Tuesday, 26 November 2019

1994 Page Added...That's It! The 90's are Done!

Movie-Viewing Experiences  22/10/19 - 26/11/19     
A+ = Adored Masterwork   A = Excellent   A- = Very Good   B+ = Good   B = Nice Try   B- = Scrapes Through 
C = Significantly Flawed   D = Pretty Bad   E = Truly Dreadful: Looking Into the Void   F = Absolutely Vile: The Void

d: Rian Johnson
CAST: Ana de Armas; Daniel Craig; Chris Evans; Michael Shannon; Jamie Lee Curtis
> this is the best written / trickily-plotted Hollywood comedy-murder-mystery in recent memory...think Sleuth or Deathtrap then forget them both, because the final twist & wrap-up here tops them; rich mystery writer dies violently at his mansion...all his family members have reasons to be cheerful...along comes a famous detective...etc etc etc; BUT, after about 20 minutes, it inverts the genre (you get told who & how), but it's not solved yet, not by a long chalk; some reservations: nobody in the big-name cast is particularly memorable and certainly not quirky enough to be fun (there's no Angela Lansbury in Death on the Nile here) + Ana's character is too sappy (despite the vomit) + it has no peaks or grabby scenes...it meanders pleasantly; still, clues and red herrings drop like rain and it ends with my #1 Fave Stones song

d: George Cukor
CAST: Constance Bennett; Lowell Sherman; Neil Hamilton; Gregory Ratoff; Louise Beavers
> aka The Real First "A Star is Born"; the only part of this that doesn't work is what the 1937 remake (and subsequent versions) ended up ditching: the woman/star is in love with a fatuous millionaire (blandly played by Commissioner Gordon of 1960's TV's Batman!); Lowell in the "Norman Maine"-ish role can't quite make the transition from funny drunk to tragic washout; witty dialogue and interesting looks at behind-the-1930's-movie-making-business make this original kick, but the real asset is Constance...she always shone when given decent material (especially sophisticated comedy) and Director George famously had a knack with actresses
Award-Worthy Performance
Constance Bennett

d: Mike Flanagan
CAST: Ewan McGregor; Rebecca Ferguson; Kyleigh Curran; Cliff Curtis; Carl Lumbly
> I was never a fan of 1980's The Shining (or any of Kubrick's post 2001 works...all meticulous craftsmanship and emotional distance) so I think this "sequel" is the better film; essentially a vampire movie, this is a take-its-bloody-time tale that still managed to hold my interest, mainly because I couldn't figure out where it was going; Ewan is the Shining kid all grown up with an alcohol problem who has manged to keep the spooks under lock & key...but there is a soul-munching cult led by a Stevie Nicks / Charles Manson hybrid who preys on kids that shine...can Ewan quit drinking and be a hero?; there is only one scene which will give you the horrors (truly upsetting) so the rest is mood; I wish the images-checklist from The Shining (blood flood + twin girls + frosty maze etc) had been ditched...this movie could have stood on its own

d: Victor Saville
CAST: Charles Coburn; Tom Drake; Dean Stockwell; Beverly Tyler; Hume Cronyn
> if only the 1900 pre-trench-slaughter-&-mustard-gas world really was like this fantasy land but I'm sure it was recognisably human instead; there's nothing wrong with MGM fairy tales I guess and this is one of the company's fairiest...but should you be nostalgic for a past that never actually existed?; set in Scotland (attempted brogues abound), an orphan boy grows up in a coal-mining village but has the brains to become a doctor, so he does; God, this is gaggingly sweet but after a couple of gulps it goes down okay; once 10 YO Dean is replaced by 28 YO Tom, the charm is gone (and Dean was a much better actor anyway) but the stock of character actors takes up the slack: apart from the usual rascally-but-warm Charles, we are also blessed with Gladys Cooper, Richard Haydn and Henry Stephenson; watch it and fool yourself for 2 hours

d: Gurinder Chadha
CAST: Viveik Kalra; Kulvinder Ghir; Dean-Charles Chapman; Nell Williams; Aaron Phagura
> while I can imagine some people not liking Bruce Springsteen (and I am not a huge fan...I think Born to Run is one of the great overrated albums), I can't imagine anyone not liking this film; Pakistani kid lives in urban England during Margaret Thatcher's reign and dreams of reinventing himself as a writer...with the dual inspiration of The Boss and his friends, he makes it, much to the chagrin of his traditional-ways father; blatantly feelgood stuff that is almost beyond criticism, but...I could have done with a bit more grit (the skinheads / racist filth add some fibre, but more was needed...it gets fluffy at times) + the extended musical pieces go for that offhand / impromptu feel (y'know...uplifting song blasts out while complete strangers sing & dance together in the street) which always annoys me; harmless & nice, just nice

d: William Dieterle
CAST: Edward G. Robinson; Otto Kruger; Ruth Gordon; Donald Crisp; Sig Ruman
> this is another one of those biographies-of-great-men that Hollywood was so keen on in the 30's & 40's (Edison & Pasteur & Lincoln etc) and it follows the usual path: a VIP's life is reduced to a series of "greatest hits" while he (why is it always a he?) is misunderstood, has to combat ignoramuses, is eventually proven right and is retrospectively beloved, all the time being noble and dogged and damned-close-to-holy; film's biggest achievement: it manages to say the word "syphilis" without ever mentioning the word "f-f-f-fornication" (although it does insist that you can get the pox from "shared facilities")...quite shocking to Forties mainstream USA audiences for sure, but still...an STD without S?; anyway, the story is lightly educational, generally well acted and the 1940 bastard Nazis cop a couple of subtle zingers, which is always appreciated

