Now With More Than 3000 Reviews! Go Nuts - Read 'Em All!!

WELCOME! Use the search engines on this site (or your own off-site engine of choice) to gain easy access to the complete MAKSQUIBS Archive; over 2500 posts and counting. (New posts added every day or so.)

You can check on all our titles by typing the Title, Director, Actor or 'Keyword' of your choice in the Search Engine of your choice (include the phrase MAKSQUIBS) or just use the BLOGGER Search Box at the top left corner of the page.

Feel free to place comments directly on any of the film posts and to test your film knowledge with the CONTESTS scattered here & there. (Hey! No Googling allowed. They're pretty easy.)

Send E-mails to MAKSQUIBS@yahoo.com . (Let us know if the TRANSLATE WIDGET works!) Or use the Profile Page or Comments link for contact.

Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

MADAME BOVARY (1949)

Emma Bovary’s journey from page to screen is surprisingly well-traveled considering all the difficulties. Madame’s personality fascinates & appalls in the Flaubert novel, but can seem little more than coarse & stupidly willful when acted out. (It might work better as ballet, opera or silent film.) In numerous dramatizations, her appeal (to us and for the characters in the story) seems arbitrary, there simply to move the tragic plot. That said, this posh M-G-M version works better than most, with unmissable set pieces, including an astonishment of a ball sequence set to a terrifying La Valse by composer Miklós Rózsa. The film was a major step for director Vincente Minnelli, moving him up to first-class dramatic vehicles alongside the famous musicals. Yet it’s that very musical experience that technically grounds his audacious waltz sequence. Robert Ardrey’s script is cleverly (if a little too conveniently) structured around the indecency case Flaubert (a world-weary James Mason) won for his book. While as the ruinous lady, Jennifer Jones makes rare good use of her sickly neurotic beauty (slightly corrupt from every angle) as she urges husband (Van Heflin) and lovers (Louis Jourdan, Kent Montgomery - aka Alf Kjellin) down various paths of moral & financial destruction. Reduced to a cautionary tale, the film may be Bovary-Lite, but compelling within its limited terms.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The DVD comes with an entirely inappropriate, but hilarious Tex Avery DROOPY cartoon, loaded with far-out metaphysical gags and a tea-drinking fox who talks like Ronald Colman. Hopefully, it wasn’t shown at the feature’s theatrical engagements.

DOUBLE-BILL: Max Ophüls' entirely successful LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN/’48, has many similar elements (including M. Jourdan) and a story that translates beautifully to the screen.

Friday, April 29, 2016

THE CRIMSON KIMONO (1959)

Theoretically interesting race-tinged drama from Sam Fuller (in his smash-and-grab indie B-pic mode) touches on hot-wire issues without building enough drama from its murder investigation to run the narrative. The ill-nourished story has two best-bud L.A. dicks sharing the case as well as their apartment, a pint of blood from their Korean War service, and now a damsel in distress. The twist in Fuller’s design-for-living is that the girl (Victoria Shaw) goes for the Japanese-American guy (James Shigeta in a slightly stiff film debut) rather than the square-jawed Caucasian roommate (Glenn Corbett). (Note emphasis in poster #2.)

And Shigeta is so all-American, he puts every slight thru a racial prism of Caucasian prejudice & assumed superiority. Simple jealousy never enters his mind. Compared to some of the racially ‘progressive’ pics of the day, Fuller latches onto some pretty advanced social angles. But no matter how much he tarts things up with ‘exotic’ Japanese-American cultural details, local color remains camouflage (victim, suspects, killer are all Caucasian) for a murder case that might have been ordered a la carte.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Today’s Screwy Thought is brought to you by Sam Fuller. Who else would have Anna Lee, bizarrely cast as a boozy artist, sum things up for Corbett’s losing loverboy cop, after he’s called her ‘a pearl,’ by saying this tagline, ‘Thanks, but I prefer something made by a man than something made by an oyster.’

Thursday, April 28, 2016

L’HOMME DE RIO / THAT MAN FROM RIO (1964)

Phillipe de Broca repped the lighter side of the French New Wave, and never more effectively than in this deservedly popular comic adventure. A deliriously fit Jean-Paul Belmondo is the soldier on week’s leave who follows fiancée Françoise Dorléac to Brazil when she’s mysteriously kidnapped. Seems a trio of Indian sculptures are a working piece of a treasure map that leads to a horde of diamonds; and only Dorléac knows where one of the three is. That’s about as serious as this gets, but it’s enough to give de Broca the impetus needed for a series of dashing adventures that keep Belmondo buried in derring-do for two fast-paced hours. Lots of local color (looking a bit ethnocentrically dated, but still fun) fill in the cracks between the breezy plot & dastardly villains before the film hits its peak during an extended chase sequence (loaded with dangerous stunting for Jean-Paul), in the empty modernity of the unfinished new capital of Brasilia. Dropping dialogue and even Georges Delerue’s fine score, de Broca challenges himself to some of his best work, crafting compound physical gags Lloyd & Keaton would have been proud to own. Long unavailable in any form, a fine restoration (out via Cohen Media) proves irresistible.

