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Tag Archives: Ida Lupino

Flick Clique: January 15-21

Aftershock (2010). China’s Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 is the catalyst for this ambitious family drama that we checked out on Netflix streaming this week (it was also one of the DVDs available for review at DVD Talk, but one of the other reviewers got to it first). It opens with vignettes showing a simple but loving family with two kids, a boy and a girl, in a semi-urban setting. While the parents are outside their modest apartment one night, a terrifying earthquake strikes. The quake instantly kills the father and levels the family’s apartment, leaving the frantic mother digging through the debris to find her children. With the help of rescue workers, the kids are found, alive but injured. The mom is relieved, but her devastation reaches a new low when the rescue workers tell her that they must kill one child to save the other. She tearfully chooses to save her son. While the daughter is left for dead with the other quake victims, she is actually alive and eventually ends up being adopted by a married pair of Maoist soldiers. How the family lives apart over the next thirty years makes up the bulk of the film, made in a more typically soapy (but still engrossing) way. The film is sparked by searing performances, especially from Fan Xu as the mother and Jingchu Xhang as the adult daughter. The direction and CGI effects in the earthquake scenes are exciting, but it’s the emotional resonance of the later scenes that affected me the most.
All Over Town (1937). I decided to check out another offering from the Comedy Kings 50 Movie Pack this week. Going in chronological order, my next flick wound up being this plodding backstage yarn starring the team of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson. Olsen & Johnson were best known for their Broadway and film success Hellzapoppin’, a supposedly hilarious and ground-breaking work (the film has been out of circulation for several decades). The considerably more low-profile All Over Town has them as a pair of luckless vaudevillians who, mistaken for millionaires, end up getting involved in mounting a variety show at a theater where a murder occurred. Like the other O&J film I’ve seen (Country Gentlemen, co-starring Joyce Compton), the plot is a paper-thin excuse for Olsen’s mugging and Johnson’s annoying, never-ending giggle. The film is a pretty dreadful affair, overall, but it does rebound somewhat with a frenetic finale that has Olsen giving a play-by-play rundown of the cops attempting to catch a killer running loose in the theater while the other actors, musicians and playgoers scramble to get out of the way.
Bigger Than Life (1956). I’ve always wanted to check out this Nicholas Ray-directed, James Mason domestic drama of prescription pill taking gone awry, going all the way back to my regular American Movie Classics (r.i.p.) watching days. Diehard movie buffs have a soft spot for Bigger Than Life, insisting it’s an overlooked treasure on par with Ray’s better known films like Rebel Without A Cause and They Live By Night. I finally got to see the Criterion edition and, well … it’s a pretty good (if overwrought) drama with some cool production design and camerawork. Scenery-chewing, miscast Mason plays a typical American schoolteacher who, stressed with two jobs and a family to support, ends up taking the experimental drug Cortisone to calm his nerves. The medication has deadly effects when not taken correctly, however, and sure enough Mason is scheming, lying and abusing his terrified wife (Barbara Rush) and son (Christopher Olsen) in the claustrophobic home-turned-sanitarium they share. The film is interesting, more campy than good (but not quite the screaming camp-o-rama that is Ray’s Johnny Guitar). What I liked most about the film is the design of the house set itself with its moody shadows and travel posters/maps on the walls that mock the closed-in, mounting dread the family undergoes. It also has some neat touches, like the bright red living room couch and the foyer rug with a chaotic stripe pattern. Mason (who also produced) is frankly awful, however – and the passivity of Rush’s character would drive anyone up a wall. It’s a watchable enough drama, but in terms of coded social commentary it doesn’t live up to something like Douglas Sirk’s glossy family dramas. All that Heaven Allows could kick this movie’s butt any time.
Private Hell 36 (1954). Like Aftershock, this was another Netflix stream that we caught this past week — and, triumpantly, it’s another winner! The grittyPrivate Hell 36 deals with a common theme in noir, what happens when men in authority are tempted into doing something they’re not supposed to (in this case, stealing laundered money). Howard Duff and Steve Cochran play cops who bust up a drugstore robbery and find that it involved a counterfeit fifty dollar bill. Tracking the bill to a seedy bar where Ida Lupino sings, they enlist Lupino’s help to find the man who trafficked the money. That man is eventually found, but the officers run his auto off the road, killing the driver. Finding a boxful of stolen money at the scene, Cochran (who has fallen for the manipulative Lupino) decides to steal some of the cash. Cochran convinces the straight-laced Duff into sharing the loot and hiding it in a trailer — could they get away with it? This was a nifty little crime drama that benefits from excellent casting and an absorbing storyline. Lupino and the shifty, swarthy Cochran have a dynamic repartee in this.

