Monday, May 8, 2017

City Slickers (1991)



Yee-haw, for the most part.

City Slickers gets a bit schmaltzy at time, but this western comedy starring Billy Crystal and, Shane!, Jack Palance is well worth a look.

Three friends, Mitch Robbins (Crystal), Phil Berquist (Daniel Stern) and Ed Furillo (Bruno Kirby), spend two weeks taking part in a cattle drive.

Robbins is in a funk. His sales job at a radio station ("What is my job? I sell air.") is losing its lustre.

His buddies have their own problems too. Phil is in an unhappy marriage and manages a grocery store for his father-in-law. Furillo is afraid of settling down with his young wife. She wants children. Furillo fears becoming a dad means his days of playing the field are done.

Curly (Palance) is the bonafide cowboy who'll take the trio, and the rest of the would-be cowboys including Bonnie Rayburn (Helen Slater) on the trek.

City Slickers is fun mostly for its one-liners. Most are delivered by Crystal.

Mitch to Ed on trying on western wear: "I think you look like one of the Village People."

Mitch about Curly: "Did you see how leathery he was. He's like a saddlebag with eyes."

Mitch to Curly about his lack of finesse when roping cattle: "I have a roping disability."

In-between the banter, and driving the cattle, Mitch, Phil and Ed find time to talk about their respective problems back home. I'm all for men sharing their feelings. Here, it occasionally gets to be a bit much.

That's a small quibble. City Slickers is worth a whoop, or two.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: That's Jake Gyllenhaal as Mitch's son. I didn't recognize him. Thanks, Internet Movie Database.

Veteran actress Jayne Meadows (Song of the Thin Man) is the voice of Mitch's mom.

Jack Palance won a best supporting actor Oscar for City Slickers. His last nomination was for Shane in 1954.

Helen Slater's first film role was as Supergirl.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dark Passage (1947)



The cast is great. The story is good in Dark Passage.

Be warned, viewers. You won't get a look at Humphrey Bogart until about this film noir from American director Delmer Daves (3:10 to Yuma) is about a third over.

There's a good reason why Bogart's face time is reduced.

He's Vincent Parry, a San Francisco man sent to San Quentin for the murder of his wife. Parry escapes and sets out to find out the real killer. With a mug that's reproduced in the newspapers, Parry gets a new face - literally - from disgraced doc Dr. Walter Coley (Houseley Stevenson, in one of many very strong support roles).

Parry finds a second key ally too. Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) followed Parry's trial and also believed he was innocent of his wife's death. She gives him shelter in her apartment. They fall in love.

A string of dead bodies follows Parry. Some of these fatalities strain belief, specifically two involving Parry.

There's good tension through much of Dark Passage, but this film definitely falls short of being great.

Agnes Moorehead is especially great here. Douglas Kennedy gets a nice cameo as a police detective who quickly gets on Bogie's nerves.

Dark Passage also boasts some wonderful dialogue.

Bob (Bruce Bennett) to Madge: "I'm annoyed whenever I see you."

Bob to Irene regarding Madge: "Just pick up the sofa and throw it at her."

Vincent to small-time hood Baker (Clifton Young): "It's wonderful when guys like you lose out. It makes guys like me think we got a chance in this world."

Watch for the version of Dark Passage that includes a 10-minute short on its production. It's well worth the view.

RATING: 8/10

FILM FACTS: Too bad for Clifton Young. He died smoking in bed in 1951 at age 33. Young was Bonedust in several Little Rascals shorts. His last credit? Zombies of the Stratosphere in 1952.

Agnes Moorehad later appeared as Endena in television's Bewitched. Moorehad also voiced The Goose in 1973's Charlotte's Web.

