Tuesday, May 19, 2015

And Then There Were None (1945)

Eight total strangers arrive by boat at a small island off the coast of Devon, England, invited to dinner by a Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen ("Unknown") … eight people who apparently have nothing in common.

Puzzled as to why they are there, the dinner guests assemble at the table, awkwardly introduce themselves, and contemplate out loud why they were invited.

A centerpiece of ten Indian figurines in a circle provides a clue that enlightens them when the two hired servants – Thomas and Ethel Rogers (Richard Haydn and Queenie Leonard) – play a record on a gramophone.

Shockingly, the ten (including the servants) stand accused of murder. Their crimes are recited by Owen on the gramaphone record. The guests (represented by an excellent ensemble cast) and their so-called crimes are:
  • General Sir John Mandrake (C. Aubrey Smith) ordered his wife’s lover to his death
  • Dr. Edward G. Armstrong (Walter Huston) was drunk, causing a patient’s death
  • Emily Brent (Judith Anderson) is responsible for her nephew’s death
  • Vera Claythrome (June Duprez) murdered her sister’s fiancé
  • William H. Blore (Roland Young) caused an innocent man’s death
  • Prince Nikita Starloff (Mischa Auer) killed a couple
  • Judge Francis J. Quincannon (Barry Fitzgerald) sentenced an innocent man to be hanged
  • Philip Lombard (Louis Hayward) killed 21 tribesmen in Africa
  • Thomas and Ethel Rogers caused their previous employer’s death

The first to go is Prince Starloff, who dies after taking a drink; one of the Indians breaks. Ethel Rogers dies in her sleep; a second Indian goes missing.

The deaths coincide with the lyrics of a popular children's song. They decide Owen is hiding in the house. Lombard spies on Judge Quincannon, who is spying on Dr. Armstrong, who's spying on Blore, who's spying on Lombard.

Next to go is General Mandrake, murdered by a knife stab in the back; another missing Indian. Judge Quincannon articulates what everyone else is thinking – one of them is Owen. But who? Everyone becomes jittery and suspicious of the others, sometimes with comical results.

The guest list dwindles, one by one, just like the song, each after they confess how they caused someone else's death. Rogers, axed; Miss Brent, hypodermic to the neck. Quincannon, shot in the head. Armstrong, drowned. Then Blore, by bricks.

Only two remain – Lombard and Vera. Which one is the mysterious Owen? Or could it be ... someone else?

There is no dialogue in the film during the first five minutes.

And Then There Were None is based on Agatha Christie’s stage play of her best-selling 1939 novel, which is considered to be her masterwork. It has been remade three times as Ten Little Indians in 1965, 1974, and 1989, each with a stellar ensemble cast; and as a Soviet adaptation, Desyat Negrityat, in 1987. It is now in the public domain.

Grade: A-

Quotations I like from the film

 ”Very stupid to kill the only servant in the house. Now we don’t even know where to find the marmalade.” – Emily Brent ((Judith Anderson)

Never in my life have I been accused of any crime, sir, and if that’s what you think of me, I shan’t serve any dinner.” – Thomas Rogers (Richard Haydn)

"The whole thing has been as inevitable as in a nursery rhyme. When the boat arrives from the mainland, there will be ten dead bodies, and a riddle no one can solve on Indian Island.” – Judge Francis J. Quincannon (Barry Fitzgerald)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Draft Day (2014)

It's the National Football League’s Draft Day 2014, and Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) has the seventh pick. Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) is up for grabs, probably to the Seattle Seahawks, who have the number one pick.

But fortune cracks a smile, and a trade with the Seahawks just may happen, Seattle's general manager, Tom Michaels (Patrick S. Esprit), offers Weaver the first pick in exchange for two first round picks (this year and next) and a third round pick the following year.

Sonny turns it down.

Ohio State linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwish Boseman), Sonny's first choice, keeps promoting himself. Florida State running back Ray Jennings (Ariane Foster), Coach Vince Penn's (Denis Leary) first choice, calls as well. Radio talk shows lambast him. There's pressure from all over, including team owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella). On top of that, Sonny's girlfriend, salary cap analyst Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant.

