Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hotel (1967)

Peter McDermott (Rod Taylor) is general manager of the posh St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans, a hotel that's showing its age. His boss, owner Warren Trent (Melvyn Douglas), has also seen better days and needs an infusion of cash to keep the hotel going.

McDermott has to deal with a number of issues, and a number of situations that arise.

A sophisticated thief, Keycase Milne (Karl Malden), is casing out the hotel, taking particular notice of the Duke of Lanbourne (Michael Rennie) and his wife, Duchess Caroline (Merle Oberon). The duke and duchess have been involved in a hit-and-run, and are trying to remain unobtrusive and calm.

Hotel chain owner and potential buyer Curtis O’Keefe (Kevin McCarthy) and his beautiful companion, Jeanne Rochefort (Catherine Spaak), check in to poke around before making a purchase proposal . Jeanne is bored, and catches McDermott's eye. She sets out to seduce him; McDermott succumbs to her advances.

Hotel detective Dupere (Richard Conte) is onto the Lanbournes and tries to blackmail them. He wants $10,000 to keep his mouth shut. But, to his surprise, the duchess hires him to drive the accident car to Washington, D.C., for $25,000. Unfortunately, he gets stopped by the police, complicating the situation.

O'Keefe offers McDermott a bribe of $20,000 and $700 a week to stay on as manager after he buys the hotel. McDermott, however, courts investor Joe Laswell (Ken Lynch), telling him if he doesn't buy the hotel for $2 million, O'Keefe is waiting in the wings. Laswell is interested.

A black doctor, Dr. Elmo Adams (Davis Roberts), and his wife, Mary (Annazette Chase, uncredited) arrive and try to check into the hotel. Trent's policy is not to accommodate blacks (remember, this is the ‘60s), and the Adamses are politely turned away. It turns out that Adams works for O'Keefe. That kills the Laswell deal.

Meanwhile, Keycase hits it big. But ... the ending has a pretty high pucker factor.

Only two scenes were actually shot in New Orleans – the main terminal of New Orleans International Airport, and a shot of Peter McDermott and Jeanne Rochefort at Pat O’Brien’s restaurant in the French Quarter.

Also considered for the role of Jeanne Rochefort were Brigitte Bardot and Ursula Andress.

One very bright spot in the film is getting to hear lounge singer Christine (Carmen McRae) play the piano and croon a few tunes. Miss McRae is a great singer.

Hotel is based on Arthur Hailey’s 1965 novel of the same name, the fourth of eight Hailey novels, each set in a particular industry. His works include a number of other books that were adapted for movies and/or television– The Moneychangers, Airport, Wheels, The Final Diagnosis, Runway Zero-Eight.

Filmed on a $3,651,000 million budget, Hotel had box office revenues of only $3 million.

Grade: B

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Hangover Part III (2013)

Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) escapes from prison two years after the Bangkok honeymoon adventure (The Hangover Part II in 2011). At about this time, Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) is bringing home a giraffe in an open-top trailer.

Not a good move. Low overpass. Giraffe decapitation. Big car pileup. Alan’s dad, Sid Garner (Jeffrey Tambor), isn't happy. He's so unhappy that he dies from a heart attack.

The reason for the weird events, according to Alan's brother-in-law, Doug Billings (Justin Bartha), is because Alan's been off his meds for a half year. Doug's wife wants the gang – Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper), Dr. Stuart “Stu” Price (Ed Helms), and Doug – to stage an intervention. At the intervention, they offer to take him to an Arizona rehabilitation clinic. The "Wolfpack" is back together again.

The trip there doesn't go well. A moving van road-rages them off the highway, and they're kidnapped by pig-masked Black Doug (Mike Epps), crime lord Marshall’s (John Goodman) head of security. We're treated to a flashback to four years earlier when Black Doug sold Alan the wrong drugs, setting the whole Hangover series in motion. Chow had stolen $22 million in gold bars from Marshall, and Marshall wants it back.

The Wolfpack (sans Doug Billings, who's being held hostage) has three days to find Chow. Chow emails, and they're off to Tijuana. It's a weird reunion. They gave to help Chow break into his house, where the gold is hidden. The break-in is funny.

A-a-a-a-nd, there's a double cross. So they're off to Vegas ... again. A pawnshop owner, Cassie (Melissa McCarthy), fills them in on her contact with Chow, sending them to an escort service, and they hook up again with Jade (Heather Graham), Stu’s former lover. The pawnshop scene is funny.

They find Chow at Caesar's Palace; the rooftop descent scene gave me the squinchies. The final rendezvous with Marshall ends with ... oh wait, I forget.

As usual, hang around for the closing credits and a funny scene.

