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Greyhound Attack (2019)
Home video with non-actors standing against walls stone-faced mouthing words
I watched a bit of this because I was curious at the comments by people unanimously calling it the worst movie ever made.
It's actually much more - or less - than that. It's not really a movie as in "motion picture." It's like someone's home movie in which they had Aunt Gladys and Uncle Sid and the neighbors and signees from a sign-up sheet in the local Piggly-Wiggly play parts in a "movie" shot on video with no lighting equipment, no sound equipment, no backdrops, no make-up, no hair.
The actors are clearly non-actors who mouth the lines with little to no emoting.
The panorama establishing location shots are panned internet screensavers.
In the pilot deck, there is no ambient noise, no shaking against blue screen of a sky with clouds.
Shot almost always in close-up to obscure lack of sets, Clearly no cinematographer.
I am reminded of early television childrens' programming in the early 50s with basic lighting and minimal sets, but even then acting far exceeded amateur.
I don't want to make fun of Christopher Forbes. He has done what many dream of: "making a movie." But it displays a complete lack of artistry in making a movie, without even the basic rudiments of moviemaking skills or sensibilities. By contrast, Planet 9 from Outer Space or The Room shine with passion, dramatic vision and flair and creative juices.
You have to try to watch a few minutes to be utterly flabberghasted by the total absence of movie-making skill.
BROS. Last Call (2018)
More amateurish than a student film by a 12 year old, no offense to the 12 year old.
I literally didn't think it was possible for a movie accepted and posted on Amazon prime video to be more amateurish than a student film by a 12 year old, (who would do better). You've gotta watch the first ten minutes. It's mind boggling. The most rote robotic readings by pre teens spouting R-rated dialogue, then cutting to John Waters'-like line readings in a bar. Whoah!
Not a comedy, not dynamic, just slow....
I spent $7 to rent this on Amazon, based on flamboyant critical praise. The trailer looked promising, like a deadpan comedy. But it wasn't anything like I expected. It couldn't have been slower, duller, plodding. I appreciate the low-key naturalistic style that is European cinema, but in this case, it wasn't shedding much light on any internal journey. And being halted as a comedy? I often marvel when reviewers claim something is a comedy. Why? Because there may be slight nuances of humannature's foibles? There was not a moment that I was amused in a heightened comedicway. The basic plot line - that a neighbor enlists another neighborwith a possible buried treasure - takes near 90 minutes for negligible plot development. I like slow, non-Hollywood movies, but this was really SLOW. And reviewers hailed the transformative payoff in the last two minutes. But for me it was too little, too late. Not recommended. Just plodding.
The F Word (2013)
Maybe it's generational - this film was arch, artificial and tried too hard to be cool
I went into this, actually expecting to like it, since it was on the list of "most underrated films of the year."
And I disliked it way more than I anticipated, knowing that it was in the lexicon and attitudes of twentysomethings.
But I hated it. Maybe that's too strong,p. I saw that it was smart, that it wanted to let us know that it was smart, and hip, and cool. Every iota of energy in this movie as devoted to being "cool" and not the same-old.
But, for someone of my age - 60+, but urbane - it was not geared to me. The rapid-paced dialogue was nothing that would come out of anyone's mouth but a hipster screenwriter writing cool characters. I appreciated that he (I assume it's a he, because I can't imagine a she would write so shallow - aimed for educated intelligent characters, but the artificiality of the dialogue was suffocating to me. Woody Allen was also artificial in his day, with jokey quips, but mostly his movies were inhabited by real people, not cool hipsters.
The actors were okay, for me it was the script. no character was believable, situations weren't believable, reactions weren't believable. I shut it off after half an hour.
The Killer Is Loose (1956)
Good for a B movie, middling for an A - a happy surprise bot not great
I was happy to discover this because I hadn't heard of this, and unlike most movies that I haven't heard of, this wasn't a dog. It had a few redeeming features: better than average b/w cinematography, including rain sequences (in LA!); location photography which fascinated me, as I tried to identify street corners; better than average acting for a low-budget mid 50s b/w post-studio heyday film; and Wendell Corey who, believe or not, I've always loved; and an always-reliable Joseph Cotten. The downsides: a script that defies credulity over and over, from Corey being a psychopath, to his escape when he is close to parole, to the actions of Fleming at the end, to Fleming's unconvincing performance and casting, to the bland storyline, to the cops' ineptness, to the hackneyed storyline of a cop's wife's frustration. But the good moments are still treats, and 1950s undiscovered treats are obviously increasingly hard to find. Thank goodness for Netflix's streaming of a bunch of unknown B noirs.
