Now With More Than 3600 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 3600 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 . (Let us know if the TRANSLATE WIDGET works!) Or use the Profile Page or Comments link for contact.

Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, July 31, 2016


Running for cover after her Oscar® snub on MY FAIR LADY/’64, Audrey Hepburn waited a year before returning in a comic caper, splitting the difference between CHARADE/’63 and the up-coming GAMBIT/’66 on this reasonable facsimile of the form. Though not especially well received, it’s really rather pleasant in its deliberate way, with director William Wyler gamely trying to keep the over-produced whimsy airborne. It does have a good gimmick working for it: Audrey’s desperate to steal a fake antique statue her dad (Hugh Griffith) loaned to a museum. Why? Well, he’s a master art forger and the insurance inspection would do them in. Enter Peter O’Toole, immensely charming in a sort of road-not-taken leading man perf (very Cary Grant) as accomplice. Strongly cast (though more spoken French would have been nice) and gorgeously shot (both people & locations) by Charles Lang, you even get a chance to hear composer John Williams (picking up on CHARADE) make like Henry Mancini. And if we can’t recreate the plush atmosphere this must have generated back when it opened at Radio City Music Hall, the film’s ultra-smooth style has it’s own cushy comforts.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, CHARADE and GAMBIT, with the first about as good as these things get.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Except for THE BIG COUNTRY/’58 and THE CHILDREN’S HOUR/’61, all of William Wyler’s late films seem specifically chosen to tackle some genre he’d missed since starting out in the ‘20s with dozens of little silent Westerns for Universal. In BEN-HUR/’59, he’d out DeMille DeMille! THE COLLECTOR/’65 with two new stars in a sexually perverse two-hander. STEAL a classy comic caper. FUNNY GIRL/’68 his first musical and another new-born star. Finally, the underrated LIBERATION OF L. B. JONES/’70, a Black Power drama.

Saturday, July 30, 2016


Extremely frustrating. A dead-on-arrival near-musical for B’way’s Marilyn Miller, the Florenz Ziegfeld star who introduced scores from the likes of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans & Cole Porter. More dancer than singer, and more charmer than either, Miller only made three films, two early Talkies (SUNNY/’29; SALLY/’30) and this. So, bizarrely, now that sound films were getting up on their feet, Miller barely dances at all. Not much in the way of song or charm either in this romance taken from a concurrent German film (IHRE MAJESTÄT DIE LIEBE/’31* - see bonus poster). Director William Dieterle & lenser Robert Kurrle try to give this a bit of pace & movement, but it’s very blah stuff with co-star Ben Lyons, scion of a ball-bearing manufacturer, forced to choose between Miller’s nightclub barmaid and a position at the family firm. Fortunately, a couple of complicating factors figure in: Leon Errol as Lyons’ much married uncle; and, in his first sound feature, W. C. Fields as the girl’s decidedly inappropriate father. Fields, out of the Hollywood scene since 1927, returns all but fully formed, and stealing every scene he’s in. He also adds just a bit of juggling when given the chance. Fields fanciers take note, the great man is back. Others should give this a pass. Perhaps Miller’s gifts are better glimpsed in the earlier stage transfers.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *That German film came loaded with future Warner Bros. talent: director Joe May and Francis Lederer & S. Z. Sakall in the cast.

DOUBLE-BILL: Miller, only 37 when she died, was played by Judy Garland in the highly fictionalized Jerome Kern bio-pic TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY/’46 (her segments directed by then-husband Vincente Minnelli), and (sort of) by Greta Garbo in A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS/’28 from the infamous Michael Arlen novel THE GREEN HAT.

Friday, July 29, 2016


Reuniting after the groundbreakingly violent & influential POINT BLANK/’67 (see below), Lee Marvin & director John Boorman had less luck working this two-for-one Robinson Crusoe story. The gimmick, and alas, it is a gimmick, finds a Pacific atoll supporting a pair of battle-hardened men in WWII: one Japanese (Toshirô Mifune)/one American (Marvin). They meet less than ten minutes in, but to continue the war in microcosm? Or to work together to get off the island? The suspense is . . . more or less nonexistent; not that what’s here isn’t well-handled, acted & shot (especially fine under Conrad L. Hall’s lens.) Unexpectedly, the film opens with what would normally be the end of the first act: discovering they’re not alone. Mifune, apparently there for a while, already has a functioning system for food, fresh water, fire & shelter up & running. Skipping the set-up should be an interesting dramatic choice, but the story needs those early survival struggles. What else is there to do on a deserted isle? And watching it come together before Marvin’s arrival would lend irony & misgivings about him horning in. Once detente sets in, there’s only a brief arc of hesitant character comedy and a raft to build before setting off to find a forced nihilistic ending. (Actually, a better, if still unsatisfying, alternate ending is included on this non-anamorphic WideScreen DVD.) Worth an indulgent look, mostly for the cinematography.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: If you turn on the subtitles, Mifune’s Japanese dialogue comes up in translation. But would Boorman have wanted it?

