Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Ocean's Eight (2018)

It's hard to believe it's been over a decade since our family saw OCEAN'S 13 (2007) while on a vacation trip. OCEAN'S 13, of course, followed OCEAN'S 11 (2001) and OCEAN'S 12 (2004); now, 17 years after OCEAN'S 11, we have the story of Danny Ocean's sister Debbie.

As the film begins, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is released from five-plus years in prison. Debbie immediately looks up her old friend Lou (Cate Blanchett) to discuss a genius plan she came up with in prison to rob fabulous gems from the annual Met Gala in New York City.

Debbie plans to arrange for actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear a fabulously expensive necklace which the gang will steal. While Debbie's at it, she'll also frame her old boyfriend Claude (Richard Armitage), who betrayed her and sent her to prison after a job gone wrong.

Debbie and Lou recruit their team, including fence and corporate expert Tammy (Sarah Paulson), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), jeweler Amita (Minda Kaling), and dress designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter).

As the film unspools over a well-paced hour and 50 minutes, the pleasure is in watching this finely tuned team work their magic. Some critics have criticized the fact that there's not much dramatic tension in terms of a threat to the plan, but I actually liked that as it made the movie very relaxing. It's more of a comedy or female buddy movie than a suspenseful heist film.

Of course, it's a total fantasy, which is also part of what makes it fun. Among other things, I marveled over the women seemingly having completely clear consciences about helping themselves to other people's money. That doesn't seem to ever cross their minds; this is simply the job they're good at.

Bullock is always enjoyable, and that's true again here as the woman with a plan. Blanchett, as Bullock's friend and top lieutenant, is the blandest of the women, a helpful cog in the machinery but otherwise something of a cipher. Hathaway, on the other hand, is pure genius in a sly comedic role as a celebrated celebrity. Her scenes with Bonham Carter as the fashion designer are particularly amusing.

There are a couple nice cameos from the previous films, but the movie really called for an appearance by Danny (George Clooney) in the final scene, and I was disappointed we didn't get one.

Everyone does a good job and turns out an entertaining film. Great art it's not, but it's a very enjoyable "summer popcorn film," and I was glad I went to see it as I had quite a good time.

OCEAN'S EIGHT was directed by Gary Ross and filmed by Eigil Bryld.

Parental Advisory: OCEAN'S 8 is rated PG-13. It's pretty mild as these ratings go, but there are a couple of racy moments which would be awkward for children to view.

A trailer is here.

Final note: Although many sources refer to the film as OCEAN'S 8, including posters, I give opening credits the last word, and in this case the number in OCEAN'S EIGHT is spelled out.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Every Girl Should Be Married (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

A top cast stars in EVERY GIRL SHOULD BE MARRIED (1948) available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Cary Grant plays Dr. Madison Brown, who attracts the notice of a (very) marriage-minded young lady, Anabel Sims (Betsy Drake). Anabel dreams of her own home with a husband and children, and she believes that women should have as much opportunity as men to pursue relationships. Charmed by the news that he's a pediatrician who thus must love children, Anabel forms plans to snag Dr. Brown with single-minded intensity.

As part of the plan, Anabel decides that Dr. Brown needs to think another man is interested in her, and through a series of circumstances that man turns out to be the oft-married Roger Sanford (Franchot Tone), an old college friend of the doctor's who happens to own the department store where Anabel works.

Dr. Brown is seemingly on to Anabel's every move; initially perplexed and frustrated by her intensity, he ultimately finds he can't quite help himself when it comes to falling for her.

The always-enjoyable Diana Lynn plays Anabel's friend and partner in crime who assists her myriad schemes to land the doctor, and Eddie Albert has an amusing uncredited role as a radio actor posing as Anabel's boyfriend from "back home."

These days we'd probably call the never-say-die Anabel a stalker! I veered between feeling embarrassed for her and admiring her determination to achieve her goals, which seems to be pretty much how Dr. Brown feels for much of the movie as well.

Rather interesting to me was that Anabel seemed to be a forerunner for Maggie MacNamara's character in THE MOON IS BLUE (1953). THE MOON IS BLUE originated as a 1951 Broadway play, and I couldn't help wondering if playwright F. Hugh Herbert took any inspiration from this movie; the stories have in common a very talkative and determined leading lady, a befuddled leading man who doesn't know what hit him, and an urbane bachelor "third wheel."

