Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I.O.U.S.A. (2008)

What a mess.

i.o.u.s.a. the movie is must-see viewing. For Americans, it offers a straightforward explanation of how their nation is drowning in debt. They're running out of time to avoid a financial catastrophe as Baby Boomers head into retirement. Audiences from other nations can learn what could happen with their own countries if national government spending is not contained.

Director Patrick Creadon (Wordplay) breaks down the cash crunch into several contributing factors.

The American government is spending too much money. Individual Americans are not saving enough cash. Too many American dollars are heading to other countries to purchase goods. More than 50% of all American debt is held by other countries. Sound financial planning done under President Bill Clinton, when surpluses appeared to be the norm for the future, fell apart during George W. Bush's two terms.

Former American comptroller David Walker, Concord Coalition's Robert Bixby, investor Warren Buffett and Sen. Kent Conrad are among those interviewed.

One person interviewed suggests America won't act until it faces a fiscal crisis. But by then, will it be too late?

RATING: 8/10

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Sunshine Boys (1975)

The Sunshine Boys is a bright idea, but this Neil Simon effort isn't such a hot effort.

Al Lewis (George Burns) and Willy Clark (Walter Matthau) were one of vaudeville's top acts. They toured together for more than 40 years. Lewis is comfortably retired with his daughter in New Jersey, Clark is still auditioning for small roles in New York City. The years are catching up to Clark. He gets lost and can't remember the few lines he does have to remember.

Clark's nephew, Ben Clark (Richard Benjamin), finds work for his cranky uncle, and his old partner, on a television special. The pair didn't part on good terms. Al is willing to resurrect one of their classic acts. Willy needs a lot more convincing.

Too often The Sunshine Boys runs the same jokes into the ground. Repeated gags riff on how Lewis and Clark each have memory problems. OK. We get it. They're old. Older people have memory problems. Move on. Much time is also spent on Clark's inability to open his hotel room door. Zzzzzz.

We get some heart-to-heart talks between Lewis and Clark, but the latter veteran talent is just angry, angry, angry. There's a brief suggestion from Lewis about why the act really broke up, but the audience never gets to see that reason explored. What a letdown.

Matthau's casting is curious. At the time, he was 55. Burns was 80. Was there not another actor closer in age to Burns? Matthau gets tiresome to watch in this film with all his bluster. When his carrying on finally catches up to him, there's an extended scene while he and Ben wait for help. We're supposed to feel sorry for the old guy. I was frustrated.

Based on Neil Simon's play, The Sunshine Boys does offer a steady stream of good one-liners and several very funny lines. But it's not enough. The film's slow pace often tests the viewer's patience. Most scenes feel like set pieces for Willy to get angry about something. There are shades of an earlier Simon work, The Odd Couple, in this film too. Al is well-dressed and neat. Willy is a loud slob. Oscar and Felix, anyone?

There are some nice cameos from Phyllis Diller and Steve Allen. Burns won an Oscar for his work in this film. Matthau would make more "old men" movies in another 20 years with efforts such as Out to Sea and Grumpy Old Men. The Sunshine Boys brought Burns back to the big screen with several Oh, God films and 18 Again following.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Director Herbert Ross also directed other Neil Simon efforts such as I Ought to Be in Pictures and California Suite.

Burs was Mr. Kite in the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Howard Hesseman, who would star in television comedy WKRP a few years later, is the first director to get frustrated by Willy Clark in The Sunshine Boys.

Santos Morales, who appears as a desk clerk in The Sunshine Boys, died in July 2012. His other credits include Back to School and The Lonely Guy.

In his memoirs, Rewrites, Simon describes how he almost shelved The Sunshine Boys, at least for a few years.

"I was stuck on it and saw it heading for the 'dead new play' folder not to be heard from again for six years or more.' Director Mike Nichols talked to Simon a week later and asked him if he was working on anything. Simon told him about The Sunshine Boys.

Nichols' response? "It's wonderful. I love it. You must finish it."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

We're No Angels (1955)

Director Michael Curtiz will be remembered for helming several classic films including Casablanca, White Christmas and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

We're No Angels isn't one of them.

This 1955 effort, one of Humphrey Bogart's last screen appearances, boasts some funny lines, ranging from mildly amusing to loud guffaws, and a delightful short appearance by Basil Rathbone. But boy, it moves slow. Plus, these heroes are hard to cheer for given the crimes they've committed.

Joseph (Bogart), Albert (Aldo Ray) and Jules (Peter Ustinov) escape from a prison on Devil's Island. They need to get on a passenger ship that's anchored offshore due to an outbreak. To buy some time, and keep out of sight, they offer themselves as repairmen to fix the leaky roof of less-than-successful shopkeeper Felix Ducotel (Leo G. Carroll).