DOUBLE-BILL: Marvin got closer to making his nihilistic mark (against Ernest Borgnine) in Robert Aldrich’s EMPEROR OF THE NORTH /’73. (See below.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Marvin does twice as much singing in this film as he does in next year’s musical PAINT YOUR WAGON/’69 . . . sounds better, too.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Of the three foundation gangster pics (THE PUBLIC ENEMY/’31 and SCARFACE/’32 are the other two), Mervyn LeRoy’s was first out of the gate and technically the most primitive. Shot in 1930, it plays like an early Talkie, but still manages to put out loads of character (and characters) while laying out much of the classic gangster iconography we still expect from the genre. Ben Hecht & Josef von Sternberg’s UNDERWORLD/’27 got there first, but without sound the effect isn’t the same. (In fact, LeRoy handles a pivotal shooting in CAESAR silent film style with fancy edits, angles & quick dissolves sans synch-sound.) Edward G. Robinson is deliciously assured in his signature role as Rico, the squat, violent quick-study mob-man. But there’s a chink in the armor, he’s overly protective of handsome pal Douglas Fairbanks Jr., a hesitant partner who’s getting out of gang life to dance professionally with Glenda Farrell. So while Rico’s rise is fast, his fall is even faster. Something director LeRoy can’t always make believable with all the missing dramatic pieces in an 80 minute running time. Not that you’ll mind with so many indelible moments, mostly from little touches Robinson keeps coming up with, along with memorable turns from his loyal little pal George E. Stone and the slow-talking chief detective who takes him down, Thomas Jackson. The current DVD really shows off the great work of lenser Tony Gaudio and art director Anton Grot, tenement & garret apartments that close in on these hoodlums with heightened realism and a touch of claustrophobic German expressionism. The film's both dated and an essential period piece.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Only one underscored scene in the whole pic. A conversation between a mob-guy and his mom, right before he gets rubbed out. Someone must have noticed the similarity to the finale of ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ and figured they ought to have some music.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Third time’s no charm for director Nicholas Hytner, messing up yet another promising Alan Bennett project. In his debut pic, Bennett’s THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE/’94, Hytner came up short on the skill set needed to handle the play’s tricky ‘Oscar Wilde goes historical’ tone; arch when it needed to be sober and vice versa. Then, the stunning theatricality of THE HISTORY BOYS/’06, a raptly witty look at first-bromance in a boys’ ‘public’ school, was lost in a period setting that needed to be a decade earlier, and a cast that was a decade too old. This time, Hytner is just too literal, killing a largely true story that needs to feel like a conceit with too much realistic detail. Maggie Smith is fierce & fine as the eccentric homeless woman in an artsy/upscale London neighborhood who lives in a pigsty of a van. Tolerated, even catered to, by the locals, she somehow parks for fifteen uncomfortable years in the driveway of playwright/performer Bennett. Their wary relationship, and Bennett’s slowly emerging understanding of how it refracts on his other relationships, makes up the fragile story. With little narrative structure, other than the slow physical disintegration of various parties, Bennett tricks up his script (from his own collected magazine pieces over the years) by going ‘meta,’ double-casting himself (Alex Jennings doing the honors) as both the man living in the real-life drama, and as the separate-but-equal omnipotent typewriting scribe of the events. (Right at the end, the real Alan Bennett appears to make things ‘Meta².’) The film is wonderfully acted by all, down to the tiniest role, but you can see what’s gone wrong with a glance at our poster, taken not from the film but from the book jacket. Hytner is unable to get past the literal and into Bennett’s literary imagination, so what comes off as whimsical & melancholy on page (and wistfully comic in the illustrations of this particular edition), turns frankly gross, rank & unacceptable played in the flesh. Hytner probably would have used Smell-O-Vision had it still been available, and not found it distracting.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: To see what Bennett & Maggie Smith can do together (and with Bennett directing), try BED AMONG THE LENTILS/’88, one of the best soliloquies in his TALKING HEADS series.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

ON THE TOWN (1949)

The big takeaway from this good-natured M-G-M musical about three sailors on a 24-hr pass in NYC lasts only six minutes. It’s the opening prologue, daringly filmed on location all around the city as our trio of tars extol the sights & sounds of ‘New York, New York, a wonderful town.’* You can still feel the charge of generational change in it. After that, boilerplate stuff back in the studio (another unofficial iteration of SHORE LEAVE) with the Leonard Bernstein score largely shoved aside for mediocre substitutes by associate producer Roger Edens.* And Gene Kelly (co-directing with 25-yr-old Stanley Donen) replacing Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking choreography with tedious enthusiasm. His dream ballet in the third act stops the film cold. (The year before, WORDS AND MUSIC/’48 found Kelly doing similar damage remaking George Balanchine’s SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE ballet.) On B’way in 1944, the gags & camaraderie of three gobs hunting up dates for the night, and finding girls twice as horny as they, gained texture & enough gravitas to hold the stage with WWII looming in the background. You knew the boys were shipping off to war in the morning. But here, after that great opening, the film has nothing to use as an emotional springboard. So, it’s fun and foolish, with a cute trailer done up as a fake travelogue, but no classic.

DOUBLE-BILL: In some ways, Donen & Kelly did more striking work taking over the reins from a failing Busby Berkeley on TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME/’49. And it’s fun trying to spot their stuff. OR: The fascinating Donen/Kelly end-of-the-line near-sequel, IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER/’55, a strikingly sour reunion tale of three army buds. (See Write-Ups below.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *B’way’s ‘helluva town’ got tamed to ‘wonderful town’ for the movies. They also changed a lyric in the taxi-cab song, swapping out the play TOBACCO ROAD for THE FLORADORA GIRL. Presumably to keep from mentioning another studio’s film. Bizarre.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Lenny’s score didn’t have the ‘Pop’ flavor L. B. Mayer or producer Arthur Freed would have been looking for. Only a couple of songs and the ballet music were used. Now, after three B’way revivals, it’s been recorded multiple times, but Bernstein’s studio cast album from 1960 is still the one to go for. The fare-the-well number, SOME OTHER TIME, is a stunner, if deadly difficult to sing. On the other hand, why drop I CAN COOK, TOO, a knockout comic turn for man-hungry Hildy? Here’s Nancy Walker, from the original 1944 production, recreating it with Bernstein in his 1960 recording.

