Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sisters (1972)


American International Pictures
Directed by Brian De Palma
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Criterion Collection)

Model Margot Kidder murders her date the morning after their one night stand. A neighbor across the way witnesses the whole thing through the apartment window and calls the police. They can't find the body, which was hastily hidden in a couch by Margot's ex-husband. The neighbor, also a newspaper reporter, convinces her editor to follow up on the story, but only if she uses a private detective. Her research reveals that Kidder was a recently separated conjoined twin. She follows her to a mental hospital where more shocking plot twists are revealed. Low budget Hitchcock homage even somehow managed to get Bernard Herrmann for the score. However, unlike Hitchcock, De Palma succumbs to his exploitative urges in the critical murder scenes. Drug-induced dream sequences muddy the narrative instead of advancing it.

Hitchcock (2012)


Academy Awards, USA 2013

Nominated
Oscar
Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
Howard Berger
Peter Montagna
Martin Samuel

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Fox)

Following the success of North by Northwest, director Alfred Hitchcock wants to make a smaller, riskier film based on a Wisconsin serial killer. The movie studio disagrees, forcing him to finance the production himself. His wife and collaborator also struggles to come on board, preferring to spend her spare time helping a friend with his script at a remote beach house. Hitchcock accuses her of having an affair, but she angrily refutes it and they reconcile to finish Psycho. Filled with tidbits of factual information that will interest mainly Hitchcock buffs, but it struggles to give any meaningful insight to the huge personality that was the man.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

High Anxiety (1977)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Mel Brooks
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Fox)

Mel Brooks is a psychiatrist who is hired as the new head of a mental institute after the mysterious death of the former chief. He is greeted by the eccentric staff including Cloris Leachman as Nurse Diesel and Harvey Korman as her lover and one of the doctors. They plot to murder other staff members and eventually Brooks while he is away at a convention. Brooks' zany satire of Hitchcock is just as much a tribute. The gags are hit or miss, but when they hit they are hilarious, particularly the "shower scene" from Psycho and the bird "attack" spoofing The Birds.

Family Plot (1976)


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

Fake psychic Barbara Harris is offered $10 thousand dollars by a client to find a child given up for adoption years ago. She enlists her boyfriend taxi driver Bruce Dern to track him down. He soon discovers a plot by jeweler William Devane and his girlfriend Karen Black involving a fake death, switched identities and kidnapping. The cast is game, but Hitchcock goes out with a whimper, and maybe a smile, with his last film.

Frenzy (1972)


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

Serial killer Barry Foster rapes and then strangles his London victims. His friend is accused of the crimes based on circumstantial evidence, for which he is eventually convicted. He escapes a prison hospital and vows to get revenge on Foster, but a police investigator who has also deduced the real killer's identity manages to stop him. Somewhat a return to form for Hitchcock after a series of duds in the 60s. He revisits the familiar themes of murder and the "wrong man" which served him well in the past, spicing it up with language and nudity which was now allowed in the 70s. It feels a bit too voyeuristic at times, and his attempt to recreate a murder scene on par with Psycho fails miserably. However, a long scene in which foster attempts to retrieve evidence from a corpse in the back of a potato truck is classic Hitchcock.

Topaz (1969)


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

A Russian defector gives cryptic clues to American intelligence about missiles placed in Cuba. They turn to French spy Frederick Stafford to deal with the Cuban revolutionaries. He starts in New York City, where he bribes someone to get evidence documenting an agreement between Cuba and Russia. Next, he travels to Cuba where he uses local resistance members to get photographic evidence of the missiles. Back in Paris, he discovers the French intelligence has been compromised by Russians and devises a plan to expose them. Complicated Hitchcock spy drama has a few good scenes, but is too convoluted, and a bit dated.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)


Academy Awards, USA 1939

Won
Honorary Award
Walt Disney
For Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, recognized as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field (one statuette - seven miniature statuettes).

