Sunday, June 24, 2007

turner switcheroo

Attention, fans of Turner Classic's current "Screened Out: Gay Images in Hollywood." Take note of the following 11th-hour scheduling changes, which mixes and mingles titles originally scheduled for Monday and Wednesday screening.

Monday's agenda starts as planned at 8 p.m. (est) with Vincente Minnelli's film version of Robert Anderson's "Tea and Sympathy." It is now followed by William Wyler's production of Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour," Stanley Donen's "Staircase," Billy Friedkin's "The Boys in the Band" and, finally, Basil Dearsen's "Victim."

Now planned for Wednesday showings are Otto Preminger's "Advise and Consent," starting at 8 p.m. (est), followed by Edward Dmytryk's steamy "A Walk on the Wild Side," Mark Rydell's "The Fox" and Robert Aldrich's rarely screened "The Killing of Sister George."

The remainder of Turner's schedule for the month remains the same.

(Artwork: Poster art for "The Killing of Sister George")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart"

Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart" - based on Mariane Pearl's book about the brutal death of her journalist-husband Daniel and her willful ability to cope with this loss - is a smart, tough film, as one would expect from any politically-driven movie from this uncompromising director. And as Mariane, Angelina Jolie impressively abandons herself in a committed, vanity-free performance.

But there's a hole at the center of this otherwise convicing polemic: Daniel Pearl himself is virtually missing and, by extention, so is the connection that would pull in an audience. While the talented Dan Futterman is well-cast as Pearl and effective in his few brief, fleeting scenes, there simply isn't enough of him.

This is a crucial flaw that reviews have inexplicably overlooked.

His Daniel Pearl is a ghost even at the beginning of the movie, a conceit which could have been intentional on Winterbottom's part. Nevertheless, it seriously constrains his film. "A Mighty Heart" is in desperate need of more exposition wherein we'd get to know Pearl and what drives him and, consequently, feel some empathy for him before he is abducted and beheaded.

Without these early scenes, we're left with an impassioned, tightly-coiled film that somehow leaves one cold.

(Artwork: Angelina Jolie and Dan Futterman as Mariane and Daniel Pearl in Paramount Vantage's "A Mighty Heart")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Friday, June 08, 2007

façade: Ida, artist & pioneering feminist

Ida Lupino, who starred with Humphrey Bogart in "High Sierra" and went on to become one of Hollywood's first woman directors, is being honored all this month on
Turner Classics,
which will air her groundbreaking directorial efforts, in addition to films showcasing her various starring roles. Today, we pay our own tribute to her. For another opinion of her wonderufl work, check out critic Carrie Rickey's astute piece which ran in tandem with her profile of Turner's current gay-film festival in the June 7th edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

When it came to starring roles, Ida Lupino was always third in line. But if she generally lived in the shadow of Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins, getting the roles that those two tossed aside, that's because Lupino was a genuinely chameleonic presence in movies, her "look" shifting from film to film, sometimes from scene to scene.

Lupino often referred to herself as the "poor man's Bette Davis," an observation she made without the intention of degrading either herself or Davis: She loved Bette Davis - and for that matter, Hopkins, who at the time was quite celebrated, but whose star unjustly diminished as time went on.
But the fact is, Lupino was better than either one - less of a live-wire than Hopkins; less skittish and more realistic, and less of a caricature than Davis. Ida Lupino was Bette Davis without that intimidating jawline and imperious tone - and without the ego. But she had the same edge, a wary, caged quality, as well as a sensual, sad-eyed yearning and soulfulness that made her one of the more inviting heroines of cinema's golden age, the 1930s and '40s.

Lupino had a delicacy that her peers lacked, and she complemented this quality with the sparest of physical gestures.

She was also something of a contradiction: She had a distinctive throaty voice that suited her to roles as hardened, ambitious women; and yet she also had a lithe, slender figure, porcelain skin and huge, gumdrop eyes that made her perfect for the movies' symbolic "good girl."

Lupino played both, sometimes within the context of the same movie, actively representing a break from Hollywood's notions of what women on screen should be(i.e., either whores or madonnas). If Davis was responsible for creating a new screen type – the neurotic, threatened modern woman - Lupino should be credited for refining it, bringing a little shading, nuance and subtlety to it.

If she wasn't given her due, if she didn't quite make it to the star level of Davis, it's because Ida Lupino didn't have the kind of star temperament that called attention to whatever she did. She simply did it.

Her failure to grandstand certainly affected her acting career, which was relatively unrewarding for her even when, finally, the good roles in the good films started to come her way. Lupino had struggled through a series of colorless roles in B movies, graduated to A films - becoming the queen of film noir and an established star - and then abandoned it for behind-the-scenes work: She became the only woman director of the postwar period.