Monday, July 25, 2016


After a legendary decade with D. W. Griffith more-or-less inventing narrative film*, Lillian Gish traveled to Italy with director Henry King (and fresh discovery Ronald Colman) to film F. Marion Crawford’s well-known religious romancer. (Second of four adaptations.) A 1933 remake with Helen Hayes/Clark Gable streamlined much of the story out; this one all-too patiently keeps most of it in. And what a tale of woe it is! Gish, second daughter to a Prince of Naples, loses her father to a riding accident and her inheritance to a jealous half-sister. On the plus side, it saves Gish from a loveless, arranged marriage, allowing her to wed her heart’s desire (military man Colman) once he completes a tour of duty in Northern Africa. But when he’s reported killed, she tends to her grief by marrying . . . the church! A white sister, now & forever . . . until her ‘dead’ fiancé shows up alive & well. And all the while, Mount Vesuvius heaves with incipient threat! Yikes! Director King set this colossal, handsome production on a very slow fuse, at least in the first two acts. Temperature & pace rise significantly in the third act when Colman returns and the narrative cogs start falling into place. Ms. Gish is still a Griffith girl in the first half of the film, with emotional feints & hysterics that can feel displaced away from his formal style. But she sheds mannerisms as the film gathers force. (A continuing process that would reach its apogee under Victor Sjöström in her late M-G-M silents.) Colman is a complete natural right out of the gate, remarkably modern. An instant star, and one of a mere handful of top silent players to thrive when sound came in.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The fine VOD from Warner Archive uses an excellent new score (2009) from Garth Neustadter, but mastered at a very low setting. Set your volume at eleven!  Beware of other editions.

DOUBLE-BILL: SISTER was such a success, Gish (plus sister Dorothy), Colman and director King, along with some new guy named William Powell to play villain, returned to Italy for another heavily-plotted family epic, ROMOLA/’24, set in a phenomenal recreation of renaissance Florence in the time of Savonarola. A stupendous achievement, the film didn’t catch on and remains underrated to this day. A situation unlikely to change with the dire video editions currently available. Superb elements exist (gorgeous resolution, state-of-the-art tinting & toning), but until a better edition comes out, don’t expect its rep to improve.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Yes, an exaggeration, but not that much of one.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


No one knew it at the time, but this scattershot comedy, a Hitchcockian pastiche spoof, was the wrong-way pivot in Mel Brooks’ output as writer/director. The sixth of only eleven titles, it rode in on high expectations after BLAZING SADDLES/’74 and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN/’74 to an underwhelming reception. (In-between, SILENT MOVIE/’76 made little noise.) No doubt, Mel’s biggest mistake was giving himself the leading role, but that might have worked had the film delivered on its promise of parody Hitchcock & comic mayhem. Instead, the usual overlit Brooks mess of hit-and-miss gags. (There’s exactly one shot in the whole pic that looks like real Hitchcock. Distinctive in color & composition, it features a phone booth with a blue band at the top, situated incongruously on a grassy knoll with the rust-orange Golden Gate Bridge as backdrop.) The travestied set-pieces (VERTIGO; SPELLBOUND; THE BIRDS; PSYCHO) have all the visual allure of tv sketch comedy. Same for a lot of the acting, straight out of a Carol Burnett Show movie burlesque. Compared to the clever fun Brooks & Co. had aping the old b&w Universal Horror films in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, this comes off as a series of missed opportunities. Even when Brooks does find his groove, as in the Sinatra-like stylings of the title song, the bit feels shoe-horned in. And with Madeline Kahn, one of the great comic song stylists of her generation on hand (hell, on his lap!), Mel couldn’t come up with a cockeyed QUE SERA SERA for her to sing?

DOUBLE-BILL: Brooks’ remaining pics are more miss than hit. HISTORY OF THE WORLD/’81 has some worthwhile routines, and SPACEBALLS/’87 was funny enough (in its juvenile manner) to turn into a video hit after flopping theatrically. But little else.

Friday, July 22, 2016


There’s a bit of a shock halfway thru the latest Quentin Tarantino pic. Not the sudden spasm of delayed violence that finally breaches the film’s smooth surface. Nope. The shock comes in noticing, after more than an hour’s running time, that he’s been setting up no more & no less than a ginned-up, ultra-violent Western variant on AND THEN THERE WERE NONE/’45, the old Agatha Christie chestnut about ten interrelated people killing each other off on an isolated island.* (Known in book form as TEN LITTLE INDIANS, the original title was TEN LITTLE NIGGERS, a bit of trivia almost certainly known, and used as a private joke, by Tarantino who seems addicted to ‘the N word.’) Shot in the glamorous, financially prohibitive, Ultra-Panavision 70 format (a 65mm process that adds a small anamorphic squeeze to gain its extra-wide frame ratio), it’s quite the self-indulgent choice for what is basically a chamber piece with a single set. (Everything on the outside is window dressing.) There’s really little to do except watch the plot traps and ‘reveals’ close in on the characters. Tarantino 'performs' the Hercule Poirot detective function himself as writer/director using a non-linear flashback sequence to clarify his elaborate (not to say idiotic) set up. And what a bunch of hoary cliches these characters are! Sadistic bounty hunters, vicious criminals out to free relatives from their up-coming ‘neck-tie party,’ happy-go-lucky store keepers who ain’t so lucky, an aging, taciturn Civil War general . . . the works. Walter Goggins (on a career role these days) is fine company as a freshly hired sheriff, and Samuel L. Jackson happily takes charge in the story’s faux ending. (Would that it were the real ending.) No one else brings anything fresh to the table (poor Tim Roth is forced into aping Christoph Waltz and Jennifer Jason Leign whines under a pound of gory makeup), certainly not Tarantino who’s running on fumes here. Something audiences noted, giving the film a Stateside gross well under a third of what DJANGO UNCHAINED/’12 earned.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: To see a stark contrast between stormy exteriors and calm yet threatening interiors realized by an artist (instead of an artist manqué) try Béla Tarr’s stunning THE TURIN HORSE/’11. (WARNING: Ultra-patience required.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with basing a Western on a literary classic. John Ford always said STAGECOACH/’39 was based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story BOULE DE SUIF.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Tarantino's favorite part of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS/’09 is reputed to be that painfully over-extended rathskeller talk-fest as undercover agents meet under Nazi noses. HATEFUL feels like more (much more) of the same.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Real laughs, real scares in this spiffy rendition of the moth-eaten Haunted House/ reading-of-the-will classic. Director Elliot Nugent moves things along quicker than Paul Leni did in his spooky atmospheric silent version of 1927, and it works just as well; especially with such an expert cast. Bob Hope, in early peak form, rarely found such a perfect balance between wisecracks, wooing & his signature cowardly bravado. He also looks unexpectedly handsome as needed (thank you lenser Charles Lang), a big help when partnering Paulette Goddard. She’s the winner from a motley group of relatives who’ve gathered at a creepy mansion (flickering lights, secret sliding panels, mysterious housekeeper), to see who inherits the family fortune ten years after her uncle died. The trick to the thing lies in a subsidiary will naming a runner-up heir . . . just in case. Yikes! Will Paulette make it thru the night? Will Bob man-up enough to protect her? Which of the handful of disappointed relatives is doing dirty? Maybe the real culprit is that escapee from a local lunatic asylum? Any way you slice it, it’s going to be a long, bumpy night. (Not really, gags & frights wrap up in a delightful 72 minutes.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: One of the aunties uses the old term ‘alienist’ for psychiatrist. Like in the Caleb Carr novel finally going into production. A surprising word to hear in 1939.