Sonny calls Michaels back and accepts. Except that now, Michaels wants the Browns' first-round picks for the next three years. Sonny accepts, putting everyone's job on the line. Coach Penn is understandably upset. His mother, Barb Weaver (Ellen Burstyn), hears it via social media.

Pressure, pressure, pressure.

The Kansas City Chiefs want the Browns' current quarterback, Brian Drew (Tom Welling), who's pissed that Sonny's going to draft Callahan. Wisconsin's Coach Moore (Sam Elliott) has nothing but high praise for Callahan, but research reveals that Callahan isn't popular with his teammates. To add to the pressure, the Buffalo Bills call with a great offer. Then, the Houston Texans call ... about Vontae.

The Browns select ... WOW, good movie!

Appearing as themselves are Russ Brandon, Roger Goodell, Jon Gruden, Jim Brown, Bernie Kosar, Chris Berman, Rich Eisen and Ray Lewis.

The producers originally wanted to use the Buffalo Bills instead of the Cleveland Browns, but they made the change based on production costs. The Seattle Seahawks were chosen as the team that traded the number one pick because the New York Jets dropped out of the movie.

Draft Day didn’t fare too well at the box office, bringing in only $29.5 million against its $25-million budget. That's a shame, because it's not that bad, especially if you're a football fan.

In the real 2014 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns traded up and selected Heisman winner Johnny Manzel with their 22nd pick. Now THAT was a mistake, no?

Grade: B+

Quotations I like from the film:

How is it that the ultimate prize in the most macho sport ever invented is a piece of jewelry?” – Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner)

I don't need him to block, I need him to run! Which he does, like a bat out of hell. Which takes the pressure off of my offense. Okay? I got 52 Tarzans in that locker room; I could use a Jane!” – Coach Vince Penn (Denis Leary)

"Sometimes, the correct path is the tortured one.” – Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner)

Sonny: "You’re on Twitter?" Mom: "You’re not?" – Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) and mother Barb (Ellen Burstyn)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Secret Agent (1936)

In May 1916, British novelist Capt. Edgar Brodie, on leave from his World War I assignment, discovers he’s dead. At least that's what his newspaper obituary says.

Actually, he's been given his premature demise by British Intelligence, who wants him to take on a cloak-and-dagger role. Intelligence head “R” (Charles Carson) wants him to find and eliminate a German agent who's trying to stir up trouble in the Middle East.

Brodie is given a new identity – Richard Ashenden – and is assigned to work with his new assistant, "The General," aka the “Hairless Mexican” (Peter Lorre). When he arrives at the Hotel Excelsior in Switzerland, he meets his "wife," Elsa Carrington (Madeleine Carroll).

He also makes the acquaintance of hotel guest Robert Marvin (Robert Young), who apparently is quite taken by Elsa. So is the General, but because Peter Lorre is playing his usual smarmy, creepy, strange character, he irritates her. Elsa treats the caper as an exciting lark, quite contrary to Ashenden's conscientious attitude.

Their contact is found strangled at his organ, a button grasped in his hand. The button helps them identify the owner, Caypor (Percy Marmont), whom they eliminate high in the mountains amidst Hitchcockian suspenseful tension-filled quick intercuts of Mrs. Caypor (Florence Kahn), Elsa, Ashensen, Caypor and the General, and Caypor's dachshund. But ... did they act too hastily?

And then, there's the guilt suffered by the principals.

While Gielgud worked on Secret Agent during the day, he appeared in the stage play, Romeo and Juliet in its evening performances. Michael Redgrave, soon to be a movie star, has a small appearance (uncredited) as an Army captain. Also appearing in his film debut is Michael Rennie (also uncredited).

Secret Agent, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is loosely based on two of W. Somerset Maugham stories (The Traitor and The Hairless Mexican) that were published in his 1928 collection, Ashenden: Or the British Agent. During World War I, Maugham was a member of British Intelligence.

The movie is now in the public domain as the film’s copyright was not renewed by the original copyright holder. Consequently, some presentations are not top quality. TCM's copy was a bit muddled and the dialog at times unintelligible, but I managed to stick it out.

