Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Widmark, 1914-2008















Richard Widmark, like Robert Mitchum and Glenn Ford before him, was perennially neglected by the enervating Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences during his lifetime. Each year during its tedious giveaway show, the Academy predictably turns its back on some of its most invaluable home-grown, back-lot icons, such as Widmark, Mitchum, Ford and the wonderful Ida Lupino.

After producing trash for 10 months out of the year, the movie industry suddenly becomes self-conscious, self-important and more than a little snobbish at awards time. Richard Widmark? No, it instead chooses to honor someone invariably from Great Britain (Peter O'Toole, anybody?) with one of its special awards - or a filmmaker whose overall contribution to the art was relatively limited (an undeserving Elia Kazan, who happened to direct Widmark in "Panic in the Streets").

Now, it's too late. For Widmark, at least. (Memo to the Academy: It's still not too late to honor Doris Day. Or how about Jerry Lewis?)

Oh, well... Moving on, American Movie Classics has telecast one of Widmark's last great films (and great performances) several times recently. Stuart Millar's modern Western, "When the Legends Die" (1972), has been penciled in again by AMC for 6 a.m. (est) on Saturday, April 12th. Millar's fine, autumnal film introduced Frederic Forrest to the screen, but it's Widmark who totally holds each frame.

Also, Turner Classics Movies will show Edward Dmytryk's "Alvarez Kelly" (1966) at 2 p.m. (est) this coming Saturday, March 29th. The Western teamed Widmark with William Holden and co-stars Janice Rule, Patrick O'Neal and Victoria Shaw. And on Friday night, April 4th, Turner will air a Widmark triple feature: “Alvarez Kelly,” “Take the High Ground” and “The Tunnel of Love.”

Can't wait.

Note in Passing: For first-rate appreciations of Richard Widmark, the man and the actor, check out Aljean Harmetz's and Dave Kehr's two terrific pieces in the New York Times. You might also want to peruse the comments about Widmark on Dave's blog, Reports from the Lost Continent of Cinéphilia.

(Artwork: The many sides of Richard Widmark, a true classic)

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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

Sunday, March 23, 2008

cinema obscura: Joseph Sargent's "The Man" (1972)


Boasting a screenplay written by Rod Serling (from the Irving Wallace novel), Joseph Sargent's 1972 "The Man" hasn't been seen in years, kept under wraps by its distributor, Paramount Pictures.

However, given its subject matter and given the interest and excitement surrounding one of the current Presidental candidates, it might be worth Paramount's time and effort to unearth Sargent's film and finally give it a DVD release. In it, James Earl Jones plays the first black man to serve as President of the United States.

Three decades ago, this country was at a place when it would have been impossible for a black man to run as a candidate. In "The Man," Jones' Douglas Dilman is a senator who inherits the top spot, following the rather convenient deaths of the standing President, Vice President and Speaker of the House - one of whom dies of natural causes, while the other two perish in a ghastly accident. Dilman is well aware of the precarious position he's in, knowing full well that neither he nor any other black man would be electable. Serling's script, while probably somewhat dated now, fully investigates the elusive notion of racial progress.

The supporting roles include Lew Ayres as the aged Vice President and that wonderful character actor William Windom as a bigoted politician, plus Martin Balsam, Burgess Meredith, Barbara Rush, Patric Knowles and three of the more prominent young black performers of the era, Georg Sanford Brown, Robert DoQui and Janet MacLachlan (as Jones's daughter).

"The Man," whatever flaws or age lines it might have, should mesh perfectly with what has become the age of Obama. At the very least, it provides a preview of a world not dominated by a white man. And personally - and politically - speaking, I'm frankly sick of white men.

And I say that as a white man.

Release "The Man" on DVD already!

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 Joseph Sargent's "The Man," with a script by Rod Serling; and James Earl Jones, its star)

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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

cinema obscura: Joseph Pevney's "Cash McCall" (1960)


There's little that fascinates me more than a lost early film starring two major screen presences.

A case in point: Joseph Pevney's "Cash McCall," a 1960 title that paired Natalie Wood and James Garner, both active in the Warner Bros. stable and clearly honoring their respective contracts here.

Garner was fresh from television, having made a major impact as "Maverick" and moved into films with two military films, William A. Wellman's "Darby's Rangers" (1958) and Gordon Douglas's "Up Peiscope" (1959). He also supported Marlon Brando to good effect in Joshua Logan's "Sayonara" (1957).

Wood, of course, had starred as a teen in two studio classics, "The Searchers" and "Rebel Without a Cause," and would move on to iconic turns in "Splendor in the Grass" (1961), "Gypsy" (1962) and "Inside Daisy Clover" (1965), all for Warners.

There's no argument that "Cash McCall" is a decidedly minor, but undeniably engaging film about big business and romance. Based on Cameron Hawley's book, the movie casts Garner in the title role of a ruthless businessman whose lovelorn crush on his partner's enticing young daughter, played by Wood, could lead to his financial undoing.

In a way, this work is a distant cousin to the two business-oriented Universal romances, "Pillow Talk" (1959) and "Lover Come Back" (1961), that Doris Day would make with Rock Hudson - a trend that, for some bizarre reason, Warners failed to capitalize on.

The ace supporting cast, incidentally, includes the wonderful Nina Foch, the uniquitous Dean Jagger, E.G. Marshall, Henry Jones, Otto Kruger, Edward Platt, Roland Winter, Linda Watkins and Parley Baer.

Director Pevney was largely a TV hand, but he did some likable work in such varied films as Martin and Lewis' "3 Ring Circus" (1954), "Tammy and the Bachelor" and the James Cagney biopic about Lon Chaney, "The Man of a Thousand Faces" (both 1957) and "Twlight of the Gods" (1958).