DOUBLE-BILL: Paul Leni’s 1927 version of CAT is out in a fine restoration on KINO (see below). Best viewed before watching this sound version. What we really need is a new DVD of Leni’s final film, his physically stunning, visually inventive THE LAST WARNING/’29. Recently restored (more like reborn) by Universal, it tells a similar tale, but sets it in a B’way theater where scrims, trap doors & cat walks add to the confusion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Much-admired Hammer Horror pic rebooted a whole genre, resurrecting FRANKENSTEIN before waking DRACULA and other frights. The films now look something of a curate’s egg, only good in part, with Hammer house director Terence Fisher’s steady-as-she-goes helming letting the narrative rhythm sag between the big shocks. (Jimmy Sangster’s suspense-robbing flashback story structure also hurts the cause.) Fortunately, Peter Cushing carefully lays out the falling arc of Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with his monstrous creation, playing the madness close to the vest. No one else in the small cast is particularly memorable, even Christopher Lee’s gruesome creature misses the sense of pity so famously caught by Boris Karloff in the old Universal classic. (Lee passed on the role in the Hammer sequels.) The current DVD also misses the vibrant EastmanColor density of later Hammer releases. Perhaps a richer looking edition would bump things up.

DOUBLE-BILL: Some of these Hammer Horror Pics feel a bit long in the tooth (and not only DRACULA). Non-afficionados might first try THE MUMMY/’59 which finds strength in the very filmic longueurs that weaken other titles.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The Hammer Horror pics (and Roger Corman’s A.I.P. films) probably got a boost from the perfectly lousy physical condition of the great ‘30s Universal horror classics circulating at the time. Battered, grainy prints, with murky looking close-ups and suffering lost footage from past censorship and tv time limitations. Now beautifully restored, they look far more stylish (and stylized) than these redos.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Always something of a connoisseur’s piece, John Huston, working from a typically sardonic Richard Condon novel, manages to keep it all broadly played, drily satiric & lethally accurate, a fabulist’s hat-trick for a one-of-a-kind Mafia story. (CORRECTION: Alberto Lattuada’s MAFIOSO/’62 makes it two-of-a-kind.) Jack Nicholson & Kathleen Turner devour each other in passion as East Coast/West Coast contract killers, but tru-love keeps bumping into sordid backstory. Worse, a shared job results in collateral damage that threatens to destroy their hard-won bliss as various branches of the mob start to pull in opposing directions . And all the while Nicholson’s ex (Anjelica Huston) is weaving her own spider’s web of revenge. Director Huston puts many balls in the air at the same time, but never lets you catch him doing it; the accumulated art of a lifetime. (And just have a look at those long-take/two-shot wooing scenes.) With deliciously eccentric casting (not the usual mob guy thing at all), gravel-voice William Hickey got most of the attention on release, but John Randolph as Jack’s hilariously upbeat Dad is tops. So’s the film.

DOUBLE-BILL: Huston hit similar notes of comic deconstruction in his caper pic BEAT THE DEVIL/’53.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Alex North’s score is largely drawn out of Rossini & Puccini, especially the one-act comic opera GIANNI SCHICCHI. Woody Allen staged Puccini’s piece for L.A. Opera in a ‘50s commedia all’italiana style, but mysteriously (and controversially) tacked on a murder not in the libretto right at the end. Where, oh where might he have gotten that idea from?

Sunday, July 17, 2016


Writer/director John Boorman set the bar impossibly high on himself by making a sequel to his WWII childhood memory pic, HOPE AND GLORY/’87. Returning to his sentimental education after 27 years, the schoolboy from the earlier film is now a decade older, a self-portrait of a young man newly conscripted into the army. Korea looms for many, but Boorman’s alter-ego remains stuck in, of all things, a standard-issue service comedy. Hunting, much like today’s John Boorman, for fresh aspects to Quonset hut life & drill routine tropes Abbot & Costello might recognize; overseen by Captain Queeg-like petty officers. (And a regimental clock standing in for Queeg’s famous missing strawberries.) Fortunately, Boorman has the real life experience to quickstep past the hoariest bits, along with cinematic know-how & a topnotch cast. (Richard E. Grant’s C.O. even gets a bit of human nuance.) Halfway thru, the gags grow into something more specific, emotionally complex and conflicted. (Eccentric homelife is a major plus, though a tangent involving an upper class beauty feels tacked on.) A likely swansong for this sometimes demanding director, it ends with a 16mm camera grinding to a stop. But as one quoted reviewer says in an ad, ‘Leaves you wanting more.’ A line that cuts two ways.

