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Thieves (1977)
Time Is a Thief
13 September 2019
THIEVES is based on Herb Gardner's 1974 play that ran for more than 300 performances on Broadway. It's not an easy film story to watch, but the performers are all so good you can't stop watching. Marlo Thomas repeats her stage role as Sally, the feisty teacher in a ghetto school married to dullard Marty (Charles Grodin) who's the principal at a posh private school. Fifteen years before they had been social rebels, demonstrators, and involved. Now they've become increasingly isolated in their comfy high-rise world. Sally has retained some rebellious fire, but she's afraid to admit the marriage is over. Over the course of a fateful night and the following day, they meet a series of people who help them examine and define their lives. While Sally tries to confront her loveless marriage and a possible abortion, Marty tries to find his own roots in an abandoned theater. Solid supporting cast has John McMartin, Ann Wedgeworth, Hector Elizondo, and others living in urban isolation. Best of all and an amazing surprise is Irwin Corey as Sally's cab-driver father and one-time Vaudeville player. His seemingly senseless rants that become monologues about finding cohesion in a splintered world are often very funny but also sad in their truthfulness. Others in the film are Mercedes McCambridge, Gary Merrill, Bob Fosse, Alice Drummond, and Zvee Scooler. Grodin had directed the stage version. Best thing I've ever seen Marlo Thomas do.
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Two Sinners (1935)
Martha Sleeper Shines
10 September 2019
TWO SINNERS is based on a story by Warwick Deeping and stars Otto Kruger as a man just released from prison after serving 15 years for murder. He bails England and heads to France for a new start. He meets a mousy governess (Martha Sleeper) and becomes involved in her miserable life caring for a brat (Cora Sue Collins) and dealing with the harridan mother (Minna Gombell). As the story progresses, Sleeper wins over Collins and romance starts to blossom with Kruger. But a series of events blows up all the pretty dreams and Sleeper is convicted of a crime. The ending is sort of rushed but the end result is satisfying. Sleeper and Kruger are terrific as are Collins and Gombell in their rather unsympathetic roles. Not a major studio production (released thru Republic) but well worth looking for.
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Kenneth More Stars
19 August 2019
A surprisingly good comedy/drama about a group of British actors on the periphery is THE COMEDY MAN, which stars Kenneth More as a down-and-out actor who finally finds success, but in a series of TV commercials about breath mints. The various members of the group experience all sorts of ups and downs and live in a shared, squalid flat. They chase all over London looking for work but fall prey to the indifference of producers. An oily agent (Dennis Price) lords overs them and plays favorites as he bestows various small jobs. One actor (Edmund Purdom) lands a small film role that that launches him to major screen success ... much to the bitter envy of the others. It's a great look at the small lives of actors who have the fire to perform but never really make the grade.

Billie Whitelaw is good as an actress working as a waitress. Cecil Parker nearly steals the film as the old gent whose best days are long gone but he still clings to the hope of one last great role ... while he sponges off the younger actors. Frank Finlay, Alan Dobie, and Angela Douglas also appear.

Kenneth More is excellent as the 40-ish actor who can never quite make anything of the small chances he gets. More seems pretty much forgotten today but ranked as a major Brit movie star in the 1950s. He's excellent here.

The ending is quite good.
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14 August 2019
The one bright scene with Rita Moreno replicating Marilyn Monroe's role in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH with Tom Ewell is not enough to salvage this leaden farce about a man (Ewell) trying to get his wife (Sheree North) released from the military.

To be fair, this is not the fault of Ewell, North, or Moreno, but lies with writer/director Frank Tashlin, whose fetish with big breasts and cleavage wears thin fast. Most of the women in his films sport hiked-up gigantic breasts they could rest their chins on. They tend to resemble the back ends of Chryslers and Cadillacs.

Plot has Ewell recalled to military service (really?) so wifey (North) races out to re-enlist. He flunks his medical exam but she's already signed up and assigned to Hawaii. Ewell goes to Hawaii to try to spring her from the military by, heavens to MASH's Klinger, getting a "section 8" by proving she's nuts.

