Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Week of Movie Watching

Alice’s Restaurant –This 1969 Arthur Penn adaptation of the Arlo Guthrie song was surprisingly good. I expected this to be a time capsule snapshot of the hippie era, and it is that, but I was surprised by how hard an edge it takes when viewing the free love era. It has some things to say about heroin, and the climactic wedding sequence is poignant in how it digs beneath the do-your-own-thing-man ethos of the 60’s and reveals loneliness and resignation. Recommended.

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World – The granddaddy of extravaganza comedies. An all-star cast (Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Mickey Rooney, etc) go on a wild chase to recover a hidden stash of money. There’s no question that there are a lot of good laughs here, but it sometimes seems that there’s too much stuff for one movie. There are a couple of instances where it seems like a lot of time lapses between story threads. Still, recommended.

All Through the Night – Humphrey Bogart vehicle from 1941 featured Bogie battling a nest of Nazi spies led by Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre.  It’s a bit peculiar that although Hitler is referenced in this film, the world “Nazi” is never uttered. That may be due to the fact that in 1941, the outcome of the war was not a certainty. Also, I couldn’t really get a handle on who or what Bogarts’ character is. He calls himself a promoter, but seems a lot like either a flat-out gambler, or perhaps a mobster. There’s some OK action here, and I recommend it, but it’s far from a perfect film. A young Jackie Gleason is here, as are William Demarest and Phil Silvers, who coincidentally are both also in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

Donovan’s Reef – First time seeing, this, the last teaming of John Wayne and John Ford, and it wasn’t quite what I expected. I expected a brawling comedy with a lot of interplay between the Duke and Lee Marvin. This starts out that way, but DR is really a love story, as Wayne acts as an escort for a somewhat spoiled rich girl played by Elizabeth Allen, and Marvins character blends into the background a bit. Wayne is good in a romantic role that is a little out of his normal vein, and Allen is sexy. There are times when Fords penchant for easy slapstick get in the way, so I only give it a lukewarm recommendation.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


Alain Delon

Sunday, June 03, 2012

My Week of Movie Watching

Boomerang – Mainly true story by Elia Kazan about how a straight-arrow attorney (Dana Andrews) tries the case of a man (Arthur Kennedy) accused of murdering a popular priest. Boomerang is promising for a good portion of its running time, as the film lays out the drama about the townspeople pressuring the authorities to find someone – ANYONE – to pin the murder on. However, when the action settles down into the courtroom, things peeter out, because we get all the same cinematic courtroom tricks that we’ve seen a hundred times. Thus, I can’t quite recommend it.  Lee J Cobb has a good little role as a hard-bitten police captain, and Karl Malden has an uncredited turn as a detective.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – Another “Angry young man” film from Britain, this one from Tony Richardson.  Tom Courtenay stars as a youth confined to a tough reform school who finds a salve for his damaged life in cross-country running. The film shuffles scenes of life in the school with flashbacks to life on the outside for Courtenay’s Colin, and we see how his father’s illness and suspicious death and his mother’s taking up with a new man drive him into a poor decision. Colin is a filmic cousin of Albert Finneys’ Arthur from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (which was set in Nottingham, like this movie)

Contact – When Roger Ebert wrote about Contact in his Great Movies series, he stated that it took place at the intersection of science, politics, and faith. That assessment is accurate, but it also points up the weak points of what is a pretty good movie. I really liked how the films story of a scientist (Jodie Foster) who receives a signal from another plant evolves into an examination about where God fits into the scientific equation. Fosters Elly is an atheist who lost both parents at a young age. Matthew McConaughey plays a religious writer who falls in love with her, even as they lock horns, and their scenes together are the strength of the film. There is one exchange where he stops her in her tracks with an argument that neither she nor us can see coming. The film sort of alludes to the possibility that Elly really does hope to find a heaven in the hopes of finding peace for her dead parents, and the climatic exchange with the alien race looks as much like heaven as anyone could hope to imagine. That is not lost on Elly, either. The film has faults, notably a supercilious US government official played by James Woods, who is taken directly from the handbook of evil movie bureaucrats. Still, I recommend it, because it tackles subject matter that Hollywood usually won’t touch with a ten foot pole.