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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)

Continuing the path of revenge she began after emerging from a four year coma, a woman (Uma Thurman) known as The Bride has three more people on her list: a one eyed assassin (Daryl Hannah), a burnt out assassin (Michael Madsen) now working as a bouncer in a strip club and the leader of the assassin group called Bill (David Carradine). Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, this isn't a sequel but the conclusion to KILL BILL VOL. 1 from the year before. Originally intended as one film, its over four hour running time necessitated splitting it into two parts. Alas, the second half is weaker than the first volume. There's more dead space which there wasn't in the first one. Perhaps the biggest problem is that we finally get to meet Bill here and David Carradine is a disappointment. He's not a strong enough presence or charismatic enough to make us believe that he could install such fear and/or loyalty. Warren Beatty was first announced for the part and what a coup that would have been since he has both a strong screen presence and the necessary charisma. Still, it's good enough and there's a spectacular fight between Thurman and Hannah that's thrilling. As usual, Tarantino's choice of music is impeccable. With Michael Parks, Gordon Liu, Bo Svenson and Samuel L. Jackson.  

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Curse Of The Undead (1959)

Set in the Old West, young girls are dying of a mysterious disease in a small town. Is it only coincidence that the appearance of a black clad gunfighter (Michael Pate) coincides with these deaths? Co-written and directed by Edward Dein (THE LEECH WOMAN), this unusual combination of horror movie and a western is enough to hold one's interest through much of its running time. Handsomely shot in atmospheric B&W by Ellis W. Carter (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN), I found the film's vampire gunfighter a rather sympathetic figure and more engaging than his nemesis, the town's sanctimonious preacher (Eric Fleming). The tone of the film is somber and the actors play it straight so it never veers toward "camp" although reputedly it was originally going to be a satire. Still, it never lives up to its potential and remains a "what might have been" endeavor. The cheesy underscore by Irving Gertz does the film no service. With Kathleen Crowley, Edward Binns, Helen Kleeb and Bruce Gordon. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

As war clouds hover over Europe, an American newspaper journalist (Joel McCrea) witnesses the assassination of a Dutch diplomat (Albert Basserman). Suddenly he finds himself thrust into a nest of spies, traitors and a conspiracy plot as he keeps dodging their attempts to kill him. Loosely based on the war memoir PERSONAL HISTORY by Vincent Sheean and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This was his follow up to his Oscar winning REBECCA. Europe was already at war while the U.S. was still isolationist though it seemed inevitable that we would eventually be at war too. This was clearly a propaganda effort to encourage Americans to get their heads out of the sand. Reputedly, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called it a masterpiece of propaganda. But if you're going to make a war propaganda movie, this is the way to do it. It's a terrific entertainment and so gripping that you barely notice or mind that you're being preached to. The film has many thrilling moments but Hitchcock's set piece is a spectacular air crash into the sea that still packs a punch some 80 years later! With Laraine Day, George Sanders, Herbert Marshall, Edmund Gwenn, Robert Benchley (who had a hand in the script), Eduardo Ciannelli, Harry Davenport and Eily Malyon.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Journey Into Fear (1975)

An American geologist (Sam Waterston) working in Turkey discovers a major oil deposit in the mountains. But after several attempts are made on his life, it becomes clear someone wants this information withheld. On a dilapidated boat sailing from Turkey to Italy, the geologist's fellow passengers are a suspicious lot and he suspects one of them is an assassin. But which one? Based on the novel by Eric Ambler (previously made into a 1943 film) and directed by Daniel Mann (THE ROSE TATTOO). An incoherent international thriller that benefits from its attractive Turkish and Greek locations although the interiors were filmed in Canada. The 1943 version which had a script by Orson Welles, who played the Colonel Haki role (played here by Joseph Wiseman), was pretty much a mess too although that may have been due to studio interference. For the longest time, we're kept in the dark about why Waterston's character is being chased but by the time we find out, we don't much care anymore. Even the normally reliable Alex North can only give us a generic action score way below his standards. The large cast includes Shelley Winters (wasted), Vincent Price (who has a spectacular death), Zero Mostel (overacting shamelessly), Yvette Mimieux, Donald Pleasence, Ian McShane, Stanley Holloway and Jackie Cooper, who is credited but his part seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor.

Bara No Soretsu (aka Funeral Parade Of Roses) (1969)

A transgender "hostess" (Peter) at a gay nightclub is romantically involved with the club's owner (Yoshio Tsuchiya) which infuriates the club's manager (Osamu Ogasawara), a drag queen who is also romantically involved with the club owner. Very loosely adapted from Sophocles' OEDIPUS REX and directed by Toshio Matsumoto. An example of the Japanese New Wave but very much a unique look at the underground gay culture of 1960s Tokyo. I couldn't help but be reminded of the films of Jean Luc Godard as I watched. Matsumoto never lets us forget that we are watching a movie as he interrupts the film's narrative with documentary interviews with gay men, transgender persons and drag queens as well as newsreel footage, artificially speeding up the action and showing the camera filming the movie we are viewing. It's experimental film making and if you're the type that prefers a straight narrative, it may well drive you batty. The film is a product of its era. While it's daring and innovative, the gay lifestyle as shown in the film is pretty depressing. They're all miserable and the ending is a total downer. Peter (aka Shinnosuke Ikehata) is best known to western audiences for playing the fool in Kurosawa's RAN. A must see for anyone remotely interested in gay cinema.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Minari (2020)

