Friday, July 21, 2017

The Pleasure Garden (1925)


Wardour Films (UK)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

The story of two chorus girls and their intertwining love affairs. One helps the other get a job and even allows her to stay at her apartment. Later, the girl's fiance and a friend arrive for a visit, but she is busy flirting with a rich prince at theater. The two men hang out with her roommate, and one of them eventually convinces her to marry him. Both men are sent off to Africa for a job, but the lonely wife soon follows when she finds out her husband is sick. However, when she gets there she finds out he has a native lover and leaves him. The husband murders the native girl and racked by guilt, and then almost kills her as well when he finds her by the bedside of the other man, who has fallen ill with fever. Entertaining if somewhat convoluted directorial debut of Hitchcock, incorporating many of the elements he would go on to explore in his long, illustrious career.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Matter of Innocence (1967)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Guy Green
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Twenty-one-year-old Hayley Mills travels to Singapore with her aunt for a vacation. Her aunt dies in a swimming accident, leaving Hayley alone and with plenty of cash and jewelry. She falls for a local tour guide who convinces her to ditch her glasses and conservative dresses for contacts, a new hairdo and makeup, and sexy clothes. Hayley revels in the attention from the opposite sex, sleeping with the tour guide and going on dates with a rich American playboy. However, she soon tires of her new found popularity and decides to go back to England. It's Hayley's movie all the way, but even she can't save this from her character's implausible sudden transformation, cringe worthy dialogue and dated fashions.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Night Visitor (1971)


Universal Marion Corporation
Directed by László Benedek
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, VCI Entertainment)

Max von Sydow is in a remote Swedish insane asylum, framed for an axe murder he claims he did not commit. He escapes unnoticed to get revenge on his sister's family, the people he believes framed him, returning in time to establish an alibi. He is spotted by his sister's husband in the house, but the investigating police, although he tends to believe him, can't figure out how Sydow can be in two places at once. Seemingly committing the perfect crime, an unexpected slip up finally gives him away. Atmospheric story with an ensemble of some of Sweden's best actors, but it all adds up to little more than a slight mystery with a rather contrived twist ending. Memorable, if atypical, score by Henry Mancini.

Courage of Lassie (1946)


MGM
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros)

An injured young collie is found by a teenage Elizabeth Taylor while sunbathing. She rushes him to a friendly shepherd and they manage to nurse it back to health. Later he is hit by a truck and taken away by the drivers. He survives but nobody knows who the owner is, so when the Army comes along looking for new "war dogs" he is signed up for duty. After training, he sees duty in the Aleutians where he saves a surrounded platoon, but suffers from "combat fatigue". He escapes on a train ride home, and finds his way back to Taylor, but his untreated aggression causes him to attack livestock. He is rounded up and put on trial, but draws the sympathy of the judge for being a wounded veteran. Another well photographed but implausible Lassie story.

The Nightcomers (1971)


AVCO Embassy Pictures
Directed by Michael Winner
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Lionsgate)

Teenage orphans are sent away to a remote country manor where they are put under the care of a governess, housekeeper and gardener. They fall under the spell of the gardener, who spins wild stories and is having a sadomasochistic affair with the governess. The boy spies on their violent trysts, re-enacting them with his sister. The horrified housekeeper writes their father in an attempt to get the lovers fired, but the kids have other ideas. Another eclectic performance by Marlon Brando as the gardener, with a very strange Irish accent. The strong sexual content presages Last Tango in Paris which he would do the next year, though it was The Godfather that would bring him renewed fame.

Son of Lassie (1945)


MGM
Directed by S. Sylvan Simon
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros)

It's been a few years since the events in the first Lassie movie. She is all grown up with pups of her own, and Roddy McDowall has grown up to be Peter Lawford! He has become just as attached to Laddie as McDowall was to Lassie, and when he is called to duty for WWII, the dog comes along. They are shot down over Norway, but with the help of some friendly natives manage to avoid detection for awhile. He is eventually captured and sent to a POW camp but escapes, only for the Germans to use Laddie to find him. This topical Lassie story is beautifully photographed in Technicolor, but the plot pushed the limits of plausibility.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mirage (1965)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Universal)

Accountant Gregory Peck realizes he has amnesia, which started during a blackout while in a NYC skyscraper. A woman acts like he knows her, but he doesn't recognize her. A man follows him a tries to shoot him. He goes to the police, but when he can't remember his date of birth he leaves. A psychiatrist kicks him out of his office. Only down-and-out detective Walter Matthau is willing to help him and together they begin to piece together parts of the puzzle. When his memory finally returns, he finds himself in the middle of a life or death situation. Fun, intriguing, Hitchcock-inspired thriller, even if it does get confusing at times. Good NYC location shooting by Joseph MacDonald.

