Friday, November 30, 2018

TCM in December: Christmas Movies

It's time for my annual guide to Christmas movies airing this month on Turner Classic Movies!

TCM will be showcasing Christmas films in prime time on Saturday and Sunday nights this month, with additional holiday films airing each weekend morning. Christmas cartoons will also be part of the Saturday morning lineups.

Jeremy Arnold, author of the new book CHRISTMAS IN THE MOVIES, will be interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz on the evenings of December 1st and 2nd.

(Side note, I received a review copy of the book a few days ago and will have a review up here as soon as possible! Just from paging through the photographs, it looks wonderful.) (Update: Here is my review!)

Additional Christmas movies screen throughout the month, including on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

It's exciting to note there are three Christmas movie premieres on TCM this month. They are the Roy Rogers film TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950), which I just wrote about for Classic Movie Hub; the 1994 version of LITTLE WOMEN, which coincidentally is being shown December 1st at UCLA with Jeremy Arnold in attendance; and the British film THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952), seen at right.

Some of the Christmas films listed below are shown as many as three times; reviews are only linked the first time a film is mentioned.

The Christmas season kicks off on Saturday, December 1st, with the MGM cartoon PEACE ON EARTH (1939) and the evergreen MGM musical MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) showing in the morning.

That evening look for the fantasies BEYOND TOMORROW (1940), starring Richard Carlson and Jean Parker, and THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947). The latter film, starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven, is one of my very favorite Christmas films.

On December 2nd IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (1947) and A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) are shown in the morning, with THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940) and HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949) in the evening. All four films are wonderful and very much deserve an annual look.

December 8th the cartoon THE CAPTAIN'S CHRISTMAS (1938) will be shown in the morning, as well as the films MEET JOHN DOE (1941) and THREE GODFATHERS (1936) with Chester Morris and Lewis Stone.

That night TCM will show Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby in HOLIDAY INN (1942) as well as the classic comedy THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942), starring Monty Woolley and a great cast. Bing and Marjorie Reynolds are seen here singing "White Christmas" in HOLIDAY INN.

The 1949 MGM version of LITTLE WOMEN will be shown early on December 9th, followed by Barbara Stanwyck in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945). That night there's a repeat of IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE, followed by the 20th Century-Fox anthology film O. HENRY'S FULL HOUSE (1952), and the silent movie BEN-HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST (1925).

The December 15th cartoon is ALIAS ST. NICK (1935). It's accompanied by the Vitaphone short SEASONED GREETINGS (1933), with a cast including Robert Cummings and Sammy Davis Jr., followed by another showing of Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh in HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949). Be sure to read Jessica's interview with HOLIDAY AFFAIR child actor Gordon Gebert at her blog Comet Over Hollywood!

The prime time lineup is Roy Rogers in TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950), the John Ford version of 3 GODFATHERS (1948) starring John Wayne, and the short STAR IN THE NIGHT (1945), directed by Don Siegel.

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940) and its remake IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949) will be shown the morning of December 16th, with MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) and LITTLE WOMEN (1994) in the evening. This 1994 version of LITTLE WOMEN is one of three different filmings of the Louisa May Alcott classic airing on TCM this month.

On Monday, December 17th there's a great lineup of Christmas crime films: LADY ON A TRAIN (1945) starring Deanna Durbin; LADY IN THE LAKE (1947) starring Robert Montgomery; FITZWILLY (1967) with Dick Van Dyke; COVER UP (1949) starring Dennis O'Keefe; and BACKFIRE (1950) with Gordon MacRae.

LADY ON A TRAIN and COVER UP (seen at right, with Dennis O'Keefe and Barbara Britton) are particular favorites which I highly recommend. I've watched the multiple times! Click the hyperlinked titles for full details.

On Wednesday, December 19th, Errol Flynn runs around in a Santa suit in NEVER SAY GOODBYE (1946), shown during the day.

That night BACHELOR MOTHER (1939) and ALL MINE TO GIVE (1957) are featured in an evening of films about orphans.

Mixed in with the Christmas films, why not watch CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940)? It stars Star of the Month Dick Powell and will be shown on December 20th.

December 22 starts with SANTA CLAUS (1959) followed by a day of religious-themed films: Joel McCrea plays a pastor in STARS IN MY CROWN (1950), followed by THE MIRACLE OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA (1952), BEN-HUR (1959), THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965), and KING OF KINGS (1961).

