Thursday, January 31, 2013

January 2013

I did not deliberately set out to try my Movie-a-Day experiment again, but I was able to fit so many in, it kind of worked out that way. Even if I'm not able to close out the year with 365 films under my belt, I've successfully completed 1/12th of the task!

The 31 movies I screened in January are an interesting mix of:

(A) movies I've always wanted to see (or have been curious about for a long time);

(B) newly released or recent films;

(C) impulsive, oddball selections;

(D) movies inspired by a recently seen title.

A typical example of this last category: My viewing of Unbreakable and Jackie Brown whetted my appetite for more Samuel L. Jackson; likewise, I have moved Betsy's Wedding, Inside Daisy Clover and Apollo 13 higher on my Movie Bucket List because of films I saw this month that featured Alan Alda, Natalie Wood and Tom Hanks, respectively. Unfortunately, it appears I awarded only three movies a "9" (outstanding) rating, and nothing was deserving of a 10.

I need more 10s in my life, damn it!

Here's my report card for January.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING (2006)—A Chainsaw virgin, I decided to prepare for the first major film release of 2013 (Texas Chainsaw 3D) by acquainting myself with the franchise. It all began with the low-budget Tobe Hooper original in 1974, followed by a sequel in 1986, a Next Generation sequel in 1994, a remake in 2003, a prequel to the remake in 2006, and finally this year's sequel. I opted to get my feet wet with this 2006 prequel to the remake, then watch the 2003 remake (bypassing the Tobe Hooper original altogether). It turns out to a pretty darn good slasher film, recounting the backstory of young Thomas "Leatherface" Hewitt and his cannibalistic family. The story really starts when a group of teenagers run afoul of R. Lee Ermey, the scarifying boot-camp drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket, here playing an even scarier version of his bellowing, short-tempered authority figure character, perfected as far back as 1978's The Boys in Company C. I have not seen more than a few slasher films in my life, but this is definitely the best of the bunch. (8)

SLEEPWALK WITH ME (2012)—I am still trying to get caught up on some of the 2012 releases I missed. I had high expectations for this one, because I love standup comedy and it's about a fictional stand-up comedian (inspired and performed by real-life comic Mike Birbiglia). Also, the movie won a lot of great reviews. While it has a couple of interesting ideas and the occasional laugh, I never completely warmed to his brand of funny…but it was nice to see Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose as his cuckolded girlfriend. (6)

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003)—Back to the Chainsaw franchise. Ermey and Leatherface are back, terrorizing more teenagers (including hot-as-a-piston Jessica Biel). It's a standard slasher shocker; a decent production that is well (you should pardon the expression) executed. I think the prequel is slightly better. (8)

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013)—To my surprise, the big-budget sequel turns out to be a direct follow-up to the 1974 original, ignoring all other sequels, reboots and prequels. (I had not bothered to watch the original, but had skimmed through it and learned enough for this one to make perfect sense.) First of all, the 3-D process was pointless; I noticed only a couple of brief scenes that took advantage of the effect, so it might as well have been viewed in 2D. Second, it's a rather predictable and preposterous story, with a young woman inheriting an estate, only to learn she's Leatherface's cousin. Nothing special here, although it was a huge box-office success, so I presume more will be on their way. (6)