Set in the 1980s, a Korean immigrant (Steven Yuen) and his wife (Han Ye-Ri) relocate from California to Arkansas with their two children (Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho) to better their lives. He has purchased some land where he plans to farm. Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, this semi autobiographical tale shows the power of simplicity. With the exception of a fire toward the end, the film doesn't have any major melodramatics. It simply unfolds in a frugal manner while it lets the distinct dynamics of its characters take center stage. The ensemble acting is flawless with Youn Yuh-Jung's performance as the grandmother a particular standout. The Asian American experience in cinema has been erratic (at least in mainstream cinema) over the last several decades but this film is a testament to the talent (the film editor, costume designer, production designer are also Asian) that's out there. While the film is a chronicle of the Asian American experience as it pertains to one family, the family fluctuation is universal. With Will Patton and Esther Oh.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Down Argentine Way (1940)

An American heiress (Betty Grable) and a South American playboy (Don Ameche) find their romance threatened by an old family feud. Thing aren't helped by their going behind his father's (Henry Stephenson) back and racing the father's prize jumping horse. Directed by Irving Cummings (THE DOLLY SISTERS), this featherweight vivid Technicolor musical was Betty Grable's first starring role and the beginning of her reign as the biggest female star of the 1940s placing ten times in the top box office polls (a feat later equaled by Doris Day, Barbra Streisand and Julia Roberts but not surpassed). South American music was all the rage in the 1940s and the film's "exotic" locale (although entirely filmed in Hollywood) and Carmen Miranda in her American film debut made this one of the year's most popular films. As to the film itself, it's moderately entertaining and passes uneventfully. Fox's musicals (with the possible exception of STATE FAIR) never equaled the prestigious output of MGM. With Charlotte Greenwood, J. Carrol Naish, Leonid Kinskey and the fabulous Nicholas Brothers inserted into the film (so their numbers could be cut out in the South).

Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle (1994)

In 1937 Hollywood, the writer Dorothy Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) reflects back on the 1920s and the illustrious group of writers, critics and actors that gathered at the Algonquin Hotel. Co-written and directed by Alan Rudolph (CHOOSE ME), the film was a labor of love for most everyone involved. The producer Robert Altman put his own money into the film, actors worked for less than their usual salaries and the result is a captivating look at the jazz age in 1920s New York. While it's nominally an ensemble film, it's dominated by Jennifer Jason Leigh's committed performance as Parker right down to her speaking voice. Unfortunately, that commitment makes some of her dialogue difficult to understand but it's a small price to pay for such an exquisite performance. Still, it's often hard to have much empathy for this group of talented and creative intellectuals who are often self destructive. I found myself in sympathy with Robert Benchley's (Campbell Scott) wife (Jennifer Beals) who finds herself an outsider in such prestigious company and Parker's first husband (Andrew McCarthy) whose loathing of Parker's friends is one of many reasons the marriage fizzles. The massive cast of actors playing famous faces includes Matthew Broderick, Peter Gallagher, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lili Taylor, Keith Carradine, Wallace Shawn, James LeGros, Heather Graham, Sam Robards, Martha Plimpton, Chip Zien and Jane Adams.   

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Fighting Caravans (1931)

A hot blooded cowboy (Gary Cooper) escapes jail time by pretending to be married to a French girl (Lili Damita). When he accompanies her on the trek to California, his grizzly companions (Ernest Torrence, Tully Marshall) do everything in their power to break up the attraction. Loosely based on the novel by Zane Grey and directed by Otto Brower and David Burton. Having just come off Josef von Sternberg's MOROCCO with Marlene Dietrich, this dreary Zane Grey programmer seems a step down for Cooper. It's awkward blend of comedy and action doesn't come together. The two cantankerous sidekicks played by Torrence and Marshall are supposed to be amusing (I assume) but I found them annoying to the extreme. The most interesting aspect is the possible gay subtext of the two woman hating sidekicks, they are seen walking arm and arm and die in each other's arms. Since this is a pre-code film, there's a madam and her girls traveling on the wagon train and a relaxed look at living together without benefit of marriage. Cooper and Damita don't have much chemistry and surprisingly, Cooper isn't even appealing here. With Eugene Pallette, Jane Darwell and Charles Winninger.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

L'etrusco Uccide Ancora (aka The Dead Are Alive) (1972)

Set in Italy, an archaeologist and recovering alcoholic (Alex Cord) discovers an ancient Etruscan tomb that appear to be dedicated to an Etruscan death god. When a series of brutal murders occur shortly thereafter, could it be the return of the death god? Or a serial killer copycat? Since the murderer puts red high heels on his female victims after he kills them, I'd guess the latter. Based on the novel by Bryan Edgar Wallace and directed by Armando Crispino. This Italian-German production uses three English speaking actors in the lead roles (in addition to Cord, there's Samantha Eggar and John Marley) with Italian and German actors filling out the rest of the cast. As a giallo, it lacks atmosphere and tension and most importantly, style. The cheesy underscore by Riz Ortolani is a liability and one wonders what Ennio Morricone might have done with it. The handsome Italian countryside locations (Spoleto, Umbria and Perugia) are a bonus. The identity of the killer did take me by surprise, I'll give it that. With Enzo Tarascio, Carlo De Mejo, Horst Frank and Nadja Tiller.