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

(Artwork: Garner and Wood fulfill their Warner contracts in "Cash McCall")

missed opportunity: Jack Lemmon's "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking"


Jack Lemmon was one of those actors who tried his hand at directing - "Kotch" in 1971, starring his buddy Walter Matthau - and seemingly stopped there. Seemingly.

In the early 1980s, Lemmon was once on board to direct a film version of John Ford Noonan's off-Broadway hit, "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking," for producer Burt Sugarman (who would go on to produce the film of another play, Mark Medoff's "Children of a Lesser God," in 1986).

The film, adapted for the screen first by Noonan himself and then by Wendy Wasserstein, was to star Jill Clayburgh and Susan Sarandon, the latter having appeared in the piece on stage opposite Eileen Brennan.

20th Century-Fox went so far as to design pre-production ads for the film, but the project never came together.

(Artwork: Pre-production ad from a Variety pullout, circa 1981, for the shelved "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking" film)

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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, March 07, 2008

cinema obscura: Two with Tony Curtis


I admit it. I miss the comedies of the '60s. They were breezy and stress-free and there was nothing mean-spirited about them. Yes, times have changed. Either that, or I've become way too old.

The average modern film comedy leaves one feeling battered and worn out, even the so-called "chick flicks" and romantic comedies. Face it, the romantic comedy died in that Rob Reiner-concocted scene in which Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in a deli/restaurant.

Today, there is no more exposition - nothing is set up as modern comedies come barreling at us with veritable cattle prods in hand, zapping us every five seconds or so with dubious double-entendrés and CG-enhanced pratfalls.

The problem with all of this? Most of the time, it simply isn't funny - just strained.

Which brings me to two minor gems from the 1960s, both starring the ever-underrated Tony Curtis.

1964's "Wild and Wonderful," directed by Michael Anderson ("Around the World in 80 Days," "All the Fine Young Cannibals"), is a nifty take on the eternal triangle. Only in this case, it's a dog - a handsome white French poodle - that comes between a man and a woman.

Monsieur Cognac is a national celebrity in France, the star of his own TV show, as well as films, and he's completely in love with his owner Giselle Ponchon (Christine Kaufmann, Curtis's wife at the time), obsessively so. Giselle has an acting career of her own, but Cognac always comes first.

One day, Cognac disappears and goes on a bender. He meets Terry Williams (Curtis), an American musican performing in Paris, and in one of the film's more hilarious scenes, Terry and Cognac indulge in a drinking spree. True to his name, Cognac loves alcohol. When Giselle tracks down her dog and meets Terry, she falls madly in love - much to Cognac's chagrin. The rest of the film is aout how a disapproving Cognac sets up roadblocks for Terry and Giselle, feigning illness and even abuse (supposedly at the hand of Terry) and generally acting out.

"Wild and Wonderful" is effortless fun. George Clooney should do a remake (with Marion Cotillard, perhaps?). And Universal should release it on DVD already.

A year earlier, in 1963, Curtis made an affable Universal comedy for a first-time director named Norman Jewison - "40 Pounds of Trouble" - about a casino manager who gets stuck with an orphan as a marker.

Sound familiar? Jewison's debut film is, of course, based on the famous Damon Runyon story, "Little Miss Marker," which has inspired at least three other film versions - Alexander Hall's "Little Miss Marker" (1934) with Adolphe Menjou and Shirley Temple; Sidney Lanfield's "Sorrowful Jones" (1949) with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, and Walter Bernstein's "Little Miss Marker" (1980) with Walter Matthau, Julie Andrews and, again, Tony Curtis.

In Jewison's version, Curtis plays Steve McCluskey who manages a Lake Tahoe casino for Bernie Friedman (Phil Silvers). He's trying to juggle his job with his attempts to evade the private eyes hired by his ex-wife to collect past alimony.

Complicating matters are (1) Bernie's niece, Chris Lockwood (Suzanne Pleshette), who arrives to sing at the casino and who Steve thinks is actually Bernie's mistress, and (2) a 6-year-old named Penny Piper (Claire Wilcox), who has been abanonded by her father who owed the casino money. When Penny's dad ends up dead, she ends up with Steve.

It all culminates in an antic chase through Disneyland, with Steve trying to evade his assorted pursuers, using Chris and Penny to pose as the perfect family. Pure pleasure.

The exceptional supporting cast includes such pros as Silvers, Kevin McCarthy, Howard Morris and Edward Andrews. Better yet, Pleshette matches up well with Curtis - they make a hugely attractive couple - and gets to sing in a few scenes.

Jewison followed "40 Pounds of Trouble" with Doris Day's "The Thrill of It All," made the same year and directed from a great script by Carl Reiner. A year later, in '64, Day recruited Jewison to direct her and Rock Hudson in the best of their three comedies together, "Send Me No Flowers," based on the Norman Barasch-Carroll Moore Play.

Next came "The Cincinnati Kid" and "The Art of Love" (both 1965), "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" (1966) and then Jewison's Oscar winner, "In the Heat of the Night" (1967).

A nice, steady rise.

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

(Artwork: Tony Curtis eavesdrops as Christine Kaufmann converses with Monsieur Cognac in Michael Anderson's "Wild and Wonderful"; Curtis himself has a word with Cognac; the poster art for Norman Jewison's "40 Pounds of Trouble", and Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette in a scene from the film)

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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

Tom McCarthy's Encore


Tom McCarthy is back. Not that he's ever really been away.

