Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mostly Movies: Get Low Movie Review

Here's another take on Get Low. What do you think?

Mostly Movies: Get Low Movie Review

Get Low (2009)

Here's a bucket list of reasons to get up and see Get Low.

1. Get Low stars Robert Duvall. He's a great American actor with credits including The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and Network. Duvall just turned 81 in January 2012. Savour his talent while he's still making movies.

Felix Bush (Duvall) has lived on his own, separate for the community, for 40 years. He is reviled by the townsfolk. Many stories are told about terrible deeds he did in his younger years. Bush, sensing his death is near, wants to finally tell his story.

Duvall shines as a master carpenter who's haunted by something that happened decades earlier. He's cranky, witty, compassionate, independent and stubborn.

2. Get Low offers another great role for Bill Murray. The former Saturday Night Live star has made so many great films since the early 1990s such as Groundhog Day, Rushmore and Quick Change. Here, he's Frank Quinn, the booze-loving owner of a funeral home who's in danger of closing shop because nobody's dying.

"What do you do when people won't die?" Quinn laments.
"It's them or us."


When he learns Bush is packing a serious bundled ball of cash, he's eager to get the old man's business.

Quinn isn't a shady player. He follows Bush's requests to the letter to give him the send off he wants.

Murray gets a few very solid one-liners, but his funeral director is also haunted by a failed marriage and the acknowledgement he doesn't know what it's like to have a family.

One of these roles eventually has to earn Murray an Academy Award nomination. Murray is a treat to watch.

3. Get Low stars Sissy Spacek. I think the last film I saw with this American actress was Oliver Stone's JFK. She starred as the wife of Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner).


As Matte Darrow, Spacek is Bush's old flame. She returns to town after her husband's death, but soon learns some disturbing news about Bush and another member of her family.

Darrow's emotions dealing with her old flame from rage and sadness to warmth and admiration.

4. Get Low is a promising feature debut from director Aaron Schneider. He was director of photography for Kiss the Girls.

Get Low is a solid drama with some very funny, and touching, moments. It's well worth a watch.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Bill Cobbs, who appears as Rev. Charlie Jackson, made his film debut in the original version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. In 2011, he appeared in The Muppets.

A second preacher in Get Low, Rev. Gus Horton, is played by Gerald McRaney. He was Rick Simon on the CBS detective show, Simon and Simon, that ran from 1981 to 1989.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Clash by Night (1952)

It's hard to say, "I do," to marriage after watching this film.

Intimidation, separation, infidelity, squabbles, regret and unwanted children are the highpoints of tying the knot in director Fritz Lang's 1952 effort.


Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) returns to a fishing town after a 10-year absence. Her brother, Joe (Keith Andes), wonders what happened to her grand plans of marrying a rich fella.

"Big ideas, small results," she replies.

There's a suggestion she had an affair and things with the man's family turned ugly when he died and his estate was divvied up. Mae didn't land much of a cash send-off.

"Home is where you come when you're out of places," she says.

Jerry D'Amato (Paul Douglas, Panic in the Streets (Fox Film Noir)) remembers Mae. The single skipper of a fishing boat appears to have kept a torch burning for her return. He starts to call on her and falls fast.


Mae's upfront with the nice, but dim, Jerry. She warns him her kind of woman is not a great catch. Pain is sure to result if they become an item.

"Don't be so eager to make a mistake," Mae warns him in one of many sharp lines of dialogue in this 105-minute release.

Jerry doesn't take the bait and keeps fishing. They marry. All is well for the first year of marriage. Randy Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan), now divorced from his burlesque dancing wife, tried to entice Mae before she married. He seduces her again -- and nabs the woman he loves.

Jerry doesn't think anything of his buddy, Earl, spending time with Mae. It's his conniving Uncle Vince (J. Carrol Naish) who finally reels in the truth for Jerry to see.

There's a suggestion early in the film that Jerry is a nice guy, but can do some damage with his fists if he wanted.

With Uncle Vince pumping him up, Jerry flips and wants blood.

The ending seems a bit of a tall tale given what's happened before. Decide for yourself.

Clash by Night marks another role for Marilyn Monroe before she hit the big time in the early 1950s.

Here, she's Peggy, Joe's girlfriend. Peggy is feisty and takes a shine to Mae's independent ways. But, she's repeatedly intimidated, or threatened with violence, if she doesn't follow Joe's wishes.

Clash by Night earns its aggressive title. There ain't a whole lot of happiness here.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Keith Andes appeared in The Apple, an original Star Trek episode, in 1967.

Pop singer Tony Martin performs I Hear a Rhapsody. According to Internet Movie Database, Martin is still alive. He turns 100 in 2012. Happy birthday, Tony!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

This drama delivers.

Email would make the premise of this film obsolete, so let's hear it for the storytelling merits of the United States postal system.

Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell) and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern) have a few key factors in common.


They're all friends and get together regularly with their husbands to socialize at a country club.

Each has boarded a ferry to help chaperone a picnic for a whack of youngsters on the same Saturday morning.