Academy Awards, USA 1938

Nominated
Oscar
Best Music, Score
Frank Churchill
Leigh Harline (head of department)
Paul J. Smith
(Walt Disney Studio Music Department)

RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by David Hand
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Disney)

A young princess named Snow White is relegated to wearing shabby clothes and working as a maid by her jealous stepmother the Queen. When her "magic mirror" informs her that Snow White has become the fairest in the land, she sends her huntsman to murder her. He can't go through with it, but sends her into the forest to escape the Queen. She is befriended by the forest animals who lead her deep into the woods for shelter at a house inhabited by seven dwarfs who work in a nearby mine. After seeing the state of their household, Snow White mistakes them for children and proceeds to clean it up. After the initial shock, they accept her into their family. However, the Queen soon discovers her hideout and comes after her disguised as an old hag. Disney's first animated feature is still the best. The hand-drawn animation is simply astounding, with unparalleled attention to detail. The story can be dark when it needs to be, drawing on influences from silent horror films and German expressionism, with someone genuinely creepy moments.

Torn Curtain (1966)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Universal)

Scientist Paul Newman defects to East Germany, much to the chagrin of his fiance and assistant Julie Andrews. She secretly follows him there and he eventually tells her that it is all a ruse to learn secrets of the German missile program. He coaxes a formula out of a mathematician, then turns to an underground network to help them escape. A couple of good scenes, including a fight with a guard, but otherwise lackluster Hitchcock production. The leads are miscast and lack chemistry.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Marnie (1964)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Universal)

Habitual thief Tippi Hedren hops from job to job by changing her appearance and identity. However, she is recognized during an interview for her next one by the owner of the company, Sean Connery, who hires her anyway out of curiosity. After stealing a kiss from her in his office during a thunderstorm, she steals money from the safe. He confronts her about it, then blackmails her into marriage. On their honeymoon on a cruise ship she refuses to let him touch her, so he eventually rapes her, causing her to try to commit suicide. She survives and the repentant Connery tries to help her sort out her psychological issues. He brings her to her mother where a childhood incident explains everything. Morbidly melodramatic Hitchcock is perhaps his worst film. Connery is stiff and Tippi uncomfortable, even Bernard Herrmann's score fails to liven it up.

Requiem for a Village (1976)


British Film Institute
Directed by David Gladwell
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, BFI Flipside)

A village in the English countryside is threatened by the construction of a highway. It is so acute that past residents rise out of their graves to attend a town meeting! However, they cannot stop the arrival of outsiders, including a motorcycle gang. A rather obvious allegory, with classical music and idyllic country scenes starkly contrasting with multiple disturbing rape scenes, which linger far longer.

The Birds (1963)


Academy Awards, USA 1964

Nominated
Oscar
Best Effects, Special Visual Effects
Ub Iwerks

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

Socialite Tippi Hedren gets pranked by lawyer Rod Taylor in a San Francisco bird shop, where intentionally mistakes her for a sales girl. Intrigued by his flirtation, she plans to secretly drive to his country house and deliver a birthday present to his younger sister. She is attacked by a lone gull while crossing the bay, and soon the picturesque coastal California town is beset by increasingly violent bird attacks. She takes shelter with Rod and his family, who board up the house to keep out the animals. Hitchcock's most overt horror film, with a psychological underpinning that, unlike Psycho, is not fully explained. Could it be that the birds are a result of his mother's fear of abandonment when Rod brings home Tippi as his new girlfriend? They attack not only Tippi, but his former lover as well, not to mention his younger sister, potentially leaving Rod all for herself. The attacks end when she comforts Tippi after her brutal attack. Hitchcock offers no real explanation, leaving a somewhat hollow feeling after nearly two hours of non-stop terror.