Supporting characters are mostly annoying. Rick Jason plays a leering hunk who Ewell sees as a rival. Then there's the mannish female captain (Alice Reinheart) and the leering best friend (Les Tremayne). Edward Platt plays a dumb psychiatrist. Rita Moreno plays Tremayne's girlfriend. Sylvia Lewis provides a bright spot as a stripper named Henrietta Hipslider.

The only reason to watch this film is for the brief homage to THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. This scene with Ewell and Moreno is funny and even the music is borrowed from the Monroe classic.
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Becky Sharp (1935)
The Great Miriam Hopkins
10 August 2019
Cut-down story of Becky Sharp is not based on Thackeray's mammoth novel but on a play by Langdon Mitchell which starred Minnie Maddern Fiske in three productions between 1899 and 1911.

This 1935 film is famous as being the first feature film shot in Technicolor. Current version has been restored a few times and boasts brilliant colors that sometimes vary between scenes but are mostly pleasing.

Miriam Hopkins won her only Oscar nomination as Becky Sharp and dominates the film in nearly every scene. She brings her fiery southern charm to the screen as Becky, a woman who charms and cheats and cajoles her way into early 19th century British society. The Napoleonic Wars serve as a mere background.

Film opens with Becky graduating from a girls' school where she has served as a teacher. She has befriended Amelia Smedley (Frances Dee) and their lives intertwine as the years pass. Becky starts out as a governess but quickly snags a son of the house (Alan Mowbray) as a husband. Trouble is they both like to live the high life and are always in debt.

Becky turns to charm and teases a series of men into giving her money. She is a scandal among the posh set but never looks back. After her husband dies in a faraway war, she turns to performing on the stage but is a failure. She is saved once again by an old suitor and plans to run away with him to India, where they can live well on a little money.

Lowell Sherman had started directing the film but died about a month into production. Rouben Mamoulian took over the production and started from scratch.

Hopkins is a house afire and deserved her Oscar nomination (losing to Bette Davis). Others in the cast include Billie Burke as a snotty hostess, Cedric Hardwicke as an old lecher, Alison Skipworth as Miss Crawley, Nigel Bruce as Joseph Crawley, and Tempe Pigott as the charwoman.

Historically important film, but don't overlook the great performance by Miriam Hopkins.
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The Music Man (1962)
Americana Set to Music
5 August 2019
Brilliant film adaptation of the great Broadway musical by Meredith Willson. Robert Preston re-creates his Tony Award winning performance as the conman Harold Hill, and he is perfection. There's also Shirley Jones as Marian the librarian. But most of all there is the iconic music of Meredith Willson.

Simple plot has traveling salesman (Preston) coming to a small town in Iowa to sell the rubes band instruments to the local kids. Instead, he gets ensnared by Marian and falls in love with her and the town. It's a gentle look at small-town America in more innocent times.

The town of River City is run by a blowhard mayor (Paul Ford) and his ditzy wife (Hermione Gingold). Marian lives with her mother and young brother (Pert Kelton, Ron Howard), and then there's Marcellus the blacksmith (Buddy Hackett) who is a friend of Harold's. The young lovers are the mayor's daughter and a wild kid from the wrong side of town (Susan Luckey, Timmy Everett).

Also in the cast are the wandering barbershop quartet (The Buffalo Bills) and Gingold's band of old biddies (Mary Wickes, Jesslyn Fax, Sara Seegar, Adnia Rice) . There's also that anvil salesman (Harry Hickox) who acts as a spoiler and exposes Harold Hill as a fraud. Charles Lane plays the town sheriff.

Willson's music is brilliant. The various tunes weave together to form a harmonic tapestry that acts as a metaphor and shows how the townspeople interact and come together. The score includes well-known songs like "76 Trombones," "Ya Got Trouble," "Til There Was You," and "Marian and Librarian." These songs never grow old.

Film buffs will also spot among the cast Barbara Pepper, Rance Howard, William Fawcett, Percy Helton, Max Showalter, and Elaine Joyce.

Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and Hermione Gingold all won Golden Globe nominations.
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April Embarrass
26 July 2019
Easily the worst film Doris Day ever made. She plays a brassy show girl from New York who is mistakenly invited to represent the USA at a cultural shindig in Paris. The stuff-shirt dope who made the error is played by Ray Bolger (nearly 20 years Day's senior). Neither Day nor Bolger manage to stay in character.

Title song aside, all the other songs stink. Claude Daupin occupies a dumb subplot about a Frenchman trying to get home without any money to pay for a passage on the ocean liner ... even though he's a famous impresario. Paul Harvey plays the senior US official and Eve Miller (she's terrible) plays his daughter who's supposedly engaged to Bolger.

Day and Bolger did not get along during production and it shows. Even under the best of circumstances, it's unlikely there would have been any chemistry between them. Bolger had a reputation for upstaging his fellow performers and acting like a prima donna. Having said that, it's amazing how many off-key notes he hits in his opening song-and-dance number. Painful.

Bolger had made a hit on Broadway with 1948's "Where's Charley?" and he starred in the film version the same year he made this film with Day. It was his last starring role in a film.

The cheesy sets and lackluster supporting cast add to the misery. Director David Butler, who had been an actor in silent films, directed Day in several other films with much better results. Bolger seems to be the fly in the ointment.
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Harold Teen (1934)
Snappy Fun and Hal Le Roy
23 July 2019
This is the second film based on the popular comic strip that ran from 1919 to 1959. The 1928 film starred Arthur Lake as Harold. Warners updated the characters and added several songs for this musical version starring Hal Le Roy, who's just about perfect as the lanky teenager.

The comic strip famously lampooned teenagers and all their silly fads and lingo over the years. This film has Harold working as a cub reporter and getting involved with Lillum's high school graduation, and the "big show" the banker's daughter Mimi is putting on.

Rochelle Hudson plays the silky Lillums and Patricia Ellis plays the snappy Mimi. We also get Chick Chandler as wisecracking Lilacs and Eddie Tamblyn as the shy Shadow. Among the adults, there's Hobart Cavanaugh as Pop, Guy Kibbee and Clara Blandick as the Lovewells, Douglass Dumbrille as the banker, Hugh Herbert as Rathburn, Richard Carle as the high school principal, Charles Wilson as the newspaper editor, and Mayo Methot as the newspaper secretary. Jane Wyman is among the high school throng ... if you can spot her.

This was probably meant to be a series, but it didn't happen. Fun all along the way and we the Hal Le Roy's big dance number as a finale.
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Elsie and Doris Waters
14 July 2019
GERT AND DAISY'S WEEK-END is one of the few films made by sisters Elsie and Doris Waters. In this one they play a hapless pair who mistakenly sign up to chaperon a gang of kids on a trip to "the country" to escape the blitzkrieg. Once there, they get embroiled in a jewel robbery as well as a mix-up involving their London neighbor's daughter and her sailor boyfriend. It's all pretty basic and straightforward, the but the ladies are very funny (although a lot of the lines are hard to understand) and they even get to sing a ribald song called "She Was a Lily (but only by name)" at the house party in front of a vicar. Their characters of Gert and Daisy are those working class Brit types, ever cheerful and determined (see Gracie Fields and Betty Balfour) and always ready with a chipper song. The gang of kids pre-dates the St. Trinian's mob by a decade. Maybe it's just me, but I always find it funny to see middle-aged women shoved into a water pool. Also n the cast are John Slater, Wally Patch, Iris Vandeleur (a dead ringer for Irene Handl), Annie Esmond as Lady Plumtree, and Gerald Rex as the ringleader of the "children." I think the sisters' brother, Jack Warner, shows up as a London copper, but I could be wrong.

Elsie and Doris Waters are treasures.
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Big Little Lies (2017– )
Vapid Menopausal Fantasy
6 July 2019
The beautiful Monterey coastline is ruined by a tribe of nasty menopausal women in this female fantasy where 50-something women all have small children, husbands decades younger than they are, and ocean-front houses. But are these hausfraus happy? Content? Nope. All they do is whine and complain because of course, it's all about them. Self-absorbed to the point of caricature, these women are a waste of space, time, and air.
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Hinterland (2013– )
Dreary Beyond Words
6 July 2019
I gave up on this one. It's nowhere near as good as VERA or SHETLAND. The major downfall is the cast. There's not an interesting or likable character in the lot. The two leads are especially dour and grim.

