"Marlowe" (Warner Brothers, 1969)
Raymond Chandler's wisecracking, star-crossed private eye Philip Marlowe is transplanted into the swinging '60s where hopheads, strippers and psychiatrists join the usual compliment of thugs and goons that make his life miserable. James Garner gets a nice dry run for the Rockford Files, while Rita Moreno bares all in her climactic stripping scene. Honestly, the script is not that great -- for the life of me I couldn't actually figure out who did what, or why... But it's still a fun film, in a campy kinda way. The film's one truly great moment is a scene is with Caroll O'Connor as a police detective who, having wearied of playing Marlowe's schnook, bursts into a violent tirade about how lousy his job is, and nearly beats the handcuffed private eye to death. It's a scene that could stand tasteful recycling elsewhere and, I suspect, was only in the film because O'Connor improv-ed it and made something good happen in this otherwise somewhat addled production...
"Permission To Kill" (1975)
Ava Gardner and Dirk Bogarde star in this muddled spy thriller, which has an atypical whiff of counterculture politics, presumably due to the presence of '70s terrorist groups such as the SLA and the Red Brigade, which were still kidnapping people right and left when this movie was made. Gardner is terrible in her role (and plays romantic opposite to a man who looks far too young for her), although Bogarde is delightful oily as the cloak-and-dagger baddie who bends innocents to his will. The charm wears off quickly, though, as the film devolves into a klutzy Mission Impossible -style caper, with a pessimistic "shocker" ending. One particularly problematic aspect, besides the pacing, is the lack of clarity regarding the politics -- and hence the motivations -- of nearly all the players. Some scenes have a great moodiness, but the film as a whole is a flop.
An absolutely stunning film, with top-notch acting (Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton and John Gielgud, among others), a strong script, a tremendous story and some of the most artistic and well-crafted cinematography you're ever likely to see (courtesy of Geoffrey Unsworth). The story of the slain Archbishop of Canturbury, Thomas a Beckett, who went from being King Henry II's best pal to his unbending temporal nemesis over the course of a few years. Great historical drama, which elides and fudges timelines only sparingly, and sent me dashing off to the encyclopedia to look up all the principal players. Recommended!
"Miss Grant Takes Richmond" (Columbia, 1949)
Lucille Ball stars as an inept secretary who is hired to work as the receptionist at a crooked real estate company -- this gal's so dumb she couldn't possibly figure out what the real racket is, think the thugs. However, her character has hidden talents, not the least of which is the ability to win a man's heart. (The man in question being William Holden, who's running the bookie joint behind closed doors.) A slight, but enjoyable screwball comedy.
"Urban Cowboy" (Paramount, 1980)
A leaden plot was still enough to carry the day and transform this John Travolta-goes-country -and-wears-tight-Levis cowpoke melodrama into a smash hit movie. The mainstreaming (and musical neutering) of country music largely dates back to this silly film, which is directed with what was meant to be a Scorcese-like gravitas. Travolta's okay as a small-town boy who goes to the Big City, find a girl and share in the oil boom good times... Mostly this film is interesting for its glimpse at Texas in transition, and because it documents Mickey Gilley's gargantuan honkytonk nightclub at the peak of its notoriety. However, the drama built up around a stupid mechanical bull ride is not but laughable. Nice period piece.
"Straight Time" (Warner Brothers, 1978)
A grim but rigidly understated crime flick, featuring Dustin Hoffman as a tight-lipped, ill-fated career criminal. His onscreen transition from a docile but dignified parolee to a cold, calculating man of action is surprising and effective; the second half of the film is a dry-mouthed slow-drip of adrenaline and dread. Plenty of gritty '70s ambiance, and strong performances by Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey and a young Kathy Bates. Theresa Russell is absorbing as the good girl gone wrong who has a puzzling attraction to a very dangerous man. Worth checking out.
"Once Upon A Honeymoon" (RKO, 1942)
Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers star in this muddled wartime propaganda comedy. She's a gold-digger who's unknowingly hitched her wagon to one of Hitler's right hand men; Grant is the earnest, down-to-earth American reporter who wins her back from the brink. Casablanca this ain't... the plot sputters along, the directing is uneven... heck, even the lighting is surprisingly bad. But for students of WWII-era popular politics, this has some really interesting material, such as the lover's close brush with a Nazi concentration camp... Weird balance of camp and current events.
"Angels In The Outfield" (1951)
Sort of an odd, sports-oriented remake of Miracle On 34th Street... A surly, pugnacious major league coach who's got a team worse off than the Cubs gets a boost from above. Due to the intervention of the angels and a good-hearted woman (Janet Leigh), Mr. Meanie Pants becomes a warm & fuzzy model citizen. This movie marks the exact moment in which the goodie-twoshoes Eisenhower era swooped in to whitewash the smart-alecky, streetwise worldliness of the 1940s. Bing Crosby makes a cameo in his real-life capacity as a ball club owner; the Philadelphia Whoozits appear as themselves in the long shots of the baseball diamond. Cute, but a little weird and very 1950s.
"Hotel New Hampshire" (MGM, 1984)
A savagely bad movie, adapting John Irving's novel wherein the baby boomer generation attempts to digest the muddled narcissism of the '70s. That description, however, gives this flick too much credit. Mostly this is just a terrible film -- badly written, uninvolving and lurching about without apparent purpose, and without an emotional center. An incestual relationship between brother and sister, amid a wacky, unconventional family is supposed to somehow elicit our sympathies -- but its execution is as flat an unbelievable as the rest of the film. The cast, however, has some nice celeb-spotting eye-candy: Jody Foster, Wallace Shawn, and a 9-year old Seth Green. Rob Lowe is the movie's sole saving grace... As the perv-bound sibling, he was certainly breaking out of his brat pack bimbo typecasting; it's fascinating to see him working on the quirks and mannerisms he later built into a solid acting style. And at age 19, he's pretty hunky... easy on the eyes. But other than a chance to see a bunch of famous folks at an odd moment in their careers, this film is a total waste of time. (See also: The Royal Tennenbaums.)
"Our Town" (1940)
I meant to watch this for a chance to see more of the young William Holden in action, but even with a five-day rental, and two days worth of late fees, it never made it into the VCR. Damn those new "Buffy" episodes!
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