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Saturday, November 30, 2019

It Always Rains On Sunday (1947)

Set in post WWII London's East Endan escaped convict (John McCallum) seeks out an old flame (Googie Withers)who is now married and has a familyfor a place to hide from the police. Based on the novel by Arthur La Bern and directed by Robert Hamer (KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS). This tough and gritty melodrama was a bit ahead of its time as it has the atmosphere of those British "kitchen sink" dramas that blossomed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These aren't the posh Brits of BBC period dramas or Masterpiece Theater but the working class blokes and petty criminals. Almost every character in the film seems to be trapped in a cul-de-sac from which there is no escape. The film focuses mostly on the domestic entrapment of Googie Withers' wife but the movie also has a myriad of subplots involving bad marriagescheating husbandspetty crookslechers and the police detective (Jack Warner) who weaves in and out of the story. While the film casts a bleak eye to its multiple charactersDouglas Slocombe's (THE LION IN WINTER) incisive B&W cinematography captures all the nuance and shading. With Edward ChapmanSusan ShawPatricia PlunkettSydney Tafler and Hermione Baddeley.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Daughters Of Joshua Cabe (1972)

Due to an unusual homesteading lawan aging fur trapper (Buddy Ebsen) needs children to help him establish his claim on his property. To this endhe recruits three disreputable young women to pass off as his daughters: a prostitute (Lesley Ann Warren)a pickpocket (Sandra Dee) and an ex-convict (Karen Valentine). Directed by Philip Leacock (THE WAR LOVER)this contrived tale is moderately enjoyable thanks to Jack Elam as Ebsen's sidekick and the appealing presence of the three actresses playing the "daughters" which is good because Ebsen doesn't even try. There's a comfort in its predictability and you know your mind won't be taxed at all. It spawned two sequels in 1975 and 1976 but with different casts. With Don StroudLeif EricksonHenry JonesWilliam KattErin O'Brien Moore and Michael Anderson Jr. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Dragon Country (1970)

Two one act plays by Tennessee Williams: Talk To Me Like The Rain And Let Me Listen (written in 1953) and I Can't Imagine Tomorrow (written in 1970). Each is a two character play in a single setting. All of the characters are broken people defeated by their circumstancesthe cards that life has dealt them so to speak. In Talk To Me Like The Rainan alcoholic (Alan Mixon) and a woman (Lois Smith) leading a life of quiet desperation cling to each other because they have no one else. In I Can't Imagine Tomorrowa woman (Kim Stanley) who is dying tries to prepare her lover (William Redfield)who is figuratively dying for life without her. Neither are among Williams' best work but middling Tennessee Williams is still more fascinating than the "best" of most middling playwrights. Plus it gives us the rare opportunity to see the great Kim Stanleywhose filmed output is sadly minimalact. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Harrad Experiment (1973)

During the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70sa private college embarks on an experiment of students assigned to pre-selected room mates of the opposite sex and suggesting sexual intimacy. Based on the novel by Robert Rimmer and directed by Ted Post (HANG 'EM HIGH). This is a dumb movie that shows how cracked the 1960s could be. It seems to think it's being daring and seriously exploring contemporary mores but it's nothing more than an exploitation movie. James Whitmore and Tippi Hedren (as the college's founders) get above the title billing but their characters are peripheral to the action. The focus is on an annoying uptight virgin (Laurie Walters) partnered with a promiscuous Romeo (Don Johnson) but it makes no sense that her character would enroll in a progressive college exploring open sexuality. As a time capsuleit has some value showing where our heads were at in the 60s but as cinemait's pretty much a dud. With Bruno Kirby and Robert Middleton.  

Never Fear (1950)

A young dancer (Sally Forrest) with a promising career ahead of her is struck down in her prime with polio. Her fiance (Keefe Brasselle) sticks by her but she descends into a pit of self pity. Directed by Ida Lupino (herself a polio victim as a child)the film is one of those inspirational efforts that plays out like a Hallmark TV movie. Of coursethere weren't TV movies in 1950 and I understand that its important subject matter was quite provocative for the time. But it's hard to watch a film with its central protagonist wallowing in self pity and while the lovely Sally Forrest is pertshe's not a strong enough actress to pull us into her psychological state. It's my least favorite of the Ida Lupino films I've seen (as a director). The grim subject matter didn't resonate with filmgoers in 1950 either. With Hugh O'BrianEve MillerLawrence Dobkin and Herb Butterfield.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Bob Le Flambeur (1956)