BLADE RUNNER (1982)—One of my ongoing New Year's Resolutions is to catch up on some of the iconic films I've missed over the years. This is one of the last of the "biggies." I don't know how this one slipped through the cracks, but now I can say I've finally seen the film Harrison Ford made between the second and third original Star Wars installments. It's a dark, bleak and violent look at Los Angeles during the year (HA!) 2019, when we've not only been to other planets, but have created "replicants" (biological robots) to work on them, effectively enslaving them. Some of these ultra-strong humanoids have come back to Earth to cause us harm, and Harrison Ford has been conscripted to stop them. But who's the real villain here—the slaves or those who have enslaved them in the first place? It's a theme that was re-used in last year's Cloud Atlas in one of that film's many stories. Blade Runner is more noir than I usually care for, but it's worth watching through all the steam and smoke and rain. No doubt it played much better 30 years ago—hilariously, so much of the so-called "futuristic" design and props on display already been rendered obsolete by today's standards, such as all the monochromatic computer screens that just make you roll your eyes. (Nobody carries any smartphones or Mini iPads because they hadn't been conceived in 1982.) This film exists in at least seven different versions; I watched "The Final Cut," which has forsaken the original voice-over narration and clarified some plot points that were apparently muddled originally. One of the film's major liabilities is the musical soundtrack by Vangelis, whose career was hot after Chariots of Fire, but it sounds embarrassingly dated and out of place now. (7)

A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956)—Digging even further into the archives is this movie based on a book by Ira Levin. Based on his 1953 debut novel (written 14 years before Rosemary's Baby), the film is a pared-down version of the book about a guy who murders his girlfriend after she gets pregnant, then woos his sister in order to get to their daddy's fortune and frames other people for the killing. (In the book, there was a third sister). It's an old-fashioned yarn, rather shopworn by today's standards, but interesting to see a rail-thin Robert Wagner as the villain, as well as Joanne Woodward as the girlfriend who gets bumped off. (6)

ARBITRAGE (2012)—Another movie from last year that got a bit of buzz for Richard Gere's performance. Here he's a financial wizard, the president of a hedge-fund company that's basically bankrupt. He cooks the books and is frantically trying to sell the company that his beautiful daughter is active in when a car accident causes his world to spin out of control. The main problem with the movie is that Gere is way too arrogant to be even a little likable, so it's hard to root for him as he uses his slippery nature to weasel his way out of a truly horrific situation he's caused for himself and his family. (5)

THE TORTURED (2010)—I liked the setup: After a couple's young son is kidnapped, tortured and killed by a psychopath, they decide to kidnap the killer and get revenge by torturing him. But it turns out there's very little satisfaction in watching a psycho get tortured, and even the dimmest viewer will figure out the twist ending long before the film's conclusion. How disappointing that I chose to watch this over so many more worthwhile selections on my must-see list. (4)

NOT FADE AWAY (2013)—A pointless, meandering mess. In the late '60s, a group of young musicians form a band, explore romance and smoke cigarettes, not necessarily in that order. The film wants to capture the love of rock and roll (the soundtrack is wall-to-wall oldies), so director David Chase dresses up his cast in period clothes, litters the streets with authentic automobiles, and drops references to Vonnegut, Martin Luther King and, of course Mick Jagger. There's precious little story and a laughable non-ending ending that caps the main character's boring 10-minute meander around the streets of Los Angeles. I was paralyzed with boredom from beginning to end; film's one saving grace is easy-on-the-eyes Bella Heathcote, an Australian doing a perfect American accent. Otherwise, exceptionally boring. (2)

DON'T DRINK THE WATER (1994)—Woody Allen's farcical 1966 debut play (filmed in 1969 with Jackie Gleason) became a TV movie in '94, this time with Woody directing and starring—I suspect he was "slumming" in order to finance more ambitious big-screen efforts from this timeframe, such as Mighty Aphrodite and Deconstructing Harry. Not surprisingly, Woody and his cast of TV sitcom actors (Julie Kavner, Michael J. Fox, Mayim Bialik) fit their characters like gloves in this zany tale of a family trapped in a U.S. embassy behind the Iron Curtain, accused of being spies. It's just the kind of nutty, slapdash, gag-filled movie Woody used to make, and it's fun to see him in full schlemiel mode again. (8)