Rather amusingly, exactly one year after this film was released, Drake married Grant; they were married over a dozen years and also costarred in the very good family comedy ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952), which was shown on TV as THE EASY WAY when I was growing up. EVERY GIRL SHOULD BE MARRIED is one of a small number of Grant films I'd never seen, and I was glad to finally check it off my list.

Despite finding Anabel exhausting at times, on the whole this is a cheerful and well-made movie, with interesting little touches such as the action under the opening credits and end title. It has a bright soundtrack score and crisp photography of an attractive cast by George E. Diskant (ON DANGEROUS GROUND), and it knows when to quit at the 85-minute mark.

In the end much of the movie's appeal boils down to: Who could possibly not enjoy a romantic comedy with Cary Grant and Franchot Tone as the male leads?

The film was directed and cowritten by Don Hartman (HOLIDAY AFFAIR), who sadly would die a decade later at the age of 57.

The supporting cast includes Elisabeth Risdon, Alan Mowbray, Chick Chandler, and Richard Gaines. Anne Nagel, the leading lady of '30s Dick Foran Westerns, has a brief scene as a mother attending Dr. Brown's lecture. Look for James Griffith as an insurance salesman who tries to give Annabel a car (it's a long story). The minister is played by Selmer Jackson.

This is an early Warner Archive release which, like all WAC releases, continues to be manufactured "on demand." Other than a couple minor flaws the DVD picture looks great, and the disc has a strong soundtrack. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Kid Nightingale (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

John Payne stars as KID NIGHTINGALE (1939), just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Steve Nelson (Payne) is a singing waiter unexpectedly recruited to the boxing ring after tussling with an obnoxious customer.

Steve becomes popular with the ladies as "Kid Nightingale," singing a song after each victory. Along the way he also romances Judy (Jane Wyman), a piano player.

The movie is so lacking in plot that there's not much more to say about it than that! It's a minor film which runs only 57 minutes, but it has its compensations, especially the pleasure of watching the young Payne and Wyman.

The scene where the couple duet singing "Hark, Hark, the Meadowlark" is a charmer, and Payne having several chances to sing is one of the elements which makes the movie worth seeing for his fans.

Payne was gorgeous, as is shown to good effect in the boxing scenes, and Wyman, in her "blonde period," is cute and personable.

Fave Warner Bros. supporting actor John Ridgely is also on hand, along with Ed Brophy and Walter Catlett.

A great movie it's not, but fans of Payne and Wyman will enjoy spending under an hour watching a pair of talented young actors as they worked their way up through the studio system, headed toward better things.

KID NIGHTINGALE was directed by George Amy and filmed by Arthur Edeson.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Winner of Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017) Blu-ray Drawing

The day has arrived to announce the winner of the drawing for the Blu-ray copy of BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (2017)!


I wrote the names of everyone who entered the contest on strips of paper and put them in a bowl, then asked my husband to draw the winner.


I'm happy to announce that the winner is...Amanda!

Amanda recommended HER HIGHNESS AND THE BELLBOY (1945) as a favorite Hedy Lamarr movie.

Amanda, please use the "Contact Me" button near the top of this page's lefthand margin in order to email me your address. I'll mail you the Blu-ray ASAP after receiving your address. Congratulations!


Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to share their favorite Hedy Lamarr films and enter the drawing!

For more on BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY, please read my recent review.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing the Blu-ray awarded in this drawing.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Baby Face Harrington (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

I had a hectic workweek, hence a quiet few days here on the blog. It was great to reach Friday evening and curl up with a cute little 62-minute comedy, BABY FACE HARRINGTON (1935). It was just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

BABY FACE HARRINGTON was directed by Raoul Walsh. Charles Butterworth plays the title role. Willie, as he's known in ordinary life, is a milquetoast clerk with a loving wife, Millicent (Una Merkel), but not much else.

Being a glass is half full kind of man, Willie points out to Millicent that they have a house, a car, a radio, and a vacuum cleaner, all the things one could want in life. When Millicent responds that they have a mortgage and that the car and vacuum aren't in good shape, Willie hopefully asks, "How's the radio?"

Butterworth, whose deadpan line readings always tickle my funnybone, is amusing as a man whose life from that point spirals out of control. He plans to ask for a raise and ends up being fired; he cashes in a life insurance policy to pay off the mortgage only to erroneously think it's stolen, and he robs the man (Donald Meek) he thinks took the money.

