Tuesday, March 19, 2019

21st Annual Noir City Hollywood Festival Opens March 29th

The 21st Annual Noir City Hollywood Festival opens at the Egyptian Theatre on Friday evening, March 29th.

As has been the case for the past three years, the festival will take place over ten consecutive days, concluding on Sunday, April 7th. The festival will be hosted by the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode.

This year's theme is "Film Noir in the '50s." Other than the opening night title THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1949), the festival will be entirely focused on films of the 1950s. The majority of films will be screened in 35mm, along with a few digital prints.

2019 will be the ninth year in a row I've attended opening night of the festival, now a cherished tradition, and this will be my tenth Noir City festival overall.

I'll be attending all three nights of the opening weekend, and I am likely to attend several other evenings as well. I attended eight nights in 2016 and all ten nights in 2017, while last year, when I was recovering from surgery, I made it to half the nights. Hopefully this year I'll surpass last year's total, as there are many great films on the schedule!

Here's a look at this year's lineup; click any hyperlinked title for my past review.

I'm especially excited about opening night, March 29th, which kicks the festival off with 35mm prints of a pair of new-to-me films, TRAPPED (1950) and THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1949).

TRAPPED, which features L.A. locations, stars Lloyd Bridges and Barbara Payton, seen at left. THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON stars Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, and the great Paul Kelly.

I'm also really looking forward to the double bill on March 30th, featuring 35mm prints of a new-to-me Alan Ladd film, APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1951), and an old favorite, MGM's SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950). Alan Ladd as a postal investigator sure gets my attention!

Former child actress Gigi Perreau, who's wonderful in SHADOW ON THE WALL, will be on hand to introduce the film. It will be interesting to hear her memories of working with the film's fine cast, which included Ann Sothern, Zachary Scott, Nancy Davis (Reagan), and Kristine Miller.

I'll also be on hand on March 31st to see a new digital restoration of Joan Crawford in SUDDEN FEAR (1952), which I've never seen; I've heard it's a terrific film. It's playing with one of my all-time favorite movies, THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), starring Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, and Jacqueline White. THE NARROW MARGIN will be shown in 35mm.

Monday, April 1st is another tempting evening featuring CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953) and 99 RIVER STREET (1953). I've enjoyed both films in the past but have never seen 99 RIVER STREET in a theater, and that's a must for me, with favorites John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, and Peggie Castle. CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS is a new digital print while 99 RIVER STREET is 35mm.

April 2nd is another interesting double bill of two films I've never seen, PLAYGIRL (1954) and HELL'S HALF ACRE (1954). Although I only tolerate PLAYGIRL lead actress Shelley Winters in low doses, I like her costars Barry Sullivan and Colleen Miller (FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER). HELL'S HALF ACRE has a great cast including Evelyn Keyes, Marie Windsor, Wendell Corey, and Nancy Gates. Both films are digital prints.

April 3rd is the amazing THE BIG COMBO (1955), which I saw at the Million Dollar Theatre in Downtown L.A. back in 2012. I'll be tempted to make the drive just to see John Alton's dazzling black and white cinematography on a big screen again, although I'm less interested in the second half of the double bill, having seen BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) on Blu-ray fairly recently. Both films will be shown in 35mm.

I'm very interested in seeing A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956) on April 4th, starring Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter. It's playing with Humphrey Bogart in THE HARDER THEY FALL (1956). Two more 35mm prints!

There's another pair of 35mm prints on April 5th: THE MIDNIGHT STORY (1957) with Tony Curtis and Gilbert Roland, which sounds interesting, paired with Cameron Mitchell in MONKEY ON MY BACK (1957).

April 6th features a 35mm print of the original theatrical cut of TOUCH OF EVIL (1958), paired with a digital print of the French film ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1957). I'm curious about the second film but will probably skip this night as I saw TOUCH OF EVIL five years ago, and a little of that one goes a long way for me. I'd watch it again sometime, but it's not one I want to re-watch with any frequency.