An aging gambler and ex-convict (Roger Duchesne) lives in the Montmartre district of Paris where he literally gambles his life away. When he hears that a Deauville casino will have 800 million in francshe coerces his safecracker friend (Andre Garet) into helping him get a team of men to heist the casino's moneya plan that will have consequences for all concerned. Directed by Jean Pierre Melvilletechnically this could be called a heist movie along the lines of OCEAN'S ELEVEN or THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. But it's not really the details of or the actual heist which is the focal point of the film. It's its myriad of characters and their place in this puzzle and their varied fates. Instead of a seamy and sordid atmosphereMelville actually (whether he intended it or not) gives the whole process a sheen of allure and attraction. Disreputable never looked so glamorous. I had a minor problem believing that Duchesne's gambling addiction would cause him to forget something so crucial but then again I've never been addicted to gambling so I suppose it's possible. The film has a slight misogyny to it as two different women (the amoral Isabelle Corey, the conniving Colette Fleury) are responsible for unraveling the carefully thought out plans. Ohdid I mention that I was quite taken with it? With Daniel CauchyGuy Decomble and Claude Cerval. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Little Women (1994)

While their father (Matthew Walker) is off serving as a chaplain in the Civil Warfour sisters in Massachusetts live in genteel poverty along with their mother (Susan Sarandon): Jo (Winona Ryder in an Oscar nominated performance)Meg (Trini Alvarado)Beth (Claire Danes) and Amy (Kirsten Dunst who morphs into Samantha Mathis). Based on the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott and directed by Gillian Armstrong. Considering its many adaptations for filmTV and the stagetimeless seems as good a word as any to describe LITTLE WOMEN. While not the definitive version (and not my favorite adaptation)the film is a scrupulously artful rendition of the novel. Warm and winningthe ensemble acting with a couple of exceptions is superior. I found Sarandon's Marmee out of placeperhaps too contemporary and Trini Alvarado's Meg rather benign. But those are minor quibbles. The atmospheric lensing of Geoffrey Simpson (SHINE)the art direction of Richard Hudolin and production design of Jan Roelfs and score by Thomas Newman (SKYFALL) all contribute to the movie's success. With Christian Bale, Gabriel ByrneEric StoltzMary Wickes and John Neville.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Witches (1990)

A nine year old boy (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother (Mai Zetterling)  are staying at a seaside hotel in England when the hotel hosts a convention of witches lead by the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston). The witches (who look like ordinary women) plot to turn the world's children into mice! Based on the children's novel by Roald Dahl (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) and directed by Nicholas Roeg (DON'T LOOK NOW). This enchanting if dark fantasy was well received by the critics when it originally opened in 1990 but inexplicablyit was a failure at the box office. In the ensuing yearsits reputation has grown and there's even a remake starring Anne Hathaway due out next year. While the film may be too frightening for very young childrenages 8 and up should be okay with it. Dahl was reputedly unhappy with the film's "happy" ending which differs from his book and I'm on his side. But other than thatthis is an inventive lark of a movie that adults can enjoy every bit as much as kids. Huston gives a marvelous performance as the head witchshe seems to be having a ball being so wicked. With Rowan AtkinsonJane Horrocks and Brenda Blethyn.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Silent Partner (1978)

Set in Toronto, a nondescript bank teller (Elliott Gould) discovers his bank will soon be robbed. He begins siphoning the bank's money into his lunchbox so that when the robber (Christopher Plummer) eventually robs the bankhe won't get the money he knows has been deposited but instead get a meager amount. What the teller hadn't counted on is that the robber is a sadistic sociopath with homicidal tendencies and a cat and mouse came begins. Based on the novel THINK OF A NUMBER by Anders Bodelsen and adapted for the screen by Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) and directed by Daryl Duke (THE THORN BIRDS). This is a terrific thriller! Hanson's screenplay is smart and precise without any fillers. It's pure suspense. The acting is first rate. Gould has never been more likable and Plummer's bat shit crazy villain sends shivers down your spine. This is not a man you want to cross. I could have done without one scene of gratuitous violence but other than thatthe film is a gem of suspense. There's a nice underscore by Oscar Peterson. With Susannah YorkJohn Candy and Celine Lomez as a femme fatale who seduces Gould. 

