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Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
A real cinematic magnet, perfect to ruin
The opening half-hour of this film is a masterwork of anticipation and suspense. The opening scene is one of the best 'teases' one could expect, and the unraveling of some of the plot details and character development follows with no chance for you to even think of ''giving up'. It grabs you and holds you...the set is as much a part of the effectiveness as is the acting of one and all. But, sadly, towards the denoument or denouments, the film blows up in various directions, particularly in the Hemsworth-intrusion and the resultant damage to the film. BUT...and this is a big 'but'...Until that occurs, this film has the hallmark of suspense excellence as solidly done as any I have seen in a long time. The rating reflects the film until it crashes. Until that time, it verges on 'greatness' with the sneaky and smart touches on expects from a Hitchcockian student.
Anthony Mann had become one of the major directors of westerns and fast-paced cinema. But such a belief is questioned by this over-acted, over-produced, badly written film. It is said that Mann left the film and was replaced by Charles Walters, who, obviously, was not a man for this kind of film. Even the large-scale land-rush scene is pure 'piffle'. The script is a mish mash of every cliche in the book. I do see the somewhat vague parallel to Ferber's later 'Giant', but the film of that book was a masterwork; this one is the bottom of the ladder. Glenn Ford is caught with every cliche. Wonderful Maria Schell is all 'smiles' and semi-smiles and poor! Perhaps the worst acting, and worst writing, is saved for Anne Baxter, looking and acting as if she was still being DeMille-d in 'The 10 Commandments'. Plot holes are everywhere, and logic is nowhere is sight. The opening song, under the credits, paves the way for awfulness that follows it for its interminable length. It can't really be attributed to Mann. Only MacMahon has a good moment, and not even McCambridge, O'Connell,Keith, Tamblyn, etc. can offer assistance.
The Ritz (1976)
Daffy but hilarious....in spite of the 'later' history of the characters.
The AIDS epidemic, of course, put The Ritz into a no-play situation in that it gay characters intertwine in all sorts of partnerships...though never seen on screen. But all really know about life in the gay clubs as they existed prior to AIDS. Putting all of that aside, and looking at The Ritz as if in a time capsule, it is a riotous farce with stereotypical gays that are nonetheless wonderfully funny and somehow loving people. Rita Moreno, repeating her award-winning stage role, dominates the screen at every interval...and her 'performance' at the baths' pool is among the funniest scenes of the decade. Treat Williams is also paramount in the craziness wonder of the film. Yes, the story that holds the film together is nonsense, although played well enough by F. Murray Abraham, Kaye Ballard, et al. But the film, despite its strange place in history, makes you laugh...and laughter is a good thing. The people are not hurt and not put down. The 'bad guys' are absolutely ridiculous, and the gays are lovable. It may be a little socially unacceptable, but nonetheless still with us. Even Rosie Perez did a Broadway revival , to acclaim, even after the AIDS crisis was abating a little.
The Rundown (2003)
Stealing from The Rock
Fine photography and scenic wonders are all there in this film, but, oddly, it is a youthful Seann William Scott who steals this film from star Dwayne Johnson and everything else. The story, naturally, is silly...but it has humor and lots of action scenes. In fact, almost all of it is action, often with comedic touches that are played well by the two men. Johnson has charisma, but Scott is in his element, offering the kind of zany performance, and good looks, that should have propelled him to more important and jucier roles. Not a bad film to sit through on a rainy or snowy night. You won't be bored.
John Wick (2014)
Keanu, Action, and Skillful treatment.
Lots of gunfire, lots of whirling car rides, lots of violence, lots of blood....and lots of FUN. One should shudder at the thought of all of the frequent bodies flying across the screen, but, here, it amounts to a roller coaster ride of vengeance and retribution. Keanu Reeves handles this kind of chore easily, although, one of these days, he should have the chance to show his skillful acting range (Damn, he has played Hamlet, other Shakespearean works, and sturdy drama and comedy(. Nonetheless, John Wick zooms along with the speed of bullets flooding the screen, and the direction and editing and cinematography are all of the highest order.
I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)
Ewan McGregor has one or two effective scenes in this film, but the film nevertheless is awful with Carrey giving perhaps his worst performance. The film doesn't know what it wants to be - even though it is allegedly based on a true story of a con man de luxe and his love affair. The opening scenes seem to indicate a move towards satire/farce and a typical Carrey characterization. But here he goes far far too far, and his acting stint is painful. The film then swerves back and forth from slapstick to melodrama and back to slapstick. It doesn't work at all. Both actors play gay characters - Carrey camps it all the way to high amperage while McGregor plays it simply and is able to get both laughs and sympathy. Was this film ever rally released??? If so, why??