There is no Alfred Hitchcock cameo appearance in Secret Agent.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film

We call him the 'Hairless Mexican' … because he’s got a lot of curly hair and isn’t a Mexican. You can call him The General. He isn’t a general, but he’ll appreciate the compliment.” – “R” (Charles Carson)

This floor makes my beautiful leg very angry.” – The General, aka the “Hairless Mexican” (Peter Lorre

We aren’t hunting a fox, we’re hunting a man. He’s an oldish man, with a wife. Oh, I know it’s war and it’s our job to do it, but that doesn’t prevent it being murder – simple murder!” – Capt. Edgar Brodie (John Gielgud)
 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Doomsday (2008)

Glasgow, Scotland, April 3, 2008 – It begins. The Reaper Virus infects humans and turns them into mutations (no zombies). Scotland is quarantined and walled off from England. The effort is successful for 27 years.

Then, in 2035 ... the virus is found in London during a police raid.

Prime Minister John Hatcher (Alexander Siddig) and his aide, Michael Canaris (David O'Hara), reveal to Dept. Of Domestic Security Chief Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins) that survivors have been discovered in Scotland – evidence that someone has found and implemented a cure for the virus. He's ordered to send a team in to find the survivors and the cure.

A team is assembled, headed by Maj. Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), whose mother got her out of infected Scotland on that fateful day in 2008. Her team: Sergeant Norton (Adrian Lester), Chandler (Rick Warden), Read (Nora-Jane Noone), Miller (Chris Robson), Carpenter (Leslie Simpson), Dr. Talbot (Sean Pertwee) and Dr. Stirling (Darrin Morfitt). Their assignment: Find Marcus Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who'd been working on the cure.

An ambush leaves only Sinclair, Sgt. Norton and the two doctors alive. She's beaten and questioned by Kane's son, Sol (Craig Conway), who heads an army of marauders opposing Kane's medieval knight society. Dr. Talbot is burned alive and (gulp) eaten by the mob of marauders.

Sinclair escapes and takes prisoner Calle (Myanna Buring) along because she's Kane's daughter. They rendezvous with Sgt. Norton and Dr. Talbot. Escaping the marauders, they meet with a none-too-happy, uncooperative Sol, and end up being hounded by the marauders and the medieval knights.

Nepotism! Andrew Siddig (prime minister) is Malcolm McDowell's nephew. Muscle twitch! When we see Sol's girlfriend, Viper (Lee-Anne Leibenberg), dead in his car during the final chase scene, she blows it and blinks.

Produced on a £17-million budget ($26,283,487) that included a £300,000 ($463,697) contribution from Scotland, Doomsday earned £1,034,659 ($1,599,239) in the United Kingdom and $22.2 million worldwide.

Doomsday is a Snake Plissken/Mad Max kind of movie, reminiscent of Escape from New York, Escape from L.A., and the Mad Max/Road Warrior movies. If you liked those movies, you'll probably like Doomsday. It's strangely entertaining in a bad movie kind of way. Me? I'm sure glad I didn't pay good money to see Doomsday in a theater.

Grade: C-

Quotations I like from the film

"It's human nature to seek even the smallest comfort in reason, or logic for events as catastrophic as these. But a virus doesn't choose a time or place. It doesn't hate or even care. It just happens." – Marcus Kane (Malcolm McDowell)

"In the land of the infected, the immune man is king." – Marcus Kane (Malcolm McDowell)

"If you're hungry, have a piece of your friend." – Maj. Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Murder! (1930)

When a late-night commotion results in the murder of young actress Edna Druce, her rival, Diana Baring (Norah Baring), is found near the murder weapon with blood on her clothes.

There's no doubt in the minds of the police: All the evidence points to Diana as the guilty party.

The constable interviews those involved in the play on which Edna and Diana are appearing – stage manager Ted Markham (Edward Chapman), his actress wife Doucie (Phyllis Konstam), cross-dresser Handell Fane (Esme Percy), Gordon Druce (Miles Mander), and Ion Stewart (Donald Calthrop). His questioning is cut short when each interviewee gets a cue to enter on stage. Funny, clever stuff

The wheels of justice move swiftly, and before you know it, Diana is hearing the judge (Johnson Powell) give his charge to the jury. The best Diana can offer is that if she did anything, it must have been while she was in a daze.

