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Barnaby has a new partner, 22 August 2014

Dan Scott (John Hopkins) comes in to replace Troy as Barnaby's new partner in "Bad Tidings" from season 7. He has no time to become acclimated to his new boss or surroundings, as a murder case beckons.

A woman is found dead from stabbing. in Midsomer Mallow. She left the Midsomer Mallow residents' association's Spanish Evening in a huff but never arrives home.

The suspect that comes up immediately is Jacob Stoat, who goes around with a wagon and does odd jobs.

As a subplot, Cully, Barnaby's daughter, is reuniting with some school friends, one of whom is peripherally involved in the case. She was a neighbor of the dead woman. Cully is distressed to see that her friends have changed. She's not as comfortable with them as she once was, not realizing that they have a secret. When a second murder occurs, that secret is revealed.

This is a pretty good Midsomer Murders entry, except that the murderer seems to troll the countryside looking for people to kill, and one of them is not really involved with the killer.

As Sergeant Scott, Dan Hopkins is handsome and the character's polite, charming nature on the surface belies his resentment for being sent down from London and his determination to move up the ranks. I think he gets his wish, as he's not with Barnaby very long.

soapy trash, directed by George Cukor, 22 August 2014

The eminent director George Cukor did The Chapman Report for Warner Brother. It's based on the book by Irving Wallace, which was inspired by the Kinsey report about sexual activity.

The Warner Brothers actors cast include Efrem Zimbalist as one of the interviewers who works for Mr. Chapman (Andrew Duggan), Ray Danton as a libidinous film director, and Ty Hardin as someone Glynis Johns meets on the beach. According to film lore, George Cukor was impressed enough with Hardin's good looks and physique that he ended up with a showy role in the film. Look for Chad Everett as a water delivery man in the beginning of the film.

But the women are the real stars: Jane Fonda, Glynis Johns, Clare Bloom, and Shelley Winters, all of whom are terrific.

Chapman and Paul Radford (Zimbalist) come to a town to do interviews with women for their statistics on sexual activity. That's all pretty dated. The film focuses on four women: Fonda as a widow of a bad marriage who thinks she's frigid and becomes involved with Radford; Bloom as a nymphomaniac; Winters as a cheating wife; and Johns as a woman who wonders if she's getting enough from her marriage, which seems happy enough. She's the comic relief, and she's a blast.

The best scene in the film occurs when Johns goes to Hardin;s place to pose nude for her, with the idea of seducing him. Fonda, Bloom, and Johns are all gorgeous. Winters by this time was doing the more housefrau type of role. She's excellent as a desperately unhappy woman involved in an illicit affair with Danton.

This is the '60s idea of an adult film so everything is talked around, in half sentences, or shown as a fadeout. The only one who takes his clothes off is Hardin.

It's trash, but it's high-class trash and one does become involved with the characters.

The Secret of Heaven, 21 August 2014

"The Five People You Meet in Heaven" is a TV adaptation of Mitch Albom's best-selling book. The stars are Jon Voight, Ellen Burstyn, Jeff Daniels, and Michael Imperioli.

Eddie is an 83-year-old mechanic at the Ruby Pier amusement park. When a ride collapses, he tries to pull a child out of the way and is killed himself. Dead, he is told by the Blue Man (Daniels) that he will meet five people whom impacted him or whom he impacted in some way. But what's on Eddie's mind is the little girl -- did he save her or not?

Eddie's heavenly experience is an interesting one and not what you might expect. Eddie believes that he led a limited life, never going anywhere, never doing anything, that the war shook him up too much, and that he lost everything that mattered. One might think he meets people who say, hey, Eddie, because of you, I'm alive, or you did this wonderful thing for me -- but that's not what happens.

Instead, Eddie has to relive his war experiences and the damaging of one leg, he meets someone he unintentionally hurt, he meets someone he never met...and they all tell him the same thing, "there was a reason." But he doesn't know what that was until he meets the last person.

If you're a sap like me, you'll need a box of Kleenex. This is a beautifully acted film with a powerful message that we need to be reminded of more often. Jon Voight will yank at your heartstrings unmercifully. But all the acting is terrific. I do agree with one reviewer on this site, it's a little long.

This is the kind of film that made Frank Capra famous. It's reminiscent in a way of "It's a Wonderful Life," but not really -- you'll be surprised by the people Eddie meets...and why he meets them.

Skylark (1941)
enjoyable, 20 August 2014

A top cast -- Claudette Colbert, Ray Milland, and Brian Aherne star in "Skylark," a 1941 film directed by Mark Sandrich, and based on the play.

Milland and Colbert are Tony and Lydia Kenyon, celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary, and they're having a party. Tony is in advertising, so all of his clients' products have to be on display. He's preoccupied with one client in particular, Frederick Vantine (Grant Mitchell), from whom he's trying to get another million dollars in advertising.

