Saturday, March 9, 2013

Black Moon

Black Moon (Criterion #571).
1975 Janus Films.
Starring: Cathryn Harrison, Joe Dallesandro, Alexandra Stewart, Therese Giehse
Written and directed by Louis Malle
Available from Amazon in both DVD or Blu-ray formats.

In a film influenced by the writings of Lewis Carroll, as well as films like Robert Altman's Images, Cathryn Harrison plays a troubled young lady named Lily who may or may not be prone to vivid hallucinations. After encountering a battle between male and female military units where the men were eagerly executing women soldiers, Lily makes her way to a country estate (director Malle's home at the time) where naked children are busy rounding up sheep, a pair of sibling caretakers both named Lily (Dallesandro, Stewart), and an old lady (Giehse, who died shortly after production was completed) who when she isn't communicating with her pet rat or operating a bed side ham radio, is very demanding, and she is breastfed by both sister Lily and Lily herself.

Lily also begins noticing a unicorn parading around the estate, and she pursues it. After Lily is beaten up by the naked kids, she discovers that the unicorn can also talk. The unicorn turns up in the old lady's room, where Lily prepares to breastfeed it. And the movie ends.

Louis Malle has created a film that manages to be completely surreal at times, and at other times, it can be unspeakably boring. There isn't a lot of dialogue in the movie to explain things, so be prepared to make your own judgements about what's going on.

Slightly recommended.

Friday, July 15, 2011

MST3K #701: Night of the Blood Beast

Mystery Science Theater 3000 experiment #701: Night of the Blood Beast (with short, Once Upon a Honeymoon).
Original airdates: November 23, 1995 (Turkey Day marathon version); February 3, 1996 (standard version).
Available as part of the sixteenth MST3K collection here.

The first episode of the very short seventh season of MST3K sees the permanent arrival of Mary Jo Pehl as Pearl Forrester, the bad Doctor's mother. She would become the primary antagonist of Mike Nelson and his robot pals following the move from Comedy Central to Sci-Fi in 1997, but for the moment, she's here to turn Clayton Deborah Susan Forrester back into the true mama's boy he always was, now that there's no longer a TV's Frank to kick around.

In Once Upon a Honeymoon, a guardian angel named Wilbur is sent from Heaven to Earth to aid a young couple. The male has to complete a Broadway show tune in 24 hours; otherwise, there's not going to be a honeymoon...or a show, for that matter. His wife sings about the dream kitchen she always wanted, which Wilbur makes possible with liberal doses of magic dust. Phones also play a major role in the short, as the husband and wife stumble upon the smash Broadway hit song by accident after she dials a number on a rotary phone. Everyone lives happily ever after, I think...

The main feature opens with a rocket crash, and the pilot is dead, but somehow, his body is in perfect condition. It turns out that the pilot, named Steve, is alive, but he's been impregnated somehow by a stowaway alien. Steve's potential offspring all look like large shrimp. There's a lot of sitting around in labratories talking along with appearances from the Blood Beast, which is just another actor in a bad rubber costume. Eventually, the Blood Beast rationally explains his actions for killing an elderly doctor and impregnating Steve, which gets him bombarded with Motolov cocktails. Ah, good old Roger Corman.

Crow and Tom Servo are fearful of their safety on the SOL, so they end up tasing and macing Mike Nelson after he makes a very slight gesture. Down in Deep 13, Mother Forrester would like her son Dr. F to play a recital on the trombone. Clay performs horribly, drawing the ire of his mother. Up in space, Crow plays effortless renditions of "Getting Sentimental Over You" and "Hold That Tiger". After the short, Mike and the 'Bots parody it, complete with lots of plastic phones and appliances, Tom Servo dropping tons of magic dust from the air, and Mike playing a toy piano. Later on, Pearl interrupts Mike and Servo's arm wrestling match to inform them that Dr. Forrester has to confess something to them. After listing off several embarrassing high school incidents, Dr. F loses it and pulls a knife on his mother. Pearl calmly takes out a pistol and shoots her son. Crow later announces that he's pregnant, showing old shrimp fastened to a fake fluoroscope. Mike, Gypsy and Servo all see through this lie, so Crow goes on a long rant, demanding the same attention and courtesies he thinks are extended to pregnant women everywhere. Crow's anger extends into the last second, as he's now ranting about babies "getting a free ride" while Mike desperately tries reading a viewer letter. Downstairs, Pearl is cradling Dr. Forrester like a baby, and insisting that he still is one. Wow.