DOUBLE-BILL: De Broca claimed Hergé’s Tintin comic adventures as inspiration which provides an excuse to resample Steven Spielberg’s mezza-mezza try with THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN/’11. (Less Hergé than INDIANA JONES V.) OR: The period panache of de Broca’s unexpected swashbuckling comeback in ON GUARD/’97.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CHEUNG GONG 7 HOU / CJ7 (2008)

Stephen Chow, Hong Kong master of Martial Arts pics (comic/anarchic division), tries on an extra-terrestrial story (kiddie division) and comes up short. Or does for Stateside crossover, with a plot that can’t hurdle the East/West cultural divide. It starts well enough, charting a day in the life of young Dicky, a working-class kid in a posh private school. Chow plays the boy's hard-luck dad, a common laborer who’ll do anything to keep him there. Some delightful early scenes detail the father’s devotion: rummaging thru trash for school supplies & outfits, groveling to the boss for overtime work, coping with the cockroach infested hovel they live in; while over at the fancy school, Dicky’s classmates are merciless & the teachers mostly sadistic. Broad, but funny stuff, with some impossible/cartoon-like visual gags tossed in the mix. But Chow overplays his idea, bringing home an indestructible junkyard toy that magically morphs into a bouncy little pet that’s half puppy/half genie. It sends everything into overdrive without ever adding up. (He also veers wildly off tone with a fake-out climax.) Yet, even when the concept goes seriously haywire, Chow manages to put shots together with tremendous facility, and gets good perfs out of the school kids & teachers; and a terrific one from his main villain, a tiny student monster who runs roughshod at school over . . . well, over just about everyone! The kid’s a holy terror, and the best thing in the pic.*

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *IMDb.com lists this kid as Lei Huang, but brings up a different Lei Huang if you click on the name.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

UNDERWORLD, U.S.A. (1961)

Typically tough B-pic from writer/director Sam Fuller isn’t the crime syndicate exposé its title suggests, but a nasty revenge yarn that takes 20 years to come off. Cliff Robertson (masticating on a Philly Cheese Shtick accent) was the street kid who watched as his dad got beaten to death by four mob guys. The one he knows, dying in a prison hospital, gives up the other three names to Robertson in a bid for absolution. (Absolution? In a Sam Fuller pic?) Soon, Robertson robs his way to a mid-level job with one of the murderers, using his new position to play one goon off the other, helped by the big city D.A. who’s going after their boss, head of the syndicate. Like many Fuller projects of the period, this is cut to the bone, a matter of budget & artistic preference. But what looks blunt & powerful to Fuller acolytes can easily seem obvious & corny to doubters; a difference stemming less from the quality in the material than from the quality of the acting. And on Fuller’s budgets, that can be variable. Even Robertson, fine in his way, can’t keep you from wondering how much better this might be with, say, Charles Bronson in the lead. (And Don Siegel directing.) As it is, the film is stolen by Richard Rust’s cool henchman. Great hair/great shades.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Cliff Robertson waited not 20, but 40 years to play something like this film’s ‘Dad’ in SPIDER-MAN/’02. Dying early as Ben Parker (‘Uncle Ben’ to Peter Parker) to set up the film’s revenge motif.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956)

Working in ultra-WideScreen CinemaScope doesn’t much help Gerd Oswald on his feature debut (too many long, rhythmless one-shot conversations), but this tasty thriller comes thru visually anyway. In decor (art director Addison Hehr), with half-toned/color-coded interiors, and in Lucien Ballard’s cool-to-the-touch lensing with highly saturated Deluxe Color servicing powder blue cars, peach blouses & turquoise steering wheels. All part of the pastel world of privilege poor-but-dreamy psychopath Robert Wagner plots to marry into. But all his plans come unglued when clingy, college co-ed/fiancé Joanne Woodward discovers she’s pregnant!; sure to be disinherited. And just about here you start noticing that Ira Levin's too-clever-by-half debut novel is really a perverted ‘Pop’ re-imagining of Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY.* (Two main differences: our protagonist’s level of guilt and, in a masterstroke, making the whiny victim the sister of the improved replacement.) As the young killer’s nemesis, Jeffrey Hunter is nearly as ridiculously handsome as Wagner is, even behind studious 'Clark Kent' glasses. Too bad Virginia Leith never gets anything going as the big sister. At least, a harsh looking Mary Astor, as the killer’s trusting mom, and silky-voiced George Macready, as the victim’s cold-hearted dad, add some supporting star power.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: This indie production went out via United Artists, but is all 20th/Fox above & below the line creatively. How'd that happen?