McCarthy, whose first film "The Station Agent" (2003) was one of the more humane - and irresistibly odd - film comedies in recent years, has returned at long last with his second film, "The Visitor," opening April 25th.

Like his debut film, McCarthy's sophomore effort is an incredibly empathetic consideration of the relationships among seemingly mismatched people who come together to form a sort of makeshift family. All of their contrasting, contradictory parts somehow add up to a perfect whole. And just as McCarthy provided the talented Bobby Canavale with his breakthrough role in "The Station Agent," he brings ace character actor Richard Jenkins out of the shadow of supporting roles and showcases him in a long-overdue star role.

The part was especially written for Jenkins by McCarthy - that of a closed-off widower, on automatic pilot at the Connecticut university where he teaches, whose life is enriched by an unexpected encounter with an illegal immigrant (played by the wildly charismatic Haaz Sleiman).

I've spent the five years since "The Station Agent" wondering whatever happened to this young filmmaker, unaware that he's been right in front of me all along - playing crucial supporting roles in a series of high-profile films, most notably Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" (in which he essayed the part of the grown son of the Ryan Phillippe/George Grizzard character), Mike White's "Year of the Dog" (in which he played Molly Shannon's brother and Laura Dern's husband); Steve Zaillian's recent remake of "All the King's Men" and two George Clooney movies, "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana." He's also been active on HBO's "The Wire" as the character of Scott Templeton.

Anyway, I had no idea that the auteur Tom McCarthy was also the actor Tom McCarthy. Turns out, he's as affable and easy-going an actor as he is a filmmaker.

Oddly enough, "The Station Agent" was not mentioned among McCarthy's credits in Paramount Vantage's press notes for "Year of the Dog," only his acting stints.

Apparently, he likes to keep both careers separate. Which is why most critics haven't made the connection.

As an actor, McCarthy has another role in the can - in Chad Lowe's "Beautiful Ohio," opposite William Hurt and Rita Wilson.

But right now, there's "The Visitor" to anticipate - clearly a companion piece to "The Station Agent" in that it aches with the same sense of humanist hope and demonstrates what can be achieved when someone stops stop long enough to consider another's situation and needs. As a bonus, McCarthy works in a fragile love story, tenderly played by Jenkins and the classically beautiful Hiam Abbass (as Sleiman's mother).

On several levels, his new film reminds me of Hal Ashby's "The Landlord"(1970), which dealt with a young white man's belated coming-of-age among the blacks of New York's Park Slope area.

The role that Beau Bridges played in "The Landlord" is not far removed from Jenkins' character in "The Visitor," except in terms of age. Jenkins' Walter Vale may be a generation older than Bridges' Elgar Enders - and more educated and seemingly sophisticated - but he is every bit as naïve.

With his two films, Tom McCarthy has come to specialize in the barely contained emotional conflicts of people in need of change and he does so with compassion and uncommon delicacy.

Note in Passing: Jenkins started his career as a dancer and then a choreographer.

(Artwork: Renaissance man Tom McCarthy; Jenkins and Abbass in a scene from McCarthy's "The Visitor")

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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

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

façade: At Long Last Peter!


Peter Bogdanovich, the "It" filmmaker of the 1970s, is being honored at San Francisco's grand Castro Theater in a three-day retrospect gloriously titled "A Genuine Tribute to Peter Bogdanovich," beginning Friday, March 7th. The program is being presented & hosted by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks of SF's "MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS."

Seven Bogdanovich films will be screened and, as Dave Kehr so aptly put it, the charming and charismatic man himself will lend his "radiant presence" to the proceedings, appearing at each screening for Q-&-A sessions and to demonstrate his love of the film medium. The tribute will include World Premiere screenings of his new director's cuts of "Nickelodeon" and "Mask."

But more exciting is the news that Bogdanovich will host a rare screening of his sublime homage to the '30s film musical, "At Long Last Love." Criminally maligned - and mostly by people who haven't even bothered to see it - Bogdanovich's gem, being screened at the Castro at midnight on Friday, is ripe for a little rediscovery and some decided re-evaluation. Here, at long last, is its chance - and Cybill Shepherd, Bogdanovich's one-time muse and star of the film, will be on hand to introduce it.

Driven by a rich Cole Porter score (of familiar standards and melodies more esoteric) and filled with an affable cast of good sports - Shepherd, Burt Reynolds, Madeline Kahn, Dulio Del Prete, Eileen Brennan, John Hillerman and Mildred Natwick as playboy Reynolds' dowager mother - the film is a classic still waiting to be discovered.

But this is unlikely to happen, given that its releasing studio, 20th Century-Fox, has kept the film buried and off home entertainment for more than three decades now.

Bogdanovich was arguably at his most creative on this movie, filming it in color but designing it largely in black-and-white, so that the only colors in the film are his actors' skin tones. He also enlisted his cast of game, nonprofessional singers to perform their songs live, every one of them, and despite the hasty assumptions that were made at the time of the film's release, the singing is fine here - more than fine actually, given that Shepherd, Kahn and Del Prete all sport trained voices, while Reynolds affects a soothing Dean Martin-style croon.

To complement the stress-free singing, choreographer Rita Abrams kept her dance routines light and easy-going. The result is that the dancing here has the off-the-cuff, scratch-pad casualness of the in-between numbers in the Astaire-Rogers films. The film doesn't feel choreographed.

"At Long Last Love" is clearly an attempt to impersonate the movies of Fred and Ginger, with Bogdanovich affecting the unobtrusive directorial style that George Stevens and Mark Sandrich brought to the dancing team's films. It is decidedly old-fashioned in its artificiality, but "At Long Last Love" is also post-modernist, mixing in a neo-realist musical style pioneered by both Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen. It's a daring experiment that works - again, despite what you've heard.