Psycho (1960)


Academy Awards, USA 1961

Nominated
Oscar
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Janet Leigh
Best Director
Alfred Hitchcock
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
John L. Russell
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White
Joseph Hurley
Robert Clatworthy
George Milo

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

Secretary Janet Leigh absconds with $40 thousand in cash and drives to meet her lover. She ends up at the Bates Motel on a rainy night. Clerk Anthony Perkins offers her food, conversation and a room. His elderly mother lives in a Victorian mansion behind the hotel, and we hear them arguing about Leigh before she is brutally murdered by a shadowy figure while taking a shower. Leigh's sister and boyfriend show up a few days later looking for her, as does a private detective looking for the cash. Perkins, supposedly covering up for his mother, murders the detective when he gets too close to the truth, which turns out to be more shocking than anyone imagined. After the frenetic North by Northwest, Hitchcock returned to darker themes in this, his most notorious, and disturbing, film. It was shot in black and white and with a low budget using the crew from his TV show, giving this a more personal, grittier feel. Bernard Herrmann's tense score ratchets up the intensity even more.

North by Northwest (1959)


Academy Awards, USA 1960

Nominated
Oscar
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen
Ernest Lehman
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color
William A. Horning
Robert F. Boyle
Merrill Pye
Henry Grace
Frank R. McKelvy
Best Film Editing
George Tomasini

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

Ad executive Cary Grant is mistaken for a government spy and kidnapped. They attempt to murder him by forcing him to drink a bottle of alcohol and putting him behind the wheel of a car, but he manages to steer the car to safety. He goes to the UN to find the man who tried to have him killed, but someone else answers to that name and is assassinated before he can get more information. Accused of the crime, Grant goes on the run to prove his innocence. He meets pretty Eva Saint Marie on a train and they spend the night together. However, she turns out to be working with the kidnappers and sends him on a wild goose chase to the middle of nowhere. He survives another attempt on his life, this time by crop duster plane, in perhaps Hitchcock's best known scene. He soon discovers Eva's real identity and confronts her at an art auction, where once again he uses his wits to escape. However, when she turns out to be a secret agent working undercover he tries to convince her to leave with him. She refuses and plans to leave with the killer, but when her cover is blown Grant must save her life in a spectacular ending taking place on Mount Rushmore. Perhaps the ultimate Hitchcock film, with multiple false identities, a perfect hero in Grant and incredible but still somehow plausible plot twists. Hitchcock manages it all with a steady hand and perfect pacing.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Vertigo (1958)


Academy Awards, USA 1959

Nominated
Oscar
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White or Color
Hal Pereira
Henry Bumstead
Sam Comer
Frank R. McKelvy
Best Sound
George Dutton (Paramount SSD)

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

San Francisco police detective Jimmy Stewart retires after his fear of heights results in the death of a fellow officer. He is soon coaxed out of it by an old friend who wants him to follow his wife, whom he believes is in danger. Stewart observes her mysteriously sitting in a museum staring at a painting, visiting a grave and staying in an old hotel (only to disappear). They meet when he fishes her out of the bay after an apparent suicide attempt, and they fall in love. She describes a vivid nightmare, which Stewart recognizes as a local historical place and drives here there. Instead, she jumps from a bell tower, apparently succeeding in committing suicide this time. Stewart reacts badly and is sent to an asylum. After a year he is released, but roams the streets looking for his love. He spots a woman with a remarkable resemblance and follows her to her apartment, where he talks his way inside and convinces her to have dinner. He manipulates her into changing her appearance to look even more like the dead woman. However, when the transformation is complete, he learns the truth about her and tragedy seems to repeat itself. Hitchcock's most celebrated film is actually a fairly straightforward murder plot that the audience is in on the entire time. Stewart is the only one who doesn't get it, and we watch him suffer needlessly for it, but perhaps that was Hitchcock's intention. It all glides along like a dream.

Treasure Planet (2002)


Academy Awards, USA 2003

Nominated
Oscar
Best Animated Feature
Ron Clements

Buena Vista Pictures
Directed by Ron Clements and john Musker
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Disney)

Rebellious and moody teenager Jim Hawkins helps his mother run a remote restaurant on a distant planet. When a spaceship crashes nearby, he comes into possession of a map which leads to a treasure stashed by a dead pirate. Along with his mom's scholarly friend, he commissions a ship to find the treasure. The motley crew includes a half-cyborg named John Silver. They at first develop a strong father-son bond, but it sours when Hawkins finds out he is really a pirate planning to take over the ship by mutiny and steal the treasure. They survive a supernova explosion and black hole before finally ending up on the treasure planet. After the mutiny, Jim goes on the run and meets a wisecracking robot (Martin Short), who helps him unlock the map and find the treasure. John Silver and friends are not far behind, leading to the final showdown. Disney's attempt to rework Treasure Island for the hip generation misses the mark. Skysurfing and songs by the Goo Goo Doll's John Rzeznik uneasily mix with scowling cyborgs and other sci fi elements.

