Sunday, January 25, 2015

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Hollywood screenwriter Dixon "Dix" Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is having career problems. He hasn't written a successful movie in a long, long time, and his last picture stunk.

He solicits a personal description of a book that's been submitted to him. Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart, no, not THAT Martha Stewart), a nightclub hat check girl who had just finished reading it, gives him the rundown. But, y'know, the book is trash, and he sends her home.

Early the next morning, his old Army buddy, Det. Sgt. Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy), show up at his front door and takes him to the police station. During an interview with Capt. Lochner (Carl Benton Reid), he learns that Mildred was murdered and dumped from a moving car into a canyon. And he's the prime suspect.

Dix gets an alibi from a new neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), a small-time actress who says she saw the check room girl leave his apartment about a half hour after she got there. She visits him later and they seem to click. In fact, they eventually fall in love.

Nicolai and his wife, Silvia (Jean Marie "Jeff" Donnell), have Dix over for dinner, where he explains his theory of how the murder was committed. It makes a lot of sense. His friends – agent Mel Lippman (Art Smith) and thespian Charlie Waterman (Robert Warwick) – are amazed that Laurel's gotten him to buckle down and work.

But Capt. Lochner still suspects Dix. During Laurel’s conversation with her masseuse, we learn a bit more about Dix and his short temper, and even her past.

Despite how things turn out, some things are just not meant to be.

Pianist and vocalist Hadda Brooks, who sang in Hawaii's official 1959 statehood ceremony, performs "I Ain't Had Anyone Till You."

Both Humphrey Bogart's wife, Lauren Bacall, and Ginger Rogers were considered for the role of Laurel Gray, which went to Gloria Grahame, director Nicolas Ray's wife. Grahame and Ray secretly separated during filming. She eventually married Ray's son from a previous marriage – Anthony Ray, her stepson.

In a Lonely Place is adapted from Dorothy B. Hughes' 1947 novel of the same name. Time Magazine put the film on its "All-Time 100" list. It is considered to be one of the finest classic examples of the film noir genre and has been preserved in the U.S. Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Grade: A-

Quotations I like from the film:

"I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks when she loved me." – Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart)

"There is no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality." – Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart)

"What does it matter what I think? I'm the guy who tried to talk Selznick out of doing 'Gone With The Wind'!" – Mel Lippman (Art Smith)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Counselor (2013)

The Counselor (Michael Fassbender), a rich and successful lawyer, enters a partnership with Reiner (Javier Bardem) to open a nightclub and work out a drug deal, his first.

Along the way, he meets with Reiner's associate, Westray (Brad Pitt), a smart middleman who's thought everything through and warns him against the Mexican cartels. His client, Ruth (Rosie Perez), a prison convict, needs help to spring her biker son.

Reiner's girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), is something else. She's a pathological liar, she's curious, and a sex fiend. She's also a murderer, hiring a man called The Wireman (Sam Spruell), who decapitates a drug runner on a motorcycle with a wire stretched across the road.

The biker, known as the Green Hornet, is Ruth's son. So now, The Counselor is involved and spathe drugs, stashed inside the biker's helmet, is gone, and the cartel is out $20 million. Talk about being messed up.

The sewage truck used to smuggle drugs over the border is hijacked by cartel thugs posing as police, leaving bodies, including The Wireman, all over the road. The Counselor's girlfriend, Laura (Penelope Cruz), is terribly worried, and wants them to skip town and go to, of all places, Boise, Idaho. Fleeing himself, Reiner buys the farm. Then, Laura is abducted.

Things build to a close, and we're introduced to the bolita and a "snuff" video before the film ends. Rough stuff.

Familiar Hispanic actors Rubén Blades (Jefe) and John Leguizamo (Randy) have interesting roles as Colombian cartel members. Television's ER star, Goran Višnjić, has a small role as Malkina's banker.

Angelina Jolie had been cast to play Malkina, but dropped out. Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner were considered for the role of The Counselor. Natalie Portman was considered for the role of Laura.

Produced on a $25-million budget, The Counselor took in $71 million at the box office.

I thought the film took too long to get going. I mean, who really cares that the main character went all the way to Amsterdam to buy a diamond for his girlfriend? Although, once things got rolling, it progressed very nicely. Malkina (Cameron Diaz) is actually the heart of the film, moving along the edges and in the background.

Grade: B-

Quotations I like from the film:

"Men are attracted to flawed women too, of course, but their illusion is that they can fix them. they just want to be entertained. THe truth about women is that you can do anything to them except bore them." – Reiner (Javier Bardem)

"To partake of the stone's endless quality, is that not the meaning of adornment? To enhance the beauty of the beloved it to acknowledge both her frailty and the nobility of that frailty." – Diamond dealer (Bruno Ganz)

"When it comes to grief, the normal rules of wealth not apply. Because grief transcends value. A man would give you entire nations to lift grief off his heart and yet, you cannot buy anything with grief, because grief is worthless." – Jéfé (Rubén Blades)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954)

In 1870s Paris, French Inspector Bonnard (Claude Dauphin) studies the personal effects of a violently murdered woman and comes to one conclusion, and one conclusion only – there will be more.