VERA boasts an explosive and unpredictable yet wily character played by Brenda Blethyn. SHETLAND has Douglas Henshall as the stern yet vulnerable Perez. HINTERLAND has nothing.

As the locals would say: Mae'n stinks.
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Damages (2007–2012)
Blistering Drama
1 July 2019
Glenn Close is superb as the fierce attorney Patty Hewes, a woman who takes on the big boys for big bucks. Over the five years of this series she takes on corrupt billionaires, the US Army, corporate America, computer hackers, Wall Street, and anyone who gets in the way of her ambitions.

Into this maelstrom comes a brilliant but naive young lawyer named Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). She's hired to help take on a nutty billionaire (Ted Danson) who has stolen his employees' retirement fund. She soon learns that in Patty's world there is no line between private and business lives, and she's soon sucked in. But it's a dangerous world full of treachery and murder and revenge.

Tate Donovan co-starred in the first three seasons as Tom Shayes, Patty's right-hand man and law partner. He's excellent. Others who play important roles over the course of this series include William Hurt, Judd Hirsch, Janet McTeer, John Goodman, Ryan Phillippe, Campbell Scott, Marcia Gay Harden, John Hannah, Martin Short, Lily Tomlin, Chris Messina, Dylan Baker, and Keith Carradine.

Only season 4 was a little disappointing with its endless war scenes from Afghanistan. Usually, the plots closely follow Close and Byrne as they maneuver to control the other. The series is full of surprises and superb acting.

One of the best dramas ever to grace a TV screen.
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All That Jazz (1979)
The Final 30 Minutes Are Excruciatingly Bad
30 June 2019
Overblown look at a fictional Bob Fosse directed by the real Bob Fosse. Film centers on Fosse as he's finishing the film LENNY and preparing the original Broadway production of CHICAGO. in 1975.

Roy Scheider stars as Fosse, the driven and self-destructive dancer/choreographer/director who is addicted to drugs, booze, and sex. Film also stars Ann Reinking as a fictional version of herself and Leland Palmer as a fiction version of Gwen Verdon.

While it's a fascinating look and "putting it together," from CHICAGO auditions to the grueling rehearsals (amid Fosse's endless womanizing), it's also wearing on the viewer. After 90 minutes, we launch into the endless "death" sequence which features a smarmy Ben Vereen at his worst and a series of trite goodbye songs. This entire sequence should have been cut from the film. It grinds on and on and on while Jessica Lange (as the angel of death) hovers.

The film does not improve with age. Scheider and Palmer are good, but Reinking is always hard to take. Cliff Gorman appears as Lenny Bruce even though he did not get to star in Fosse's film LENNY. We also get Anthony Holland, John Lithgow, Wallace Shawn, Deborah Geffner, Max Wright, Michael Tolan, Sandahl Bergman, and Theresa Merritt. The homely girl who plays the daughter is painful to watch.

Had there been a real editor around to trash that last half hour, this might have been a good film. As it is, it's overblown and overrated.
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Harold Shaw's Masterpiece
29 June 2019
Warning: Spoilers
THE ROSE OF RHODESIA was filmed in the Cape Colony in 1918. No filming was done in Rhodesia. Written and directed by Harold M. Shaw and photographed by the American Ernest G. Palmer and Brit Henry Howse, this film is something of a masterpiece. Multi-layered story is leisurely paced. A 5-reel German print survives, although some contemporary accounts say it was 8 reels. Story opens with a local chieftain asking the white government for more land for his people. He's afraid his request will be denied and so has a back-up plan to revolt against the whites. He sends his people to work in the neighboring diamond mines with the instruction to steal gold and diamonds and bring the loot back to him so he can finance his revolt. He also has a son he is grooming to be a future chief.