The Wrong Man (1956)


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

Henry Fonda is a musician and family man who is falsely accused of robbing local establishments at gunpoint. A couple of detectives pick him up in front of his house and subject him to questioning without a lawyer. Fonda naively obeys them, giving them plenty of circumstantial evidence. He is sent to the local prison and spends a harrowing night in jail. His wife gets bail money and they hire a friendly lawyer to represent him in the trial. They track down witnesses for an alibi, but are unable to come up with anything substantial. The trial date arrives and it looks bad for him, until a juror speaks out of turn and a mistrial is declared, starting the process all over again. It's all too much for Fonda's wife, who has a mental breakdown and is sent to an institution to recover. Eventually, the real robber is caught and Fonda is cleared, though it takes a bit longer for his wife. Hitchcock based this on a real story and shot it in and around the actual locations of New York City. Fonda is perfect as the innocent everyman and the first half of the film is terrific. Vera Miles mental breakdown, however, weighs down the second half, as does the anticlimactic trial.

Toy Story (1995)


Academy Awards, USA 1996

Won
Special Achievement Award
John Lasseter
For the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film.
Nominated
Oscar
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Joss Whedon (screenplay)
Andrew Stanton (screenplay/story)
Joel Cohen (screenplay)
Alec Sokolow (screenplay)
John Lasseter (story)
Pete Docter (story)
Joe Ranft (story)
Best Music, Original Song
Randy Newman
For the song "You've Got a Friend in Me".
Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score
Randy Newman

Buena Vista Pictures
Directed by John Lasseter
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Disney)

There is panic in the bedroom when a little boy's toys realize it is his birthday party and any of them could be replaced. Enter Buzz Lightyear, a delusional spaceman who doesn't realize he is only a toy and not the savior of the universe. He immediately becomes the favorite, disrupting the order of the toys as Woody, a cowboy doll and the former favorite, is thrown to the side. Woody accidentally pushes Buzz out the window in a fit of jealousy, then organizes a rescue party involving all of the other toys. They end up next door in the hands of Sid, a punk rock kid fond of explosives and with a room full of cannibal toys. There is, of course, a happy ending. Toy Story changed the animation landscape in the late 90s, but it all seems a bit dated and ho hum now after interminable sequels and imitators, but it is still undeniably entertaining.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)


Academy Awards, USA 1957

Won
Oscar
Best Music, Original Song
Jay Livingston
Ray Evans
For the song "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)".

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

While vacationing in Morocco, all-American couple Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day are befriended by a French spy. After witnessing his murder in a crowded marketplace, their young son is kidnapped by an older English couple. They follow the clues to London where they hope to find the boy without the police. Along the way, they end up foiling an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister at Albert Hall in the film's most exciting sequence. It has just about everything you would expect from Hitchcock at this point in his career: incredible camerawork, a tight plot and well-developed characters. I only wish he had not reworked an earlier story, or had chosen someone other than Doris Day for the female lead.

A Bug's Life (1998)


Academy Awards, USA 1999

Nominated
Oscar
Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score
Randy Newman

Buena Vista Pictures
Directed by John Lasseter
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Disney)

An ant colony works feverishly to assemble an "offering" of food to appease the dreaded grasshoppers. However, one of the ants accidentally spills it into a stream. He offers to go to "bug city" to find warrior bugs to fight the grasshoppers, which the rulers gleefully accept as a way to get rid of the troublemaker. In the city, a trash heap under a trailer, he mistakes a circus troupe for warriors, and they mistake him for a talent scout, and head back to the colony for the final showdown with the grasshoppers. Entertaining animated concoction from the makers of Toy Story, though it lacks that film's endearing characters.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

