorful location lensing of John Wilcox (THE MOUSE THAT ROARED) and the lively and enthusiastic choreography of Herbert Ross (yes, the director). The plot is barely there, a wisp of a narrative to hang on songs and dance numbers but the youthful cast give it their all. The acting honors go to Madge Ryan as a voracious stage mother who lives her life through her singer daughter (Lauri Peters). It's not a subtle performance by any means but the movie needs something a bit over the top to perk it up between the song numbers. With Ron Moody (OLIVER!), Teddy Green, Melvyn Hayes, Una Stubbs and Jeremy Bulloch. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Never Wave At A WAC (1953)

A spoiled Washington D.C. socialite (Rosalind Russell), the daughter of a U.S. Senator (Charles Dingle), joins the Army to be near her fiance, a Lt. Colonel (William Ching). But she soon finds out that the Women's Army Corps isn't as easy as she imagined it would be. If the plot sounds familiar, it's because it was done much better almost 30 years later as PRIVATE BENJAMIN. Directed by veteran director Norman Z. McLeod (TOPPER), this comedy promises more than it is able to deliver. The film is lackluster and doesn't take full advantage of the comedic opportunities. Rosalind Russell is one of the great screen comediennes but she seems on auto control here. Most of the laughs (what few there are) are provided by Marie Wilson as a ditzy ex-stripper who joins the Army to get away from men. The film features an early score by Elmer Bernstein. With Paul Douglas as Russell's ex-husband, Leif Erickson, Hillary Brooke, Arleen Whelan, Lurene Tuttle and Virginia Christine. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Set in 1983 Northern Italy, a 17 year old boy (Timothee Chalamet) finds himself attracted to the American student (Armie Hammer) who is helping his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) for the summer. Based on the novel by Andre Aciman and directed by Luca Guadagnino (I AM LOVE). This delicate gay coming of age drama may seem superfluous coming on the heels of BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR and MOONLIGHT but it takes a different path. It plays like a memory piece (which the novel actually is) in spite of taking place in the film's present. It's also more romantic but bittersweet nonetheless in its portrait of two people coming to terms with their sexuality but with two different outcomes for them. Young Chalamet gives a beauty of a performance and has a stunning long close up at the end of the film as great as Garbo's in QUEEN CHRISTINA, better actually. Its languid pacing can be annoying at times but the payoff is so worth it. The film doesn't have an original underscore but the music used (Robin Urdang is credited as music supervisor) is perfection. Easily one of the best films of the year. With Amira Casar and Esther Garrel.

Coco Chanel (2008)

Out of the public eye for almost 15 years, the renowned designer Coco Chanel (Shirley MacLaine) returns to the fashion world with a new collection. But the collection is a fiasco and she reflects on her early life and her difficult journey to success. Directed by Christian Duguay, the film is a polished if unexceptional affair. Too much time is spent on the men in her life (Olivier Sitruck, Sagamore Stevenin) who aren't very interesting when it should have been spent on Chanel whose life was too complex to fit in a 2 1/4 hour movie. As the younger Chanel, Barbora Bobulova is lovely and graceful but bearing little resemblance to the tough and cantankerous older Chanel as played by MacLaine. The script tends to the obvious as when a major character during a dramatic phone call may as well have "I'm going to die in the next 10 minutes!" tattooed on his forehead. Production values, notably the production design credited to Francesco Bronzi and Chantal Giuliani, are first rate. With Marine Delterme (in the film's best performance), Anny Duperey and Malcolm McDowell.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Citizen Kane (1941)

A wealthy newspaper publisher (Orson Welles) and a legend in his own time dies with the word "Rosebud" on his lips. A reporter (William Alland) attempts to reconstruct the tycoon's life by those who knew him best and to discover what his last words meant. What can one say about such an iconic film that is justifiably considered one of the greatest sound films ever made that hasn't already been said? Where does one start? Well, there's Gregg Toland's remarkable cinematography (his use of deep focus here is legendary), Bernard Herrmann's uniquely different (for 1941) score, Robert Wise's editing, the superbly structured screenplay by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz to start. Attempts have been made in certain quarters that KANE is overrated or that it's boring but I've invariably found that those who claim it's boring are usually boring people. The film seems as fresh today as ever and one can only imagine its impact on adventurous 1941 audiences. The cast, the majority of them making their film debuts, is perfect. Among them Joseph Cotten, the underrated Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, George Coulouris and Paul Stewart.    

Thursday, November 2, 2017

An Enemy Of The People (1980)

In a small coastal Scottish town, a pharmacist (Robert Urquhart) discovers that the water that is bottled in their town and sold for its health benefits is, in fact, being polluted by a nearby tanning factory and making people ill. He attempts to have his findings printed but he soon finds out that the town's leaders are against the idea since the news will have devastating effects on the town's economy. Based on the 1882 play by Henrik Ibsen, this particular production has taken liberties with Ibsen's play by updating it from 1880s Norway to 1980s Scotland. The baths of Ibsen's play have now become a water bottling plant. Also, Ibsen's references to eugenics have been eliminated since they wouldn't sit well with a contemporary audience. But what does this adaptation in are the indifferent performances and in the case of Urquhart, a seriously miscalculated one. The one exception is Robby McMillan as a manipulative labor leader. Ibsen's play is still incredibly relevant today especially in the face of a government looking after its own self interests rather than the interests of its citizens. With Edith MacArthur, Elizabeth Millbank, Maurice Roeves and Michael Sheard. 

After Hours (1985)

Set in Manhattan, a computer technician (Griffin Dunne) meets a girl (Rosanna Arquette) at a diner. He's invited to the apartment she shares with a sculptor (Linda Fiorentino). But once there, he becomes uncomfortable and senses something is not right. Thus begins a nightmare that will continue to spiral downward until the dawn. Directed by Martin Scorsese (who won the Cannes film festival best director prize for his work here), this dark comedy is a perverse delight! Griffin Dunne's everyman is an Alice in an ever increasing malevolent and surreal Wonderland. Actually, Dunne's character isn't particularly likable which is a good thing here because if he were it wouldn't be so funny as the things that happen to him are awful. Since we don't particularly care for him, we can laugh without guilt. I suppose one could make a weak case for misogyny since all the female characters are monstrous on some level while the male characters are simply "weird" or eccentric. The ensemble cast is excellent right down the line and includes Teri Garr, Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin, Catherine O'Hara, John Heard, Will Patton, Verna Bloom and Bronson Pinchot.