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The Dark Tower (1943)
Good suspense, but disturbingly xenophobic
I certainly enjoyed this film, but it made me very uneasy. Herbert Lom, who is fourth-billed, his name appearing on the second panel of the credits even though he has the biggest part, is a phenomenal screen presence, menacing and charming. All the Anglo characters despise him without any reason. The Anglo male leads, Lyons and Farrar, are jealous, rude and finally homicidal. And you get the impression that the film-makers think that all their maliciousness is justified merely because Lom is foreign and intelligent.
Made in 1943, this film could have easily been made in Germany at the same time with Lom posing as a Jew. I suppose he's supposed to resemble a German, but Lom (who is 5 foot 9 inches) is constantly referred to as "little" and "dirty". Great suspense scenes, well worth seeing, but...
beautiful with wonderfully staged cavalry scenes
Evidentally this is sort of a "lost" film. The DVD copy is half in color, and half in tinted black and white. No previous comments on IMDb or Netflix. An astounding circumstance for a film of this high quality by a known director.
This an iconic tale of a beautiful horse that has several owners, sort of a mixture of "Black Beauty" and "The Red Shoes". There's an interesting love triangle among the humans, set in early World War II, I think. The white of a bride's dress is paralleled with the horse, but I'm not sure of the precise meaning outside of pure imagery. There is much beauty in the cinematography and the staging, with lovely framing and intriguing tracking shots.
Reminiscent of a Powell/Pressburger film both in its pictorial impact and the cold sentimentality (how's that for an oxymoron?) of its story. Maybe a masterpiece, I'm not sure, and well worth seeing.
Antone's: Home of the Blues (2004)
enjoyable, with some great moments
This film came out two years before Clifford Antone died. He was an expansive entrepreneur who ran a famous blues club in Austin for many years. He was a die-hard blues fan who treated aging blues musicians better than family. For me it was fabulous to see performance and interview clips with favorite musicians who have passed on, like Luther Tucker and Albert Collins. The center of the film was a throw-away moment with Pinetop Perkins and Clifford sitting at a piano: Pinetop slowly starts playing the soft, sweet chords of "How Long" with such artistry that it brought tears to my eyes as I sat before the TV, and then I noticed that Clifford, on film, was hiding his eyes with his hand because he was crying too. On the minus side were too-short performance excerpts when you wanted to hear so much more, and not enough of the inside of the club and what it was like to be a patron there. But to counter that was an abundance of coverage of older musicians, without excessive gushing over the Stevie Ray Vaughn legend. A must-see for blues fans.
Calabacitas tiernas (1949)
Fun and Jive Mexican Style
Relaxing nonsense with pretty girls and German Valdes (same as English name Herman?) who greatly resembles in appearance, dress, musical and acting style Cab Calloway. Quite a few sprightly musical numbers adorn this light tale of a musician on the bum falling into a lets-put-on-a-big-show scenario so familiar to USA audiences of the 40s and 50s.
Interesting take on "the Tramp" theme also used by Cantinflas in other Mexican movies. More comfortable than the usual "rich boy slumming" theme so common in films made above the border.
Rosita Quintana is a knockout, likewise the lady from Cuba who dances and sings half-naked. The lady from Cuba is backed by Black musicians (who are very cool), and there are some mild and amusingly racist but just barely derogatory jokes about where they're going to sleep.
Worth a spin. Very nice production values. I had taped it off TCM a few months ago.
meandering, enjoyable portrait of a great bluesman
I'm not sure seeing this would make you a fan, but it sure didn't detract from my admiration of this idiosyncratic artist. Good concert footage of a set with Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop and others. Lots of shots of John Lee being chauffeured about San Francisco. You might think that would be annoying, but instead it fits well into the mood of the story of a man's life who moved to his own laconic rhythm. Various interviews with John and his family, some more with Clapton and Peter Wolf. Interesting theory from John Lee about his not being able to read. He says that if he knew how to read he would never have been able to dedicate his life to guitar-playing and the blues. He would have been reading books all the time. As he insists, he's smart, and I had never thought about it before, but he was. Worth seeing if you enjoy his music.
Leading Lizzie Astray (1914)
Yet Another Amazing Arbuckle Eye-Opener
Yes, this is the one where Fatty throws a piano through the wall! A minor story with major mayhem involved in its conclusion, this short is a farcical version of Country Mouse, City Mouse. The second half is set in a speak-easy, which is shot using an evidentially long-forgotten vaudeville technique (maybe?) of having a dozen actors doing comic characters on the sides and behind the main action, simultaneously upstaging each other and breaking all the rules of "good cinema" (like the prizefighting scene of "The Knock-Out"). Very stage-like, but whatever its origin, the effect is astonishing to a modern viewer. I've watched about a dozen Arbuckle shorts and each one has different aspects of strangeness and hilarity. They're all good and worth seeing. This one has more violence than a dozen episodes of "The Sopranos". How can Fatty be so vicious and lovable at the same time? Fascinating stuff!
