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macho man, 18 January 2017

#8 BORSALINO & CO. (1974) starred Alain Delon and Ricardo Cucciolla.

This is a sequel to the highly acclaimed BORSALINO which apparently is unavailable. Well, if there is one thing I hate it's dubbing. This was dubbed. Delon's voice was too low. The voices always sound disembodied to me.

The story takes place in the mid-1930s France, and it concerns a gangland war between the Volpone (Cucciolla) gang and the Roch Siffredi (Delon) gang. Initially, Volpone wins and plans to saturate the country with heroin, but Siffredi carefully works out his revenge.

It's a typical Godfather-type film without being the Godfather. Lots of cars crashing, violence, shooting, and a particularly unpleasant final scene. All very macho.

On IMDb one of the posters said, "Alain Delon, already past his prime..." Yeah, what a dog. He was a GOD, and with his hair slicked back, evening clothes, and beautifully tailored suits, he looked as if he walked off the pages of Italian Vogue. If your idea of "prime" is 25, that's sad. To each age its own beauty.

La Piscine (1969)
lots under the surface but only eye candy above, 14 January 2017

And what eye candy - Alain Delon.

"La Piscine" is about two impossibly beautiful people in various stages of undress having a lot of foreplay. Or so it seems. Jean- Paul (Delon) and his lover (or wife, not sure) Marianne (Romy Schneider) are vacationing in a friend's mansion in Saint-Tropez. Lots of sun, making out, and swimming.

Marianne's ex-beau, Harry (Maurice Ronet) calls to say he's in the area, and Marianne invites him and his nubile daughter Penelope (Jane Birkin) to stay with him.

It's obvious that Harry still desires Marianne, so there is automatic tension. Then Jean-Paul seduces Penelope. Soon tension leads to something worse.

"La Piscine" is a typical foreign film - the ideas are sometimes obtuse, and it moves slowly. It's also too long by as much as a half hour. It's hard to concentrate on the plot because the beauty of the stars, Delon and Schneider, and their incredible chemistry overwhelm the story - to the extent that one doesn't really understand Jean- Paul's attraction to Penelope.

What erupts is the suppressed anger of the once-suicidal Jean-Paul, the competitiveness between him and Harry, and Harry's jealous possession of his daughter, whom he only recently met. As Penelope says, he likes to have her travel with him because people often think she's his mistress.

Schneider and Delon were a famous real-life couple but had broken up about five years earlier. Their chemistry is undeniable, and it's heartbreaking to think about what happened to her. Both actors give very "movie" performances - nothing overplayed, many subtle, nonverbal reactions. All of the acting is good, and the conflict scene between Harry and Jean-Paul is excellent.

"La Piscine" is considered a classic, but I believe many Americans had a hard time with it due to its languid pace and a tendency to look for action rather than psychology. Enjoy it for the beautiful photography and beautiful actors, if nothing else.

Bryan Cranston is Bob Mazur, a real-life undercover agent, 13 January 2017

Based on real life events, undercover agent Bob Mazur (Bryan Cranston) takes on a huge drug cartel and works to bring them down in "The Infiltrator." The film also stars John Leguizamo (who once said, "Yes, I know all the Puerto Ricans who have played Talouse Latrec"), Diane Kruger, and Benjamin Bratt.

There is action in this movie, but it's more of a study of Mazur and how he worked the identity he created for himself and moved into the drug world armed with only a tape recorder in a special briefcase. Beautifully acted, this exciting and suspenseful film moves quickly.

At one point, having avoided sex with a girl in a club by saying he was engaged, the government felt it was important for him to have a girlfriend. Though against it, Mazur finds the presence of Kathy (Kruger) very helpful. The two of them are able to befriend Roberto and Gloria Alcaino (Bratt and Elena Acayo). The idea is to entrap the top man, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who is running a money laundering scheme. Mazur's idea is to follow the money instead of the coke.

Given today's news about the use of women in films, this movie really lines up - a few roles for women and the rest are used as sex objects.

The Infiltrator shows the effects of undercover work on those involved. Bryan Cranston as always is a marvel.

This story reminds us that even drug lords can't be described just by what they do.

Spectre (2015/I)
too long at the fair, 007, 10 January 2017

Time to retire this franchise.

Big budget boredom - 007 is like Ol' Man River - he just keeps rolling along, but in the case of 007, this franchise has had it. My advice: After the first truly electrifying 13 minutes, turn this off and keep your happy memories.