DOUBLE-BILL: *Officially remade in ‘91 with Matt Dillon in for Wagner and Sean Young as both sisters (now that’s scary!), it all but scuttled the career of writer/director James Dearden. Instead, as mentioned above, go straight to DreiserLand with either the underrated AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY/’31 or the overrated A PLACE IN THE SUN/’51. Or, split the diff quite nicely with Woody Allen’s sneaky unofficial rethink in MATCH POINT/’05.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A MURDER OF QUALITY (1991)

Denholm Elliott, Glenda Jackson, Christian Bale, Billie Whitelaw, Joss Ackland, Ronald Pickup: a damn strong cast for such a modest Thames TV murder-mystery. But it’s early John Le Carré, the second George Smiley novel adapted by the author himself, and must have sounded tempting & classy. In the event, the generic murder story would have been better suited for episodic tv. As stand-alone fare, it hardly competes with either the next Smiley (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY*) or the preceding (CALL FOR THE DEAD, filmed as THE DEADLY AFFAIR). It’s more like an Agatha Christie whodunnit (DEATH AT A BOYS’ ACADEMY?), with Elliott’s Smiley, on sabbatical from MI-6, doing a Miss Marple act with purposefully misdirected cunning to solve a murder . . . or two. All perfectly watchable, even vaguely amusing at times, but something of a waste in firepower.

DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *In spite of Gary Oldman’s recent success playing spymaster George Smiley, Alec Guinness’s two big mini-series (TTSS/’79; SMILEY’S PEOPLE/’82) remain untouchable. Anyway, why redo TTSS when THE HONORABLE SCHOOLBOY awaits adaptation?

Friday, April 22, 2016

SCANDAL SHEET (1952)

Phil Karlson’s extra-tasty film noir, tabloid fodder from Samuel Fuller’s 1944 novel THE DARK PAGE*, barely puts a foot wrong in a tight 82-minutes. Brusque & blunt, Broderick Crawford stars as an editor using shock tactics (gruesome pics, lonely hearts club balls, sex scandals) to revive a once dowdy big-city rag. He’s even got his own personally mentored tiger-cub reporter digging up lowdown scoops (disconcertingly pretty John Derek). But his circulation stunts are about to blow up in Crawford’s pug-ugly face when a lonely-hearts gal turns up from his own past, kicking off a downward spiral of blackmail, death, cover-up & bowery bum murder. And it’s his own favorite reporter/surrogate son who’s hot on the trail. He’s proud of the kid; and terrified of being found out. Donna Reed, a leftover reporter from the previous staff, is fine as Derek’s girlfriend/conscience, but standout turns come from Rosemary DeCamp & Henry O’Neill as a doomed pair of life’s losers. Shot by Burnett Guffey with the photo-journalist flair of Weegee covering a professional hit at a tenement walk-up, this big city thriller is served neat, no chaser.

DOUBLE-BILL: The original posters pushed this as a follow-up to THE MOB/’51, a pretty good Robert Parrish pic that puts Crawford’s undercover cop on the waterfront. Great first half (with a terrific, young Richard Kiley), less so after that, but worth a look.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *What might Fuller have made of his own book? Next year’s PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET/’53 shows him at his writing/directing best, but B-pic specialist Karlson is a tough guy to beat.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

LA ROUE / THE WHEEL (1923)

Now remembered largely for the mad/magnificent late silent NAPOLEON/’27, this previous work from writer/director Abel Gance was actually more influential (Kurosawa to Eisenstein) & more widely seen at the time. Reduced, even then, to a running time of about two hours from its original seven, Lobster’s 2008 DVD edition has miraculously bulked it back up 4+, with Robert Israel’s fine score helping to bring out its epic qualities.* It’s a big, clunky melodrama that gets the wheel rolling with an opening train crash that orphans a little girl who is then taken home by Séverin-Mars’s railwayman, raised as his daughter and playmate for his son. Both men will fall in love with her, but she’ll marry a rich older man thinking this will help them financially. From a series of small domestic miscues, Gance makes something visually epic & tragic, tying man & machine; landscape & weather to fate, a mixture of Hugo & Hardy, held together by a cinematic dazzle far ahead & far removed from Gance’s Victorian narrative sensibilities. D. W. Griffith followed a similar recipe, but where he was technically advanced for the day; Gance was advanced for now, awesomely so. Part One has most of the traditional narrative, but Part Two is even more extraordinary with the remaining plot elements cleared up in the first two reels. For the rest, about an hour’s running time, there’s little to watch but Severin-Mars slowly losing his sight at a glacial pace while ‘daughter’ Ivy Close tries to reenter his life. A combination of the numb & the sublime unlike anything else in film; until Gance sets up one final turn of the wheel that becomes one of the great privileged moments in cinema.