DOUBLE-BILL: Obviously HOPE AND GLORY, but check out Neil Simon/Mike Nichols’ BILOXI BLUES/88 for a service comedy that finds new drama in old tropes.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Studio Ghibli might well have gone out not with a bang, but with a whimper if, as rumored, this animated feature from Hiromasa Yonebayashi had been their final release. (Happily, not the case after 2016's THE RED TURTLE.) A physically lovely, but consistently maudlin piece about a lonely orphan girl’s crush on an imaginary playmate from the past, it shares many of the malnourished narrative faults of Yonebayashi’s directing debut, THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY/’10. There’s something insistently creepy about both films, though this may simply be a cultural divide thing. (Why such a princessy blue-eyed blonde fantasy friend?) But the painterly look of the settings and some strikingly detailed interiors don’t solve story construction problems or stiff characterizations. Our orphan heroine is certainly plucky, striking out again and again on her own; but must she trip, fall and conk herself out on every journey only to have the big tragic mystery explained by a subsidiary character in a long final monologue? It’s a real three-hankie humdinger, too. Someone’s clinically depressed here, but is it the girl or the film studio workers?

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Even those who love Studio Ghibli product wonder why the mouths of their female leads always look like ‘Nilla Wafers.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Hayao Miyazaki’s PORCO ROSSO/’92 remains the least seen of his masterpieces. He’s retired; what are you waiting for?

LINK/ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: This film’s main musical theme keeps threatening to morph into Francisco Tárrega’s ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra.’ Here’s a link to Pepe Romero’s beautifully paced recording.

Friday, July 15, 2016

WIN WIN (2011)

Maybe it’s the lack of surprise that makes this little film such an enjoyable heartwarmer. That, and refusing to oversell its story even as it glosses over some dicey behavior by likable folk to find its happy ending. The film itself went missing somewhere between the quirky charm of THE STATION AGENT/’03 and the journalistic prestige of SPOTLIGHT/’15 when writer/director Tom McCarthy decided the world needed a fresh High School wrestling pic. Why not? VISION QUEST came out back in 1985. Paul Giamatti takes the lead as a sinking independent lawyer (and after-school wrestling coach) who gets stuck with the grandson of a client suffering from early stage dementia. The kid, all but abandoned by his mom, turns out to be a natural on the mat, All-State material before he dropped out when his life got too messy. You’ll guess the rest, but it’s all so smartly observed, without a condescending blemish in detailing middle-class troubles, and phenomenally well cast in Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Margo Martindale, Nina Arianda, even Burt Young, all in superb turns. And the lead teen, Alex Shaffer, plus a very skinny, very funny David Thompson as his team pal, maintain the organic quality McCarthy gets from his cast. A modest feel-good film that doesn’t cheat. No small thing. In fact, something to celebrate . . . modestly.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, VISION QUEST. At the time, Linda Fiorentino was pegged for a major career, though Matthew Modine turned in the star making perf. Somehow, both missed out.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


One of those bigger-is-better slapstick comedies from the mid-‘60s, like IT’S A MAD. MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD/’63 or THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES/’65, only this one’s also funny. There’s just too much of it. After two Inspector Clouseau pics (PINK PANTHER/’63; SHOT IN THE DARK/’64), Blake Edwards no doubt seemed a safe choice for the bean-counters @ Warners until the budget ballooned from 3 to 12 mill! (Note the ‘desperation’ poster, designed to hide any period elements.)

At least you can see where the money went! A mammoth production and an unusually handsome/imaginative one, with fanciful sets, whimsical model work* & fun special effects to get us around the world via vintage automobiles heading west from New York to Paris. But 45 minutes of set-up before reaching the starting line? The obvious thing to cut is the half-hour Ruritanian PRISONER OF ZENDA travesty in the second half. (You know, the lookalike King & Commoner story.) Except, it’s the best, funniest, most disciplined episode in here. Exceptionally well directed & designed, even as a straight piece, with a smash sword fight, yet utterly hilarious. The leads play broadly, but get their laughs, though Natalie Wood (extra pretty here) doesn’t exactly have comedy technique to burn. (You long for Kay Kendall to redo her similar role from GENEVIEVE/’53, an earlier car race caper.) Ah well, sit back & enjoy the excess, along with a Blake Edwards tutorial on his ‘Noises Off’ comic method.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The rivalry between Tony Curtis’s good-guy hero & Jack Lemmon’s frustrated villain is like a live-action RoadRunner/Wile E. Coyote battle; while the film’s dedication to Laurel & Hardy plays out in the slow comic vibe between Lemmon’s Professor Fate and Peter Falk as his sorrowful accomplice. Plus, in the film’s biggest set piece, a pie fight to end all pie fights (leaving the set looking like a lost Jackson Pollack canvas), a nod toward THE BATTLE OF CENTURY/’27, a famous long-lost Laurel & Hardy short only recently found, restored and Re-premiering @ MoMA 7/15/16. (Sure to find its way into various video formats.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID/SPOILERS: *The film’s final gag, which destroys a well known international monument, was largely accomplished by the dean of Hollywood effects & process work at the time, Linwood Dunn. But what’s on screen was merely a test model he ran up quickly to give Edwards an idea of what he could do. Turned out, the toy model effect was exactly what Edwards wanted. Too real and you kill the gag. Something to keep in mind when thinking about the difference between film technicians and film artists.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Hipster author Terry Southern, with DR. STRANGELOVE/’64 and EASY RIDER/’69 barely behind him, comes off as a spent force, unfunny & undisciplined, in these grungy vignettes on the price of corruption from his 1958 novel. Peter Sellers is the eccentric zillionaire who adopts park vagrant Ringo Starr to gad about, bribing everyone they meet to prove they can bribe everyone they meet. But the targets are all sitting ducks, low level officials, pompous twits & authority figures, while Southern & Co. seem utterly clueless to the basic snobbery underlying their scams. Briefly, a sketch at Sotheby’s starts working (John Cleese puts in a welcome appearance and brings some comic technique along with him), but it soon collapses under Joseph McGrath’s all-thumbs megging. (His feature film career pretty much stopped here, as did Ringo’s acting gigs & even Sellers fell into a six-year slump.) Lots of famous folk show up in brief, laugh-free cameos (a hip thing to do at the moment), but it’s name-dropping at best. Even cinematography legend Geoffrey Unsworth comes to grief with an ugly grainy look unlike anything he did before or after. Pass.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Southern’s counter-culture voice is far better caught in Buck Henry’s adaptation of the novel CANDY/’68. While certainly no better as film (it may even be worse!), it has a unique tone to it. And rather more than that in a remarkably funny sequence with Marlon Brando as a skinny guru, as if sending up APOCALYPSE NOW/’79 before the fact.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Amateurville. There’s a decent enough set-up to this rom-com caper, as long as you don’t think it thru. An underachieving highway toll collector in Buffalo (Keanu Reeves) is all too easily tricked into driving getaway for a bank robbery by a couple of low-life pals. (He thinks he’s driving to a ball game.) But the plan goes wrong, the pals run off, and only Reeves lands in jail. Once out, he figures he might just as well rob that bank since he’s already done the time. A sentiment that almost makes sense, at least comic sense. Reeves, in a career-slump at the time (the film only earned a token release), is fine in deglamorized mode, but the creative team hasn’t any idea how to work this thing. CLUE: Comedy doesn’t need less logic than drama, it needs more. After Reeves meets-cute with struggling actress Vera Farmiga (in a weirdly unpleasant perf), he discovers her little theater has a prohibition-era tunnel that runs right into the bank vault! Who’d-a-thunk? Maybe Keanu could get one of the parts in her play. (He’s a novice; it’s Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD; sure.) Now he can dig from his dressing room straight into the bank! And with newly paroled prison pal James Caan and those two low-lifes who started the whole thing to help, who’d notice anything? So much privacy backstage, ya know. The film seems to be going for an unlikely mix of ‘30s screwball comedy sheen and drab ‘70s rust-belt realism, but nobody here is up for making either happen. And it only gets worse as it goes along, finally collapsing in a series of unresolved false-endings.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Bill Duke, who plays a helpful bank guard, used to direct this sort of mixed genre item. Try A RAGE IN HARLEM/’91.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