In this one, Bond goes rogue after receiving a message from the beyond, in a way. He infiltrates a secret meeting and learns about the evil group SPECTRE. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there's a new M (Ralph Fiennes) and a merger with MI5 and a decision to kill the Double O program. Might be a good idea, in fact.

Madeleine Swan (Lea Seydoux), the daughter of an old enemy, may have the clue to finishing off SPECTRE.

A good cast includes, besides Craig, Fiennes, and Seydoux, Christopher Waltz as the head of SPECTRE and Sherlock's Moriarity on PBS, Andrew Scott, one of the best of the new crop of British actors.

But all that doesn't help the script. That great budget and no one can write an exciting story. Car chases, sex with women Bond met 2 minutes ago, cartoon villains, torture - it's all there in small enough doses to make the 2-1/2 hours go by like the original Birth of a Nation.

I've seen Craig on stage twice - he's wasted here. About as exciting as flipping channels with a remote.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A life unexamined is not worth living...and a life examined is no bargain., 9 January 2017

Leave it to Woody Allen to add that ending to a quote by Socrates.

Woody Allen is so prolific that he can't possibly knock one out of the park every time. Though "Cafe Society" has a bittersweet, thoughtful quality about it, it's not one of his best.

Jesse Eisenberg is the Woody character, Bobby, who moves to LA from the Bronx in the 1930s and drops in on his highly successful agent uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carrell). Bobby has only been trying to see him for three weeks, but Uncle Phil finally comes through. He has Bobby work for him doing errands until he can steer him toward something better. He also asks his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) to show Bobby around.

Bobby falls for Vonnie immediately, but unbeknownst to him, she's having an affair with his uncle, who is married. Phil decides he can't leave his wife and breaks it off with her, and she and Bobby wind up falling in love. But later, it falls to Vonnie to make a choice.

Cafe Society is a little on the slow side - the acting is good, there are a few jokes, it's historically accurate (I'm always looking for films about old Hollywood to goof up like Barton Fink), and the photography and fashions are beautiful.

Woody is talking here about the road not taken and showing us two people who think about that other road often. Of course there's no answer, but it is something we all wonder about especially as we age.

I just don't think the story was tight enough - it seemed to meander.

I'm not familiar with Kristen Stewart. She has a special beauty and a nice presence and fit into the film well. Eisenberg, like most actors doing the Woody character in Woody films, takes on some of Allen's inflections. He's likable. Steve Carrell's role does not play to his strengths but he pulls it off. Someone on this board complained about Bobby's parents. I thought Jeanie Berlin, whom I haven't seen in years, was terrific and gave a very realistic performance.

Not a heck of a lot goes on in this film - it's not serious like Crimes and Misdemeanors and it's not Bullets Over Broadway, which was a comedy with serious undertones about art. I think here Allen making a choice about which it would be may have been a good idea.

Wintertime (1943)
almost unbearable, 5 January 2017

"Wintertime" from 1943 was, I believe, the last film Sonja Henie made for Darryl F. Zanuck. To me, it was pretty poor with the exception of Sonja's fabulous skating. It's loud, a little slap-sticky, and the funny parts aren't all that funny.

The film also stars Jack Oakie, S.Z. Sakall, Cornell Wilde, Carole Landis, and Cesar Romero.

The story is sketchy and really just an excuse for the musical numbers, of which there are many. Nora (Henie) and her uncle (S.Z. Sakall) are in Canada to be part of a quota so they can immigrate to the U.S. They spend the night in a hotel in Canada which has seen better days.

Nora develops a crush on the owner (Wilde) and talks her uncle into investing into the hotel. However, with his funds being frozen in Norway due to the war, the investment has put Nora's uncle in financial trouble now. Also, Nora starts to think her romance is one-sided when reporter Landis appears.

Sonja was a first in many aspects of figure skating, and even today with more athletic moves, her talent can be appreciated. She was fast and had beautiful spins, as well a big personality. She was the first figure skater to wear the short skirt costume, the first to wear white boots, the first to make use of dance choreography, and she invented many skating techniques -- all things that remain in place today in the sport. She also made ice shows and figure skating popular.

For the above reasons, seeing a Sonja Henie movie is always a treat. In this case, do yourself a favor and fast forward through the rest of it.

"Velvet" (2013)
That thing you do, 4 January 2017

We hear so much about the brilliance of British actors, and theater people are well-versed in the magnificence of the Russians. Somehow we don't hear about the Spanish. It is on a different level, granted, but as a former actress, I can state as this is my third Spanish series, that Spanish acting is wonderful.