For Pete's Sake (1974)
Michael at his most enjoyable.....but Barbra grabbed the spotlight
FOR PETE'S SAKE should have been almost as good, goofy, and enjoyable as WHAT'S UP DOC?', but the rather unpleasant backstory eventually irritates despite the comedic potential. Barbra is as bright and spunky as she had been in 'DOC', but the uneven script places her in situations that, potentially hysterical, somehow leave a bad taste for several reasons - the methods by which innocent Barbra tries to get the money her hubby, Pete, needs for 'porkbellies'. The Brooklyn setting is real and fits the story well...but it is Michael Sarrazin that really carries the pleasant and charming center of the story. Far away from his strong and dynamic performance in THEY SHOOT HORSES..., he, here, is a delightful leading man with a fine sense of timing, expressive light comedic style (a/la Rod Taylor). He is entirely convincing. The surprising negative factors include the appearance of Molly Picon as a peculiar and supposedly charming madame-underworld character. The part should have been a superb moment for her, but her dialogue and actions become uncomfortable for this formidable star. Nonetheless. the Steisand-Sarrazin teaming looks and feels right...and the love scenes are satirically delicious.
An indie that indicates fine futures for all
Wow... What a nice surprise this film is. Watched it one evening and thought it was going to be just another minor league chiller. Instead, I found a thriller-chiller-mystery that is remarkably made on what may be a small budget... It doesn't look like a small budget, because everything is done with striking ability. One does know the genre at once, but one can enjoy the swirling 'who-what-where-how' for its entire length. The two actors show enormous potential and do absolutely super work. I want to see more of them...and more of the director of this indie. When you mix 'Outward Bound' with a contemporary appearance and then zap the audience with nicely executed twist, you have a fine piece of cinema. Congrats to all.
A underseas' phantom...and a phantom school/plot/dialogue
There are some films, with tiny budgets, that can pass for a light smile. This film leaves you gaping at the stupidity in everything concerned. The Oceangraphic School, at which this takes place, seems to have no building at all...and there are no signs of any human beings save for the actors. The dialogue is awful, and the beginning of the film indicates just how bad it will be. A actor, in a gill suit, is underwater...and preying on anything. Oh, what to do??!! Kent Taylor, the 'hero' of the piece never changes expression ('Just let me out of here'). Cathy Downs does try...but has nothing tangible to do. She is still attractive, but that beauty of 'My Darling Clementine' and 'The Dark Corner' is strained. Still, she is the only thing worth looking at in the film. No school, no students, no apparent staff, a lab from an Ed Wood movie. Sad sad sad film. The one alleged professor has created a new scientific study that has gotten out of hand. Uranium apparently is at the bottom of this stretch of see...and it multiplies leading to the creation of an actor dressed in a gill suit but still looking like an actor in a gill suit ( makes you admire The Creature from the Black Lagoon even more.) The gill man's first victim, to us, is a man whose row boat is overturned. The gill man gets him...and seems to fondle him as he kills him (watch the scene, if you dare!). No students on the beach...no one else...until a bleached blond (of .maybe, a spy ring) entices the professor's dart=carrying assistant to 'get the secret'. You don't need to know any more.
I Am Number Four (2011)
It's well done fun....nicely executed
I really didn't have the highest of hopes when turning this film on while the rain poured outside. BUT I was more than pleasantly surprised by the ease with which the action-packed film zipped along. Yes, it is a story of a 'loner' in search of his place in the universe (he is an alien in the US), but that internal conflict carries the story aloft with good acting (not played for Flash Gordon camp). Timothy Olyphant is a scene steal-er and a fine actor...and the younger performers are quite relaxed as they confront sci-fi trickeries at every corner.A big smile occurred with the reappearance, at the end (not really a spoiler). Don't avoid this film...it will give you a couple of enjoyable hours...and, yes, i do kinda hope that the series continues...I still want to know about the BOX!!
The Band Wagon (1953)
The Very Best of the Very Best?