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962)—Director Blake Edwards is best known for comedies like The Great Race and the Pink Panther series. But before his career took that direction, he actually made some serious dramas, such as 1962's Days of Wine and Roses. That same year, he made this psychological thriller, with Ross Martin as a ruthless killer who tries to force innocent teller Lee Remick to rob her own bank for him. Glenn Ford heads up the FBI team to hunt him down and stop him. What once undoubtedly played as an edge-of-your-seat thriller seems hopelessly dated today, with loads of bumbling mistakes made by the G-men; it's also way overlong at over 120 minutes. Although it mostly plays like a B&W episode of Dragnet, there are a few tense scenes that made somewhat of an impact. My favorite subplot had to do with a Chinese woman (Anita Loo), whose hospitalized son has a surprising connection to the bad guy. Overall, though, this was a bit of a slog. (6)

POT O' GOLD (1942)—I had started and rejected at least three movies before popping in this old Jimmy Stewart offering (released the year after The Philadelphia Story and five years before It's a Wonderful Life). The film was inspired by a 1939 radio show—the first big-money giveaway program. This comedy-romance starts off a lot like It's a Wonderful Life, with Stewart playing an aw-shucks dreamer following in the shoes of his not-very-successful father, who was in business for love, not money. Along comes his golden opportunity to make big bucks…but it's not really in his nature to go in that direction. (Sound familiar?) But where It's a Wonderful Life went off in an often more serious (and supernatural) direction, this one is really a musical, with lots of people playing in a band and singing in shows—even Jimmy's character sings one song, although it is obviously not his voice. Paulette Goddard is the love interest; it's all very broad and silly, almost like an episode of I Love Lucy. I wasn't really expecting this to be a musical—I had abandoned In Search of the Castaways immediately before watching this exactly because there were all of these unexpected songs in the way of the story. Pot o' Gold would have been considerably more effective as a straight comedy: there are enough farcical elements and wisecracks for it to have worked as such. Stewart called this his worst movie, but it's probably worth at least a (7).

THE CHILDREN (2008)—How do you battle a seven-year-old girl with a bloody knife in her hand—especially when she's your own daughter? That's the most interesting aspect of The Children, a British horror movie presents two families (joined by two grown sisters) with a bunch of adorable moppets spending the holidays together in a remote cabin…and then, inexplicably, the kids fall victim to a mysterious illness that turns them all into homicidal maniacs. Because Village of the Damned (1960) is my favorite movie, I am naturally curious about all movies about evil kids. This one is a twist on the usual slasher film, where your own brood is suddenly the enemy. Intriguing premise, and there are some suspenseful scenes, but the movie lets us down with a lot of violent payoff scenes that are shown in a blink of an eye, leaving you to wonder, "Hmmm, what just happened?" Aside from the sometimes clumsy direction, I am always hyper-sensitive about snowbound scenes that are betrayed as obviously man-made because the actors don't have any "fog breath"; in this one, you see fog about a quarter of the time, which for me only magnifies the problem. (6)

UNBREAKABLE (2000)—After the international success of The Sixth Sense, director M. Night Shyamalan re-teamed with star Bruce Willis for this supernatural tale that's sort of The Dead Zone meets Superman. Bruce plays a dude with some kind of superpower—and exactly what it that is proves to be the focus of almost the entire movie. Shyamalan tries hard to recapture the magic of his recent success: as in The Sixth Sense, Bruce is finding it difficult to reconnect with his wife; there's a small boy who looks up to him, a scene where Bruce plays a big part in resolving a terrible crime, and a surprising twist ending. Unfortunately, the ending rubbed a lot of people the wrong way—it's rather preposterous and yet at the same time perfunctory. The movie never seems to know if it wants to be a drama, a mystery, a sci-fi story or a thriller, and ultimately ends up as a superhero origin story for a franchise that never got off the ground. I wasn't as enthralled by this picture as much as The Sixth Sense; it's an adequate time killer but might have been better titled Unremarkable. First of several Samuel L. Jackson films I selected this month.(6)

