Thursday, December 14, 2017

Americathon (1979)


United Artists
Directed by Neal Israel
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

In the near-future of 1998, America is broke and borrows money from entrepreneur Chief Dan George, who demands repayment. President John Ritter, looking a lot like Donald Trump, hires a media consultant and they come up with the idea of a telethon to raise the money. Harvey Korman, a cross-dressing comedian, hosts it, but it is sabotaged by Fred Willard, an adviser to the president who hopes to capitalize on its failure. Certainly a hit-or-miss affair, mostly miss, but the strong cast, and shear awfulness, actually make it very watchable. Zane Buzby is an energetic punk rocker from Vietnam, Jay Leno a boxer, and other familiar faces. Shameless plugging of Nike is rampant, however.

Welcome Home Soldier Boys (1971)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Richard Compton
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Fox Cinema Archives)

Four recently discharged soldiers from Vietnam struggle to re-adapt to civilian life. They use their final pay to buy a beat up Cadillac which they drive to a sleepy west Texas town, but not before picking up Jennifer Billingsley for some back seat antics. However, her demands for payment lead to a tragic ending. In Texas, they stay with Joe Don Baker's family, but his father doesn't understand why he doesn't want to follow in his footsteps at the local grain elevator. They head for California to find a picture on a postcard and raise cattle, but their car breaks down on the way. They are swindled by a mechanic and run out of town by the sheriff. Out of money and patience, they end up in a New Mexico diner, where, once again dreams are dashed. They revert to their military training and take out the entire population. One of those hidden gems from the early 70s you are always looking for: character driven, slightly dated but still taps a relevant theme, downbeat ending, excellent acting. Richard Compton directed Macon County Line a few years later, then Assault on Paradise, a trilogy of sorts, all worth seeing.

The Trouble with Harry (1955)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Universal)

An elderly and rotund Edmund Gwenn discovers a body while hunting in the woods near his Vermont home. He believes he accidentally shot him and tries to hide the body. Several characters pass by preventing him from doing so, including the dead man's wife, Shirley MacLaine, a local artist, John Forsythe and a widow out for a stroll, Mildred Natwick. The two women have reason to believe they may have killed the man, while the artist gets involved when he falls in love with MacLaine. The body is buried and unearthed numerous times over the course of the day, but is finally examined by a local doctor played with comedic perfection by Dwight Marfield, who steals every scene. More a romantic comedy than mystery, which is not Hitchcock's strength, and Forsythe is annoying as the artist.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)


Buena Vista Distribution
Directed by John Lounsebery and Wolfgang Reitherman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Disney)

Disney cobbled together previously made featurettes, added some linking material and a new ending, to make this feature length film. The end result is naturally episodic, but the captures the spirit of the original A.A. Milne stories. Residents of the Hundred Acre Wood, a place created by a young boy named Christopher Robin, include Winnie the Pooh, a friendly, if not particularly bright, bear with an insatiable appetite for honey, which gets him into trouble in the first story. Then there is Tigger, a perpetually optimistic, and bouncy, tiger who clashes with the  more level headed Rabbit in one of the stories. Other characters include a wise owl, a Kangaroo and her young soon, Piglet and let's not forget Eeyore. There is a memorable dream sequence featuring Heffalumps and Woozles.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

To Catch a Thief (1955)

 

Academy Awards, USA 1956

Won
Oscar
Best Cinematography, Color
Robert Burks
Nominated
Oscar
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color
Hal Pereira
J. McMillan Johnson
Sam Comer
Arthur Krams
Best Costume Design, Color
Edith Head

Paramount Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros)

Reformed jewel thief Cary Grant is accused of a recent string of crimes on the French Riviera. He escapes the police, but in order to prove his innocence must catch the real burglar. He convinces insurance representative John Williams to provide him with a list of people who may be potential targets. He befriends an American woman and her beautiful young daughter Grace Kelly. However, she sees through his ruse and seduces him, only to find her mother's jewels stolen anyway. She halfheartedly agrees to help him find the real burglar, and they fall in love for real along the way. He stakes out a villa where he believes the burglar will show up, leading to an accidental death of someone else. Later, he and Grace attend a masked ball hoping to finally find the burglar, which they do in an exciting rooftop climax. Lusciously photographed against the sun drenched French Riviera by Robert Burks, the colors are at times astounding, . This is an immensely entertaining work by Hitchcock, deceptively complex, somewhat overshadowed by the more famous films which he made during this period.