3:10 to Yuma (1957)
photography by charles lawton is amazing
I normally don't comment on movies others have already commented on, but this one's been really bother me because no one really noted just how outstanding the cinematic compositions are. They're eye-poppingly gorgeous and remind me of a western Citizen Kane. In some scenes the Deep Focus technique (lots of hot light so that the background is in sharp focus) is outstanding. The artistry is almost out of place in this exciting but preposterously noirish western. There doesn't seem to be anything else in Lawton's repertoire (maybe parts of Two Rode Together?) as good, but director Daves' respect for good pictorials is evident in most of his efforts. It's a great collaboration, and a pretty good picture that's not as great as the sum of its parts. *** Most of the other comments rightly comment on Glenn Ford's cool acting. Isn't it time for him to get a Lifetime from AFI?
A slice of life from Mali
This is a worthwhile but somber look at village life in Mali. It is essentially a soap opera with anti-religious overtones, and a few scenes that seemed quite weird to the eyes of this American viewer. The story involves a young man who experiences discrimination from his fellow villagers because he is illegitimate. He clashes with the local priest over a contaminated well which is the village's sole source of water.
He is also involved in a love triangle which results in both the film's only comic scenes and its final tragedy. There is a strange and affecting scene involving partial nudity and witchcraft.
I hope someone can add a comment here addressing the reality of life in a small town in Mali. It seems very primitive, bleak, and dominated by fantastic (in the true meaning of the word) religious conservatism. Is it really like this?
Lafayette Escadrille (1958)
Sadly cliched and uninteresting
There isn't much here more than a great director's swan song. Tab Hunter's acting is pretty good (!?) but not enough to lift the drab GI-in-love-with-a-French-woman theme. Most of the flying scenes don't match the ones from the director's 30s films. If you're interested in the director's career, don't skip this, you'll enjoy the themes and the depiction of air combat. Also Leonard Rosenman's score is a stand-out. But if you're not a Wellman fan you won't remember this a month after you've seen it. Wellman is one of the great American directors; see everything else and watch for the evidence of his skills that are sadly not to be found here.
Central Airport (1933)
Great Airplane Flying
There's more to this movie than John Wayne in a bit part, there are some spectacular flying scenes involving a train, sincere performances by Richard Barthelmess and Sally Eilers, a strange one by Tom Brown. Except for the flying, there's very little sign of Wellman's directorial expertise in cinematic storytelling (unusual for his 30's films), but it's likable and entertaining enough. Interesting crash scenes, and the sexual aspect of the story is somewhat shocking while being quite tastefully depicted.
* * *
credible yet amazing
It's been almost twenty years since I've seen this on PBS one night. As with most of Wiseman's films, it's so laid back into pure observation that you have no idea that in a few seconds you're going to see one of the most evocative sex scenes ever filmed. I won't ruin it for you, but don't watch this with teenagers present. Younger children won't be affected, they won't realize what's going on, but your teenager will be scarred for life. Remember, this is a documentary about a race track!
It's too bad the Wiseman movies are so expensive to rent; a boxed set would be a welcome addition to my shelf of weird movies. And I'd love to see this one and High School again.
thoughtful and intriguing, formulated by the complexities of Real Life
First comes a compelling reenactment of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, followed by some political history and the reconciliation of ancestors. Watch closely and don't be afraid to look for meaning between the lines, especially during the second half. An excellent documentary; it seemed even better the next day when discussing its meaning. * * * * *
Maybe It's Love (1930)
amusing comedy from Wellman
Early Wellman is always entertaining, constantly throwing in weird directorial touches. This one's a genre football comedy (Horse Feathers etc.) that has quite a few amusing aspects. Number one is the young, intelligent and sexy Joan Bennett, who is amazing in the scene where she is under the canoe with a football player, and then back on shore with her wet dress showing everything she's got, pre-code. Wow! And then there's Joe E. Brown, who in those days speed-read a a script and tossed it aside. Watch for the scene with the lovers before, across, under and behind the fountain; the hand-held (!) camera following the lovers through the trees; the amateur actors/football players in so many encounters with Bennett. The plot of this film deals with sexual recruitment of football players, which reflects uncomfortably on current issues on the Colorado campus. Not a good movie by any means, but it has great acting, great direction and a few good laughs. Made by young people with an astonishing quantity of talent, way back when it was still possible to make a stale story shine. 1930!
Beautiful artist, a beautiful life
I thought this film was just OK until thinking about it the next day. Forget the annoying current day imitators, the real Antonio Machin was a titan, "un hombre feo" full of determination for his art, and sweetness under his tough exterior. This is a far from perfect depiction of the life of the man, a Cuban singer whose career spanned more than fifty years. Too many testimonials, not enough Machin. Was that all the video of him they had? His own versions of his songs make the other singers seem quite tepid. I loved the part when he was asked if he was "camp": he answered with a sneer, "Yes, if it means I stick by my melodies and my sentiment, then I am Camp."
And I loved the older ladies in the Barcelona market whose memories of Machin were of "an ugly dark man" whom they found quite charming. Be sure to check out Machin's early work, much more exciting and idiosyncratic than the later lovable schmaltz.
Crown Heights (2004)
peace through hip-hop?