Willie later finds his own money in his car, but it's too late, he's now a robber and a bored news media in need of eye-catching headlines decides to dub him "Baby Face Harrington." They create an entire persona and storyline for him, asserting that he has a dual personality and is responsible for a crime wave. It's "fake news," 1935 style!

Things get even crazier as Willie is sprung from jail by a gang headed by Rocky (Nat Pendleton).

It may not be a great movie, but it's a fun and entertaining little film which sprints by quickly in not much more than an hour. Butterworth and Merkel are backed by a solid cast which also includes Eugene Pallette, Harvey Stephens, Robert Livingston, and Claude Gillingwater. Look for Dennis O'Keefe in the background at the country club.

The movie was filmed by Oliver T. Marsh.

The print and sound are generally quite good, though there are a couple random lines in the print. The DVD includes a trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Hanging Tree (1959) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Gary Cooper stars as a doctor with a troubled past in the Western THE HANGING TREE (1959), available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

Having recently enjoyed Gary Cooper in the romantic comedy DESIRE (1936), today I turned to THE HANGING TREE, one of the last few films released before Cooper's death in the spring of 1961.

THE HANGING TREE begins in promising fashion, with gorgeous vistas of Washington State, filmed by Ted McCord, while Marty Robbins sings the title song. The score by Max Steiner is notably good.

Between Cooper and the movie's opening, I was predisposed to like the film...but I didn't. I really didn't. It's the rare Western that simply didn't work for me.

Cooper plays Dr. Joseph Frail, who has just set up shop in a mining town when he rescues a young criminal named Rune (Ben Piazza) from a mob. The doctor, who is equal parts kindly and controlling, turns Rune into an indentured servant of sorts.

Shortly thereafter, the townspeople rescue an immigrant named Elizabeth (Maria Schell) who was wandering in the wilderness after her stagecoach was attacked; she's deathly ill from exposure but the doctor nurses her back to health. Elizabeth comes to love the doctor but he pushes her away; he has a dark past involving burning down a house with his wife and brother inside, and he lets people get only so close and no closer.

Elizabeth ends up digging for gold with Rune and an oddball character named Frenchy (Malden). They're successful, but when Frenchy physically attacks Elizabeth and the doctor metes out frontier justice, it precipitates a climactic confrontation in which the townspeople threaten to lynch the doctor.

I like a number of director Delmer Daves' films very much, most recently THE RED HOUSE (1947), but THE HANGING TREE has what I can only describe as an "icky" feel throughout, whether it's Malden's loon having a carbuncle removed from his rear end (really?! did we need that?) or George C. Scott's alcoholic itinerant doom-and-gloom preacher constantly ranting warnings about the doctor.

Part of the movie's problem is its lack of admirable characters. The most ethical man in the movie is the kindly storekeeper played by Karl Swenson (LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE), and unfortunately he has a selfish shrew of a wife (Virginia Gregg) who causes Elizabeth great pain. Young Rune is semi-sympathetic, but otherwise the only character to root for is Elizabeth, and she spends a good chunk of the movie horrendously sunburned and with her eyes bandaged, to the point that in her early scenes I honestly didn't want to look at her and that ghastly sunburn.

I suppose the film is attempting to tell a story of the doctor's redemption, as he helps Elizabeth behind the scenes and finally allows her to love him, but I simply didn't feel anything for him. And if I don't feel anything for a Gary Cooper character, that's a problem.

I know this film has admirers among my fellow Western fans, so other viewers who try the film may well have a different take.  The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a beautiful print which I can recommend for anyone who wants to see it. (There are a handful of odd-looking insert shots with fake backgrounds but I think those would look poor no matter what.) The disc includes the trailer.

Vincent Sherman and Karl Malden are listed by IMDb as having made uncredited directing contributions to THE HANGING TREE. It runs 107 minutes.

For a very good mining town movie I recommend Anthony Mann's excellent THE FAR COUNTRY (1954), a film I loved and look forward to seeing again.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: Espionage Agent (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Joel McCrea stars in the Warner Bros. spy thriller ESPIONAGE AGENT (1939), just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

I first saw ESPIONAGE AGENT half a dozen years ago and was glad to revisit it thanks to the new Warner Archive release. As McCrea's character tries to expose German spies and saboteurs while America dangles on the precipice of entry into WWII, the movie almost seems like a dry run for the following year's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), which McCrea made with Alfred Hitchcock.