The festival closes on April 7th with 35mm prints of Susan Hayward in I WANT TO LIVE! (1958) and John Saxon in CRY TOUGH (1959). This is a very rare closing night I won't be attending. I saw I WANT TO LIVE! as a teenager and said then that I would never watch it again. I haven't changed my mind in the years since. Happily I'll have seen a lot of great movies earlier in the fest!

I love the way the films are programmed in chronological order, taking us from '49/'50 on opening night to 1959 on closing night. It's a wonderful lineup.

Coming soon: My picks for the TCM Classic Film Festival, which opens on April 11th -- the schedule went live today! I'm also looking forward to the announcement soon of the schedule for the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, which takes place in Palm Springs in mid-May.

Key posts on past Noir City Hollywood Festivals: A Visit to the Noir City Film Festival (2010); A Visit to the 13th Noir City Film Festival (2011); First Preview of 14th Annual Noir City Film Festival; Schedule Announced for Noir City 14 in Hollywood; Final Week of Noir City 14 Schedule Announced; A Visit to the 14th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2012); Schedule Announced for Noir City 15 in Hollywood; A Visit to the 15th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2013); Schedule Preview of Noir City 16 in Hollywood; A Visit to the 16th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2014); 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival Opens in Hollywood This Friday; A Visit to the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2015); 18th Annual Noir City Film Festival Opens in Hollywood This Friday; A Visit to the 18th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2016); 19th Annual Noir City Film Festival Opens in Hollywood March 24th; A Visit to the 19th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2017); 20th Annual Noir City Festival Opens in Hollywood April 13th; A Visit to the 20th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2018).

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Desert Fury (1947) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The fascinating melodrama DESERT FURY (1947) has been released on a spectacular-looking Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

DESERT FURY looks as good as any Technicolor film I've ever seen; it's up there with LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) as having Technicolor so rich it's worth watching just to look at it.

Fortunately there's quite a bit more to the film than just its looks; the movie also echoes LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN's fascination with a psychologically twisted character but takes it to the next level, with a story about not one but several disturbed people. Good-looking nice guy cop Tom (Burt Lancaster) is perhaps the lone sane person amidst the bunch of folks caught up in myriad love triangles.

Paula (Lizabeth Scott, who's improbably said to be 19) returns to a small town in Arizona, fleeing the latest in a series of boarding schools she's been sent to by her mother Fritzi (Mary Astor). Fritzi is looked down on by the townspeople for running a gambling joint and aspires for more for her daughter, but the troubled Paula isn't interested. Mother and daughter continually clash as the controlling Fritzi tries to pull strings to direct Paula's life, to the point of trying to buy her the man she views as an acceptable husband.

Paula is soon at the center of three different love triangles: Tom yearns for her, but she's hung up on bad guy Eddie (John Hodiak), a racketeer whose wife died somewhat mysteriously at a bridge outside town.

As Paula gets more serious about Eddie, she learns that he and her mother Fritzi (Mary Astor) once had a relationship. As if that weren't enough for Paula to deal with, there's another strong competitor for Eddie's affections: Eddie's right-hand man Johnny (Wendell Corey), who's extremely possessive and doesn't want to let go. Not your typical plot in 1947.

At times the overheated small-town melodrama, which includes crooked cops and a judge on the take, seems to be a bit of a precursor to FLAMINGO ROAD (1949), but for the most part it has a unique style of its own. The movie plays like a strange dream, filled with giant picture windows, overdone furniture, thunderstorms, the Piru Mansion, and the red rocks of Sedona, all seen in amazingly unreal Technicolor. One almost expects Lancaster to tell Scott she'd just been having a nightmare as they calmly walk away from a dead body in the final scene!

Lancaster's role is fairly small but gives the viewer someone to root for. Scott's Paula clearly has Mommy issues, and she's probably also got problems as the daughter of a dead crook. Lancaster, Scott, and Corey costarred later the same year in I WALK ALONE (1947), along with Kristine Miller, who receives prominent billing in DESERT FURY yet is little more than an extra as Scott's character drives into town at the start of the film. Scott drives past and Miller's character is never seen again!

I like Hodiak but his character is a bit one note, barking at Johnny while trying to convince himself he can have a new life in the desert with Paula. That said, his anger with Johnny lends itself to interesting interpretations, and his character has a moment with some coffee late in the film which made me audibly gasp. Corey played quite an unusual part in his film debut, with the Paula-Johnny battle over Eddie being central to the film; Corey's performance builds to a terrific final confrontation scene with Hodiak in a roadside diner.