Bruce Bennett teamed up with Bogart in 1948's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Lauren Bacall did voice work for Scooby-Doo and the Goblin King in 2008.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Great Escape: Secrets Revealed

This history fan is fascinated by The Great Escape.
The Allied prisoner of war escape during the Second World War was made into a star-studded film starring Steve McQueen and James Garner.
The Great Escape: Secrets Revealed is a bare-bones documentary returning to the POW camp in Poland some 70 years later.
If you're interested in seeing what Stalag Luft III looks like now, consider watching this film.
Just know this.
Secrets Revealed is edited to appear on television. There are no extras.
RATING: 6/10

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Late Quartet (2012)


Rest in pace, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The American actor died in 2014. He was 46.
A Late Quartet is one of his last films, released in 2012. This movie, the only feature credit to date from director Yaron Ziberman, is definitely worth seeing.
An esteemed classical quartet is about to fall apart after 25 years together.
Cellist Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken) learns he has Parkinson's disease. He knows he won't be able to play much longer. Mitchell wants the group to continue without him. He's even selected a young talent to take his place.
His imminent departure sparks all kind of troubles with the remaining three members.
Second violinist Robert Gelbart (Hoffman) sees Mitchell's demise as the time for him to assert himself. He no longer wants to be second fiddle, so to speak, behind Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir). His wife, violist Juliette Gelbart (Catherine Keener) isn't impressed with her husband's poor sense of timing. She's also not keen for her hubby to take the first violin chair. The group isn't the only thing that appears in danger of being wiped out.
Meanwhile, Daniel is taking more than a teacher's interest in Alexandra, the daughter of Juliette and Robert. Yikes.
Mitchell finds the prospect of leaving the group tough enough. Even worse is seeing the quartet implode.
There's much to enjoy here.
The inner workings of a classical group isn't often explored. There's plenty of drama here. Personal relationships fray. Egos must be managed. Just how much control should one person have with the group? "I miss being excited," laments Robert. He also delivers this broadside to Juliette: "Do you really love me or am I just convenient?"
The cast is great. Walken takes a lot of heat for being a bit odd, but he's very good here.
Hoffman is solid. Keener gets ample time to display her acting chops. Juliette is getting rocked from all sides - a straying husband, an ungrateful daughter and a mentor who's experiencing a serious health issue.
A cameo by Wallace Shawn (Toy Story, the princess bride) is a treat. Hey, is it just a coincidence his scene with Walken is a restaurant? Could that be a nod to one of his most famous roles in My Dinner with Andre?
And, finally, there's much to savour about a soundtrack filled with classical music. Play on and see this film.
RATING: 8/10
FUN FACTS; Daniel Lerner has come a long way. His first film credit is Iron Eagle II. Delta Force 3: The Killing Game followed a few years later. Then, he appeared in schindler's list. Much better.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Supertramp: The Story So Far (2002)



What a disappointment.

This is more concert video than a documentary of the great British group with a stable of hits including The Logical Song, Fool's Overture, Give a Little Bit and Dreamer.

Only a portion of Supertramp: The Story So Far is dedicated to telling Supertramp's story. The band goes from forming to Rodger Hodgson leaving in 1983 in 12 minutes. Things get more interesting when, after a slew of musical performances from concert dates that year, Rick Davies talks about two post-Hodgson albums, Brother, Where You Bound and Free as a Bird.

We learn very little about albums such as Crime of the Century and Crisis, What Crisis. We hear no stories of how their hits came to be. Again, this changes when Davies talks about songs such as Free as a Bird after Hodgson leaves the group.

Live takes of songs such as From Now On, Goodbye Stranger and Crazy are fine to hear. Don't expect to hear much different from the studio versions.

The disc also features four music videos, including I'm Beggin' You from Free As A Bird (Remastered). Davies shakes his head at the memory of the song being a dance hit. Go figure.

The Story so Far carries a 1990 copyright. Then, Davies suggests the band will get back together. They did - for 1997's Some Things Never Change by EMI International.

Supertramp deserves as a better documentary than this. Will we ever get to see one?

RATING: 6/10

The History Boys (2006)

This film went from OK to lousy in the last 15 minutes.

Its depiction of a teacher, Hector (Richard Griffiths) who sexually assaults his students, is treated as a joke. Why?

To make things worse, a student suggests a sexual encounter with a teacher as a way of saying thank you. Why?

Take a pass on The History Boys.

SAD FACT: Griffiths was nominated for a BAFTA Film Award for best lead actor.

RATING: 3/10