A local diamond mining company has unearthed a gigantic pink diamond which is stolen by an employee named Fred Winters. He tries to escape across the desert with his diamond but collapses near a watering hole, where he is found by a boy. The boy takes the pink diamond and sprinkles some water on Winters and then runs back to give the diamond to the chieftain. Winters eventually winds up in Green Willow where an old missionary and his son live. The son Jack (M.A. Wetherell) is friends with the chieftain's son Mofti (Prince Yumi). The town is also home to an unsuccessful miner Bob Randall and his daughter named rose (Edna Flugrath). Winters seems to have his eye on Rose but she is instantly taken with the preacher's son. While daddy works his mine, she tends the farm and the roses she planted as a token of giving back to the earth for what they've taken. The old preacher is slowly converting the aging chief.

The old chief takes the son to a sacred rock that looks out over a chasm. This is where his ancestors' souls dwell. It's actually the Bawa Falls in South Africa. Later on, in an act of friendship Mofti brings Jack and explains the meaning of the place. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Winters is trying to horn in on Randall's mine by getting him drunk. But to events bring about a sharp change in the narrative. Mofti dies in an accident while hunting with Jack and a detective comes to Green Willow and recognizes Winters as the diamond thief.

In the end, the old preacher and son tell the chief of the death. No Hollywood histrionics here. The old man grieves his loss and thinks it's a punishment for plotting against the whites. They all go to the boy's death site and Rose plants a rose bush (actually it's just a flower) as a symbol to mark the pile of stones. All will know by the rose that this is a sacred place. There's no hassle about burials and services and such. Each person has great respect for others. To show his appreciation for the kindness of his friends, the old chief gives the pink diamond (remember that?) to Rose and she returns it to the mining company and gets a reward. Finally, the old chief takes his baskets of stolen gold and diamonds to the sacred rock and throws them over the side and into the waters far below. A symbolic earth to earth moment. Final shot is of Jack and Rose and many babies, which was the blessing foretold by Mofti.
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29 June 2019
Warning: Spoilers
WINNING A CONTINENT was directed by Harold M. Shaw and shot in Africa, it's the story of the Boers leaving the British Cape Colony and heading north into the continent's interior to settle the land where the Zulus reign and it memorializes the Battle of Blood River in 1838, where fewer than 500 Boers (with guns) defeated thousands of Zulus (without guns). The film was the brainchild of Isidore Schlesinger, the media mogul of Africa, along with the reigning South African government. Shaw had strong ties to Britain's government (he had worked in the UK since 1913) and he re-shaped the original story by the Gustav Preller to delete his offensive depictions of the British. Shaw also added subplots that included a romantic story (with Edna Flugrath) and a christianized Zulu (played by A.Z. Goba).

While the filmmakers wanted a film to match the sweep and historical significance of Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION, they fell short. The surviving 54-minute German print entitled DE VOORTREKKERS just can't compare. While there are some sweeping shots of the final battles that emphasize the number of combatants and the vast landscape, the story lacks any central character to care about. Various historical characters appear but they are more like plot points than anything else. The love story between Flugrath and Holger Petersen stays firmly in the background. While the film builds up the piety of the Boers and their god-given rights to settle the land (much praying and bible quoting), the only arc in the film that makes a connection with the viewer is that played by Goba.

We see him banished from his tribal village as a coward. He joins the Boers to serve as a guide on the Great Trek and is converted to christianity. Goba also adds a bit of comic relief along the way (especially the smoking scene with the two boys) and ultimately becomes the hero of the film. When he sees the bodies of his white friends after the battle, he swears revenge and eventually kills the Zulu king, thereby winning his revenge and re-instating his manhood. This seems to me a much more powerful image than the Boers' resolve to build a church on the site where so many died and the final shot of Flugrath and Petersen sitting in a church pew.