Call Of The Wild (1935)

Set in 1900 Alaska, a gold prospector (Clark Gable) joins forces with a friend (Jack Oakie) recently released from prison to follow a map to a gold mine. They take with them a vicious St. Bernard, who bonds with the prospector. On their way to the mine, they come across a married woman (Loretta Young) stranded in the snow. Loosely based on the novel by Jack London and directed by William A. Wellman (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY). London's novel focuses on Buck, the St. Bernard and his adventures but the film version uses only one of the story's thread and instead focuses on Gable's character and adds a woman (Young) for romantic interest that is not in London's original novel. What we're left with isn't quite Jack London but it's a solid entertainment nonetheless. The screenplay doesn't give us a traditional happy ending but Wellman keeps it gritty throughout. As Buck, the St. Bernard gives a marvelous performance, totally believable while either snarling, showing affection or expressing conflict. With Reginald Owen (suitably slimy) and Sidney Toler.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Underneath (1995)

A gambling addict and drifter (Peter Gallagher) returns home for his widowed mother's (Anjanette Comer) second marriage. He seeks out the ex-wife (Alison Elliott) he abandoned but she's a changed woman and involved with a very dangerous man (William Fichtner). Based on the novel CRISS CROSS (previously made into a film in 1949) and directed by Steven Soderbergh (SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE). The 1949 film is considered a classic of film noir so it took a bit of courage for Soderbergh to undertake a remake. In this case, it's an excellent example of how to remake a film without just redoing the original. Told in a non linear fashion, it jumps in time adding a layer of mystery to the narrative. The only problem is that the main protagonists are rather nasty people with only Comer and Paul Dooley as Gallagher's mother and stepfather to provide any sort of recognizable decency. So you can't quite care what happens to them and you become a distanced observer to the proceedings rather than investing in their fate. With Shelley Duvall, Elisabeth Shue, Joe Don Baker and Adam Trese. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Wings Of The Hawk (1953)

Set in 1911 Mexico during the revolution, an Irish miner (Van Heflin) has his gold mine confiscated by a corrupt official (George Dolenz). With a price on his head, the miner is rescued by a group of Mexican guerrillas led by a woman (Julie Adams). Directed by Budd Boetticher (THE TALL T), the movie was originally shown in 3D which may be the only notable thing about it. Although set in Mexico, the movie was filmed on the Universal backlot with Simi Valley used to simulate the Mexican landscape. It's watchable but does it justify the expenditure of your time? Unless you're a Budd Boetticher completist (this seems a paycheck film) or a film geek who tries to see (almost) everything then probably not. With Abbe Lane, Rodolfo Acosta, Antonio Moreno, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (sic) and Noah Beery Jr. 

Black Water Gold (1970)

Set in the Bahamas; a marine archaeologist (Keir Dullea), a historian (Ricardo Montalban) and a scuba bum (Aron Kincaid) race to reach a sunken treasure from a Spanish galleon before a well armed dilettante (Bradford Dillman) and his gang reaches there first. Directed by Alan Landsburg, this often incoherent sea adventure is pedestrian (and I'm being kind) in all respects. Granted, the transfer I watched was poor but even if it was a pristine print, it would have looked better but it would still be a mediocre movie. I'm usually a pushover for these sunken Spanish galleon treasure hunts (like THE DEEP) but this one is too tired to drum up much enthusiasm. With France Nuyen, Lana Wood, Jacques Aubuchon and Paul Hampton.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

La Fete A Henriettte (aka Holiday For Henrietta) (1952)

After their latest script fails to get the greenlight, two scriptwriters (Louis Seigner, Henri Cremieux) start from scratch to write a new screenplay. Over several days, they bicker over what direction the film's plot will take as they make it up as they go along. Written and directed by Julien Duvivier, this frothy confection is an absolute delight! What movie lover hasn't wanted to rewrite a film to his satisfaction while watching a movie? In this airy treat for film buffs, as the film moves forward, characters go from bad to good, people are killed off and then brought back to life, lovers are separated then reunited, changes happen so fast that our heads whirl! Everyone has an opinion where the plot should go as the narrative moves back and forth between the battling screenwriters and the story being told and retold. The cast must have loved how they get to play all sorts of riffs on their character. Remade (badly) as PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES in 1964. The expert players include Dany Robin, Hildegard Knef, Michel Auclair, Micheline Francey and Michel Roux.

The Kiss Before The Mirror (1933)

When a husband (Paul Lukas) kills his adulterous wife (Gloria Stuart), his friend and lawyer (Frank Morgan) takes on the case. As he plans the defense, he suspects his own wife (Nancy Carroll) has a lover and wonders if his defense works for his client, could it work for him if he murders his own wife. Based on the play by Ladislas Fodor and directed by James Whale (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). The provocative premise may sound intriguing but boy, does this hoary pre-code melodrama creak! The acting is stiff, the dialogue is trite and there's an unpleasant undercurrent of misogynism running through the film. The whole argument that a man is justified because of the "unwritten law" in killing his wife is pure crap! The wives are played as glamorous and seductive sirens deceiving their hard working ordinary husbands. The husbands are such a dull lot that one can't blame the wives for looking elsewhere. With Walter Pidgeon, Jean Dixon and Donald Cook.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Sound Of Metal (2020)

A recovering drug addict and drummer (Riz Ahmed) in a heavy metal punk band begins to lose his hearing. A doctor tells him to avoid loud noise but he continues to perform in the rock band. Eventually, he must confront the fact that the damage is permanent and reluctantly seeks help at a shelter that specializes in recovering addicts that are deaf. Directed by Darius Marder, this is an often uncomfortable movie to sit through but that's a compliment to its power, not a complaint. The film can be tedious at times because of the exactness of Marder's detailing but it's never a bore. The amazing sound design takes us directly into the head of Ahmed's character as he deals with the rapid changes in his life. The film can be melodramatic at times but Ahmed's awesome performance keeps us glued to his situation. Marder and Ahmed keep it real so don't expect to feel warm and inspired when it's finished. After seeing this film, you'll never take your hearing for granted again. With Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Amalric and Lauren Ridloff.    