Marriage Story (2019)

A theater director (Adam Driver) and his actress wife (Scarlett Johansson) are divorcing. While he stays in New York directing a playshe relocates to Los Angeles to do a TV series. But nothing has prepared them for the enormity and emotional pain that divorce bringsnot to mention the expensive business that attorneys make off divorce. Directed by Noah Baumbach (MARGOT AT THE WEDDING)the title is a misnomer. It should have been called DIVORCE STORY. This long (it's over two hours) film is a raw and uncompromising look at the disintegration of a marriage and the ensuing divorce process. It puts a maudlin piece of mainstream cinema on the same subject like KRAMER VS. KRAMER to shame. At timesit can be painful to sit through as long withheld rages come spewing forth but it's an honest look without any sentimental sheen. The acting is superb with Scarlett Johansson giving a career best performance and Adam Driver's delivery of Sondheim's BEING ALIVE should bring tears to your eyes. The movie does have a bit of fat could have been edited out. For examplethere's a scene where Driver accidentally cuts himself with a knife that doesn't add anything to the narrative. Devastating and powerful. With Laura Dern (terrific as a jaded divorce attorney)Alan AldaRay LiottaWallace Shawn and Julie Hagerty.

Naked Alibi (1954)

After a murder suspect (Gene Barry) vows vengeance on the cops that beat him upa cop (Max Showalter) is killed. The suspect skips town to a Mexican border town where he's followed by a police detective (Sterling Hayden) determined to prove his guilt and arrest him. Based on the short story CRY COPPER by J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater and directed by Jerry Hopper (SECRET OF THE INCAS). There are no surprises in this noir potboiler. It's hard to warm up to Hayden's protagonist as he's really nothing more than a thug with a badge and we've seen enough of these crime thrillers to know that Grahame's good bad girl most likely won't survive the film's denouement. It's moderately entertaining but I'll probably barely remember it in a month. With Chuck Connors and Marcia Henderson.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Premier Rendez-vous (1941)

A young girl (Danielle Darrieux) in an orphanage corresponds with a pen pal that she found through an ad in the newspaper. She falls in love with the romantic stranger named Pierre but when she arranges a meetingshe is met by an older man (Fernand Ledoux)who's plain looking and rather shy. He states he is a stand in for the real Pierre (Louis Jourdan)who is his ward. Directed by Henri Decointhis is an innocuous romantic comedy with some unsavory aspects to it. The older man played by Ledoux practically forces the young girl to come home with him against her willJourdan's character seems shallow and unworthy of the girl but even Darrieux's naive orphan comes across as a bit of a ninny. The film lacks the charm that a romcom needs to make it work and Darrieux at age 25 isn't quite believable as a young teen in an orphanage. It's no better or no worse than the many mindless youth romcoms that Hollywood has churned out for years. I did laugh out loud when a spinster announces"You'll enter over my dead body!" although I'm not sure that double entendre was intentional or my mind was in the gutter. With Daniel Gelin and Jean Tissier.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Steel Magnolias (1989)

Set in a small Louisiana parisha close knit group of Southern ladies congregate around the local beauty parlor. The story opens with the wedding of Shelby (Julia Roberts in an Oscar nominated performance) and her mother's (Sally Field) concern for her health and her future. The bride to be suffers from a serious form of diabetes which makes childbirth dangerous. Based on the play by Robert Harling (who adapted his play for the screen) and directed by Herbert Ross (THE GOODBYE GIRL). Harling opens up his play considerably which on the stage took place entirely at the beauty salon owned by Truvy (Dolly Parton) and had an all female cast. If you didn't know ityou'd never guess its theatrical roots. If it seems overly calculated and sentimental at timesthe humor and wonderful ensemble cast override any such concerns (or at least they did mine). It's warm and it's funny but also quite poignant. The delicate score is by Georges Delerue. With Shirley MacLaineDaryl HannahOlympia DukakisTom SkerrittSam Shepard and Dylan McDermott.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

I Monster (1971)

A psychiatrist (Christopher Lee) experiments with a drug that will release people and animals from their inhibitions. When he begins taking the serum himselfhe finds himself descending into pure evil. Loosely based on DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE by Robert Louis Stevenson and directed by Stephen Weeks. The characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are called Dr. Marlowe and Mr. Blake in this adaptation of the Stevenson work. Unlike most of the filmed adaptations of the novelthe film eschews any romantic or sexual interest (though he does murder a prostitute who ridicules his looks) for the title characters and concentrates on the psychological aspects (the doctor is a follower of Freud) of the story. The special effects are minimalwe never see the actual transformation of Marlowe to Blakejust the before and after. Christopher Lee is excellent and doesn't overdo the "monster" aspects of his character and keeps it real. The film has a nice look to it thanks to the art direction team and the lensing of Moray Grant (VAMPIRE LOVERS). The score is by Carl Davis (FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN). Filmed in 3D but never released in that format theatrically. With Peter Cushing and Mike Raven.