Witness to Murder (1954)
Not noir, not good, predictable, implausible, sexist, simplistic
As you can tell by my headline, I found this a shockingly inferior film. And sad to experience, as a fan of Barbara Stanwyck, that she had reached the age and stage of her career, where was challenged to bring her craft to inferior scripts and directors.
The story was infuriatingly sexist, even for the 50s. Because she is a woman, she is brushed off, and told to calm down. I found Gary Merrill's reprise from All About Eve of the smug man who has to patronizingly calm down the little woman absolutely infuriating. As a side note, he's lucky to have AAE in his credits, because he is a mediocre actor lucky enough to be in a famous picture, and he was the same in every role.
Obviously Stanwyck is fine here, as usual. But it's such an implausible absurd story that it's hard to really suspend disbelief, when cops don't do rudimentary investigation into a murder allegation. And Stanwyck's incarceration in the booby hatch was so ridiculous that I just fast forwarded through what looked like outtakes from the Snake Pit.
There were plot holes to drive a bus through, and plot contrivances and impossibilities that were eye-rolling. She's running down the street shrieking, and everyone is just compliantly following ? And how many duplicate scenes of a) Merrill telling Stanwyck to calm down and see reason and b) Stanwyck reluctantly agreeing against her instincts. Over. And over. And over.
Oh - and for all you folks that love t throw around the word Noir when there is a hint of a) night; b) shadow; c) murder; d) black and white -- those do not Noir make, which require a femme fatale, a weak male (usually), hard-boiled dialogue and (often) Voice-over, and a pervasive cynicism. None of which this film, a murder-suspense, is.
Shows you that even an A cast can't overcome a bad script and direction.
H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941)
Some special elements wrapped in a dull plodding package
For me, this movie was like a box of chocolates, where some will be fabulous, some will be okay, and lots will be like tolerable filler, or worse.
The good: Hedy lamarr. Never a fan of hers, she was my favorite element of the movie. Just interesting to watch, quirkily acted with a very unique personal style as she played a free-thinking, smart, independent, playful, cautious, fearful, fearless, ambitious, grounded character. I found her fascinating, which isn't surprising considering how smart she is alleged to have been in real life. It's the first time I've seen her on screen where her skill matched want I had read about her.
The good: The elements of the plot line that challenged the formula, whether it's girl marries to access wealth, or that people live happily ever after. There were little bits of iconoclasm, like Hedy's character wanting a scotch without feeling the need to hide it.
The bad: Sorry, Robert Young lovers. Look, I like Robert Young, too, as a person. He's a nice guy, warm , likable, but he was better for TV because he was so bland. He can't carry a movie, and certainly not one like that, that requires simultaneous layers of compromise, pain, frustration, ardor, denial, anger, honor. He's the principal reason the film is dull. When I read that Vidor wanted Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper it so made sense, and that Young was a compromise. Stewart would have brought the angst and layers to it that he brought to It's a Wnderful Life. The Gregory Peck of Valley of Decision had the power and range and internal drama to prople this movie. (he wasn't a star yet, or known).
The good: Ruth Hussey. Underrated actress. She really shines in this movie, and I've never seen her so luminous, war, beautiful. She was usually cast more unidimensionally brittle.
The so-so: Charles Coburn. Been there, done that.
The so-so: Bonita Granville. Same part, different movie.
Cause for Alarm! (1951)
So-so movie - and DEFINITELY not noir
I noticed the back and forth about whether this is or is not film noir. I have to say, I'm actually shocked by the people who insist that it's noir. I can't imagine anyone diagnosing this film as noir, which has a few indistinguishable characteristics - notably being primarily SHOT AT NIGHT, a certain tone of CYNICISM, usually a FEMME FATALE and HAPLESS MALE, SHADOWS and LOW CAMERA ANGLE. There's more, but those are the basics. This film has none of that - it's just a suspense film, plain and simple.
My problem is that I am not a fan of Loretta Young. She had a limited range, always needing to be "the Lady." She's beautiful, was convincing within her range, and I liked her in certain films, like "The Bishop's Wife."