The jury foreman (R.E. Jeffery) lays out the facts and supposed series of events. The first vote: 7 guilty, 3 not guilty, 2 not voting. The non-voters vote guilty, and the "not guilty" jurists give their reasons. One by one, they change their minds, including celebrated actor-theater manager Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall), who're really unsure (like Henry Fonda's "Juror 8" in the 1957 film, 12 Angry Men) but capitulates under pressure.

Diana is sentenced to death. In a famous scene, we share Sir John's thoughts as he shaves before a mirror. He regrets his decision and starts his own investigation. But he's got to hurry; Diana will be executed soon.

He meets with the Markhams, on the pretense of giving them work, then enlists their help. The interviews are indeed masterful. Things start falling into place, until the real murderer is identified as Alfred Hitchcock plies his directing genius.

That final circus scene ... My God, that scene!

Murder! is based on Clemence Dane's and Helen Simpson's 1928 crime novel, Enter St. John. It's the first film to feature a person's thoughts on the soundtrack. A German version titled Mary was filmed at the same time using German actors using the same sets. Released in 1931, it was also directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

The movie is now in the public domain.

Director Alfred Hitchcock made his trademark cameo appearance nearly an hour into the film, appearing as a man walking with a female companion past the house where the murder was committed, in front of Sir John and the Markhams.

Grade: A-

Quotations I like from the film

"I assure you, Inspector, I am not the other woman in this case." – Handell Fane (Esme Percy)

"If we set this bad person free, we must be prepared to shoulder the responsibility ... The blood would be on our hands." – Jurist (Drusilla Wills)
"It seems to me, Mr. Markham, that for you artists have a double function. We use life to create art, and we use art ... how should I put it ... to criticize life." – Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fury (2014)

It's April 1945, almost a year after D-Day, and the U.S tank corps is badly outnumbered and beaten as they press deep into German territory, where every man, woman and child is gunning for them.

One of those tanks is named "Fury." It's S/Sgt. Don "Wardaddy" Collier's (Brad Pitt) M4A3E8 Sherman tank. Collier's crew consists of three additional veteran World War II Army soldiers – gunner T/5 Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), loader Pfc. Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (John Bernthal), and driver Cpl. Trini "Gordon" Garcia (Michael Peña).

They're soon joined by a young, clean replacement for the crew's assistant driver/bow gunner, who was killed in the most recent battle. Rookie  Pvt. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is actually a clerk-typist, yanked off a truck and sent to the front. He's scared stiff as the tank platoon heads out on his first mission.

Baptism under fire isn't pretty. The battle is brutal, fierce, loud and bloody, but Norman gets through it, albeit with a few critical errors. Wardaddy forces him to kill a German prisoner.

They go on to liberate a town, where Wardaddy and Norman find two women – Irma (Anamaria Marinca) and her young cousin, Emma (Alicia von Rittberg). After being gifted with fresh eggs and cigarettes, Emma spends time with Norman in the bedroom behind closed doors. When the eggs served, the rest of the crew crashes the breakfast, acting like crude cretins.

Then, much too soon, it's on to the next mission – secure a crossroads and don't let the Germans through. But a battle along the way leaves Fury as the only surviving tank. Norman is christened "Machine" by the crew, just in time for the desperate battle against all odds that carries into the night.

The transformation of Norman from frightened typist to efficient war machine reminded me of cartographer T/5 Tim Upham (Jeremy Davis) in Saving Private Ryan, who was thrust into a similar situation. In a way, Norman (Logan Lerman) carries the movie's essence on his shoulders.

Shia LaBeouf's character, Boyd Swan, lacks a tooth. LaBeouf pulled it out himself to enhance his character's appearance. He also maintained a heady body odor by not showering during shooting of the film. And, he kept reopening his facial cut to add realism to the film.