Monday, November 18, 2019

La Donna Del Giorno (aka The Doll That Took The Town) (1957)

Set in Milan, an ambitious but struggling model and actress (Virna Lisi) becomes a media sensation after she is raped. Magazine covers, beauty pageants and even a movie contract. But when three men are arrested for her rape, she becomes unsettled. Could it be because she wasn't raped at all and just made it up? Directed by Francesco Maselli, this is a disturbing film on several levels. Falsely accusing someone of rape is heinous, not only because it is morally wrong but the accusation can live on and destroy a family. But we also see that in her own way, Lisi is also a victim: of an overbearing stage mother and a cold father and fame can bring her the love denied her. The film also focuses on one of the accused men (Sergio Reggiani) and his wife's (Haya Harareet, BEN-HUR) attempts to clear his name. Unfortunately, the transfer I saw was dubbed into English and I'm sure it would have been much more effective in the original Italian. Released in the U.S. with the sleazy title of THE DOLL THAT TOOK THE TOWN. With Franco Fabrizi and Antonio Cifariello. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Coast Of Skeletons (1964)

An insurance investigator (Richard Todd) working out of London but who has experience in Africa is sent to South West Africa to oversee a project by a shady American (Dale Robertson) who is dredging for diamonds in shallow waters. Very loosely based on (or should I say inspired by) SANDERS OF THE RIVER by Edgar Wallace and directed by Robert Lynn. This pulp action-adventure movie benefits from the South African and Namibian locations shot in Techniscope by Stephen Dade (ZULU). There's not much you can say about a movie like this. It's serviceable but predictablethe kind of film you can only pay half attention to yet still follow. Its leading men (Todd and Robertson) had seen better days but still enough of a "name" for the international market. With Marianne KochHeinz DracheElga AndersenDerek Nimmo and George Leech.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) has developed a time machine that will take him back to the 1960s where he will be able to steal the "mojo" of his nemesisthe super spy Austin Powers (Mike Myers). Directed by Jay Roachthis was the second of the three Austin Powers comedies following the 1997 hitAUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (GOLDMEMBER would follow in 2002). As far as sequels gothis is a very good one that introduces two new characters to the series with different results. The firstMini-Me (Vernon Troyer) is a hilarious addition to the franchise but the secondFat Bastard (Mike Myers) isn't funny (unless you're partial to obesity and feces jokes) and the film stumbles every time he's on screen. But there are some truly hysterical scenesnotably the silhouette tent sequence with Myers and Heather Graham who replaces Elizabeth Hurley as the romantic interest after Hurley's cameo at the film's beginning. George S. Clinton's score cleverly channels John Barry and Michel Legrand among others. The large cast includes Robert WagnerRob Lowe, Michael York, Woody Harrelson, Tim Robbins, Will Ferrell, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharah, Rebecca Romijn and Mindy Sterling. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Wedding Rehearsal (aka Maryrose and Rosemary) (1932)

A perennial bachelor (Roland Young) loathes the idea of getting married and instead prefers playing the field. But his strong willed mother (Kate Cutler) wants grandchildren so she is determined to marry him off but he has other ideas. Directed by Alexander Korda (PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII)this trifle of a romantic comedy is rather sweet even if it's dated in its outlook. The elitism of the inbred British aristocracy can be a bore at times but one can't take a piffle like this and attach a political context (in this casethe class system) to it even though the film touches on it: two aristocratic twins (Wendy BarrieJoan Gardner) want to marry two commoners (Maurice EvansJohn Loder) even though it infuriates their father (George Grossmith Jr.) who is an Earl. It's kind of odd seeing a character actor like Roland Young (TOPPER) in a romantic lead but he's quite charming. The cast includes Merle Oberon in her first leading roleLady Tree and Morton Selten.    

Knives Out (2019)

The day after his 85th birthday which was attended by all members of his dysfunctional familyan internationally famous mystery writer (Christopher Plummer) is found dead. Ostensibly a suicide but there's suspicion of foul play by a famous detective (Daniel Craig) who was hired to look into the death. Directed by Rian Johnson (LOOPER)this is a humdinger of a whodunit. Johnson (who also wrote the screenplay) is obviously an Agatha Christie fanboy but he brings the Christie style into the 2000s! The actual "whodunit" is revealed fairly early on but as Craig's detective says"There's an enormous hole in the mystery ..... like a donut" And it's that "donut hole" that propels the film and our interest in it forward. Something is missing from the puzzle and that something is one hell of a rollercoaster ride. Rian Johnson even slips in a political subtext that's quite relevant in today's culture. The ensemble cast is perfection with Ana De Armas (as Plummer's nurse) giving a breakthrough performance. Fans of Agatha Christie and murder mysteries (like myself) in general are in for a terrific treat. But even if you're not, give it a try. The multiple suspects ..... I mean cast includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Katherine Langford and Jaeden Martell. Also with Lakeith Stanfield, Noah Segan, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz and K Callan. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Chapter Two (1979)

