The Yakuza (1974)

The Yakuza is a strange little mash-up of neo-noir and yakuza-eiga. It didn’t do well at the box office, but has become a cult classic in the years since. Continue reading

Love in the Afternoon (1957)

Love in the Afternoon is a lesser Billy Wilder film, certainly, but its high points make up for its lulls. Chevalier is fantastic as Claude Chavasse, and in his scenes with Cooper or Hepburn, he elevates their performances noticeably. McGiver is astonishingly good as M. X, and Lisa Bourdin as his wife isn’t given much to do but just exudes charisma. The film is gorgeous to look at and a whole lot of light, fun entertainment. Continue reading

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

Even if Holliday wasn’t sure about Martin’s work ethic, it’s undeniable that they made an adorable couple on screen. Martin is pitch perfect as the playboy on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the kind of guy who knows every famous person on stage and screen and yet manages to be the kind of wide-eyed naïf who believes in fairy tales and guardian angels. And Judy Holliday is, well Judy Holliday. She’s amazing. Continue reading

Battleground (1949)

This print may be gorgeous, but Battleground is grimy. This is a film that is down in the dirt and the snow, eye-level with the foxholes (and, presumably, latrines) as they’re being dug. Everyone is caked in dirt and lord knows what else — in Kinnie’s (James Whitmore’s) case, it’s post-chewed tobacco and saliva. They’re underfed, under-informed, used and abused and forced to wear boots that don’t fit while marching about a thousand miles a day. This may sound strange to say to the uninitiated, but it’s the filth that makes Battleground so great. Continue reading

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Bad Day is mostly known as being an allegory for McCarthyism as well as a statement against the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, but it’s also a taut thriller based on good old-fashioned persecution fantasy, especially considering the quiet, amiable Macreedy is such a cipher that the bad guys can’t dig up even one detail on him that he doesn’t tell them himself. It’s also one of the quintessential examples of the overlap between film noir and western genres that produced such great films in the 1950s; listen to the “patriotic drunk” speech and tell me that couldn’t be picked up and plonked right down into a late-40s black and white noir starring Robert Mitchum. Continue reading

Five Days One Summer (1982)

Dr. Douglas Meredith (Sean Connery) is on a climbing holiday in the Alps with his young wife Kate (Betsy Brantley). They’re happy and in love, but complications arise when Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young climbing instructor, falls for Kate, and she begins to have feelings for him as well. Douglas senses the competition as well as the unstoppable passage of time, and in a bid to prove his masculinity and woo Kate back, suggests a treacherous climb with only Johann as his guide. An avalanche intervenes and only one man returns to Kate… but is it the man she wants? Five Days One Summer (1982), director Fred Zinneman’s last film, was a strange entry in a year that also saw films like Victor/Victoria, Porky’s, Silent Rage, Tron and Blade Runner. A quiet, deliberate affair, Five Days is impressive for its locations and styling, for the practical effects, and the commitment to creating art, if only for art’s own sake. Cinematographer Guiseppe Rotunno does a fantastic job during the climbing scenes, though elsewhere the quality of the film ranges from too dark to see to so soft you almost can’t make out anything tangible.  Janet Maslin called Sean Connery “dependably sturdy” in this film.   Still, the general consensus, both then and now, is that Zinneman didn’t pull off the intimacy necessary to make the film work. Most find the film far too slow — Variety called it “Five Summers One Day” — but I find the complaints about pacing … Continue reading

Doc Hollywood (1991)

Doc Hollywood hearkens back to the days of older, inoffensive entertainment, including a scene with an outdoor late night showing of The General (1927), though there are a few moments that belie the film’s mild-mannered demeanor, mainly an early scene when Lou is introduced to us, completely and gratuitously nude. A local resident who was present for much of the filming in Micanopy, Florida, the stand-in for the fictitious Grady, later said that the nude scenes were included specifically to avoid a G rating. Continue reading

It’s a Date (1940)

It’s a Date is impressive in that it presages the post-war bobby soxer films by a few years, as well as the Hawaiian fashion trend; in fact, Peter Stackpole’s now-famous photo spread featuring Hawaiian and Polynesian fashions in Life Magazine didn’t go to print until after It’s a Date was released. This was clearly meant to be a trendy film, one to appeal to the younger crowd, particularly the ladies who were Durbin’s biggest fans. Continue reading

My Fellow Americans (1996)

My Fellow Americans is exceedingly kind to its two leads, who are allowed to be charming and charismatic and fun, and whose sheer exuberance turns a strange tale about the attempted assassination of two former presidents into a delightful, lighthearted comedy. Continue reading

Victor/Victoria (1982)

Victor/Victoria happily embraces the been-there-done-that tone of a film that, fifty years after the original, knows its plot should no longer be scandalous. The genius of the film’s nonchalant sexuality is that gender-bending, drag and homosexuality were still salacious in 1982, and Victor/Victoria shows better than any other film before or since just how ridiculous that is.
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