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955)—Quatermass was a recurring British sci-fi serial (i.e., miniseries) beginning in the 1950s. After the first six-part serial was broadcast in 1953, the story was condensed and filmed as a movie in 1955. The pattern was duplicated for two additional series in the 1950s and one more in the '70s. I decided to get my feet wet with the first movie, in which a scientist, Prof. Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), investigates creepy goings-on after a three-man rocket crew returns to Earth with only one of the original astronauts. It is, of course, outrageously dated by today's standards, and it's much more of a monster movie than what you could call science-fiction. Even boiled down to 90 minutes from what originally aired in six parts, it still drags a bit. There are a couple of tense moments, but today the film is more of a curio than anything else; American Donlevy seems out of place among his British co-stars, and he's weirdly unlikeable. Still, I might check out the second film in order to bridge my way toward the much-beloved third movie in the series, generally acknowledged to be a sci-fi classic. (6)

THE D.I. (1957)—Jack Webb was best known as Sgt. Joe Friday, the cop character he debuted on the radio in 1949 before launching a tremendously successful TV series. He steps out of his famous monotoned character's shoes to inhabit a much louder one: Sgt. Jim Moore, a drill instructor who must whip his maggots into Marines in eight weeks of boot-camp hell. He is about as terrifying as the best movie D.I.s, including Lou Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman, Darren McGavin in Tribes, and R. Lee Ermy in Full Metal Jacket. As in all of these films, there's one problem soldier that the D.I. has an especially tough time transforming into a true soldier; here it's Private Owens (Don Dubbins), who's burdened by a few personal problems. Based on a 1956 episode of the TV anthology show Kraft Theatre, the story has been slightly expanded to include a little love story for Jack, presumably to make him a bit less hard-edged. (Jackie Loughery, his real-life wife at the time, plays his girlfriend.) For some reason, I have always found these boot camp movies particularly compelling. This one's in black and white, and produced and directed by Webb. (8)

A NEW LIFE (1988)—I was passionate about TV's M*A*S*H and of star (and sometimes writer-director) Alan Alda, so when the series neared the end of its run and Alda started to do movie work, I was delighted. He started out as a wonderful comic actor in other people's films (Same Time, Next Year), then as a writer-star (The Seduction of Joe Tynan) before the triple-hyphenate credits started rolling in, beginning with the fabulous The Four Seasons in 1981. With that film, I was convinced we had a new Woody Allen on our hands, and I remember daydreaming about all of the great Alan Alda films that would come. But it was not to be. His next film (the mediocre Sweet Liberty) wasn't until five years later, and he only made two films after that: A New Life (1988) and Betsy's Wedding (1990), which effectively ended writing and directing career. Alda would become a great character actor on TV (The West Wing) and film (Tower Heist, Wanderlust and, ironically, various Woody Allen films), and it's great to see him onscreen in anything—I've even enjoyed both books he's published. The completist in me felt I should see even his final box-office bombs, beginning with A New Life. Unlike his previous films, A New Life has the feel of a TV-movie, and although it breaks no new ground and doesn't sparkle with the usual Alda wit, it's enjoyable enough as a romcom. Alda and wife Ann-Margret split up and find new romances, navigating the unfamiliar late-'80s dating scene somewhat precariously. (Their respective new loves are the very attractive Veronica Hamel and John Shea, respectively.) Seeing "Hawkeye" with head full of bushy grey hair, a greying beard and puffing on cigars takes some getting used to. Certainly worth a look for Alda fans. (8)

QUATERMASS II (1957)—Like the first Quatermass movie, this is about some gunk originating from outer space that threatens all of mankind by snatching our bodies and other creepy stuff. Standard B&W sci-fi horror nonsense, barely distinguishable from the first movie, and Donlevy isn't getting any more likable. (Fortunately, he gets replaced in #3.) (6)

