Friday, August 31, 2012

Dark Victory (1939)

Dark Victory is a bright spot in Bette Davis' filmography.

The American film legend lobbied hard for the play by George Emerson Brewer, Jr. and Bertram Bloch to be made into a motion picture.

Good call, Bette.

Her Judith Traherne is a well-off socialite living very well off her late father's fortune. Much like a 1930s version of the Kiss song, Rock and Roll All Night, Traherne parties well into the morning and enjoys regular intakes of alcohol and tobacco.

She's hesitant to say anything about painful headaches that have bothered her for several months. Her eyesight is getting wonky too. It's not until she a) takes a bad spill when riding a horse and b) falls down a flight of stairs that others get a concerned about her well-being.

Enter Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent). Steele is an accomplished brain surgeon. He's getting ready to pack up his practice and head to Vermont where he can focus on his scientific research.

Tarherne is a reluctant patient, loathe to reveal details about her serious ailments.

"It's just a boring subject," she suggests about her health. "I'm accustomed to looking after myself."

Steele has an idea what's happening and X-rays confirm his suspicions. He must operate, but even that surgery isn't a complete success. Traherne will die in less than a year. Steele swears Traherne's best friend, Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald), to secrecy.

Sparks start flying between Steele and Traherne. All this talk about illness and mortality sure doesn't impact her looks. She's luminous and full of life. That sunny attitude takes a big dip when she happens on her medical file and learns of her fate. It's back to her hard-living lifestyle. Suicide begins to look like attractive rather than counting the days waiting for her demise.

Will she reunite with Steele? Will she find peace before her death?

Dark Victory is a joy to watch even with all its deep subject matter. Brent is the rock solid caregiver to Davis. As Traherne, Davis gives a role of a lifetime. Her work in this 1939 feature fromd director Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel, The Dawn Patrol) earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress.

It's a little odd seeing Humphrey Bogart as a horse trainer after tough guy roles in Angels with Dirty Faces and The Roaring Twenties. Both films were also released in the late 1930s.

Future American president Ronald Reagan is more a tippler than the Gipper as Alec, a party-going friend of Traherne's. There's even a small role for Henry Travers. He's known most for his role as Clarence, the angel, in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.

The death of Traherne's father allowed her a life of wealth and privlege. She battles illness while Steele does research to save lives. Should doctors tell their patients when death is imminent? When should someone speak up about secrets others are keeping? There are some meaty questions to chew on in addition to the film's fine performances.

RATING: 8/10

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

This Star Trek film journeys into a ho-hum cinematic world.

It's not terrible. It's not great. It's OK.

For Star Trek completists, it's must-see viewing, of course.

Casual fans of the long-running franchise could safely bank on parts II, IV and VI for greater enjoyment.

The Search for Spock begins where The Wrath of Khan ends. The Starship Enterprise is in rough shape after its most recent battles. The crew holds a funeral service for Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who died at the end of the second Star Trek film.


His remains are dispatched to Genesis, a planet-wide science experiment dreamed up by Kirk's son, David (Merritt Butrick). Federation monitoring of Genesis pinpoints a lifeform near Spock's casket. Hmmm. Has the Enterprise's science officer been resurrected on this planet of new life? It sure looks that way when David and Saavik (Robin Curtis) find Spock's burial robe, but not him. The parallels to Jesus Christ's resurrection after being crucified are pretty obvious here.

The Klingons, enemies of the Federation, learn about Genesis' power and want David's scientific find for their own evil use. Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) and his crew head to Genesis.

BRING HIM BACK After being chewed out by Spock's father Sarek (Mark Leonard) for not bringing "his living spirit" back to Vulcan, Kirk vows to bring his best friend home. Captain and company, against Federation orders, hijack the Enterprise and head to Genesis.

David's science project isn't as solid as he believed. Enterprise isn't in the best shape to do battle with, oh, any cloaked Klingon vessels they might encounter. Kruge wants Genesis. See where this is all going?

McCoy (DeForest Kelley) always gets some fine laughs and he delivers again here. His best crack is his first when he tries to arrange purchase of a vessel to get to Genesis. Sulu (George Takei) beats the snot out of a Federation guard. Chekov (Walter Koenig), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Scotty (James Doohan) get their brief moments too.

Nimoy makes his feature film directing debut here. He did have four television credits prior to this 1984 release including a 1983 epiosde of T.J. Hooker featuring one William Shatner. Star Trek IV and Three Men and a Baby would follow.

Star Trek III pretty much delivers what viewers will expect, including some decent action and wisecracks, but no big surprises.

RATING: 7/10

FILM FACTS: William Shatner's Star Trek Movie Memories is a nifty accompaniment when watching the film series. His chapter on The Search for Spock includes interesting details on Nimoy's decision to direct the third film, Shatner's initial unease with the script, Takei's unhappiness with said martial arts scene and his surprise role in the film's finale, Nimoy's initial choice of actor for Kruge and how actress Dame Judith Anderson beamed on board.

I did not know prior to writing this post that Carl Steven, who portrayed Spock at age nine, died in 2011. He was 36. Steven's other credits include Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Little House on the Prairie.

Butrick, who appeared in 20 episodes of the television series Square Pegs, died in 1989 at age 29.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

It's no problem to watch Trouble in Paradise.