I sit on the fence, a little, when naming my favorite musical of all time. 'West Side Story' really does stand alone, but it is not the usual Hollywood musical. For that, I am always torn between 'Singin' in the Rain' and 'Band Wagon'...Two giant testaments to what musicals could do when written with wit and charm, played exquisitely, sung and danced with originality, spunk,and whirlwind teamwork. Band Wagon is a monumental achievement by looking so relaxed and easy, and following a story line that spells of REALITY. Yes, a potential Broadway flop is like it is in the depiction of this pre-Broadway tryout Brilliant storytelling - a has been Hollywood star, a dancer trying a first time Broadway showcase, a supposed 'genius; of the theater world, etc. And the music - wow! - including the new 'That's Entertainment'!! 'Triplets' is a howl, and the Astaire-Charisse 'Dancing in the Dark' is flawless without being flamboyant. This one is a treasure trove of what was best in the Hollywood of yore. But still torn between this one and 'Singin' in the Rain', with a special spot eternally reserved for 'West Side Story'. Of course, now I think of adding 'An American in Paris' - it, too, is in the pantheon. And just below them is a half-forgotten masterpiece from Columbia -- The fantastic Betty Garrett, the lovely and lithe Janet Leigh, the superb Jack Lemmon...and the brilliant work of Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall - the dance in the alleyway behind the burlesque theater - the musical version of My Sister Eileen. The studio had wanted to film the same story as done on Broadway - Wonderful Town - but rights somehow got involved. But this film, with a new score, is lyrical and comedic dynamite!
A Major Achievement Again for Scorsese
What an amazing experience! Scorsese's ability to capture widely different cinematic experiences is underscored by this beautiful, haunting and ultimately inspiring achievement as it follows a young boy as he inadvertently opens a long-closed door into cinematic history. But there's so much more...brilliant 3D work that will be equally as good without glasses. A cinematic wonderland of sterling scenic splendors of Paris, a train station, and Hugo's curiosity that leads to a superb blend of intriguing characters and awe-inspiring discoveries, both for Hugo and the movie audience. If there is any drawback at all it may be Sasha Cohen who sometimes seems to demand too much screen hysterics..But that is not ruinous, and it ends well. To think that Scorsese can do gangster epics...then a masterwork of thrills like 'Shutter Island'...and this gift of charm ... is a movie-going adventure into skill and dexterity. I loved every minute.
Shutter Island (2010)
An underrated masterwork from a Director scaling new heights
The combined skills of a brilliant contingent of filmmakers takes us through a myriad of skillfully constructed turns and wrong turns in this memorable psychological thriller. The construction of this film is deliberately and superbly filled with questions, leaps back and forth in time and dimension. The viewer is trapped on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor...difficult to reach and seemingly impossible to leave. Leonardo DiCaprio's character is challenged by withheld information, by mysterious and dark hallways,by warnings of dangerous elements around him. This is modern noir at its trickiest and most thrilling --- all put together by Martin Scorsese in a splendid shift of cinematic focus. DiCaprio's excellence is matched by a fine cast - notably Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max VonSydow, and the ever-remarkable Patricia Clarkson. Its questions and solution(?) leave you exhausted from the suspense...and, at the same time, leaving you with a final conclusion that rattles your whole conception. Brilliant film all the way.
Where Is It?
Ingmar directed this film, in an eagerly anticipated American debut. I remember it in bits and pieces, but it was superb in every way. I do remember Mary Ann Mobley in an intense scene of hysteria and crying. (I believe she was a mistress). I cannot believe that this one-time masterwork by one of the great directors of all time has vanished. Where is it? I do not recall any other Bergman production created directly for American audiences. Certainly, ANY of his works, even the lesser-received ones, are part of a pantheon of important works by a master. If we can find old material from the same era and reproduce it, however non-perfect, we should be able to study this one. Let's find it.
The Conjuring (2013)
Poltergeist meets Exorcism
The Conjuring is a surprise, and I watched it when I saw a recommendation from the NY Times...Well, it is one of the best of its kind--certainly the finest scare-fest since Poltergeist, but without humor to offset the horror. I actually had a moment or two when I tingled...That experience hasn't happened quite like that since 'The Haunting' (original). True, the middle of the film is shivery delight at its best... But the rest is excellent...even the unexpected new feel for the exorcism scene. 'The Uninvited' and 'The Haunting' may still lead the best in the genre, but this, on second viewing, may seem even better.
Sky Full of Moon (1952)
Quiety delightful, warm hearted winner
Carleton Carpenter had a wonderful charming personality that warmed up every film he made, beginning with the serious and underrated LOST BOUNDARIES. He did some fine work at MGM (delicious number with Debbie Reynolds in the Aba Daba Honeymoon scene and subsequent best-selling recording). But, here,in SKY FULL OF MOON, he turns in a superb, easygoing, depiction of a cowboy in the Las Vegas of the period. A natural ease and a clear nice performance make this film a winner. Of course, Jan Sterling, herself one of the unheralded 'greats' of the screen...and stage... brings her abilities to the pleasant story. The ending of the film is both proper, satisfying, and even tenderly sad. This film was made on a low budget at MGM just prior to Carpenter leaving the studio. But it is worth the search. You will find yourself smiling at the proceedings. You will admire the work of Carpenter and Sterling... and you will get a brief glimpse of Elaine Stewart, one of the screen's great beauties, with talent, who had a short film career. But you won't take your eyes off her during her brief scene. See this film, and relax at the work of pros with a simple, nice script and film.