Released just over two years before Pearl Harbor, we listen as a radio reporter (George Bancroft) urges that America remain neutral and avoid European entanglements. Moments like this make the film historically fascinating as well as entertaining.

McCrea plays Barry Corvall, a State Department employee who courts mysterious Brenda Ballard (Brenda Marshall) while on a ship bound from Europe to the U.S. He persuades Brenda to marry him, but soon after the wedding Brenda confesses the awful secret in her past: She had been recruited to spy for Nazis and, so broke she couldn't eat, she accepted the job, not realizing just how terrible the Nazis were. Now she wants nothing to do with them, but they're trying to reel her back in.

Barry and Brenda explain everything to the State Department and then, after Barry's forced resignation, they head back to Europe, determined to expose the spy ring while working as private citizens.

The middling script of this 83-minute film keeps it from being top-flight entertainment, but it certainly has its compensations, starting with lead actors Joel McCrea and Brenda Marshall. My appreciation of Joel McCrea probably needs no restating here, but he's delightful to watch as always.

As I've written here in the past, the beautiful Marshall had a somewhat limited range, yet I find her enjoyable and have seen most of her films. Known by her real name, Ardis, offscreen, she would marry William Holden in 1941, a marriage which was apparently tumultuous at times but which lasted for three decades before they finally divorced in 1971.

The genial Jeffrey Lynn brings energy to the film in his scenes as McCrea's pal at the State Department. Nana Bryant also gives an interesting performance as Barry's steely mother, who clearly has concerns about her son's marriage yet also wants to support him and his new wife. She brings nice depth to what could have been a controlling cartoon character. I did ponder what it said about Barry's relationship with his mother that he and Brenda would head to Baltimore to marry and only bother telling dear old Mom once it was a fait accompli!

As mentioned above, the film is also of interest for its reflection of America prior to our entry into WWII. A discussion about limitations on investigating spies within U.S. borders still has resonance today, particularly in light of 9/11. I also enjoyed a montage about the training of State Department diplomats.

ESPIONAGE AGENT was directed by Lloyd Bacon. It was filmed in black and white by Charles Rosher. The supporting cast includes Stanley Ridges, James Stephenson, Howard Hickman, and Nella Walker. Look for a young William Hopper (PERRY MASON) as a student.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print although the sound balancing could be better, as the musical score and sound effects threaten to drown out the dialogue at times. I would turn the volume up to better hear the dialogue over the music, only to have a huge blast of noise like a ship's horn force me to turn it back down again!  The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Broadway Hostess (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Wini Shaw has a rare starring role in the Warner Bros. musical melodrama BROADWAY HOSTESS (1935), now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Shaw may be best known today for singing "Lullaby of Broadway," the stunning Busby Berkeley production number in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935). Here she plays Winnie, a small-town girl who makes good when she gets a job as a nightclub singer thanks to Lucky (Lyle Talbot), who becomes her manager.

Winnie loves Lucky, but he's in love with wealthy Iris (Genevieve Tobin); meanwhile Winnie's pianist Tommy (Phil Regan) is carrying a torch for Winnie.

BROADWAY HOSTESS is quite a rambling film for a movie which is only 68 minutes long. Initially the focus is on Winnie and Lucky, but then after Winnie makes the big time there's a shift to following Lucky, Iris, and their social set. Lucky's friend Fishcake (Allen Jenkins) serves as comic relief, romancing wealthy Mrs. Duncan-Griswald-Wembly-Smythe (Spring Byington). Meanwhile, Iris's nasty brother Ronnie (Donald Ross) has it in for Lucky.

BROADWAY HOSTESS opens and closes strong but sags in the middle. The movie has enough going for it that I enjoyed it, but it's a bit of a hodgepodge in terms of tracking a large cast and veering between hardboiled Warner Bros. melodrama and a musical.

Winnie's big number "He Was Her Man," sung early on when she becomes a hit at the nightclub, is a good one, and "Playboy of Paree" is fun as Winnie sings it to future cowboy star Bill Elliott, who has no lines but plenty of screen time during the number.

Dennis O'Keefe is also on hand, as a friend of Ronnie's. Elliott and O'Keefe, who both toiled as bit players for years before becoming stars, turn up simultaneously in numerous '30s movies; I most recently saw them both in A LOST LADY (1934). It would be fun to run the numbers on how many movies featured both actors in bit parts.

