Tuesday, February 24, 2015

1999 - NOTTING HILL, a romantic comedy from England

Glamorous movie star falls in love with the owner of a small bookstore in Notting Hill, London

Julia Roberts is the supposedly hot movie star.  Hugh Grant does his stuttering acting thing.

Compliations occur, but there is a happy ending.

124 Minutes

Sunday, February 22, 2015

1969 - THE GOOD GUYS AND THE BAD GUYS, an out of it Western.

The director Burt Kennedy had some experience mixing comedy and drama in the Western genre but by the 1960's Sergio Leone and his many contemporaries had redefined the traditional western with the "Spaghetti" western.  The Good Guys and the Bad Guys seemed really old fashioned and checked out with contemporary trends in this genre.

The film has a surprisingly decent cast with actors such as Robert Mitchum, George Kennedy, Martin Balsam, David Carradine and Lois Nettleton.  Exactly how they got roped into this would probably make a more interesting story then this by the numbers plot of a former sheriff and bank robber teaming up to stop a train robbery.

The film has a decent train robbery action scene towards end and the photography and location filming in Colorado are the only things the film has going for it.

Really not much of a film.

91 minutes.

1987 - BABETTE'S FEAST - a very good film.

Babette's Feast is one of the best films I have seen.  How could it miss, the film was based on a story by Karin Blixen a highly regarded writer who was admired by Hemingway, Orson Welles, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe (?).  The film is a meditation on a certain type of austere Christianity told without a trace of irony or a patronizing smirk.

The cast of the film is made up of actors who had worked with Carl Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman and Claude Chabrol of all people.  Stephanie Audran who had played cool sexy redheads for Chabrol would have seemed an odd choice for the title character but she gives a very good performance in a real change of pace role for her.  The rest of the cast was made up of Danish actors with considerable reputations one of them Bridget Federspiel had worked with Dreyer in Ordet a film which is not unrelated to Babette's Feast in theme.

Needless to say the preparation of the feast is photographed so well and made such an impression on the audience, you can find the recipes for the seven course meal all over the internet.  Particularly fascinating is Babett's signature dish the "cailles en sarcophage", a pastry stuffed with a quail which is in turn stuffed with foie gras.

In the end this is one of the best foreign films I have seen.

102 minutes

Sunday, February 15, 2015

1957 - KISS THEM FOR ME, another film saved by Cary Grant

You would think a film about 3 Navy fliers on leave in San Francisco during World War II would be be a can't miss.  The film was directed by Stanley Donen, written by Julius Epstein a veteran screenwriter and starred Cary Grant.  This should at the very least be an entertaining comedy.  However Kiss Them For Me is a very disappointing film.  It's not a bad film or a good film just a mediocre one.  As usual only Cary Grant's charm and professionalism can hold this thing together.

Cary Grant's costar is that 50's idea of a female desire, Jayne Mansfield.  A woman with  a ridiculous hour glass figure and little girl personality.  She makes Marilyn Monroe look like Meryl Streep.   Mansfield does her dirty little girl thing throughout the film but mercifully she actually has a rather small part considering she has co-starring billing with Cary Grant in the credits.  Grant's real co-star is the legendary 50's model Suzy Parker.

Parker was a top magazine cover model, one of the first of the "super models."  She probably would have been at home in an Alfred Hitchcock film  if Hitchcock liked cool brunette's instead of cool blondes.  Parker can actually hold her own with Cary Grant even though his approach to seducing her seems mostly to ply her with some drink called a "stinger." A gross cocktail that is a mix of creme de mente and cognac.

Probably the most pathetic thing about this film are the occasional attempts to actually get serious about the plight of the returning war weary veteran.  I understand this is a comedy but the small parts of serious drama stuck in this film really seem out of place.  Cary Grant is always fun to watch in a film, but he really did his best work with good directors like Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor and occasionally Stanley Donen.

105 minutes.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2014 - THE IMITATION GAME, is an imitation of better films.

I was completely unimpressed with The Imitation Game a film that apparently plays fast and very loose with the facts of closeted gay professor Alan Turing and his role in breaking the German Enigma code machine during World War  II.

The film stars British actor flavor of the month Benedict Cumberbatch as the very twitchy Turing and Keira Knightly because as they say there's always has to be a woman in the movies.

Every liberal in the United States is whining about about the authenticity of the story in American Sniper.  I would say this film really has fact baked factual pseudo biographies beat with ridiculous spy plots and overblown dramatic scenes of code breaking that probably couldn't possibly have occured they way it's presented in this film.

If you are looking for a good film about Alan Turing and the Engima project you could probably wait for PBS to repeat Decoding Nazi Secrets which PBS will probably run ad naseum now that The Imitation Game is a success.

114 minutes

1963 - CLEOPATRA, absurd epic drama

Cleopatra is usually discussed from the standpoint of the production and not the end result the film itself.  The film was notable at the time for paying Elizabeth Taylor the biggest salary a movie star had received up to that time.  The film ate up the talents of two directors Rouben Mamoulian and finally the writer/ director Joseph L. Mankiewicz whose career never recovered.

Excess was the name of the game with 20th Century Fox studio spending 31 million dollars on costumes and sets.  The film was started twice with sets built at Pinewood studios and then completely rebuilt in Italy at Cinecitta Studios.  Mankiewicz directed during the day and wrote the script at night.  It's actually kind of a miracle the film is even half coherent.

Considering all the money spent this film is mostly a rehash of previous epics without the wild excess that can usually be found in these films.  Mankiewicz was clearly trying to make an intelligent epic but forgot to include any of the crazed fun that a director like Cecil B. DeMille brought to his version of Cleopatra.  This version seems to be mostly a rehash of Shaw and Shakespeare's plays about Cleopatra.

Considering the big time cast only Rex Harrison comes off best as Caesar.  Once his character is assassinated in the Roman Senate the film has to focus on the love story between Anthony and Cleopatra which consists of the hammy Richard Burton overacting and Elizabeth Taylor not even bothering to act at all.  In fact the first half of Cleopatra is pretty good with Harrison getting all the good lines.  The second half is pretty terrible with Elizabeth Taylor's unending and ridiculous costume changes and Burton's goofy emoting over the plus sized Taylor.

248 minutes.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

1975 - ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY, of historical interest.

The Adventures of the Wilderness, is a family entertainment.  The film is wholesome almost to a fault.  This bunch has to be some of the whitest white people on the planet.  Yet the message of the film somewhat muddles up all of this wholesomeness.  The family has left Denver because of the smog and industrialization that has made the daughter sick.  Apparently moving out of Denver to the suburbs wasn't an option.  This family has chosen to move way the hell out to the middle of nowhere.  This "granola live off the land" existence is somewhat at odds with the message of the film which appears to be the American way of life sucks so lets go into the woods and grow stuff like a bunch of hippies.

What plot there is pretty much involves building a log cabin for everyone to live in, talk about togetherness.  The log cabin building is frequently interrupted by someone, usually one of the kids being chased by a wild animal with Dad coming to the rescue.  And that's it.  There's no soul searching about the children being isolated from human contact, no introspection about what it means to co exist with nature,  just a lot of scenes of kids getting chased by bears, or wolves or cougars.

The director is Stewart Raffill who made a lot of these kinds of films.  Besides The Wilderness Family, his film making cannon includes Across The Great Divide, The Sea Gypsies and that E.T. rip off Mac and Me. 

These films were usually advertised on television with the ads running so often that it basically hynotized the viewer into dragging himself or herself and family to see these films.  Considering the relatively low budget these films were made on (there's lots of shots of the boom mike dropping into view), these film made some decent money.

100 minutes.