It Happened in Flatbush (1942)
The Dodgers and the Loons
Those of us who grew up with, and loved, the Brooklyn Dodgers had gotten a smile and a kick out of this film. Does anyone know if it is available anywhere? Would love to turn back the clock and enjoy this one over again. Great film - hell no! But so much of the Brooklyn spirit....and great dialogue poking fun at non-Brooklynites.Lloyd Nolan, of course, was fine in his role as manager of the team, and the much maligned but beautiful and actually quite talented Carole Landis is a wonderful woman to have around. Then there is the wonderful Sara Allgood...... No, Ray McCarey didn't have the chance to reach the career status of his brother, Leo, but Ray's films are devoid of the sentimental mash that his brother offered. Has anyone actually been able to watch Going My Way anymore? Impossible (even with the joy of seeing Rise Stevens).
Il giovane Toscanini (1988)
Misunderstood and Underrated
The story behind the making and breaking of this film probably deserves close scrutiny. The whole things, at least at first, seems to be a giant mystery. Franco Zeferelli directed (yes, he was capable of doing poor work e.g. Endless Love despite its cast) but this one is not a bad job. C. Thomas Howell, as Young Toscanini, gives a fine performance and one that should have propelled his busy career into a leading man category. His work is excellent. Elizabeth Taylor likewise performs with the professionalism that is often overlooked. She is every inch the operatic diva the story requires. True, the ending scenes involve sloppy, how-do-I-finish-this-one moments. BUT the remainder of the work features excellence in acting, set and art decoration, cinematography, etc. The script has its lapses, but the rest of the film, despite its easy ending, may not be true to Toscanini but makes for splendid film-making. Why did this one slip by in the middle of the night?
The Mandarin Mystery (1936)
Give me the 'real' Ellery!
If one can simply forget the literary Ellery Queen, this is an OK murder mystery (locked room murder, etc. etc. ). the problem, for Ellery Queen fans is that the whole thing, on that basis, is WAY off the mark. Queen is an analytical detective, and his father and the Police are not dolts. The books are written with more twists and turns and excellence that most others on the mystery shelf (with the possible exceptions of S.S. Van Dyne (Philo Vance) and, of course, Agatha Christie.)Dropping the comparison, one must note the ridiculousness of some of the plot e.g. the whole world knows the value of the stamp - it even appears on the Times Square news bulletin - yet the girl carries the stamp in an envelope in her open pocketbook. Despite all of this, Quillan is a fun actor, definitely not Ellery but giving the film the spunk it desperately needs. Charlotte Henry does not have a 'clue' and thus cannot handle the idiocy of what her character says and does. Still, on a chilly night, with the rain on the window, and curled up on a comfortable chair, this passes the time quickly.
A Royal Scandal (1945)
An underrated masterwork
The history of this film has been documented well,and its failure, at the time, has taken its toll on its reputation. Perhaps, it was made at the wrong time; perhaps Tallulah Bankhead was not the 'darling' of the film critics as she had been by theater critics; perhaps it was an easy target because Lubitsch had been ill and Peminger substituted - a simple target to call a film 'not of a piece'. I do have a copy of it, though, and, today, it stands as a comedy of wit, charm, and delicious mischief. Bankhead is 'mahvelous' playing it to the hilt and offering superb takes on all of her lines. Her reaction shots are among the funniest yet capture on film. No, it is not Catherine -- it is Tallulah--but this is a satirical romp and not meant to be faithful to Russian history. William Eythe, forever underrated, is perfection.A stellar comedic force (he was equally fine in more serious roles e.g. TheHouse on 92nd Street). Coburn is in the right frame of mind and action; Anne Baxter does not quite capture the spirit of the madness, but she is not bad. It is probably insane to think that 'A Royal Scandal' finally can get the credit it deserved. But it is a tasty and wonderful cinematic morsel to enjoy again and again.