That night's films are the beautiful REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, followed by Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945). The Noir Alley title that evening is BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), a spooky tale set at Christmastime starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. The evening wraps up with PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT (1962) and A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS (1964).

On Sunday, December 23rd, the lineup is SCROOGE (1935), A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: MERRY CHRISTMAS! (2011), BUSH CHRISTMAS (1947), BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), and O. HENRY'S FULL HOUSE (1952), followed by SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954), ALL MINE TO GIVE (1957), and HOLIDAY INN (1942). The TCM premiere of THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952) is followed by Alastair Sim in A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) and then THE KING OF KINGS (1927) and FANNY AND ALEXANDER (1982).

On Christmas Eve it's all Christmas movies all the time: BEYOND TOMORROW (1940), LITTLE WOMEN (1933), THE GREAT RUPERT (1950), BABES IN TOYLAND (1934), THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947), A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938), IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949), MEET JOHN DOE (1941), and DESK SET (1957).

The Christmas Day films are LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938), 3 GODFATHERS (1949), BUNDLE OF JOY (1956), BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), FITZWILLY (1967), THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942), and IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (1947). The stars of the charming IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE, Don DeFore and Gale Storm, are seen in the photo to the right.

Additionally, SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954), with its fabulous "mid Century" Christmas decorating, makes another appearance on December 27th as part of the Dick Powell Star of the Month lineup, and THE THIN MAN (1934), which has a delightful Christmas sequence, will air on New Year's Eve.

An overview of the rest of the schedule for TCM in December will be posted on December 1st (click here), and a look at Dick Powell as Star of the Month will follow next week (click here).

For additional information, please also consult TCM's online schedule.

Merry Christmas!

Latest Westerns Column at Classic Movie Hub

My latest Western Roundup column is now up at Classic Movie Hub!

This month's column is titled "Christmas in the West," and it takes a look at how Roy Rogers and Gene Autry celebrate Christmas in their films TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950) and THE COWBOY AND THE INDIANS (1949).

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out. Hope everyone will enjoy it!

This festive time of year is a particularly good time to reiterate how much I appreciate everyone who reads and comments, both here and at Classic Movie Hub! Thank you one and all.

Merry Christmas!

Previous Classic Movie Hub Western Roundup Column Links: June 2018; July 2018; August 2018; September 2018; October 2018.

Latest TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements

Yesterday the TCM Classic Film Festival announced details on the festival's 2019 opening night movie.

Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, and director Rob Reiner will be on hand opening night for a 30th anniversary presentation of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989).

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY was written by Nora Ephron and costars Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby. Sadly Ephron, Fisher, and Kirby have all passed on.

I wish it weren't so difficult to get into the opening night screening as it would be great to be able to be there. I've seen the film several times over the years and like it a great deal, giving it an "Honorable Mention" in a 2014 post about my favorite films of the past 25 years.

A small number of titles were also announced for the festival yesterday: MAD LOVE (1935) with Peter Lorre; THE CLOCK (1945) with Judy Garland and Robert Walker; LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957) with Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn; and INDISCREET (1958) with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. I haven't seen the latter film in years and would love the chance to revisit it at the festival.

As always, I will share further festival details here as they are available.

March 1, 2019 Update: New TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements.

March 27, 2019 Update: The 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Mirai (2018)

When I saw the Miyazaki film CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986) last week, it was preceded by a trailer for a new Japanese cartoon, MIRAI (2018).

I was intrigued by MIRAI's fantasy premise, that a preschooler meets his new baby sister as an older girl. A search turned up a review from The Hollywood Reporter saying the film was a "sweet child's-eye view of the world" and a "charming, resonant work." On the basis of that and the trailer I decided to give the film a try, and I'm glad I did.

MIRAI, known as MIRAI NO MIRAI in its native Japan, is about Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi), who struggles with jealousy when his parents (Hoshino Gen and Aso Kumiko) bring home a baby sister named Mirai.

Kun has strange moments when he steps into the family garden and the world changes. Kun meets the family dog in human form, who tells Kun about being angry when Kun was born; he meets his mother and his great-grandfather when they were younger; and most importantly, he gets to know Mirai in "big sister" form (Haru Kuroki) rather than as a baby.

Through these adventures he learns that his family members have had their own struggles and eventually he learns to embrace his new role as "Mirai's big brother."