The Hustler (1961)



Academy Awards, USA 1962

Won
Oscar
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Eugen Schüfftan
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White
Harry Horner
Gene Callahan
Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Robert Rossen
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Paul Newman
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Piper Laurie
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Jackie Gleason
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
George C. Scott
Refused even to be nominated.
Best Director
Robert Rossen
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Sidney Carroll
Robert Rossen

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

Paul Newman is a talented but cocky pool hustler who travels the country with his money man conning unsuspecting billiard players. He tires of the small time and they go to the pool hall of Minnesota Fats, the best player in the country, to challenge him. They have a marathon battle of the wills, and while Newman appears more talented his character falters over the long haul as he becomes too tired to carry on and Fats declares victory. Seeking solace, he picks up lonely alcoholic Piper Laurie in a dingy restaurant and they start a troubled relationship consisting of long nights of drinking and sex. Newman returns to small time hustling and gets his thumbs broken. Laurie nurses him back to health, but cannot convince to quit. He takes an offer of financing from con man George C. Scott and challenges Minnesota Fats to another long night. He wins, but it comes at a high price. Outstanding performances from the ensemble cast and moody black and white photography by Eugene Schüfftan which perfectly captures the seedy backroom pool halls of America make this an essential film.

Starhops (1978)


First American Films
Directed by Barbara Peeters
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Carhops take over a failing drive-in restaurant and transform it into a successful business. An oil baron wants the property to build a new gas station, but they refuse to sell. He sends his son to dig up dirt on the girls, but he fails to find anything. Instead, he befriends them and helps to stop his dad. Heavy on 70s vibe, including a satirical rip on the Star Wars opening scrawl, but ultimately nothing more than bimbos in bikinis.

Time Bandits (1981)


AVCO Embassy
Directed by Terry Gilliam
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Image Entertainment)

An eleven-year-old boy joins a group of dwarves who emerge from his bedroom wardrobe one night. They turn out to be thieves who are using a map stolen from the Supreme Being to navigate through time. They meet Napoleon, Robin Hood and King Agamemnon on their episodic journey. They are pursued by Evil, a powerful being who wants the map for his own plans, and lures the group to his kingdom where they are imprisoned in suspended cages. They escape and confront Evil, whose identity turns out to be quite a surprise. Imaginative, to say the least, but also noisy, too often succumbing to the cruder aspects of the story. It's never boring, however, with just the right amount of humor from Gilliam's old Monty Python pals. 

Where the Green Ants Dream (1984)



Orion Classics
Directed by Werner Herzog
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout! Factory)

Australian Aborigines use non-violent methods to stop a mining company from destroying their sacred land. The company tries to appease them with money, but the Aborigines are only interested in a large military aircraft they spot while visiting the city. The company buys it and sends it to the Aborigines, but they still refuse to give permission for the mining. It ends up in court presided over by an unsympathetic judge. The usual Herzog culture-clash, with didgeridoos and classical western music alternating with scenes of desert beauty and bulldozers. The Aboriginal acting is stiff, to say the least, and Bruce Spence as the company engineer is not much better. Nonetheless, a powerful argument for Aboriginal rights and against unrestrained corporate greed.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bar 20 Rides Again (1935)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Howard Bretherton
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Hoppy disguises himself as a card shark to infiltrate the ranch of a notorious cattle rustler threatening a friend. The villain here is the most interesting character: he uses the techniques of Napoleon Bonaparte in his rustling activity, played with zest by Harry Worth. There is the requisite romantic subplot. Famous Lone Pine location shooting helps.

White Shadows (1924)



Selznick Releasing
Directed by Graham Cutts
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Betty Compson plays identical twin sisters, one reserved and the other recently returned from Paris where she has been living among free spirited artists and musicians. She meets a man on the boat coming home to England, but when she plays a trick on him with her twin sister it backfires. They fall in love, but he doesn't realize there are actually two women. The other sister runs away back to Paris, sending her father after her and causing her mother to die from grief. Eventually the two sisters meet at a wild Parisian cafe called the Laughing Cat, but unfortunately the film abruptly ends as the last half remains lost. Interesting early Hitchcock (in fact, the earliest surviving, as his 1923 film also with Betty Compson is lost), but it is difficult to rate half a movie. Set design and theme, however, is definitely identifiable as Hitchcock.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Minotaur, the Wild Beast of Crete (1960)


United Artists
Directed by Silvio Amadio
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