This romantic comedy from director Ernst Lubitsch (Heaven Can Wait) is a true gem filled with great performances and an incredibly witty script.


This film, which remains a joy to watch 80 years after its release, is a must-see.

Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) is a true talent in the business of fraud. He works his way around Europe fleecing the very rich. When he strikes at a peace conference, a police reporter sums up his effectiveness with "He took practically everything except the peace."

Monescu finds love with another thief, Lily (Miriam Hopkins). A talented team of schemers is born.

"I love you," Monescu tells Lily early in the film. "I loved you the moment I saw you. I'm mad about you, my little shoplifter. My sweet little pickpocket. My darling."

Monescu sees a prime opportunity for a major score by targeting Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), the widow of a perfume boss. This lady is r-i-c-h. She's busy turning down other suitors ("Marriage is a beautiful mistake which two people make together, but with you I think it would be a mistake.")

PLEASURE MIXES WITH BUSINESS Monescu smooth talks his way into becoming Colet's secretary with plans for a major heist in a matter of weeks. But it's hard for him to separate business from pleasure when he finds himself falling for the stunning Colet.

"I came here to rob you, but unfortunately fell in love with you," he tells her.

Lily gets wise to Monescu's funny business just as an earlier victim gets suspicious of Colet's new hired hand. The fraudsters plan to head to Germany, but will Monescu ride the rails to freedom or try and make a go of things with Colet?

"I love you as a crook," Lily says when she first gets suspicious about his intentions with his latest mark. "I worship you as a crook. Steal, swindle, rob, oh but don't become one of those useless good-for-nothing gigolos."

Who writes this kind of dialogue now?

Trouble in Paradise offers quick jabs at advertising ("Remember it doesn't matter what you say. It doesn't matter how you look. It's how you smell.") and the affluence of the rich during the Great Depression. Colet is berated by a Communist (Leonid Kinskey) for spending so much money on jewelry.

The more recent Lost in Translation offered an interesting scene where Bill Murray whispers something to Scarlett Johansson. The audience can't hear what's said. Lost in Translation has several such scenes as well as numerous quick edits when characters react to news from others. Here's an example. A female character at a start of an opera sings, "I love you." When the film moves ahead to later in the show, things have changed. "I hate you," she sings. Great stuff.

Hey, there's even a nod to the rich being treated differently than the average Joe when it comes to crime. Shades of the financial meltdown of 1988 anyone? "You have to be in the social registry to keep out of jail," suggests Monescu. Zap!

This movie-goer suffered thorugh nearly three hours of The Dark Knight Rises. Trouble in Paradise wins your heart in just 83 minutes. Watch this movie!

RATING: 10/10

FUN FACTS: Leonid Kinskey was a bartender in Casablanca, Professor Overbeck in television's Batman and an agitator, again, in Duck Soup.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In Good Company (2004)

In Good Company, meet Music and Lyrics.

Watching this 2004 comedy/drama from director Paul Weitz (About a Boy) reminded me of the Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore film recently reviewed on this site.

I commented how Music and Lyrics some times felt like a TV movie at times. In Good Company has the same feel. This film could have been made for a television network, rather than put on the big screen.


It's an agreeable film, often predictable, with some nice performances. The end. With the 2012 Olympics now on in London, I'd suggest In Good Company would definitely end out of medal contention.

The film does deal with some serious issues - corporate takeovers and downsizings.


Young buck Carter (Topher Grace) is sent to re-energize the sales team at a weekly American sports magazine. He bumps middle-aged boss Dan (Dennis Quaid). He's in his early 50s with a baby on the way with wife, Ann (Marg Helgenberger), and daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) transferring to a pricey university in New York City.

In Good Company works best when it contrasts the lives of Carter and Dan.

There's some interesting crossover scenes involving the same item, such as a heart beat or a credit card.

Carter's the young kid on the move. He's making good coin. Carter is connected to the bigwigs in the company. He's earmarked as an up-and-comer. But Carter doesn't have a life. His wife leaves him less than a year into his marriage. A newly-bought Porshe is quickly banged up. He's hard pressed to even get some attention from his fish.

He looks at Dan's life and sees everything he's missing. A loving wife. A family. A real home.

Carter is axing jobs, but isn't keen to have Dan walk the plank. That might be because he's taken a shine to Alex, the talented athlete who's studying creative writing. In unexplained ways that tend to exist only in the movies, Carter is immediately smitten with Alex and reveals all his insecurities to her. Their relationship is kept hidden from dad until one day . . . . . . . .

In Good Company balances romance, family relationships and the cold world of bottom-line business. The pain of cutbacks is felt most strongly with Morty (David Paymer), a nice guy with a controlling wife. But Dan's showdown with corporate boss Teddy K (Malcolm McDowell) isn't a game changer. He dares question the big guy's vision, but in a room filled with employees old Ted has little to say. Say what? Where's the grand plan, Teddy K?

In Good Company has a solid cast with a so-so story. Your life can go on quite nicely without watching this film. RATING: 6/10

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Too long. Too many gaps in credibility. Too bad.

It's hard to enough to hear what Batman has to say when he speaks in hushed tones.

So what happens in this movie?

He battles a villian, Bane, who is also difficult to understand.

The second entry in this series is the best.

The Dark Knight Rises falls flat.

Bye bye, Batman.