1935 was a busy year for leading actress Shaw, as in addition to BROADWAY HOSTESS and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 she appeared in four other films, including FRONT PAGE WOMAN (1935) and THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE (1935), not to mention a couple of shorts. Shaw was out of films by 1939; she spent the WWII years on USO tours and later would sing in nightclubs. Her tombstone references both "Lullaby of Broadway" and "Lady in Red," which she introduced in yet another 1935 film, IN CALIENTE (1935).

BROADWAY HOSTESS was directed by Frank McDonald and filmed by Arthur L. Todd. Look for Marie Wilson, Ward Bond, and Mary Treen among the supporting cast. Jane Wyman is listed as a chorus girl but I didn't spot her.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good, slightly soft print. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

As longtime readers know, I've been a big STAR WARS fan since I was a kid in 1977. Despite that, I'll say at the outset that I was extremely dubious about seeing the prequel SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018), to the point where I didn't catch it until it had been out for 10 days.

Of the newer STAR WARS films, I liked THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) and ROGUE ONE (2016), but I've felt more negative about what I saw in THE LAST JEDI (2017) as I've contemplated it in the months since. That left me, and (based on the disappointing box office) apparently a lot of other viewers uncertain about seeing SOLO. Among other issues: SOLO without Harrison Ford?

After hearing positive reports on SOLO from family, friends, and the esteemed Leonard Maltin, I decided I needed to see it, if only to evaluate it for myself. I figured if I went in with low expectations I was likely to enjoy it to some degree. And meanwhile, there's always popcorn!

Well, I'm as surprised as anyone to say that not only did I enjoy it, I think it's probably the best of the new STAR WARS films. I had a thoroughly good time, to the point where I'm considering seeing it again, and I'll definitely be getting the Blu-ray. (So far I haven't been in a hurry to add THE LAST JEDI to my STAR WARS shelf...)

SOLO features an excellent cast in quite a good story which doesn't try to do too much or have extraneous plotting (ahem, LAST JEDI), and more than any other of the recent films, it looks, feels, and sounds like STAR WARS, including good use of John Williams' themes. As I watched it, I actually thought to myself that I couldn't believe I was, in a sense, watching "more" original STAR WARS...it felt more like '77 for me than any of the other recent movies. (ROGUE ONE came closest before SOLO.) It was a little bit like being able to time travel, both in terms of the story and the film's overall style, and I couldn't have been happier.

The movie's only weak spots, in my estimate, were a too obviously Dickensian setting for the opening sequence, and a 2-hour-and-15-minute run time which should have been tightened up by several minutes.

As the movie begins, orphan Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his friend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) are attempting to escape Corellia, the planet where they've basically been forced to work as Artful Dodgers for a monstrous Fagin (Linda Hunt). The pair are separated in the escape attempt, and Han heads off to train as a pilot, but he and Qi'ra will meet again.

Eventually Han meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and hooks up with the mercenary Beckett (an excellent Woody Harrelson), who becomes a mentor of sorts, on a mission for evil Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). (It's a long story...they have no choice.)

Han reconnects with Qi'ra, meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and flies on the Millenium Falcon for the first time, and generally has quite a series of adventures. Seeing the depiction of things mentioned in the original film, such as Han winning the Falcon from Lando or the Kessel Run ("in less than 12 parsecs!") is all kinds of fun.

I wasn't sure what I would think of Ehrenreich as Han but as the film went on I was quite satisfied; he hits the right notes to show Han as both cocky and good-hearted. He manages to do the sideways grin without seeming arrogant; he is, as one character describes him, essentially "a good guy." Likewise, Glover is note-perfect as the so-cool Lando.

Clarke's Qi'ra is the big question mark character of the film -- is she loyal to Han or to Vos? -- and reflecting back on the film I saw how well the filmmakers had laid out hints about her character. Who else would be so taken with exploring Lando's cape collection while in the midst of a life and death mission? Clarke keeps her mysterious character interesting while we wait to learn if she's heroine or femme fatale.

Bettany is appropriately scary as the gangster Vos, although I found it just a tad confusing that Bettany was plucked straight out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, discolored face and all. (I might have laughed when I saw the colored streaks on his face.) I think it would have been good to go with another actor just to keep each of the series in their own lanes, so to speak.

Solo also uses Marvel's Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), but since he's just providing a voice, for Beckett's pilot Rio, it's not as distracting.