At the party, and right after an altercation with her husband, Linda meets a charming attorney, Jim Blake (Aherne) who becomes very smitten with her. She takes a drive with him to a diner. When she arrives home, the party is over and Tony is furious. The attorney was a guest of the Vantines, and Mrs. Vantine (Binnie Barnes) is angry that she went off with him. He demands that she call and apologize. Lydia does, and then she leaves him and spends more time with Jim -- against the wishes of Mrs. Vantine.

Funny marital comedy about a woman who doesn't want to be a second thought to her husband, and a husband who adores her but is afraid of not being good at his job. He's also jealous of Jim.

Some wonderful scenes and performances: the cast is top-notch, and Colbert's scene on Jim's boat is hilarious, and her encounters with Barnes are delicious. Aherne is likable, debonair, and charming, and Milland shows vulnerability as Tony.

"Skylark" could have better directed, which would have brought the film up a couple of notches. If Leo McCarey or Ernst Lubitsch had directed it, it might have been up there with "It Happened One Night." Nevertheless, it is delightful, with the three stars at the top of their respective games.

funny, 20 August 2014

"The Search for John Gissing" is a 2001 comedy starring Mike Binder, Janeane Garofalo, and Alan Rickman.

Matthew Barnes and his wife Linda come to London, where Matthew is going to oversee a merger of a British company with the Germans. The man who has rented a house for them and is going to pick them up at the airport is one John Gissing (Rickman) who doesn't show up at the airport. They reach him, and he apologizes, and sends them to a hotel where he has a room reserved for them. The room turns out to be for someone else, and the Barnes' can't get a room because Gissing maxed out their credit cards when he rented them a house. The couple winds up staying with a nun who, while Linda is in the shower, makes a pass at Matthew.

It doesn't take Barnes long to figure out that John Gissing is out to destroy him. It turns out that Gissing was passed over for this assignment and feels threatened. Barnes turns the tables on him.

Lots of this film is very funny, with a crackerjack performance by Rickman, who is hilarious. Mike Binder is possibly a devotee of Woody Allen - this is Binder's film, and it's not dissimilar to an Allen film, nor are his line readings. Janeane Garofalo as his discouraged wife is very good.

This film didn't get a general release, apparently. It's hard to understand why since it is at least a cut above some of the dreck that passes for comedy today. I suspect if Ben Stiller had made it, the film wouldn't have had that problem.

the world of David Lynch - one trip isn't enough, 20 August 2014

"Lost Highway" is a David Lynch film from 1997 and, like most David Lynch films, it's hard to describe, hard to understand, and even after you've described it, you haven't told anyone what it's about because it's not about what you just described.

Bill Pullman is Fred Madison, a saxophone player sitting on Death Row for murder of his wife (Patricia Arquette).

In the beginning of the movie, a tape is delivered to Fred and Renee's home. It shows the front of their house, but each tape sent shows more and more of the house, including the inside. The film "Cache" does a similar thing, with tapes of the house being sent. Cache is also a film that causes a lot of discussion, and the director is probably a devotee of Lynch.

Fred is ultimately filmed with Renee's dead body, though he remembers nothing. He's found guilty and is on death row, though he is tortured by the fact that he really doesn't know what happened to Renee. As a result he has bad headaches and can't sleep.

He goes to the prison doctor, who asks him how he's sleeping, and he says not well. The doctor gives him pills and says, "You'll sleep now." Thus begins Fred's dream.

In Mulholland Drive, the film begins with a dream; here, the dream comes a little later. And you know how dreams are -- things are different, people are different, everything is askew.

In the dream, Bill Pullman becomes Balthazar Getty who plays a mechanic, Pete Dayton. The dream becomes a noir, complete with a femme fatale (Arquette). In the beginning of the film, Arquette has straight black hair as Fred's wife. Now she's a blond named Alice, who is trying to help him find answers. Pete Dayton wakes up in person, but he gets out and seeks revenge. He knows what happened to Renee. In Fred's dream, Pete sees The Lost Highway Hotel, where Renee had liaisons with Dick Laurent (Robert Loggia), who heads a crime syndicate.

If you just sat through this film, you wouldn't have any idea what was happening except that it's dark and strange and the characters seem to wind up as other people. The thing with Lynch is it's a dream world where not everything makes sense. In this case, it may be the dream world of a schizophrenic.

Lynch's movies feel like dreams -- they're disturbing and something is not quite right. People make weird statements. Does it all mean something? Probably, but I don't think we're meant to know everything.

Another fascinating film from David Lynch.

absurd, 17 August 2014

"A Fine Pair" from 1968 is one big yawn of a caper film which stars Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale.