6th & Main (1977)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Christopher Cain
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Fox Cinema Archives)

Socialite Beverly Garland discovers washed-up writer Leslie Nielsen at a downtown LA homeless shelter. She tries to convince him to move into her house so he can write a new novel, but he refuses. However, when Nielsen befriends a pregnant prostitute and promises to help raise the child, he changes his mind about Garland's offer. Meanwhile, the prostitute tries to break her heroin addiction with the help of leg-less newsstand owner Roddy McDowall, then has her baby in a back alley. Nielsen struggles to adapt to life among Garland's well-to-do friends and suffers writer's block. Unable to fulfill his promises, he returns to life on the streets with tragic results. A bit long and melodramatic, but counterbalanced by good performances, especially Gammy Burdett as the prostitute, who manages to overshadow the more recognizable cast names.

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.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros.)

Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard are a married couple going through some bumps after three years. After a mishap leaves them legally single again, they decide to test each other's resolve. She gets a job and accepts a date from her lawyer, while he feigns disinterest and tries to cook up a way to reconcile. They all end up together at a ski resort where the opportunity to do that presents itself. Silly, breezy Hitchcock that seems like a complete waste of his time. The two lead character's juvenile antics are tiresome. I kind of hoped they would not get back together to spare us all the pain.

Stage Fright (1950)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros.)

Actress Jane Wyman is approached by her friend Michael Todd to hide  him from authorities when his lover's husband is murdered. In an important flashback, he tells her how he went to the scene of the crime to retrieve a dress, since the one worn by his lover, Marlene Dietrich, was bloody. Since Wyman is in love with him, she believes him and takes him to  her father's remote house to hide. Her father, however, finds cracks in his story, as does an investigating detective. Wyman finds herself falling for the detective while doubting Todd. All clues point to Dietrich, and the truth comes out in typical Hitchcock style in a large, empty theater. Less Hitchcock, to my eyes, with Dietrich chewing up the scenery and Wyman unsympathetic.

Follow That Bird (1985)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Ken Kwapis
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros.)

A well-meaning social worker convinces Big Bird that he need to live with his own kind, and finds him a foster family in the midwest. After a tearful goodbye on Sesame Street, he flies out to meet them. They turn out to be Dodo birds, and he has a hard time adapting to their silly and ignorant lifestyle. He decides to walk back to Sesame Street, having a series of misadventures along the way. Sort of a lesser cousin to the original Muppet Movie, it still has its moments, including an incredible scene in the "Don't Drop Inn", a diner for Grouches with Sandra Bernhard as a waitress and Paul Bartel the cook!

Jamaica Inn (1939)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Kino)

Young orphan Maureen O'Hara, in her first major role, travels to a remote inn to live with a cousin. The locals avoid it and so she turns to wealthy neighbor Charles Laughton for the last part of the journey. The crude inhabitants of the inn are thieves and murderers who prey on shipwrecked survivors and loot their cargo. Laughton turns out to be the mastermind, and when an undercover law officer is exposed he uses O'Hara to escape detection. She soon finds herself kidnapped and on the way to France, until Laughton himself is exposed to the gang. Overplotted Hitchcock is also somewhat underrated, with a vivid atmosphere and a couple of violent, bloodthirsty scenes. Laughton threatens to overwhelm everything, but O'Hara's manages to keep him somewhat in check.

The World's Greatest Lover (1977)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Gene Wilder
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Fox)

Frustrated baker Gene Wilder goes to Hollywood with his wife Carol Kane in search of stardom. Movie mogul Dom DeLuise is looking for the next Rudolph Valentino for his struggling studio. His casting call draws thousands of wannabes for a screen test. Meanwhile, his wife goes in search of the real Valentino, leaving Wilder alone to figure out how to win her back. Good spoof of 1920s Hollywood and even manages to capture some of the period feel. Feels more like a Mel Brooks movie, but Wilder is the whole show, he directed, wrote and stars.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I Confess (1953)


