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They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)
Just saw this on TCM
It was better than it should have been. It seems like it was first slated as a movie-of-the-week but then an fading MGM figured to score some box office bucks with the gimmick of this being one of their last movies shot on a studio lot. Casting MGM veterans in small parts helped some but, this being a detective movie, Jim Garner has to carry it all the way. Which he does with his usual aplomb.
It's a movie of its time. It's a small-town murder mystery with a back story which might have come from a Playboy or Penthouse fiction piece; the type no major studio would have looked at just three years earlier (it was made in 1972), let alone in MGM's heyday.
Faults aside, this movie has its interesting plot twists ratcheting up what little tension there is, so I was hooked until the end. But a loose-end or two are never answered - where did the fresh water come from? And if it was from the bath tub, was any fluoridation found? What happened to Peter Lawford's girlfriend? In one scene she's waving hello with her generous bust; in the next - a crucial one involving PL's character - there's patently no trace of her nor does anyone ask. Eh?
Hal Holbrook and Katherine Ross form the remainder of the troika of leads; Holbrook as the county vet and Ross as his long-haired, long-legged assistant from New York. In other words, she's really there to become romantically involved with Garner's character (a cinematic must.)
Harry Guardino's county sheriff brings in his boys when things get tricky but to no any real effect except the last scene. Garner's character never feels the case slipping away from him or the noose tightening as with Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade in 'The Maltese Falcon.'
June Allyson has a cameo, bringing in yet another plot twist. A better screenwriter and/or director would have put her in more of the picture. Her brief presence lights up the screen far more than the rest of the cast combined - maybe she should have played the detective.
Thunder Rock (1942)
Fine acting and direction, but ...
Michael Redgrave couldn't have given a bad performance if he wanted to. And seeing James Mason so early in his career was also a treat.
No, it was the premise of the story which disappointed me. Sold as a ghost story, this was really forerunner of the two-act psychodramas which permeated Anglo-American theater for the fifty years after WW2.
After establishing the setting of the loner in the light-house, we find that British leftist writer David Charleston took the lighthouse job on Lake Michigan only to get away from a world headed for war and which, co-incidentally, had little use for his earnest genius (the poor fellow!) For companionship he imagines six people from a log of passengers lost in a wreck from 1849. He's told only the captain that they're dead. Charleston imagines them as silly, shallow people with non-real-world consequences but the Captain persuades him to imagine them as real human beings with real lives and real struggles. I won't go into further details, only to say that Charleston's ultimate lesson is to learn to go back to his own world and live in it, to carry on the good fight, yadda, yadda, &c.
This was leftist interventionist propaganda of the sort seldom seen since it was made. It was done much better in "A Matter of Life and Death" (1946). It's well-acted, directed and photographed -- it could be worth a remake -- but I was insulted, not persuaded, by its heavily hammered point that moving to America was merely running away from life's problems -- a point which did little to endear the movie to American audiences then or since. Indeed, the worst isolationism here was not America's geography but David Charleston's egotism. That human failing can be found anywhere.
The Good Shepherd (2006)
I wanted to like this
I went to this movie wanting to like it. I left wanting to like it. I still want to like it. It has everything a movie needs to make you like it: stars, drama, tension, production value, yadda, yadda ...
But ... I don't like it. I like what it tries to be, but I don't like it. I kept waiting for the dramatic climax that would justify the whole three hours of jumping back and forth in time. Eric Roth's script tries to be The Godfather movies all rolled into one, with its elements of "family," secrets, trust, betrayal and overall paranoia through the career of an early C.I.A. agent, spiced with elements taken from actual history. Robert De Niro's direction is the classic Sergio Leone technique of leaving everything in, regardless of whether it could have been shortened, told in backstory or even left out altogether.
Since I knew the general course of history of the time covered, and many of the elements of the story, I was able to follow without wanting to "go for popcorn." But that was the only reason. When this runs on cable t.v. I'll channel surf through it.
This was a few edits from greatness, which shows that the scissor is as much a part of movie-making as the camera.
The Aryan Couple (2004)
A slick student movie
I saw this movie at a festival screening in D.C. So much potential is wasted by student-level writing and direction, which is all the more incredible given that second-time director 'John Daly (qv)' has produced some of the best movies of recent decades. 'Martin Landau (qv)' giving his usual all as Jewish-Hungarian industrialist Joseph Krauzenberg can't make up for the patchy character development elsewhere - what there is of it. 'Judy Parfitt (qv)' as his wife Rachel throws out token lines of accusation and irony one would expect from an adolescent when a stony silence from such a part would send cheap gangster Heinrich Himmler ('Danny Webb (qv)') to the corner, hanging his head in shame.
And these heavyweight characters are just the background for the title characters, who work as the Krauzenberg's butler and maid. After the others are all done, we still have another 40 minutes of the picture to follow the title characters' fates. I won't go into further story detail here, but I'll just say that 'Caroline Carver (qv)' shines much, much brighter than her sketchy part calls for; look for her in better work. 'Kenny Doughty (qv)' doesn't overcome his title character's limits; virtually anyone else in the cast could have played the part.
For that matter, Daly's casting veteran British and Irish stage actors to play Nazi Germans and Jewish Holocaust victims is old hat, and a classic mark of a limited budget. In this day and age, budget or no, they're no substitute for locals playing local parts - audiences today see through it. Movies are about the audience not seeing through it.
All in all, it's sadly obvious Daly's real project wasn't this story; it was his curiosity at trying his hand at directing. He had the resources to make it big-project slick, but not the vision to make it memorable after I left the movie-house.