Velvet is the story of a department store family in 1950s Madrid; after the patriarch and owner of the store kills himself, his son Alberto (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) returns from London to take over the family business. He rekindles his childhood romance with Ana Ribero (Paula Echevarría) who lived at the store with her uncle after the death of her mother. The two plan to marry.

The store, however, is in bad financial shape, and an offer of cash comes with the strong suggestion that Alberto marry the financier's daughter Cristina (Manuela Velasco). Though it breaks her heart, Anna encourages him to do it, and he does. Ana and Alberto remain in love and still want to be together.

Later Alberto butts heads with Cristina's brother Enrique (Diego Martin) as the two fight for management of the store.

"Velvet" is soapy, but the reality the actors bring to the series make it seem less so. The characters are beautifully drawn. The women in the sewing room, of whom Ana is one, are outstanding, especially Manuela Vellés (Luisa) and Cecilia Freire (Rita).

For me, it is Miguel Ángel Silvestre as Alberto who makes the show, and he is what Spanish acting is all about - natural, relaxed, charming, and intense, he is perfect as a man who adored his father and takes his responsibilities to Velvet seriously. From smiling at customers in the elevator to laughing at his best friend's (Javier Rey) crazy love problems, to exploding at his wife, he is amazing.

His chemistry with Paula Echevarría is wonderful, and you can believe the two have a long history together. Echevarria brings warmth to her role as the self-sacrificing Ana, and we can see her development as a person during the series. These two are much stronger actors than the romantic stars of Gran Hotel, though their material is better.

And one of those Gran Hotel stars, the gorgeous Amaia Salamanca, has a large role as Barbara, Cristina's sister-in-law. I honestly didn't recognize her as she wears a brunette wig, and her acting is so different. She plays a jaded, somewhat bitter woman whose husband cheats on her. In Gran Hotel, she was this fragile, soft woman -- quite a change.

Another Gran Hotel star, Llorenç González, plays Jonas, an opposite role from Andres in Gran Hotel. Here he's a gum chewing smart aleck, kind of a snake oil salesman type, whereas as Andres, he was sad and victimized for much of the series.

The only thing in the show that drove me insane was the romance between Rita and Pedro (Adrian Lastra) which was too drawn out and frustrating. Both actors though demonstrated a wide range of comedy and drama. Also when one watches it as I did, binge watching, it seems like everybody is constantly being slapped in the face.

There are too many excellent actors to single out because everyone is so good, but kudos to Jose Sacristan as Ana's uncle; Asier Etxeandia as the designer Raul; Aitana Sánchez-Gijón as the manager of the sewing room, Dona Blanca; Angela Molina as the tragic Isabel; and Marta Hazas as Rita's sexy knockout sister, Clara.

The '50s music is great, a lot of sha-na-na songs, love songs, and Elvis-type music. Someone on this board stated that this series was probably made for American audiences, because some colloquialisms and fashion (mainly pajamas) don't seem right, and there is no mention of Franco, no sevillanas, no bullfights. It was perhaps watered down a bit to appeal to foreigners, though they have done an excellent job of recreating the '50s. And the fashions are exceptional.

Highly, highly recommended - great for Spanish students, great for entertainment, and a great example of a group of actors not often talked about - the Spanish.

for the plane alone it's worth watching, 4 January 2017

"Non-Stop New York" is a delightful film from 1937 starring Anna Lee, John Loder, and Francis L. Sullivan.

Anna Lee (Lila Quartermaine on General Hospital) is pretty Jenny Carr, a young British actress in New York City with a flop play. So soon, she'll be on her way back to London. She meets a man who sees she's hungry and offers to buy her a meal.

That man is later murdered, and a bum is arrested. He is due to be executed in a matter of days. He says that an English girl knows he didn't do it, but no one can find her. She's already home. Once she sees a headline that she's being searched for, she realizes she has to get back to the US immediately. She and her mother find a plane that goes London to NY in 18 hours, and her mother pretends to be drowning while Jenny boards the plane.

Little does Jenny know but the real killers are out to stop her.

This plane is something to behold. It's a clipper, and apparently this type of plane did exist. Wish it still did. The inside is more like a train, with sleeping compartments, dining room, and one can step out onto a terrace like thing outside the plane. It also flies rather low. Totally amazing.

Francis L. Sullivan is excellent as the slimy gang head who wears different disguises in his quest to get rid of Jenny. Apparently - could this be true - he was 35 years old when he did this. If you'd told me he was 65 I would have believed you.