The Oscar Wilde classic about two marriageable bachelors not named Earnest; the women they’d wed if only they were; and the gorgon of an Aunt who speaks in topsy-turvy epigrams has stayed remarkably fresh in spite of constant productions. These days, the Aunt (Lady Bracknell) is often played as a ‘drag’ specialty for aging troupers like William Hutt, David Suchet or Brian Bedford. That said, one of the great pleasures in this rather stately version directed by Anthony Asquith (it sometimes feels as glued into place as the production’s William Morris-style wallpaper) comes from preserving Edith Evans’ near-definitive Lady Bracknell. Avoiding any ruinous temptation to be terribly, terribly arch, she’s always terribly, terribly true; real artificial, so to speak. A trick largely pulled off by all the ladies (Joan Greenwood, resonating with bowling alley acoustics; Margaret Rutherford, bosoms heaving); less so by the men (Michael Redgrave, a bit old for such shenanigans; Michael Denison, a little out of his league). Still, yards ahead of Oliver Parker’s 2002 misreading. (The Criterion DVD, also from 2002, could do with an upgrade.)

READ ALL ABOUT IT: More accurately, HEAR All About It since Edith Evans can be heard to even better advantage in an audio version, made around the same time as the film, with John Gielgud, Roland Culver & Pamela Brown among the cast. The play works exceptionally well as sound drama (just fill your head with visions of Wm. Morris wallpaper). Here’s a link to the first act, with the second & third offered on the same page:

DOUBLE-BILL: A superior adaptation of a superior Wilde play can be found in Alexander Korda’s miraculously cast AN IDEAL HUSBAND/’47. Or can if you’re in England; the DVD isn’t available Stateside. (That same Oliver Parker also has a lousy 1999 film version of it.) Instead, go for the best of all Wilde film adaptations, Ernst Lubitsch’s 1925 silent take on LADY WINDEMERE’S FAN, with witty images in place of witty dialogue. An astonishment.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


Director Howard Davies outsmarts himself in this BBC adaptation of Michael Frayn’s play, a speculative look at the real-life 1941 meeting between the two top nuclear physicists left in continental Europe, Danish Niels Bohr (living with his wife, Margrethe, in Nazi-occupied Denmark) and German Werner Heisenberg. Former teacher & pupil, they're now wary friends at best. So why has Heisenberg come calling? To pick Bohr’s brain? Probably, but what does he (already) know, and what could he be looking for? Technical know-how to help start (or perhaps stop) a Nazi nuclear program? A job, or a defection? (But which way?) Is it simply political gamesmanship or a ploy to get info on the American nuclear project at Los Alamos? On stage, the production (at least as seen on B’way) played out in a sort of stylized cyclotron, mirroring some of the particle beaming principles discussed, transfigured into isotopes of personality, teased out into a play that was intriguing and confounding in equal measure. In the tele-version, Davies simplifies & clarifies the action using varying color saturation levels to let us know when episodes are happening as we watch them, and when they’re being recalled decades after the fact. (He also shows a propensity for pointless encircling tracking shots.) Nice as it is to have so much puzzled out for us, it also thins the texture, diluting the play into much ado about nothing. (No small gaffe when the atom bomb is at stake.) Fortunately, there’s a pitch-perfect cast (Stephen Rea, Francesca Annis, Daniel Craig) to keep the theatrical chain reaction going.

DOUBLE-BILL: Michael Frayn remains best known for the farcical NOISES OFF (sadly mishandled in the Peter Bogdanovich film). Instead, try his original screenplay for CLOCKWISE/’86 with John Cleese, a gem of comic frustration once past a tricky Act One set-up.