DOUBLE-BILL/ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The following year, Erich von Stroheim’s GREED/’24 was finished at a similar length (7+ hours), and eventually whittled down to two, just like this film. But GREED never was shown at full length, not even in a lost interim cut, prepared at Stroheim’s personal request by director Rex Ingram and running more or less as long as this new restoration of LA ROUE. Even at this length, LA ROUE shows odd continuity gaps and fistfuls of false endings toward the close of Part One. But the film feels complete. Something that can’t be said of an attempt to fill in the missing pieces of GREED with production stills. You’re better off with original 2 hour release. And Rex Ingram’s interim edit? . . . what a loss.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

GRANDMA (2015)

The best thing about Paul Weitz’s well-reviewed character dramedy is finding a Pro-Choice film that neither cops out nor trivializes the main issue. (He does stick in a sweet Pro-Life tyke to throw a nasty comic punch at Lily Tomlin, but still . . . )*  If only there was more to celebrate. Tomlin (aging lesbian poet/lit prof/cranky paper-tiger) has just broken up with a much younger girlfriend when her knocked-up teenage granddaughter comes a’knockin’. The girl needs cash for an abortion and (wouldn’t you know it) Tomlin’s cut all her credit cards into pieces. (Apparently, no one’s heard of calling for a replacement card.) So these two tough cookies (one crunchy, one chewy) drive around town, hoping to dig up the funds they need from an assortment of possible cash cows: pimply boyfriend, ex-lover from a hetero past, et al., and finally, the girl’s disapproving mom. Weitz misjudges our interest in this motley gang, and their ability to sustain a narrative. Worse, when in doubt, he goes long & cute, his usual fallback position. Tomlin earns a few honest, uncomfortable laughs, mostly when she’s on the move in her vintage car. But when settled down for extended scenes with real actors , like Sam Elliott as an old flame or Marcia Gay Harden as her powerhouse all-business daughter (she’s the girl’s mother), Tomlin’s sketch-based/multi-character background training leaves her at a huge disadvantage. She all but disappears, along with the goodwill Weitz is counting on to make this work.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *We're slapping a Family Friendly label on this precisely because the film gives such a fair, non-judgmental look at the sort of routine abortion practice no one bothers to dramatize in commercial American movies these days.

Monday, April 18, 2016

IL CONFORMISTA / THE CONFORMIST (1970)

A new restoration of Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece (out on Raro Video) does his later work few favors. Made under the supervision of Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the corrected picture accentuates a balance in form & content which leaves his other pics either straining for effect (say, 1900/’76) or coasting on pure visual dazzle (like LITTLE BUDDHA/’93). Told in his preferred non-linear style, some puzzling elements only come into focus on a second viewing, but you’ll hardly mind. The movie is a 1930s political fever-dream, with Jean-Louis Trintignant’s wary Italian Fascist honeymooning in Paris, while awaiting for word on his assignment against a former professor, now a major figure in the French Popular Front. But Trintignant’s conflicted nature, shown with striking clarity by Bertolucci in vivid dips into his past*, threaten any foreordained conclusion. Under another director, the film might have played out as a series of bravura set pieces (the ballroom dance, an assassination in the snowy woods, a nightmarish walk thru Rome at war’s end); instead, momentum accumulates as we get to know the characters & situations from different angles. It all looks more thrillingly modern than ever.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Where many directors would signify the past by fading to b&w or toning down color saturation, Bertolucci does the opposite to show how memory can be heightened thru time.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

THE OKLAHOMAN (1957)

Forget the movie; enjoy the poster! This is one of those dull Westerns Joel McCrea made in the ’50s before a final return to form in Sam Peckinpah’s RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY/’62. The shame is that this little programmer holds a decent idea for an oater, but is done in by the dull megging of tv hack Francis D. Lyon. McCrea’s a widowed doctor, raising his young daughter in a growing Oklahoma town that needs strong leadership if it’s going to reach the next step in civilization. But when oil shows up on an Indian’s farm, and the town biggest landowner uses his posse to try and steal it away, someone’s gotta take a stand. If only McCrea’s motives weren’t under suspicion from that sexy Native American housekeeper he’s got in the house, young enough to be another daughter. She’s sure hit the jealousy nerve of well-to-do estate owner Barbara Hale, a proper lady who thought she had a clear path to the very available doc. Even with a brown hazy tinge on the print, this is not without some promise. Oh well, at least , Lyon does well by the final shoot-out.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: In ‘55, McCrea made a pair of these modest Westerns for director Jacques Tourneur (STRANGER ON HORSEBACK; WICHITA/’55). Not seen here, but Tourneur rarely misses.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944)

Though he never regained the commanding position of his German/UFA heyday, Fritz Lang hit a considerable Hollywood peak on a pair of companion pics for Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett & Dan Duryea, with Milton Krasner as lighting cameraman. WOMAN, long favored over follow-up SCARLET STREET/’45, now gets treated like the A-side of a 45 rpm record over-taken by its own ‘B-side.’ Rightfully so, as SCARLET is Lang’s Stateside masterpiece, a film so stylistically all-of-a-piece (call it Hollywood UFA), even its flaws work in its favor. Brutally conceived where this film is smooth & polished, their flipped reps now beg for a bit of defensive action. In a plot that might have inspired THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH/’55, Eddie G. sends his family off on holiday while settling down to a middle-aged bachelor routine at his club with two pals (a doctor & Raymond Massey’s D.A.). But then he meets glamorous Joan Bennett while admiring her portrait, only to share a drink, a murder, a cover-up & blackmail as his D.A. friend starts to circle in on him. A nightmare scenario played many times since, for suspense or for laughs, but rarely with such expert control of all film’s elements. When Lang gets cookin’, he’s tough to beat.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, SCARLET STREET, in decent physical shape on KINO. OR: A recent no-frills M-G-M release pairs WOMAN with another classic Eddie G. suspenser, Orson’s Welles’ most conventional pic, THE STRANGER/’46. Both sourced from sharp, handsome prints.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: By us! Wrote this up, to nearly identical effect, about seven years back. The Seven Year Itch to Rewrite?