Recommended episode. The Shout! Factory DVD release also includes the Turkey Day marathon version, with totally different host segments with a Thanksgiving theme. This rendition only aired a handful of times on Comedy Central.

MST3K #622: Angels' Revenge

Mystery Science Theater 3000 experiment #622: Angels' Revenge.
Original Comedy Central airdate: March 11, 1995.
Part of the second MST3K collection, currently out of print.

This episode holds the distinction of being the last one shown on Comedy Central in December of 1996 before it moved to Sci-Fi Channel the following year. No, I didn't tape it. Why do you ask?

A very blatant rip-off of Charlie's Angels. Six different women and their teenage sidekick Trish (Liza Greer) come together to crack a drug ring after the brother of one of them, singer Michelle Wilson (Susan Kiger), get assaulted by one of the pushers. After much preparation and training, the Angels storm and destroy a backwoods drug processing plant, leading to one of them, schoolteacher April, being kidnapped later. Trish ends up leading the Angels to the drug kingpin's (Peter Lawford, probably drunk out of his mind) hideout, where the obligatory rescue scenes take place. This turkey also features Jim Backus, Jack Palance, Alan Hale, Pat Buttram and Arthur Godfrey in small roles, all on the downswing of their careers, especially Lawford, who sure fell fast after Sinatra kicked him out of the Rat Pack. The Angels never really became big stars, either, aside from Liza and older sister Robin Greer, co-authors of You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again. Embarrassingly bad movie, folks!

On the bridge of the Satellite of Love, Crow is in a panic, claiming he's suffering from amnesia. After a blow to the head to cure it, he realizes he's suffering from Ambrosia, and then, Eric Carmen. Down in Deep 13, the Mads have dressed up as their favorite 1970s relief pitchers: Dr. Forrester is Rollie Fingers (complete with fake handlebar mustache); TV's Frank is Tug "You gotta believe!" McGraw. It seems that Mike and the 'bots are suffering from bad ratings, so Dr. F. turns them into the cast of Renegade. This works...kind of. Next, Crow hosts a reading of his new blaxploitation screenplay Chocolate Jones and the Temple of Funk, which is probably his magnum opus Earth vs. Soup rewritten with "jive" names and language. Mike later comes out dressed as the Fonz, which gets him blown up real good by Crow and Tom Servo. A little later, Aaron Spelling's house passes by the SOL, and...that's all. Afterwards, Mike, Servo and Crow unveil their Shame-o-Meter, which measures things in kiloLawfords, megaLawfords and gigaLawfords. The Mads, now dressed up as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, break the Shame-o-Meter.

Not the best episode of MST3K ever made, largely thanks to the host segments, which seemed like everyone was phoning it in for this one. Best Brains was also completing production on Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie at the time this episode was produced, so their attention was understandably divided. This episode was also the first one in which Bill Corbett, the future voice of Crow, contributed jokes. Still, there were many good jokes during the movie, so this one is recommended, but not my first choice to watch or to introduce a newcomer to the show. Watch the movie, skip the host segments.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Black Sunday

Black Sunday.
1977 Paramount Pictures.
Starring: Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller, Fritz Weaver, Bekim Fehmiu, William Daniels
Director: John Frankenheimer
Buy Black Sunday at Amazon.