A writer (James Caan) is having a difficult time adjusting to life as a widower. A series of unsuccessful dates pushed on him by his brother (Joseph Bologna) prove fruitless. But when he meets a recent divorcee (Marsha Mason in an Oscar nominated performance)who is an actresshe finds someone he can connect with and love blooms. Based on the play by Neil Simon and directed by Robert Moore (MURDER BY DEATH). For those of you too young to rememberfrom the mid 1960s to the early 1980sNeil Simon was the most successful playwright in America. CHAPTER TWO is loosely based on Simon's second marriage to Mason and while there is the tinge of reality due to the circumstancesit also seems artificial in its execution. The characters talk in amusing one liners till things get all serious and Mason delivers a passionate monologue that would probably get applause if it was done in a theater. No surpriseMason is excellent. As an actressshe "gets" Simon (3 of her 4 Oscar nominations were for Simon roles) and his lines flow naturally. No so for a miscast James Caanwho seems uncomfortable. Caan can do comedy but not this kind of clever bouncing back and forth repartee. The treacly score is by Marvin Hamlisch. With Valerie HarperDebra Mooney and Isabel Cooley.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Hitch Hiker (1953)

Two friends (Edmond O'BrienFrank Lovejoy) on a fishing trip give a ride to a hitch-hiker (William Talman). This turns out to be a major mistake as the hitch-hiker is a homicidal and sadistic sociopath! Directed by Ida Lupinothis fact based film is based on the crime spree of one Billy Cookwho killed six people in a 22 day period in 1950. This is a tight and economical (it runs around 70 minutes) intense thriller and Lupino doesn't let up on the tension for a minute. I only wish I liked it more. Don't get me wrongI did like it but I can't put my finger on it and give an explanation but given its reputation among film noir fansI expected to really like it as opposed to just liking it well enough. O'Brien and Lovejoy are fine but it's William Talman who really sends shivers down your spine with his cold blooded "I hate everybody" attitude. The Lone Pine and Big PineCalifornia locations stand in for Mexico and Nicholas Musuraca's (OUT OF THE PAST) sharp B&W cinematography make the most of the landscapes.   

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Charley's Aunt (1941)

Set in 1890 Englandtwo students at Oxford (James EllisonRichard Haydn) blackmail their fellow student (Jack Benny) into impersonating Haydn's Aunt so that the "Aunt" can chaperone when the guys entertain two young ladies (Anne BaxterArleen Whelan).  All goes well until the real Aunt (Kay Francis) shows up! Based on the popular 1892 stage farce by Brandon Thomas (which was filmed twice before in 1915 and 1925) and directed by Archie Mayo (THE PETRIFIED FOREST). The stage play's popularity continues to this day and is revived frequently. It even served as the basis of a popular stage musical in 1948 and subsequently filmed in 1952. This film version is quite amusing for the most part but Jack Benny isn't much of a farceur (or an actor) and I couldn't help but think how Bob Hope would have killed it in the part. But the material is just about foolproof so Benny gets by. It's no TOOTSIE or SOME LIKE IT HOT but as far as cross dressing comedies goit holds its own. With Laird CregarEdmund Gwenn and Reginald Owen.    

The Haunted Strangler (1958)

A novelist and social reformer (Boris Karloff) seeks to prove that a young man executed 20 years ago for a series of brutal murders wasin factinnocent. But his deep investigation into the matter uncovers a horrific fact that he never anticipated. Directed by Robert Daythis is an effective Jekyll and Hyde-ish yarn with a solid performance by Karloffwho gets a chance to exercise his acting chops. It's not as good as CORRIDORS OF BLOODanother film Karloff made with Robert Day around the same time but it serves as a nice companion piece. There's a choice supporting turn by Jean Kent as an aging music hall starwho was a witness against the executed man. Nothing special really and I wouldn't say seek it out but if you come across ityou should find it a pleasant way to pass the time. With Elizabeth Allan (TALE OF TWO CITIES)Vera DayTim Turner and Anthony Dawson (DIAL M FOR MURDER). 