Quite a few of the actors reprised their ongoing roles in the series: Bradley Cooper (Phil), Ed Helms (Stu), Zach Galifianakis (Alan), Justin Bartha (Doug), Ken Jeong (Chow, Mike Epps (Black Doug), Heather Graham (Jade) and Sasha Barrese (Tracy). Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis each received a $15-million salary, but got a back-end deal based on profits.

Also considered for John Goodman’s role were Sean Penn and Robert Downey Jr. And, for the first time, Mike Tyson doesn’t have a cameo role in a Hangover movie.

The Hangover Part III had the second-biggest world opening for an R-rated comedy. Guess which was first – yep, The Hangover Part II in 2011.

Grade: B

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Joker is Wild (1957)

In late-'20s Chicago, Joe E. Lewis (Frank Sinatra) is a very successful nightclub entertainer, performing at Club Seven Seventy Seven. He's so good that he's scouted by the owner of the competing Club Valencia.

Joe and his pianist, Austin Mack (Eddie Albert), are up for a pretty good deal, but their boss, Georgie Parker (Ted de Corsia), isn't too crazy with the idea and threatens Joe. He sends his thug, Tim Coogan (Leonard Graves), to "explain" things.

Austin backs out of the deal, but shows up on opening night. Coogan shows up too, and tells Joe he'd better come back. Joe refuses.

A few weeks later, after he's recorded "All the Way," Coogan's men visit Joe in his hotel room and beat the hell out of him. They cut up his face and slash his vocal cords. No more singing for Joe. Two months later, on the day he's to be released from the hospital, Joe sneaks out and heads for New York.

Austin and their friend, “procurer” Swifty Morgan (Jackie Coogan), follow, searching for Joe. Austin marries Cassie (Beverly Garland), and gets a job playing for Sophie Tucker (herself); Swifty finds Joe at the racetrack, but is given the brush off. Joe, it seems, is a clown in a vaudeville act at La Flora La Roque Burlesque, too embarrassed to see his old friends.

Tricked on-stage into singing "All the Way," he can't hit the notes, but wisecracks his way out of it, and has the audience in the palm of his hand, including a benefit worker, Letty Page (Jeanne Crain). He's hooked on her. He's a hit. And has a new calling – comedian, represented by the William Morris Agency. It's a rough start, but once he gets warmed up, things start rolling along nicely.

Life get a little shaky with Letty, but it's nothing that a marriage proposal won't fix. However, he has another problem. Unless he stops drinking, the doctor tells him, he's not long for this world. Stalling the marriage doesn't help either; Letty marries someone else. Joe collapses during a show after over-drinking on stage.

Joe does get married ... to Martha Stewart (no, not that Martha Stewart), lead dancer in his chorus entourage. It turns out to be a rough marriage right from the start, because of clashing work hours. Ups and downs, and downs, and more downs.

The Joker is Wild is based on Art Cohn's 1955 book, The Joker Is Wild: The Story of Joe E. Lewis. Frank Sinatra's recording of “All the Way” was a big hit, and the song won the Academy Award for Best Song.

Damn, that Sinatra was great.

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Expendables 2 (2012)

The Expendables, a mercenary team so named because ... well, y'know ... barrel noisily into Sidhupalchowk, Nepal to rescue a Chinese billionaire hostage when they find a familiar face – mercenary Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger), also a prisoner. Remember him; he’ll show up again later.

Reprising their roles from 2010's The Expendables are leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), hand-to-hand combat specialist Yin Yang (Jet Li), heavy-weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture), and the unstable Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren).

They are joined by Ross' protégé, sniper Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth), the team's newest recruit, and an ace marksman.

Upon their return home, Ross is directed by CIA agent Church (Bruce Willis) to retrieve something from a downed plane in Albania's Gasak Mountains. Church sends his assistant, combat-proficient Maggie Chan (Yu Nan), along with them. They find what they're looking for – a computer. But not just any computer. This computer is holding a blueprint, information on the whereabouts of five tons of refined plutonium.

They're confronted by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his opposing team of mercenaries, the Sangs, who take Billy hostage and demand the information for themselves. When the Sangs fly out, the Expendables are left empty-handed, and Billy is dead.

New objective: "Track them, find them, kill them." Soon, they're hot on the tails of the Sangs. There's a shoot-out on the streets of a fake U.S. city the Russians used for training. Just as the Expendables are running out of ammo, retired operative and former teammate Booker (Chuck Norris) bails them out.

They join forces with the women of a nearby city whose men have been taken and forced to work in the mines. The next time the Sangs show up to Shanghai the males ... Ambush! Revenge is a dish best served cold, but shared with friends. That airport will never be the same again.

You can leave your testosterone pills on the shelf when you see this movie; it has enough on screen to man-up you and any friends you want to bring along. It's a perfect Saturday afternoon matinee movie.