John Frankenheimer filmed Black Sunday partially on location at Super Bowl X at the Orange Bowl in Miami in 1976 (Pittsburgh defeated Dallas, 21-17) with unprecedented cooperation from the NFL, and a lot of help from CBS. Many of the CBS crew knew Frankenheimer from his time at the network, and they help arrange his film cameras around their television equipment as to not distract the crowd viewing the game live, or later, to audiences at theaters viewing the movie. Frankenheimer also worked out a deal with Goodyear to use their iconic blimp in the movie. The only condition was, the onscreen pilot of the Goodyear Blimp be specified as a freelance one, not a Goodyear employee, and that the blimp itself actually not kill anyone with its propellers or other working parts. Black Sunday was also adopted from the novel of the same name written by Thomas Harris. The book was a moderate success, but Harris created the character of Hannibal Lecter for his next project, and the rest is history.

Michael Lander (Dern) is a pilot of the Goodyear Blimp, providing aerial coverage of NFL games. He's also a Vietnam vet, unhinged from years of torture as a POW, a court martial after returning to America, and his failed marriage. Lander is suicidal, and wishes to take out as many civilians as he can see from his blimp every Sunday afternoon as possible. He teams up with Dahlia Iyad (Keller), a member of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist organization. They plan to launch a suicide attack with a plastique bomb and 250,000 steel darts concealed on the underside of the Goodyear Blimp, which they will detonate over the Orange Bowl and Super Bowl X. Black September intends to use the attack as a wake-up call for the Americans to call attention to the plight of the Palestinians.

While Lander and Iyad carry out their mad scheme, a Mossad agent named David Kabakov (Shaw) and the FBI agent Sam Corley (Weaver) follow their every move and race to prevent the attack, leading to a spectacular chase involving the Goodyear Blimp and police helicopters.

Recommended suspense film, with Bruce Dern turning in a stellar performance as the deranged Michael Lander.

Sawdust and Tinsel

Sawdust and Tinsel [Gycklarnas afton] (Criterion #412).
1953 Janus Films.
Starring: Åke Grönberg, Harriet Andersson, Hasse Ekman, Anders Ek, Gudrun Brost, Annika Tretow, Erik Strandmark, Gunnar Björnstrand, Curt Löwgren
Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Buy Sawdust and Tinsel at Amazon.

The continuing adventures of a traveling circus led by ringmaster Albert (Grönberg), who has not seen his wife Agda (Tretow) in three years. Agda prefered to remain at home as a shopkeeper while her husband led his circus from town to town over the past three years, sleeping with his mistress Anne (Andersson). After Albert is reminded of a situation where his clown Frost (Ek) discovered his wife Alma (Brost) swimming nude before a crowd of cheering soldiers, he decides to go home to visit his wife. Albert does not know what to expect upon his return home.

Anne is deeply upset by Albert's decision to see his wife, so she meets and seduces a young actor named Frans (Ekman). Upon Albert's return to the circus, a drunken Frost tells him about Anne's fling with the actor. Albert is enraged enough to try picking a fight with Frans during a performance at their most recent stop, but Frans manages to thwart Albert's blows, and delivers a beating to the ringmaster. A humiliated Albert contemplates suicide, but decides instead to punish Anne by killing the company's bear, which she was very fond of. Afterwards, Albert orders his circus to pack up and move to the next stop.

A classic Bergman film with a great, depressing ending. Ingmar Bergman himself said that this thirteenth film was the first good one he made, despite a cool reception from critics and moviegoers alike. Highly recommended.

Happy birthday, Ingmar!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

MST3K #621: The Beast of Yucca Flats

Mystery Science Theater 3000 experiment #621: The Beast of Yucca Flats (with shorts, Money Talks and Progress Island U.S.A.)
Original Comedy Central airdate: January 21, 1995.
Available from Amazon on the 18th MST3K collection.

Money Talks: A young man wonders how he can go to the dance this Friday, but he doesn't have enough money to get in. Benjamin Franklin drops by to show our young friend how to budget his money better, among other helpful tips. This kid only earns seven dollars a week. How does he live on so little?!