She was only 15 when she made her film debut - in Alan Dwan's "Her First Affair" of 1933 - and that was accidental. Lupino got the role for which her mother, British actress Connie Emerald, had auditioned. Lupino, who was born in London on Feb. 4, 1918, was the daughter of Emerald and revue-and-film comedian Stanley Lupino.

After she landed the "First Affair" role, Lupino was imported to America by Paramount to play the title role in its all-star "Alice in Wonderland" feature.

Once she arrived in Hollywood, however, Lupino was deemed "too sophisticated" for the role (it went to Charlotte Henry) and spent her first seven years there giving unusually strong performances in some minor movies, before landing her breakthrough role in William Wellman's "The Light That Failed" (1940), in which she played a cockney and stole the film from Ronald Coleman.

In 1943, after playing a succession of roles with quiet power in Raoul Walsh's "They Drive by Night" (1940) and "High Sierra" (1941) and Charles Vidor's Gothic "Ladies in Retirement" (also '41), she landed her first "star vehicle," Vincent Sherman's "The Hard Way," winning the best actress award that year from the New York Film Critics Circle.

Lupino worked regularly with the industry's noir-obsessed mavericks before applying what she learned from them on her own moody films.

There were some sparkling comedies, too - such as Sherman's delightful home-front fable, "Pillow to Post" (1945) - but it was her work in the darker films which enriched the industry, starting with "Never Fear" in 1950, the first film that she made for a small company, The Filmmakers, that Lupino had formed in 1948 with her then-husband, Collier Young.

The Filmmakers specialized in low-budget, "social issue" movies and those by Lupino often dealt with women's issues, although the film that is considered her finest as a director, "The Hitch-Hiker" (1953), has no women in it at all.
In "Never Fear," Lupino directed her favorite actress, Sally Forrest, in a standard tale about a dancer who contracts polio. What sets it apart is the way Lupino directed Forrest, giving her character motivations that are curiously skewed (if not downright screwy). "The Bigamist" (1953), meanwhile, is a feminist film on divorce, shrewdly told from the man's point of view, with Lupino curiously casting herself as the "other woman." (Joan Fontaine plays the wife; Edmund O'Brien, the straying husband.)

In the '50s, Lupino did extensive work on TV, which included acting in a TV series with her third husband, the late Howard Duff, titled "Mr. Adams and Eve." She directed Roz Russell in the adorable girls' school comedy, "The Trouble With Angels" (1966), and in 1972, made a memorable return to films in Sam Peckinpah's "Junior Bonner," playing the same kind of woman, only older now, that she played so well 30 years before.

The movies discovered Ida Lupino too late - and in more ways than one. Those good roles should have come sooner and they should have made her a brighter star than she was. But she was better than a star. She was an artist and a professional. She was also a no-nonsense feminist before either Hollywood or the world knew what that really was.

(Artwork: The many faces of the great Ida Lupino - being honored this month on Turner Classics - including a shot of her with Robert Preston in one of last film roles in Sam Peckinpah's "Junior Bonner" in 1972)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Thursday, June 07, 2007

cinema obscura: Richard Quine's "Full of Life" (1956)

VCR alert: Turner Classics finally unearths Judy Holliday's difficult-to-see "Full of Life" on June 21.

"Full of Life" is arguably the most obscure of the six low-budget, black-&-white comedies that Holliday made for Columbia during the early-to-mid 50s, following her Oscar win for George Cukor's "Born Yesterday" (1950). It was also one of two films that Holliday made with director Richard Quine in 1956, the other being "The Solid Gold Cadillac." At that point, Columbia dropped her. Holliday's next, and last, film would come four years later in 1960 - Vincente Minnelli's screen version of her Broadway hit, "Bells Are Ringing." At last, we saw Judy Holliday in color.

"Full of Life," although nominaly based on a novel by John Fante (who adapted his book for the occasion), has the contours of an "I Love Lucy" episode, with Holliday as a less madcap Lucy Ricardo married to a very ethnic (read: Italian) man, played by Richard Conte. Holliday is "with child" throughout most of the film, but unlike "I Love Lucy," the script gave her permission to use the word "pregnant."

Salvator Baccaloni, who often went by only Baccaloni, was well into his middle-age (56) when he made his film debut here (he's "introduced" in the main credits) as Holliday's interferring father-in-law, an annoying character which the script inexplicably likes and supports. I always found his character here unbearable.