As promised, this was indeed a lovely little movie. It did have a few crass moments -- and a couple briefly frightening ones near the end -- but on the whole it was a wonderful blend of reality and fantasy. The film conveys many recognizable moments of family life, whether it's the mother nodding off as she's nursing the baby or little Kun torn between being fascinated by and resentful of his new sibling. Kun's obsession with trains will be familiar to anyone who's parented a child with similar passionate interests.

The parents are loving but also have realistic moments of angst, particularly centering around the mother having to quickly return to work. The father is a self-employed architect, and the family home which he designed might have been my favorite thing about the movie. I loved looking around its many levels, and I particularly enjoyed the way the family had a counter which they decorate to celebrate various festivals. As the movie opens, they have an Advent calendar and a small Christmas tree with gifts under it on the shelf; later on, dolls set out for Japan's Doll Festival are a key plot device.

The film runs a well-paced 98 minutes, ending before it can wear out its welcome. If only CASTLE IN THE SKY had had a similar running time I probably would have liked it more than I did.

MIRAI was written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda. In an interview shown after the film, he said that the film was inspired by a dream his young son had about his baby sister being older and in a junior high school uniform. He also spoke about how the movie was simultaneously a small story and "epic," about one little family yet also about connections through the generations. I thought his description was apt.

The director also pointed out that the film utilizes hand-drawn animation along with CGI, and that very few films are hand drawn anymore. He feels drawing by hand allows animators to present a much more personal, unique work.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. There is a frightening sequence on a "train to Lonely Land" when the train is revealed to be populated by skeletons, and there's another sequence where Kun's great-grandfather is shown struggling to survive. Such moments are quite short. For the most part it's an enjoyable, relatable family film with positive messages.

I really enjoy periodically delving into Japanese cartoons and have seen some wonderful films over the last couple of years, including IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD (2016) and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988). It's rather fun to jump into movies like these almost "cold" and discover what they have to offer, and I'm looking forward to seeing more Japanese animation in the future.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Queen of Outer Space (1958) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The delightfully goofy sci-fi fantasy QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958) has been released on a beautiful Blu-ray disc by the Warner Archive.

I've been curious about this film since seeing costar Lisa Davis speak at a Disney Studio screening of ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS (1961) in 2011. She told amusing stories about star Zsa Zsa Gabor jealously appropriating some of her wardrobe. As it turned out, however, Davis got a good deal; I thought her attractive outfit looked familiar, and it turns out it was also worn by Anne Francis in FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956).

Davis and Gabor play some of the inhabitants of the planet Venus, who take four American astronauts (Eric Fleming, Dave Willock, Patrick Waltz, and Paul Birch) prisoner when their spaceship crashes.

Being imprisoned on a planet where they're the only men has its compensations, as the three younger men quickly attracted devoted women (Gabor, Davis, and Barbara Darrow) who pledge to help them escape. But beyond their own lives being in danger, the men are dismayed to learn that the evil masked queen (Laurie Mitchell) of Venus has plans to obliterate Earth. They must figure out how to stop her before they safely escape the planet.

The movie is completely ridiculous, but in the best possible way, starting with some of the opening scenes, when the men blast into orbit strapped to beds -- because they pass out on takeoff. Everything about the movie is silly, including the sets and the performances, but at the same time it's entirely entertaining.

It's sort of a poor man's WORLD WITHOUT END (1956), with a less accomplished cast, but worth seeing in its own right, at least if you like wacky '50s sci-fi. The Blu-ray looks absolutely fantastic.

A noticeable dark-haired woman in the cast is Lynn Cartwright, who was married to actor-writer Leo Gordon for five decades. That's Joi Lansing saying a long goodbye to Willock early in the film.

This Allied Artists film was directed by Edward Bernds and filmed in CinemaScope and Technicolor by William Whitley. It runs 80 minutes.

The Blu-ray contains the trailer and a commentary track by historian Tom Weaver and star Laurie Mitchell, who passed away in September at the age of 90.

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.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Lisbon (1956) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Somehow I ended up watching four films this holiday weekend with one-word titles! My latest review is of LISBON (1956), released on Blu-ray and DVD earlier this month by Kino Lorber.

LISBON stars and was directed by Ray Milland, who also served as associate producer.

I'm not sure whether it was due to a lazy Sunday afternoon following Thanksgiving turkey leftovers or the movie itself, but I initially had some difficulty following the storyline. Despite that, Milland and his excellent costars, Maureen O'Hara and Claude Rains, kept me tuned in, and about halfway into the film's 90 minutes things started to clear up and become less muddled.