d: Ken Hughes
CAST: Arlene Dahl; Philip Carey; Herbert Marshall; Michael Goodliffe; Sid James
> I went to a Charity Quiz Night years ago...one of the questions was: "Name a movie starring Arlene Dahl"...there was even a photo of the actress thrown up on a screen...many of us recognised her but only Yours Truly could come up with a film (ahem, 1959's Journey to the Centre of the Earth)...I mention this to highlight how eminently negligible her cinematic career was...and this film, even though she has the leading role (and it's a meaty one), is just as trifling as all the rest; a troubled woman (it's hinted that she was sexually-assaulted as a child) is determined to use horny stupid men to climb to the top where all the luxuries of life are...I feel a comeuppance coming on; Arlene does okay but the whole affair is quite predictable and I'm not sure that she deserves her inevitably-ironic fate...a case of more sinned against than sinning

d: Woody Allen
CAST: Woody Allen; Tracey Ullman; Elaine May; Hugh Grant; Elaine Stritch
> this is one of the rare Woodys which I don't think works at all; Woody is a small-potatoes crim who thinks he's a mastermind and Tracey is his Bronxy wife who knows he isn't...he plans a bank heist, it falls through but they accidentally make a fortune through cookies instead; I think the script goes wrong by cutting the heist short and replacing it with a "Now we're rich, we gotta get class" story (think Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight)...you know where it's heading; this is burdened with uninspired performances by all players EXCEPT Elaine May who is the most glorious airhead-dingbat in all of filmdom...she singlehandedly rescues the movie from oblivion
Award-Worthy Performance
Elaine May

d: Norman Jewison
CAST: Beau Bridges; Brian Keith; Melina Mercouri; Margot Kidder; George Kennedy; Hume Cronyn
> what a shame; this is purportedly about the early years of Ben Hecht (one of those wonderful American guys with lives of unlimited fascination...a war correspondent in Berlin during WWI + co-screenwriter of ScarfaceWuthering Heights etc etc + civil rights activist), but comes across as a slapsticky farce complete with fast banjo music and a couple of chases...if only Norman had taken it a little more seriously; three performances make it bearable: Beau is ideal as the Urban Virgin, Margot is just so sweet in her film debut, and Brian is at the top of his craft as a wily Irish reporter; still, it should've been so much more...Martin Scorsese...need another challenge?
Award-Worthy Performance
Brian Keith

d: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin; Tyler Gillett
CAST: Samara Weaving; Adam Brody; Mark O'Brien; Andie MacDowell; Henry Czerny
> this is a horror/comedy or dark comedy (which usually involves laughing at death) which is too grim to be amusing and too silly to be frightening; new bride on her wedding night has to play a game of Hide 'n' Seek with her in-laws (wha?) inside their rambling mansion...but the rules of their version are not Hoyle's; 1932's The Most Dangerous Game, 2017's Get Out and 1914's The Perils of Pauline all burgered together, the problem with this quite awkward movie is that, rather than blending its components, they take turns: romance / joke / gross-out / serious / back to romance etc, so your mood keeps shifting...you're not sure how to take it...then when it ends up at a satanic cult, muddlement sets in; oh well, Samara is good at shuddering & swearing and her closing line delivers the tone the filmmakers were looking for all along

d: William Dieterle
CAST: Joseph Cotten; Corinne Calvet; Edmund Gwenn; Marvin Miller; Benson Fong
> a turgid, needless remake of 1932's exquisite Shanghai Express with Casablanca (politics + sex + philosophizing) thrown in; the atmospherics of Josef von Sternberg's shadows 'n' smoke masterpiece have been drained away (which is sorta like Star Wars being remade without the SFX) and all we're left with is a time-consuming potboiler... makes you realise how thin the plot actually was; Corinne sure ain't no Marlene Dietrich (or Ingrid Bergman for that matter) and Joseph always struggled with hunky leading man roles (viable sex appeal seemed to be beyond him); what makes this film especially odious is the inclusion of the good ol' American Way and Christianity as the only sensible antidotes to the Chinese version of Communism (or do I mean their version of Capitalism?); at least the scene where the cow stops the train is still there

d: Michael Laughlin
CAST: Jodie Foster; John Lithgow; Michael Murphy; Philip Holder; Harry Andrews; Dan Shor
> just as film students are shown examples of great editing (Touch of Evil Raging Bull), they must also watch the end-results of lousy editing, like this dud; coming across like a BBC costume mini-series that has been savaged with shears and reassembled by a drunk, this tells the tale of a woman in colonial New Zealand who, out of lifestyle-necessity, marries a boorish merchant... she wants out / he diabolically traps her / she resorts to extreme measures; scenes don't flow, they butt and even crash into each other, jarring all the way, sometimes causing plot-confusion (flashback? dream? trance?), sometimes causing character-confusion (why is she suddenly behaving like that now?); while Jodie is the film's only rational, stabilizing force with a good accent, John hams it up (wait 'til you see his death scene); all hail artful editors

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