John Loder, who was married at one time to Hedy Lamarr, is the handsome investigator who really doesn't believe Jenny.

This film is available on youtube. Try and see it - it's very enjoyable.

A Wedding (1978)
A big cast attends the world's worst wedding, 3 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Robert Altman directs a large cast - Carol Burnett, Lillian Gish, Howard Duff, Dina Merrill, Geraldine Chaplin, Vittorio Gassman, Desi Arnaz Jr., Viveca Lindfors, Mia Farrow, and many others, in "A Wedding" from 1978.

I've never been crazy about Robert Altman's big ensemble movies - for me they are too chaotic.

This film brings chaos to a new level when Muffin (Amy Stryker) marries Dino Corelli (Arnaz). The wedding itself, with its many bridesmaids and groomsmen, goes all right, with the exception of the Bishop (John Cromwell) having the beginnings of dementia. When everyone arrives at the Corelli home for the reception. All hell breaks loose.

The bride's sister Buffy (Farrow) isn't speaking to anyone; she seems upset, and we find out later why. The wedding planner (Chaplin) runs around telling people how to act, including instructing the bride and groom how to make the first cut into the cake. A guest and doctor (Duff) tries to keep everyone from knowing that the matriarch of the family (Gish) just died upstairs. He also likes to brush crumbs off of the breast part of women's clothing.

Tulip (Burnett), mother of the bride, is stalked by the husband (Pat McCormick) of the groom's aunt (Dina Merrill) whom she danced with. He swears his love and wants to meet up with her in two weeks in Tennessee when she visits her aunt, in a hotel across from a Dairy Queen.

The bride's old boyfriend and the groom's old girlfriend both show up and make out with their ex-partners.

The groom's father is an Italian criminal in hiding.

The security people (John Considine, who also co-wrote the script) and his female partner seem like they work for Mossad. As Considine tells one guest, "Don't make me neutralize you, Sir."

Many, many funny bits. One of my favorites was Chaplin's instructions for dancing. "First the bride and groom dance to their favorite song. Then the FOB dances with the bride. Then the MOB dances with the groom...." And of course, Burnett being chased all over the house by McCormick. Viveca Lindfors is a scream as a crazy guest who makes big, dramatic proclamations. Nina van Pallandt, a member of the groom's family, is getting injections of something in the bathroom.

I'm not a huge fan of Altman's style of overlapping dialogue and big casts that seem to meander, but if you appreciate it, this is the film for you. It's lesser Altman but still good.

a mess, 2 January 2017

As an American, I was thrilled to learn there were Jonathan Creek episodes I hadn't seen, and I took great joy in watching this one, The Clue of the Savant's Thumb. Just don't ask me what it was about.

Jonathan is now married and works for an advertising agency, leaving the world of magic behind him. At a cocktail party, he and his wife meet Franklin Tartikoff, a satirist, and his wife Rosalind (Joanna Lumley).

The Tartikoffs have an adopted daughter, Fariba, who some time later arrives home from the Ademans. At the same time, Rosalind is returning from an old school chum's funeral but can't get into her husband's study. She starts yelling to Fariba to answer the door, but there is no response. Looking in the keyhole, she sees her husband's body and Fariba fainting.

When the police arrive, Inspector Pryke, in a wheelchair, is with them. No body. A paranormal investigator, Joey Ross, asks Jonathan to help. They find out that Rosalind is tortured by an incident at the school she attended - a religious or initiation gone wrong, which happened some years earlier.

Then there is an attempt to kill Fabriba. Jonathan figures out how Franklin died and how the "locked door" mystery actually happened. After an attempt is made to kill Fariba, Jonathan discovers just how Franklin died and how the illusion of the locked door was created. The reason for his death is tangled with a government plot, putting Jonathan and everyone else in danger.

I admit I didn't know what was going on for part of this - there seemed to be subplots that were unnecessary and made no sense. And there were some obvious problems with the script. I'll list a few. The time of the Catholic school rituals - Rosalind said it was 50 years ago, making it 1963 but another time it's 1968. Who sent her that photo and code note? We're never told. And if that school haunts her even now, why did she live nearby?

I didn't get the business in the locked room - why was the body hidden? Why can't anyone know he did magic? How did Fariba know Rosalind would even look through the keyhole?

There is a discussion of photos on a staircase. I thought Pryke was in a wheelchair - how did he see them? And Joanna Lumley called her daughter every name under the sun - Fabria, Farbia, Fariba - really.

Those are only a few - there are a dozen others. I do love the show but this one I thought was off the mark.

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