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE (1999)—There's that unmistakable prickle on the back of your neck when you realize that what you're watching is the millionth Big Lie movie. This romantic adaptation of Nicolas Sparks' novel is, confoundingly, yet another in the seemingly endless permutations of the "You lied to me!" plotline, featuring Robin Wright Penn as a researcher who tracks down Kevin Costner as the author of the titular bottle messages because she thinks it'll make a good story in her newspaper (which it does). Predictably, she falls in love with him, and he finally starts to come out of his shell after suffering the loss of his first wife. Will their love survive his finding out about her fabrication? Contrived, cliched and preposterous as it all is, it's well put-together and totally worth watching if you're in the mood for slumming, which I find I often am. Paul Newman plays Costner's dad, and he's terrific as always. Penn and Costner are both a tad ineffectual and less than totally charming, but do well enough. (8)

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967)—For some reason, Hammer Films took nearly a decade to adapt the third Quatermass TV miniseries into a film (it was retitled Five Million Years to Earth in the U.S.). Fortunately, American actor Brian Donlevy has been replaced as the good professor; unfortunately, they've replaced him with Scottish actor Andrew Keir, who isn't much of an improvement. I remember being interested in this movie because of co-star Barbara Shelley, so lovely in my favorite movie, 1960's Village of the Damned. This is the first time I've seen her in color (she's a redhead!); it's also the first color Quatermass film. As usual, mankind is threatened by weird forces from outer space…the twist this time around is that it's from alien forces that have been buried underground for millions of years. The impact of the creepiness factor has weakened over the past 40+ years, and lots of the special effects are appallingly bad by today's standards (particularly the papier-mâché aliens). There a few tense scenes and a some interesting ideas, for sure, but this is only marginally an improvement over the earlier Quatermass movies. It might be interesting to try to watch the original 1958 serial. (7)

JACKIE BROWN (1997)—I recently realized that I had seen every feature film directed by Quentin Tarantino except for this one. As it was the follow-up to his blockbuster Pulp Fiction, I'm not exactly sure what kept me away from it 15 years ago; it appears to have won considerable acclaim and was a box-office hit, and re-teamed QT with his Pulp star Samuel L. Jackson. It could be that I felt I wouldn't have appreciated its homage to star Pam Grier's "blaxploitation" movies like Coffy and Foxy Brown, none of which I have seen. But I've been curious about it for some time, and especially after seeing Django Unchained last month (co-starring Jackson, natch!), it was finally time to put this on at the top of my must-see list. It turns out to be a serviceable crime drama with an exceptional cast that includes Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton and Bridget Fonda, who has been greatly missed onscreen since she retired a decade ago. These performers, along with the deliciously evil Jackson, help lift the movie to above-average status, but while some of the trademark QT touches (i.e., unexpected violence, morbid humor) are in place, the movie is simply too long. That's a rare complaint from me for Tarantino, whose movies are generally long, but deservedly so—Kill Bill was so lengthy that it had to be split into two films! Jackie Brown in a two-hour movie that goes an extra half-hour too long, with too many belabored scenes where nothing happens. (The interminable opening credits, apparently a tribute to The Graduate, show Grier at an airport being whisked along a standing conveyor belt, Dustin Hoffman style.) I liked much of the movie, but grew tireless during some of the draggy scenes. Now that I'm up to date with Tarantino, I feel like checking out more Samuel L. Jackson movies I missed, such as True Romance and Freedomland…maybe even Snakes on a Plane! Note: I think what I'm going to remember about this movie in years to come is DeNiro's final confrontation with Fonda, which is horrifying and hilarious at the same time! I miss's a shame she left the business. I've already started to collect some of her other movies after enjoying her in this. (7)

UNTHINKABLE (2010)—Here's a direct-to-DVD thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson, the epitome of a movie I watched because of a previous one—my "domino" viewing habit at work. Jackson was so good in Jackie Brown, I wanted to see him at work again. In Unthinkable, he's a professional torturer called in by the U.S. government when an American Muslim terrorist hides nukes in three U.S. cities. The criminal is in custody…now what? The film explores the effectiveness of torture, balancing Jackson's no-holds-barred techniques with soft-hearted FBI agent Carrie-Anne Moss's rants that torture is not effective. Both sides make their point in what is ultimately a fairly gripping picture; the answer to the eternal question, "Does the end justify the means?" may not be answered definitively, but it does a good job of illustrating the question. Much of Unthinkable teeters on the unbelievable and hokey, but I was never bored. (8)