Here, she's not as strong as Barbara Stanwyck might have been, but this script would have been an inferior copy of "Sorry, Wrong Number," of a woman who is in distress for 90 minutes, and Stanwyck had better taste in material. And I think Judy Garland would have been a little twitchy and neurotic for this.
Anyway, it's a bit implausible, since you feel that Loretta should have slightly calmed down and assessed that she was innocent, so perhaps all that angst and trouble were unnecessary.
By the conclusion, it felt like an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," where the whole show leads up to the surprise ironic "amusing" twist at the end.
I can't imagine how her real-life husband Tom Lewis reacted to her suing him to be cast in the film. I don't know a marriage that could survive that.
When Ladies Meet (1941)
Interesting for completists
I had a bit of hard time sticking with this movie to the end. I don't normally force myself to watch movies that are lugubrious, but I was curious on several fronts. Firstly, this movie has been out of release, and only recently available through Warner Archives/ Classic Flix, so I'm one of those completists curious to see it. I find as time goes by, that the artifice of the MGM glossy films circa 1940 to 1945 done in this exact high-style - lavish sets and costumes, arch dialogue, drawing-room sensibilities - are hard to take - and I'm someone who is forgiving of, and loves, old movies! I'm fascinated by the MGM pix of this period because of how many are quite bad - and while "Metro" was riding the wave of its success, these films were the beginning of their undoing, as well. This was generally a really bad period for Joan Crawford, as we all know, saddled with mostly bad material, and hampered by her aspiration to be "a great lady of cinema" a la Norma Shearer. Her personal upward mobility from humble roots tainted her work, because she had a personal need to assume the drawing- room enunciation and lady-of-the-manor mannerisms, both of which are so phony in this film - and a blatant contradiction to her natural street-smart roots. I find Joan painfully bad in this movie - so needing to be who she's not. As I watched, I ached for her to shake off her personal psychodrama, as she would 4 years later when she was pushed to authenticity with Mildred Pierce - probably the first time on-camera that there was real grit and edge in her performance, that something was scraped away and you could feel her rawness. The catalyst, for the breakthrough, as we know, was that her artistic and professional career were in jeopardy. As for Greer Garson, her natural charisma, grace and screen presence are quite astonishing - she just draws your eye, and radiates. It's so easy to see why she became a star so quickly, and why audiences (and Louis B. Mayer) loved her. Not the best actress, but very natural in front of a camera, and luminous. I am in conflict with other writers here about Herbert Marshall, who I have always been attracted to for his otherworldly calm and inner sense of goodness. I can see the attraction, even though he isn't overtly dazzling, like Robert Taylor. I find Taylor, like Crawford, is a "movie star" more than actor, and you see him trying to rise to the occasion here in a persona and style of acting that is not in sync with who he is. As I watched, I speculated that this role might have been written for Clark Gable circa 1941 - mischievous, winking, self-aware, dashing, irrascible - but Taylor's performance was forced, a carbon copy of Gable or Robert Montgomery, or even Ray Milland (though he was actually better than I would have expected.) I also found Spring Byington a copy of Alice Brady and Billie Burke - not bad, but a bit forced, like Robert Taylor and Joan Crawford. In fact, I could imagine this script written for Gable, Claudette Colbert and other stars - but they cast who was available. As for the costumes, they weren't as over the top as some MGM films, but, as someone else commented, that ludicrous gardening outfit that Joan Crawford wears - an enormous picture hat, a padded-shoulder dress with gingham inserts that carries through to a matching gingham trim on the hat, and the same fabrics on the elbow- length gardening gloves - is fabulously preposterous, and an embodiment of the total disconnect from reality that infuses this movie. As for the plot, it's dated drawing-room fare with a single mise-en-scene that worked for me -- when the two "ladies" finally realize their respective identities. There was genuine tension and emotion, and a certain authenticity in tone and feelings. Other than that, MGM cake frosting.
City of Fear (1959)
Great Los Angeles on-location cinematography and '50s cars
It's not a classic by any means. But it has its virtues - the black and white cinematography, the great jazzy soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith, and particularly the extensive on-location shooting in and around Los Angeles. There are lots of scenes of 1950s cars cruising the street, store fronts and interiors - more than average, because they're looking for the protagonist. Living in LA, I especially enjoyed that. As for the plot, I've seen three or four similar plotted stories the last year - someone is contagious and threatens the city, or is carrying something radioactive, etc. This one had a slightly less plausible plot line, since the police weren't particularly protective. But I soaked up the ancillary elements - the acting was passable, the camera-work and lighting were above average - and I'm a sucker for the '50s.