Progress Island U.S.A.: A fast paced and exciting 1973 film designed to persuade investors into pouring some money into the crown jewel of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico. In 1973, Puerto Rico had everything! Music! Gambling! Rum! Nothing you couldn't find anywhere in the big cities here in the United States! I've lost sleep on many nights wondering if this short film really accomplished its purpose.

The Beast of Yucca Flats: The third part of the Coleman Francis trilogy, this one manages to be as inept and unintentionally hilarious as the other two movies. Following an edited scene where a nude woman is strangled by an unidentified man, Joseph Javorsky (Tor Johnson), noted Soviet scientist, defects to America, choosing to come to the Yucca Flat. He has a briefcase stuffed full of military secrets. Javorsky is attacked instantly by a pair of KGB assassins. He manages to outwalk them deep into the desert, where he wanders too close to an American nuclear test, which transforms him into a mindless, homicidal beast who presumably has little interest in protecting Soviet secrets, preferring to stumble around aimlessly. Javorsky kills a young couple, and is pursued by two cops. Meanwhile, two young sons get separated from their parents on vacation, and end up running into Javorsky. The movie ends like any true Coleman Francis classic does: someone gets shot to death by law enforcement. This one also features the usual Francis talent, like Tony Cardoza, Eric "I like coffee!" Tomlin, and Conrad Brooks.

Coleman Francis filmed this turkey without a soundtrack, so any narration, dialogue, and sound effects were added on later, leading to characters only speaking while offscreen, or when their faces aren't totally visable onscreen. Also, any gunplay is featured with the muzzle of the gun out of the shot. Basically, any film student could make a better movie than this! Bah!

We open on the S.O.L. with Mike Nelson putting up rows of mismatched wallpaper, while Tom Servo and Crow offer absolutely no practical assistance. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank unveil "Proposition Deep 13", complete with balloons and catchphrases. Mike and the 'Bots issue their own rebuttal, and they seem very confident of their victory until informed that this week's experiment is a Coleman Francis film. After that, they're like "NO RLY, OMFG!!" After the shorts, a loud party next door gets the attention of Mike, Servo, and Crow on the bridge, and Crow sneaks over to marvel at the Rick Wakeman record on hand. Apparently, our heroes don't really throw outrageous parties. Next, it's almost lunchtime, and Crow keeps asking Mike if it's 11:30 yet. And keeps asking. Later on, Crow introduces his new organization, the Film Anti-Preservation Society (FAPS), which is dedicated to allowing the deterioration of all horrible films such as this one. Mike comes on to halt Crow's speech. After the movie's done, Mike gives his victory speech, while the Mads concede defeat, leading to TV's Frank getting slapped in the face exactly 24 times.

Highly recommended episode containing a horrible movie, and two hysterical shorts.


Oh yes, I neglected to mention the best line:

"Flag on the did it get there?"

MST3K #514: Teen-Age Strangler

Mystery Science Theater 3000 experiment #514: Teen-Age Strangler (with short, Is This Love?)
Original Comedy Central airdate: November 7, 1993.
Part of the MST3K Collection, Volume 10.2. An un-MSTed version from Something Weird Video is also available.

Short! In an unidentified college, we focus on two engaged couples. One is taking it slowly, the other (the main characters) want to get married right away. Despite the doubts expressed by the sensible couple, and the not-so-sensible daughter's parents, they run off to get married. Don't worry, I'm sure the man's professional football aspirations will ensure a long and happy marriage.

Movie! In the greatest feature film ever filmed on location in Huntington, West Virginia, someone is going around strangling teenage victims. Suspicion quickly falls on the local street gang called the Fastbacks, specifically, a young man named Jimmy, whose family relocated to West Virginia because he was blamed for stealing bikes in another community. It was actually Jimmy's little nerd of a brother Mikey (played by the excellent John Humphreys) who stole the bikes that forced the Walton family to pack up and flee to Huntington. With help from his girlfriend Betty, as well as a large group of their peers (including the other Fastbacks), Jimmy manages to find out the identity of the real teenage strangler: the high school janitor. But, first, everyone at the local malt shop has time to sing and dance to a local hit called "Yipe Stripes". Lady Gaga is making plans to remake the song at some point, or at least she should!