The Aviator (2004)
A bitter disappointment
I loved it for the acting, especially Cate Blanchett (qv) as Katherine Hepburn (qv), but otherwise I was left wondering if it was ever going to develop a story line on his personal life. There's absolutely no mention that Hughes gave Hepburn the money to buy the movie rights to the Broadway hit "The Philadelphia Story," which turned her career around for good. Blanchett may well be the first actor or actress to win an Oscar for playing another Oscar winner, and would well deserve it.
Kate Beckinsale (qv) as Ava Gardner (qv) is as radiant as the real thing but if this part of Hughes' life wasn't in the movie as written I would never have missed it.
Leonardo DiCaprio (qv) fills the screen like he always does, but not even his star quality and his talent don't make up for the movies meanderings from the plot. His gives and takes with Alan Alda (qv) as Senator Harry Reid are well enough, but it's like watching a rehearsal instead of a finished product. Alec Baldwin (qv) as Juan Trippe, the boss at Pan AM, seems to be grateful to phone in his character from GlenGarry Glen Ross (1992) _(qv)_.
The airplane scenes, whether flying, building or even just talking technicals, held me in place. In fact, these were the only scenes which did. A movie shouldn't let me wander. This one did, and I hold Martin Scorsese (qv) responsible. He should listen to his film editors much more as well as his writers.
My Brother Talks to Horses (1947)
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW.
A cute premise for a story -- Butch Jenkins as a boy who converses with racehorses (think Horse Whisperer, The (1998) meets Angels in the Outfield (1951) -- is never let run anywhere except to the glue factory.
The first sign of trouble is Peter Lawford as his older brother -- think Shirley Jones re Ronnie Howard in Music Man, The (1962). Brother-in-Lawford doesn't even bother trying to hide his posh English accent in a 1909 middle-class Baltimore setting. His character's own gimmick is his attempts at inventing radio while holding down a day job in a bank. Whether or not he succeeds we're never really told.
Don't ask about plot development. At the end of the first act the boy's favorite horse is shot after an accident on the track. It's all nowhere from there. Not even Spring Byington de-mothballing her flighty-mother character from You Can't Take It with You (1938) can lighten the load the picture makes for itself. The out-of-the-blue climax comes on a nicely packaged happy note when everyone, unbeknownst to each other, bets on a 20-1 Preakness longshot who does his part.
If there's a remake in the works -- it's curious that there hasn't been one, already -- I can only hope the producers learn what NOT to do from this.
C.C. & Company (1970)
Mute the sound when the dialogue comes on
The bikes are the stars here. Forget the plot - something about a biker who falls in with a rich "swinging chick," or some such bad cliche. The gang kidnaps her and he wins her back in a chopper race around the local school track. (at least, I remember that's what happens.) That Speedvision hasn't run this late some Saturday night will give you an idea what a snorer this is. If ever they do, keep the remote handy so you can surf back to the highway shots.
The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)
Cute chick (and Marianne Faithfull really was back then) in tight black leather, riding on a motorcycle -- it just has to have some redeeming quality about it, right?
Wrong! This was the sort of snoozer that gave '60s avant-garde European directors a bad name. No story, no plot, no interest, no nothing!
Good. Not great.
I just saw the stage version with Bernadette Peters because I'd never seen any screen version - unexcellable; a worthy heiress of Ethel Merman. I wish I could say the same for Rosalind Russell.
As I said, I liked the Broadway musical but this production doesn't translate it well to the screen. Merman played (and Peters plays) Rose Hovick at comically over-the-top full-volume, which is the only way to make such an aggravating character likeable. Russell, however, strangely underplays her on the big screen. Perhaps it's her limited singing talent but I blame director Mervyn LeRoy. A director is responsible for what goes on the screen, and so much of what's on the screen doesn't work here.
Natalie Wood shines best as Louise, the plain-Jane "untalented" daughter before her metamorphosis into Gypsy Rose Lee -- where, like Russell, she doesn't shine as much as one would think. Karl Malden is a trouper as Herbie Sommers, the schmo who sticks by Rose longer than anyone who'd call himself a man would. The Sommers role is supposed to be a weakling but I just don't buy Malden in the role. On the other hand, it must have been good rehearsal for playing General Omar Bradley, who was portayed as yet another second banana to yet another raging prima donna in 'Patton (1970)'.
The sets also don't really work. They look exactly what they are - Hollywood stage sets, which here give neither impression of Broadway nor full-fledged Hollywood musical. Contrast this with the sets of 'Guys and Dolls (1955)' where the sets looked like Broadway sets and thus really made the picture.
LeRoy is sensible enough to have the actors do their own singing but neither actor is a singer, a fact which overshadows a musical full of otherwise showstopping tunes. However, too many elements just don't come together - the casting, the sets, the art direction. In short, I blame the director. And the producers.
The Kids Are Alright (1979)
Still Alright After All These Years
Jeff Stein's 'TKaA' introduced me to the dysfunctionally co-dependent family that was The Who in their more-than-full-volume, willfully insane glory days of Keith Moon. Their balls-to-the-walls, ear-shattering, finger-slashing, skull-splitting, hammers-of-hell, power-plus-volume blues-based rock & roll put their contemporaries deservedly to shame (Townsend didn't pull punches in his criticism) and set a high bar above all that wreckage which their successors have yet to reach.
It doesn't cover all of The Who's KM-era music (Quadrophenia, Who by Numbers) nor does it dig up the worst/best of the dirt (Daltrey repeatedly KO'ing a whiney Townsend over the years) but it captures as only a fan's we're-not-worthy devotion can the band's intense, sometimes-paranoid craziness as well as their self-knowing, self-mocking intelligence about their craziness -- and their true worth in the annals of rock & roll. Stein deserves a spot in Cleveland right next to them.