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Baby Face (1933)
Don't be deceived by the cute title
Don't be deceived by the cute title. This nasty piece of business is a wild pre-code tale full of sin, immorality and lust. Its main character, played flawlessly by Barbara Stanwyck, is an openly amoral woman without a shred of decency or regret. We discover that Stanwyck's father has been pimping her at his speakeasy since she was fourteen. At his death, marrying a little Nietzschean philosophy into her need to climb social and financial ladders, she seduces one man after another with no regrets. The sex and immorality are left out of camera range, leaving questionable situations to the imagination of the viewer.
In "Baby Face," Warner Bros. breaks every rule in the book with wild abandon that had to have driven the religious conservatives of the day into nuts. In the spring of 1933 it was submitted to the New York State Board of Censors, who rejected it, demanding a number of cuts and changes. Warner Brothers made these changes prior to the film's release in July 1933. In 2004, a "dupe negative" copy of the film as it existed prior to being censored was located at the Library of Congress. This uncensored version received its public premiere at the London Film Festival in November 2004, more than 70 years after it was made.
Come see what all the excitement was about. It's actually a really fun, and racy, movie.
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Not your standard film noir
If I mention a film-noir setting, where does your mind go? Maybe to a damp alley at night or a detective's office or maybe a police interrogation room. Probably not to the New Mexican dessert. Yet that's exactly where this very dark film-noir is set.
A man is trapped in a cave. No problem. A local contractor can have him out in eighteen hours. Unfortunately that rescue gets in the way of other peoples' needs. Instead of a quick rescue a six days-long media circus (and then, later, an actual circus) is staged for maximum effect.
The reporter at the center of the story is played by Kirk Douglas in a powerful performance. He's cynical, unethical, unscrupulous and a master manipulator. He was fired from a high-profile newspaper because of his drinking problem, lying and even for having an affair with the wife of one of his bosses. He convinces a local corrupt sheriff to milk an underground rescue attempt to pile up votes for the next election, and together they bully the contractor to delay. Even the wife of the trapped man is a cold remorseless woman. As in most film-noirs, sympathetic characters are rare.
This movie comes from Billy Wilder who also gave us, "Double Indemnity" and "Sunset Boulevard." This movie is as dark and cynical as its cinematic siblings.
At is heart there is a basic meanness, a violence, a grit that makes this movie unforgettable. In its day it failed to find its audience. Today, its statements about the media and about mis-applied ethics are, perhaps, more timely than when this film was released 65 years ago. Take a look!
In America (2002)
Give it time
So I've got this thing that I do. If I see a film's coming on, I'm not sure if I want to see it, I'll record it. When I watch it I'll give it 15 minutes. If it hasn't given me anything in 15 minutes, no matter the rave reviews and rants, out it goes.
So I recorded IN America. At the 15 minute mark my thumb hoovered dangerously over the delete button. I wasn't sure. Maybe there was something there. I couldn't decide. Alright, I decided. I'll renew my 15 minute mark.
Around minute 30 I still wasn't completely certain. I paused the film. Delete? Watch? Ah nuts, maybe 15 more minutes.
By the 45 minute mark I realized what was happening. The movie was a constricting serpent. In those 45 minutes it had slowly coiled around my legs and was working its way up my torso. No sense fighting it now.
By the film's end it had done its trick. It squeezed all of the skepticism and reluctance out of me. They came oozing out of my tear ducts. I went from casual reluctance to realizing that I just found one of my all time favorite movies.
If you don't cry by the end of the movie schedule a doctor's appointment. Ask him to check you for a pulse.
Z Nation (2014)
I had high hopes for this show, before I actually saw it. This is from an American production company named "The Asylum." They given us other gems like Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, Supercroc, Sharknado, Sharknado 2: The Second One and, of course, Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark. Their specialty is producing "mockbusters." That means when another, higher budget, producer has a hot idea they fabricate a cheap knockoff to try to catch some of the residual cash floating around (hence the Lincoln title mentioned above was released in tandem with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter).
Z Nation would never exist without having The Walking Dead doing as well as it has. The only thing I'll say on behalf of this ersatz clone is that it makes me appreciate just how good The Walking Dead is.
It's nearly impossible to have a watchable zombie-apocalypse knock off. Why? Because, unlike other monster genres, a well-crafted zombie story doesn't focus on the monsters. It focuses on the surviving humans. To do that requires two very special effects that Z Nation will never have - good writing and good acting.
My Favorite Animated Short
I have seen some spectacular animation over the years. I love good animation. I'm crazy about great animation. But I can safely say that The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is the only animated short that I have ever seen that made me cry. If you have lived your life with books, as I have, you will be drawn into this world. In fact if you are a book person this IS your world.