Shaw was an American writer/director (and former actor) who had moved to England in 1913 and to Africa in 1916. Edna Flugrath was an American actress (older sister of Viola Dana and Shirley Mason) who would marry Shaw in 1917. Bothe Shaw and Flugrath had been in films since 1912 and were major film names of the era.
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Booksmart (2019)
Unfunny, stupid, and loud
22 June 2019
It took four women to write this tripe that is supposedly a comedy. A homely lesbian and a fat girl decide to go wild on the night before their high school graduation. Every class member is some sort of stupid stereotype and the teacher wears a nose ring. The whole thing is idiotic and there's not a laugh in it.

The acting style is that same old FRIENDS halting, ugh (make a face) you know (make another face) style that passes for comic acting now (I just made a face). and even has a really old-looking Lisa Kudrow as a -- you know -- parent.

The two leads are not likable and way too old for these roles. The Feldstein one looks abut 40.

Ultimately, this is one of those moronic female fantasies about how it's ok to be fat or homely because life is good and you will always win, especially if you stand around and strike poses and dance moves to show you have attitude.
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Fosse/Verdon (2019)
Sam Rockwell and the Pie Face
9 June 2019
Behind the scenes look at the relationship between Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse focuses on the minutiae of their daily lives with the Broadway shows and movies they made playing in the background.

Sam Rockwell is brilliant as Fosse, the obsessive and self-destructive dancer, choreographer and director who shot to stardom for his work in SWEET CHARITY, CABARET, CHICAGO, LENNY, and DAMN YANKEES. Lumpy Michelle Williams is much less successful playing the lithe Verdon, a brilliant dancer who ranked as a major musical star on Broadway in the 1950s and won four Tony awards to prove it. She won for CAN-CAN, REDHEAD, NEW GIRL IN TOWN, and DAMN YANKEES.

As her career takes a back seat to motherhood and Fosse's burgeoning career in the 1960s, Verdon struggles on stage with a flop straight play and two hits shows--SWEET CHARITY and CHICAGO spread out over ten years. FOSSE ricochets from movies to television to Broadway despite drug abuse, mental issues, and bad health.

Their lives are littered with extra-marital relationships and bitterness despite the successes. Aside from Verdon, Fosse was married to dancer Joan McCracken and had long relationships with Carol Haney and Ann Reinking as well.

Among their show-biz pals are Neil Simon and his dying wife Joan, writer Paddy Chayesfsky, Hal Prince, Liza Minnelli, George Abbott, and song-writers Kander and Ebb.

The episode set on Long Island in the rain is especially long and boring, though the series has its moments.
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Don't Paint the Whistle, Paint the Blow
15 May 2019
Charles Farrell is miscast as a young hayseed from Tennessee who goes to Paris to study painting. He wins a scholarship but his painting style is very old-fashioned. He falls in with a loony bunch of Bohemians and learns about women and life and art.

He's interested in Kay (Marguerite Churchill) who's from Atlanta but they quarrel and the greedy Nada (Grace Bradley) moves in on him to take his money. There's also the sullen singer (Walter Woolf) who drinks too much but wants to marry Kay. Charlie Ruggles plays Crock, a fellow artist who tell Farrell his style of painting stinks and says, "You don't paint the whistle ... you paint the blow." If you paint the whistle, it's only photography.

Farrell gets drunk and paints a piece that wins a big prize ... until they discover something about it.

Bright and funny with a few good songs. The Russian duel scene is tedious. Farrell hardly bothers to hide his Massachusetts accent even though he's supposed to be from Tennessee. But Ruggles, Churchill, and Bradley are all quite good. Mischa Auer and Leonid Kinskey have small roles.
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Melancholy Tale Set in Rural England
12 May 2019
Set in an English village, the story follows the simple lives of two brothers, Robert and James Martin, and the woman they both love, Kate Richards.

Older brother Robert (Herbert Langley, in his film debut) is a rugged bloke who runs a farm and shares a small cottage with his brother Jimmy (Olaf Hytten), who's a bit of a dreamer. It's well known in the cottage and in the village that Robert has his eye on young Kate (Lillian Hall-Davis), and so he announces their wedding.

But before they can be married, Robert falls from a ladder and becomes paralyzed. As he lies in bed as the seasons change, his personality changes and he becomes bitter and angry. When he learns that Jimmy and Kate have secretly set a date to be married, he spews evil curses on the couple and the village vicar (Bernard Vaughan) who's been in on the plot.