While roaming around the roof eavesdropping on conversations, the trio of convicts on the lam learn what's happening with Ducotel and his family. His cranky, dominating cousin Andre Trochard (Rathbone) is on said ship with plans to see how the business he owns is doing. With him is his son Paul (John Baer), who Ducotel's daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott) loves dearly.

Joseph, Albert and Jules have nasty things planned for Felix and his clan including cleaning out their inventory and killing them. But the merchant, his wife Amelie (Joan Bennett) and Isabelle all impress with their kindness towards them. The three put some of the skills that put them behind bars to work. Joseph has a convincing way with customers and drums up cash sales. Felix lets his customers put their purchases on account with payments rarely made. Albert enjoys the company of women and offers Isabelle suggestions on how to deal with Paul. Jules' ability at picking locks pays dividends too. A delightful Christmas meal is put together by means that wouldn't agree with the Ten Commandments.

The goodwill the three have towards the businessman and his family doesn't extend to Andre. They still have a snake that killed a guard and helped them escape from prison. Can said reptile put the bite on another adversary of the three men?

We're No Angels is based on a play so once the convicts set up shop in the store they don't move around much. As with Wait Until Dark, reviewed earlier on this site, this viewer gets antsy with a story set in one location. There's also the matter of the trio's backgrounds. Jules and Albert have, in particular, done nasty things and Joseph still sees murder as an expedient way to solve problems. It's hard to be entirely comfortable with characters like those.

The script's laughs are fairly frequent, but they come with a lot of effort from the audience's patience.

RATING: 6.5/10

FUN FACTS: Internet Movie Database credits Leo G. Carroll as the actor with the most credits in Alfred Hitchock's films. Hitchcock, with his mandatory brief appearances, has the most.

John Baer's credits also include Night of the Blood Beast and Superman and the Mole-Men.

John Smith, who appears briefly as the passenger ship's medical officer, made his film debut as a choir member in Bing Crosby's Going My Way in 1944. He'd be with the choir again in another Crosby production, The Bells of St. Mary's.

We're No Angels was remade in 1989 with Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn. I liked that version even less.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Patch of Blue (1965)

Guy Green has created a small miracle with A Patch of Blue.

The British-born director (Great Expectations, Oliver Twist) took Elizabeth Kata's novel, Be Ready With Bells and Drums, and made a powerful film about friendship and acceptance. This 1965 release is not as well known as other movies that came out the same year such as The Sound of Music, Cat Ballou and Doctor Zhivago, but it packs a punch and still deserves to be seen nearly 50 years later.

Selina D'Arcey (Elizabeth Hartman) is a young, blind woman who continues to live with her dysfunctional family. Her mother, Rose-ann (Shelley Winters in an Academy Award winning performance), beats and neglects her. They share a tiny one-room apartment with Rose-ann's drunk father, Ole Pa (Wallace Ford, in his last screen performance). It's because of Rose-ann that Selina lost her sight when she was five and, about a decade later, raped. Ole Pa is more in love with the bottle than doing what is right to help his grand-daughter.

Selina has little, if any, schooling ("I ain't been taught nothing," she notes early on), can't read braille and doesn't have the living skills to get by outside her home. She strings beads for Mr. Faber (John Qualen) to earn money.

It's when she's working with the beads in the city park that she meets Gordon Ralfe (Sidney Poitier). He helps her right from the start of their relationship when she gets upset when a caterpillar lands on her. Again, Selina has no idea what's on her skin. Her time in the outside world is limited.

A friendship develops. Ralfe gradually learns about Selina's troubled background and wants to help. He starts to teach her how to get around by herself by recognizing the sun's location and using crosswalks.

"It's wonderful to have a friend," she tells Gordon. Her feelings intensify. She's falling in love with the kind man who does so much to help. He's interested, but is more concerned about offering her a new start to her life.

It's during a conversation between the two that Gordon learns Rose-ann, years earlier, cut off contact between her daughter and a black girl who also tried to help her out. Selina doesn't know about the colour of his skin.

A race against the clock starts when Gordon tries to get help for Selina while Rose-ann schemes to take her daughter, desert her father and open what sure sounds like a brothel with her friend Sadie (Elisabeth Fraser).

A Patch of Blue reminds me of 2009's Precious which featured an even more horrifying relationship between mother and daughter (Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe). Selina is also living through hell, but still sees beauty in the world and appreciates the kindness of others.

"It's great eating and talking," she tells Gordon during lunch at the spacious apartment he shares with his brother Mark (Ivan Dixon). There's nothing but a cheap transistor radio to listen to at her apartment. The brothers Ralfe have a record player and a selection of classical records. Selina becomes enchanted with a musical box owned by Gordon's grandmother. She too saw an important relationship affected because of racism. Composer Jerry Goldsmith (Seconds) deserves a nod for composing a great score.