AGAINST THE WALL (1994)—Another Samuel L. Jackson movie from the archives! Airing on HBO only seven months before Pulp Fiction hit theaters, Sam is featured in the true-life story of the Attica prison riots of 1971. Kyle McLachlan, in his post-Twin Peaks years, is a young and naive guard at the prison where conditions and morale were deplorable, leading to the takeover of the institution by the convicts, while Jackson and Clarence Williams III play radical black Muslims who lead the revolt. The movie is more educational than entertaining; it's a real downer but did paint a chilling portrait of what went down at the correctional facility in New York. Interestingly, the movie was directed by the once critically praised John Frankenheimer, famous for having helmed Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Seconds and other famous films from the 1960s; sadly, Against the Wall never truly rises above TV-movie quality. (7)

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943)—A deservedly long (2 hrs., 36 mins.) comedy/drama/war film that spans four decades in the life of Major General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey, whom I enjoyed last year in I Know Where I'm Going). The ultimate Englishman, he participates in three major wars, falls in love a couple of times, and makes a lifelong friend in German soldier (Anton Walbrook). Deborah Kerr gets to play three different roles in three different decades! It's a grand old movie, in dazzling Technicolor, and often has the feel of another British film—This Happy Breed (1944), which also spans many years during wartime in Britain. Livesey gives a bravura performance, aging before our eyes very convincingly. This is one I'll want to see again in future years. (9)

THE TERMINAL (2004)—I have adored so many films starring Tom Hanks (The Green Mile, Toy Story, Forrest Gump) and so many directed by Steven Spielberg (E.T., Close Encounters, Jurassic Park) that you may well wonder how I could have missed this nine-year-old comedy-drama. My excuse: I probably dislike—or at least find mediocre—more of their work than I enjoy. Hanks in particular seems to be clueless sometimes about choosing parts (hello, Larry Crowne!). But despite mixed reviews, I decided to take a chance on this film, in which Hanks plays a European tourist with poor English skills and a huge problem: an uprising in his (fictional) country has made in impossible to either fly back home or enter the USA. So he becomes stranded at the airport and somehow manages to make a life there, even somehow gaining employment and snaring a romantic prospect (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The movie's obnoxious villain, a U.S. Customs official, is wonderfully played by Stanley Tucci, while Zoë Saldana, Chi McBride and other great character actors round out the excellent cast. This is an inspirational and moving film, another home run for Hanks and one of Spielberg's most satisfying efforts. (9)

AMOUR (2012)—This is 2012's big, acclaimed foreign film, the major Oscar contender and winner of London Critics Circle Film and Golden Globe awards. Written and directed by the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, but starring French actors, the movie focuses on the longtime marriage of two retired music instructors, now in their 80s. Georges and Anna are having breakfast one morning when she briefly appears catatonic, the result of a blockage in her carotid artery. Surgery is unsuccessful and she experiences a stroke, and progressively loses more and more functionality while her husband struggles to take care of her. So no, it's not a comedy. It's a painful, depressing and often agonizingly slow-moving picture, with several scenes deliberately directed at a snail's pace, the camera lingering interminably on a character for a full minute with no action (for example). There really is really only the smallest scrap of a story here, but the elderly couple are heartbreakingly by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, the latter of whom withers convincingly into her woeful state. It's a sad movie, for sure, but not one that particularly moved me. (7)