Dark Intruder (1965)

Set in 1890 San Francisco, a playboy sleuth and occult expert (Leslie Nielsen) helps the police investigate a series of ritual killings. All of the victims knew each other and had something in common. Directed by Harvey Hart (FORTUNE AND MEN'S EYES), this was originally a television pilot that wasn't picked up. Deemed too violent for TV audiences, Universal released it theatrically on the bottom half of a double bill with I SAW WHAT YOU DID. Clearly a homage to Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes with its period setting and Nielsen's detective even dresses in disguises. A dwarf servant (Charles Bolender) serves as the equivalent of Dr. Watson. As for the production itself, many have fond memories of it from late night TV showings in the 1970s. The film can't hide its TV origins, it looks like a TV show filmed on the Universal backlot but it's no worse than many of the B horror programmers released in the 1940s like the Inner Sanctum or Wild Woman movies. The score is by Lalo Schifrin. With Judi Meredith, Peter Mark Richman, Werner Klemperer and Vaughn Taylor. 

Le Doulos (1962)

Just out of prison after serving a six year sentence, a man (Serge Reggiani) is already planning the heist of a wealthy private home. But things go wrong when the police show up and the ex-convict is wounded and his partner (Philippe Nahon) is killed. He vows to get his revenge on the only other person who knew the time and place of the robbery, a police informant (Jean Paul Belmondo). Based on the novel by Pierre Lesou and directed by Jean Pierre Melville (LE SAMOURAI). Once again Melville explores one of his favorite subjects, the criminal underworld. It's a complicated tale of revenge, deceit, friendship and betrayal that isn't quite what it seems as Melville keeps his ace hidden till its nihilistic conclusion. It may not have the underworld glamour of LE SAMOURAI but Melville's economic style and precise method along with Nicolas Hayer's rich B&W cinematography and Paul Misraki's excellent underscore keeps the film's narrative tight and its audience transfixed. With Michel Piccoli, Jean Desailly, Rene Lefevre, Fabienne Dali and Monique Hennessy.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The Shakedown (1929)

A boxer (James Murray) is part of a traveling scam to small towns that sets up boxing matches with rigged fights. When he gets to a new town, things change for him when he falls in love with a waitress (Barbara Kent) and an orphan (Jack Hanlon) looks up to him. Directed by William Wyler, this family friendly boxing movie is no ROCKY and the last silent film (though a partial sound version was released simultaneously) directed by Wyler. The film is helped by the appealing James Murray (who died 6 years later at age 35) in the central role. But there's nothing particularly special about the film and certainly no indication that a soon to be major director was at the helm. I'm not partial to "adorable" cinematic ragamuffins and young Jack Hanlon's orphan is a bit too precious. It's the sort of movie usually described as "heartwarming" but my heart remained chilled. I didn't dislike it, far from it but I never got into it. With George Kotsonaros and Wheeler Oakman, who makes funny faces.     

The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958)

A girl (Carolyn Kearney) with psychic powers discovers a 400 year old chest on the ranch of her Aunt (Peggy Converse). The chest contains the decapitated head (Robin Hughes) of an evil Satanic acolyte who proceeds to take control those who dare look into his eyes. Directed by Will Cowan, this Universal horror potboiler is silly but it's the kind of preposterous silly that's humorous rather than annoying. It's the kind of movie where after something horrific happens, someone says "I think we need a good night's sleep" (it happens twice in this movie) as if anyone could sleep after what just happened! It was amusing seeing the the film's good girls, Kearney and Andra Martin, turn into wicked vamps after starring into the eyes of the headless sorcerer. The cinematographer of this B horror is the marvelous Russell Metty (TOUCH OF EVIL, WRITTEN ON THE WIND) which shows how Universal shoved their contractees into anything regardless of talent. If my ears serve me right, the recycled score is from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. With William Reynolds, Jeffrey Stone and James Anderson. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Apostle (1997)

A traveling evangelist (Robert Duvall in an Oscar nominated performance) in the South has a very un-Christian side and in a fit of drunken temper, he attacks his wife's (Farrah Fawcett) lover (Todd Allen) with a baseball bat and goes on the run. The lover dies from his injuries but the preacher attempts to redeem himself by building a church in a Louisiana parish. Written and directed by Robert Duvall, the film gets high marks for its portrayal of a complex religious man struggling to follow the Lord's path while his human nature undermines him. However, the film is overlong and sometimes it feels like we're stuck in a holy roller Pentecostal meeting with no exit in sight. A little goes a long way and a good editor could have excised some of the fat like the Billy Bob Thornton sequence which could easily have been eliminated without hurting the picture at all. On the plus side, Duvall doesn't condescend to the film's believers nor to the evangelist's genuine fervor. He's no Elmer Gantry con man, he's the real thing. With Miranda Richardson, June Carter Cash and Walton Goggins. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Black Castle (1952)

A former British soldier (Richard Greene) suspects that two of his friends were murdered by a sinister Austrian Count (Stephen McNally). Using a false identity, he ingratiates himself into the Count's circle to investigate. What he didn't count on was falling in love with the Count's beautiful young wife (Rita Corday). Directed by Nathan Juran (7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD), this piece of Gothic horror has all the trappings of a juicy Universal horror movie: a secluded castle, a dungeon, creepy servants, a wicked one eyed villain, a pit of snapping alligators, a damsel in distress, a sadistic doctor etc. So why isn't it more fun? Maybe if Boris Karloff had played the evil Count instead of the doctor (a supporting role), it might have played better. As the Count, Stephen McNally just doesn't have the requisite gravitas or elegance, he plays it like a gangster. It's an okay programmer but never rises above pedestrian fare. With Lon Chaney, Michael Pate, John Hoyt and Henry Corden.   