It turns out the next victim is Yvonne (Allyn Ann McLerie), the beautiful assistant of Rene the knife-thrower (Paul Richards), who becomes the prime suspect because of an intense quarrel earlier that night. It's not him.

Then, there's a third victim – model Arlette (Veola Vonn), who's wearing the same bracelet of bells as knife-thrower's assistant.

And again, another scream in the night. When psychology Prof. Paul Dupin (Steve Forrest) gives chase, he's mistaken for the perpetrator (his razor is found) and is arrested.

Fragments of a bell bracelet are found in his room, along with the body of his student, Camille (Dolores Dorn), whose lifeless body is found stuffed up the chimney.

Bonnard is stubbornly convinced it's Dupin, but the professor has a different thought – a strong animal, an ape, perhaps.

An ape, you say? It turns out that psychologist and menagerie owner Dr. Marais (Karl Malden), who conducts often-bizarre animal experiments, has a helper, the tough and surly Jacques the One-Eyed (Anthony Caruso), who once had a pet ape that he obtained in Madagascar.

Dr. Marais makes a play for Dupin's assistant and fiancée, Jeanette (Patricia Medina), but she won't have any of that. It seems Dr. Marais has more to do with Dupin and the murders than he lets on.

Future television host and game show mogul Merv Griffin has a small role as French student Georges Brevert.

Charles Gemora (reprising his “man in the gorilla suit” role in 1932’s Murders in the Rue Morgue) could only perform for close-ups. Because of a previous heart attack, any strenuous work was done by a stuntman.

Phantom of the Rue Morgue is adapted, of course, from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which appeared in Graham’s Magazine in 1841 and is considered to be the first modern detective story.

The movie was released in 3D and enjoyed a substantial box office of $1.45 million.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

"It's so much easier to find a criminal who looks like a criminal." – Inspector Bonnard (Claude Dauphin)

"In the dark, secret recesses of unknown brain, Inspector, that's where you'll find your murderer." – Prof. Paul Dupin (Steve Forrest)

"Alibis, they are always so disconcerting." – Inspector Bonnard (Claude Dauphin)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Legend of Hercules (2013)

The Legend of Hercules opens in 1200 B.C. on the shores of Argos in Ancient Greece, where King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) of Tires faces the army of King Galenus (Dimiter Chorchinov). Galenus accepts Amphitryon's challenge to a one-on-one and loses his life, his army, and his city and subjects.

But Amphitryon's wife, Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee), has grown tired of his maniacal need for power and prays to Kakia (Mariah Gale) for advice and guidance. She is rewarded with a son by Zeus, whom she names Hercules (Kellan Lutz).

Fast forward 20 years. Hercules is a big boy now. And I do mean BIG. He has a girlfriend, Hebe (Gaia Weiss), a princess of Crete, with whom he frolics. Unfortunately, his older brother, Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), heir to Amphitryon's throne, has been searching for her. Iphicles and Alcides (as Hercules is known) don't necessarily get along.

Promised to Iphicles in marriage, Hebe flees with Hercules. They are caught, and Amphitryon sends him to Egypt under the command of Captain Sotiris (Liam McIntyre). In Egypt, the garrison of 80 men is wiped out, save for Sotiris and Hercules, who are captured by Tarak (Johnathon Schaech) and sold to fight as gladiators.

The two must emerge victors against the six best undefeated champion fighters in order to be freed. But Sortiris is injured in the preliminary, so Hercules must take on the six alone. He wins, and receives counsel from an old personal advisor, Chiron (Rade Serbedzija). Hercules and Sotiris lead an uprising.

Things get awfully testy. It seems like all hope is lost, but ... Hercules is a hero of song and story, winner of ancient glory; he’s the mighty Hercules.

Because leg hair was excessively prominent when shot with stereoscopic 3D cameras, the male actors had to shave their legs along with their torsos.

Kellan Lutz (Hercules) did more than a thousand push-ups and ab-crunches daily throughout the shoot so he would looked pumped on camera. He could only do this because he appeared shirtless throughout most of the movie and didn’t have to worry about sweat stains.

And that physique of his? It’s pretty much his regular physique, so a lot of pre-shooting workouts weren’t needed. So was Scott Adkins’ (King Amphitryon) physique. Adkins has the body of Hercules, matching filmdom's Herculeses of the past. But his face just doesn't cut it. Adkins looks (please pardon the politically incorrect description) childishly retarded.

