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Home, Sweet Homicide (1946)
Extremely enjoyable little time-filler
Innocent, breezy fun. An above-average little comedy-mystery that has nice pace, enjoyable characters, clever lines for the lead children (who hold up this film) and enough whodunit twists and turns with its central murder plot to sustain interest. I had the delightful chance of doing the stage version of "Home, Sweet Homicide" in my 9th grade high school play back in 1964, debuting in the scene-stealing Dean Stockwell role of "Archie." I turned from chicken to ham immediately with the audience response I received and it sparked a life-long interest in acting.
Peggy Ann Garner, Connie Marshall and especially young Stockwell are thoroughly delightful and play off each other very well as adolescent amateur sleuths itching to solve a neighborhood murder. While throwing the police off with errant clues in the hopes of crediting their widowed, crime-story-writing mother (a centered Lynn Bari) for catching the culprit, the siblings are also in cahoots together as they scheme to match their busy mother up romantically with the handsome investigator (a rather staid Randolph Scott) assigned to the case.
Teenage Barbara Whiting, who was such a hit in the 1945 "Junior Miss" film, is again in droll support to young Peggy Ann Garner a year later here playing a school friend. Veteran James Gleason as Scott's grousing co-investigator is also a standout. While the budget may be strictly "B" fare, this nice little programmer nevertheless rises above some of the supposed "A" level post-WWII comedies out there.
A simple, light-hearted and extremely satisfying time-filler, I noticed that fans of this film have not been able to find a copy of it. Here in North Hollywood California, I was able to go to Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinée Store and rent it on VHS. They must have taped it off of TV. This store carries almost all of the oldies one way or another. Check them out on-line.
Ben & Arthur (2002)
An insult to below-average amateur movie-makers everywhere.
Sam Mraovich should never be allowed to touch a camera again. If he does he should be arrested on the spot...at the very least for petty larceny. Anybody who pays even a dime to rent any of his garbage should file a claim and be compensated. This was innocently my first viewing of his "work"...and it will my last. Ed Wood looks awfully good to me right now.
When I return this piece of crap to the video store, I will personally ask that it be taken off the shelf. An active supporter of gay cinema, I am incensed and angered that this warped, exceedingly untalented man-child be allowed to distribute and package something like this, with a coltish pretty boy on the cover (Jamie Brett Gabel, who, thankfully, has no other acting credits in IMDb) and an interesting synopsis on the back used as bait, and then market it as a "movie" rental. Trust me, this has no place being on any rack anywhere; it is simply not a movie in any sense of the word. Offensive, irresponsible junk such as this can only be detrimental to the efforts being made to promote and support gay cinema (hell, gay rights in general!) For those tempting to rent this out because of the cover, you WILL be disappointed. Gabel is not as flattering to look at on film as he is on the cover, and he appears once or twice without a shirt -- that's it. Instead, the homely Mroavich inflicts on us his own disgusting, sorry-looking dough-boy nakedness.
This "thing" he "assembled" is a reverse vanity project for Mraovich. Both he and his friend Michael Habousch (who, I understand, puts out similar sleazy garbage) are terrible in this. Mraovich is purposely posing as a complete no-talent (in all fields), desperate to grab onto any "loser" attention he can for himself. He is to be pitied.
Call it a waste of time...for a curio peep at a pre-stardom Bogie only.
Based on an original Theater Guild production entitled "Midnight" (which is what the title of this movie was upon its initial release; it was later re-issued as "Call It Murder"), the interesting though far-fetched premise has a staunch, law-abiding jury foreman (O.P. Heggie) who once swayed a jury into giving a woman (Helen Flint) the death penalty for killing her boyfriend in an act of passion, now finding the same scenario rearing its ugly head in his own personal life. Unfortunately, this piece of hokum (which desires to call itself film-noir but I beg to differ) is woefully melodramatic and never finds any kind of selling point or payoff. What could have been a strong examination on the subject of capital punishment simply dissolves into a superficial piece of claptrap with indifferent directing, bad production values, overbaked acting, and a movie that moves at a snail's pace. As most of the proceedings happen in the home of the foreman, the whole movie has the claustrophobic feel of a staged play.
As mentioned in other reviews posted, the package re-issued "Call It Murder" spotlights Humphrey Bogart as the star, but his part is at best a featured role. However, even in this secondary bit of casting, he easily outshines and outclasses the rest of the principals. Bogie, in his pre-stardom days, plays Gar Boni, a gangster about to go on the lam, who takes up with the jury foreman's daughter (Sidney Fox) and unknowingly ignites the deja vu proceedings.
The movie sags and wilts any time Bogie isn't on screen. It also shows why he was a star in the making. His brief scenes, in which he both comes on to the girl and then gives her the brush off, are indicative of the style and 'stuff' that would make him a legend.