Curiously, several versions of the film exist. Under the gun to get "At Long Last Love" out in the summer of 1975, Bogdanovich delivered a print clocking in at 118 minutes. Following the disasterous critical reaction, the film was cut down to 105 minutes. Two versions of it, in fact, played Radio City Music Hall. The film that opened there was not the same movie that closed. (Regarding the critical reaction, I hasten to add that there were/are several reputable critics who actually like "At Long Last Love.")

The syndicated TV version is even shorter, although it reinstates some fleeting, charming musical bits that were originally cut for time. The 16mm version of the film, which runs roughly 130 minutes, presents "At Long Last Love" in its most complete form and includes the two numbers that originally opened the film - a terrific "Down in the Depths" by Kahn and Del Prete's "Tomorrow." (As conceived, each of the four lead characters had an introductory song, although Kahn's and Del Prete's were excised just before the film's release.) Still missing, however, is Mildred Natwick's "Kate the Great" number.

Given that Fox has no interest in the film, it would be great if it handed it over to Criterion, so that Bogdanovich could put together a definitive archival edition.

If only. End of diatribte. As for the rest of the program. ALLL will be preceded on Friday with a 7 p.m. screening of "Targets" and, at 9, "The Last Picture Show."

Saturday will bring 1:30 and 5:30 p.m. screenings of "Paper Moon"; "What's Up, Doc?" at 3:30. and of special interest, "Nickelodeon" at 7 p.m., presented in an extended cut and, for the first time, in black-&-white as it was originally conceived. This difficult-to-see love letter to the early film industry stars Ryan O'Neal, Burt Reynolds, Jane Hitchcock, Tatum O'Neal, Stella Stevens and, in one of his first film roles, the late John Ritter.

Sofia Coppola's 14-minute short, "Lick the Star," which features a cameo by Bogdanovich, will also be screened.

On Sunday, at 2 and 6:50 p.m., the Director's Cut of "Mask," containing seven minures of new footage and the Bruce Springsteen score that was originally tended for the film, is being shown. ("Mask" was released with a score by Dennis Ricotta.) The 1980 film, of course, features Cher in the role that won her the best actress award at Cannes.

At 4:30 and 9:10 p.m., the program concludes with the sublime "They All Laughed," starring Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, Dorothy Stratten, John Ritter, Colleen Camp, Blaine Novak, Patti Hansen, Linda MacEwen and George Morfogen. Bogdanovich's take on Max Ophuls "La Ronde" interweaves eight characters in romantic escapades. It will be preceded at the 4:30 screening by a conversation between Bogdanovich and Louise Stratten (the late Dorothy Stratten's younger sister).

Alas, not all of Bogdanovich's films are represented in the program. Among those missing titles are the atmospheric "Saint Jack" (with a memorable Gazarra and the great Denholm Elliott); the underrated "Texasville"; the charming "The Thing Called Love" (with a knockout young cast consisting of the late River Phoenix, Sandra Bullock, Dermot Mulroney and Samantha Mathis); "Noises Off," a minor masterwork of antic comedy; the obscure "Illegally Yours" and, most conspicuous of all, Shepherd's delectable "Daisy Miller." Also, his intriguing three-hour 2004 biopic, "The Mystery of Natalie Wood."

But the title to remember next time is "Daisy Miller."

(Artwork: Bogdanovich in his prime, with Cybill on the cover of a '74 People magazine; original artwork for Fox's "At Long Last Love"; Burt & Cybill in ALLL; Ryan & Tatum in "Paper Moon"; John Ritter with Ryan, Tatum and Burt in "Nickelodeon" and Cybill as "Daisy Miller")

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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

façade: Richard Roxburgh


The classically trained Richard Roxburgh is one of the few Australian actors who hasn't quite penetrated the consciousness of American moviegoers.

While fellow Aussies (and frequent Roxburgh co-stars) Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collette and Hugh Jackman, to name but a few, have become A-listers in American films, Roxburgh himself has remained Down Under, appearing to great acclaim on stage, making homegrown films and dabbling in stage directing.

On stage in Australia, he's appeared in "Closer," "Burn This," "Romeo and Juliet," "The Homecoming" and "Hamlet," for which he won the Sydney Theater Critics' Circle Award.

So perhaps it's a matter of personal choice. On the other hand, the few films which might have made audiences here acquainted with Roxburgh have cast him, rather inexplicably, as villains, starting with Gillian Armstrong's "Oscar and Lucinda"(1997) and continuing with John Woo's "Mission: Impossible II" (2000), Stephen Norrington's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (2003) and, most regrettable of all, Stephen Sommers' unwatchable "Van Helsing" (2004).

And, of course, there was his role as The Duke in Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge!" (2001), which wasn't so much dark as it was resminiscent of vintage Richard Hadyn - a strange yet entertaining performance.

Now that Roxburgh has made his directorial debut - and with a film that has generated a lot of art-house buzz and good reviews - perhaps his time of recognition has come. Wouldn't it be odd if Roxburgh's breakthrough in America came as a filmmaker?

In "Romulus, My Father," based on Raimond Gaita's autobiography, adpated by Nick Drake, Roxburgh tackles the elusive yet compelling idea of imperfect parents, played with subtle power here by Eric Bana, in his best performance to date as the titular Romulus, and Franka Potente, as a woman with only a tenuous grip on reality. Caught in-between his father's frustration as an alien/outsider in a rural area and his mother's slipping sanity is young Raimond (played by Kodi Smith-McPhee, a real find) who, perhaps because of his mother's decline (as well as her long absences), forges an intense bond with his father.