Music In My Heart (1940)

An actor and singer (Tony Martin) about to be deported and a girl (Rita Hayworth) on the way to her wedding are both rushing to catch the same ship when their taxis collide into each other and they miss the ship. But they fall in love. Directed by Joseph Santley, this featherweight musical comedy is barely there. The songs are unmemorable although one of them, It's A Blue World, received an Oscar nomination for best song. Rita Hayworth had scored the year before as the sexy minx in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS but rather than picking up on that,  Columbia casts her in an ingenue role that does nothing for her and that any actress could have played. If Tony Martin's singing thrills you then you might have a tolerance for it, otherwise it's a slog. There's some comedy relief provided by Alan Mowbray and Eric Blore as Hayworth's jilted fiance and his manservant. With George Tobias and Edith Fellows. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Contraband Spain (1955)

After his brother (Philip Saville) is murdered on the border of Spain and France, a U.S. Treasury agent (Richard Greene) goes to Spain to not only find out who killed his brother but to expose the counterfeit and smuggling ring his brother was involved with. Written and directed by Lawrence Huntington, this dull example of international intrigue is pretty flat. Shot in Eastman color, the Spanish locations (Barcelona) are attractive but it's little compensation for the tedium. Anouk Aimee as the romantic interest is relegated to eye candy but she'd have to wait until the 1960s and Fellini and Jacques Demy to rescue her from drivel such as this. Christopher Lee does the narration. With Michael Denison and Jose Nieto.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The War Of The Roses (1989)

A student (Michael Douglas) at Harvard Law School meets a young woman (Kathleen Turner) on a rainy day in Nantucket and they fall in love and get married. But after 18 years of marriage and two children, their relationship has literally turned deadly and even a divorce can't stop the hate. Based on the novel by Warren Adler and directed by Danny DeVito (who plays a family friend in the film). This (very) black comedy examines how love can turn to hate and when revenge becomes so important that one crosses the line into derangement. It's amusing at first but it quickly turns ugly and you can't laugh anymore. These people are insane! But one can't help but admire the film's tenacity in going full throttle, angry and remorseless, to its decidedly grim finale rather than a happier resolution that might have been more palatable to audiences. With Sean Astin, Marianne Sagebrecht, Peter Donat and G.D. Spradlin.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)

Set in 1927 Chicago, the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is there to record four songs for her record label. But an ambitious trumpet player (Chadwick Boseman looking uncomfortably thin) throws a monkey wrench into the recording session by insisting on playing his trumpet his way. Based on the play by August Wilson and directed by George C. Wolfe. Wilson's uncompromising play is brought to the screen intact with two fierce lead performances and an excellent supporting cast. Artists have always had to fight for their right to keep their Art pure but for artists of color, it was doubly difficult as they were often exploited by the white bosses. The contrast between Davis's Ma Rainey and Boseman's trumpet player in dealing with this is quite different. The trumpet player plays the game in the hopes that the white owner of the record label will let him form a band and record his music while Ma Rainey knows that her talent gives her the upper hand. She'll do it her way and she knows they'll let her because they need her. A horripilating piece of film rippling with tension. With Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Jeremy Shamos, Taylour Paige and Jonny Coyne.

Counsellor At Law (1933)

A high powered attorney (John Barrymore), who has risen from his working class Jewish background, finds himself in a crisis that could possibly ruin both his career and marriage. Based on the play by Elmer Rice and directed by William Wyler. As a stage actor, John Barrymore was a legend but very few of his film roles reflected that talent. This film is one of the few where one can see why he was considered one of the greatest actors of his generation. William Wyler's ability to draw strong performances from his actors (more actors have won Oscars under his direction than any other director) is noted and his hand is evident here. Barrymore was already a raging alcoholic at this stage of his career but you'd never know it from his performance. Although based on a stage play and the entire film is set in a law office, Wyler's driving pace keeps the movie from feeling like a filmed play. The only sour note is Bebe Daniels as Barrymore's clinging in love with her boss secretary. Not her fault, it's the part as written. Two future directors give brief but impressive performances: Vincent Sherman (MR. SKEFFINGTON) as a communist radical and Richard Quine (BELL BOOK AND CANDLE) as Barrymore's spoiled stepson. With Melvyn Douglas, Doris Kenyon, Isabel Jewell, Thelma Todd, John Qualen and Mayo Methot (Humphrey Bogart's third wife).

Friday, March 12, 2021

Il Grido (1957)

A mechanic (Steve Cochran) at a sugar refinery has lived with a married woman (Alida Valli), whose husband has been working in Australia, for seven years and they have a daughter (Mirna Girardi). When the news reaches her that her husband has died, she tells the mechanic she is in love with a younger man. Eventually, he leaves her and takes their daughter with him as he aimlessly drifts through the Po Valley countryside. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, this film serves as a transition film between his depictions of bourgeois romantic entanglements like STORY OF A LOVE AFFAIR (1950) and LE AMICHE (1955) and the alienation and emotional dearth of the upper class bourgeoisie in L'AVVENTURA (1960) and LA NOTTE (1962). Here, his focus is on the poverty stricken working class and Cochran's mechanic who finds himself adrift in a foreboding landscape (Gianni De Venanzo's B&W cinematography is stunning) as bleak as his psyche. Dubbed into Italian, Cochran is excellent here. Hollywood never gave him a role as good as this. A somber film that you won't soon shake off. Giovanni Fusco did the gentle score. With Betsy Blair (also dubbed into Italian), Dorian Gray and Lynn Shaw.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Shadow Of The Cat (1961)