Friday, July 8, 2016


Tremendous entertainment, and much improved from the Edna Ferber/George S. Kaufman play, a dramedy set in-and-around a ladies’ theatrical rooming house (57 W. 58 St.) bursting with wisecracks, a story you can get behind, sentiment, tragedy & triumph; plus a not-to-be-missed all-star cast of characters that includes Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Jack Carson & Ann Miller, all in top form. After setting up the house vibe (horseplay/auditions/comradery/lamb-stew), undersung director Gregory La Cava (just off MY MAN GODFREY/’36) brings on Hepburn’s rich society gal, out to give acting a try against her father’s wishes and mingle with the hoi polloi. A real rara avis, but also the real thing, as becomes apparent once she lets her guard down. For Hepburn, it’s the rare sympathetic role where she isn’t pulled off a pedestal to win us over, instead pulling everyone up. The film is something of a feminist slant on one of those Howard Hawks’ manly group unit pics (think ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINDS/’39 or AIR FORCE/’43), right down to the rattling pace and dialogue with everyone talking over each other. But what a difference in the range of women La Cava lets in compared to Hawks’ fixation on tall, lean androgynous types with smoky voices. La Cava’s camera style is also less static, fluid, even showy when needed. With a script loaded with sassy comebacks & situations that remain screamingly funny, and dramatic twists clever enough to move & surprise, it’s one of the champs from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

DOUBLE-BILL: Hepburn followed up with BRINGING UP BABY/’38 and HOLIDAY/’38, two classics that inexplicably flopped badly enough to send her to B’way for a comeback in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY/’40.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


After donning ill-advised YellowFace make-up for THE SON-DAUGHTER in ’32, Helen Hayes did penance by putting on the veil as a lovesick nun in this ill-conceived romantic twaddle, a remake of an old Lillian Gish silent. (Gish made a great success of it, her post-D. W. Griffith debut, along with newfound star Ronald Colman, in Henry King’s silent 1923 version.) Hayes is rich, titled & engaged to a dull banker when dashing soldier-boy Clark Gable sweeps her off her tiny feet. These two then play coy for two insufferable acts (sans heat or chemistry) before war breaks out to save the third act. Separated at last, the film noticeably improves. Gable, who’d just solidified his stardom in RED DUST/’32 with this film’s director (Victor Fleming), gets action & relief in a terrific flying sequence; sexy rapport with the Swiss family who rescued him, then swaggers out of a grim POW camp. Hayes, believing him killed in battle, ‘marries’ into the church as a nun, with Fleming detailing the churchly initiation as a masochistic cult ritual. Naturally, Clark finds a way back to Hayes. Will she abnegate or capitulate? Will anyone care?

DOUBLE-BILL: Write-up of the 1923 version to come. As recalled from two decades back, many goodies sheared off for the remake, rather like the cascades of hair lost in the initiation ceremony. Lost items include: dying Dad’s missing will; the jealous sister who’s also a romantic rival; even an eruption from Mount Vesuvius!!

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Hayes left Hollywood in 1935, according to her, never having quite caught on. Well, maybe. She certainly did well against Gary Cooper in A FAREWELL TO ARMS/’32 and Ronald Colman in ARROWSMITH/’31. A more likely explanation is that the strict enforcement of the Production Code, starting mid-1934, meant the boss’s wife (Irving Thalberg: Boss; Norma Shearer: Wife) needed to ditch her daring, sexy lady specialties. In their place, Thalberg wanted the sort of prestige stage items Hayes , or perhaps, Katharine Cornell, would have played. Ergo, slim pickin’s left for Hayes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Bob Hope was still taking second-billing to Martha Raye in this early Paramount programmer, but he’s already outdistancing her. As a millionaire hypochondriac with a murderous fortune-hunter hot on his tail, Bob weds Martha to get himself out of the marital market and to save Raye from marriage to some Euro-Royalty. After all, she’s pining for hayseed Andy Devine and Bob’s been (mis)diagnosed with some fatal disease. Once he goes, she’ll be free . . . and rich. Only problem, they might be falling in love with each other and Bob doesn’t seem to be getting sicker. Farcical doings, but also pretty funny. Especially the half apparently written by Preston Sturges, just off one of his best screenplays (IF I WERE KING/’38) and about to write & direct for the first time (THE GREAT MCGINTY/’40). With his philosophical servants, sputtering fathers and silly foreign names (we’re at Bad Gaswassen spa), the Sturges fingerprints are all over the place. And his stuff is even easier to spot when it’s next to formulaic comic routines (kissing lessons; pistol duels) from staff writers Don Hartman & Frank Butler. (Those two probably supplied the early version of the ‘Pestle with the poison’ tongue-twisting routine Danny Kaye would use in THE COURT JESTER/’55.) And look fast to spot Hans Conreid working a concertina in a band.

DOUBLE-BILL: Hope’s hypochondriac might be a sketch for the roles Sturges perfected for Eddie Bracken in THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK/’44 and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO/’44.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

TRUMBO (2015)

Reasonably watchable Hollywood waxworks about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo loosens up a bit in its second half (after his jail term on a contempt charge is up). But the writers’ angle on ‘50s Commie Witchhunts is better told in THE FRONT/’76, which tackles the subject obliquely (even speaking to the non-converted), and also gains points by drawing on talent (in front & behind the camera) who’d actually been on the BlackList. (Here, the best scene has Bryan Cranston’s Trumbo & Louis C. K., playing a fellow blacklisted writer, fiercely arguing over tactics and what's really at stake. More like this would have helped.) But the great Hollywood Commie Witchhunt story remains unfilmed, though its often been told in print. It involves an attempted putsch at the Screen Directors’ Guild when Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Capra & Sam Wood tried to ram thru a Loyalty Oath against the will of Prezy (and longstanding Republican) Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Apparently, no one will touch it. Maybe for the best. Instead, save the last word on those Ten Unfriendly Witnesses for Billy Wilder, ‘Only two were talented, the rest were just unfriendly.’