Rear Window (1954)


Academy Awards, USA 1955

Nominated
Oscar
Best Director
Alfred Hitchcock
Best Writing, Screenplay
John Michael Hayes
Best Cinematography, Color
Robert Burks
Best Sound, Recording
Loren L. Ryder (Paramount)

Paramount Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Universal)

Photographer Jimmy Stewart, recovering from a broken leg, spends his time looking out his back window into the courtyard of his expansive New York City apartment complex. It is a sweltering summer, and his neighbors leave their windows open, some sleeping on the fire escape, letting him take in their private lives. One night during a thunderstorm he thinks he hears one of them commit murder. He drifts off to sleep, only to awaken the next morning with the neighbor acting suspiciously. He sends his girlfriend Grace Kelly and his nurse out to dig up the flower garden where he thinks the body is buried. They find nothing, but Grace climbs into the apartment, only to be cornered by the alleged murderer. The last second arrival of the police saves her, but his identity is tipped off. In an unbelievably tense scene that follows, the wheelchair bound Stewart is confronted in the dark by the murderer. A rather poor special effect occurs at the worst possible time, almost spoiling the whole thing. One of Hitchcock's most celebrated films occurs on a giant indoor set built on a Paramount sound stage. It's a warning about the dangers of voyeurism, spiced up with Hitchcock's unique black humor.

War Requiem (1989)


Movie Visions
Directed by Derek Jarman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Kino)

Laurence Olivier, in his final film appearance, plays an elderly soldier who remembers the horrors of WWI. He recites some brief lines of poetry by Wilfrid Owen at the beginning, but the remainder of the film features the complete work by Benjamin Britten with no dialogue or sound effects overlaid. Instead, director Jarman marries the images to the lyrics, incorporating scenes of young men sent off to war. Tilda Swinton is one of many nurses who tend to their wounds, but suffers emotional wounds of her own. Jarman also uses documentary footage of various wars and conflicts. It's an intensely cinematic experience, perhaps not as emotionally moving as it should have been, but still cathartic, timeless.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Rescuers (1977)


Buena Vista Distribution
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery and Art Stevens
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Disney)

At the UN in New York, a parallel group consisting of mice from around the world have their own meeting. They respond to a message for help found in a bottle by organizing a rescue, headed by the glamorous Eva Gabor, who chooses mild mannered janitor Bob Newhart to accompany her. They track down clues at a local orphanage and pawn shop, which lead them to the bayous of Louisiana and an old broken down paddle wheeler. A little girl has been kidnapped by the outrageous Madame Medusa, voiced with aplomb and glee by Geraldine Page, and forced to help find a diamond hidden by pirates inside a cave. The two mice get help from the local wildlife to defeat Medusa and her minions, including a memorable pair of alligators named Brutus and Nero. Far-fetched Disney never quite takes off like you want it to, perhaps Newhart is too meek, or Gabor too aloof, but probably due more to the declining standards of Disney animation in the late 1970s, despite the presence of Don Bluth and others.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Goodland (2017)


Rockhaven Films
Directed by Josh Doke
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(theatrical showing)

When the body of a drifter turns up in a farmer's combine, a sheriff begins to think it is more than just an accident. A recently arrived photographer is her primary suspect, especially when he is found with photographs of a local teenage girl. However, he turns out to be part of a larger puzzle involving a bank heist and organized crime. Independent production makes the most of its small town atmosphere and is populated with some interesting characters. However, the dialogue and humor seem a little forced, not to mention dry, and emotions are rarely on display, so we don't really get to know these people any more than what is needed to advance the plot. Writer-director Doke has included enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, though.

A Step Out of Line (1971)



CBS
Directed by Bernard McEveety
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, CBS)

Peter Falk needs money to help his dying father get dialysis. He manages to convince his ballpark buddies Vic Morrow and Peter Lawford to help him rob a local money exchange office. Morrow has been laid off from his job as an electronics technician and has skills that will be needed in the robbery. Lawford is a bored and broke film director. After a long buildup around these characters, the heist is relatively uneventful. The loot turns out to be far less than expected, and Falk begins to consider another robbery. However, before they can act they are arrested. And that is it. A rather abrupt ending. This is more of a character driven film than typical heist film. It feels a little dated, but with these three actors it is still very watchable. Interesting Jerry Goldsmith score.