Night Train to Munich (1940)
Dreadful, dated, overrated - more a B western than A Hitchcock
Dreadful, dated, overrated. Found it hard to believe it was directed by Carol Reed. There was no suspense, no pacing, artificial sets and miniatures, contrived unbelievable story, endless silly banter by that British duo in the last twenty minutes of the movie. I was shocked at how lethargic the pacing was, and how contrived it was at every turn. The scene between Harrison and Lockwood in the hotel room, when they are conspiring against the Nazis, was directed in the style of a drawing room comedy, as if there was absolutely no peril involved. The final shoot-out was directed and scored like a B western, not to mention at least 20 or more bullets from each gun. None of the stars were as dynamic as they are in other movies, and there wasn't a single set, as far as I could tell, that was real. The difference is that Hitchcock, not to mention Welles, wove magic both in direction and lighting, so that they could make sets somehow look real. Carol Reed was not up to the task. He got way better later, but this one was B movie all the way.
Bass Ackwards (2010)
I agree with the other reviewers - really liked it
I also related to the movie, have wanted to see it ever since Sundance, and YouTube's pay release window. I found it easy to get into the rhythm of the film. I liked the sweetness of it, that it took its time, and that it had none of the smugness and self-consciousness hipness of many indie, and most studio, films. I had the same reaction to it as I did to sex, lies and videotape 20 years ago, feeling like this was a film that was again pushing the boundaries of film-making, pushing the margins to more authenticity, naturalism, etc. It's similar, but different than other indie or road films. It feels post-slacker, post- irony, post hollow-culture-formula-action movies, post-judgmental us- against-them contemporary stuff. It also redefined hetero men as I find them today, less afraid to be sensitive, unclear about what roles are today, not as phonily macho and cool as portrayed in Hollywood films. I know more people like Linas than I do leading men in mainstream films. That probably goes for the characters he meets on the road, somewhat more like people in LA, than those who inhabit studio films. The film was somewhat lacking in plot, and I was slightly itchy, but only slightly. Mostly I fell into the rhythm of the film, happy to be with Linas on his road adventure, as he experienced himself and his solitaryness in a way that was quite relatable for all of us.
Sex and the City 2 (2010)
Enjoyed it even through it's MANY flaws
I expected to hate it, based on the scathing reviews, and didn't. I actually enjoyed it. Anyone who's a longtime fan of the series would want to get a fix of time with the four women and their lives, and forgive even the lapses in quality of the film. That being said, by movie standards, and by standards of those who are not fans of the TV show (or first film), the film is almost shockingly inept. Incredibly badly photographed, patchy storyline, contrived plots, inconsistent characters with previous episodes, corny moments, and unnecessarily shallow. But again I enjoyed myself, forgiving the lapses. It was fun to see the girls, who acted like they were enjoying each other, and the ride. Very comforting, in fact. I found, though, that the movie pumped up all the virtues so that everything was too much, too big, too loud, too broad, too shallow, too obvious, too corny. It moved from sophisticated to broad, from incisive look at single New York women who addressed contemporary relationships with men, sex, their work and friendship to more immature hissyfits over nothing. While they looked older, they acted more juvenile than originally written. I felt the clothes, which were always inventive, were gaudy, excessive and, the gravest flaw, were not clothes that Carrie would have actually worn, which was the beauty of the show. The Jump the Shark moment for me was her crinoline with vintage t shirt for the Arabian bazaar, which was preposterous. Carrie would never wear that. It were moments like that where I internally groaned, though, again, was just forgiving, like, Whatever. Ultimately, I loved seeing the girls, the pro-women message, while heavy-handed, was touching, and it made points in reinforcing Carrie and Big's determination to live as an independent couple. Miranda's professional dilemma, however, was unbelievable and uber- contrived. Charlotte's borderline unbelievable and contrived. Mario Cantone would never have let anyone else party-plan his wedding, would never have married Sanford, and that whole sequence looked like a movie set. But as I said, enjoyed it anyway. Hope they get their creative bearings on-track for the third film, which I will still see opening weekend.