A pet cat (Bunkie) witnesses the murder of her mistress (Catherine Lacey) by her husband (Andre Morell) and two servants (Freda Jackson, Andrew Crawford). The cat bides its time to exact revenge on her mistress's murderers. Directed by John Gilling (THE MUMMY'S SHROUD), this is an entertaining piece of Hammer horror. The unique concept of having a pet cat seeking justice for her mistress and knocking them off one by one rather than a human being bringing the murderers to justice is cleverly executed. The homicidal humans slowly begin to mentally unravel and their obsession of killing the only witness (the cat) to the murder soon begins to be a clue to outsiders than something is off here. Any decent horror movie needs a stable person with a suspicious mind in the thick of things and here it's British scream queen Barbara Shelley (THE GORGON) playing the niece of the dead woman and the one person the cat trusts. Horror fans should be pleased. The strong score is by Mikis Theodorakis (ZORBA THE GREEK). With Conrad Phillips and Vanda Godsell.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Fosse/Verdon (2019)

In 1955, the dancer and choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) meets the dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams) when they work together in the musical DAMN YANKEES. What follows is a turbulent relationship including a 27 year marriage and while they separate, they never divorce and remain attached to each other until his death. Based on the book FOSSE by Sam Wasson and directed by Thomas Kail, Adam Bernstein, Jessica Yu and Minkie Spiro over an eight hour running time. The mini series length relieves the production from cramming 32 years including the years prior to their meeting into a two hour time slot. But it still suffers from the routine recurrences inherent in the filmed biography genre despite its good intentions and the talent involved. What elevates it are the two lead performances of Rockwell and especially Williams which are awesome in their commitment to their characters. They're both absolutely riveting. Still, when you cast non dancers as two of the greatest dancers in Broadway and film history, there's a problem. Since Rockwell and Williams are not dancers, scenes of them dancing are extremely limited and even then, their shortcomings are obvious. Rockwell doesn't carry himself like a dancer and when he "dances", he's quite awkward. Williams as Verdon fares better but they only give her light dancing that doesn't tax her abilities. With Margaret Qualley as Ann Reinking, Norbert Leo Butz as Paddy Chayefsky, Lin Manuel Miranda as Roy Scheider, Paul Reiser as Cy Feuer, Susan Misner as Joan McCracken and Bianca Marroquin as Chita Rivera.

La Diagonale Du Fou (aka Dangerous Moves) (1984)

Set in Switzerland during the Cold War, a tournament for the World Chess Championship finds a seriously ill Russian grandmaster (Michel Piccoli) competing against a former pupil (Alexndre Arbatt) who has defected to the West. Directed by Richard Dembo, this Oscar winning film (best foreign language film) drama probably works better if you understand chess. I don't play the game myself but fortunately, the emphasis is on the human drama rather than the game itself. The players, both Russians, represent opposite ends of the political spectrum: the old Soviet guard that is part of the system and the exile living in freedom. Neither men are particularly likeable, they're both divas really but chess is their life blood and this is seen in their relationships with their wives. Piccoli's wife (Leslie Caron) is neglected while Arbatt's abandoned wife (Liv Ullmann) has become a political pawn and driven to a breakdown. It's a decent film but I've enjoyed other films on the subject more, PAWN SACRIFICE and QUEEN OF KATWE to name two. With Bernhard Wicki and Jean Hugues Anglade.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Dark Command (1940)

Set in Kansas just before and during the Civil War, a young woman (Claire Trevor) finds herself torn between the newly elected Marshal (John Wayne) and a schoolteacher (Walter Pidgeon) turned guerrilla leading a band of outlaws posing as Confederates. Based on the novel by W.R Burnett (THE ASPHALT JUNGLE) and directed by Raoul Walsh (HIGH SIERRA). Pidgeon's character is a thin disguise of the notorious raider William Quantrill (his character is called Cantrell) but historical accuracy isn't part of the film's narrative. It's a well done programmer done without any particular flair or style. It's interesting to see three actors in atypical performances. The third billed Pidgeon would soon become one of MGM's most popular stars playing pleasant stalwart types but here, he gets a chance to show that his career could have gone the other way playing baddies. As his mother, Marjorie Main gives a strong dramatic performance instead of the usual comic foils she played and Roy Rogers gets to play a flawed conflicted character instead of the clean cut Western heroes that would make him famous. Enjoyable but not essential. With Porter Hall and Gabby Hayes.  

The Bridges At Toko-Ri (1954)

An attorney (William Holden) living in Colorado with a wife (Grace Kelly) and two kids is called back to active service as a Naval reserve officer when the Korean war breaks out. Based on the novel by James Michener (HAWAII) and directed by Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE). This is a first rate war movie, exceptionally well done as it balances heroism with the pointlessness of war where our best are sacrificed. Jingoism is severely limited yet the film works as an exciting action movie. The film gives us a hero who isn't afraid to question and to show fear and its downbeat ending can arguably be described as inspiring. The aerial sequences are stunning and remain a highlight throughout including the bombing of the title bridges and the film justifiably won the best special effects Oscar. Even if you're not into war movies, this one is worth seeking out. While Grace Kelly is stuck with the dreary wife role, other performances are strong including Fredric March and Mickey Rooney. With Charles McGraw, Earl Holliman, Robert Strauss and Dennis Weaver.