DESERT FURY was directed by Lewis Allen (THE UNINVITED). It was filmed by Edward Cronjager and Charles Lang. The script by Robert Rossen was based on a novel by Ramona Stewart. The running time is a well-paced 96 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Anna Camargo, Milton Kibbee, Ray Teal, William Harrigan, and James Flavin.

I found this film quite entertaining. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks absolutely superb and is a "must" buy for anyone who appreciates stunning mid '40s Technicolor.

Extras include a commentary track by Imogen Sara Smith, the trailer, and nine additional trailers for Burt Lancaster films.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Here's a lovely photo of Irish lass Maureen O'Sullivan to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Maureen was born in 1911 in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Previous St. Patrick's Day Posts: 2013 (Maureen O'Hara), 2014 (Angela Greene), 2015 (Actresses in Green), 2016 (Maureen O'Hara), 2017 (More Actresses in Green), and 2018 (posters for Irish-themed movies).

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Quick Preview of TCM in June

The June schedule for Turner Classic Movies was released this week!

MGM's delightful singing star Jane Powell, who turns 90 on April Fool's Day, is the June Star of the Month. Jane was last honored as Star of the Month over 20 years ago, in September 1995. 16 Powell films will be shown spread over Wednesday evenings in June.

The lineup features a Powell film I don't own, THE FEMALE ANIMAL (1958) costarring Hedy Lamarr, and I'm quite curious about that one.

The TCM Spotlight will focus on World War II combat films on Thursdays, beginning on June 6th, the anniversary of D-Day. That makes a nice follow-up to the WWII "homefront" series in May.

Treasures From the Disney Vault makes its quarterly appearance in June with a lineup of films focused on crime and suspense, headed up by Hayley Mills in THE MOON-SPINNERS (1964), which will please the film's many fans.

The June Noir Alley films are THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), NORA PRENTISS (1947), PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953), SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950), and ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951).

Saturday mornings will feature Westerns with George O'Brien, Tim Holt, and more, along with films in the Falcon series, which will also be featured in May.

I'm particularly happy to see 20th Century-Fox stars Alice Faye and Don Ameche featured in a Sunday evening double bill consisting of THAT NIGHT IN RIO (1941) and YOU CAN'T HAVE EVERYTHING (1937).

A double bill of Fox's CLAUDIA (1943) and CLAUDIA AND DAVID (1946) is another interesting Sunday night lineup, starring Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young.

Multifilm tributes in June include Robert Taylor, Patty Duke, Ann Sheridan, and Judy Garland.

June themes include a day of films on marriage and divorce; I'm looking forward to the 66-minute REPENT AT LEISURE (1941) with Kent Taylor and Wendy Barrie, who were well paired in other films.

Additional June themes: Films paired with their remakes, Las Vegas, lonely children, sharks, juvenile delinquents, and films released in 1969. Father's Day films on June 16th include LIFE WITH FATHER (1947) and FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950).

It's interesting to note that both the May and June schedules have left blank a block of time starting at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time (8:00 Eastern) on Saturday evenings. It will be interesting to see what turns up in that time slot.

I'll have more detailed information on the June schedule posted here at the end of May!

In the meantime, Fredric March continues as the March Star of the Month, with Greta Garbo the honoree in April and Paul Newman set to be Star of the Month in May.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Tuttles of Tahiti (1942) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Charles Laughton stars in the offbeat comedy-drama THE TUTTLES OF TAHITI (1942), recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

THE TUTTLES OF TAHITI was based on the book NO MORE GAS by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, who were also the authors of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY. That book, of course, provided the basis for the 1935 film which led to Laughton receiving a Best Actor nomination for his memorable portrayal of Captain Bligh.

In THE TUTTLES OF TAHITI Laughton plays Jonas, the head of a very large multiracial family living in a rambling mansion on Tahiti. When son Chester (Jon Hall) returns to the island after a long absence, bringing with him what appears to be a prize fighting rooster, Jonas promptly loses all the family's money betting on the bird in a cockfight.