Flick Clique: December 4-10

Buffering (2011). A gay sex comedy from Britain that I’m reviewing for DVD Talk. Buffering follows a gay couple, Seb and Aaron (appealingly played by Alex Anthony and Conner McKenzy) as one partner decides to upload secret recordings of the couple having sex to the internet in order to make some extra cash on the side. The secret is eventually revealed to the other guy. Instead of stopping the enterprise dead in its tracks, they end up raking in more bucks as their popularity spreads. A female ex-roomie (Jessica Matthews) catches on and encourages the men to take on a new recruit, including the hunky guy (Oliver Park) who lives next door. Lots of promise here, but the already lightweight concept is stretched to its limit and the micro-budget lets it down. The guys are cute (especially Park), but I’ve seen better sexy gay comedies. A longer review will be posted at DVD Talk soon.
The Other Love (1947). I found this otherwise unavailable Barbara Stanwyck flick on Netflix streaming a few months ago and have been dying to see it ever since. This is a standard romantic melodrama about a concert pianist (Stanwyck) who goes to a sanitarium to overcome tuberculosis. David Niven as her doctor tries to keep her on the path to health, but she’s tempted by the outside world when meeting a fellow patient (the terrific Joan Lorring) who teaches her how to duck out of the place at night, when no one is watching. Niven finds himself falling for Stanwyck, but she’s lured away to Monaco by flashy race car driver Richard Conte. Will she come to her senses, or die a glamorous young high roller? A silly story is given depth by a luminous Stanwyck. I was pretty impressed by the glossy photography and production values (this was produced by James Whale’s longtime lover at an independent studio by the name of Anglo American Films). Stanwyck also looks great decked out in several glam outfits designed by Edith Head. Not an essential film, but enjoyable all the same.
Portrait in Black (1960). I have a strong weakness for campy ’60s melodrama, especially if it stars a fading glamour queen like Lana Turner and is produced by a kitschmeister like Ross Hunter. Portrait in Black is a veritable jackpot of overheated, so bad but soooo good theatrics — I can’t believe I haven’t seen this one before! Lana plays a San Francisco socialite married to abusive shipping magnate Lloyd Nolan. She and the husband’s doctor, Anthony Quinn, are secret lovers who arrange to off the poor guy in a discreet way. Although their plan is pulled off successfully, a whole host of suspicious supporting players threaten to blow their cover. Among them are Sandra Dee as Lana’s stepdaughter, Richard Basehart as Nolan’s greedy business associate (who’s also in love with Lana), Ray Walston as the family chauffer, and Anna May Wong as the imperious head maid (you can tell she’s evil because sinister “Asian” music plays whenever she’s onscreen). The ending is a riot, strangely abrupt and just dying for a sequel which never came to be, alas.
The Leopard (1963). This acclaimed Italian historical drama is directed by Luchino Visconti and features Burt Lancaster as a gruff prince who is desperately trying to preserve his family’s integrity amidst the political upheaval of 1860s Sicily. A lushly photographed, wonderful to look at, weirdly plodding and alienating film. I suppose I’d glean more on it if I knew more about Italian political history from that time, but I found it overlong and (regrettably) dull. Lancaster does well with acting outside his native tongue, however, and I found a lot to enjoy in Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale simply because they were two gorgeous people — and their characters are earthy and real in a welcome way. A lot of this film plays like a little historical documentary, and I dug how the background villagers and such are just seen going about their lives in a startlingly natural way. Overall, I just couldn’t get into it, however.
The Vampire’s Ghost (1945). Last weekend, I ended up catching a bug and getting sick. I was bored and had nothing else to watch, so I dialed up this 59 minute long b-thriller on Netflix instant. The film follows a group of American explorers as they settle in an African outpost. The sinister looking white guy who runs the outpost (John Abbott) is pleasant enough at first, but soon the explorers find that he’s a hundreds-year old vampire — and he wants to recruit the explorers into the bloodsucking life! The film is underwhelming for the most part, but there are some decent (for 1945) special effects shots and campy moments to keep it a watchable little horror flick.
WALL•E (2008). I’ve owned this on DVD for almost two years; finally we got to re-watch it this past week. It’s still a wonderful film (particularly the first half), although the second at-home viewing is not quite as magical as viewing it in the theater.
Women’s Prison (1955). This fun prison melodrama came out a few years ago as part of a Bad Girls of Film Noir DVD box set. It’s not really Noir, but the film stands on its own as an absorbing, often times over-the-top drama that comes off like a cousin to the superior Caged (1950). Set in a facility that houses female and male prisoners in separate quarters, the film begins with two new inmates getting booked — jaded but sympathetic Brenda (Jan Sterling) and shrinking violet Helene (Phyllis Thaxter). We then get introduced to several prisoners, including a phalanx of African-American women headed by kindly Juanita Moore, who reveal that they’re being abused daily by the staff overseen by hard-bitten Ida Lupino. Thaxter eventually goes nuts, and Audrey Totter as another inmate eventually finds she’s in a family way with her husband, an inmate in the men’s quarters. It isn’t top-notch drama, but I found it fast paced and quite enjoyable with a lot of vividly drawn characters. Strangely enough, the prison itself doesn’t seem too bad! Sterling was my favorite, followed by Lupino and Totter. Lupino’s real-life husband Howard Duff appears as the prison’s doctor, an ally for the inmates and harsh critic of the policies held by the ice-veined Lupino.

