Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

Mamma mia, Three Coins In the Fountain is a great looking movie with a shabby story.

Three American women work in Rome. They live in a palatial apartment, complete with maid and expansive balcony overlooking the city. Who knew working in an American government office as a secretary paid so well? Maybe the currency exchange rate was really favorable 60 years ago.

Maria Williams (Maggie McNamara) is the new kid in town. She's looking for romance. Maria's cupid radar is so finely tuned that she realizes within moments that co-worker Giorgio Bianchi (Rossano Brazzi) is in love with fellow secretary, and roommate, Anita Hutchins (Jean Peters). The boss, Mr. Burgoyne (Howard St. John) frowns on the local workers mingling with the American talent.

Miss Francis (Dorothy McGuire) has resigned herself to spending the rest of her days in Rome as an old maid. She's a secretary to expat American writer John Frederick Shadwell (Clifton Webb). He appreciates her worth as his assistant, but not as a romantic partner.

Despite warnings, Maria sets her sights on local playboy Prince Dino di Cessi (Louis Jordan). Maria warns her of his string of romantic quests. The prince suggests he wants love, but is sought out by women who want the money and prestige that comes with his title. Maria doesn't do much to set herself apart from the pack. She schemes to win his heart by finding out all he likes and dislikes. But, hey, she really does love him at the same time.

Three Coins In the Fountain, shot in CinemaScope, looks absolutely fantastic. The fashions are beautiful. The settings are impressive.

But boy, it's hard to get excited about any of these romances. Francis and Anita, for the professional women they are, sure cry a lot. I wonder what their contemporaries in 2014 would make of that behaviour. There's zero romantic chemistry between Webb and McGuire. If Francis wanted love that badly, why did she keep waiting for Shadwell to smarten up?

Frank Sinatra croons the theme song. The film opens with several minutes of stunning scenes from around Rome. Maybe this movie is best watched with the volume down - after Old Blue Eyes is done singing.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Yikes. Three Coins in the Fountain was nominated for best picture, but lost to On the Waterfront. The film did win, deservedly, for best cinematography and song.

Louis Jordan, still alive at this writing, was Dr. Arcane in Swamp Thing and Return of the Swamp Thing based on a DC comic book.

Jean Negulesco, director of Three Coins In the Fountain, was also at the helm of How to Marry a Millionaire and Titanic (1953).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Red River (1948)

It's great to take another dip in the Red River (1948) after nearly 30 years.

This fine western by Howard Hawks was part of my first-year film class at Brock University. Several westerns, including Stagecoach, were screened.

There's at least two iconic scenes in this 1948 effort new audiences might have seen in movie books or compilations of western scenes. Sidekick Walter Brennan throws a knife to John Wayne while he fights another man in the water. The second is a montage of cowboys yelling out to start a massive cattle drive.

Thomas Dunson (Wayne) found his piece of heaven in Texas in 1851. He and Nadine Groot (Brennan) break away from a wagon train and head for ideal land for a cattle ranch. His goal is to offer "good beef for hungry people."

The decision comes with a heavy price. The wagon train is attacked by Indians just hours after Dunson's departure. His girl, who he didn't want to join him, dies.

Matt Garth (Montgomery Cliff) survives the attack. Dunson adopts him. Both men prove quick to draw their guns. While Dunson is cold when it comes to killing, Garth takes a kinder approach to who he'll dispatch. That distinction stirs up some friction between father and adopted son, with Dunson accusing him of being soft.

Dunson builds up his beef empire, but times are tough in the American south in 1865. He has lots of cattle, but no market. Dunson decides to launch a massive drive of 10,000 cattle to Missouri. The stakes are high. Attacks by raiders and Indians are likely.

Dunson drives the men hard. Where Garth sees chances to ease off and given the crew rest, Dunson demands more continued action. Morale nosedives. Defections start. There's a suggestion that Dunson's mental health may be impacted as he ignores sleep and keeps focused on his goal. "I don't like quitters," he says. The relationship between father and son strains, leaving Dunson determined go get revenge.

There's lots to like in Red River. The cast, with supporting characters such as John Ireland, Harry Carey, Jr., and his dad, Harry Carey, is very fine.

Clift is impressive in his film debut.

Joanne Dru shines as the feisty Tess Millay, who loves Garth and tries to talk sense into Dunson. But the first meeting of the sweethearts, during an Indian attack on a wagon train, seems awfully unbelievable. These two young kids are making eyes at each other while bullets and arrows are flying. That really seems unlikely.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Red River (1948) earned Oscar nods for best writing and editing.