Friday, April 15, 2016

CASSE-TÊTE CHINOIS / CHINESE PUZZLE (2013)

Writer/director Cédric Klapisch catches up on characters he’s been tracking since L’AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE/’02 and RUSSIAN DOLLS/’05 (neither seen here) in this too-cute-for-words Woody Allen wannabe. Think ANNIE HALL/’77 with a downtown vibe in for the Upper West Side. (And a multi-ethnic crowd on the sidewalk when Klapisch rips off the romantic dash thru the streets that ended MANHATTAN/’79.) It’s a sexed-up roundelay about a popular French author who follows his wife & kids to NYC after they split. And what whimsical adventures he falls into! Sperm donor to lesbian pal; bike messenger for street-cred philosophizing, with prompting from dead philosopher ghosts; a pop-up Chinese bride to finesse his tourist visa into a permanent one; a walk-up Chinatown apartment for the kids to redecorate; adorable Audrey Tautou visiting with two adorable kids to match his two adorable kids. For a while, it’s fun to see a Frenchman giving the city such an open-hearted hug, but how this sticky thing got such a warm reception is anyone’s guess. Maybe the first two entries were less cloying. (Don’t look here to find out.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Stagy & over-written, but something about A THOUSAND CLOWNS/65, also about an unconventional writer raising a kid in NYC, sticks with you. OR: Al Pacino out of his comfort zone as a sit-com dad in the weirdly unconvincing AUTHOR! AUTHOR!/’82.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

MR BEAN'S HOLIDAY (2007)

After waiting a decade for Rowan Atkinson to bring his anarchic creation back to the big screen, we must then wait an extra 40 minutes before director Steve Bendelak locates Mr. Bean’s comic pulse. It happens during a countryside idyll where his needlessly frenetic filming style gives way to a strolling gait. After a first half that’s something of a hit-and-miss affair, tagging along after Mr. Bean on vacation in France, this road pic pulls itself together by taking a breather, along with the great man, in wide open rural spaces. Even the plot starts to build as Bean, befriended by lovely actress Emma de Caunes, finds his way to the Cannes Film Festival where an ageless Willem Dafoe is showing a hilarious bit of navel-gazing tripe in competition. Naturally, Bean disrupts the event (and inadvertently saves the day) before reuniting a lost Russian son with his dad (don’t ask); finally hitting the beach for a blissed-out group sing-along comic catharsis on the pristine sands. As with the previous feature-length BEAN/’97, this posh looking production can’t quite capture the balance of charm, whimsy & cataclysmic mayhem seen in the best of Atkinson’s tv series (a matter of physical scale or running time?), but is plenty enjoyable all the same. Viva la Bean!

DOUBLE-BILL: Assuming you’ve gone thru Atkinson’s time-traveling BLACKADDER historicals, keep your eyes peeled for his latest, a new series of Inspector Maigret mysteries. We certainly are.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

DARBAREYE ELLY / ABOUT ELLY (2009)

Made right before his breakthrough on A SEPARATION/’11, writer/director Asghar Farhadi tests out a similar story construction technique with this story about a group of friends (married couples, kids, singles) sharing a beachfront rental over a 3-day holiday. With the exception of newcomer Elly, an attraction young single brought along for an informally arranged meeting with a divorced member of the core group, they all know each other, and each others’ foibles, only too well. But what starts out as light-hearted fun & games, soon takes a dark turn with a near drowning and a mysterious disappearance, buried in the shifting glare of half-truths. Farhadi’s method of storytelling plays out thru character turns or plot twists; secrets revealed within little lies; with social pleasantries pointedly reversing expectations and/or assumptions. Inside every reveal a concealment, with every fresh light a shadow to keep the truth out of reach. But what worked to revelatory effect in A SEPARATION (and nearly so in THE PAST/’13), feels forced here. Not the forced camaraderie, games & hijinks of uncomfortably close vacation revels, but the forced dramatic weight of a story built out of missed signals and artfully gauged incremental revelations. The film insists on each new move as a step toward the tragic, but the gear-grinding & social embarrassment is more like a sexually charged boulevard farce from Georges Feydeau. It’s just that no one got around to letting the cast & crew in on the joke. They missed seeing the razor’s edge difference that makes tragedy out of development and farce out of vamping.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Few saw thru this, but a quick look at either A SEPARATION or THE PAST (see above) makes everything crystal clear.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

ODD MAN OUT (1947)