All their husbands have more than passing interest in Addie Ross (Celeste Holm), described but never seen as a ravishing woman with a solid head on her shoulders.

Just before the ferry is about to leave, the three ladies get a letter from Addie herself. When you come back later today, she says, I will have left town with one of your husbands.

How's that for hitting an iceberg before even leaving dock?


As we learn through flashbacks, each woman has reason to worry it's her husband who's jumped ship.

Deborah's the farm girl who grew up in a cash-strapped family. She's finding it hard to adjust to the upper-middle class circle her husband Brad (Jeffrey Lynn) calls home. The confidence she experienced in the navy during the Second World War, serving alongside other women in the same boat, is gone now that she's rubbing shoulders with the well-to-do of this unnamed American town.

Rita writes scripts for radio shows. She's so busy with her career she forgets about the birthday of her husband, George (Kirk Douglas). But, Addie remembered. She even sent him an album of one of his favourite classical recordings. George isn't keen about the dreck Rita writes to pay the bills. Rita's a little upset at the suggestive comment Addie penned in her card to her better half. There's some tension over her salary being bigger than his.

Lora Mae spends most of her time bickering with her husband, successful businessman Porter (Paul Douglas, Panic in the Streets (Fox Film Noir)). Funny how he never found the time to move Addie's portrait from his living room. Porter is convinced Lora Mae married him for his cash, not love.


A Letter to Three Wives doesn't get caught up in just hand-wringing among the three women. There are plenty of laughs too.

Thelma Ritter is a delight as Sadie Dugan, maid to the Phipps and best friend of Lora Mae's mother. Her wisecracks are a hoot.

George does a slow burn as he's forced to listen to cruddy radio show after cruddy radio show when his wife invites a powerful industry type over for dinner. Hold on when said power magnet asks him for his impression of the shows he's just suffered through.

Joseph Mankiewicz won two Oscars, direction and screenplay, for A Letter to Three Wives. The 103-minute black-and-white drama was also nominated for best picture.

This, folks, is a film well-worth seeing. Highly recommended.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Jeffrey Lynn appeared alongside James Cagney in The Roaring Twenties.

Barbara Lawrence, who appears as Lora Mae's younger sister, is still alive. Her other credits include the original Unfaithfully Yours and Oklahoma!

Wow, Carl Switzer (Alfalfa in the Our Gang shorts) has a small role in this film. Did you know he was murdered in 1959 over an argument about $50?

Celeste Holm appeared in the Oscar winner for best picture, Gentleman's Agreement

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kiss of Death (1947)

I'll make some noise about how effective silence is in this so-so film noir.

Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) is a nice guy and a con. Out of jail for a year, he can't find work. Having a rap sheet is hurting his employment prospects. It's Christmas Eve and Bianco has two daughters hoping for something from Santa under the tree.

Bianco, and a couple of his pals, rob a jeweler in New York City's Chrysler Building.

Cue silent scene No. 1. The thugs have to take the elevator down 20+ floors. It's Dec. 24. That means plenty of stops between the scene of the crime and the exit door. Cut repeatedly between the bound and gagged businessman straining to hit an alarm and Bianco and company keeping a nervous eyes on the descending floor numbers.


They don't make it out in time. Police arrive. Bianco tries to flee and gets shot by police. History repeats itself. His father was shot dead by the coppers 20 years before.

Assistant district attorney Louis D'Angelo offers Bianco a deal. Tell him who else took part in the heist and he'll get reduced jail time. Bianco doesn't bite -- even with the prospect of not seeing his two girls for a long stretch.


Three years into his stint at Sing Sing, Bianco gets a change of heart. His wife, despondent over tight finances, kills herself. His children are put in an orphanage.

Bianco decides to talk. He gets parole and can stay out of jail if he agrees to help D'Angelo with some other cases.


One major file the district attorney needs help with is putting vicious killer Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark, Panic in the Streets (Fox Film Noir)) behind bars. Widmark is impressive in his film debut. He received a best supporting Oscar nomination for his work in this Henry Hathaway film. Udo is the kind of guy who cheers for a boxer to knock his opponent's eye out. Nice.

Udo is a cold-blooded killer with a sinister giggle. Cross him at your own peril. The mother of an associate, thought to have squealed instead of Bianco, meets a horrific end.

Bianco testifies against Udo. Udo is found not guilty. He comes looking for revenge.

This leads to silent scene No. 2. Bianco knows he can't run. He knows his new wife, Nettie (Coleen Gray), and his daughters will be in danger as long as Udo is free.

Bianco tracks Tommy down to an Italian restaurant. There's silence as he sits at a table, smoking a cigarette, waiting for Uto to come out of a back room. Through the sliver of a slightly-opened door, Tommy approaches. This scene heightens the suspence between the two finally squaring off -- for good.

There's not a lot of surprises in Kiss of Death. Viewers can pretty much guess what will come next. But those two silent scenes, a great Widmark and some fine supporting work, including an early role for Karl Malden (Patton) make this 1947 release a mild curiousity.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: Brian Donlevy received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for Beau Geste.