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

Montgomery Clift is a Catholic priest who hears the confession of a man who just committed murder. The man abuses the priest-penitent privilege and proceeds to frame Clift for the crime. A motive is supplied by Clifts's pre-priesthood relationship with Anne Baxter. After planting evidence, Clift is arrested, tried, but found innocent by a skeptical judge and jury. On the way out of the courthouse, the murderer's wife breaks down and let's out the truth. Clift and the police follow the killer for a final confrontation. Subdued, atypical Hitchcock, that nonetheless explores the familiar Hitchcockian themes of murder and the "wrong man". Clift is quietly intense as usual, but lacks chemistry with Baxter, and their backstory is just not that interesting. Beautiful location shooting around Quebec, Canada.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Strangers on a Train (1951)


Academy Awards, USA 1952

Nominated
Oscar
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Robert Burks

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

Tennis pro Farley Granger is approached by stranger Robert Walker on a train. The conversation quickly turns personal, and Walker proposes an "exchange of murders" that would benefit both of them. Granger laughs it off, but Walker soon fulfills his end of the bargain and begins to demand that Granger do the same. Fearful of the police, Granger successfully avoids him for awhile, but not after Walker manages to work his way into his family friendships. The battle of wills comes to a head on a memorable carousel ride! Outlandish plot, even for Hitchcock, but pure entertainment. The murder scene, filmed as a reflection in the victim's eyeglasses, is one of Hitchcock's signature moments, and probably helped earn cinematographer Robert Burks his first of four Oscar nominations, three of which were on Hitchcock films.

Notorious (1946)


Academy Awards, USA 1947

Nominated
Oscar
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Claude Rains
Best Writing, Original Screenplay
Ben Hecht

RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Criterion Collection)

Government agent Cary Grant convinces Ingrid Bergman to travel to Brazil in order to infiltrate a ring of Nazis. They fall in love while waiting for the assignment, only to have their relationship fall apart when she must fake a romance with Claude Rains, one of the Nazis. She even goes as far as marrying him, all the while Grant feigning disinterest. She eventually discovers that the group is hiding uranium ore in wine bottles in the basement, leading Grant to the stash during a fateful evening gala. However, Rains finds out and together with his mother tries to slowly poison her. One of Hitchcock's most mature mid period works, with Grant and Bergman's complex relationship front and center. The casting is perfect, from the leads all the way down to the supporting characters.

Animals Are Beautiful People (1974)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Jamie Uys
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Documentary focusing on the animals which live in the Namib Desert and nearby areas of South Africa. We see everything from insects and snakes to warthogs and elephants in their natural habitat. Towards the end, some native bushmen are shown as well, with their animal imitations particularly interesting. Beautifully filmed in stunning widescreen, my only complaint would be the obvious staging of certain scenes, particularly the one where many animals get "drunk" by eating some rotting fruit.

Under Capricorn (1949)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Kino)

The new governor of Sydney, Australia, and his second cousin adapt to life among the ex-convicts around them. The cousin soon finds himself making a deal with shady landowner Joseph Cotten. At a visit to his remote bungalow, he discovers he was childhood friends with Cotten's wife, Ingrid Bergman, but that she is struggling with an alcohol addiction. The truth turns out to be far more sinister, as she is actually being poisoned by the housemaid who is in love with Cotten. Her relationship with her husband also has a dark history. All of this is revealed in a somewhat understated way, especially by Hitchcock standards, giving it more of a melodramatic flavor. Nonetheless, it does deal with the usual Hitchcock themes of murder and a guilty conscience, and has a colorful period feel for 19th century Australia. As with his previous color film Rope, it utilizes long, unbroken takes, but they are much less intrusive this time around, and the transitions are difficult to spot.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Rope (1948)