But the battle scenes are pretty good. And the film is okay.

Despite a good start ($8.8 million in its opening weekend, ranking #3), The Legend of Hercules ended up with a box office of $61.3 million, substantially less than its $70-million budget.

Grade: C-

Quotations I like from the film:

"War is but a chronicle of Greece, told in the tears of young men's mothers." – Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee)

"You have been given a gift. Ignore it and it will destroy you. Respect it and it will strengthen you." – Kakia (Mariah Gale)

"What fate lies beyond, I cannot say. I only know what fate there is in retreat." – Hercules (Kellan Lutz)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Plymouth Adventure (1952)

This is the story of The Mayflower‘s 96-day voyage across the Atlantic, bringing the Pilgrims to the New World. Religious dissidents seeking religious freedom set out to sea from Southampton, England, on August 6, 1620, for their new home.

Among those on board are William Bradford (Leo Genn) and his wife, Dorothy (Gene Tierney), brothers writer Gilbert and Edward Winslow (John Dehner and Lowell Gilmore), military trainer Capt. Miles Standish (Noel Drayton), and Priscilla Mullins (Dawn Addams), whom Gilbert Winslow describes as "the only female on board, over the age of 10 fit to look at."

Capt. Christopher Jones (Spencer Tracy) runs a tight ship, with the help of First Mate Coppin (Lloyd Bridges). He does, however, accept a bribe to change his destination from Virginia to New England.

Carpenter and cooper John Alden (Van Johnson) signs on with the passengers to provide carpentry and barrel work in the new land. Straight off the bat, he and Coppin clash. He befriends the Winslows and stowaway William Brewster (Barry Jones), leader of the dissenters, called "John Williamson" by the Pilgrim leaders.

They have to turn back when their consort ship, Speedwell, develops leaks and they have to turn back to relaunch after a delay, now with 102 passengers.

Romance blossoms between John and Priscilla (they and Miles Standish are the subjects of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1858 poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish); Capt. Jones makes a rather clumsy play for Dorothy Bradford.

The weather turns stormy and foul, and the seas become deadly rough. The, food, water and firewood supplies dwindle to nothing, and to make matters worse, scurvy breaks out. They reach New England, but noy before William Button (Tommy Ivo), a young boy who vowed to be the first to see land, is the first of five passengers to die, just before land comes into view.

A settlement site is found and reported by a happy scouting party, but their glee is tempered by tragedy aboard the ship during their absence.

Unlike the Spencer Tracy character, the real Capt. Christopher Jones was happily married, with eight children. Maybe the role had an effect on Tracy – he and Gene Tierney had an affair that lasted during the filming.

I don’t know the reason why, but Director Clarence Brown later revealed he thought the casting of Van Johnson was a big mistake. I think he did a good job as John Alden. In fact, Plymouth Adventure is good viewing, particularly around Thanksgiving time.

Despite the stellar ensemble cast, Plymouth Adventure was a box office loser, probably because its large box office of $3 million could not overcome its large production budget of nearly $3.2 million. The film won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

The actual Mayflower was used in the film.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

"I grant you we may be commonplace men, and no better than any of the others. But Heaven has chosen to create around us a situation to which we must rise ... or die in our souls. That's when men perform miracles, Captain Jones." – William Bradford (Leo Genn)

It’s possible, Captain Jones, you see no further than the end of your nose. These are honest men.” – Gilbert Winslow (John Dehner)

That’s the good of the world, Mr. Winslow – the good, clean sea and my ship … my good ship. I put faith in my ship, and she’s never failed me. Don’t put your faith in men, and you’ll never be disappointed.” – Capt. Christopher Jones (Spencer Tracy)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is the sequel to Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. If you saw that movie, you will remember that Percy Jackson is a demigod, the son of Poseidon, god of the sea, and a human mother.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) continues his training at Camp Half-Blood with his friends and fellow demigods – Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario), demigod daughter of Athena; the extremely cocky Clarisse La Rue (Leven Rambin), demigod daughter of Ares  – and his best friend, satyr Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson).

The camp is run by director Dionysus (Stanley Tucci), aka Mr. D, god of wine; and activities director Chiron (Anthony Head), a centaur.

One day, into camp walks Percy's half-brother, cyclops Tyson (Douglas Smith). Soon after his arrival, a huge metal Colchis bull breaks through a protective barrier of trees, created by Zeus when his demigod daughter, Thalia Grace (Paloma Kwiatkowski), sacrificed her life to save other camp children from a cyclops gang seven years ago.

Percy discovers that Luke Castellan (Jake Abel), who'd survived his battle with Percy in Lightning Thief, poisoned the guardian tree. Luke is the demigod son of Hermes (Nathan Fillion). Luke’s father is Hermes, the god of thieves, travelers and messengers. It turns out that only the Golden Fleece can cure the ailing tree.