Well-meaning but incredible, this film depicts the inter-racial killings and their aftermath in Crown Heights. All the acting is good, and Howie Mandel is especially a surprise. A few sad scenes, and a few funny ones. But the key to the entire plot, the friendship between a Jewish and a Black teenager, has no motivation and just seems pasted in place. ** ** ** ** **
DeJa Vu to the Extreme: Wasn't this story done before?
I've seen this exact story and plot before done with different actors, and I can't remember... Somebody please help! Could it have been with Eric Roberts as one of the janitors? I couldn't find it. I know it was more than two years ago... There was more of an emphasis on the culpability of the janitors, and a mystery was to who it was... Nothing jumped out of Eric's filmography... Other wise this was a fairly limp depiction of a powerful story. sympathetic but not compelling. Have I seen this exact same movie before and it was much more gripping the first time? Am I losing my mind? Scary...
The Glass Wall (1953)
great photog and acting in this immigration tale
"Playhouse 90"-style drama of Vittorio Gassman trying to enter our country after World War II. He meets Gloria Grahame as she is stealing a coat (!) and finds her shabby room gloriously comfortable. I found it all quite entertaining: great music (jazz), cinematography, grubby characters who are nice to look at. The immigration theme is well-done but with a few annoyingly goofy plot turns.
Go Down, Death! (1945)
Interesting artifact from another time
I don't know if watching these early "sepia" films changed my life, but I certainly look at the USA differently now that I've seen a few of them. A note: Spencer Williams didn't play the preacher, as I said in the earlier review. I'd have to see it again to be sure, but I think he played the murderer.
Fararishtay kifti rost (2002)
passionate film-making, great photography
Bleak story of an unsympathetic ex-con coming home to his small town who becomes the object of hatred for most of the citizens. The highlight is the relationship he has with the son who wasn't even born before he left for jail. (It sounds quite corny, but the environment is so relentlessly grimy that it works.) The low parts are his cold relationship with his saintly mother (realistic) and the love interest (she's beautiful but unbelievable, even though its depiction is well-handled). Worth seeing for the fabulous cinematography and the interesting acting.
The Unguarded Hour (1936)
well-crafted thriller with a couple of neat twists...
Great dialogue, the beautiful and sexy Loretta, Henry Daniell at his sleazy best, Roland Young with his gay-friend-who-flirts-with-the-wife quips, a plot that keeps you guessing: like many an entertaining film, the parts are more than the sum. So much fun that its unbelievable ending just seems out of place. Its source is one of those clever stage mysteries made for the Middle Class. Most of Sam Wood's movies are pretty good; it's not that far from the Marx Brothers to this.
The Invisible Menace (1938)
Minor but enjoyable for Karloff fans
Murder mystery with a silly title. Better-than-average direction from John Farrow. Marie Wilson is quite funny as a horny newlywed, although the jokes are sticky and worth a few groans. But Karloff as usual is multi-dimensional, spooky and human, a warmer version of the guilty icon that Lon Chaney Sr. perfected.
Riot in Juvenile Prison (1959)
Likable, vivid "teens in trouble"
The story really picks up when the new warden decides it's time for the juvenile joint to go co-ed! Decent acting and crowd choreography make this one of director Cahn's most enjoyable efforts. The riot scenes and the dance scenes are very well handled, and Scott Marlowe is effective as the "Rebel with Claws".
The Visitors (1972)
tense and believable
If you look at this in terms of Kazan's career and the way he puts his own experience in every film (even though I'm sure he'd rather not, but he just can't help himself), this is a masterpiece. If you look at it in terms of commercial cinema, you might describe it as an interesting failure. (Leonard Maltin's book describes it as a BOMB.) All I know is that I was on the edge of my seat screaming at the television, it must have had something going for it.
The filming has a "Night of the Living Dead" kind of quality, and is just as harrowing. I wish I didn't relate to Kazan's misanthropic view of humanity, but I do. If you think you're an expert on what makes a good movie, skip this, it's not for you. If you're interested in looking at the dark and fascinating side of people who do evil things, don't miss it. A depressing but great movie. At least someone knows enough about this stuff to put it in a film; the bad part is when we have to live through it.
Nice cast for a soap opera
You'll watch it for the stars, but it plays like a day-time soap. The acting is good most of the time (these people are real pros), but the key moments are played so artificially that your mind starts to wander. At three hours (the version on Showtime), this is just too long to view at one sitting. Nice chance to see Jackie Bisset playing the aging femme fatale. Involving, but tests your patience.
Man on a Tightrope (1953)
Has some strikingly well-directed scenes
Kazan, in his "A Life", describes this movie mostly in terms of early-morning bonding with his crew, but while it contains far fewer emotional lightning-bolts than most Kazan films, it also contains some incredibly poetic violence. Even though it's hard to tell if it's just hastily staged or artistically muted, one shot of a sentry being killed just below the screen is both intimate and shielding. The battle scenes are exciting, short, and brilliant. Kazan takes no credit at all, saying that much of the film was devised by producer Gerd Oswald and cinematographer Georg Kraus. Strange and sparse, this is a very interesting film.