Butch Jamie (2007)
This is a sleeper - one of the way-better gay-themed films out there, in a pool of formulaic amateurishness
It's funny sometimes to read other people's reviews and they're bored when you're thrilled, or vice versa. I loved this movie. I consider myself a discriminating viewer and knowledgeable about film-making - plus I have a really low threshold for being frustrated or bored and annoyed by inferior film-making, acting, scripts, etc. This movie was a very pleasant surprise, due singlehandedly to the triple-threat actor, director, scriptwriter, not to mention other duties, Michelle Ehlen. I haven't seen her work before, and only after I watched the movie and read the credits and saw her name in so many roles I almost expected her to have catered the production (which she probably did). But that also explains the very unified vision. The film had a very solid through- line point of view, very consistent in its tone and presentation. The basic story, as you probably know, is the dual identity scenario where she's cast as a man in a film, and how it impacts her life and relationships and perception. She is flawless - her timing, her writing, both improv and scripted, her naturalistic acting ability, her wry wit. I'm a big fan. She's the type of performer who could read from a telephone book (yes, I know, there's almost no such thing anymore), and make it interesting. Others commented that they were bored. I was so thrilled at all the nuances and rhythm, the dialogue and reactions, the subtlety of the wit, that is totally was in sync with my sensibilities. I don't necessarily need broad humor - in fact the broad moments were the least impactful, like when she dresses really feminine for an early audition, a moment that doesn't quite ring true, and turns out was an exaggeration of what she experienced in her own life. I highly recommend this film. I've almost given up on gay films, they are almost always so formulaic, and have no resemblance to my life or what I see around me. And yes, Michelle is not quite believable as a man - oh, those sideburns - but ultimately, it's not critical.
Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
B Movie Acting and Story Draped in A Movie Cinematography, Sets, Costumes
This movie is like the Dickens line about, Best of, Worst of. There are elements that are the peak of 1945 film-making skill: cinematography, set decoration, costumes, use of technicolor, music scoring. And elements that are pure B movie-making: a shallow psycho-drama with mostly wooden glib performances. On the one hand, I imagined really talented, nuanced actors as I watched Gene Tierney and Cornel Wilde - on the calibre of Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas, who appeared that same year in a Warner Brothers noir film, Loves of Martha Ivers, and imagined it would have deepened the film. But it didn't help that film, and may not have helped a similarly melodramatic, histrionic film. At the same time, the uber- glamor movie-star quality of Tierney and Wilde added a Douglas Sirkian over-the-top quality to the film's gloss which somehow defines 40s glamor, like Lana Turner and John Garfield. I'm not sure it's a guilty pleasure for me, because I am drawn to Tierney's beauty but find her remote, and never quite suspend disbelief when I watch her act.
Love Is News (1937)
Wrong actors and director to handle screwball comedy - This could have been good
While watching Love is News, what I wished for was that this film would have been cast and directed by a whole different team. Because I like screwball comedy, it's hard to do, and requires a finesse, a light touch, and a specific feather tone from both director and actors to handle delicate material - like a soufflé - a little bit too heavy- handed, and it falls flat. With the exception of Slim Summerville as the small-town judge, the performances were uniformly bad. None of the very young and green principals knew how to handle comedy - so they just went broad and big - Don Ameche bellowed, Loretta grinned and mugged, and Tyrone Power was over-animated. Of course it was the director's fault - pump it up, give me bigger, bigger. But he was dealing with actors who were not natural comedians, whose charms were more in smaller gestures. I kept dreaming of the usual stable who could handle the material - Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard, Cary Grant, Melvyn Douglas - because the storyline was fun and sillilly amusing - an heiress turns the tables on a reporter, and decides to put him under the glare of publicity by planting a false story. I watched it all the way through, seeing potential in the script, and wishing it had been at another studio and cast differently, with a different director. I think it could have been a classic. There were priceless moments, from the fake car crash, to the jail scene, the airport scene - that with the right actors and a director like Mitchell Leisen or Greg LaCava or Howard Hawkes could have catapulted this film in a minor classic instead of an ersatz version of the classic screwballs by people who knew how to do it
I admit it - I love Troy Donahue. His movies are guilty pleasures.