Chester then manages to save the day by salvaging an abandoned ship worth a considerable sum, but that money also quickly disappears. At the rate the family spends or loses its communal funds, how will Chester ever afford marrying lovely Tamara (Peggy Drake)?

This is quite an oddball film which manages to fill a 91-minute running time yet in the end isn't about very much at all. A little cockfighting and financial mismanagement goes a long way, but most of the film is focused on those issues and the ne'er-do-well Jonas, who is frankly rather a boor.

Rather than presenting an attractive depiction of relaxed island life, the Tuttles collectively are so silly that it's hard to work up much interest. Another issue is that the film only manages to differentiate a few characters among the big family; mostly they're just a mob of people, rather than unique characters.

The best scenes are those with Chester romancing lovely Tamara, as well as a couple good sequences with some hip-swinging dancing, but unfortunately they're few and far between. The passion and joy which briefly emerge in the dances causes the viewer to regret what might have been if a completely different script had been used to take advantage of the distinct setting and culture.

Drake and Florence Bates, as her mother, come off best in the large cast. Look for a teenaged Nancy Gates, then about 15 or 16, as one of the family, and Adeline De Walt Reynolds as Jonas's mother. The cast also includes Victor Francen, Gene Reynolds, Curt Bois, Jody Gilbert, Philip Ahn, Willie Fung, and many more.

THE TUTTLES OF TAHITI was directed by Charles Vidor and filmed in black and white by Nicholas Musuraca.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print with 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.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Most Dangerous Game (1932) at UCLA

Last night at UCLA MEET JOHN DOE (1941) was followed by THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932). Both films were shown as part of UCLA's current series Fay Wray + Robert Riskin.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is a horror/adventure film which stars Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. It's an RKO movie which was screened in 16mm.

The movie was written by James Ashmore Creelman based on the classic short story by Richard Connell. It's been remade multiple times, including as A GAME OF DEATH (1945) and RUN FOR THE SUN (1956).

I read the story in high school, and it made quite an impression. At some point during my high school years I set an alarm and got up to watch the movie in the middle of the night! (The fact it stars longtime favorite Joel McCrea didn't hurt.) In turn some of my kids read the story and watched the movie during their homeschool years.

It had been quite a while since my last viewing and I'd honestly forgotten just how creepy the movie is. I enjoyed it and was glad to have the chance to finally see it on a big screen, but by the end I was also feeling like maybe I've seen it enough times now, as it features some pretty disturbing moments.

McCrea plays Bob, a sportsman and hunter who is the lone survivor of a shipwreck off the shore of a small island. Bob finds a very spooky house on the island owned by Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks). Zaroff is also hosting Eve (Wray) and Martin (Robert Armstrong), a brother and sister who had very recently been shipwrecked just like Bob.

Eve quietly tips Bob off that concerning things have been happening since their arrival, including the disappearance of a couple of crew members who had also survived the shipwreck. Soon after, Martin also disappears, and Bob and Eve later find his body in the Count's "trophy room." I don't do horror well and didn't look at the screen in the trophy room scenes, as I've read that the original unedited very "pre-Code" version is worse than what was shown on commercial TV, and I wasn't sure exactly what I might see!

Bob and Eve soon learn the awful truth: The Count likes to hunt for his "guests" and kill them. He gives Bob and Eve a head start and tells them Bob must stay alive till dawn if he wants to "win" and stay alive. The winner also gets to claim Eve as the "prize." The movie is very pre-Code in its depictions of the Count's lust...like the horror scenes, it was honestly a little too pre-Code for me.

Fortunately the movie is a very fast-paced 63 minutes long or the suspense would be unbearable! The creepy unpleasantness is offset by the pleasure of watching the young McCrea and Wray, who are absolutely gorgeous as they run all over the island; McCrea's athleticism makes him very believable as he takes on all comers, and Wray's Eve gamely keeps up with Bob and helps where she can -- in between screaming, of course, at which Wray excelled. I very much enjoyed watching both actors.