However, there is simply nothing else to recommend. A tormented stentorian O.P. Heggie (later the hermit in "Bride of Frankenstein") gets to grandstand outrageously on his , and poor quivery-voiced Sydney Fox as his daughter and Bogie's overly smitten girlfriend falls into the sea of melodrama hook line and sinker. On a sad note, this proved to be one of Fox's last ingénue roles. Her career quickly disintegrated and she eventually committed suicide. The rest of the cast fails to register or inspire one way or the other.
The movie goes from bad to worse when it takes a highly implausible Perry Mason-like twist at the end right in the living room. Well, suffice it to say, its all for naught. What might have been a better way to go would have been to throw out the script and focus instead on a Helen Flint's Death Row dame a la Susan Hayward in "I Want to Live." It might have made for better viewing.
Emphatic, atmospheric adaptation of Lanford Wilson's lyrical play is ambitious but falls just short.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson's somber, haunting stage piece "The Rimers of Eldritch" is a marvel of theatre presentation but due to its ambitious writing structure, multi-focus conversations and constant shifting of time both back and forth, I was concerned as to how well it would adapt to film. Wilson was sparked to write this piece early in his career during the racial upheaval of the 60s. Though ethnic bigotry is not the main emphasis here, the story easily serves as a microcosm of small town Bible-belt prejudice and its devastating effects on its inhabitants after a series of events leads to a crippled teenage girl being raped and the town's chief undesirable shot to death. The events leading up to the shooting and the accompanying trial sorely exposes the detrimental mindset of a town sadly untouched by time, progress and human growth.
I was first enthralled by this brilliant ensemble piece in the late 70s (my college, Florida State University, in Tallahassee, put on the production) and it remains one of my all-time favorites. The lowbudget TV film, which co-stars Rue McClanahan, Frances Sternhagen and an up-and-coming Susan Sarandon, nicely captures the stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere of this rundown, decaying town, with townfolk whose minds and spirits have been frozen with inbred hate and fear.
The "rimers" (which is an antiquated term for "freeze" or "frost") of this town are well served for the most part. Rue McClanahan is a standout as Cora Groves, a lonely, middle-aged cafe owner castigated by town gossip for taking in a handsome drifter and hired hand. Joanna Roos as senile Mary Winrod too has several fine moments as a predictor of the deadly chain of events to come. Will Hare's decrepit, muttering derelict Skelly Mannor has a ripe monologue from the play that has been unjustly pared down, but still manages to convey his social outcast with penetrating ramblings. James Staley comes off well as Driver Jr., a naive, fresh-faced youth who ultimately yields to the town's pressing dogmatism to save his own skin. Young and pretty Susan Sarandon shows extreme signs of a yet untapped talent as a spoiled, wanton, capricious schoolgirl Patsy Johnson, desperate to break away from her small town constrictions any which way she can. And Kate Harrington and Frances Sternhagen as a pair of unrestrained tongue-waggers are aptly set up as the town's narrow-minded Greek chorus.
The stage origins of "The Rimers of Eldritch" are quite apparent, however, and the TV film loses some of its impact and shock by its faithfulness to the writing and its sometimes erratic attempt to preserve the past/present time shifts. Some scenes feel almost as static, chaotic and/or aimless as the characters involved, while a couple of the performances, notably Carol Williard's sometimes overwrought interpretation of crippled Eva Jackson, are stuck in wistful, flowery passages that worked brilliantly on stage but don't ring true here. Vance Sorrells, who plays Sarandon's pesky, 'good ol' boy' brother, provides the unobtrusive score with down-home songs and guitar playing.
Despite this, the film, directed by Davey Marlin-Jones, should ultimately be perceived as an admirable attempt to visibly preserve one of Wilson's finest works. I would, however, be very interested in seeing another more potent, inventive attempt at making "The Rimers of Eldritch" come alive on film. Director Mike Nichols recently did it with another supposedly unfilmable TV film "Angels in America," so I have hope.
Joyous, nostalgic look at Broadway's musical legends.
Mulling through old VHS tapes, this one again caught my eye and ear. The 1982 gala performance in Washington D.C. was a musical tribute honoring the 10th anniversary of the Kennedy Center's commitment and decade-long support of the performing arts. A glorious array of musical stars (soon to be legends) came on board to laud the Center's efforts and, for the most part, this three-hour tribute does the Center justice. Moreover, it's a rare chance to see some stars when they were at their prime, some up-and-comers who were on their way then but are now prime, and some legends past their prime but adding class and stature nevertheless. A thoroughly enjoyable piece of musical entertainment.