Oh, and apparently, the actor who played the teenage Jimmy was reportedly 47 years old at time of production?

We open the show with newcomer Mike Nelson on the Satellite of Love, utilizing a handful of calling cards to call his Grandma back on Earth...but he only gets her answering machine...which disconnects before he can finish telling his grandmother about his plight! The invention exchange sees Dr. Forrester strapping TV's Frank into the "Frank-N-Forcer", a large bouncing harness suspended over a bed of nails designed to keep him out of trouble. Mike and the 'Bots introduce the Waiter Baiter, a large mechanical arm designed to get the attention of those busy waiters. Inspired by the short, Mike and company discuss Hollywood romances, but Tom Servo bursts into tears when Nelson mentions Burt and Loni. Mike, who is also down with what's happening with today's youth, keep Crow and Tom from rumbling by "rapping" with them. Later, Crow and Servo trick Mike into transfroming into Mikey from the film with a special contraption they set up. He didn't steal no bicycle, neither! At the end, Mike sings his rendition of "Yipe Stripes", and Frank gets sick from bouncing around too much.

Highly recommended episode.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

La Bête Humaine

La Bête Humaine [The Human Beast or Judas Was a Woman] (Criterion #324).
1938 Paris Film and Janus Films
Starring: Jean Gabin, Simone Simon, Fernand Ledoux, Blanchette Brunoy, Jacques Berlioz
Director: Jean Renoir
Currently available at Amazon.

Jean Renoir directed this 1938 adaptation of the Emile Zola novel of the same name, while taking a small acting role in the production. Renoir hadn't even read the book for over twenty years when he began working on the screenplay, and most of Simone Simon's dialogue was copied almost word-for-word from the book.

Jean Gabin is locomotive engineer Jacques Lantier, a troubled man with a history of violent incidents committed against women, which he blames on the alcoholism of his forefathers, giving him "poisoned blood". Still, Lantier feels the best when he's driving the locomotive. A faulty axle ends up sidelining Lantier and his train in the city of La Harve for a few days, where he meets and falls for the wife of his coworker Roubald (Ledoux), the beautiful Severine (Simon).

Roubald is privy to his wife's long-term affair with her wealthy godfather Grandmorin (Berlioz), so the two of them plot to murder him on a train trip. They succeed, and an innocent passenger is convicted for the crime, while Lantier, the only witness, keeps quiet. Lantier and Severine begin an affair, partially instigated by Severine to keep the only witness quiet. Pretty soon, Severine is urging Lantier to murder Roubald, but unfortunately, she is unaware of Lantier's history of attacking beautiful women who fall in love with him, and it proves fatal for her.

A beautifully shot film with some stunning footage taken aboard a speeding train. The Criterion DVD presents a decent transfer for the most part, with a few scenes showing minor damage. Recommended film.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Night of the Iguana

The Night of the Iguana.
1964 Seven Arts Productions and MGM/Turner Entertainment.
Starring: Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Sue Lyon, James Ward, Grayson Hall, Cyril Delevanti
Director: John Huston
Available from Amazon as a single DVD, or part of the Tennessee Williams Film Collection.

Richard Burton and Ava Gardner star in this low budget horror film about giant mutant iguanas terrorizing a small village in Mexico, and...

No, that's not right.

Richard Burton and Ava Gardner star in an excellent film adaptation of the 1961 play of the same title by Tennessee Williams. The film won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 1964, and Grayson Hall received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Two years after his nervous breakdown following his role in an inappropriate relationship with a "very young Sunday school teacher", the former Reverend Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon (Burton) now works for a cheap Texas tour company called Blake Tours as a tour guide. He's along for the ride as a large group of Baptist School teachers led by Miss Judith Fellowes (Hall) take a trip down to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Miss Judith's 17-year-old niece LolitaCharlotte (Lyon) attempts to seduce Shannon. After a fight with Judith, Shannon sabotages the bus and strands the group at a cheap Costa Verde Hotel in Mismaloya. This facility is run by the widow of one of Shannon's old friends named Fred, the widow Maxine Faulk (Gardner). Maxine's interests turn to Shannon from her two cabana boys.