Monday, March 8, 2021

13 West Street (1962)

When a rocket scientist (Alan Ladd) runs out of gas in a deserted neighborhood, he is attacked and beaten by a group of juvenile delinquents. But they are well dressed and educated and appear to be from good homes rather than the stereotypical "bad kids". Unsatisfied with the investigation by the detective (Rod Steiger) in charge of the case, he takes matters into his own hands. Based on the novel THE TIGER AMONG US by Leigh Brackett and directed by Philip Leacock (THE WAR LOVER). The movie suffers from a weak script and the usual heaviness of "social message" movies but it's not without interest. The outrage of Ladd's obsessed vigilante is understandable but the film shows him as a man falling apart in both his career and marriage because of the incident rather than a DEATH WISH avenging angel. Unfortunately, Ladd isn't a strong enough actor to convey the nuances to make his character interesting. Steiger on the other hand gives one of his understated performances and allows us to see the pressures he works under. With Dolores Dorn (inept) as Ladd's wife, Michael Callan, Margaret Hayes, Jeanne Cooper, Chris Robinson and Stanley Adams. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

State Secret (1950)

An American surgeon (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) visiting England is invited to a small European country where he is to receive a state honor for his medical work. But even though he's apolitical, once he arrives he realizes it's a police state and it's not long before he understands he's being used for something sinister. Based on the novel by Roy Huggins and directed by Sidney Gilliat (GREEN FOR DANGER). This is a strong thriller in the style of Hitchcock. As a screenwriter, Gilliat had written THE LADY VANISHES for Hitchcock and NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH for Carol Reed and he clearly learned from them. Gilliat keeps the action tight and moves it quickly along. Fairbanks Jr. shows a bit more intensity than is usual for him and makes for a believable ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances and living by his wits. As the girl helping him, the always appealing Glynis Johns makes for an attractive companion. Since most everyone in the country doesn't speak English (a special made up language was whipped up so as not to point fingers at any specific country), it contributes to Fairbanks' sense of being alone and adrift in an unfriendly environment. Italy stands in for the unnamed country. With Jack Hawkins, Herbert Lom, Anton Diffring and Eric Pohlmann.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (2020)

In 1968, a group of anti-war protestors go to Chicago during the Democratic National Convention to protest the Vietnam war. Five months later, eight of them are arrested and charged with inciting a riot. This is the story of their trial. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. Based on the trial of what has become known as the Chicago 7. Unlike the others, the eighth man Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) was not represented by William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and his case was eventually declared a mistrial. Cramming a complicated political trial that lasted months into a two hour time slot is a risky thing to do and Sorkin's film often feels rushed. That being said, it's an intense and compelling two hours superbly performed by an impeccable ensemble cast. Sorkin's script doesn't attempt to turn the seven into faultless martyrs but shows them as flawed and often contradictory human beings, warts and all. Granted as with most "historical" films, dramatic license is exercised and fictional characters are inserted into the movie. Sorkin's loaded ending (with Daniel Pemberton's score rising) goes over the top and it's an invention too. It's a powerful film that needs to be seen but don't take it as gospel. The large cast includes Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger, Alex Sharp as Rennie Davis, Michael Keaton as Ramsey Clark, Frank Langella as Julius Hoffman and Joseph Gordon Levitt as Richard Schultz. 

As You Like It (1936)

A Duke (Felix Aylmer) who has deposed his older brother (Henry Ainley) later banishes his niece (Elisabeth Bergner), who is the best friend of his daughter (Sophie Stewart). The maidens hide in the forest of Arden where the niece masquerades as a young boy. Meanwhile, a young man (Laurence Olivier) has also fled to the Arden forest to escape his treacherous older brother (John Laurie). Based on the play by William Shakespeare and directed by Paul Czinner. As far as Shakespearean adaptations on film goes, this one is subpar. Personally, I don't think it's one of Shakespeare's better plays (excluding movies and TV, it was the first Shakespeare play I saw performed) and Czinner does nothing to make it very cinematic. The acting isn't strong enough to save it. Bergner's German accent (she was born in Austria) handicaps her performance. She's not at ease with the Shakespearean cadence and seems to recite her lines as if she doesn't quite understand their nuance (she played the role in Germany but in German I assume). This was Olivier's first venture into acting Shakespeare for the screen and he hadn't yet eased into the medium (that would happen with WUTHERING HEIGHTS). The score is by William Walton. With Mackenzie Ward, Joan White, Richard Ainley, Peter Bull, Dorice Fordred and Leon Quartermaine, who gets to recite the "All the world's a stage" monologue.   

Friday, March 5, 2021

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

A freelance voice actor (Robin Williams) living in San Francisco is having marital problems. His wife (Sally Field) feels he's an irresponsible husband and parent and wants a divorce. When the judge (Scott Beach) awards sole custody to the mother, he disguises himself as a Scottish nanny and is hired by his unknowing ex-wife to take care of the kids. Based on the novel ALIAS MADAME DOUBTFIRE by Anne Fine and directed by Chris Columbus (HOME ALONE). When the movie dwells on the Mrs. Doubtfire character, it's a funny farce with belly laughs but outside of that, it's almost unbearably treacly. Williams' amazing mimicry abilities keep his Doubtfire nanny sassy and amusing but while the film's intentions are noble in addressing the issue of divorce and the effect it has children, its execution is mundane and soppy (and Howard Shore's syrupy score does the film no favors). As far as cross dressing comedies go, it's no TOOTSIE or SOME LIKE IT HOT. With Pierce Brosnan, Polly Holliday, Harvey Fierstein, Martin Mull, Anne Haney and Robert Prosky.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Son Of Frankenstein (1939)

The son (Basil Rathbone) of the notorious Dr. Henry Frankenstein moves into the family castle with his wife (Josephine Hutchinson) and son (Donnie Dunagan) where he hopes to rehabilitate his late father's reputation by continuing his work. Directed by Rowland V. Lee, this was the third entry in the eight movie Frankenstein franchise by Universal pictures. Although a tad on the longish side, the film is actually one of the better Frankenstein movies and received good reviews when first released. The script is solid and the performances, for the most part, are strong. Bela Lugosi is especially notable as the malevolent and vengeful Ygor putting Boris Karloff's monster very much in the shade and Lionel Atwill makes for a sympathetic police inspector. Jack Otterson's art direction is impressive with its massive expressionistic sets that dwarf the actors. The effective score is by Frank Skinner (WRITTEN ON THE WIND). With Emma Dunn, Edgar Norton and Gustav Von Seyffertitz.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Funny Lady (1975)