This is a semi-guilty pleasure. In some ways it retains the sheen and talents at the waning days of the big studio machine, and that's a plus. It's soapy, melodramatic and over-the-top, which is certainly entertaining if you don't look for Art with a capital A. And there is a visual lushness in the cinematography not to mention the emphasis on physical lushness, eg Troy Donahue and Diane McBain, and some of the other characters, all dressed to the nines in suits, ties, contrasting sharp vests, crinolined party dresses, preppy red v-neck sweaters backdropped against a blue sky on an impossibly handsome blond Adonis. I can't even say anymore if Troy Donahue is a good actor. I just like watching and listening to him, and I think he does have a certain conviction- his earnestness - which lends authenticity to his performances. Others call him wooden. I think he's more than good, and under-rated. (And my eyes can't get enough of his physical beauty.) Then there's Diane McBain, who I scantly know but is right up there with Donahue - breathtakingly beautiful. Claudette is okay, but the part itself is anachronistic and annoying - a bit long-suffering and stoic, as her parts often are - in a role that demands she ignore a cruel, brutish, crass man she marries. And rounding out the pluses, I love Max Steiner's lush, anachronistic score. The negatives do abound: the script is a bit shrill and melodramatic, which you expect of soap operas of that period. I can't decide if Karl Malden is dynamic or excessive, though he's always effective. Connie Steven was never my perky cup of tea. Dean Jagger caught my attention as a gentle father-figure, and touched me deeply. Ultimately, my feelings are colored by the bias of nostalgia. I very young when it was released, and have some residual nostalgia for what I remember and miss from that era. Someone twenty years old would find it mostly silly, I think.
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)
How Come I Never Heard of This Incredible Movie?????
I'm stunned. I just finished watching this movie, and can't believe 1) how incredible it was; 2) that I knew nothing about this film, and that it is a totally hidden forgotten overlooked minor classic. I thought I knew or had heard of every major or almost-major film from the mid 30s through the 50s, but this came as a shock. There's no point comparing it to White Heat, which is in a class all by itself, for some justifiable memorable moments, notably the finale on the oil tank. But removing that legendary scene from the equation, this film is almost as good, with many scenes that stand out. The casting is flawless, and it has its own specialness, not the least (besides an always-brilliant Cagney), are the two love-interests, both pitch-perfect - Barbara Payton as the corrupted blonde, Helene Carter is the rich spoiled debutante. Notably, the script is devoid of cliché, often surprising, witty and anachronistically violent following the pathological gangster Cagney on a lawless tear as he breaks out of prison and afterwards. Two scenes, among many, jump out from the norm for their style, as often happened in a Hitchcock film: Payton throwing coffee, sugar, etc at Cagney, during a spat; and Cagney pushing Carter's foot further on the pedal in a duel of power while she drives her sportscar. The movie was complete surprise, and quite wonderful.
I Met Him in Paris (1937)
This movie shows why screwball comedies were already dying by 1937
Two clunkers in a row - first Bluebeard, then I met him in Paris. The clothes are great, the settings lovely, and the script - a mind-boggling inane conglomeration of improbable and contrived situations that must have contributed to the demise of the screwball comedy. A series of wealthy people with too much time on their hands, acting juvenile (or madcap, as they used to call it). Everyone here has been better elsewhere. Douglas and Young are both in love with Colbert, and three high-tail it off to Switzerland, as the question surfaces: who will Claudette end up with? Of course, Melvyn Douglas is billed above Robert Young, so we know what the outcome must be. As much as I love old films, and Colbert, and Douglas, and Young, I stuck this one out, but it never really gelled for me.