On ancient Crete, sacrifices of virgins are made to the beast that lives in a labyrinth under the palace. The dying queen of Crete reveals that she hid a daughter, a twin of the princess, in a remote country village to avoid her sacrifice to the minotaur. Sensing a threat to her throne, Phaedra, the princess, sends a man to kill her twin sister, but she is rescued and brought to the palace. They are captured, imprisoned and tortured, but manage to escape before being sent to the minotaur, who is slain by one of her rescuers. Potentially interesting historical drama undone by peplum cliches and melodrama. The minotaur only appears at the very end, a man in a suit, with some strangely vivid eyes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Great Mike (1944)


PRC
Directed by Wallace W. Fox
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Teenage pals Jimmy and Speck (Carl Alfalfa Switzer) deliver papers using a cart pulled  by a thoroughbred racehorse they inherited from an uncle. When a professional trainer and track open up nearby, they challenge the owner to a race with his champion horse, which they almost win. The trainer agrees to go in with the boys and train their horse for a career on the tracks. However, when their uncle decides to sell the horse, they have to come up with another plan. Poverty row nonsense mainly of interest to see Switzer in his post-Our Gang days.

Blade Runner (1982)


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

Harrison Ford is a professional killer of androids, here called "replicants", in a futuristic Los Angeles. He is forced out of retirement by the police when a group of replicants arrive to find their maker, the head of a large corporation. He tracks them down one by one, shooting them in grisly fashion (these androids have red blood, apparently). He gets help from the lovely secretary of the corporation, who turns out to be a replicant herself, though a newer generation with no self-awareness of her true identity. They fall in love of course, leading to an open-ended question about Harrison's own status of replicant or human. Production design and atmosphere overwhelm everything here, allowing one to ignore the simplistic plot and lack of characterizations. Ford mumbles and stumbles his way through the role, but is affable. Vangelis' soaring soundtrack further enhances the mood.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Alien (1979)


Academy Awards, USA 1980

Won
Oscar
Best Effects, Visual Effects
H.R. Giger
Carlo Rambaldi
Brian Johnson
Nick Allder
Dennis Ayling
Nominated
Oscar
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
Michael Seymour
Leslie Dilley
Roger Christian
Ian Whittaker

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

The crew of a commercial space ship is awakened early on their long trek home when their computer detects a transmission from a nearby planet. Required to investigate, they land on the planet and discover a wrecked space ship with an alien skeleton inside. One of them is attacked while opening egg-like vessels and an alien creature attaches itself to his face. Back on their own ship, attempts to remove the alien are unsuccessful, but a little while later it detaches on its own accord. Initially the crew member seems normal, until a few hours later at dinner he begins to choke and an alien bursts out of his chest. The alien runs amok on the ship the rest of the film, killing all crew members except one. She manages to escape on a shuttle, only to find the alien did as well. Old B-movie cliches are updated for the post-Star Wars generation, with innovative set and monster designs by H.R. Giger. However, a few key scenes are unconvincing, especially the hand puppet used for the infamous chest burst. However, it is undeniably entertaining, with the usual excellent soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Mysterious Object at Noon (2000)


Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Plexifilm)

Attempt to transfer the surrealist "exquisite corpse" technique to cinema mostly fails. The camera roams around various Thai locations in search of storytellers, but with no story to tell quickly descends into meaninglessness. Sensing this, the camera eventually turns on the filmmakers themselves, exposing their egocentric motives. They occasionally luck into some moments and the black and white photography is pleasing, but hardly worth a feature film.

Norwood (1970)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Jack Haley, Jr.
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Glen Campbell is on his way home to Texas from Vietnam with his buddy Joe Namath. He quickly tires of his old job at the filling station and accepts an offer to drive a car (well, a pair of them) to New York from a shady Pat Hingle, who sends him off with floozy Carol Lynley. They soon realize the cars are stolen and ditch them. Campbell hitches a ride to the big city where he meets up with Namath's ex-girlfriend. She takes him to a hippie bar in the Village where he performs his country songs and is ridiculed. After seducing the girl, he hits the road again and meets homely Kim Darby on the bus. They fall in love, but only after she confronts the boyfriend that got her pregnant. Campbell takes it all in stride and they settle down in Texas and he finds success on the Louisiana Hayride. Familiar cast and amiable performance by Campbell compensate for otherwise episodic film.

Arabian Adventure (1979)


Association Film Distribution
Directed by Kevin Connor
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, StudioCanal)

Evil caliph Christopher Lee seeks more power from a talisman, and offers his daughter in marriage to a visiting prince if he can retrieve it. The prince gets help from a young boy who luckily has a three wishes from a genie to save them when things get tough. There are flying carpets, dragons and other Arabian adventure cliches, poorly portrayed with dated special effects. Sounds like a lot of fun, but somehow manages to be boring. Peter Cushing briefly appears as a beggar, and might be the highlight of the film.