Milland plays Captain Evans, a smuggler hired by Mavros (Rains) to rescue an elderly and very wealthy financier, Lloyd Merrill (Percy Marmont) from behind the Iron Curtain. Mavros was hired by Merrill's much younger wife Sylvia (O'Hara), who has ulterior motives related to her husband's money rather than her desire for his safety.

Sylvia later decides she wants her husband returned dead, but having heard this, Captain Evans is repulsed by her amorous advances. Besides, he's being aggressively pursued by the gorgeous Maria (Yvonne Furneaux), who works as Mavros' "secretary."

The creepy Mavros, who kills birds with a tennis racket to feed his cat and who burns Maria's favorite dresses as punishments, also has a henchman named Seraphim (Francis Lederer). Seraphim is obsessed with Maria and thus plans to kill the captain...

This somewhat sludgy film lacks the pacing of Milland's previous directorial effort, the excellent Western A MAN ALONE (1955); it needed clearer, brisker storytelling.

Additionally, despite her star billing O'Hara was virtually relegated to being a supporting actress in this; I suspect fourth-billed Furneaux had more screen time. This fairly unsympathetic role was an interesting part for O'Hara, but in the end it's a surprisingly minor character rather than a true romantic lead.

All that said, as I finally became absorbed in the story I rather enjoyed it; it's hard not to like spending time with this cast, and the lovely Lisbon locations are an added plus. Adele Palmer's gem-colored gowns are lovely, and the film also has a score by Nelson Riddle.

LISBON was filmed by Jack Marta in Trucolor and widescreen Naturama. It looks absolutely terrific on Kino Lorber's Blu-ray, and I'm glad I finally had the chance to see this film for the first time in top-drawer condition.

Extras include five trailers and a commentary track by Toby Roan. I'm looking forward to learning more about the film's production from Toby, whose reviews are always very informative.

Coming in the near future, my review of Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray release of A MAN ALONE. (Update: My review of A MAN ALONE may be found here.)

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

Tonight's Movie: Teresa (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

This seems to be the weekend for Warner Archive releases with one-name titles! I followed up last night's Lana Turner film DIANE (1956) with TERESA (1951), starring Pier Angeli.

The films have more in common than one-word titles: Angeli, the star of TERESA, was the twin sister of Marisa Pavan, who played Catherine de Medici in DIANE. Additionally, both films are about women who give strength and encouragement to men who are dealing with emotional struggles.

In a story told mostly in flashback, Philip Cass (John Ericson) meets young Teresa (Angeli) while he's serving in Italy during World War II. They marry, but after a blissful honeymoon are separated when Philip is sent stateside.

Teresa eventually receives her boat ticket to join her husband in New York, where challenges await: The insecure Philip -- who had emotional issues during his service -- suffers from both PTSD and "mommy" issues and has trouble finding a job which will allow the couple to move out of his family's apartment.

The need for a fresh start becomes critical as Teresa realizes the depth of Philip's unhealthy relationship with his mother (Patricia Collinge) -- and gets the news she's expecting a baby.

As one might expect with that description, the film is fairly somber; Philip is a frustrating character in that he rejects needed help which would allow him to try to move forward. (Look for Rod Steiger, effective in a small role as a VA psychiatrist.)

The film is worth seeing as long as Angeli is onscreen; she's incandescent, and her character is believably wise beyond her years as she navigates first marriage and then dealing with life -- and a possessive mother-in-law -- in a new country.

Though much of the film is rather dreary, between the storyline and the settings -- a village filled with rubble, a run-down tenement -- there are individual moments of great beauty. The wedding on a windswept hill at the ruins of a bombed-out church is quite memorable, especially given realistic little touches such as one of Philip's friends snapping a photo at the altar. (As it happens, Philip is so frightened to tell his mother he's a married man that she only finds out thanks to this photo!) The sequence where war brides disembark from their ship and have their names called out one by one, as they reunite with their husbands, is also particularly well-done and interesting.

It's not a cheery film, but after 102 minutes it ends on a hopeful note, and all in all the film is worth seeing for the 18-year-old Angeli and some effective staging by director Fred Zinnemann. The movie was filmed in black and white by William Miller.

The supporting cast including Richard Bishop, Peggy Ann Garner, Edward Binns, Bill Mauldin, and Ralph Meeker.