The protagonist, Morris Lessmore, is heavily influenced by Buster Keaton. The scenes of the storm were a combination of the storm sequences of Steamboat Bill jr. and the 1939 Wizard of Oz and the all too real hurricane Katrina (the story opens in Louisiana and the studio that shot it, Moonbot, is located there). After the remarkable devastation Lessmore is saddened to witness the devastation around him. One of the great tragedies is that the storm swept the letters off the pages. Wandering along Lessmore spots a beautiful woman carried aloft on flying books tethered with ribbons. She casts one to Lessmore. The animated Humpty Dumpty pulls the protagonist into a world of enchanted books.
Anyone who loves books can tell you there's nothing fanciful here. Of course books have wings! Of course they enable us to fly. If you don't believe me then shut off your computer now and grab a book. And when you meet Mr. Morris Lessmore give him my regards.
The Bletchley Circle (2012)
Cracking good mystery!
This was a sparkling, well thought out, murder mystery. It dealt with the part of World War II that we seldom get to see on the screen. These four women had developed their minds to nearly super-human levels, only to let them rust in the decades following the war. This drama is set in that curious after-time. It's a time when hands that had once killed and maimed had to be placed in a domestic setting. Both the protagonists and villain were all products of that curious time. They captured the sense of mid- 50's London exquisitely. The piece was well cast, well filmed and well acted. I hope that we get to see more of the amazing women of Beltchley!
The Artist (2011)
A peace treaty between silence and sound
Hollywood has never reconciled with its silent past. Most of the infrastructure that supports the 21st century film industry, from film technique to the studios themselves, have their roots in the silent era. This film (and Martin Scorcesse's Hugo) helps to bridge that gap and does it brilliantly.
The two leads, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, are spot on perfect in their performances. The direction of Michel Hazanavicius was pristine.
We're afforded glimpses of the lives of Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, Gretta Garbo and other silent luminaries in this story of how Hollywood learned to talk.
This story is not exclusively for young or old, male or female, or any particular nationality. It's for anyone who loves cinema.
Bag of Bones (2011)
Bag of Pixels!
Some reviewers have attributed the failure of this miniseries to weak source material. I adored the novel Bag of Bones. The title comes from a Thomas Hardy quote that when authors try to breathe life into their characters, at their best, they're only a bag of bones. I felt that King animated these characters to be far more than that. I got very involved with Mike Noonan (the main character) and those whose life he touched.
Writer/director Mick Garris took this diaphanous weave of character and plot, cored it out, and threw in every bad horror movie cliché in its place. The result is an empty bag of pixels stretched out over four hours.
My heartfelt advice: take that four hours and invest it in reading the very good book or listening to King's reading in the audio book. It's far more satisfying.
The Dark Horse (1932)
A not-to-be-missed pre-code gem!
I've read that the Warner's release, High Pressure, with William Powell, as the fast-talking pitchman Gar Evans, was a hit when it was released in January, 1932. Daryl Zanuck (writing as Mark Canfield) wrote a sequel. When Warner's couldn't get the writer of the original novel to agree to a price that they wanted to pay they transformed conman Gar Evans into the rapid-fire king-maker "Hal Blake." Instead of goods he was selling candidates. They bumped Powell (fearing a lawsuit if they used the same actor for similar characters) in favor of Warren William and the movie became The Dark Horse.
What a crackerjack little film! It had a large cast of assembly-line actors and crew who knew how to crank out a film hot enough to ignite the nitrate stock it was printed on. This film went through pre- production, production and post-production in time for its release in June, 1932. That's just five months after the film that inspired it! Its rushed release didn't show in its spot-on rapid fire dialog or delivery.
Other reviewers have whined about a later subplot involving Hal Blake's ex. By that time I was so completely won over the charms of this pre- code gem that I completely accepted, and enjoyed, the late curveball.
How could you not love a movie with a song like:
Upstate, downstate Cities and the sticks, The voters yell for change Even babies cry for Hicks! Boys and girls together Toms and Harrys and Dicks, Climb the big bandwagon, While they cast their vote for Hicks!
Green Lantern (2011)
I loved this film!
I know there are a lot of negative reviews of this film. As is often the case I'm glad that I shut myself off from them. I started with Green Lantern when I was in elementary school in the early 60's. If someone were to pull the Silver Age Green Lantern from my mind and splashed him onto celluloid the end result would have been this movie. I'm not comparing it to any other superhero film because I feel that Green Lantern is such a special character. The Green Lantern Corps (especially Sinestro), the Guardians of Oa, the reckless Hal Jordan - all of it rang true.
Martin Campbell has solid action creds. He was the perfect choice for director. It was well shot by Dion Beebe and solidly edited by Stuart Baird. The acting was okay, but, frankly, if I want good acting I'll re- watch ON THE WATERFRONT. This movie was pure fun, from first frame to last. I wouldn't have changed a thing.