Time passes and Kate gets pregnant, but Robert refuses to take back his curses. When she enters a difficult labor with the birth, on a black night streaked by lightning, Jimmy pleads with his older brother to lift the curse before it's too late.

First-time director Graham Cutts does well with the simple story, and the village location is beautiful. Langley, a famous opera singer of the day, does quite well as the brooding Robert. and Hytten and Hall-Davis (she reminded me of Viola Dana) are fine. The film was not a success in its day, but its a fine rural drama.
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Breezy June Allyson Comedy Romance
5 May 2019
This was June Allyson's first starring role without another big name female like Hedy Lamarr or Lucille Ball sharing top billing. She stars here with Robert Walker as a couple who marry impetuously while WW II is raging. When he's suddenly declared 4F, they have to quickly adjust to each other and married life.

They end up in an empty apartment where nothing works and become immediately ensnared with a conniving Romanian refugee (Audrey Totter) and Allyson's scheming boss (Hume Cronyn) in a series of comic situations. Also on hand is Eddie Anderson as the apartment building's superintendent.

All five stars are in top form. There's also Reginald Owen as a plastics manufacturer and Chester Clute as the bemused nightclub goer. In a way it's like an early version of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK.
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Kim Novak and Elizabeth Taylor as Movie Queens
2 May 2019
Agatha Christie's plot and Angela Lansbury's casting as Miss Marple take a back seat to the Hollywood movie crew that invades the little village of St. Mary's Mead in this film adaptation of Christie's 1962 novel "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side."

A movie about Mary, Queen of Scots is being filmed and two rival movie queens, played by Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak (in their only film together) are playing Mary and Elizabeth I. Catty and campy to the max, they snipe at each other as they jockey for power in making the film. Taylor is married to Rock Hudson (the director) and Novak is married to Tony Curtis (the producer). There's also an assistant (Geraldine Chaplin) who is having an affair with Hudson.

The locals are a pale lot compared to this Hollywood flash. But when a local woman (Maureen Bennett) is poisoned at a reception for the Hollywood crew, Miss Marple jumps into the fray with the help of her nephew from Scotland Yard (Edward Fox).

The murder mystery unveils amid the flying insults between Novak and Taylor as well as between Hudson and Curtis. But things turn very serious when another murder occurs.

This might be minor Christie and Lansbury strikes me as badly cast as Marple but the film is lively and fun. Others in the cast include Wendy Morgan as Cherry, Richard Pearson as the doctor, Charles Lloyd-Pack as a vicar, Carolyn Pickles as Miss Giles, Margaret Courtenay as Mrs. Bantry, and look for Pierce Brosnan as a movie extra.

There's also a film Marple goes to see called "Murder at Midnight" which features Dinah Sheridan, Nigel Stock, Ian Cuthbertson, and Anthony Steel, and which seems to serve no purpose other than to display Marple's powers of deductive reasoning.

Worth watching for Kim Novak and Elizabeth Taylor.
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Dianne Wiest Is Perfection
24 April 2019
Witty and waspish Broadway story directed by Woody Allen and co-written by Allen and Douglas McGrath is a fond look at a bygone era.

John Cusack plays a struggling playwright who agrees hire the no-talent Olive (Jennifer Tilly) in order to have a mobster back his new play. The mobster assigned a stooge (Chazz Palminteri) to watch over Olive and make sure she doesn't cheat on him.

Cusack and his agent (Jack Warden) talk fading Broadway star Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest) into starring in the play, but as the play struggles in rehearsals, the stooge (Palminteri) starts to make constructive criticisms that launch the play in a different direction. As the rehearsals catch fire, it become obvious that Olive must go ... and go she does.

While the main characters are all well played, it's Dianne Wiest who growls and guzzles her way to a sublime performance (and a well-deserved Oscar) as the haughty star who never plays frumps or virgins.