The Warner Archive DVD print is noticeably scratched in some scenes, but there are no skips and the soundtrack is solid. The DVD 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, November 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Diane (1956) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Lana Turner stars in the title role as DIANE (1956), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

In this fact-based historical drama, Turner plays Diane de Poitiers, Countess de Breze. When Diane's husband (Torin Thatcher) is convicted of treason against the French king, Francis I (Pedro Armendariz), Diane pleads to the king for her husband's sentence to be reversed.

The king agrees, but no good deed goes unpunished, and Diane's husband assumes she has stained the family honor in accomplishing his release.

Nothing could be further from the truth, but Diane did promise the king she would do him a favor when asked, and the king calls on Diane to prepare his second-born son, Henri (Roger Moore), to wed Catherine de Medici (Marisa Pavan). Henri is a bit of an uncouth ruffian, and Diane schools him in the niceties of court behavior.

Diane and Henri fall in love, but the wedding to Catherine must go on. Catherine is jealous of Henri and Diane's relationship, which continues after both the king and Henri's older brother (Ronald Green) have died. Catherine is suspected of having engineered the brother's death by poisoning so that she and Henri would be king and queen. Henri's future isn't promising all ends in tears.

This is a so-so melodrama, made watchable chiefly by Turner's beauty and heartfelt performance; she sails through Diane's tragedies with dignity. Moore was still learning to act and is a bit awkward at times, although fortunately that rather befits his character. Pavan (who is now 86) is fairly wooden; granted, her character has had her love rejected and is somewhat emotionally repressed, but there's just not much to her.

Besides Turner, the movie's other chief attributes are widescreen color photography by Robert H. Planck, costumes by Walter Plunkett, and a score by Miklos Rozsa.

The film is somewhat stagy, taking place on a handful of sets, with frequent comings and goings of carriages in a courtyard. It's watchable enough but there's no one to root for, other than Turner and possibly Moore, and in the end one can't help thinking it should have been a better movie. It's all a bit dreary and sad. (And did they have to show a torture scene?! Ugh.)

The supporting cast includes Henry Daniell, Cedric Hardwicke, Michael Ansara, Sean McClory, Basil Ruysdael, Melville Cooper, and Taina Elg. Bit players include James Drury, Jamie Farr, Peter Hansen, Robert Dix, and Percy Helton.

The movie was directed by David Miller. It runs 110 longish minutes. It could easily have been 10 minutes shorter, especially if they cut out some of the entrances and exits from carriages!

The Warner Archive DVD is a fine widescreen 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 Store at Amazon or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade (2012)

LOVE AT THE THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE (2012) is a top-drawer Hallmark film starring Autumn Reeser and Antonio Cupo.

Reeser plays Emily Jones, who enthusiastically plans Chicago's Thanksgiving Day Parade each year. Cupo plays Henry Williams, a well-off financial analyst hired to assess the parade's finances and future.

Emily and Henry initially clash as she's convinced he won't appreciate the parade and that his input will ruin it. But as they get to know one another, they seem to find more and more in common.

When Emily's longtime long-distance boyfriend (Ben Cotton) fails to propose upon his return to the city, it's Henry's support which helps Emily deal with her disappointment...and before long she realizes that the man she thought was all wrong is Mr. Right.

The bickering couple who end up falling for each other is a tried-and-true storyline, but it's presented in a very entertaining fashion. Reeser, whose character wears nothing but vintage clothing, is quite charming, and Cupo is handsome and appealing as the tall dark stranger with hidden depths.

There are some delightful scenes as Emily and Henry bond over things like a classic pizza joint and watching old movies, and eventually the couple realize their backgrounds are more similar than they first realized. They were clearly meant to be a couple.

This film was directed by Ron Oliver and filmed by C. Kim Miles, with British Columbia standing in for Chicago. The supporting cast includes Ali Liebert and Alvin Sanders.

LOVE AT THE THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE is available on a single-title DVD or as part of a four-film DVD collection.

I found this one thoroughly enjoyable and recommend it.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Safe (2012)

And now for something completely different!

After watching a pair of family movies over the past day, it was time to mix things up and watch an action flick.

That movie was SAFE (2012), headlined by action star Jason Statham. My daughter and I had watched the trailer a few days ago and agreed on it as our next Netflix DVD for the long holiday weekend.

In this film written and directed by Boaz Yakin, Statham plays Luke Wright, a "cage" fighter who doesn't throw a match. His opponent ends up in a coma and the Russian mafia goes after Luke, killing his wife (a moment thankfully unseen) and telling Luke that wherever he goes, he'll be watched and they'll kill anyone he befriends.