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Americanization Of Emily (1964)

In 1944 WWII Londonan American naval officer (James Garner) is a cynic who has no interest in becoming a war hero and instead spends the war providing both women and black market goods for high ranking officers. When he meets a British war widow (Julie Andrews) who is tired of heroes and losing loved ones to warthey fall in love. Loosely based on the novel by William Bradford Huie (THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER) adapted for the screen by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller (THE OUT OF TOWNERS). This dark romantic satire seems to want to have its cake and eat it too. One is never really sure of the movie's stance. It seems to be anti-war and against the glorification of heroes on one hand yet hedges its bets by having Garner (whose character is a self professed coward) deceptively accept his fake hero status rather than be honest about it. I suppose there's an irony in that but if that's the casethe film doesn't make it clear. It seems it doesn't want to offend anyone and wants to keep everyone happy. All that asideit's very well written (and I'm not a Chayefsky fan) and the performances are excellent. With James CoburnMelvyn DouglasKeenan WynnEdward BinnsJoyce GrenfellWilliam WindomJudy Carne and Alan Sues.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Orders To Kill (1958)

A young American bomber pilot (Paul Massie) is sent to Nazi occupied France to kill a man (Leslie French) who is believed to be a traitor and double agent. But when he meets his intended victimhe finds a gentle cat lovinghenpecked husband who dotes on his daughter. The pilot begins to have doubts on the guilt of his target and wavers. Directed by Anthony Asquith (THE VIPS)this is a powerful film that has me perplexed on why it isn't better known. It won three BAFTA awards (including a deserved best actress win for Irene Worth's performance) but it's a film that one doesn't hear being discussed much. It posits a difficult conundrum in respect to war. Does one obey orders even if it goes against your intuition that what you're doing is wrong? Does the fact that innocent people are killed in wars all the time matter when dealing with the individual? Does duty come before morality? The film wisely doesn't attempt to answer these questions but rather put it out there and lets us work it out for ourselves. Heaven forbid anyone should be in the position of Massie's character. A disturbing but powerful film that deserves to be seen. Paul MassieIrene Worth as his Paris contact and Leslie French as the target all give excellent performances. With Eddie AlbertLillian GishJames Robertson Justice and Lionel Jeffries. 

Unearthly Stranger (1963)

A recently married English scientist (John Neville) working on a top secret project and whose predecessor died under mysterious circumstances finds himself under suspicion by the British secret service. The reason is his new wife (Gabriella Licudi) whose behavior iswell ..... unearthly. Directed by John Krishthis minor B&W British science fiction entry is a nice little surprise. Although made in 1963it has the feel of one of those 1950s sci-fi filmsperhaps directed by Roger Corman. While its "my wife isn't human" structure may feel similar to such efforts as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACEit still manages to have a corker of a twist ending that took me by surprise. Though it's not the kind of movie where the acting matters muchthat's still no excuse for the heinous performance by Patrick Newellwho had me cringing every time he came on the screen. If you're a sci-fi buffespecially of the films of this periodthen you should definitely check it out. With Jean Marsh and Philip Stone.  

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Doctor Sleep (2019)

After a traumatic winter at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado where his father (Henry Thomas) attempted to kill his mother (Alex Essoe) and hima young boy (Roger Dale Floyd) relocates to Florida with his mother. But in the ensuing yearshe (now morphed into Ewan McGregor) has grown up to become an alcoholic and drifter. But after going soberhe begins to receive telepathic messages from a young girl (Kyliegh Curran) whose "shine" is even more potent than his. Based on the novel by Stephen Kingwhich is a sequel to his 1977 novel THE SHININGand directed by Mike Flanagan. The film thins out some of the complexities of the King novel and instead borrows a lot from the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film. For most of its running timethe movie is an intense and very dark horror film that pushes the envelope (a child's murder is disturbingly graphic). But when McGregor returns to the Overlook Hotel to confront his pastthe movie comes to a crashing halt from which it never quite recovers. I wish Flanagan had stuck to King's novel more and forgot the SHINING connection (mostly visuals) but I suppose that would be too much to ask. Rebecca Ferguson (who appears to be channeling Diane Keaton) makes for a splendid villainessthe leader of a cult that literally feeds off children with "shining" abilities. Not as good as it should have been but still a near first rate piece of horror. With Jacob TremblayCliff CurtisCarl LumblyEmily Alyn LindBruce Greenwood and Zahn McClarnon.  