The film, set in the 1950s, makes excellent of the rural, rough-hewn landscape and also offers Marton Csokas in a major supporting turn as Romulous' friend, Hora.

Roxburgh's film earned a record 19 Australian Film Institute award nominations, including for best picture and Roxburgh's direction and won six, including awards as best film, best actor (Bana) and supporting actor (Csokas), among others. It was also nominated for nine awards by the Film Critics Circle of Australia (winning another for Csokas).

Now might be a good time to check out two fine films which should have provided a breakthrough for Roxburgh as an actor - Cherie Newlan's affecting "Thank God He Met Lizzie," opposite Cate Blanchett, and particularly Chris Kennedy's electric "Doing Time for Patsy Cline," with Miranda Otto, both made in 1997. Unfortunately, they received next-to-no play in America but they are now available here on DVD.

"Lizzie" never actually played theatrically in America and was awkwardly (and needlessly) retitled by Image Entertainment as "The Wedding Party" for its 2001 DVD debut here. It casts Roxburgh as Guy (perfect name here), a lifelong bachelor who finally decides he needs a soulmate and finds one in the form of Lizzie (Blanchett), a doctor. Things move quickly towards a wedding date - so quickly that Guy not only gets a bad case of the nerves but also nostalgia. Suddenly, he's daydreaming about one of his old girlfriends, Jennie (Frances O'Connor), which we see in flashbacks.

It's all low-keyed and appealing and much more mature than its American/wedding film counterparts. Newlan, who recently directed Brends Blethyn in the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't "Introducing the Dwights," keeps matters light and uninsistent. For the record, Blanchett and Roxburgh previously appeared together in the aforementioned "Oscar and Lucinda."

Roxburgh had the role of a lifetime as a dashing but untrustworthy music promoter/slick operator named Boyd in Kennedy's dusty and deliciously rude "Doing Time for Patsy Cline," a road film that takes its characters from the Outback to Sydney, even though they have Nashville on their minds.

Traveling in a stolen Jaguar with a would-be country singer named Patsy (Otto), Boyd picks up a teenager, Ralph (Matt Day), who also has country-music pretentions and is, in fact, on his was to Nashville. He has money for the plane ticket but needs to hitch a ride to the Sydney airport. Ralph is immediately attracted to Patsy, but the journey is interrupted by police who find drugs in Boyd's car. Patsy gets away, but the guys end up in jail, a terrific sequence in which Kennedy manages to shoehorn in comedy, songs and several bravura moments by Roxburgh.

Otto, done up in a shock of red hair, displays an appealing singing voice and her chemistry with Roxburgh is palpable. Reportedly, they were dating at the time and they both seem to be having the time of their lives. Roxburgh won the Best Actor award from the Australian Film Institute for his performance as Boyd.

"Patsy Cline," which received a belated and very brief American release in New York and Los Angeles in 2005, is now available on DVD here, along with another Richard Roxburgh-Miranda Otto offering, "In the Winter Dark." Look for both, and "The Wedding Party," on Amazon.com, where they are taking pre-orders now.

BTW, "Thank God He Met Lizzie" and "Doing Time for Patsy Cline" both played the 1997 Cannes Film Festival; "Patsy Cline" was also shown at the 1998 Boston Film Festival.

(Artwork: Richard Roxburgh, a scene from "Romulus, My Father," which he directed, with Franka Potente and Eric Bana, a moment from "Doing Time for Patsy Cline," with Miranda Otto and Roxburgh as Hugh Stamp, one of the villains in John Woo's "Mission: Impossible II")

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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

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Update on "Dirt"


First the good news, then the bad news.

Courteney Cox and Ian Hart are still delicious fun in "Dirt." The bad news is that their show isn't - at least not any longer.

Based on a New York Times piece detailing revisions that were being made, I went into Sunday's new season of "Dirt" with low expectations.

My fears were warranted, it turns out.

The show is a good deal less sordid than it was last season, with its jaw-dropping sensationalism replaced this season with rather sophomoric takes on the real-life celebrity hijinks of Britney Spears (duplicated on "Dirt" by an avid Ashley Johnson) and Anna Nicole Smith (limned by a game and very witty Kiersten Warren).

Britney and Anna Nicole clones? Yes, predictability has replaced razor-sharp edge on the show.

Cox's sleazy editor now behaves like an intrepid reporter, not office-bound as she was during the first season, as she hops around from one sun-struck location to the next, and Hart's photographer has been subtly but noticeably sanitized and diluted.

Still, he's a virtuoso at seedy acting.

Now about all that sun... Visually, the show is now much brighter than it was last season - literally. While it was something of a nighthawk during season one, with scenes holed up in dark bars and at even darker parties, "Dirt" is now largely filmed in the sun. Daytime scenes prevail.

It just doesn't feel like the same show. It no longer feels ... forbidden.

Sad.

(Artwork: Courteney Cox as Lucy Spiller and Ian Hart as Don Conkey, both still pretty fab despite the watered-down version of the show.)

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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

Saturday, March 01, 2008

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.

Channel-surfing isn't what it used to be. That's because it isn't safe anymore. And that, in turn, is because about 99% of television is demoralizing.

Case in point: The other night, I surfed my way past Geraldo Rivera and Bill O'Reilly shouting and spitting at each other in the most disturbing way imaginable. I stopped long enough to get a migraine. Then, I came upon something on Bravo called "The Real Housewives of New York" and stayed long enough to hear a woman named Ramona offer the following testimonial on behalf of plastic surgery: "It makes you look better than your chronicle age." Honest. I couldn't make that up.