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

Two college men decide to murder a classmate as an intellectual exercise. The strangle him in their New York penthouse and then stuff the body in a chest. For further amusement, they hold a dinner party shortly after with the victim's father, aunt and girlfriend among the attendees. However, it is the arrival of Jimmy Stewart that gets them the most excited. He is their former housemaster and instilled in them the philosophy of Nietzsche, from which they drew their inspiration. However, the two men struggle to keep it together, particularly the younger who drinks too much. Stewart begins to suspect something is wrong and eventually pieces together what happened. The film itself is also something of an intellectual exercise, as Hitchcock utilizes a series of long takes to make it appear it takes place in real time. It is partially successful, although the cuts between scenes where the camera artificially zooms in for a close up of a couch or coat, is distracting. Nonetheless, this is another dazzling Hitchcock entry, his first in color and first with Stewart.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Paradine Case (1947)


Academy Awards, USA 1948

Nominated
Oscar
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Ethel Barrymore

Selznick Releasing Organization
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)

Gregory Peck is hired to defend exotic beauty Alida Valli, accused of poisoning her wealthy husband. He falls in love with her, jeopardizing not only the case but his marriage. His wife realizes what has happened but encourages him to stay on the case. Peck tries to pin the murder on the servant with little evidence, but instead it drives the servant to commit suicide. The real murderer is revealed in court in dramatic fashion. Talky but still fascinating Hitchcock courtroom drama.

Spellbound (1945)


Academy Awards, USA 1946

Won
Oscar
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
Miklós Rózsa
Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Michael Chekhov
Best Director
Alfred Hitchcock
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
George Barnes
Best Effects, Special Effects
Jack Cosgrove (photographic)

United Artists
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, MGM/Fox)

Gregory Peck is hired to replace the retiring director of a mental hospital. Soon after he begins to have a mental breakdown, triggered whenever he sees pairs of vertical lines in patterns. Pretty psychologist Ingrid Bergman helps him with his condition, discovering along the way that he is not the same man that was supposedly hired. He admits to having amnesia and believes he may have killed the man and stolen his identity. He leaves the hospital in the middle of the night but tells her where he is going. They meet up at his hotel then travel to stay with her former mentor. They analyze a dream he had for clues to his past. They are able to deduce where the murder had occurred and travel there, triggering more memories in Peck. They are almost able to prove it was an accident until a bullet is discovered in the body. Peck is convicted of murder, but the dream provides one more vital clue. Another massively entertaining Hitchcock yarn. However, I wasn't always convinced by the psychoanalytical babble, nor the over-reliance on the dream for clues to advance the plot. The final scene is an unconvincing special effect involving what looks like a giant fake hand!

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Aristocats (1970)


Buena Vista Distribution
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Walt Disney)

A pampered cat and her kittens live with their owner, a former opera diva, in turn-of-the-century Paris. As the aging woman dictates her will to her lawyer, the terms are overhead by her butler, who is outraged at being passed over by her cats. He kidnaps the cats and dumps them in the country. They spend the rest of the movie trying to get back home. They get help from a friendly tom cat, who introduces them to his carefree lifestyle and jazz loving friends back in Paris. The butler won't give up so easily, though, and they have to confront him one more time. Colorful, entertaining Disney, with memorable characters and some psychedelic jazz scenes that made it a hit on college campuses in the early 70s as a "head movie", much to the chagrin of the family oriented Walt Disney.

Lifeboat (1944)


Academy Awards, USA 1945

Nominated
Oscar
Best Director
Alfred Hitchcock
Best Writing, Original Story
John Steinbeck
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Glen MacWilliams

Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)

The survivors of the sinking of a merchant marine ship by a German U-boat gather in a lone lifeboat occupied by reporter Tallulah Bankhead. Among the survivors is the captain of the German boat. Some of them want him thrown overboard, but Bankhead talks them out of it. They also have to deal with a hysterical woman and her dead baby, providing some rather morbid moments. Another one gets gangrene and has to has his leg amputated. They lose their limited supply of food and water during a storm. As they become more desperate and lose hope, the German takes over and seems to be stronger than the rest. When they discover his secret stash of food, water and a compass, they kill him in a rage. Just when it looks like they will be rescued by a German supply ship, it gets attacked. Unusual, claustrophobic setting provides a challenge for Hitchcock, but he is more than able to meet it as the action never stops. Bankhead is a revelation as the reporter. However, Canada Lee seems like an afterthought as a black servant.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)