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Trumbo’s Oscar®-winnning story for THE BRAVE ONE/’56 (writing as Robert Rich) is generally thought to have been developed from one of three stories meant to make up Orson Welles’ never completed Brazilian omnibus pic IT’S ALL TRUE. The path is also complicated on Trumbo’s other Oscar-winner, ROMAN HOLIDAY/’53. His script, originally optioned by Frank Capra to make with Cary Grant & Elizabeth Taylor, had Ian McLellan Hunter ‘fronting.’ But when Capra dropped the project, William Wyler grabbed it, got Ben Hecht to do a rewrite (without credit), then brought in John Dighton for a (credited) polish. No doubt, Trumbo got screwed both times, but the real shame in all this was seeing the treacly BRAVE ONE win the Best Original Story Oscar over Cesare Zavattini for Vittorio De Sica’s UMBERTO D./’52. Now, that’s injustice.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, THE FRONT.

Sunday, July 3, 2016


After two woefully inadequate SHRUGS, Part Three of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus stumbles to an unhappy close with this final chapter. By now, everyone in front & behind the camera is barely going thru the motions. We open with the world’s economy at a standstill while man-of-mystery John Galt, along with the cream of heavy-weight creative & management gurus await government submission at some mountain valley hideaway before deigning to design again. If only sexy railroad prexy Dagny Taggart would sign on, get John Galt off, and join the commune? The what? Well, the place sure looks like a commune. Not exactly an ideal Ayn Rand idea, no? And what of a film production company turning to the mass appeal of KickStarter for completion funds. Positively Abject Objectivism!

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Many roles are (once more) recast in Part III. But John Galt, appearing for the first time, goes to tv actor Kristoffer Polaha who, amusingly, looks like Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner, circa CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC/’80, baby-fat intact.

LINK/WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Rand hit the same Individualism/Selfishism/Libertarian buttons with more narrative umph (and unintentional giggles) in THE FOUNTAINHEAD/’49. But the best items on her short film CV are a surprisingly effective script for LOVE LETTERS/’45 and an unauthorized Italian adaptation of her (autobiographical?) Russian Revolution/love triangle WE THE LIVING/42.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


Michael Mann has been coasting on unearned critical love for so long, the disastrous critical & commercial reception of this cyber-thriller makes for something of an Emperor’s New Clothes moment. (For the record, Mann has ‘disowned’ the theatrical release.) The ‘red herring’ that passes for a plot has a small band of terrorist hackers taking down nuclear facilities & financial networks via keyboard (everyone typing like crazy) when they’re not shooting it out in the street against American & Chinese secret service squads. The real target, once found, plays like a tinny variation on GOLDFINGER/’64. Not that Mann shows much interest in the villainous caper, he’s too busy taking pointlessly showy CGI dives into computer processing chips. Trolling for the next TRON sequel? Chris Hemsworth (aiming for cool/settling for sleepwalking) is the beefy programming genius who lands a get-out-of-jail card to join the government pushback. But he’s too much of a rebel to play by the . . . yawn. Interest picks up as confederates are picked off, but too much of the action is unreadable. And there are similar problems with dialogue that’s either whispered, delivered with a heavy foreign accent or in unintelligible computerese. Turn on the subtitles for help. Better yet, don’t turn this one on at all.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: You could say this plays like a parody of a Michael Mann film. But don’t they all?

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: For some pre-historic hacking, sweet, silly & charming, try HOT MILLIONS/’68 with Peter Ustinov & Maggie Smith.

Friday, July 1, 2016


Writing-directing-co-starring, Orson Welles’ final major-studio Hollywood production, a twisty police procedural crisscrossing a pair of Cal/Mex border towns with film noir stylings, is so darn entertaining, it’s hard to believe it tanked on release, dumped by Universal Pictures who ignored Welles’ detailed editing notes, releasing a reworked cut that made things harder to follow, and possibly more visually baroque. Even so, thousands of film fans eventually found the ‘pop’ masterpiece thru the faults, and in 1998, a Welles-worthy restoration, largely following his long dismissed editing memo (a remarkable document in its own right), revealed the film as even more of a knock-out. The story sets up a clash between Orson’s old-school detective (canny, corpulent, corrupt) & Charlton Heston’s principled Mexican narcotics official (dragged into a local murder investigation on his honeymoon). But when Welles gets caught planting evidence, he ties himself in with a drug-running Mexican criminal clan to fight off career-ending exposure. Wonderfully designed (who found these locations?); fabulously cast with an eye toward the absurd (look quick for uncredited turns from Joseph Cotten & Mercedes McCambridge); and gleefully shot in heart-of-darkness style by the notoriously grumpy Russell Metty; the film is a cornucopia morbid delights.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: No one in Hollywood knows how to cook! Note the opening shot where a mysterious hand sets one of those little plastic kitchen timers to trigger a bomb in three minutes. They turn the little dial exactly to three. No good, you need to go past the mark, and then turn it back to engage the spring with enough energy to run the mechanism. Otherwise, it’ll run out of ‘tick’ before going off. That poor little timer is used in a lot of films, always incorrectly.

DOUBLE-BILL: The tricky ending, with a hidden microphone and a shortwave recording device capturing a confession, is straight out of John Sturges’ THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA/’51 which has Spencer Tracy in the Welles’ spot.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Everything about the reconstructed cut is an improvement. But the famous long opening shot sure is snazzy looking with the credits & Henry Mancini’s mood-setting score artfully placed on top. (See the original release version.) And speaking of having a look, Hitchcock must have taken a good long one at this, especially the motel scenes with Janet Leigh & Dennis Weaver, before making PSYCHO/’60.