Friday, November 8, 2019

Marie Antoinette (2006)

In 1770a young Austrian girl (Kirsten Dunst) is sent to France to become the wife of the Dauphin of France (Jason Schwartzman)who will eventually become King Louis XVI. Based on MARIE ANTOINETTE: THE JOURNEY by Antonia Fraser and directed by Sofia Coppola (LOST IN TRANSLATION). Visuallythe film is a triumph! The sumptuous look is courtesy of K.K. Barrett's and Veronica Melery's stunning production design and Milena Canonero's Oscar winning costume design. Though based on Fraser's non fiction bookCoppola doesn't strive for historical accuracy (not to mention its anachronistic pop/rock score). Coppola is extremely sympathetic to the French Queeneverything is seen through her eyes and it isn't until the film's last half hour that the revolution is rushed through. Dunst's Marie Antoinette is portrayed as a naive girlbored and eventually seduced by the decadent French court. I admired it very much as an exercise in style but the movie runs out of steam toward the end. With Judy DavisRip TornMolly ShannonSteve CooganRose ByrneMarianne FaithfullJamie DornanTom HardyMathieu AlmalricDanny Huston and Asia Argento. 

Jenny (1936)

After a romance breaks upa young French girl (Lisette Lanvin) living in London returns home to Paris to her mother (Francoise Rosay). What she doesn't know is that her mother runs a dubious "nightclub" which traffics in young girls for rich older men. The mother herself has a penniless young lover (Albert Prejean) that she supplies with money and gifts. Directed by Marcel Carne (CHILDREN OF PARADISE)this was his feature film directorial debut but it doesn't exhibit much of the poetic realism that he became known for in films like PORT OF SHADOWS. It's a melodrama that is a precursor to films like MILDRED PIERCE and THE GRADUATE where mother and daughter share the same lover. While most of the characters are unlikablethe cast is excellent down to the smallest roles. But it is Rosay's film all the way. One can't help but empathize with her older woman in love being used by a younger man and she knows it but she doesn't care. It's not lust but loneliness that keeps her hanging on to this patch of desperation. Rosay isn't mentioned much when talking about the great French actresses but she should be. With Charles VanelJean Louis BarraultSylvia BatailleMargo Lion and Roland Toutain.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

O Pioneers! (1992)

In turn of the century Nebraskaa father (Cork Ramer) leaves his farm and its land to his daughter (Heather Grahamwho later morphs into Jessica Lange) over his two sons (Graham BeckelAdam Nelson) because she loves the land as much as he does. Based on the novel by Willa Cather and directed by Glenn Jordan (ONLY WHEN I LAUGH). The film follows the Cather novel closely which should please the book's fans. I'm not so sure about its execution. The movie could have used some vitalitya sense of a love of the land. Jessica Lange is one of the best actresses of her generation but this is one of her weaker performances. Her acting is seems self conscious and I could never quite accept her as a pioneer farm woman which is odd because she was fantastic in COUNTRY (1984) as a farm wife. It's not badin factit's quite a respectable effort which I understand is weak praise. With Anne Heche (giving the film's best performance)David StrathairnLeigh LawsonTom AldredgeReed Diamond and Josh Hamilton.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Grissom Gang (1971)

Set in 1931 Missouria wealthy heiress (Kim Darby) is kidnapped by three men (Michael BaseleonMatt ClarkMort Marshall). They are ambushed by a rival gang who take the girl with them. The gangheaded by a tough old lady (Irene Dailey)ask for a million dollar ransom. Based on the controversial novel NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH by James Hadley Chase which was previously filmed in 1948 in Great Britain and directed by Robert Aldrich (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?). This is an unpleasant and sordid film as I assume the original source material is. When it openedthe critics used words like luridoffensiveimmoral and lascivious to describe it. Noit's not all that but even nowit's a difficult watch. The film is an early example of the Stockholm syndrome (the term wasn't coined until 1973) wherein the victim develops an emotional and/or psychological connection with their captors. Aldrich and his ace cinematographer Joseph Biroc give the film an authentic 1930s sheen. The acting is often too broad and uneven but Scott Wilson as a hillbilly sociopath and Kim Darby (who dislikes the film) manage to eventually create two dimensional characters. With Connie StevensRobert LansingTony MusanteIrene DaileyWesley Addy and Ralph Waite.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Old Acquaintance (1943)

In 1924a successful novelist (Bette Davis) returns to her hometown and reunites with her best friend (Miriam Hopkins)who is married and expecting a baby. She is surprised when her friend announces that she has just written a romance novel and asks that she show it to her publisher which the writer does. As the years passthe women remain the best of friends as the housewife becomes a best selling novelist of pulp romances as opposed to the artistically acclaimed novels and plays of her friend and they see each other through romancesdivorces and a rivalry that tests the bounds of true friendship. Based on the play by John Van Druten (I REMEMBER MAMA) and directed by Vincent Sherman. This soap opera may not be Art but it's grandly entertaining and smart. As in THE GREAT LIE where Davis let Mary Astor take the acting honorshere she lets Hopkins steal wholes scenes as the bitchy and melodramatic diva while she acts with restraint. Their contrasting characters (and acting styles) pay off when Davis gets to throttle Hopkins and you want to cheer! Poorly remade in 1981 as RICH AND FAMOUS with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen stepping into the Davis and Hopkins roles. With Gig YoungJohn LoderAnne RevereDolores Moran and Phillip Reed.  