Tidbits: Sylvester Stallone had to cancel his promotional tour when his son Sage was found dead on July 13, 2012. Arnold Schwarzenegger only worked five days on the film. The bridge built for the film over the Osam River in Bulgaria later became part of the actual Bulgarian railway network.

If you walked into the movie and didn’t know what the title of the film was (silly, I know, but bear with me), you’d have to wait for 14 minutes before the title appeared on screen.

Produced on a $100-million budget, The Expendables 2 enjoyed a box office of nearly #312 million. A sequel, The Expendables 3, is due for release on Aug. 15, 2014. New cast members will include Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two Women (1961)

Cesira (Sophia Loren) is a grocery shopkeeper in Rome during World War II, who tires of the bombs and disruptions that are affecting her 12-year-old daughter, Rosetta (Eleonora Brown), in a very bad way.

She tries to make a deal with her deceased husband's friend, coal merchant Giovani (Raf Vallone), to take care of the shop until her return. He agrees, but only after she acquiesces to his romantic advances.

Soon, she and Rosetta are on a train to Ciociaria, a rural, mountainous province of central Italy, where Cesira grew up. They end up doing a lot of walking to Sant'Eufemia after the train encounters bomb-damaged tracks. Finally, they reach relatives.

Cesira befriends idealist Michele Di Libero (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who rejoices when they learn Mussolini has been "liberated" and imprisoned. A couple of advance English military arrive and are helped by Cesira and Michele when Michele's father, Filippo (Carlo Ninchi), demurs.

Michele falls in love with Cesira, but she doesn't reciprocate. Then, six retreating Germans arrive, demand bread and water, and take Michele hostage. The Americans arrive in Italy, and the refugees head home; Cesira and Rosetta begin their trek back to Rome.

Along the way, they take refuge in an abandoned church, where they endure an unspeakable horror, raped by the Goumier (Moroccan troops in the French Army). It's the end of innocence for Rosetta, who changes, definitely not for the better. This segment is the signature moment of the film, a shocking development, not very explicit by today's standards, but unspeakably sad in its consequences.

Anna Magnani was originally cast as Cesira but illness forced her to withdraw. She then suggested Sophia Loren for the role. Subsequently, Sophia Loren won the Academy Award’s Best Actress Oscar for playing Cesira, the first time an acting Oscar was awarded for a non-English-speaking performance, one of 22 international awards she won for her work in the film.

And rightly so, for Sophia Loren is magnificent as a woman who knows what she wants, and does what she has to do to get it, making sure she doesn’t completely compromise herself in the process. She’s strong and can handle anything – except her daughter’s alienation after Rosetta experiences the horror of rape and withdraws within herself.

Released in the Italian language as La Ciociara (“[The Woman] from Ciociaria”), Two Women is adapted from Alberto Moravia’s 1958 novel, La Ciociara, and is based on actual events during the Marocchinate (the mass rape and killings committed by Moroccan troops after the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy during World War II).

One thing about the subtitles – they flash by so quickly because the Italian itself is spoken so quickly. The Italians are a passionate people; their arguments and discussions go by very loudly and fast.

Grade: A-

Monday, September 22, 2014

Evil Bong (2006)

(A while back, I picked up a DVD set of eight movies – The Midnight Horror Collection – for about $5. There were a couple of not-so-bad movies in the collection; unfortunately, this wasn't one of those not-so-bad ones.)

Alistair McDowell (David Weidoff), a college nerd, needs a place to stay, and hooks up with potheads Larnell (John Patrick Jordan), a law school dropout; Bachman (Mitch Eakins), a stone-surfer; and Brett (Brian Lloyd) a former baseball player. The clock in their dorm room is permanently stuck at 4:20.

They buy an antique bong from an ad, a bong that's advertised as being possessed. When it arrives, Larnell, Bachman and Brett light it up and take a hit. That night, the bong, whose name is Eebee (voiced by Michele Mais) comes alive, begins talking, and awakens Alistair.

The next day, Bachman keeps taking bong hits, Brett comes home with his girlfriend, Luann (Robin Sydney) and her friend, Janet (Kristyn Green). That night, Eebee (who has started growing a face) takes Bachman to a strip club in his dreams, where he's tempted by a skull-bra-ed stripper. And that's the end of Bachman.

Larnell's wealthy paralyzed grandfather, Cyril (Jacob Witkin), shows up to announce his remarriage. The foul-mouthed (in a nice way) old man takes a liking to the clean-cut Alistair. (What this has to do with the plot is ‘way beyond me.)

Eebee then plies her vocal and bong-worthy wiles on Yarnell and takes him for a dream ride to the strip club where he meets up with Bachman. Yarnell gets a lap dance, the last living thing he experiences. During a Trivial Pursuit game, Brett, Luann and Janet do the bong. Alistair once again passes on puffing, but he and Janet succumb to their lust for each other.