Glamorous Debbie Reynolds hosted the event and was given the opportunity to display her own gritty stuff with "I Ain't Down Yet," from "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." Other memorable moments included a segment in which the musical star recreated his-or-her scene-stealing number on Broadway. We were treated to the still magnificent chops of John Raitt with his rousing "Soliloquy" number from "Carousel"; the fiery energy of Chita Rivera strutting her stuff with "America" and "All That Jazz"; the cynical gravel tones of the wonderful Elaine Stritch belting out "The Ladies Who Lunch"; John Cullum's manly charm and solid baritone in "On a Clear Day..."; the well-known eccentrics of Charlotte Rae chirping away at "When the Idle Poor Becomes the Idle Rich"; and the cute and coy antics of the beloved Imogene Coca toying with the title song from "On the 20th Century."
Even more interesting was the following segment which introduced the "bright new stars of the future." Ken Page as Fats Waller with his droll rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Your Feets Too Big"; Christine Ebersole with the quietly intense Sondheim number "Not a Day Goes By"; the late Lynne Thigpen, who was a major musical talent ("Godspell," "Tintypes" and "Working") before focusing on straight dramatics, with her inspirational "What I Could Have Been"; and the petite dynamo Debbie Shapiro with the exceptional he-did-me-wrong song "Junkman."
Of course an evening like this has to be a mixed bag. Beatrice Arthur looked like she was sleepwalking through "Hey, Look Me Over" while the normally exciting Ann Reinking (and her dancers) turned in a listless "Too Darn Hot" dance interlude that was lukewarm at best. Alexis Smith is one stylish dame but her song "We Have Nothin' But Style" lacked just that. Barry Bostwick thought he was funnier than he was with his "Drive-In" number from "Grease," while our own "Ambassador of Love" Pearlie Mae was sorely off-key with her half-sung "Hello, Dolly!" and "Before the Parade Passes By." And though "West Side Story" star Larry Kert was tentative with his "Maria" high notes and Bobby Morse borderline annoying with his signature song "I Believe in You," from "How to Succeed...", together they did their drag rendition of "The Beauty That Drives a Man Mad" from "Sugar" that was, if nothing else, campy fun.
On the cute, engaging, if saccharine, side was Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse's introduction of four of their present and past Little Orphan Annies from Broadway: perky little Allison Smith, a very young and girlish Sarah Jessica Parker, a graceful and composed Shelley Bruce, and the show's original Annie, Andrea McArdle, who belted out a fantastic if shortened version of "Tomorrow."
For me, however, the night belonged to the fabulous hoofer Maurice Hines, whose dancing feet are as incredible as brother Gregory's, and the late Phyllis Hyman who was spotlighted in "Sophisticated Ladies" at the time. Hyman oozed out a haunting version of "In a Sentimental Mood," her sultry, smoky voice leaving a sad, tell-tale impression to this viewer since she died a suicide a decade later. But when it comes to energy, nobody does it better than the indefatigable Melba Moore who rips into "I've Got Love" and "Don't Rain on My Parade" like her life depended on it, showing off her amazing four-octave range with effortless ease.
Ellen Burstyn and Helen Hayes, two non-singers, were around as fundraisers to praise and promote not only the Kennedy Center, but PBS-TV network.
All in all, a joyful noise was captured that night at Kennedy Center, but I have no idea, unless someone taped it, how anyone can get a hold of this wonderful musical tribute to yesteryear.
The Core (2003)
"The Core" is a bore.
Not much to say here except this so-called apocalyptic sci-fi "thriller" is a dreary rehash of too many other mediocre "end-of-the-world" hokum that's been thrown at us lately. The space movie "Red Planet" comes to mind, throwing all intelligence and reality (not to mention interest) out the window while supplanting us with a cast of usually top-notch actors in cardboard "Poseidon Adventure"-like roles spouting out unbelievable dialogue every which way.
I mean, really! We have, for ultra-realism, Major Hilary Swank as an astronaut whose assigned to guide this missile "down" in stead of "up" this time, alongside fellow "terranaut" Colonel Bruce Greenwood. Eccentric genius Delroy Lindo, looking more like Morgan Freeman in the later reels of "Driving Miss Daisy," perfecting said craft (it's been a long and lonely 20-year project) to burrow past the earth's mantle to the core. With the glasses he wears, how could he even see to create or build such a thing? We have Stanley Tucci as a typically arrogant, supercilious scientist set up as a version of "Lost in Space" villain Dr. Smith. And we have brainy, unassuming (but still rumpled and cute) geophysicist Aaron Eckhardt plucked from college class one day to lead the expedition with French atomic weapons expert Tcheky Karyo in tow. The six-man crew here being swallowed up by the earth to save the world are hard to swallow period. Ouch!
Not much credibility at the chain-of-command above ground either with a miscast Alfre Woodard going through the paces as a NASA Chief, grumpy General Richard Jenkins dishing out orders as ordered, and a computer nerd criminal named Rat (D.J. Squalls), using his expert hacking skills this time for the benefit of mankind. Double ouch!