Baccaloni went on to appear in "Merry Andrew," "Fanny" and "The Pigeon That Took Rome" before giving up screen acting altogether.

For what it's worth, I always found "Full of Life" faintly depressing, the bubbly Judy Holliday notwithstanding. Even she's fairly muted here.

The film seems to be striving for the gnawing melancholy that Minnelli achieved so easily with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in "The Long, Long Trailer." These two titles, in fact, would make an interesting double-bill.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Cover art for Panther Paperback tie-in to Quine's "Full of Life")

cinema obscura Triple-Header: "Neverwas" (2005) , "The Big White" (2005) & "Lonely Hearts" (2006)

Straight to video.

Straight to cable.

Straight to hell.

Straight to nowhere.

So was the shared fate to two star-heavy flicks that caught my attention - belatedly - this week.

2005's "The Big White," directed by someone named Mark Mylod, stars Robin Williams, Holly Hunter, Woody Harrelson, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Blake Nelson and Alison Lohman. It plays on The Movie Channel (TMC) on July 14 and 22. Is that a premiere?

Meanwhile, Joshua Michael Stern's "Neverwas," also from 2005, is toplined by Aaron Eckhart, Ian McKellen, Jessica Lange, Nick Nolte, William Hurt, Michael Moriarty, Brittany Murphy, Vera Farmiga, Alan Cumming and Cynthia Stevenson. It's new on DVD.

I won't burden you with a synopsis for either film because, with those lists of players, who cares?

One more question: Exactly how bad could these two be not to have been released?

Same goes for "Lonley Hearts," with stars John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Salma Hayek, Jaret Leto and Laura Dern, and which played only two markets - New York and Los Angeles - before going straight to hell, er, DVD.

For the record, it's a remake of Leonard Kastle's cult fave, "The Honeymoon Killers."

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Poster art for "The Big White," "Neverwas" and "Lonely Hearts")

Friday, June 01, 2007

turner this month - bravo!

Note: This is a regular monthly feature, highlighting, well, the highlights on Turner Classics' schedule. Why? Simple. Because Turner Classics remains a veritible college education in film. Say no more.

June is an unusually satisfying month for Turner Classics, with the premiere cable channel (1) paying tribute to the singular Ida Lupino as both actress and director, (2) devoting a good part of its schedule to the impressive/exhaustive "Screened Out: Gay Images in Film" (including the subgenre of prison flicks) and (3) building a series around James Sanders' exquisite picture book, "Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies." And that doesn't include its usual line-up of classics ("North by Northwest," "Cape Fear," "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Lord Jim" and "The Big Knife"), plus premieres and difficult-to-see titles.

Here are a few assorted titles scheduled this month that I highly recommend (check your local starting times):

June 4 – A Kim Novak double-bill: Richard Quine’s “Bell, Book and Candle,” not officially part of Turner’s gay series but note playwright John Van Druten's shrewd witches-as-gays-and-lesbians subtext here, and George Sidney’s “Pal Joey” – or, better known as “An Evening with Frank Sinatra." Rita Hayworth is on hand, too. A Bonus: "Thunder Road"! With Mitchum! Keely Smith sings! Watch it!

June 5 – Paul Wendkos’ “Gidget,” with the irresistible Sandra Dee in her signature role, and “Out of the Fog,” with Anatol Litvak directing Lupino.

June 7 – “Bells Are Ringing,” in which director Vincente Minnelli, seemingly cognizant of changing times, serious redefines the film musical into something lighter, less insistent and virtually dance-free. Note in particular the revolutionary way in which Minnelli staged "I Met a Girl" and what's left of "Mu-Cha-Cha." Also, check out Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in "At War with the Army," a title that has reportedly fallen into public domain, and in "Living It Up," in which Jerry does a scene-stopping jitterbug with Sheree North (in a repeat of her performance from the Broadway musical, "Hazel Flagg," on which "Living It Up" was based).

June 11 – “Caged,” John Cromwell (James’ father) directs Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead and Hope Emerson in a juicy women-behind-bars saga.

June 12 - The "Men and Women Behind Bars” series continues with “So Young, So Bad,” “The Strange One” and “Women’s Prison.” Also check out “Gangster Story” (Walter Matthau’s only directorial effort), Billy Wilder’s “Ace in a Hole” and Franklin J. Schaffner’s film of the Gore Vidal political play, “The Best Man.”

June 14 – “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” John Huston’s take on the Carson McCullers tale set on a military base where perversity reigns, with Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor chewing the scenery, and John Gage’s “The Velvet Touch,“ with Rosalind Russell as an actress who unintentionally murders her husband and Claire Trevor as her rival, who is blamed for the crime.