Rome Adventure (1962)
Maybe it's because my expectations were so low that I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was the fluffy counterpart to the other Delmer Daves movies, eg Summer Place, etc. A romantic travelogue silly movie. I was surprised. Yes, it's dated beyond belief, with the sole focus of Suzanne Pleshette being a "good girl" or a "bad girl" - the same lament as Sandra Dee and the other juvenile leads of the time. And yes, surprisingly, there's dialogue that sounds like it's written by men ABOUT women and speaking FOR women - such as characters like Angie Dickenson who has claws and feminine wiles, and a later thematic scene between Pleshette and Brazzi, when we learn that the primary role of woman is to ultimate support and encourage her man. But putting aside the obvious dated content, I found a lot of richness and soul in acting and direction that surprised me. Suzanne Pleshette's inner warmth and intelligence infuse her performance beyond the boundaries of this kind of material. She never became a big film star, not sure why, but this performance, her first lead, was very impressive in transmitting her aura intact to the audience. Troy Donahue would never win an acting Oscar, but he has two redeeming qualities, or maybe three: he is so beautiful to look at that you soak up his beauty with every shot, as a treat in itself; he has an innate sincerity that, even if he isn't Laurence Olivier, still gives his screen presence grounded and appeal; and he's just a big ol' movie star with charisma that makes you want to watch him. Constance Ford is always fabulous. And the scenery was a pleasure, and the tour of Italy was more substantive and less filler than usual, for these movies. I appreciated the narrative of some of the sights. Of course, all of us watching this movie really enjoy the debonair, long-disappeared dressing-up, from skirts and heels, to daytime suits, and nighttime gowns and tuxes. I'm glad we don't have to dress like that - I enjoy wearing shorts and flipflops - but it's wonderful and wistfully nostalgic to see. The one negative for me was Angie Dickinson. I thought her innate intelligence and warmth was also palpable, like Suzanne Pleshette, so I was impressed in that sense. But her character was written so caricaturishly as a viper and shallow, that it diminished the overall quality of the film, since it was the single plot device beyond boy meets girl, falls in love with girl, has a falling out with girl, and reteems with girl. Angie's part was the plot device, and the weak link in an otherwise pretty enjoyable film.
Together Again (1944)
Even Dunne couldn't rescue this material
Even one of the most gifted and effervescent comediennes of Hollywood's golden era can't rescue the weak, silly (and sexist) script. Yet again Hollywood of the 1940s insists that a successful woman isn't complete, and can't be happy, unless she has a man - and invariably the plot is going to demand that she give up her career, because a relationship with a man is the only thing that matters. It's a premise that becomes increasingly hard to swallow as we get further and further away from the 1940s and 1950s. Charles Boyer plays the bohemian sculptor (who dresses like Saville Row) who she enlists to duplicate a statue of her husband, with graces the small town where she is Mayor, having succeeded her husband, who died. Charles Coburn is reliable comedic support, as her father-in-law, who relentlessly insists that her first womanly duty is to loosen up - in later years they'd say that she should get laid - and go for the man. There's a subplot about her precocious teen daughter, who falls for Boyer, and the daughter's lanky boyfriend, who then falls for Dunne. It's a duplicate set-up of an I Love Lucy episode a few years later. The film is forced, far-fetched, silly, basically unfunny. The stars struggle to bring a levity and wit that are simply missing from the dialogue, situations or premise. Dunne is so fetching, physically lovely, at the height of her beauty, and could deliver a line, arch an eyebrow, tilt her head, laugh, and make every man just fall in love with her, me included. She transcends an inferior script, not exactly enough to make the movie enjoyable, since it's mindlessly silly and predictable, and beneath the talents of the principal cast, but she is simply captivating. Charles Vidor also manages to inject some sparkle with his deft touch, to a sparkle-less script.
Two Lovers (2008)
One of the best films of 2009
It's only July, so in one sense it's premature to call a movie "one of the best of the year." However, my reaction to this movie is such unmitigated enthralled-ness, at its brilliance, that it is statistically unlikely for me that another dozen movies are going to come along to capsize its position. I am literally stunned. This movie hearkens back to the golden age of the 1970s, with its maturity, muted film stock, quiet moments, real characters, real life, real moments, lack of formula slickness, truth, truth, truth, flawless acting. It's flawless, from the casting to direction to script. A troubled man confronts an exciting troubled woman, and a stable potential partner introduced by his parents. Gwyneth, whose charms have eluded me, is a revelation in her Cybill Shepherd party-girl seductiveness, and inner turmoil. Isabella is quietly brilliant. Joacquin, who I also only slightly know, blazes across the screen in a performance of nuance, idiosyncrasy, intensity, confusion, passion, lostness, vulnerability, boyishness, charm - a conflagration of elements that I've only seen DeNiro and Brando achieve. Twenty things are happening at once, inside him. I am still in shock. This movie simply comes out of another era of film-making of Sidney Lumet, early Martin Scorsese and others - no gimmicks, tricks, easy banter, easy resolution. Just truth, truth, truth - and movie magic. The movie is brilliant.