Weekly Mishmash: December 31-January 1

Greetings and Happy New Year… I have a strong resolution to shake things up with in 2011 — mostly it’s out of a desire to feel like I’m part of the blogging community again. Content that used to go into the Weekly Mishmash might be separated into individual posts as I finish them. I’ve been watching a lot more films since ditching the household satellite system, and as a result the ‘ol mashes are getting longer and harder to manage (and, no, I’m not so organized that they get written ahead of time!). Perhaps writing about films/music/TV on a singular basis will also prompt people to react, link, talk, etc. Although I love using this forum as an outlet for sharing all the crazy crap going on in my life, at times it feels like babbling to myself. Anyhow, on to the Mishmash!

ad_annakareninaAnna Karenina (1935). Revisited this DVD as part of the Greta Garbo Signature Collection, a set which I picked up at Ross (!) for thirty dollars (!!) as a holiday gift to myself. Anna Karenina is one of the archetypal grand Garbo vehicles, an opulent MGM/David O. Selznick production that seems to whiz by on one glamorous close-up after another. One could fault it for Frederic March’s wishy washy Count Vrosky or Freddie Bartholomew’s cutesy-pie turn as Garbo’s son, but overall I loved it and approached it with the same thrill that 1935 audiences must’ve felt. The very lushness of the production remains one of Anna‘s best assets (dig the crane shot of that fabulously appointed buffet table), but at its center lies Garbo’s vulnerable and subtly colored performance. The lady had a knockout face and could wear a 19th century styled gown like no one else, but I’ve forgotten what a great, touching actor she could be. On this set, I’m most looking forward to Camille and Ninotchka (which I haven’t seen in 15-20 years), then moving on to the silents Flesh and the Devil, The Torrent and The Mysterious Lady (all of which I’ve never had the privilege of watching).
Le Corbeau (1943). Intriguing French film about a community terrorized by the anonymous, threatening missives of “Le Corbeau” (The Raven). The secrets spilled by these inflammatory letters cause a suicide and undue tension within the village, until the police manage to corral a group of suspects. This was a very interesting film if only to see how the French film industry functioned in the midst of Nazi occupation (see also Children of Paradise). The filmmaking is very slick and accomplished, on par with what the A-listed Hollywood studios were making at the time. The cast was generally unknown to my eyes, which makes the plot all the more absorbing — and the ending was certainly a surprise. Recommended.
Cruel Gun Story (1964). Every New Years Eve, we stay up late and select a film that neither of us have seen before — this year’s selection was Cruel Gun Story from Criterion’s “Nikkatsu Noir” collection of ’60s Japanese action films. What an interesting movie! This is another vehicle for chubby-cheeked actor Joe Shishido, and it’s probably the most Americanized film in the set in terms of pacing and plot. The story concern’s Shishido’s small time criminal, who is persuaded by a mob boss to be the ringleader of an elaborate heist of a race track’s cash delivery van. Shishido assembles an eclectic crew for the crime, which unfolds in ways the participants never expected. This film would seem almost too typical had it been made in the U.S., but the Japanese setting and offbeat actors make it very watchable in ways that I can’t quite pinpoint. I felt like it was a distinct improvement over the other Shishido vehicle in the set, A Colt Is My Passport. For people curious about Japanese cinema or the charismatic Shishido, this is a good starting point.