All of this is in preamble to promising that I'll never stray from TCM again, and one incentive making this easier is the addition of Rose McGowan to "The Essentials." I'm curious about the chemistry saucy McGowan will have with our reserved friend, Robert Osborne. First up for the twosome: Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" on Saturday, March 8 at 8 p.m. (est).

With that said, here's the TCM March selections that I plan to check out:

March 1: Two must-see Joseph L. Mankiewicz creations screened back-to-back - “The Barefoot Contessa,” with Ava Gardner in arguably her best role, and the incomparable “All About Eve” with Bette, Anne, Celeste, Marilyn and Thelma.

March 2: Savor the acting duet of Albert Finney as an aging star and Tom Courtenay in the title role of “The Dresser,” Peter Yates’s fine version of Ronald Harwood’s play, adapted by Harwood.

March 3: If I had to pick only one Hitchcock film that I could keep in my DVD collection it would be “Marnie” – hands-down. I know Grace Kelly was Hitch’s intended star here, but Tippi Hedren turns in a revelatory, intricate performance that has grown in restrospect as a damaged woman caught in a destructive cycle. This time around, listen to the sad, child-like voice Hedren affects whenever she regresses into her past. Sean Connery is the empathetic man who takes the time to understand her.

March 5: “Pressure Point” - a small, incisive film about racism with Sidney Poitier in fine form, as always, as a therapist trying to ferret out the deep-seated thoughts and feelings of a bigoted convict, an exceptional Bobby Darin.

March 6: Rex Harrison is being honored this month on TCM with “My Fair Lady,” “A Rake’s Progress” and “The Reluctant Debutante,” which he made with Sandra Dee and his then-wife Kay Kendall. In “The Long Dark Hall,” directed by Reginald Beck and Anthony Bushell, Sexy Rexy co-stars with another wife, Lili Palmer, in a tidy little tale of a family man accused of murdering a showgirl. Palmer was Harrison’s frequent co-star on screen (“The Fourposter”) and stage (“Bell, Book and Candle”). Also “The Merry Frinks,” an Alfred E. Green film with the great Aline MacMahon as a woman contending with a family that’s, well, singular.

March 7: “Take a Giant Step,” Phillip Leacock’s wonderfully clear-eyed look at one young black man’s personal integration into the white world, starring Johnny Nash, Ruby Dee and Estelle Hemsley. Plus, “A Rage to Live,” a sordid, entertaining soap opera - and one of Suzanne Pleshette’s rare starring roles in a film. It's the story of a nymphomaniac who always seems to be in heat, and Pleshette is especially convincing in the role. It's the one time in films that she was allowed to be outright sexual. Ben Gazarra co-stars as one of her more horny pursuers. Needless to say, they make a hot team.

March 8: Two curiosities - “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?” and “Rat Pfink a Boo Boo.” But the best comes later – back-to-back screenings of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” Wilder’s “The Apartment” and David Swift’s film version of Frank Loesser’s stage musical, “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.”

“How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” is worth singling out for a brief discussion. Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee, of course, were recruited to recreate their Broadway roles, and Dale Moreda was assigned the task of restaging Bob Fosse's original stage choreography. An observation: Morse's annoying facial mugging throughout the film - in close up, no less - and Vallee's stale performance, from years of doing it on stage, provide good arguments for not casting a film with a play's original cast.

Loesser’s play may have won the Pulitzer Prize, but that doesn’t mean that United Artists had much faith in the material – or in the idea of making a musical in general. Swift, in fact, filmed “dramatic bridges” to replace the musical numbers for the film’s European release. This may explain the stilted, tentative nature of the film whenever someone is about to break out in song. Note the opening title number in particular.

Also, much has been written about the excision of the memorable “Coffee Break” number to accommodate a running-time dictum of Radio City Music Hall, where the film premiered, but nothing has been said about Cary Grant’s deleted bit. When Morse sings the reprise of “I Believe in You” to himself in the mirror in the men’s room before his character’s big meeting, trying to pump himself up, his image in the mirror slowly turns into Cary Grant smiling back. For some bizarre reason, this was never in the release print of the film, even though it’s documented in the movie’s pressbook.

Why did Grant participate? Well, he had great affection for the piece because when he first met Dyan Cannon, she was playing Rosemary in the touring production of the show. “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” played a crucial role in their courtship.

Oh, one last thing about "Coffee Break." Because of Radio City, the rest of the country was denied seeing that number. It apparently never occured to U.A. to cut it only for Radio City (and release it complete in the rest of the country) - and it also never occured to the studio to save the footage. It's seemingly lost forever.

Also on March 8 - the extended version of Sam Peckinpah's "Major Dundee."

March 9: George Cukor directes Anna Magnani, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Franciosa and Dolores Hart in the steamy “Wild Is the Wind” and Doris Day, Clark Gable and Gig Young get to watch Mamie Van Doren belt (and bump) out “The Girl Who Invented Rock n’ Roll” in George Seaton’s wonderful “Teacher’s Pet.”

March 10: Eclectic line-up here – Clive Donner’s “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”; “Billie,” the film version of Ronald Alexander’s play, “Time Out for Ginger,” starring patty Duke; Wilder’s songless version of “Irma La Douce”; Tony Richardson’s morbidly delightful “The Loved One,” with Robert Morse and Jonathan Winters, and George Axelrod’s antic “Lord Love a Duck,” with the perfect pairing of Tuesday Weld and Roddy McDowell. Ruth Gordon’s in it, too.