Kiss of Death was Coleen Gray's first major film role.

Taylor Holmes, who appears as Bianco's corrupt lawyer Earl Howser, was the voice of Stefan in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. He made his film debut in Efficiency Edgar's Courtship (1917).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Michael Clayton (2008)

Memo to Tony Gilroy, director of Michael Clayton

Dear Sir,

Thank you for giving hope to movie-goers over 18.

Michael Clayton is an honest-to-goodness drama/thriller with an outstanding cast. Not a gun was fired. Two explosions happened with no one nearby. Tony, you relied on great performances from a strong ensemble of actors. Bravo.

Yes, George Clooney did make Leatherheads and Solaris, but he's usually associated with very well-made films. One of his earlier efforts, Out of Sight, is still one of my all-time favourites. I could talk about Jennifer Lopez's subsequent mostly lousy movie choices, but that's another memo.

Tom Wilkinson is one of England's best, with past credits including The Full Monty and Batman Begins. As Arthur Edens, he's a "killer" lawyer who also has mental health issues. When he learns the company he's supposed to be representing is manufacturing a weed killer that kills people too, he switches sides. Arthur starts to collect paperwork that will incriminate U North.

Clooney is Michael Clayton, the firm's "special counsel" who's called in to fix up whatever miss clients find themselves in. He's described as "the keeper of the hidden sins."

He's in a bit of a jam himself. His salary isn't as high as the firm's partners enjoy. He likes to play high-stakes poker. A business venture has bottomed out and he owes a good chunk of change to lenders who take a very hands-on approach when money due is late.

But Clayton isn't the only janitor involved in this particularly messy case. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is lead consel for U North. She employs her own fixer uppers. Their methods are deadlier than the tactics Clayton employs. They keep tabs on Arthur and, with Crowder's consent, step up their efforts to keep him quiet.

Tony, you've penned scripts to some pretty impressive films including The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Ultimatum. You showed a strong dual effort with Michael Clayton, writing the script and making your directorial debut. Well done. Your work was definitely noticed with six Oscar nominations including a win for Swinton as best supporting actress. She does do a great job here as a woman who just received a big promotion and isn't quite sure how she's supposed to make a very major problem disappear.

There's an ominous tone running through most of Michael Clayton's two-hour running time. Clayton and Crowder have a powerful encounter at the film's conclusion.

Director Sydney Pollack appears in his second-last role as Arthur Edens, Clayton's boss and head of the law firm. He died in 2008, a year after this film's release.

Even a brief appearance by Denis O'Hare (The Proposal, J. Edgar) packs real punch. His character, Mr. Greer, is on edge after hitting a jogger. He's not impressed with Clayton's efforts to help him tidy up his particular mess. Austin Williams is sold as Henry, Clayton's son. Listen carefully to his explanation of a book he's reading at the film's start. His synopsis sets up what his dad is about to face.

Tony, keep up the good work. It's rare to find a film with brains and such great acting. Please, keep 'em coming.

RATING: 8.5/10

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

This British comedy is a royal gem.

Much is made of Alec Guinness playing seven different members of the same aristocratic family, including a woman.

But Kind Hearts and Coronets is also an absorbing look at revenge, greed, manipulation and unexpected fate.

Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) vows revenge when his mother is shunned by her family, the d'Ascoynes, for marrying an Italian. He dies when Louis is born. She scrapes by, taking in a boarder to make ends meet, and meets an early death when she is struck by a bus.

Mazzini plots to kill the eight d'Ascoynes who stand between him and the dukedom. Fate helps with some of their demises. The admiral makes a not-too-bright navigational move to speed up his death. Poison, explosives, a bow and arrow and a gun are some of the ways Mazzini pops off his kin.

Kind Hearts and Coronets is a very funny comedy, but there's a definite dramatic element between Louis and his childhood love, Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood). He wants to marry her. She opts for another childhood chum, Lionel Holland (John Penrose), who is coming into cash a lot sooner than Louis. It's Sibella, the woman he loves most who proves to be his toughest opponent. Louis is interested in Edith (Valerie Hobson), the widow of one of the d'Ascoynes he dispatched. Here's a woman with real character, but Louis is more interested in using her to advance his scheme.

The laughs in this great film are mostly subdued, with observations including "Even potential dukes have to eat," when Mama (Audrey Fields) rents out a room to earn money to Lionel noting his "impersonation of a man with sterling character."

Guinness is great fun to watch as he plays each d'Ascoyne, including Lady Agatha, a suffragette who assumes her leadership role with great gusto. For Star Wars fans, it's fun to hear Guinness' parson note, "The port's with you." George Lucas' landmark science-fiction film was nearly 30 years away.

Kind Hearts and Coronets ends with a great twist, a fantastic final touch on a very, very good film.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Director Robert Hamer helmed The Haunted Mirror segment of the horror anthology, Dead of Night, released in 1945.

Greenwood was Guinness' love interest in The Man in the White Suit.