June 16 – “Celluloid Skyline”: “Moonstruck,” Norman Jewison’s valentine to New York and its eccentric denizens.

June 17 – Celebrate Father’s Day with Gilbert Cates’ excellent (and topical) “I Never Sang for My Father” and Vincente Minnelli’s charming “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” among other titles. Gene Hackman and Glenn Ford excel, respectively.

June 21 – A Jane Russell double-bill: Norman Taurog’s entertainingly trashy “The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown” and “His Kind of Woman,” with Russell’s male counterpart, Robert Mitchum. John Farrow (Mia’s father) directed. Also, a Judy Holliday double-bill: George Cukor’s “The Marrying Kind” and Richard Quine’s “Full of Life.”

June 22 – H.C. Potter’s “Three for the Show,” a saucy musical starring Betty Grable as an unwitting, gleeful bigamist (one of the reasons the film was condemned by the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency), plus Otto Preminger’s “Angel Face,” with Mitchum and a very evil Jean Simmons, and a Lee Remick double-bill of Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder” and Arthur Hiller’s “The Wheeler Dealers”

June 25 – “Screened Out”: Minnelli’s “Tea and Sympathy” and Preminger’s “Advise and Consent” (featuring the scariest gay-bar scene ever).

June 26 – “Screened Out”: William Wyler’s “The Children’s Hour,” with outstanding performances by Shirley MacLaine, Miriam Hopkins and especially Fay Bainter, and Edward Dmytryk’s “A Walk on the Wild Side” with the knockout cast of Jane Fonda, Capucine, Anne Baxter, Joanna Moore (Tatum O’Neal’s mom) and Barbara Stanwyck. Plus, a trio of minor classics directed by Ida Lupino – “The Bigamist” “Outrage” and “The Hitch-Hiker”

June 27 – Two more fine Lupino-directed movies, “Hard, Fast and Beautiful” and “The Lady and the Mob,” plus the enchanting Vincent Sherman homefront comedy, “Pillow to Post” with Lupino and William Prince (channeling Henry Fonda here). Also, set the VCR to tape these three now-obscure “Screened Out” entries: Stanley Donen’s “Staircase” with Rex Harrison and Richard Burton, Mark Rydell’s once-shocking “The Fox” and Billy Friedkin’s film of the Mart Crowley trailblazing play, “The Boys in the Band.”

June 28 – “Screened Out”: Beryl Reid, Coral Browne and Susannah York, all riveting in Robert Aldrich’s must-see “The Killing of Sister George.” Also: A repeat of Martin-&-Lewis' "At War with the Army."

Have fun!

(Artwork: Hayworth, Sinatra and Novak brighten Rodgers and Hart's "Pal Joey." Jerry and Sheree do a mean jitterbug in "Living It Up." Celebrate Father's Day with Glenn Ford in Minnelli's "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." Also poster art for Minnelli's "Bells Are Ringing," Preminger's "Angel Face" and Cukor's "The Marrying Kind")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Au Revoir, Jean-Claude, 1933-2007

The death of the wonderful French actor, Jean-Claude Brialy, at age 74 on Wednesday in Paris is yet another reminder of how we're losing a little bit of the French film community every day.

It's been said that American stars aren't what they used to be - that, as Davis, Hepburn, Bogart, Fonda and Brando have passed on, there is no one who has truly replaced them. This sense of urgency and panic is even more acute in France.

I became aware of it when Jean Gabin died. That was the end of a great era in French filmmaking, I thought. Matters got more desperate when Yves Montand and Simone Signoret passed, but I was comforted by the fact that we still had relative newcomers Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve.

While someone like Patrick Deware died young, there was Isabelle Huppert, his contemporary, who has prevailed.

But each year, I become aware that few new French stars have emerged and when someone as valuable as Brialy passes, there's the feeling that something important is being lost. Depardieu and Deneuve are still active, Jeanne Moreau pops up occasionally, but Jean-Louis Trintignat hasn't sparkled in years.

And where is the unique and indispensible Bernadette Lafont? Michel Piccoli? I miss you, Delphine Seyrig! R.I.P.

No, the New Wave isn't new anymore. It isn't even old.

It doesn't even exist.

But, for now, let's reflect on its greatness, and Jean-Claude Brialy's place in it.

I suggest you rent Eric Rohmer's irresistible "Le genou de Claire" ("Claire's Knee"), Brialy's greatest triumph, and mourn what we have just lost.

(Artwork: Sincerely, Jean-Claude; Brialy as a bright, promising young actor; poster art for "Claire's Knee"/"Le genou de Claire")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com