Scott Eastwood, who plays Sgt. Miles, kept spitting tobacco juice on "Fury," which pissed off Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf, who felt he was being disrespectful to their tank. They almost got into a fight with him until they found out the spitting was in the script.

Michael Peña actually did the stunt driving of the tank; he's a marvelous character actor. In fact, all of the character portrayals of the tank crew were excellent. I was especially impressed by the work of Shia LaBeouf as Bible Swan. He may be a little weird in real life, but he's a good actor.

Speaking of weird, John Bernthal fits that description to a T in Fury. You may remember him as Shane in the hit American Movie Classic's cable TV zombie drama series, The Walking Dead.

The cinematography is amazing, stark and utterly realistic. When the tanks are moving you just can't keep your eyes off the screen. And when the shooting starts, I guarantee you're not going to be distracted in the least.

The men of Fury are gross, dirty and coarse in habit and language, but it's the only way they can truly cope with the horrors they have seen. When they fight, they are scared, but focused and relentless. It's only when the battle is done that they let their emotions take over.

Produced at a cost of $68 million, Fury brought in $212.8 million at the box office.

Grade: A

Quotations I like from the film:

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent." – S/Sgt. Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt)

"The world and its desires pass away. But he who does God's will lives forever." – Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf)

"I've never seen the inside of a tank. I'm a clerk-typist. Was heading to Fifth Corps HQ, and they pulled me off the truck. They sent me here. It's gotta be a mistake." – Pvt. Norman "Machine" Ellison (Logan Lerman)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)

It's a time of early humans, when blonde women are sacrificed to the sun, when the moon is still nonexistent, when men wear fang necklaces, and when women's fingernails are nicely manicured. It's the old cavemen vis-á-vis seashore people situation.

A blonde beauty, Sanna (Victoria Vetri), is rescued from the Sun God sacrifice by Tara (Robin Hawdon), who takes her to his waterfront village just in time to lead the defeat of a captured Plesiosaur that serves as dinner.

Ayak (Imogen Hassall), a brunette, lusts after Tara, but he only has eyes for Sanna (proving that blondes do have more fun). Next thing you know, there's a cat fight in the water. Peace is made, but her people arrive, looking for her.

Sanna runs up the huge sand dune that a giant turtle crested in 1966's One Million Years B.C. A big fight ensues with a Chasmosaurus, a big ol' frilled horned dinosaur. Ah, the perils – giant monitor lizard, carnivorous plant – that Sanna faces before playing with a newly hatched dinosaur ... with its mother's blessing.

After a harrowing encounter with a flying Ramphorhynchus, Tara catches up with Sanna. They go to her cave, and before you know it, he rips her clothes off and (presumed by fade out) they make love, face to face, the modern way.

But all's not well back at the tribe's camp. Banishment, another Plesiosaur, eclipse, giant crabs, tidal wave, quicksand.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth is the third Hammer Films movie in its “Cave Girl” series. The first two were One Million Years B.C. (1966) starring Raquel Welch, and Slave Girls (1967) starring Martine Beswick. It was followed in 1971 by Creatures the World Forgot starring Brian O’Shaughnessy.

In all of the “cave girl” movies, the humans grunt in a language constructed especially for the films. They keep pointing a lot, crying out "Akeetah!" Although filming was completed in 1968, the special effects weren’t ready. A proposed Tyrannosaurus rex was nixed from the film because its limp forearms looked too gay. Victoria Vetri wore a wig because she refused to dye her hair blonde.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth was produced on a £566,000 ($1.5 million in 1970) budget. It was released as a double bill twice – in 1971 with The Valley of the Gwangi, and Moon Zero Two.

It's entertaining. And the cinematography is quite compelling. Sure, the science is 'way outta whack (humans didn't appear until about 65-million years after the last dinosaur died), but the stop-motion, albeit a little corny, is pretty well done. It's a good thing there are dinosaurs in this movie; it sure needed the monstrous co-stars.

Grade: B-

Quotations I like from the film:

"Hakobah! Hakobah!" – Kingsor (Patrick Allen)

"Akeetah! Akeetah!" – Tara (Robin Hawdon)

"Yapasha! Yapasha!" – Sanna (Victoria Vetri)