Carol Reed had been helming to fine effect for a decade when he upped the artistic ante and made his international rep on a trio of city-specific films* beginning with this Belfast thriller. Really more dirge than thriller, with James Mason’s escaped I.R.A. prisoner getting seriously wounded a reel & a half in during a botched robbery. The rest of the film finds a few loyal friends trying to locate him before the police & British authorities do, while Mason tries to last out a long night, passed about like a political hot potato who's too much trouble to turn in, even for a reward. In some ways, the film is something of a hybrid as Reed’s initially smooth mix of location & studio work yields to more stylized/subjective treatment in Robert Krasker’s glistening, high-contrast cinematography. Film noir & German Expressionism are obvious touchstones, especially as Mason’s condition deteriorates into hallucinations, but the spirit Reed evokes is closer to ‘30s French poetic realism. (Think Marcel Carné/Jacques Prévert/Jean Gabin: LE JOUR SE LEVE/’39; remade in Hollywood that year as THE LONG NIGHT/’47 from Henry Fonda/Anatole Litvak.) James Mason brings terrific glamour & melancholy to his doubting Irish nationalist, it tends to neutralize the politics, but Reed is more interested in the doomed romance with the underplaying Kathleen Ryan, anyway. And in laying on florid supporting players like Robert Newton who just gets away with his sodden, mythologizing portrait painter. Very memorable stuff.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *The other two, THE FALLEN IDOL/’48 and THE THIRD MAN/’49, were written by Graham Greene, but all three films might have shared the title: ODD MAN OUT - BELFAST; ODD MAN OUT - LONDON; ODD MAN OUT - VIENNA. For that matter, OLIVER/’68, Reed’s last great film, could have been called ODD BOY OUT.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, LE JOUR SE LEVE and/or THE LONG NIGHT..

Sunday, April 10, 2016

PLACES IN THE HEART (1984)

Two things every director hopes to do: put their daughter in one of their films*; and make their own private AMARCORD/’73, Federico Fellini’s heightened childhood memory-pic. (Vincente Minnelli’s MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS/’44, while not autobiographical, is the Hollywood paradigm.) And if writer/director Robert Benton’s anger-free look back at his hardscrabble youth in small town Depression Era Texas comes up top-heavy with grace & goodness (Sally Field’s unsinkable young widow is Ma Joad, Mother Teresa, Mother Courage & Scarlett O’Hara in one cute indomitable package), he invests so much personal feeling & detail into each lovingly recreated incident (even the purloined ones**), it’s all but impossible to resist. Perhaps helped, rather than hindered, because Benton remains, at heart, more writer than visual stylist, with a lack of fuss from lenser Néstor Almendros’ work, held back from the swooning ‘money’ shots of his DAYS OF HEAVEN/’78. Beautifully cast, Danny Glover’s handyman/cotton planter exceptional; Ed Harris’s brother-in-law with a wandering eye spectacularly sexy, even when his secondary storyline (a love triangle) feels shoehorned in for its contrasting texture. But most of the film, which largely follows Fields’ attempt to bring a cotton crop in on time to pay the mortgage, draws exactly the cards needed to keep things flowing, occasionally exciting and emotionally moving when needed. With Benton managing a sort of Texan’s Magical Realism depth-charge of a blessing as tag ending.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: **Casual narrative swipes from great literary works are one thing, but Benton actually lifts ‘The Bishop's Candlesticks’ episode right out of Hugo’s LES MISÉRABLES.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Yes, it applies equally to male & female directors: put the daughter in the pic.

Friday, April 8, 2016

KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004)

Tremendous fun, and a huge international success (deserved so), Stephen Chow’s roughhouse Martial Arts comedy piles on homage & parody without skimping on character or story. It’s balanced cinematic anarchy; damn handsome, too. He opens on the dark side, as warring gangs in ‘40s Shanghai fight it out and The Axe Gang slaughter their way to the top. (Laughs are triggered with just enough exaggeration to the stylized violence.) But the Axes don’t quite own the town, deep in the slums of Pig Sty Alley, landlord & landlady run the show. Or do until a couple of renegade Axe Boys try to shakedown the neighborhood. Bad idea since Pig Sty has a trio of tough guys hiding in plain sight; also because the intruders aren’t really Axe Gang members. By now, Chow, who also stars as one of the renegades, has tilted from realistic laws of gravity, mass & speed, and edged toward a cartoon universe Chuck Jones & Frank Tashlin might recognize. With action chops doubling on every set piece (though one with strumming instruments-of-death doesn’t come off), the film rethinks its heroes & alliances while it dazzles via stunts & expendable serried ranks assembled, set to a variety of music cues that range from traditional Chinese to Looney Tunes Classical ‘Pops.’ (Raymond Wong gets credit for the score.) Best of all, even without knowing any of the Martial Arts pics referenced or the film history of the great veteran actors in the cast, Chow manages to slip in a real emotional charge amidst the comic mayhem.