Shannon also meets Hannah Jelkes (Kerr), a painter from Nantucket along with her elderly poet granddad Nonno (Delevanti). They're both broke, and Shannon convinces Maxine to let them stay. Still, over a long night, Charlotte continues to make advances to Shannon, and the stress of everything else in addition to that triggers another breakdown. The cabana boys tie Shannon up in a hammock, and Hannah tries to talk him down, using poppy-seed tea and blunt spiritual talk.

From there, Nonno finally finishes his last poem before dying, while Shannon and Maxine reconcile and decide to run the hotel together.

Highly recommended movie.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Ikiru [To Live] (Criterion #221).
1952 Toho Studios and Janus Films.
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Shinichi Himori, Haruo Tanaka, Minoru Chiaki, Bokuzen Hidari, Kamatari Fujiwara
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Ikiru is available from Amazon in the following links:
Criterion two-disc edition.
Single disc of Janus Films' Essential Art House line.
As part of the Essential Art House, Volume 2 set.
Part of Criterion's box set AK 100: 25 Films of Akira Kurosawa for only $318.49 as of this writing.
Part of the Janus Films box set Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films for the low price of $772.49.

Roger Ebert's personal favorite Kurosawa film. Yes, he liked it even more than Seven Samurai.

Takashi Shimura is Kanji Watanabe, an employee for the government. He's worked in the same position for thirty years, and he is also a widower. His son and daughter-in-law live with him, but they are no more than roommates; the young couple are more interested in Kanji's pension, and their future inheritance. Kanji's coworkers are really no more than strangers to him.

Watanabe is diagnosed with stomach cancer and given less than a year to live. After deciding not to inform his son about his bad news, Kanji decides to go out and drink himself to death instead, but gives up after one night when he realizes it's not the answer. Still, he asks a piano player to perform "Gondola no Uta" in a pivotal scene.

The next day, Watanabe runs into one of his former coworkers, Kimura (Himori), and is attracted to her outgoing nature and love of life. Kanji confesses to her that he wants just one day to live like she does: totally carefree. Kimura's new gig is making toys, which makes her feel like she's playing with all of the children in Japan. Inspired, Kanji dedicates himself to leaving behind a positive legacy, and works tirelessly to help transform a cesspool (a community eyesore which numerous residents complain about in the opening of the film) into a playground for children.

At Kanji's wake, his former coworkers question why he changed so much in the last months of his life, and slowly realize that he must have known his time was limited. Over the course of many drinks, Kanji's surviving coworkers vow to live the same way he did, with the same dedication and passion. Back in the office, though, they find themselves unable to follow through on their new vow.

Highly recommended film.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Big Jim McLain

Big Jim McLain. 1952 Warner Bros. Pictures.
Starring: John Wayne, James Arness, Nancy Olson, Alan Napier, Veda Ann Borg
Director: Edward Ludwig
Available at Amazon as a single DVD, or one-sixth of the John Wayne Film Collection.

Big Jim McLain was released to DVD in 2007 as part of the Warner Bros. box set The John Wayne Film Collection, which were six of John Wayne's lesser movies, and in some cases, vehicles for another actor with Wayne added to the picture to lure more people to the theaters. Also, in some European markets, the movie was retitled as Marijuana, and the original plot of HUAC investigators looking for communists in Hawaii was changed to Wayne and James Arness tracking down drug dealers. I think a version of Marijuana would've been an ideal extra for the Big Jim McLain DVD. Instead, we're getting a Joe McDoakes comedy short, and a Daffy Duck cartoon called The Super Snooper.