MAMA (2013)—It's truly incredible how many different variations of a ghost story have been fashioned. This version starts off with a truly riveting event that leaves two small girls alone in an isolated cabin…with seemingly no one to take care of them until they are discovered in near-feral state—two Nells for the price of one! This creepy and suspenseful horror film was co-produced by Guillermo del Toro, who brings his unique touch to director Andres Muschietti's remake of his own Spanish-language short. Jessica Chastain—virtually unrecognizable as the same actress in Zero Dark Thirty—plays a punkish musician who must care for the girls after their discovery, and that's a mighty tall order considering the supernatural forces at work here. The movie maintains a brisk pace until the final ghostly confrontation, which goes on about five minutes too long. But that's a slight quibble; this is an entertaining, well-conceived, perfectly constructed chiller that contains images bound to haunt me for years to come. (9)

PARKER (2013)—A den of thieves headed up by Jason Statham conducts an elaborate robbery of a county fair. When Statham declines to contribute his share of the bounty to fund their next big swindle, he is shot and left for dead off the side of a road. He survives, and the film becomes his revenge against his would-be killers. Jennifer Lopez somehow gets conscripted into helping him. This is a lively but extremely violent crime caper with lots of shooting and more than the usual amount of gore; Statham is shot, knived and beaten but somehow never bleeds out. (One of the fights shows a knife going all the way through his hand…OUCH!) A fun and fitfully suspenseful time-killer. (8)

SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961)—Back in the 1920s, handsome Warren Beatty and gorgeous Natalie Wood are high-school kids in love. What could possibly go wrong? How about agonizing sexual repression and mental illness to kick things off? Beatty, a basketball hero, wants desperately to screw Wood, but although their lust is mutual, she's been raised as a "nice girl." So, when Beatty's apparently uncontrollable urges lead him into the arms of another woman, Wood goes on a manic-depressive rampage, nearly gets raped, attempts suicide and at one point lies in a hospital nearing catatonia. The movie also demonstrates how both teens' parents are involved in this star-crossed romance. Beatty and Wood, both in their early 20s and passing themselves off as teenagers, are very good in their roles, but more entertaining are the film's cornucopia of hilarious euphemisms ("Maybe you need to find…another kind of girl," i.e., loose; "She had to have one of those awful surgeries," i.e., abortion). Splendor in the Grass is soapy and competently directed by Elia Kazan, but it contains a less-than-satisfying conclusion and left me with way too many unanswered questions. (You wonder: Has Beatty never heard of masturbation?) Still, it's worth watching for the sheer, perfect beauty and dynamic acting talents of Natalie Wood, whose West Side Story was released the same year, and for Pat Hingle's portrayal as Beatty's dad, Ace. It's also cool to see Sandy Dennis and Phyllis Diller making their silver-screen debuts. (7)

LADY FOR A DAY (1933)—Apple Annie, an aging Times Square street peddler (May Robson), is about to meet the daughter she hasn't seen in years, but there's a complication: in her letters, Annie has fibbed, telling her daughter that she's rich. Enter Dave the Dude (Warren William), a tough-talking gangster who thinks Annie brings him good luck when he gambles, so he tries to help by dressing her up as a Baroness in order to pass her off as the genuine article. Will it work? This is a Frank Capra movie, so you know there's bound to be some farce and sentimentality in the script. Indeed, there are some laughs in this pleasant comedy, but it isn't exactly top-tier Capra. (The following year brought him numerous awards with It Happened One Night). (7)

THE LOST PATROL (1934)—I close out the month with John Ford's World War I saga about British soldiers lost in the Mesopotamian desert and getting shot at by Arabs who are always behind a sand dune but never actually seen. The film starts with a dozen soldiers; one gets shot and killed at the very beginning, and after that, they go down, one after another. (This is one of those old movies where lots of people get shot, but they just fall down, with no visible wounds.) It's a pretty grim affair, but paints a gritty picture of what fighting this war was like overseas. Boris Karloff has a nice non-horror showcase role as a soldier who's a religious fanatic and slowly becoming unglued. (7)

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