That's Mickey Kuhn as a young Matt. Born in 1932, he's still alive as of this writing. His acting resume isn't long - 32 credits on Internet Movie Database. But his credits include A Streetcar Named Desire and Gone with the Wind!

Chief Yowlachie offers comic relief as Walter Brennan's sidekick, Quo. Yowlachie was King of the Rock People in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.

Noah Beery, Jr., appearing here as cowboy Buster McGee, played James Garner's father on television's The Rockford Files.

Red River was Joanne Dru's second film credit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

State of Play (2009)

One of State of Play's biggest thrills comes during the end credits.

Please appreciate this review is penned by a newspaper reporter - an occupation that's under siege in 2014 as readers move towards news consumption online.

What a thrill, then, to see this 2009 thriller end with the front page of a Washington daily being produced for publication and, once off the printing press, being loaded into waiting trucks.

For reporters, it's a real treat to see a story you've written, especially on a major story, coming off the press and wondering how the public will react to your work.

State of Play finds Washington Globe reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) working on a major story that will rattle Washington's ruling class.

But, boy, does it sure test our patience with some incredible coincidences and iffy reporting practices.

Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is taking part in hearings regarding Pointcorp, a private security contractor. When his lead researcher dies, Sonya Baker, at a subway station, questions surround her true relationship with the up-and-coming politician. She and Collins, having trouble at home with his wife Anne (Robin Wright), were having an affair. Collins is under siege from the media. He seeks refuge from his old college roommate, Cal. A politician seeking advice from a veteran reporter. Really? That seems a little unusual.

Cal wants the story and help his friend at the same time. I'm thinking Cal, given his close relationship with Collins, should have steered well clear of the story. Paper blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) is teamed up to work with Cal. Here's another strange development. She's supposed to be blogging about the researcher's death, but doesn't turn out much copy after an initial posting. Della's young, put on point along with Cal, while other senior writers do background work. Might this not cause some tension at the newspaper? Not in this film.

The questions keep coming. A man shot early in the film is in a coma in a hospital. He's in a room with blinds open. So, there's a police officer outside in the hallway, but the blinds are left up so the person who shot him, an expert shot, could potentially kill him from another building. What's up with that? I'd call that pretty lousy police security.

There's at least three door open scenes in State of Play that also raise an eyebrow, or two. Why are these doors open, given what's happening? Hard to believe, again.

Justin Bateman, who I didn't even recognize until seeing his name on Internet Movie Database, is great as public relations man Dominic Foy. On the flip side, Helen Mirren, as editor Cameron Lyne, just didn't ring true for me. Too bad. She's a great actor.

It's fun to hear Crowe's character listening to Great Big Sea in his car early in the film. The Australian actor is friends with the Newfoundland group. The Night Pat Murphy Died appears on the band's 1997 album, Play.

I watched State of Play because of its newspaper angle, but there's just too much distracting me from really enjoying this film.

RATING: 6/10

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Finally, Indy, we meet.

I've seen all of the sequels, but never the original that launched the Indiana Jones series in 1981. Thanks to an old VHS copy found at Value Village last weekend, I finally watched Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Special Edition), one of Harrison Ford's most well-known characters come to life.

The experience was disappointing.

As a huge fan of Buster Crabbe's Flash Gordon, I'm all for contemporary movies that are inspired by serials made in the 1930s.

But, boy, I wished I laughed more and found the action scenes more jaw dropping.

University archeology professor Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is tapped to find the Ark of the Covenant, a repository for the Ten Commandments.

It's 1936 and the American government learns Nazi Germany is keen to scoop up all kinds of religious relics. Jones is up against rival Dr. Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), a fellow archeologist who has opted to trade principles for profit.

Jones flies off to Nepal where he meets up with old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). Her spirited performance is the film's highlight. Cairo is next, where Belloq and company are not quite in the right place to find said ark. Jones makes the right call. But the bad guys always seem to find out what he's up to.

Darts, rolling huge stones, fighter planes, snakes and a German sub (there's more), director Spielberg throws all kinds of obstacles in Indy's way. It's amazing what a little American ingenuity, a bullwhip and a handgun can do.

I'd advise not letting young ones watch this movie. The film's climax is awfully gruesome.

Internet Movie Database reports a fifth film featuring Indy is in the works. Ford is 72 now. I wonder how good that film will be.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Special Edition) won four Oscars, including visual effects and editing.