Eve was not a character in the original story, but I think adding her character makes the film work much better than it would have if it were just Bob versus the Count. Her presence raises the stakes and also provides the opportunity to verbally explain plans and reactions; otherwise it would have turned into the equivalent of a silent movie at that point in the story. The 1945 and 1956 remakes similarly feature a man and woman on the run.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME was directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack. It was filmed by Henry W. Gerrard.

The jungle sequences were built on sets also used for KING KONG (1933). Some sources state that the Great Danes used in the chase sequences were borrowed from Harold Lloyd!

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection. It was also released on VHS.

It's also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

A Visit to Medieval Times

Today we had a fun afternoon with a couple of our kids at Medieval Times in Buena Park, California.

I'd never been before, but both our son and daughter had enjoyed it in their high school years, and my husband's always been curious about it. I found a good deal on tickets and was able to make reservations just a few days in advance. That seems fortunate, as virtually all the seats were filled for this afternoon's show.

For those unfamiliar with Medieval Times, it's a dinner theater show featuring horses, knights, jousting and more. There are several locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Above, the Queen welcomes us to her castle, and below, the heralds announce it's time to file in to the arena.

I was pleasantly surprised by the food, which was all very good, especially considering the scale on which it's mass produced for three shows per day. "Dessert of the Castle" was a lemon-flavored pound cake.

All food is eaten medieval style, without utensils. I suspect the lack of clattering utentsils also helps keep the sound inside the arena down and may also be better for the horses.

The arena as we took our seats:

The service was friendly and very efficient; they've obviously got serving crowds down to a science! Each course appeared right on time as the previous one was finished, and drinks were kept refilled.

I only took a handful of photos, as we entered and again at the conclusion of the show, but they capture a bit of the pageantry we enjoyed today.

It was a lot of fun watching some very talented horses and stuntmen while having a nice meal. I'd never been particularly interested in going to Medieval Times myself, but as it turned out I had a really nice afternoon, and I recommend the experience.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Meet John Doe (1941) at UCLA

It was a most enjoyable evening at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater!

The occasion was the second night of the UCLA Film & Television Archive's current series Fay Wray + Robert Riskin. The five-night series was inspired by the publication of Victoria Riskin's new book on her parents, FAY WRAY AND ROBERT RISKIN: A HOLLYWOOD MEMOIR. I reviewed the book earlier this month and thought it was excellent.

Victoria signed her book before the screenings, and it was very nice to have the opportunity for a brief chat, including discussing favorite Fay Wray roles in films such as THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD (1934), THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI (1934), and HELL ON FRISCO BAY (1955). She said she hadn't seen HELL ON FRISCO BAY recently and that it had been recommended to her by more than one person.

MEET JOHN DOE (1941) was directed by Frank Capra and written by Victoria's father, Robert Riskin, based on a story by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell Sr. (Presnell Sr. was, incidentally, the father-in-law of actress Marsha Hunt.)
Connell also wrote the classic short story which inspired the second film of the night, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932).

MEET JOHN DOE was screened in 35mm. While the first couple three reels had a faint vertical line down part of the picture, the second half of the film was stunningly beautiful, a perfect picture with rich, inky blacks. Like the print I saw last summer of THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1941), if I didn't know better I would have guessed I was looking at a nitrate print. The cinematography was by George Barnes.

I'm sure many classic film fans are familiar with MEET JOHN DOE, in which starving John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) agrees to impersonate a non-existent man, "John Doe," who supposedly wrote a letter to a newspaper threatening suicide in protest of societal conditions. The letter was actually created by newspaper columnist Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck), who's attempting to save her job in the face of layoffs under a new owner.

The "John Doe" story escalates, with citizens across the country inspired to get to know their neighbors and do good, while politicians seek ways to corral the new movement and use it for success at the ballot box.

Although I've rewatched most of Capra and Riskin's films multiple times over the years, I hadn't seen this one since I was a teenager, and this viewing, while enjoyable, reminded me why I hadn't been anxious to get back to it; though I love individual aspects of the film, especially the actors, I just don't find the story that appealing. It's a fairly dark, cynical movie.