It's the 1930s and the Great Depression is on. When her latest show closes, Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) finds herself out of work like everyone else and looks around for a new show. Enter showman Billy Rose (James Caan) who sweet talks Brice into doing a show for him. Directed by Herbert Ross, this is the sequel to FUNNY GIRL (1968) which earned Streisand a best actress Oscar. When Streisand burst onto the screen in FUNNY GIRL, it was thrilling. The film itself was decent enough but it was merely the setting for the emergence of a dynamic Star who commanded the screen like it was her own domain even though it was her first film. Seven years later, who thought it was a good idea for her to go back and revisit her past triumph? Almost nothing works in the movie. The songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb aren't as good, there's nothing as memorable as People or Don't Rain On My Parade from FUNNY GIRL and the highly fictionalized screenplay is mess of cliches (yes, I know FUNNY GIRL was cliched too but Streisand was so exciting, you didn't care). In the movie, Brice complains to Rose that the numbers in his show are overproduced and need to be stripped down to be effective yet when the reworked numbers are shown to us, they're overproduced. Great Day with the black dancers groveling and writhing before Streisand like a goddess is a good example. On the plus side, Streisand is in terrific voice, looks sensational in her Bob Mackie and Ray Aghayan costumes and is lovingly photographed by James Wong Howe (it was his final film). With Omar Sharif, Roddy McDowall, Ben Vereen, Carole Wells, Larry Gates and Colleen Camp.

Die Morder Sind Unter Uns (aka The Murderers Are Among Us) (1946)

It's 1945 Berlin immediately after WWII. A young woman (Hildegard Knef) returning from a concentration camp finds her old apartment occupied by a former Army doctor (Ernst Wilhem Borchert) suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Written and directed by Wolfgang Staudte, this was one of the very first films made in Germany following WWII. It's also an important film because it addresses the question of German guilt over the war. It rings with authenticity precisely because it is made by a German film maker rather than one of the victorious allies. Literally filmed in the rubble that was Berlin following the end of the war, this is rather crude film making but it lends an air of documentary like realism to the proceedings. Staudte was turned down by the Americans and the French for permission to film so he turned to the Soviets, who granted permission if he changed the film's ending which he did (Borchert does not complete his act of revenge which he did the original script). With Arno Paulsen and Robert Forsch.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Lost Horizon (1937)

In 1935 China, a renowned British diplomat (Ronald Colman) is helping rescue westerners from approaching armed revolutionaries. He and a handful of passengers barely make it on the last plane out. But he soon finds that they are being kidnapped and headed for an unknown destination. Based on the novel by James Hilton and directed by Frank Capra (IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT). I've never understood the affection for this loopy fantasy. The first half hour or so is well done but once they get to Shangri La, it turns into a naive reverie of an impossible dream. A la-la land where everyone lives in peace and harmony and never gets sick and lives to be 200 years old! Where progress doesn't exist and people still go to wells to get their water. It comes across as a creepy cult, Jonestown in Guyana situated in the mountains of the Himalayas, only here they don't drink the Kool-Aid ..... yet. I much prefer the maligned 1973 musical remake. If I'm going to swallow this concoction, I want singing and dancing and Burt Bacharach! Is there anything good about Capra's film? The Stephen Goosson art direction is fantastic and Dimitri Tiomkin proves a terrific underscore. With Jane Wyatt, Thomas Mitchell, Edward Everett Horton, Sam Jaffe, H.B. Warner, Margo, Isabel Jewell and John Howard.    

Monday, March 1, 2021

Mrs. Winterbourne (1996)

A young girl (Ricki Lake) finds herself unmarried and pregnant by a sleazy petty thief (Loren Dean), who wants nothing to do with her or their child. She is on a train when she meets a newly married couple (Brendan Fraser, Susan Haskell) and she is also pregnant. When the train crashes, the couple are killed and through a misunderstanding, authorities believe she is the wife and the man's family take her in as the daughter in law. Based on the novel I MARRIED A DEAD MAN by Cornell Woolrich and directed by Richard Benjamin (MY FAVORITE YEAR). I don't know who thought it was a good idea to take Woolrich's dark novel and turn it to a romantic comedy but it's an uncomfortable fit. The novel had been made into a decent film in 1950 (NO MAN OF HER OWN) with Barbara Stanwyck which played it straight. Here, the romcom elements clash with darker elements like Loren Dean's blackmailing sleazebag and his eventual murder. In addition to playing the deceased husband, Fraser also plays his twin brother. With Shirley MacLaine, Miguel Sandoval, Paula Prentiss, Jane Krakowski, Debra Monk and Peter Gerety.

South Pacific (2005)

Set on a South Pacific island during WWII, a nurse (Reba McEntire) out of Arkansas for the first time is infatuated with a sophisticated Frenchman (Brian Stokes Mitchell) who has a plantation on the island. Based on the hit 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (based on TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC by James A. Michener) and directed by Walter Bobbie. This is a concert version of the musical performed live at Carnegie Hall. The musical's attitudes toward race and women seem rather quaint by modern sensibilities. But it's still a first rate musical though I have personal preference for OKLAHOMA! and THE KING AND I when it comes to Rodger and Hammerstein's musical output. The songs are sensational and in musicals, that's enough. I can't rave enough about McEntire as Nellie Forbush, she was born to play the role (how I wish I could have seen her ANNIE GET YOUR GUN on Broadway) and better than Mitzi Gaynor in the 1958 film and Glenn Close in the 2001 TV version. Brian Stokes Mitchell is in great voice and Alec Baldwin as Luther Billis brings just the right amount of impudent charm to the part. With Jason Danieley, John Schuck and Lillias White.