John Wayne is the title character, traveling to the Hawaiian Islands with his fellow HUAC agent Mal Baxter (Arness) to look for Communist Party activity. The HUAC in this film has no problem with going into private homes without a search warrant, wiretapping illegally, and occasionally, beating up a suspect. There isn't too much thrilling action, apart from McLain triggering a brawl at the end of the movie, just a lot of scenes of walking around and narrated sequences to advance the plot along.

By the way, at the time of the film's production, being a member of the Communist Party was not illegal in the United States.

Big Jim McLain is not the best John Wayne movie, and many people feel it's a lousy film in general. Personally, I felt it was an enjoyable, if slight film, not to be taken too seriously. Recommended unintentional comedy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Port of Shadows

Port of Shadows [Les Quai des Brumes] (Criterion #245).
1938 Osso Films, Janus Films and StudioCanal.
Starring: Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Michèle Morgan, Pierre Brasseur, Edouard Delmont
Director: Marcel Carné listing (only a few copies left).

An example of French "poetic realism", where characters often had a negative view of life and were either working class stiffs or criminals. Usually, these people got a last chance of love, but something would always go wrong, and the film would end in either disillusionment or death. Think of it as a nostaglic bitterness. Port of Shadows is a fine example of this genre, and it's a story of a man and his dog.

Jean (Gabin) drifts into a French port city called Le Havre, having deserted the army and seeking to escape France completely. He falls in with a loose knit group of misfits and outcasts who largely congregate at Panama's (Delmont) bar, just to hear Panama's stories about traveling the world. Among the group is Nelly (Morgan), a beautiful woman, and her godfather Zabel (Simon). Zabel is being stalked by a small-time hood named Lucien (Brasseur) because the gangster believes Zabel knows something about another crook named Maurice Brevin. Jean also has a dog following him throughout the film, who he saved at the beginning from being hit by a truck.

Jean acquires a fake passport, intending to leave for Venezuela, but he also falls in love with Nelly. In addition to that obstacle, Jean later finds himself at odds with Lucien!

Port of Shadows came out in 1938, just months before World War II erupted on the European continent. Surprisingly, even if the main character had deserted the military, there is no hint through the film of the imminent bloody conflict. Director Carné also had some problems producing the film, as the studio, Germany's UFA, had fallen under control of the Third Reich's propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, who had already driven off the other major German directors and talents, including Fritz Lang. In the booklet that comes with the Criterion disc, an excerpt from Carné's autobiography goes into detail about finding a reasonable producer for the film, and how the French largely disliked the movie, since it wasn't an upbeat one, and it was linked to a Nazi-run film studio.

Recommended film.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Getting Straight

Getting Straight. 1970 Columbia Pictures.
Starring: Elliott Gould, Candice Bergen, Robert F. Lyons, Jeff Corey, Max Julien, Gregory Sierra, Harrison Ford
Director: Richard Rush
Available from Amazon.

Another entry from Sony's Martini Movies line.

Harry Bailey (Gould) is a returning college student, having already served in Vietnam, and in dogged pursuit of his Master's Degree. His goal is to become a teacher. Even if Harry is a few years older than his peers, he is still caught in the middle between the "establishment" and the youth culture preaching revolution and demanding change. As such, many of the younger rebellious students will often defer to Harry for his take on whatever hot button issue that's bugging them at the moment. Harry will often dismiss any radical idea as unrealistic, even though deep down, he identifies much more with the youth culture than the older generation he's also trying to appeal to with his teaching ambitions. Harry's girlfriend Jan (Bergen) is also caught up in a similar trap: she is eager to join in on any campus protests, but she also has no issue with "selling out" and resigning herself to a conventional life in the suburbs.

In the meantime, Harry begins teaching an English course at the recommendation of one of his professors, Dr. Wilhunt (Corey), while trying to scheme with a stoner friend Nick (Lyons) so he doesn't get drafted and sent to Vietnam. Towards the end of the movie, Nick finally cracks up under the pressure and "goes straight". i.e., trying to sabotage the activities of his counterculture friends while claiming he's doing the right thing now.