The Purchase Price (1932)
Ridiculous minor film
Anybody watching this is obviously a fan of Stanwyck, George Brent, perhaps William Wellman, and undoubtedly '30s films. Even by the creaky standard of most early '30s films, this one is pretty bad. The storyline is so preposterous that you watch it, even accepting the conceit that the screenwriters are handing out, but still rolling you eyes at its ludicrousness. To escape her life as the moll of a cheap crook, Stanwyck on a whim decides to pay off a maid $1000 (in 1930s dollars, no less!) to switch places with her and become a mail order bride of a hick farmer in North Dakota. That is just the beginning of a storyline that you will not for a minute swallow the entire time you are watching the film. The conditions are appalling, her husband is surly, disrespectful, unloving, judgmental, unforgiving, and sneers at her for a year, but she continues to smile, and falls in love with him. As other reviewers have said, no way would she have moved to ND, no way would she choose this life with this man, no way would she accept continuous abuse when she was so independent a career woman already. I found it also one of the weaker Stanwyck performances, but that could be because the material forces her to act and feel a way that doesn't make any sense, especially for a strong, independent kind of woman that she is, inherently. George Brent is always serviceable, I've always had a soft spot for him, but in this movie he, too, has to act strangely hostile, and maintain that hostility throughout the entire film. Sets are cheap, you never believe it's really subzero weather. The only two decent set pieces are the train ride to ND, and the post-marriage shivaree. Only for die-hard classic movie fans, clearly.
Man Hunt (1941)
Surprisingly bad film from such a pedigreed group
Essentially a undistinguished B-movie that mysteriously is directed by one of the golden era's major talents, Fritz Lang. Even with the stellar names of Lang, Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett and George Sanders, be prepared for a ludicrous storyline, bad acting, patently phony sets and miscasting. For transparency sake, I have to admit I am an ardent non-admirer of Walter Pidgeon, who was lucky to have found a niche at the artificial dream-factory of MGM, and somehow worked in secondary roles, supporting Greer Garson and others. He is wildly miscast, acting in a chipper, '30s-Ray Milland madcap comedy tone, in a role where his life is in danger, and he is in hiding. Joan Bennett's cockney accent is excessive, but her lacquered hair, perfect makeup and classy outfit belies a street-wise Cockney slum-girl. George Sanders is incapable of bad acting, but disappears after the preposterous opening finds Pidgeon somehow pretending to shoot Adolph Hitler. Surprising for Fritz Lang is the unevenness of tone. I found the film wavered uneasily between occasional moments of suspense-thriller surrounded by light-hearted comedic interplay. Hitchcock totally reversed the ratio, using comic relief to occasionally pace the suspense. There is a reason this film is unknown. It didn't serve or propel anybody's career or reputation, and is forgotten because it's a surprisingly bad film from such a pedigreed group.
Inside Daisy Clover (1965)
Even worse than I remember back when I saw it in the theatre in the 60s
I would speculate that this is one of the worst major studio motion pictures ever made, starring and directed by A-list talent. I was a teenager when this came out in the theatre, and even then, I distinctly remember - because I was a Natalie Wood fan -- that I hated this movie. I expected forty years later that I would embrace it more deeply, partially for nostalgia, partially for being more forgiving of its foibles. Well ... it's even worse than I remember a lurid, melodramatic potboiler where not a scene, or piece of dialogue, rings true. Natalie Wood acts like a silent film star, mugging atrociously, and playing tomboy like a truck driver in army boots. I am reminded of the numerous Razzie worst actress awards she got from Harvard back then. Someone on IMDb assumed that 60s audiences accepted this -- but it was a critical bomb back then. The story is beyond far-fetched as she dreams of being a singer, she sends in a recorded disc of her voice -- and the studio head himself pays her a personal call at her pier-side shack because he's so excited about her talent and when we watch her screentest her singing is mediocre. She's immediately signed to a contract, but never shows a shred of pleasure or excitement that she has gotten her wish, but only seems to want to escape. The costumes and hair are maddeningly anachronistic teased hair, pink lipstick, eyeliner, shaggy bangs, turtlenecks, Capri pants, empire waist dresses, narrow suit lapels, pure 60s. Her musical number belongs more on Hullabaloo than a 1930s movie screen. Scenes on the 1930s studio lot, and on the soundstage, are always as deserted as a tomb, and the studio head who is so evil he should be twirling his moustache like a silent film villain -- seems to have no other duties or interests than meeting incessantly with, and watching over, Daisy. Worth renting only for curiosity value -- or Wood fans who need to round out their viewing repertoire. The one positive is Robert Redford not the most interesting of actors but more animated than in some of his later roles, and gorgeously handsome beyond belief.