Academy Awards, USA 1944

Nominated
Oscar
Best Writing, Original Story
Gordon McDonell

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

Naive teenager Teresa Wright has her life turned upside down by the arrival of an uncle. At first hoping to bring excitement to her bored life in suburban California, it soon turns to horror when she suspects he is the "Merry Widow Murderer" sought by the police back east for murdering older women. After the uncle is apparently exonerated, her knowledge of the truth becomes a threat and he plots to do away with her. Their final confrontation on a train is classic Hitchcock. However, I found Teresa Wright's character annoying and was kind of rooting for the uncle, played to cold blooded perfection by Joseph Cotten.

Saboteur (1942)


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

Everyman Robert Cummings gets a glimpse of the man who set a fire at the airplane factory where he works. Accused of the crime himself, he is forced to prove his innocence. He goes to the address he saw on an envelope the man dropped: a ranch in the desert. The wealthy ranch owner at first declines any knowledge, but reveals his real identity as ringleader and calls the police. Cummings escapes and follows another clue to a ghost town in the desert where he finds a cell of saboteurs planning to blow up the Boulder Dam. He foils the plan, then escapes to a nearby cabin in the woods where he is taken care of by a kindly blind man. His daughter recognizes Cummings as a wanted man, but he kidnaps her before she can turn him in. After awhile she starts to believe his story and helps him prove his innocence. They end up at a swanky party in New York City where they confront the leaders of the gang. However, they each get kidnapped, escape, and chase the original saboteur to the Statue of Liberty. One of the best Hitchcock films from the 1940s. The plot twists, however implausible, make perfect sense while watching the film. The symbolism can get a bit heavy handed, but in the hands of Hitchcock at least it is fun and exciting.

Suspicion (1941)

  Academy Awards, USA 1942

Won
Oscar
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Joan Fontaine
Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture
Franz Waxman


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

Socialite Joan Fontaine falls for playboy Cary Grant, eventually marrying. After a long and expensive honeymoon, she finds out he has no money or job. She talks him into working for a cousin in real estate. However, she finds out later that he was fired for embezzling money to pay a gambling debt, then lying about it. Her suspicion mounting, she finds out his best friend died mysteriously while they were together in Paris. She begins to fear for her own life when his lies continue and he asks a friend about poisons. It all comes to a head in a dramatic drive along a cliff. Hitchcock classic builds momentum like few films can, but ultimate explanation seems like a cop out. And indeed it was, as he was forced to change the ending to satisfy studio executives who did not want to mar Grant's image by making him a killer.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Alice in Wonderland (1951)


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, et al
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Walt Disney)

Alice follows the perennially late, hurried white rabbit down the rabbit hole, where she finds a dreamlike world inhabited by unusual characters. She changes her size by eating various things, from cookies to mushrooms, which allows her to pass through small doors. After some preliminary adventures involving Tweedledum and Tweedledee, some talking flowers and a Cheshire Cat, she ends up at a mad tea party hosted by the March Hare. They talk mostly nonsense about things such as unbirthdays, causing Alice to leave for home. However, she gets lost and ends up at the castle of the Queen of Hearts, where she plays a croquet match for her life. Colorful Disney adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic, though it feels a bit watered down at times.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)


Gaumont British
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Criterion Collection)

Tourist Margaret Lockwood befriends middle aged May Whitty at a county inn. The next morning, she gets bumped on the head before boarding the train, waking up in a passenger compartment with her new friend and some strangers. After chatting a bit, Lockwood falls asleep, then wakes up to discover her friend missing. Unable to convince anyone else that she actually exists, much less look for her, she turns to musician Michael Redgrave, whom she had met, and disliked, at the inn. However, she gradually warms up to him as they search the train, discover clues and eventually unravel the mystery of her disappearance. Highly entertaining Hitchcock, if a bit contrived, with comedy relief from "Charters and Haldicott", who proved to be so popular that they would appear in several more films in the next decade.