Harry knows that he cannot play both sides of the fence for long, and he will have to pick a side: the establishment, or the campus rebels, and it takes a riot on campus to prompt this decision once and for all. Will Harry finally get "straight"?

Getting Straight doesn't really have a definitive message: it goes back and forth between sympathizing with the youth culture and the older generation, but it's still an entertaining film. Recommended.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another Thin Man

Another Thin Man.
1939 MGM/Turner Entertainment.
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Virginia Grey, Otto Kruger, C. Aubrey Smith, Nat Pendleton, Patric Knowles, Sheldon Leonard, Shemp Howard (uncredited)
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Part of the Complete Thin Man Collection, available at Amazon.

Nick and Nora Charles (Powell, Loy) return, and this time, the eight month old baby Nicky Junior is along for the ride. Oh, and we can't neglect to mention Asta.

A Long Island munitions manufacturer Colonel MacFay (Smith) invites the Charles family to his Long Island spread for a weekend. The Colonel is convinced that an old business associate Phil Church (Leonard) is seeking to kill him. MacFay does turn up murdered, and Church is the obvious suspect, but Nick Charles is skeptical. Our good Colonel has had several relatives and acquaintances that may have an interest in MacFay's demise. Nick Charles, with help from Nora and his many reformed underworld buddies like Dum-Dum and Creeps, is on the case, trusty drink in hand, and the murderer may be someone no one would ever expect.

Another Thin Man is a delightful adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's "The Farewell Murder", and probably the funniest of The Thin Man series so far. Recommended movie.

Monday, July 4, 2011

3 Women

3 Women (Criterion #230).
1977 20th Century Fox.
Starring: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier, Ruth Nelson, John Cromwell, Sierra Pecheur, Craig Richard Nelson
Director: Robert Altman
Buy 3 Women from Amazon. Blu-ray edition hits stores on September 30th.

Robert Altman once had a dream which he did not completely understand, but he still adapted it into a film treatment with the intent of not using an actual script. 20th Century Fox greenlit the idea regardless.

Out in the California desert, newcomer Pinky Rose (Spacek) gets a job at a senior care center as a therapist. Another employee, Millie (Duvall), is told to help train Pinky. Millie fancies herself a social butterfly, and seems oblivious to the fact that everyone who knows her is making fun of her. Pinky sees Millie differently, and eventually they become roommates at an apartment complex co-owned by the third woman in our story, Willie (Rule). Willie is pregnant and married to a man named Edgar (Fortier). She also constantly paints elaborate and surreal murals with violent and sexual imagery at the apartment complex (including one at the bottom of the complex's swimming pool) and the bar that she and Edgar run. Edgar also sees nothing wrong with cheating on his pregnant wife; he sleeps with both Millie and Pinky behind Willie's back.

Pinky admires Millie enough that she seems to be attempting to become Millie, even reading aloud passages from Millie's diary. In return, Millie treats Pinky horribly, attacking her for the most mundane social faux pas. After an argument one night, Pinky leaves the apartment and takes a spill from a balcony into the swimming pool. Pinky is comatose for a time, and Millie brings in Pinky's parents from Texas.

Just after Pinky emerges from her coma, she becomes a completely new woman: the outgoing, aggressive and confident woman that Millie so desperately tries to portray in public. Millie, meanwhile, finds herself turning into what Pinky used to be prior to her accident; meek, passive, awkward. Later, Edgar abandons Willie, and both Pinky and Millie find themselves trying to deliver her baby themselves...with tragic consequences. The ordeal of Willie's child being stillborn further transforms all three women into what seems to be a very odd and curious situation: the three women now live together, Pinky refers to Millie as her "mother", and talks to Willie just like a sister. Edgar's fate is unclear, though.

Highly recommended film, although it does take a while to really get going. It's worth the wait, though, with excellent performances from Duvall and Spacek.