Fantastic Voyage (1966). I can remember watching Fantastic Voyage in high school science class, where it served as end-of-the-semester entertainment. It seemed campy and somewhat slow back then, but I was curious to check it out again to see if it holds up. Well, it’s still campy and somewhat slow, but at least now I can appreciate the groovy special effects and the earnest thinking that went behind the storyline. This was the film about a group of scientists shrunken down and injected into the body of a man, you recall. What I notice now is how the cast of characters come straight from the Sci-Fi Archetype textbook, including the Dimple-Chinned Alpha Male (Stephen Boyd), Hot Scientist (Raquel Welch), and Shady Guy with a Secret (Donald Pleasence). The film is poky and plays out in predictable ways, but it does have a cartoony, schoolbook come-to-life appeal reminiscent of the Disneyland attraction Adventure Thru Inner Space (which opened the year after this flick). Say what you will about the wooden acting or iffy pacing, the widescreen technicolor format is perfect for the sometimes trippy landscapes the cast floats through. Despite those awesome sets and special effects, however, the part that impressed me most were the opening credits. Stylish and dripping with ’60s-ness, the sequence is controlled by zealous Fox and therefore not viewable on YouTube.
poster_hardwayThe Hard Way (1943). A film whose DVD release I eagerly selected from the Warner Archive offerings, this pulpy sister-love story is one of the best melodramas from a studio at its zenith. Ida Lupino delivers a dynamite performance as Helen Chernen, a poor but driven woman who only wants the best for her perky performer sis (played by Joan Leslie). The road to fame includes plowing over a gullible vaudevillian (Jack Carson), his attractive partner (Dennis Morgan) and a boozy Broadway actress (Gladys George) — all so that darling Leslie can improbably cartwheel her way to fame! Okay, so it’s not the greatest film ever made, but there’s something incredibly watchable about this film and I think it starts with Lupino’s super-committed performance. I also loved the underrated Carson, who unusually plays against type as a vulnerable fool and comes out a winner. Leslie is appealing enough (her singing “Am I Blue” might be the cutest thing ever), but she seems somewhat bland to be taken seriously as the supposedly worldly and talented actress she’s supposed to be. Perhaps the casting was intended to be somewhat ironic, to make Lupino’s machinations look all the more outrageous. Whatever the case, this is top notch Warners melodrama, directed with a skilled briskness by Vincent Sherman. Although blandly packaged, the DVD edition is pretty nice. I’m happy to have this little gem in my collection!
The Last Seduction (1994). After a beautiful, conniving woman (Linda Fiorentino) persuades her doctor husband (Bill Pullman) to sell medicinal cocaine to drug dealers, she takes off with the cash for upstate New York and uses her feminine wiles on a small town dupe (Peter Berg) to off the stressed hubby. Director’s John Dall’s modern noir got a lot of positive notices at the time for Fiorentino’s fearless performance, in a role clearly patterned after Barbara Stanwyck’s in Double Indemnity. She’s pretty good, even if the character is a somewhat pat archetype. Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson came across as a real woman, despite the soulless manipulation of those about her — something missing from Fiorentino’s portrayal. The film also contains good work from Pullman and Berg, and it does have an absorbing storyline with a watchable “what crazy thing will she do next?” quality. The film quite never escapes feeling like a “spicy” made-for-cable TV movie, however.

The Dangers of Having YouTube on the TiVo

After two weeks of trial and error, we have finally set up our new TiVo Premiere and digital antenna. What a relief. We can now record network programs in super sharp widescren (nice, even if the super-crisp, pixelated edges take some getting used to). We can also get Netflix streamed content and YouTube via the device. YouTube looks crappy as usual, but having it on the big screen gives us the patience to sit through longer stuff. Like 1950s TV shows, f’rinstance. We saw Burns and Allen this week, along with one episode of Mr. Adams & Eve, the Ida Lupino/Howard Duff sitcom which ran on CBS in 1957-58. Lupino and Duff were both good performers, but lowbrow comedy wasn’t exactly their forte — they’re no Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, that’s for sure. The two play married actors, like in real life, with much of the action taking place at the movie studio where they work. The one episode on YouTube, however, revolves around a domestic situation involving their characters’ mothers:

This was a frankly mediocre show, but it makes me excited to check out more old TV shows on YouTube. Any ideas? I also watched the pilot episode of Julie Andrews’ 1992 sitcom flop Julie, but the less said about that the better.