Rock plays NYPD Captain Mike Harmon. Esmeralda Marini, who knew him when she was a child in Italy, visits him. Her father was an Inspector, and Mike has precious memories of the six months he spent with the family. Esmeralda needs his help. She's a jewel thief who is reformed and wants to return some jewels to a prominent family before they arrive at their Kitzbuhel, Austria home. She wants Mike's help.

I'm going to stop right there. Mike Harmon has risen to the rank of Captain, but apparently brains had nothing to do with it since you can see the situation they get into coming from a mile away. As the story continues, it becomes more and more ridiculous. However, the convoluted plot, which consists of bringing a room temperature up to 134 degrees, gives male viewers a chance to see the incredible body of Cardinale when she strips down.

The two stars have no chemistry. I've always liked Rock Hudson, but he exhibits no personality here. Cardinale's character is not likable, though she did bring back memories of having that hairstyle.

Skip this.

not sure it was worth all the trouble it caused, 17 August 2014

I guess the censors were on a lunch break when this film came before them. Or perhaps the Brits didn't have a censorship program like we had.

"No Orchids for Miss Blandish" is a film ahead of its time, for sure, one filled with brutality, sex, and implied rape. Apparently upon its release it caused a big hullabaloo. Various councils banned the film and the lead censor had to apologize! The story concerns a woman with an insanely rich father, the aforementioned Miss Blandish (Linden Travers) whose $100,000 diamonds are stolen, she is kidnapped, and her boyfriend is killed (in an awful scene) by thugs led by Slim (Jack LaRue). Though she has witnessed a murder and there is pressure for him to kill her, Slim returns the diamonds to her and tells her to leave. He's fallen in love with her, and she with him. This leads to lots of problems.

There are so many murders and people turning on one another in this film that I lost count. The story for me was highly implausible, with not enough fleshing out of the characters to make their actions believable.

Despite the fact that this is supposed to be an American gangster story, it had a distinctive British feel to it. The acting was good, even though apparently it was a career-wrecker for some of the performers, Linden Travers being among them.

Not what I was expecting by a long shot and for me it was short on characterizations and long on violence. Still, it's worth seeing as an artifact of not only British cinema, but of its time.

$ (1971)
world's most exhausting chase scene, 16 August 2014

"$" from 1971 stars Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Scott Brady, Gert Frobe, and Robert Webber. Filmed in Europe, the story is about a bank security expert (Beatty) who plans on robbing said bank -- but only the safe deposit boxes belonging to thieves who can't go to the police. He's helped by a prostitute (Hawn) who has entertained these guys.

Very good heist film, with the world's longest and most exhausting chase scene I've ever seen. You'll be ready for bed by the time it's over. Warren Beatty is terrific as the cool, self-assured security man who somehow remains calm in the face of adversity. Hawn is a riot as a former Las Vegas showgirl who is a nervous wreck about her part in the heist.

I would only say, at 2 hours plus, it's a little long for what it is. They could have cut as much as a half an hour and been fine.

over the ground, there comes a sound..., 16 August 2014

I grew up listening to Gordon MacRae sing The Desert Song on an album that also featured him in the musical Roberta. The soprano in both cases was Lucille Norman, and both recordings were wonderful. So it was with great interest that I watched "The Desert Song."

Having myself appeared in "The New Moon," I can tell you that on stage, these operettas only work if done tongue in cheek. If one were filming them for today's audiences, I suspect they would have to be done that way as well.

However, for beautiful music, "The Desert Song" is operetta at its best.

The story is not unfamiliar -- just think Superman or Zorro.

Shiek Yousseff (Raymond Massey) secretly plots to overthrow the French, all the while pretending to be their friend. Opposing him are the Riffs and their leader, El Khobar. El Khobar is in reality Professor Paul Bonnard who is making a study of the desert. The Riffs' attacks on supply trains keep the villages in food.

General Birabeau (Ray Collins) of the French Foreign Legion arrives to investigate, and his daughter Margot (Kathryn Grayson) accompanies him. He hires Bonnard to tutor her. Margot, meanwhile, has eyes for a Legionnaire captain, Claud Fontaine (Steve Cochran). El Khobar kidnaps Margot until he can convince her that Yousseff is not on the side of the French, but Yousseff's men attack the camp and take Margot prisoner.

This is different from the actual operetta, in which Birabeau has a son, not a daughter; his son, Pierre, is actually the Riff leader The Red Shadow. In the operetta, Margot is engaged to Claud Fontaine, but the Red Shadow is in love with her.

Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson lend their beautiful voices to songs such as "The Desert Song," "One Alone," and "Romance." Grayson is not quite bubbly enough as the flirty Margot. I can't believe that with that size voice, she sang Butterfly on an opera stage, but I guess she did.

It's a pretty production, with Dick Wesson, playing a reporter, providing some comic relief. In the operetta he has a girlfriend, Susan.

This is the kind of movie where you enjoy the music and the singing. Well worth watching.

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