Friday, November 28, 2014

You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

Love sure is complicated in You Were Never Lovelier.

Robert Davis (Fred Astaire) heads to Buenes Aires. A gambling man, he puts his cash on a horse that barely shows up to race.

Wanting work, he tries to meet hotel owner Eduardo Acuna (Adolphe Menjou). Davis already has an in. He knows hotel band leader Xavier Cugat (playing himself). The hoofer finds a friendly face with Acuna's secretary, Fernando (Gus Schilling), but can't stir Eduardo's interest.

The businessman has his own troubles. One daughter is married, but the next, Maria (Rita Hayworth), isn't interested in any suitors. That distresses sisters Cecy (Leslie Brooks) and Lita (Adele Mara) who are eager to tie the knot. Pops decides to pique Maria's interest by writing a series of notes from a secret admirer. Davis, still looking for work, gets himself involved in the masquerade. The aura of mystery from her would-be suitor intrigues Maria. She gave Davis the brush off before because of some poor choices on his part ("I opened my mouth too wide and kept it open too long."), but is now interested when it looks like he's the one who's pitching woo. "I'm beginning to wonder what he's like," she suggests.

Davis warms to his assignment, but finds himself at the mercy of Eduardo who's less than keen to see his daughter pair off with him.

Hayworth looks divine. Fred works his magic on the dance floor. Menjou gets plenty of great lines dissing others, mainly Davis and the often fired Fernando. "You're as beautiful as ever," he tells his wife Delfina (Barbara Brown). "It just takes longer now."

You Were Never Lovelier is light, pleasant fare.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: William Seiter also directed Astaire in 1935's Roberta.

Leslie Brooks was a chorus girl in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Gus Schilling was also in Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil.

You Were Never Lovelier was nominated for three Oscars - best song, recording and score.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Funny Face (1957)

Audrey Hepburn dazzles.

Fred Astaire shines.

But the romance that's at the heart of Funny Face
is a joke.

This 1957 feature from American director Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) earned four Oscar nominations. Three make absolute sense - cinematography, art direction and costume design. The writing award makes no sense.

Funny Face
stands out because of its impressive cinematography. Kudos to Ray June (Horse Feathers, Houseboat), who died a year after this film was released.

Hepburn is radiant as bookstore employee Jo Stockton who becomes the new face of Quality magazine for women. Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) is the photographer who discovers her for editor Maggie Prescott (a very good Kay Thompson).

Maggie and Dick fall in love. Ewww. There's a 30-year difference between the stars. That's an issue for this film fan.

Plus, Funny Face spends too much time on a really dumb subplot that has Maggie trying to talk philosophy with a professor, Emile Floste (Michael Auclair). Dick, besides not being keen on seeing another man vie for Maggie's attention, figures the academic really wants to make a move on her rather than share intellectual thoughts. "He's more man than philosopher," Dick suggests.

Watch Funny Face for June's work, especially scenes shot outside a church and some great song and dance numbers. Pardon lines such as "You're a cutie with more than beauty." Shot in high fidelity in VistaVision.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Kay Thompson only made four films. She's the godmother of Liza Minelli and created the Eloise series for young readers.

Director Stanley Donen helmed several musicals in the 1950s including Singin' in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He's still alive at the time of this writing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Yes Men (2003)

Yes, The Yes Men is worth a look.

Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaun take a slightly different approach than American filmmaker Michael Moore when it comes to their social activist approach to filmmaking.

Moore often shows up with a camera in tow to confront people he may disagree with. A security guard usually shows up or a hand is put in front of the camera.

Bonanno and Bichlbaun pretend they're representatives of the World Trade Organization and make outlandish statements that would never be spoken by the international group.

Their goal is to highlight what they argue are imbalances in trade between nations. Developed countries get the spoils, they say, and underdeveloped counterparts get the shaft.

Bonanno and Bichlbaun set up a faux WTO-like site and wait for business interests who don't notice they're a bogus entity. The boys start this documentary with a presentation in Finland. They argue the northern states were wrong to interfere with slavery during the American Civil War. Posing as WTO reps, they suggest slavery - repositioned as "remote labour" still offers lucrative boosts to the bottom line in the 21st century. The selling of votes for elections is pitched. Their crowning achievement - a gold coloured suit with a phallic-like attachment that allows corporate brass to monitor what their cheaply paid workers are doing thousands of miles away. Oh, receptors are implanted in the bodies of labourers so the boss, with the aid of transmitters, can feel what they're feeling.

No one asks any questions. No one in the audience is outraged. Media later pick up the story and their appearance gets covered in Fortune Magazine and The New York Times.

The Yes Men continues with a visit to an American college campus, where the younger set are a little more attentive to their pair's message - this time suggesting human waste from America be sold as meat in poorer countries.

Bonanno and Bichlbuan's final appearance is in Australia where it's suggested the World Trade Organization will reinvent itself because, given its current model, poor nations are not being helped.

Audience members are surprised to learn of WTO's plans, but welcome a chance for workers who need a hand up to get one with the trade group's reorientation.

The Yes Men won't win marks for its photography, but its message will make audiences think and ask questions. That's a good thing.

RATING: 8/10

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

There's definitely a few surprises in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Watching Bruce Dern getting his right hand cut off with a butcher knife in a 1964 film was definitely unexpected. Blood spattering on a wall caught me off-guard.

Seeing a major character fall down a flight of stairs, in rather convincing fashion, wasn't anticipated.

How about a brief cameo from screen icon Mary Astor, in her final film role? That's pretty cool.

Some twists in this horror/suspense effort from director Robert Aldrich are fairly easy to see, but one major plot point definitely isn't anticipated and packs a punch near the film's finale.

This seven-time Oscar nominated film starts in the past. It's 1927 and Big Sam (Victor Buono) is reading the riot act to John Mayhew (Dern). The married Mayhew is having an affair with Sam's daughter, Charlotte (Bette Davis). The relationship must end, dad decrees. Charlotte is devastated when John calls off the relationship. The same night, at a party hosted at Sam's mansion, Mayhew is murdered. Charlotte appears to be the likely suspect. She spends the next 30-plus years largely alone in her childhood home. Only her maid, Velma (Agnes Moorehead), sticks it out alongside the woman townsfolk brand insane. "She's not really crazy," Velma suggests.

Charlotte taps her cousin, Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) for help when a highway development threatens her home with demolition. Miriam looks like she's loaded up on sedatives, staying extraordinarily calm while Charlotte has visions of her long-dead beau coming back to be with her. Velma is suspicious of Miriam's intentions. Harry (Cecil Kellaway) rolls into town from England wanting to meet with Charlotte and hear her story. Drew (Joseph Cotten) is a local doctor who has a connection to Miriam and Charlotte. But is he looking out for the best interests of this patient?

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte has its creepy moments. The setting just invites a good case of the heebie jeebies - an old home in the middle of nowhere with lots of shadows. What's up with that unseen dog who can be heard barking at night? Davis is often hysterical through its two-hour running time. We never learn why she remained so devoted to John years after his untimely demise. These points get a little frustrating. Harry's travelled a long way to get Charlotte's story, but he doesn't press as often as he needs too. I can't see his editor back in England being very happy with his so-so efforts. An American tabloid shooter has less tact, but gets the job done much more effectively.

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte would work better if it was a little shorter and some of its plot points made a little more sense once the full story is known.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Agnes Moorehead made her debut in Citizen Kane. She also appeared in a classic Twilight Zone episode, The Invaders.

John Megna makes a brief appearance at the film's start. He was Dill Harris in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Al Martino sings the title song. The American signer's hits included Spanish Eyes and I Love You Because.