Without Honor (1949)
The problems that may be inherent in the story were made worse because the then-still-somewhat-powerful arbiters of censorship gave the film a rough time. The objection, I would assume, resulted from the fact that the Laraine Day character is allowed to live and not 'pay for her almost-fatal-act-of-murder'. Day didn't always get a chance to grab the parts that lead to awards, but she is more than good in this one. Sorry to contradict one of the earlier writers on the piece, but the worst acting in the film, and the only truly awful performance, is the one by Agnes Moorehead, wearing an outfit that could have come from Ed Wood. This is far from an unwatchable film... it does have suspense...and the ending is surprising in denouement. It is forgotten, I admit, but this film did earn considerable attention in the news regarding its producers' fights to get it released without disastrous cuts. Thus, a moment in the censorship issues that were finally blasted apart by people like Otto Preminger.
Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952)
She didn't have...? What?
Mitzi Gaynor, to me, is an enigma. She could dance well, sing with more than a little ability... but never really grabbed the screen and held onto it. Her performance in this one is a very good example. True, the part is ridiculous, and the character's transition is sloppily written. But her acting, in general, is pure artifice, part of the problem she would eventually face in 'South Pacific'. She is pert and yet lacking charisma. This film does have some charm, including the 'I've Got a Feeling You're Foolin' Number. And Scott Brady happens to be in his element here. To me, though, the film is worth seeing just to admire Marguerite Chapman, one of the most beautiful and unjustly forgotten actresses. Few actresses could show 'spit and vinegar' and temperament in their performances the way Chapman does so easily. Harmon Jones' direction follows the imperfect script. When the structure of a Runyhon yarn becomes so obvious that you take note of its inconsistencies, its plot holes seem like Manhattan potholes.
The Girl Next Door (1953)
Haver at her best and... her last
The Girl Next Door is a surprising and fascinating film, partly for what it delivers, and partly because of what it indicates the future could have been for its star. The film opened quickly, and disappeared just as quickly, in New York, because its start June Haver had already entered a convent (she, of course, didn't stay there long). Not expected to be box office, the film, though, has some extraordinary moments, and the most surprising element of all is the work of June Haver. Although her voice is dubbed, her dancing is a complete revelation. Her work with Dan Dailey is superlative and shows maturity that she had never shown before. Indeed, her torch song indicates a Haver never seen before...and never to reappear. The cartoon networking is fun, and the dish number between Dailey and Billy Gray is a joyous scene. Haver also displays a wide range of emotions that indicate she had matured as an actress and was no longer the perennial ingenue. Even her figure is more eye-watchable than in previous vehicles -- including The Dolly Sisters. The film sags badly whenever Dennis Day is at hand, and even more sadly because he sings the one number that had a brief bit of fame - If I Love You a Mountain. His voice allows no emotion, and his expressions are devoid of any acting. His vis-a-vis, Cara Williams, is totally wasted. It's nice, though, that the film has hit DVD, because its merits are commendable. Certainly, it is professional work - with the sad exception of the scenes with Dennis Day.
In Harm's Way (1965)
Get out of Harm's Way!!
In Harm's Way is a ridiculous and embarrassing look at the time of Pearl Harbor. In many ways, the writing and the direction make a trivial incident of Pearl Harbor and the tragedy that took place there. During the attack, after the attack, and throughout the action, the dialogue and the direction of the actors is limply weak. There is a lot of banter, wisecracks, and giggly smiles even while we know that the bombings have created one of the most tragic incidents in history. While ships are sinking under the raid and people are dying, we watch Wayne and Douglas smirk and make 'wit' of each other instead of showing us the shock and horror that really occurred. From that early moment in the film, no one appears to be harrowed by what happened; the characters go about their business, and there are even parties. Oh, man! Wayne is at his worst - Mr. America, indeed!! Kirk Douglas is likewise at the nadir of his usually impressive acting credits. Patricia Neal greatly suffers from the smiles and come-ons towards Wayne within moments after the attack. Tom Tryon, Paul Prentiss, Brandon deWilde are better; they actually show concern and or disgust at the raid or each other. Making a smirky, gee-whiz look at the characters AT THE SCENE of the attack is totally absurd. Preminger usually brought some sort of interest in even his minor works, but this big budget war film shows him at his poorest command of all involved.
Funny Back Then... Still Funny
When it first appeared, Dreamboat hit the mark with Sid Caesar-like precision. The old old movies were still floating around the smaller channels, and it was not unusual to find the TV screen filled with the histrionics of Valentino, Pola Negri, among others. Today, their existing work can be found, occasionally on TCM. Dreamboat was an absolute 'hoot' in its initial release, and Webb and Rogers were every bit as wacked-out funny as Caesar and Coca in a TV sketch about silent movies. Today, Deamboat may seem a little obscure, perhaps, but its broad and zany humor will still be there. One hopes that someone somewhere decides it is time to produce that elusive DVD release of this film (which includes an adorable Anne Francis, one of those underrated stars who deserves special attention).