Brett and Luann are dream-transported to the strip club, where he sees his former girlfriend, Carla Brewster (Brandi Cunningham). Bye-bye Brett. And this is where Jimbo Leary (Tommy Chong) shows up and tells us all about the bong. Janet is sucked in and Alistair puffs and enters the bong to save her. Jumbo joins them, and ...

Familiar cult classic film actor and musician Bill Moseley (Chop Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) and dwarf actor Phil Foncadero (the Ewok who dies in Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi; and Greaser Greg in The Garbage Pail Kids Movie) have cameos in Evil Bong.

This is a stoner movie gone wrong. It's also a horror movie gone wrong. The situation is weird, as one might expect, and the acting is bad, over the top, as one might also expect. There are totally irrelevant side trips into fantasies, and an egregious overuse of the word "bro." Its only redeeming value? A beautiful stripper with magnificent breasts.

Moral of the story: Don't trust strippers wearing skull, shark-head, or lip-cupped bras.

Evil Bong spawned two sequels: Evil Bong 2: King Bong (2009), and Evil Bong 3D: The Wrath of Bong (2011).

Grade: D-

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Operation Crossbow (1965)

Around the time World War II is winding down, British Minister of Supply Duncan Sandys (Richard Johnson) is charged by his father-in-law, England's Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Patrick Wymark), with checking out rumors of a German flying bomb, and passing on his findings to the War Cabinet.

Professor Frederick Lindemann (Trevor Howard) pooh-poohs the rumors and doesn't believe the Germans can build such a rocket; General Boyd (John Mills), head of British Intelligence, is more open-minded.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the V-1 "flying bomb" is pilot-tested to determine why it always veers to the right. Several pilots are killed, but noted aviator Hanna Reitsch (Barbara Rueting) discovers the problem. (By the way, the Germans all speak German in the movie, as do the British posing as German=speaking Dutch. Thank goodness for subtitles.)

Reconnaissance photos reveal something in Peenemünde. Again, Lindermann dismisses it ... until the V-1s begin raining down on London, despite a successful bombing raid on Peenemünde. The Germans have packed up their scientists, engineers and gear and moved to Southern Germany to develop the 100-ton V-2 rocket.

Sandys assembles a group of German-speaking volunteers who will pose as actual dead Dutch engineers, assuming their identities and infiltrating the new underground plant. The three selected are Lt. John Curtis (George Peppard), Robert Henshaw (Tom Courtney), and Phil Bradley (Jeremy Kemp). One of the applicants, Bamford (Anthony Quayle), is not selected (we discover something interesting about him later in the movie).

Curtis and Henshaw hook up with their contact – Frieda (Lilli Palmer), the manager of a German hotel.  Complication: Henshaw's Dutchman, Jacob Bijus, is wanted for murder by the Holland police, and things don’t work out so well for him. Another complication: Curtis' Dutchman's ex-wife, Nora van Ostangen (Sophia Loren) shows up at the hotel. She doesn't know her husband is dead.

Bradley, whose job was to stay behind, assumes the name "Dr. Engel" and arrives to warn Henshaw. He and Curtis hook up at the plant. Curtis gets a job under Professor Hoffer (Karel Štĕpánek) and is tasked with solving a vibration problem with the V-2 rocket engines. While doing that, he gathers information and specifications, and passes them on to Bradley, who is working as a factory porter because the Germans don't have his information card.

There's no time to lose. The first V-2s are soon on their way. Operation Crossbow paints a horrid picture of wartime London and the destruction caused by the rockets. Looks like sabotage and bombing might be the only answer.

Although she was given top billing to boost the box office, Sophia Loren, wife of the film's producer, Carlo Ponti, has a small role as Nora, the wife of engineer Erik van Ostangen. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the segment with Sophia Loren really slows the movie down. Actually, that's really bad, because the entire movie is rather slow-moving.

Operation Crossbow is loosely based on the real-life “Operation Crossbow,” an anti-long-range weapons operation during World War II, specifically the German V-1 and V-2 rockets. Several real-life personalities were accurately portrayed in the film: Fredrick Lindermann, the 1st Viscount Cherwell, aka “Prof;” Duncan Sandys, Winston Churchill’s son-in-law; Hanna Reitsch, a German aviator; and Constance Babington Smith, the British WAAF officer who discovered the V-1s in reconnaissance photos.

Afraid that the movie-going public would think Operation Crossbow was a medical or Robin Hood-type film (genres performing poorly at the box office), the studio considered changing the title to The Great Spy Mission. The film’s box office rentals totaled approximately $3.7 million.

My verdict? It's okay. And I'm being kinder than the critics. There’s just no sustained tension; in general, I felt they were just following a boring script. There’s not a lot of action, except briefly at the end.

Grade: C+