The set designs, creating a Star Wars world, are just right, a solid mix of real, practical locations and special effects which manage to avoid feeling overly "CGI." The twisting, turning train set piece is particularly outstanding; the train is simultaneously both something we haven't seen before and familiar in terms of its shape and color design, like something we would expect to see in the STAR WARS universe.

I especially liked the moments which these days some derisively call "fan service" but I call "respect" and "authenticity."  For instance, the helmet worn by Beckett in SOLO is the same one Lando wears in the rescue sequence which opens RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983), and look for Warwick Davis, the actor who played Wicket the Ewok in JEDI, out of costume as a new character in this one. The smuggling compartments on the Falcon, a hologram chess game with Chewie...there's a lot of good, familiar stuff here which will make fans of the original trilogy feel right at home.

I'd add that whereas the original STAR WARS (A NEW HOPE) felt a bit like a swashbuckler in outer space, SOLO has a distinctive "Western in space" feel I liked a lot, with a bit of gangster movie on the side.

As has been well-chronicled, Ron Howard took over directing the film partway through, including extensive reshoots. Whatever he did, it worked. (I wonder, though, if news about the film's rocky production history is part of the reason for the poor box office, along with the lingering aftereffects of fans unhappy at Luke's storyline in THE LAST JEDI?) Incidentally, watch for Ron's brother Clint, who turns up in a scene!

The film was written by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan; Lawrence Kasdan is a Lucasfilm writer from way back and gets it all right. My husband said "They didn't mess it up," which is a great compliment coming from him!

The cinematography was by Bradford Young; the (unmemorable) non-Williams parts of the score were composed by John Powell.

Parental Advisory: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is rated PG-13. There is some cussing and the usual level of STAR WARS violence, with several characters dying, while others act heroically.

A trailer is here.

Giveaway Drawing: Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

A few days ago I reviewed the excellent new documentary, BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (2017).

Thanks to the folks at Kino Lorber, I have a Blu-ray copy of this very interesting film to give away to one lucky winner.


To enter, simply leave a comment below recommending your favorite Hedy Lamarr movie, or on the chance someone hasn't seen one of her films yet, instead mention the Lamarr title you'd most like to see -- other than BOMBSHELL, of course!

I'll be putting everyone's names in a bowl and drawing the winner in ten days, on Saturday, June 16th.

Be sure to calendar to check back here on that date for the name of the winner, who will need to email me a mailing address by clicking "Contact Me" on the upper left margin of this blog page. If I don't receive the winner's address by the end of the month, I'll draw another winner's name.

With apologies to my greatly appreciated readers in Canada, Europe, and beyond, this drawing is only open to residents of the continental U.S.

Good luck!

June 16th Update: Here's the announcement of the winner!

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

A Visit to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert

Last year we made a side visit to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on our way to the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

We had such a nice time doing that that we planned another excursion to precede this year's film festival, heading to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens bright and early on Thursday, May 10th. The zoo, established in 1970, is in the city of Palm Desert, located right next to Palm Springs.


The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens has a very large model train display near the entrance, with multiple trains running. My husband has collected this gauge train for decades so we especially enjoyed looking it over.



We arrived at the zoo near opening, in order to get in and out again before the temperature reached 100 degrees that day. Although the weather wasn't terribly hot in the morning, some of the animals were still feeling lazy, enjoying the shade!





The spacious giraffe display was especially attractive, with at least six giraffes wandering through a large area. (A new baby was born there last year!) Some of the fencing is invisible to guests which made the area even prettier.



Prospective visitors should be aware that while most of the year the zoo is open until 5:00 p.m., in the hot summer months the zoo closes at 1:30. There were signs on some exhibits indicating that a few of the animals had left for a cooler area for the summer and would return in the fall.

Also coming in the fall, according to zoo signage, will be a brand-new hippopotamus exhibit; there weren't any hippos there when we visited.

This was a very nice, well-run zoo with numerous volunteers; a zoo employee also approached us when we were looking at our map to ask if she could answer any questions. Since our visit was just a couple of weeks before I had minor knee surgery, I also appreciated the zoo's shuttle service which saves steps traveling to each of the zoo's distinct areas.

We saw most of the zoo exhibits in about three hours. It's definitely worth a visit when in the Palm Desert/Palm Springs area and makes a great side trip when attending the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

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