Poitier is solid as a decent man who makes the effort to help Selina. Many others walk by her when she's in distress. He didn't.

A typical Hollywood approach to such a story would be to focus on a romantic relationship between the leads. That's not the big focus here. A Patch of Blue, just like later films like Educating Rita and Green Card, may not give some viewers the tidy wrap-up they want. Good for Guy Green.

A Patch of Blue is about stepping up to help someone else. It's about appreciating people for who they are, not damning them for what they look like. A Patch of Blue is a great film.

RATING: 10/10

FUN, AND NOT SO FUN, FACTS: Ivan Dixon is best known as James 'Kinch' Kinchloe in Hogan's Heroes. He also appeared with Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun and Porgy and Bess.

Elizabeth Hartman earned an Academy Award nomination for her film debut in A Patch of Blue. But life didn't end well for her. She committed suicide in 1987. She was 43.

What a resume. John Qualen also appeared in Casablanca, The Searchers and The Grapes of Wrath.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

7 Men From Now (1956)

Good to meet you, Budd Boetticher.

A great reward for writing this blog is learning about actors, directors and films I'd never crossed paths with before. Here's another find that I'd like to share.

This is the first film I've watched from director Boetticher (Commanche Station, Ride Lonsome).

7 Men From Now opens with a thunder clap, a dark night, heavy rain and title lyrics that include "when they hear the mighty voice of justice, one by one seven men will die." The mood is set. There won't be many laughs in this beautiful looking effort from 1956.

Former Silver Springs sheriff Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) wastes no time starting with the body count. He's hunting down the men who robbed Wells Fargo of $20,000 and, when doing so, killed his wife. When we first see him, he steps out of the rain and into a confined space where two of the outlaws are keeping dry. The tension builds.

The revenge scenario is straightforward enough, but things get interesting with other characters who become part of Stride's world. John and Annie Greer (Walter Reed, Gail Russell) are headed west through Arizona seeking opportunity. John's not much of a man's man. He's a salesman. Annie is his beautiful wife. They need help with trail challenges, like deep mud.

Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) is one of the men Stride has put behind bars. He and his sidekick, Clete (Don 'Red' Barry) want the Wells Fargo loot. Masters is handy with a gun and playing mind games with Stride and John Greer. He knows Stride took his wife from another man. Masters sees Stride has his eye on Mrs. Greer. He's interested in her too.

Stride finds the men he wants, but the odds look tough heading into the final showdown. Will Masters help him out or shoot him in the back? How will Stride deal with his feelings for Annie?

7 Men From Now offers beautiful scenery, engaging story and great performances from Scott and Marvin. "Any time you're ready, sheriff," suggests Masters. I agree. Watch this film.

RATING: 8/10

Captain Blood (1935)

Come sail away with Captain Blood.

Director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood) delivers a fantastic effort with a super cast, great romance, solid laughs and plenty of adventure.

Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) has put his violent ways behind him and "became a man of peace, not of war." He's a doctor in England. He's accused of treason when he treats an insurgent during the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685.

Blood is banished to the West Indies where he's sold into slavery. The slave with an attitude catches the eye of Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland), the beautiful niece of hard-driving mine owner Col. Bishop (Lionel Atwill). She buys him. He goes to work for her uncle.

Blood uses his leverage as a competent doctor over the two boobs who pass as physicians on the island (Hobart Cavanaugh, Donald Meek) to gain favour with the island's governor. He plans an escape with other rebels and, with the help of a Spanish pirate attack, succeeds.

Col. Bishop is livid and vows revenge. His niece is heartbroken at losing the man she secretly loves. Blood becomes a success stalking ships in the Caribbean. Against his better judgment, he agrees to a pact with a French pirate, Levasseur (Basil Rathbone), who doesn't share his gentlemanly ways.

When Levasseur captures a British vessel with the lovely Arabella on board, Blood aims to free her from his comrade and get her back to Port Royal, even though he'll be confronted by numerous British ships. Death appears inevitable. His crew threatens to mutiny.

Flynn is great as Blood, quick with a quip and handy with a sword. Atwill and Rathbone make two fine villains on land and sea. Atwill is a particularly nasty fellow as he literally brands troublemakers. de Havilland is lovely and strong as Arabella.

Captain Blood is one of the finest swashbuckling films ever made. "Courage, join with me." You'll be glad you did.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Errol Flynn's first role was as Fletcher Christian in In the Wake of the Bounty. Basil Rathbone's late career included, sigh, appearances in Hillbillys in a Haunted House and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.

Captain Blood received Oscar nods including three write-in nominations (director, picture, recording). Olivia de Havilland, born in 1916, is still alive and lives in Paris, France.