I'm not sure Stanwyck ever looked more beautiful on screen than she did in this film -- her hair is utter perfection! -- but so much about her character is inherently negative. While it might be understandable that she would write a phony letter in an attempt to keep her mother and sisters from ending up in the same sort of plight as John Willoughby, her enthusiasm to continue the charade, piling lie on lie, is distasteful. It's the original "fake news," and she never seems to stop to self-examine what she's doing, until quite late in the film.

Of course, she eventually wakes up, but she spends far too much of this too-long 122-minute film happily immersed in unethical behavior. That said, it's to Stanwyck's credit that she was willing to portray a fairly risky character and even make her likeable, to the extent that for periods of time the viewer might forget that what she's doing is wrong.

Cooper is just beautiful in this role and, having seen him actually faint with starvation, the viewer may be more able to forgive his going along with the charade; I know that was the case for me. He also tunes in to the power and the problems with his new role much earlier on in the film.

The film is blessed with a superb cast. Edward Arnold, starring as the newspaper owner and political player, is always compelling, whether he's good or evil. When he breaks the quiet of the final scene and speaks to John I almost jumped at the sound of his voice!

Spring Byington, as Ann's mother, has a beautiful scene with Cooper in which he inarticulately tries to describe his love for Ann. I loved the moment when she gently describes to Cooper how her husband proposed ("I love you, will you marry me?").

The movie also has two of my very favorite character actors, Regis Toomey and Ann Doran, seen in the still to the left; they play a couple inspired by "John Doe" to get to know their neighbors, leading to a sort of rebirth of their town. Toomey has a long speech to make but does well; he and Doran come across as very authentic, and their reappearance in the final sequence is welcome as well.

MEET JOHN DOE is populated with the kinds of amazing faces which make this era so unique. I haven't even mentioned James Gleason yet, who has a memorable drunk scene, and Walter Brennan. Gene Lockhart, Sterling Holloway, Irving Bacon, Rod La Rocque, Warren Hymer, Stanley Andrews, Pierre Watkin, and J. Farrell MacDonald are just a few of the marvelous character actors who turn up in the movie.

UCLA's Jan-Christopher Horak interviewed Victoria Riskin after the film; they touched on various aspects of the movie including the difficulty of how to end it and her father's penchant for making up words, "helot" being the memorable creation in this film.

In discussing how the film was meant to warn pre-WWII audiences against fascism they also drew parallels with modern U.S. politics; as I wrote here last month after a screening of THE MORTAL STORM (1940), it frankly gets kind of old hearing one-sided political comments at screening after screening. There are many perfectly reasonable people in the world who see things differently, and I'd personally rather the focus was on the things which unite all of us, chiefly our love for classic films. Just my two cents on that aspect.

Otherwise, it was a lovely interview and I was glad to hear about some of Victoria's experiences in person, including how she coped with her father's absence as a young child. I think it's very interesting she ended up as a psychotherapist, and as I wrote in my review, I felt that her background added to the insights she was able to share in her book. Incidentally, it appeared several members of her extended family were present, and I was very glad they could enjoy the work of Riskin and Wray in this setting and see how much they continue to be appreciated by so many of us.

MEET JOHN DOE was produced by Capra and Riskin's own company and distributed by Warner Bros. It fell into public domain and over the years has been shown on TV or issued on DVD in some pretty poor prints. The best DVD, according to my reading, is the 2010 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition from VCI.

It's also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

Coming soon: A look at the second film of the night, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932). Update: Here is the review!

Friday, March 08, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Captain Marvel (2019)

The long-awaited origin film CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) has just opened. It's the 20th film I've reviewed from the Marvel Cinematic Universe since seeing my first Marvel film, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), in July 2015.

I was a bit skeptical going into this one as the trailer didn't wow me, but having been pleasantly surprised by other Marvel films I was unsure about, DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) and THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), I felt chances were good I'd end up liking the final film, and that did prove to be the case. It's a substantive movie with a solid storyline, good characters, a fun nostalgic '90s vibe, and more.

For Marvel fans, CAPTAIN MARVEL also brings the series full circle, with young Nick Fury (a computer "de-aged" Samuel L. Jackson) beginning "The Avengers Project." A closing tag scene building on the final scenes of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) will leave viewers breathless with anticipation to see next month's AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019). About that pager message Fury was sending just before he dissolved...