DOUBLE-BILL: Chow prominently features a big poster of TOP HAT/’35 behind the film’s mute, ice cream selling heroine. He must have been thinking of Fred Astaire’s iconic solo to Irving Berlin’s ‘Top Hat, White Tie & Tails,’ the one where he ‘guns’ down an entire chorus with nothing more than a polished cane for a rifle & ‘taps’ as ammo.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO (1960)

Stagebound & loaded with noble sound-bites, Dore Schary’s hagiographic B’way hit on FDR’s polio crisis comes across anyway, even when it seems that the Family Von Trapp is playing all those Roosevelts. (Not perhaps so surprising as Vincent J. Donehue helmed THE SOUND OF MUSIC on B’way between stage & film duties on CAMPOBELLO.) The play must have seemed awfully old-fashioned even when new, with Donehue sticking closely to proscenium staging whenever possible. Still, Schary’s sanitized view of a difficult marriage and FDR’s gain in empathy thru losses to a crippling disease, pretty much defined Franklin & Eleanor for Baby Boomers. That’s especially so for Ralph Bellamy’s FDR, in spite of an occasional resemblance to a Disney audio-animatronic mannequin. Needlessly long at 2½ hours, the story would be historically corrected in later attempts, but all have points uniquely in their favor.

DOUBLE-BILL: In HBO’s WARM SPRINGS/’05, Kenneth Branagh & Cynthia Nixon stick closer to the facts, gaining rather than losing empathy & emotional charge with a warts & all approach.

CONTEST: Win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of your choosing by guessing the connection between character actor Louis Calhern and Janine Grandel, this film’s French governess/housekeeper.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

SAINT JACK (1979)

After making the Hollywood A-list on three early hits, Peter Bogdanovich found hubristic comeuppance (the sort charted by pal Orson Welles in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS/’42) with three career-cratering flops. Hence, after time off for bad behavior, this exotic, indie-flavored, low-budget character study (about a high-riding Singapore pimp) was something of a shot at cinematic redemption. Assuming you can swallow the bemused, if tone-deaf idea of a ‘good’ pimp (Rick in CASABLANCA, whom he’s drawn on, wasn’t half so noble*), this wised-up unsentimental education is a tremendously appealing entertainment. Ben Gazzara, more mobile & alert than usual, runs what you might call a ‘clean’ brothel, it’s the society around him that’s breaking down. All made even worse by the fast decline of U.S. military investment in Vietnam. And while there’s only so much bribery can cover, there’s also a limit to how low Saint Jack will stoop to survive. A fine contingent of British actors hover round the Singapore bars like leftovers from some Somerset Maugham story (with Denholm Elliott beyond praise as an accountant making once-a-year visits), but most of the cast are non-pros, a little tough to understand, but bringing verisimilitude with every patterned shirt. Bogdanovich’s simplified filming style, much aided by Robby Müller’s atmospheric/fuss-free lensing, is transformed from his Hollywood classicism, perfect for his subject. And if he never did go three-for-three again, Bogdanovich had some worthwhile stops in his uneven future projects. (Look for the restored edition of this on Scorpion.)

DOUBLE-BILL: *Also in ‘79, Sean Connery tried on the Rick Blaine/Humphrey Bogart/CASABLANCA/’42 mantle in Richard Lester’s CUBA.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: You don’t much see these ‘second line’ posters anymore.  (see above - click to enlarge)   The studios used to rush them out when films got critical raves but no biz.  Now, second runs (heck, second weeks!) are a thing of the past for underperformers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

ELLE S’EN VA / ON MY WAY (2013)

Looking blowsy & real at 70, Catherine Deneuve has triumphantly de-botoxed to play a 60-ish widow who suddenly drops out on her own overly complicated life in the middle of lunch service at the rural auberge she runs with her mother. Morphing from a late mid-life crisis tale to a road pic, it’s a kick just to see a woman take the lead in this sort of thing for a change. Deneuve’s messy life comes to a head as her mom’s restaurant slowly sinks into default, her long time lover finally leaves his wife . . . but not for her, and just as her estranged pain-in-the-neck daughter calls for emergency help with her son. Writer/director Emmanuelle Bercot tries for a Janus-faced response that has Deneuve both running away and running into her life, tripping over unlikely adventures and a new purpose with every wrong turn. Filmed in an interesting (unintentional?) manner that lets her scenes run a little too long or a little too short before coming up with sweet-natured surprises from unexpected sources: a pick up from a guy half her age in a bar; a lonely, uncomfortably aging farmer who does his bit to assuage her renewed nicotine addiction. Character-driven scenes as blissed-out and non-judgmental as early Jonathan Demme. But the film isn’t always at its best; and Bercot seems aware of it, pushing too hard just when she needs to ease off. It keeps easy scenes, like the growing relationship between Deneuve & her grandkid (she barely knows him; he’s acting out) from fully connecting, largely thru a lack of trust in her audience. The film is missing the missing pieces we should be filling in for ourselves.