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Big Cube (1969)

A famous stage actress (Lana Turner) retires to marry a wealthy man (Dan O'Herlihy) who has a daughter (Karin Mossberg) who resents her terribly. When her husband dies in an accident shortly after their honeymoonthe daughter and her lover (George Chakiris) concoct a plot to drive her insane or possibly even kill her. Directed by Tito Davisonthis is a very silly exploitation movie. Two years earlierRoger Corman's THE TRIP had successfully mined the counterculture and the use of LSD in a serious film. This is one is dreadful but enjoyable in the way bad movies can frequently be. The screenplay is ludicrous and the acting terrible (especially Mossberg). The film's creative highpoints are the hallucination scenes which show some imagination. But it's no fun to see some of the actors humiliate themselves. I felt bad for George Chakiris crawling on all fours and talking to an ant. Has an Oscar winner ever sunk lower? Quite probably but I can't think of one off the top of my head. For Lana Turner fans and connoisseurs of crappy movies only. With Richard Egan and Pamela Rodgers.    

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Man Who Laughs (1928)

A child (Julius Molnar)whose face has been mutilated into a perpetual grinrescues a baby girl in a snowstorm after her mother has frozen to death. As he grows into a man (Conrad Veidt)he works in a traveling carnival side show as a clown (due to his perpetual grin) along with the blind girl (Mary Philbin) he rescued as a baby. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo and directed by Paul Leni (THE CAT AND THE CANARY). The film deviates from Hugo's novel with its happy ending but it shares a thematic structure with Hugo's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. Both novels and films dealing with malformed men who are ridiculed for their abnormal features and who just wanted to be treated like "normal" men and allowed to love. Veidt's performance is quite moving and he is able to move beyond the physical limitations of his make up (which reputedly influenced the look of the Joker in the Batman comics) which would seem difficult for a lesser actor. The film's original reviews weren't that great but the film's reputation has grown considerably in the ensuing years. I wish the film had stayed truer to Hugo's novel as the movie's swashbuckler finale didn't work for me. With Olga Baclanova (FREAKS)Brandon HurstCesare Gravina and Stuart Holmes.

The Lighthouse (2019)

Set in 19th century New Englandan old sea dog (Willem Dafoe) and his young apprentice (Robert Pattinson) arrive by boat on a remote island where they will live for the next four weeks while taking care of the island's lighthouse. But a major storm prevents a boat from picking them up after the four weeks and the men find themselves on the brink of losing their sanity. Directed by Robert Eggers (THE WITCH)it takes a bit of patience before you get pulled in by the movie but when you're pulledyou stay with it till the end. I'm not sure the film is about anything really but as an exercise in cinematic style and two first rate actors at the top of their gameit's a winner. Shot in B&W 35 millimeter film in the old Academy ratio of 1.37 by Jarin Blaschkethe film's look is very much a part of its appeal. Make no mistake about itafter this and THE WITCHEggers is a film maker to get excited about. The score by Mark Korven helps in creating a dark universe. I suspect the film isn't for everyone (certainly not for the staid Masterpiece Theater crowd) but if you're adventurousyou should find much to get excited about.   

Friday, November 1, 2019

Once Upon A Mattress (2005)

Set in a medieval kingdom in the 15th centurya devious Queen (Carol Burnett) conducts impossible to pass tests to young Princesses who hope to marry her son the Prince (Denis O'Hare). Unnaturally attached to her sonshe doesn't want him to marry hence the unfair tests. Based on the hit 1959 Broadway musical with music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Marshall Barer (which in turn is based on the fairy taleTHE PRINCESS AND THE PEA) and directed by Tony award winning choreographer Kathleen Marshall. In the original stage productionCarol Burnett played Princess Winifred (now played by Tracey Ullman) and in this version takes on the role of the Queen. This is a winning and appealing production of a delightful musical. While many of the original stage production's songs (and characters) have been eliminatedwhat remains is a solid diversion. Ullman makes for a quirky but endearing Princess while Burnett seems to be having a ball playing the wicked Queen. The songs are hummable and the dance numbers lively. With Zooey DeschanelTom SmothersMatthew Morrison and Michael Boatman.