Mixed with this storyline, we're introduced to Mei (Catherine Chan), a 12-year-old Chinese genius with a photographic memory. A Chinese crime boss (James Hong) recognizes her value and forces her to go to work for the gang in the United States, memorizing and calculating important numbers no one wants entrusted to paper.

When Mei is tasked with memorizing a very long, unusually important number, suddenly everyone is after her, not just the Russian and Chinese mobs but also crooked cops. Luke, who has been despondent, saves Mei when he sees her being followed by bad guys on a subway; in helping her finds he will also have a chance to get back at both the Russians and his enemies on the police force. (You see, along the way we learn he's an ex-cop...)

The story may sound convoluted but it's actually laid out very well and is fairly easy to follow. Statham and Chan are both excellent, conveying a great deal without dialogue. The action sequences are superb, particularly Statham's first big fight sequence rescuing Mei from the Russian mobsters on a subway. I was a bit surprised that he not only beat them up, he then shot them without hesitation -- but hey, they killed his wife and were going to murder a 12-year-old so...

As gangland warfare erupts, with Luke and Mei at the center of it, naturally there are more fight sequences; I think my favorite moment may have been Statham tossing a plate at someone like a Frisbee. It was also quite amusing when he suddenly revealed he speaks fluent Russian.

The film has good supporting characters played by Robert John Burke, Chris Sarandon, and Anson Mount, but it's Statham's film all the way, a terrific, charismatic actor who brings an impressive physicality to his roles.

SAFE was filmed by Stefan Czapsky on location in New York and Pennsylvania. The movie runs a well-paced 94 minutes; in this era of bloated running times, it's an unexpected pleasure these days to run into a "new" movie which wraps up a story in roughly an hour and a half.

Regular readers know I watch films of this type fairly infrequently, but every so often it's fun to mix one in amidst classic era and family films -- and this one is quite good.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated R. The body count must number in the hundreds (!), but for the most part it's not particularly bloody or disturbing. There is some foul language, but it didn't seem overdone compared to a few other movies I've seen. On the plus side, the lead characters have positive attributes including loyalty and bravery; that said, despite the young heroine, this is not a movie for children.

SAFE is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can be streamed via Amazon.

Previous reviews of Jason Statham films: THE BANK JOB (2008), FURIOUS 7 (2015), THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017), and THE MEG (2018).

Tonight's Movie: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Six years ago this month saw the release of Disney's WRECK-IT RALPH (2012), a TOY STORY-esque film about the secret life of video game characters.

As I wrote at the time, I liked but didn't love the film for various reasons. Today I saw the sequel, RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET (2018), and I'm pleased to say it's a sequel which is a marked improvement over the original. I found it quite delightful.

The action takes place a half-dozen years after the original movie. The steering wheel on the Sugar Rush arcade game breaks, so Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) decide to visit the internet via the arcade's newly installed wifi router. They're in search of eBay and a vintage replacement wheel so that the aging Sugar Rush game won't be shut down permanently.

The majority of the film is set in the magical world of the internet, and it's as clever and crazy as one could wish. There are stops at places such as Pinterest and Amazon, and GeoCities and dial-up litter a graveyard of sorts. Vanellope's encounter with a host of Disney princesses at the Oh My Disney site is as funny as expected from previews, and the princesses return to pitch in during the movie's climactic battle.

It must have been great fun dreaming up this film and all the places the characters could visit; it's certainly fun to watch it! There's so much eye candy filling the screen that I suspect viewers will be discovering new things to look at on a second, third, or fourth viewing.

There was a certain tackiness to the earlier film, particularly potty language and humor, which is largely missing here. It's a better, more family-friendly story, and while the original film was creative, RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET expands on that world and takes it to new levels. I had a very good time watching it.

The voice cast includes Alan Tudyk, Jane Lynch, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Ed O'Neill, and Alfred Molina.

Original princess voices appearing in the film include Jodi Benson, Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Linda Larkin, Mandy Moore, Paige O'Hara, Auli'i Cravalho, Irene Bedard, Ming-Na Wen, and Anika Noni Rose. Snow White, Aurora, and Cinderella are voiced by Pamela Ribon, Kate Higgins, and Jennifer Hale, respectively.

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET was directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston. The running time is 112 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. There is a tiny bit of crass humor but, as mentioned, it's much less of an issue than it was in WRECK-IT RALPH.

A trailer is here.

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