DOUBLE-BILL: Nobody talks about Paul Mazursky’s HARRY AND TONTO/’74 anymore, but it remains a special treat with a retired Art Carney (and cat) finding adventure as they head West.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Why Oscar® hasn’t given Deneuve a lifetime achievement award (or two or three) is something of a mystery. (Same for Max von Sydow.)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949)

After success as writer (mostly @ Paramount) and producer (mostly @ M-G-M), Joseph L. Mankiewicz went to 20th/Fox to teach himself direction, shooting five scripts he either hadn’t written or hadn’t initiated.* After that, strictly writer/director until the very end of his career, but never again showing the visual panache and energy he lavished on these ‘learning’ productions (with the possible exception of 5 FINGERS/’52). STRANGERS was the last of the five, a superb family drama (not the film noir it’s often called) about an Italian-American bank run by Edward G. Robinson, paterfamilias and immigrant striver, a force-of-nature type who runs roughshod over three seemingly docile sons, only to shower affection on independent lawyer son, Richard Conte. While that family dynamic plays out over the 1930s, a second, less involving storyline watches as society dame Susan Hayward & the already engaged Conte squabble their way thru a hot affair. (Hayward’s very good here, with a youthful plush tempering that hard exterior shell she wore over the fur coats.) The rest of the cast is (mostly) excellent, and Luther Adler a standout as the taken-for-granted eldest son. But it’s the general sweep of the film (in story & production, even without much in the way of period detail) that pulls you along, with superb high contrast lensing from Milton Krasner, back in NYC for some location shooting after doing the same on George Cukor's A DOUBLE LIFE/’48. Add in some intriguing premonitions of THE GODFATHER/’72 and you’ve got a film that deserves a lot more attention than it gets.

DOUBLE-BILL: Officially remade as a Western (BROKEN LANCE/’54); unofficially remade as a circus meller (THE BIG SHOW/’61). OR: See Susan Hayward play tough in another adaptation taken from a Jerome Weidman novel, I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE/’51.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Nice to see Edward G. Robinson’s Best Actor for this @ Cannes. Oscar® never even nominated the guy.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Mank also did an uncredited polish on THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR/’47, the best of the lot.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

HITLER'S CHILDREN (1943)

Edward Dmytryk got a career boost, and his big Hollywood break, when he took over direction of this Nazi-atrocity exploitation B-pic. It opens with a real visual tour-de-force as well-drilled masses of Nazi Youth gather ‘round a sacred flame to pledge allegiance to the cult of Hitler. After that, the film turns conventional & far less imaginative (in spite of Russell Metty’s fine lensing) charting a youthful opposites-attract romance between Tim Holt’s true Aryan believer & Bonita Granville’s German-American school girl. Kent Smith, professor at an American Academy, is our guide to German degradation as he goes thru a maze of Nazi diplomatic channels trying to help the lovers. Highlights include: Forced Sterilization Labs; Unwed Mothers birthing for the Reich; Religious Harassment in and out of church; Work Camps & worse for protesters. Bijou’ers were agog! Not a subtle piece of work by any means, and not meant to be. Clunky, effective, and an enormous surprise hit in its day. Plus, Holt is very, very good.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Listen closely to the actor doing Hitler in English. Why it’s Hans Conried who’s also in here mit German accent as Dr. Graf.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Is there another actor with as low a profile as Tim Holt who appeared in so many classic pics? STELLA DALLAS/’37; STAGECOACH/’39; THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS/42; MY DARLING CLEMENTINE/’46 and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE/’48. It’s quite a list. (And add HIS KIND OF WOMAN/’51 to this Screwy Thought repeat.)

Friday, April 1, 2016

SABOTAGE / THE WOMAN ALONE (1936)

Alfred Hitchcock’s modernized adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s THE SECRET AGENT is the outlier among his late ‘30s British suspense pics, somber & melancholy rather than fun.* But don’t let the difference in tone put you off. Perverse and inventive, it's also disconcertingly timely, an unsettling terrorist thriller with politics abstracted to fit just about any ideology. Sylvia Sidney, in the midst of a trio of Fritz Lang films, is more grey wren than Hitchcock blonde; and all the more effective for it in her unhappy marriage to Oskar Homolka’s neighborhood cinema manager and secret saboteur.

Fortunately, there’s a straight-arrow cop working undercover at the next door greengrocer (John Loder, faceless as Macdonald Carey in the same spot for SHADOW OF A DOUBT/43). Loaded with visual flair (aural flair, too), the film remains most famous (and controversial) for a big terrorist bomb incident which Hitchcock long rued. But was he right to? There’s really no story without it, and it leads directly into one of Hitchcock’s most stunning sequences, a sort of willed murder/revenge/absolution/suicide unlike anything in the Hitchcock canon. Remarkably lit, as is the entire film, especially in its close-up portraits, by cameraman Bernard Knowles. Not as perfect as some of the Hitchcock films surrounding it, but unmissable. (Note our extra poster with the Stateside title. The British poster comes from a trade ad.)

DOUBLE-BILL: *It’s also a source of confusion as Hitch’s previous film, from Somerset Maugham’s ASHENDEN spy stories, was called SECRET AGENT. A more faithful version of the Conrad made in 1996 kept it’s original title as THE SECRET AGENT.