Friday, May 9, 2014


Usually, I post a review of a film here on my blog almost immediately after seeing it, whether in the theater or at home. But I've watched several films over the last few months that, for one reason or another, I never got around to blogging about. I've kept a list of these films and I thought I'd try to cover them in just a few brief paragraphs, rather than full scale reviews. This is not a knock against any of these films as almost all of them have a great deal of merit. Rather, I'd like to post my thoughts on them before I forget entirely what my reactions to the films were. So here goes, in order of year of release.

TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (1949). I recall watching the 1960s television series of the same name (a Quinn Martin production) but I'd never seen the film it was based on until a few months ago. Gregory Peck (one of my favorite actors) gives a tremendous performance as the commander of a bomber squadron based in England in World War II. The burden of command weighs heavy upon his shoulders and he suffers a mental breakdown at the end of the film. TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH is, ironically, one of the most claustrophobic films about the WWII air war I've ever seen. Much of the action takes place in buildings on the ground and the big flight sequence occurs late in the film. Still, it's a very good movie. Thumbs up.

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964). I watched this one again around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in the U.S. which was celebrated earlier this year. I saw HARD DAY'S NIGHT in the theater when it was originally released and didn't much care for it. Eight-year-old Frank just didn't get it. Watching it in 2014, it seems both remarkably prescient (prefiguring the era of music videos) and oh-so-much a product of it's day. Part rock and roll documentary, part Marx Brothers movie, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT is and was light years removed from the Elvis Presley film VIVA LAS VEGAS, which was released the same year. Still, VIVA LAS VEGAS had one thing going for it that HARD DAY'S NIGHT did not: Ann-Margret.

TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970). I tried to watch this one as close to December 7th as possible. I saw it when it was first released at the old Americana Theatre and hadn't seen it in it's entirety in the years since. A very sober, measured film, TORA! TORA! TORA! sticks to the known facts about the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. There are no romantic subplots to get in the way. Co-produced with a Japanese film company, all of the scenes involving the Imperial Japanese Navy are filmed with Japanese actors speaking Japanese (with English sub-titles). The film takes it time in building up to the attack which occurs after the intermission (remember when epic films had those?). The attack sequence is well-mounted with real planes, ships and men (CGI wasn't even a fantasy in 1970). TORA! TORA! TORA! is a remarkably bloodless war film however. It's a clean and somewhat sanitized recounting of the events of that day but it's very well done and extremely compelling. I believe that this film should be required viewing in every American history class in every high school in the United States. If kids would sit still long enough to watch it, they might actually learn something. And no, I'm not wholeheartedly recommending films over history books but I think this film could inspire some curious young minds to do some further research into WWII.

THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975). Believe or not, I never saw this one until I watched it one night before Christmas. The term "Stepford Wives" has entered into the popular vernacular and everyone knows what the words mean even if they haven't seen the film (or read the Ira Levin novel) about the too-perfect wives in the small town of Stepford. Katherine Ross and Paula Prentiss make an appealing duo of leading ladies who team-up to discover just what the hell is going on in their town. I'll say this much for author Levin: he likes to put his heroines into real, true jeopardy. As in ROSEMARY'S BABY (both the Levin novel and Roman Polanski film), things do not end well for the women characters in his stories. What's great about STEPFORD WIVES is that we're never told the precise details of what's going on. Much is left to our imaginations and we're pulling for Ross to upset the apple cart up to the last few minutes of the film. Both ROSEMARY'S BABY and STEPFORD WIVES end on truly chilling notes. STEPFORD WIVES is a first rate, slow build horror/science fiction film that has stood the test of time. Recommended.

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989). I saw this Woody Allen film on first release at the old Arbor Cinema Four (remember when that theater was state-of-the-art?). Watching again a few weeks back I was struck by the weird tonal shifts in the film and wasn't sure exactly how to react to the story that Allen told. On the one hand, there's some hysterically funny lines here but they are few and far between as the main storyline deals with the murder of a man's mistress. Martin Landau is great as the troubled, married opthamologist (seeing, eyes, blindness, vision, are all thematic concerns of the film) who finds it difficult to extricate himself from his affair with a clinging, needy woman (Angelica Huston). He eventually goes so far as to arrange (through his brother, Jerry Orbach) the woman's murder. Although he's stricken with guilt, he gets away with it. Meanwhile, Woody Allen is a documentary filmmaker who finds himself saddled with  making a film about his obnoxious, television producer brother-in-law (Alan Alda). Allen falls in love with production assistant Mia Farrow and yearns to make his own film about an aged Jewish philosopher and Holocaust survivor. But the man suddenly commits suicide, Farrow takes up with Alda and Allen, who has done nothing wrong, is left with a broken heart and a lot of painful questions. Meanwhile, Landau, has put the murder behind him and gone on with his successful life and medical practice. Allen's screenplay wrestles with the capriciousness of the universe, the fact that all bad deeds don't go punished, that some times very bad things happen to very good people. It's a somewhat bitter pill to swallow but Allen's one-liners help the medicine go down a little easier. Still, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS is a disturbing, dark and thought provoking work.

THE HANGOVER 3 (2013). What can I say? This whole series is a guilty pleasure for me. I loved the first film but I  found the second one too close to the first to be entirely enjoyable despite some very funny moments. The third and final entry in the series jettisons the structure of the first two films but does return "the wolf pack" back to where it all began, Las Vegas. This time they're on a mission in service to crime lord John Goodman and while there's plenty of funny stuff on display, you get the feeling that THE HANGOVER brand has gone to the well one time too many. If you have any desire to see these films, stick with the first and best one. The others are for die-hard fans only. 

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