March 11: “Romeo and Juliet,” Franco Zefferelli’s “love-in” version of the Shakespeare tragedy; “Summer Holiday,” a musical version (“Take me Along” is another) of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!,” with Mickey Rooney, Frank Morgan and Walter Huston; Anthony Mann’s “Man of the West,” starring Cary Cooper and a very sexy Julie London, and Vincente Minnelli’s wildly campy asylum drama, “The Cobweb,” starring Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall and Gloria Graham. What a cast!

March 12: “The Caretakers,” another asylum flick, from director Hall Bartlett and star Joan Crawford, and “Boeing Boeing,” John Rich’s film of the hit stage comedy (coming back to Broadway), with Tony Curtis as a playboy who shrewdly dates stewardesses because of their conflicting schedules. Jerry Lewis co-stars.

Also Robert Mulligan’s companionable film version of the Garson Kanin play, “The Rat Race,” starring Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds, both in fine form, and Jack Oakie, a surprisingly effective Don Rickles (as a sleaze) and, in a rare film appearance, the wonderful Kay Medford (the original Mrs. Peterson, Albert's mother, in the stage version of "Bye, Bye Birdie"). Aspects of Kanin’s story are reminiscent of Wilder’s “The Apartment” (two lost souls holed up in an apartment) and, in fact, both films were released at approximately the same time – but "The Rat Race" was invariably overshadowed by the Lemmon-MacLaine Oscar-winner. Nevertheless, "The Apartment" doesn't have that driven, pounding, one-of-a-kind Elmer Bernstein score.

Four years later, Curtis and Reynolds would reteam for Vincinte Minnelli's sly "Goodbye, Charlie." The original play, incidentally, directed by Daniel Mann, starred Betty Field, Barry Nelson and Ray Walston.

March 13: A remake of “Of Human Bondage,” with Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey, and “Girl with Green Eyes,” the Desmond Davis gem in which young Rita Tushingham becomes involved with the married Peter Finch. Lynn Redgrave, who also teamed with Tushingham for Davis' Carnaby Street spoof, “Smashing Time,” co-stars.

March 14: “Blow Up,” Antonioni’s seminal art film with David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave, and Otto Preminger’s crisp, riveting “Bunny Lake Is Missing,” featuring an indispensable Carol Lynley as the mother of a missing child who may not actually exist, Kier Dullea as her unsettling brother, Laurence Olivier as the official investigating the case, Martita Hunt as a school headmistress and Anna Massey as a teacher.

March 15: “Vertigo” gets a repeat showing. Also Lewis Milestone’s “The Red Pony,” replete with Aaron Copland’s great score (and a tiny Beau Bridges playing a kid named ... Beau); Mark Robson’s “The Bridges of Toko-Ri,” with William Holden and Grace Kelly, and the Laurel and Hardy featurette, “The Music Box,” about a piano and a long flight of cement steps.

March 16: “All About Eve” gets a replay. Plus Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and Lang’s “The Blue Gardenia."

March 17: The underappreciated Rod Taylor had the best role of his career in “Young Cassidy,” the story of playwright Sean O’Casey which was started by John Ford and completed by Jack Cardiff. Julie Christie and Maggie Smith are Taylor’s estimable leading ladies. Followed by Nicholas Ray’s “They Live By Night,” with Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. Plus more Fritz Lang: “Metropolis.”

March 18: Relive the Age of Aquarius with Milos Forman’s top-notch film version of the cult stage musical, “Hair,” and Michelangelo Antonioni’s edgy, radical “Zabriskie Point,” starring non-actors Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin, plus Rod Taylor. Also: Bob Rafelson’s “Five Easy Pieces,” with Nicholson, and Hitchcock’s “Rope,” with Jimmy Stewart, Farley Granger and John Dall.

March 19: Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss team effectively as an odd couple in Frank Oz’s “What About Bob?,” about a shrink and an overly need patient; Janet Leigh joins Jerry Lewis in Lewis’ “Three on a Couch,” also about a therapy, and Charles Laughton’s immeasurably creepy “Night of the Hunter.”

March 20: “Love Affair,” ace director Leo McCarey’s first version of material he’d later film as “An Affair to Remember.” Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer starred in this first version.

March 21: More Rod Taylor: Peter Tewksbury’s “Sunday in New York,” co-starring Jane Fonda.

March 23: David Greene’s “Godspell,” the highly watchable musical with Victor Garber doing Christ as a vagabond entertainer. Savor the “All for the Best”number, breathtakingly staged atop the then-newly constructed World Trade Center builgings. The beginning of a Joan Crawford marathon, which includes “Torch Song” and “Mildred Pierce.”

March 24: Have fun with Crawford and Clark Gable in Robert Z. Leonard’s “Dancing Lady.” Plus the all-star “Grand Hotel” (including Crawford) and George Cukor’s “A Woman’s Face,” a nifty matinee film with Crawford (as a female criminal with a new face) and Melvyn Douglas. Check out “Harriet Craig,” too.

March 25: “Adam and Evelyn,” a little-known, lightweight British comedy with Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger about a gambler who adopts a friend’s orphaned child. Shades of "Little Miss Marker."

March 26: “So Young, So Bad,” starring Ritz Moreno and Anne Francis as reform-school girls.

March 27: “Blind Date,” a vintage Ann Sothern comedy. Say no more. Plus John Ford’s film about an old political boss, “The Last Hurrah,” starring Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien and Jeffrey Hunter; Lewis Allen’s “Valentino,” with Anthony Dexter in the title role, and Jack Arnold’s “High School Confidential,” with Russ Tamblyn as a young cop who returns to high school undercover. Jan Sterling and Mamie Van Doren co-star.