CAPTAIN MARVEL begins in satisfying fashion with the usual Marvel opening logo sequence changed to pay tribute to the late Stan Lee, including clips of his cameos in the various films. It concludes with a card thanking Stan, which drew audience applause at the screening I attended. It was a perfect and quite moving start to the film. Lee also has his usual funny cameo scene later in the film.

Brie Larson stars as a woman we initially know as Vers, a woman with no memory of her past who has trained as a Kree warrior, mentored by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). A mission gone bad against the Kree enemies, the shape-shifting Skrulls, results in Vers crashing to Earth in the 1990s, straight through the roof of a Blockbuster Video store.

Vers quickly meets (relatively) young Shield agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, who like Jackson is "de-aged" thanks to special effects). Fury and Coulson quickly realize this woman is the real deal, someone from outer space.

However, that's only partly true. Vers is plagued with strange dreams, and she gradually realizes that she's actually an American fighter pilot, Carol Danvers. More surprises await, including who is really good and bad among the Kree and the Skrulls.

As Carol works to uncover her true past and deal with the fallout from the Kree-Skrull conflict, she's aided by an old friend, fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), and a most remarkable kitty-cat named Goose, who provides some truly funny and surprising moments.

(Side note: Curiously, the MCU now has three separate characters named Maria, the others being Tony Stark's mother Maria, played by Hope Davis, and Nick Fury's right-hand woman at Shield, Maria Hill, portrayed by Cobie Smulders.)

Oscar-winning actress Larson is one of several past Oscar winners or nominees who star in the Marvel series. Some reviewers have complained that Larson is too bland in the role, not giving enough insight into who Carol really is, and honestly that was also a concern I had based on the trailer. But here's the thing: Carol doesn't know who she is, other than being calm and competent enough to deal with the mental battles raging inside and the physical battles of the world around her.

When late in the film Carol suddenly has an insight which allows her to fully come into her powers, unifying her two different pasts, it's a satisfying moment of real joy and discovery. The absolute confidence she then feels as she deals with invading forces is quite a powerful moment, culminating in her final scene with Yon-Rogg, which is blissfully perfect because it's so unexpected.

I sense that AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) will show us a more lively, fully rounded Carol, who knows who she is and what she can do. We shall soon see.

The film's many pleasures also include a terrific '90s nostalgia vibe; it's a little weird to me that we're already nostalgic for the '90s (!), but the use of now-defunct stores such as Blockbuster and Radio Shack is wonderful. A lunchbox from a hit nostalgia comedy popular in the '70s and '80s also plays a significant role.

The computer "de-aging," which was also used to portray Michael Douglas's Hank Pym as a younger man in ANT-MAN (2015), is a bit weird, giving Jackson and Gregg a bit of a "plastic" look -- I guess it's the equivalent of computerized plastic surgery! -- but at the same time it works pretty well as a tool enabling the filmmakers to tell the story.

Leonard Maltin hasn't reviewed the film at his site yet, but in a video interview he said, "The core of this movie, the heart of this movie, is that you can do anything, and the power is in you...It will have a global impact."

Additional reviews from critics I enjoy reading: Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times found the film "hugely entertaining," while Brian Truitt of USA Today terms the film "a blast."

CAPTAIN MARVEL was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. It was filmed by filmed by Ben Davis. The running time is a well-paced 124 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn (reviewed here in DARKEST HOUR and ROGUE ONE), Gemma Chan (CRAZY RICH ASIANS), Lee Pace (MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY), and Akira Akbar.

Just a few weeks from now the last decade of Marvel films will build to its climax with the release of AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Between the hints in this film and the terrific Super Bowl trailer I'm very excited to see it. Later in the year SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019) looks great too.

I really appreciate Marvel producer Kevin Feige and all he's done to build the interconnected world of the MCU while maintaining such high quality, a real feat given how many films have been made. If anything the series just gets better and better, reflected by the Best Picture nomination for last year's BLACK PANTHER (2018).

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. Like all Marvel films, it has non-gory cartoon-style violence. Lots of battles, but nothing really disturbing. Like ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) I found it closer to a straight PG film.