Others in the cast include Mary-Louise Parker as Cusack's drab girlfriend, Tracey Ullman as the actress with a dog, Harvey Fierstein, Rob Reiner, Jim Broadbent, and Joe Viterelli as the mobster. Edie Falco plays the small role of the assistant director.

The film is aided by the usual impeccable production design by Santo Loquasto and costumes by Jeffrey Kurland. The music is also spot on.
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Stella (1990)
Bette Midler Shines
14 April 2019
This is one where some terrific performances are trapped in a movie that, as a whole, doesn't quite work.

Bette Midler shines as Stella, a working-class high school dropout who slings drinks in an Upstate New York bar. She meets a rich college boy (Stephen Collins) who's taken with her quirky zest for life and they have a kid. But marriage is out of the question. Stella knows in her heart she'd never fit into his world. As the kid grows up, Stella wrestles with what's best for the kid versus what she wants for herself. This quandary eventually leads to a mother's sacrifice.

Based on the 1923 novel STELLA DALLAS by Olive Higgins Prouty, this story was first filmed in 1925 with Belle Bennett and again in 1937 with Barbara Stanwyck as the star. By 1990 the story just seemed far-fetched and very old-fashioned and Midler's follow-up to the smash hit BEACHES was a box-office disappointment.

It's a shame because Midler gives a terrific performance. Her Stella is full of love and self-doubt as she rides the highs and lows of her threadbare life. She eventually ends up selling cosmetics door to door to pay for things for her daughter (Trini Alvarado). Stella puts her life on hold to give her daughter what she thinks the daughter wants. Only problem is the daughter wants something else.

Also very good in this film are John Goodman as Ed, Stella's longtime friend who's on a downward spiral, and Marsha Mason as the warm and understanding Janice, the woman who will become the daughter's step-mother.

Others in the cast include Ben Stiller, Linda Hart, Eileen Brennan, and William McNamara ... but watch this one for a great performance by Bette Midler.
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Fox Farm (1922)
Guy Newall and Ivy Duke
9 April 2019
This 1922 film is based on a 1911 novel by Wawick Deeping. Story follows Jesse Falconer (Guy Newall), a fatalist who runs a failing farm and is married to a nagging harridan (Barbara Everest), who calls him a fool. Falconer refuses to worry about what is fated to be, yet is a sentimental man.

The Wetherells are neighbors, headed by a cruel and abusive father who beats his son on a regular basis. His elder daughter Ann (Ivy Duke) is a gentle soul who is powerless to stop her father's abuses. When she comes upon some village boys abusing a dog, she intervenes and is set upon by the larger boy. Falconer happens by and rescues both Ann and the dog.

The dog instantly bonds with Falconer, but the wife threatens to get rid of it. After Falconer is blinded in a hideous farm accident, the wife takes over the farm and embarks on an affair with another man. Eventually Ann comes to work in the house as a cook to escape her father and secretly falls in love with the sad Falconer.

Eventually Falconer becomes aware of his wife's infidelity and sets in motion what is fated to be.

Guy Newall turns in a powerful performance as the fatalist, and Ivy Duke is excellent in a change-of-pace role. Barbara Everest is also very good in the thankless role of the harridan. A. Bromley Davenport is the cruel Wetherell, Charles Evemy is the son, Cameron Carr is the other man, and John Alexander plays the wandering gossip and religious fanatic.

Slow, somber, and beautifully done.
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Shetland (2013– )
Season/Series 05 Is Bad
8 April 2019
SHETLAND still hasn't had a story take place in wintertime, and season 5 wanders and dithers all over the place in a story about people traffickers and a maybe romance for Perez with a truly annoying woman.

Aside from the moronic romance with a married woman, Tosh maybe finds a boyfriend while Sandy maybe gets suspended for being stupid. Rhona still just sits around scowling at everyone. The trafficking story devolves into various murders and is way too thin to be stretched out over 6 episodes. And then there's Duncan reaching for rock bottom while Cassie is off at Uni.

This season seemed really full of filler and "OH PLEASE" moments that were way off the mark. I like the setting and the main characters but if there's a season 06, they'd better have a better crime story and less "romance."
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