March 28: “Toys in the Attic,” George Roy Hill’s film version of the Lillian Helman play, gets a rare screening. Wendy Hiller and Geraldine Page star as two spinster sisters who have spent a lifetime supporting their younger, unreliable brother, played by Dean Martin. Yvette Mimieux plays his child bride. The stage version, directed by Arthur Penn, starred Jason Robards, Jr. Irene Worth and Maureen Stapleton as the siblings.

Hayley Mills turns in an unusually strong performance as a slow young woman in the badly-titled “Gypsy Girl,” which was something of a family affair – directed by Hayley’s father, John Mills, and written by her mom, Mary Hayley Bell. The film’s British title was the more enticing “Sky West and Crooked.” A very young Ian McShane co-stars. Plus an encore screening of “Bunny Lake Is Missing.”

March 30: Two with Steve McQueen – Mark Rydell’s “The Reivers” and Robert Mulligan’s
“Love with the Proper Stranger.” And two with Jack Lemmon – Billy Wilder’s “The Fortune Cookie” and Arthur Hiller’s “The Out-of-Towners”

March 31: Film of the Night - “Mafioso,” the 1962 Alberto Lattuada film (belatedly released here just last year) starring Alberto Sordi as a guy who returns home and falls in with the local mafia. Plus Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot,” George Sidney’s elephantine showcase of Cantinflas, “Pepe,” and Andrew L. Stone’s “The Secret of My Success,” with Shirley Jones and Stella Stevens (the co-stars from “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”) as a couple of no-account females out to con James Booth.

Note in Passing: Although "Zabriskie Point" is listed in TCM's printed schedule as being shown at 2:15 am (est) on Monday, March 17th, it appears that time slot has now been given over to Arthur Penn's "Alice's Restaurant."

(Artwork: McGowan joins Osborne on TCM's "The Essentials"; Tippi & Sean in Hitch's "Marnie"; Suzanne & Ben heat things up in "A Rage to Live"; Morse in Frank Loesser's "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," directed by David Swift, and with Michelle Lee and Kay Reynolds in the "It's Been a Long Day" number; Tuesday & Roddy in Axelrod's "Lord Love a Duck"; Debbie & Tony in Garson Kanin/Robert Mulligan's "The Rat Race," and the Playbill for the Pre-Broadway run of "The Rat Race" in Boston; Saul Bass' opening title design for Preminger's "Bunny Lake Is Missing"; Rod & Julie in Cardiff/Ford's "Young Cassidy"; Mark Frechette & Daria Halprin on the cover of a 1969 LOOK magazine promoting Antonioni's "Zabriski Point," and Dino, Wendy & Gerry in George Roy Hill's "Toys in the Attic" and the Playbill for the Boston tryout of the play)

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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

Uh-Oh, The Suits Are Messing Around with "Dirt"


"Dirt," the delicious FX channel series about unharnassed tabloid journalism and the self-involved celebrity that both feeds on it and enthusiastically accomodates it, never had a chance. Frankly, I'm surprised it's back for a second season, which kicks off tomorrow evening (Sunday, March 2) at 10 (est).

Not that Matthew Carnahan's show isn't good. Quite the contrary, it's awesome - and compulsively watchable. It's not just juicy trash, but alert, inuitive juicy trash. The nation's TV critics, not surprisingly, didn't "get it." Worn out from too much product coming at them at once, most of them promptly - and hastily - dismissed it. Well, you know, in a season with something like 200 new shows on at least 300 different channels, you can't like everything, right?

Well, I did get it and did like it, as outlined in my previous blog, titled Magnificent Obsession: Courteney Cox's "Dirt", from March 17th, 2007.

But the critics weren't the problem. The ratings were. They were low. And, friends, low ratings are like catnip to interferring producers and network heads who suddenly feel the need to become "creative."

The ratings left a lot to be desired, despite the presence of the show's bankable star, Courteney Cox, proving her acting chops in a psychologically fascinating delineation of the most driven L.A.-based woman since Joan Crawford - and also despite a towering supporting performance by Britain's Ian Hart as Cox's schizzy lap dog. The fact that Hart didn't even qualify for an Emmy nomination this year only proves that the people who produce TV don't actually watch it.

Oh, for the record (and the uninitiated), Cox plays the editor of the titular tabloid, Dirt, and Hart is her ace stalker/ace photographer.

So, yes, the show is coming back but, if you read between the lines of an astute piece by Edward Wyatt, "A Cable Drama Gets a Makeover Ripped From the Tabloid Headlines," that ran in today's New York Times, you'll discern that "Dirt" has possibly been neutered, compromised, made conventional and made nearly (but probably not quite) family friendly. I hope I misread Wyatt's piece. I hope I'm wrong.

But it's not a good sign when the show's creator is seemingly complicit in redefining his own show.

And it's certainly not a good sign when the show's star, agreeing to the changes, claims how they now play to her strengths - as a comedienne. Perhaps. But, Courteney, "Dirt" isn't a comedy, at least not in the traditional sitcom sense of the word.

And it's a bad sign when Hart says he is "irked" about how they've diluted his character, a self-described "highly functioning schizophrenic" who apparently is now on drugs (to make him more normal, see?) and no longer the subject of hallucinatory moments that contributed to some of the most singular scenes in the show.

We'll have to wait until Sunday to see how much of "Dirt" remains. But it's comforting - strange word to use about such a disruptive, edgy show - to know that season one is on DVD, preserved forever.

Or for as long as its distributor continues to print it.

(Artwork: Publicity shots of Courteney Cox and Ian Hart in Matthew Carnahan's "Dirt" for FX)

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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