OK, plotwise it seems that some bizarre catastrophic occurrences are happening on earth (i.e., people dropping like flies, pigeons flying amok and committing suicide, etc.) After a few hours of deducing by the powers and minds that be, it seems that the earth's inner core has stopped rotating, which, in effect, is compromising the electromagnetic field, which is causing...blah, blah, blah.
The effects look a tad flimsy...their travel excursion and diving about through solid rock and magma pits is one big giant computer ride on a large-scale screen a la Michael Jackson's "Captain EO." No action-packed thrills here. And, of course, one by one, the crew is predictably picked off as each new unforeseeable disaster comes to the surface. It's been done before and done better.
Eckhardt is always watchable but he and Oscar winner Swank (who looks mighty uncomfortable here) don't click at all as a pair. Their one clinch after overcoming their final dilemma?...they should have just shook hands and patted each other on the back for a job well done. Tucci, who has the flashiest role, is in overdrive trying to instill some energy into this movie...all for nought.
Forget this one? Oh, I see, you already have...!
Down with Love (2003)
Zellweger a bright, shiny Day and McGregor a solid Rock.
There is a great new trend going on with what I have decided to call 'time capsule' filming, wherein the focus is not so much on merely spoofing as it is recreating the mood, the style, the tone and the attitude down to the very specifics of a popular bygone movie genre. "Far from Heaven" was a monumental success in its bid to recreate Douglas Sirk's 50s melodramas. And now "Down with Love" does the same in its imitation of the smart and equally artificial Doris Day/Rock Hudson battle-of-the-sex comedies of the early 60s. From its cleverly animated pop-art opening credits, "Down with Love" lovingly recaptures and restructures the fun, innocent and frolicsome nature of the early "Camelot" years without blatant parody, exaggeration or comment. No, really! If you watch the earlier pictures, they pretty much keep the crazy type of storylines and silly dialogue in sync. It doesn't stray off coarse as much as one would think. And for the most part it succeeds delightfully! The only trouble? One can focus TOO much on style at the expense of both story and characters.
Borrowing liberally from Doris and Rock's "Pillow Talk" and "Lover Come Back" (the two played a married couple in "Send Me No Flowers", their last), Renee Zellweger stars as Barbara Novak, a lady with a female ax to grind. She is struggling to become the newest trend as an author of a book that insists on gals downplaying love and marriage in favor of the male-oriented pattern of free, uncomplicated sex. She meets more than her match in Ewan McGregor*s Catcher Block (i.e., Rock) a combined roving bachelor and smug, successful journalist whose typical revolving-door treatment of women is a fine illustration of why the book was written. He's ready to put her back in her place. How they end up together is the fun of it all.
There are some glitches in the mix. Renee's demure rasp lacks the perk and color of Doris' vocal sparkle and she misses Doris' on-target double takes and patented 'slow burn' which made Ms. Day so unique and amusing. While Zellweger ignites the pre-feminist stir Doris did, the delicate balance of staunch activist and sexy woman/wife is not as sharply defined as it might have been. In the same vein, Scots-born Ewan McGregor is solid and a cute hunk with definite potential in this comedy vein. Alas, he is not the virile, strapping, sweep-me-off-my-feet hunk that Rock was. McGregor is best served as the "sensitive" and overly proper Texan in disguise. Together Zellweger and McGregor bounce off each other quite well with their cat-and-mouse byplay, but they can't compare to the chemistry Rock and Doris possessed
Surrounding them are most of the necessary ingredients to the mix. I cannot think of a better third-wheel foil than David Hyde-Pierce in the put-upon Tony Randall role. Somehow managing to make us forget the deeply-embedded mindset of Niles Crane, yet stealing the same humorous qualities that made Niles so beloved, Hyde-Pierce gets away with it and is exceptional. Effete, fastidious, intellectual, neurotic, Hyde-Pierce shows he is a prime comedy farceur...and just to prove it, Tony Randall himself is around for comparison as the irascible corporate mogul, reminding us all how good he still can be in a nothing part and how on-target Hyde-Pierce is. Sarah Paulson has some smart and funny moments as Renee's 'second banana' confidante and editor, but even she is a poor replacement indeed for the cynical, prickly-pear presence of Thelma Ritter, whose wry one-liners were priceless. "Saturday Night Live's" Rachel Dratch is given short shrift as the drab, Agnes Gooch-like secretary who goes all liberated after being swept up in the turmoil of the book's success. I would love to have seen where this character might have gone given the chance.
The crayola-crayon-like art design and shocking, glamorous costumes are right on the money in bringing back the rainbow brightness and prettiness of 60s Technicolor. The pace is zippy, the characters lively and the spirit of it all...well...I was left smiling as I left the movie house...as you yourself will. Pure, unadulterated escapism and a blast to the past. As for me, I'll have an old-fashioned any time!