A team is assembled by Mr. D, to be led by Clarisse (much to Annabeth’s disappointment). So, the three friends (Percy, Annabeth and Grover) set out on their own because Percy believes he is the one destined to get the fleece. Tyson joins them, arguing that he can communicate with cyclops Polyphmus (Robert Maillet, and voiced by Ron Perlman), guardian of Golden Fleece.

They need to get to Florida, but end up in Washington, DC, thanks to a thrilling ride in a cab driven by three blind witches who share one eye. (You do remember the Graeae, from Greek mythology, don't you?) They get help from Hermes, who runs the Olympus Parcel Service (morphed from UPS). His operation and Caduceus are very funny.

Let's see now, during their spectacular search, they meet a huge Hippokampos sea horse, a big ol' fancy yacht, an arrow-tailed furry wolfie creature, a giant surfing wave, a hurricane in a thermos, the sea monster Charybdis, and a boat crew of (ahem) zombies. I mean, after all, it IS the sea of monsters.

Everybody ends up on an island dominated by a broken-down amusement park, home of the hungry cyclops, Polyphmus, where their quest comes to an end.

Alesandra Daddario, who plays Annabeth Chase, had to dye her hair blond; in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Annabeth was a dark brunette. Also, Ms Daddario discovered for the first time that she was prone to seasickness when she filmed her yacht and lifeboat scenes.

Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alesandra Daddario and Jake Abel reprised their Lightening Thief roles.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is based on Rick Riordan’s 2006 novel, The Sea of Monsters. Produced on a $90-million budget, it earned nearly $200 million at the box office.

Uncomplicated and easy to watch, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters has a few chuckle-worthy moments – dialogue gags, sight gags, ridiculous situations.

Grade: C+

Quotations I like from the film:

I never called him brother. All he ever wanted was a brother, but I was too wrapped up in myself.” – Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman)

It wasn’t easy to find. I had to crawl through the depths of Tartarus myself. And then Cleveland.” – Luke Castellan (Jake Abel)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

War hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) is recovering in a naval hospital after his ship is sunk during the war, and all he can do is dream of an excellent meal after 28 days in a raft.

The only gustatory satisfaction he's getting is reading the food column of Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck). He also tries to learn how his buddy and fellow patient Sinkewicz (Frank Jenks) is able to score such scrumptious meals. Play up to the nurse, he's told.

He does just that, and his nurse, Mary Lee (Joyce Compton), is quite taken by him. She writes to Smart Housekeeping's publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), whose granddaughter she once nursed back to health. She wants him to help Jefferson become accustomed to having a home so they can get married. Yep, married.

Yardley tells his editor, Dudley Beecham (Robert Shayne), to assign Elizabeth to host Jefferson at her Connecticut farm for Christmas. The problem is, she created the farm, her husband and a baby out of whole cloth for her column. She can't dissuade Yardley, so the game is on. And ... he invites himself to Christmas dinner.

She gets her friend and admirer, John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), to pose as her husband and let her use his farm, and chef Felix Bassenak (S.Z. Sakall), her friend who provides her with recipes for her column, to prepare the dinner, because she can't cook. She even gets a baby, a neighbor's child whom housemaid Nora (Una O’Connor) has been watching while the mother works.

Judge Crothers (Dick Elliott), who's to perform the wedding, arrives, and everything is set ... for complications to develop. And boy, do they develop. Jefferson arrives too early. The secret wedding is postponed. Hide the judge. Wash the baby. Yardley's here. Elizabeth falls for Jefferson. A cow shows up at the kitchen door. Jefferson falls for Elizabeth. The wedding is on. It's postponed again. Different baby. Nora doesn't flip flapjacks. Baby swallows Felix's watch. Yardley hires Sloan. Wait ... what?

Christmas in Connecticut is innocent, a rather corny post-war enjoyable fare, light-hearted and entertaining with just the right happy ending . It’s not a Christmas movie, despite the title. There’s no gathering around the tree at the end, no Christmas carols, not even a “Merry Christmas” spoken … ever. It’s just a movie that uses Christmas as an excuse to do a good deed for a recovering sailor.

The Elizabeth Lane character was loosely based on Family Circle Magazine columnist Gladys Taber, who at the time resided on Stillmeadow Farm in Connecticut. Barbara Stanwyck does her usual wonderful job, but S.Z. Sakali as chef/uncle Felix steals the show when he's on-screen.

In 1992, a remake starring Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson and Tony Curtis aired on TNT. The TV movie was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

When you’re kissing me, don’t talk about plumbing.” – Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck)

“You know, Felix, it's very important to keep promises, especially to yourself.” – Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck)

The things a girl will do for a mink coat.” – Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck)

Having babies to boost your circulation takes time.” – John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner)