Thursday, November 19, 2009

TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985)

Starring: William Petersen
Director: William Friedkin

A brutal thriller from the director of The French Connection and The Exorcist. A reckless Secret Service agent stops at nothing in his attempt to nab the counterfeiter who killed his partner. Plenty of violent action and the de rigueur car chase, but it's the convincing depiction of the sleazy L.A. criminal elements that keeps the storyline simmering.

Gritty movie equivalent of TV's Miami Vice makes it hards to root for anyone, since the good guys are as sleazy as the bad guys! Petersen (CSI Las Vegas) plays hotshot agent going after slimy counterfeiter--but for a crack federal agent he acts pretty dumb! One spectacular car chase is not enough to counteract bad taste the film leaves behind. (116 mins.)

My Rating: **1/2

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

Starring: Gregory Peck
Director: Robert Mulligan

Excellent production of Harper Lee's sensitive book about an Alabama lawyer bringing up his two motherless children. Peck was never been better, and the two children are most affecting. Superb script (Horton Foote) and direction (Robert Mulligan) make this, in its own quiet way, one of the best movies dealing with race relations that the Americasn film industry has ever made.

Peck won an Oscar as a Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape, and tries to explain proceedings to his children and their friend. Leisurely paced, flavorful adaptation of the best-selling novel; Foote's screenplay also earned an Oscar. Robert Duvall's film debut. (129 mins.)

My Rating: ****

JUNEBUG (2005)

Starring: Amy Adams
Director: Phil Morrison

Phil Morrison's Junebug has many of the elements expected from American independent films. It is character driven, offers a geographically specific location that is rarely seen in American films, and features lead characters who change in small and possibly, depending on one's appreciation of the film, profound ways. The strengths of the film are in the women. Embeth Davidtz plays Madeline, the sophisticated art dealer visiting the rural backwater that is home to her husband's family. She manages to make a character that should be unsympathetic very empathetic mostly because she does nothing consciously to offend her hosts' sensibilities. Hers is a finely modulated performance. Amy Adams, as the talkative sister-in-law who desires to gain some of Madeline's worldliness, serves up a great performance. The character lacks the prejudice seen in the other characters. Her performance is as open as her character, full of wide-eyed wonder and -- when the time comes -- deeply felt sadness. She portrays all of these emotions without ever sounding a false or actorly note. (106 mins.)

My Rating: ***

Monday, November 9, 2009

THE HAPPENING (2008)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg & Zooey Deshanel
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Lady in the Water director M. Night Shyamalan puts PG-13 suspense on pause to tell this grim apocalyptic tale about a family fleeing a natural disaster that poses a grave threat to the whole of humanity. Philadelphia high-school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is discussing the disappearance of the bees with his students when the staff is summoned to the theater and briefed about a mysterious event that is currently unfolding in New York City. According to reports, citizens in the vicinity of Central Park have suddenly and inexplicably begun seizing up just before killing themselves by whatever means are at their disposal. As the phenomena begins to spread and talk of terrorism fills the airwaves, Elliot, his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), their friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and his daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), board a train bound for the presumed safety of the country. When the train screeches to a halt before arriving at its final destination, however, the frightened passengers are forced to fend for themselves as each consecutive news report paints an increasingly grim picture of the situation in more urbanized areas. Theories abound on what could be causing the unexplainable rash of suicides, but the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that it's some kind of airborne contagion that is carried in the wind. It would appear that humankind's reign on planet Earth has come to an end, but perhaps if this small band of survivors can find a safe place to lie low until this all blows over, all hope for survival of the species might not be lost just yet.

Note to M. Night Shyamalan: No matter which angle you shoot it from, a mild summer breeze is not terrifying. A hurricane, absolutely; a tornado, most certainly; a typhoon, indubitably. Hell, even an especially large dust devil might prove capable of jangling the nerves of some particularly sensitive anemophobics. Unfortunately (at least for Shyamalan), the continuous scenes of trees ominously rustling in the breeze or fields of grass churning like a menacing green ocean throughout The Happening mostly elicit feelings of tranquility and inner peace rather than paralyzing fear and insurmountable dread -- the kiss of death for a film attempting to paint nature as the ultimate enemy of humankind. But Shyamalan's failure to make gusts of wind blow fear into the hearts of moviegoers isn't the only reason why The Happening fails to click as an effective horror film; weak direction of actors, a meandering screenplay, and a particularly anemic ending all add up to a misfire that -- despite an admittedly original premise and a promise to ramp up the gruesome imagery -- largely lacks any real sense of tension or danger. Sadly, since the director fails to ratchet up the levels of intensity any higher than in his previous films, the widely touted fact that this is his first R-rated film feels like a gimmicky (and somewhat misleading) ploy to convince moviegoers that Shyamalan has finally taken off the kid gloves, as opposed to a sincere attempt to grow as a filmmaker or branch out into more challenging and mature themes. (89 mins.)

My Rating: *1/2

Sunday, October 18, 2009

DOLORES CLAIBORNE (1995)

Starring: Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Christopher Plummer
Director: Taylor Hackford

A Maine woman is accused of murdering her longtime employer, which brings her estranged daughter home for the first time in years. Now, the two women begin to sort out unanswered questions from the past. Gripping adaptation of Stephen King's novel (by Tony Gilroy) holds your interest from start to finish, as the real story unfolds. Bates' performance is a powerhouse and the rest of the cast is equally fine. Kudos too, to Hackford's arresting visual treatment. (131 mins.)

My Rating: ***1/2

Thursday, October 15, 2009

CHAPLIN (1992)

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr.
Director: Richard Attenborough

Reverent, lovingly detailed bio of Charlie Chaplin--from his squalid childhood in London to early moviemaking days with Mack Sennett, to international stardom, celebrity, and scandal. Downey is astonishingly good as Charlie and the film starts out great, but flattens midway through and tries to cover too much ground. Geraldine Chaplin plays her own grandmother, Charlie's severely neurotic mom.

Well-intentioned and often well-acted biopic. Unfortunately, director Richard Attenborough takes almost a scandal-sheet approach, forgetting what made Chaplin so important was the movies he made. worth seeing for Downey and equally impressive turns by Kevin Kline (as Douglas Fairbanks Sr.) and Geraldine Chaplin. (144 mins.)

My Rating: ***

Monday, October 5, 2009

BEDLAM (1946)

Starring: Boris Karloff & Anna Lee
Director: Mark Robson

One of the lesser entries in the Val Lewton-produced horror film series at RKO, this release still has its moments as the courageous Anna Lee tries to expose the cruelties and inadequacies of an insane asylum run by Boris Karloff, who is first-rate, as usual.

Set in the 18th-century London. Robert Clarke appears unbilled. B&W. (79 mins.)

My rating: ***

CRISIS (1946)

Starring: Dagny Lind, Inga Landgre & Marianne Lofgren
Director: Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman made his directorial debut with this 1946 drama which found a number of his key themes already in place. Ingeborg (Dagny Lind) is a middle-aged woman living in a small Swedish community where she supports herself giving piano lessons and running a boarding house. Ingeborg has devoted much of her life to looking after Nelly (Inga Landgre), a teenage girl who was abandoned by her mother Jenny (Marianne Lofgren) when she was a baby. Ingeborg deeply loves Nelly and think of her as her daughter, and she's distraught when Jenny appears and announces she intends to reclaim Nelly and take her to Stockholm, where she now runs a successful beauty salon. Despite Ingeborg's pleas that her poor health limits the time she can spend with Nelly, Jenny is adamant, and the teenager decides to go, though her decision is largely motivated by her mixed feelings about Ulf (Allan Bohlin), an older veterinarian who wants to marry her, and her sudden infatuation with Jack (Stig Olin), a mysterious charmer who is a friend and distant relative of Jenny. Kris (aka Crisis) was adapted from a popular stage play by Leck Fisher; the production was hampered byBergman's inexperience, and his mentor Victor Sjostrom was brought in to supervise the last few weeks of shooting. (95 mins.)

My Rating: **1/2

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943)

Starring: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr & Anton Walbrook
Directors: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

A truly superb film chronicling the life and times of a staunch for-king-and-country British soldier. Sentimentally celebrating the human spirit, it opens during World War II and unfolds through a series of flashbacks that reach as far back as the Boer War. Roger Livesey is excellent in the title role. Deborah Kerr portrays three woman in his life across four decades with charm and delight. Definitely a keeper.

Title character bears no relation to famous David Low caricature buffoon on whom he's supposedly based. Heavily cut for various reissues; often shown in b&w. (163 mins.)

My Rating: ***

DUPLICITY (2009)

Starring: Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson & Paul
Giamatti
Director: Tony Gilroy

If you know your con-game movies, then you're familiar with the differences between short cons and long cons. The short con is all about making a quick buck -- like getting a bartender to give you change for a 20, when you really paid with a 10. Long cons, on the other hand, require months, if not years, of setup, and come with a payoff to match. They also make for timeless movies like The Sting, The Grifters, House of Games, and Tony Gilroy's Duplicity. Like those other time-tested con movies, Duplicity is about more than just lying, deceit, and trickery -- the story's mind games also serve as a metaphor for bigger issues -- in this case, love. In the opening scene, Ray Koval (Clive Owen) seduces Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) at a cocktail party thrown by the government of Dubai. Their passionate night together ends with him drugged, and her taking pictures of some sensitive documents in his possession -- and thus begins a most unusual courtship between people who inherently mistrust everyone around them. It would be just plain wrong to reveal much more about the plot, but years later, the two end up on opposite sides of some serious corporate espionage, and their time together in the past has more of an effect on their present than anyone -- the characters or the audience -- really understands.

Tony Gilroy proved that he could fashion an airtight thriller with Michael Clayton, and he's done it again here. The complex plot never confuses viewers -- you always know where you are in the story. And even if, at a given moment, you don't know why characters are having the same word-for-word conversation in totally different times and places, you can trust it will all make sense in the end.

In addition to creating a brain-twisting thriller full of double agents and triple crosses,Gilroy also makes Duplicity a credible romantic comedy at the same time thanks to dialogue that sparkles with humor -- the kind of dialogue actors kill to say. Clive Owen knows how to deliver a laugh line, and he gets more than his fair share of them, but it's his ability to charm his victims -- he makes it seem like it's fun to be lied to -- that makes him ideally suited for the part. And while we're on the subject of charm, Julia Roberts can still flash that 1,000-watt smile, but she's also grown into a more confident actress, able to play cold and calculating just as effortlessly as she can warm and charming. Together, they make a smart and sexy pair, entirely different from their battling lovers in Closer. While Owen andRoberts may anchor the movie, the whole cast gets to have fun, especially Tom Wilkinsonand Paul Giamatti as feuding corporate CEOs. Their first confrontation makes for a hysterically funny opening credit sequence. Wilkinson gives his business tycoon a know-it-all smugness that conflicts hilariously with Giamatti's paranoid and angry character -- he's half Gordon Gekko and half Donald Duck. And Carrie Preston steals her few scenes as a corporate travel planner who falls for all of Ray's considerable charms. But, however strong the acting is, Tony Gilroy deserves the lion's share of credit for making such a delightful movie. His writing and direction find the perfect balance of comedy, sexiness, and tension. The con-game elements may drive the story, but it's the romantic comedy that givesDuplicity heart and soul. (125 mins.)

My Rating: ***

Thursday, October 1, 2009

THE DEVIL'S EYE (1960)

Starring: Jarl Kulle, Bibi Andersson, Nils Poppe & Sture Lagerwall
Director: Ingmar Bergman

A woman's chastity gives the Devil sty in his eye, so he sends Don Juan back to Earth from Hell to seduce her, but the modern-day woman finds his old-fashioned charm amusing rather than irresistible. Droll Bergman comedy is a bit slow, but witty and playful.

Bits of the Bergman elegance and insight, snips of humor and captivating paradoxical detail. (90 mins.)

My Rating: ***

THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)

Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Edith Atwater, Russell Wade & Rita Corday.
Director: Robert Wise

Fine, atmospheric tale from Robert Louis Stevenson short story of doctor (Daniell) who is forced to deal with scurrilous character (Karloff) in order to get cadavers for experiments. Last film to team Karloff and Lugosi, their scenes together are eerie and compelling. One of the classic Val Lewton thrillers. Screenplay by Philip MacDonald and Carlos Keith (Lewton).

A doctor is blackmailed by a villainous coachman when he wishes to stop securing bodies for medical research in Scotland of the 19th century. For horror fans, this is one of the best; for others, a good and chilling version of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale. (77 mins.)

My Rating; ***

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TORTURED (2008)

Starring: Cole Hauser, James Cromwell & Laurence Fishburne
Director: Nolan Lebovitz

An FBI agent in the midst of a crucial undercover investigation resorts to extreme measures in order to prove himself in this crime thriller starring Cole Hauser, James Cromwell, andLaurence Fishburne. FBI agent Kevin Cole (Hauser) is under direct orders from powerful crime boss Ziggy to track down millions in stolen cash. As he begins to turn the screws on the shady mob accountant (Fishburne) who may just have all the answers, Agent Cole realizes that the is slowly slipping though his fingers. The mind games have begun, and in a world where ruthlessness is essential to survival, your most recent lie could well be your last. Emmanuelle Chriqui co-stars.

A complex but convoluted FBI crime-drama that will leave you tired and hanging on what's really happening. (107 mins.)

My Rating: **

THE MAGICIAN (1958)

Starring: Max Von Sydow, Ingrid Tullin, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Naima Wifstrand, Bibi Andersson & Erland Josephson.
Director: Ingmar Bergman

An early Ingmar Bergman-directed film that will tingle your spine and stimulate your brain. The supernatural, comic, mystical and the human mingle in this imaginative tale of a magician and his troupe who are detained in a small Swedish community when their magical powers are disbelieved. Visually rich, gothic atmosphere.

Complex, provocative account of Albert Emmanuel Vogler (Von Sydow), a 19th-century hypnotist-magician who has studied with Mesmer but finds himself debt-ridden and charged with blasphemy. A thoughtful (and too-long underrated) portrait of a man who is part-faker, part-genius. (102 mins.)

My Rating: ***

TORMENT (1944)

Starring: Mai Zetterling, Stig Jarrel, Alf Kjellin, Olof Winnerstrand.
Director: Alf Sjoberg

Schoolboy (Kjellin) and girl he falls in love with (Zetterling) are hounded by sadistic teacher (Jarrel).

Moody and evocative, with a script by Ingmar Bergman. Also known as FRENZY. (100 mins.)

My Rating: ***

TOOTSIE (1982)

Starring: Dustin Hoffman
Director: Sydney Pollack

It's been a long time since we've had such an uproarious comedy and such a wonderful, poignant drama. Dustin Hoffman's portrayal is no in-drag impersonation but a subtle, well-conceived comedy coup.

He plays Michael Dorsey, an actor who knows he's terrific but can't get a job. When his agent, played with great comic flair by the film's director, Sydney Pollack, tells him he is unemployable, Hoffman dresses as a woman and gets a job playing a tough, liberation-minded administrator of a hospital in a television soap opera.

Screenwriters Larry Gelbert, Murray Schisgal, and uncredited Elaine May, have penned a yarn that is tasteful, insightful, and hilarious.

Jessica Lang won Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Bill Murray appears unbilled. Film debut of Geena Davis. (116 mins.).

My Rating: ****


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NAKED CITY (1948)

Starring: Barry Fitzgerald & Don Taylor
Director: Jules Dassin

Detailed story of a police investigation into the murder of a model takes the backseat to the star of this movie--New York City. Pace-setting location filming helps this interesting crime-drama that was the basis for the superior and long-running TV series. Producer-narrator Mark Hollinger died shortly before the premier showing.

Fitzgerald is still first-rate, cast against type as the detective in charge, and the cast is peppered with soon-to-be familiar character actors (Arthur O'Connell, Paul Ford, James Gregory, Celia Adler, et al.). Cinematographer William Daniels and editor Paul Weatherwax won Oscars for their work. Screenplay by Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald. (96 mins.)

My Rating: ***

Sunday, September 27, 2009

L 'AVVENTURA (1960)

Starring: Monica Vitti & Gabriele Ferzetti
Director: Michaelangelo Antonioni

Director Michaelangelo Antonioni's studied, enormously perceptive film about empty relationships in an unfeeling world. Story superficially concerns the disappearance of a girl, and the search for her by her lover and her best friend. The slow pace of the film contributes to its overall impact.

Subtle, incisive allegory of spiritual and moral decay makes for demanding viewing. Antonioni's first international success was also the first of a trilogy (followed by LA NOTTE and L 'ECLISSE).

Winner of the Special Jury Award at Cannes. Italian with English subtitles. (145 mins.)

My Rating: ***



JUST BEFORE NIGHTFALL (1971)

Starring: Michel Bouquet & Francois Perier
Director: Claude Chabrol

Claude Chabrol, the French filmmaker known for his masterful explorations of crime, suspense, and the darker sides of human nature, directed this drama about a man forced to come to terms with his double life. Charles Masson (Michel Bouquet) is a successful ad man with a loving wife, Helene (Stephane Audran), two children, and a close friendship with his next-door neighbor Francois Tellier (Francois Perier), an architect who designed both of their houses. However, Charles has a secret -- he's been having an affair with Francois's wife Laura (Anna Douking). Charles and Laura share an enthusiasm for sadomasochism, and one night while mock-strangling her during lovemaking, Charles goes too far and kills Laura. At first, Charles seems to get away Scot free -- he's not considered a suspect, and while someone did see him leave the scene of the crime, that person declines to inform the police. But Charles cannot escape his conscience, and he eventually feels compelled to tell both Helene and Francois, neither of whom react with any particular shock or dismay. Juste Avant La Nuit was adapted by Chabrol from a novel of the same name by Edouard Atiyah. (100 mins.)

My Rating: ***

SHUTTER (2008)

Starring: Joshua Jackson
Director: Masayuki Ochiai

Ghostly images appearing in pictures are nothing new. Neither are long-haired, sepulchral Japanese women dressed in white, moving slowly and looking ominous (see The Grudge). Yet Masayuki Ochiai's Shutter repackages these tired horror tropes into something effectively chilling, despite the fact that it isn't the least bit new or inventive. Shutter feels like the latest in a trend that's been bled dry, namely, Hollywood remaking Japanese horror movies -- yet it's actually an update of a Thai film, directed by a Japanese director, set in Japan and featuring American actors. This idiom is certainly familiar enough, but settingShutter apart is its relatively clean and straightforward script. Neither huge logical leaps nor clarifications of who's who/what's happening, are necessary to wade through its brisk 85 minutes, which leaves Ochiai free to concentrate on his eerie set pieces. Jaded viewers may find themselves embarrassed to be producing such a reaction, considering Shutter's massive debt to other films, but the fact remains -- these fleeting images in the "spirit photos" do leave a viewer feeling disquieted, and sometimes downright spooked. When the spirit, a lonely girl who stalked her unrequited love (Joshua Jackson), manifests herself physically, it's a bit more clearly recognizable as a hackneyed theft from the Grudge andRing movies. But even if he isn't reinventing the wheel, Ochiai utilizes his familiar images as well as possible given our familiarity with them -- and thereby underscores what made them unsettling in the first place. Shutter will never be confused for anything more than an anonymous genre film with a generic title, but it's slightly less anonymous and generic than it could have been, which makes it worth recommending on some level -- especially relative to the other anonymous and generic options out there. (85 mins.)

My Rating: BOMB

TWO LOVERS (2008)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix & Gwyneth Paltrow
Director: James Gray

A depressed young man moves back in with his parents and finds his life turned upside down as he struggles to choose between the beautiful daughter of a close family friend and the scintillating but volatile next-door neighbor whose passion helps to reignite his lust for life. The third screen outing for writer/director James Gray and actor Joaquin Phoenix following We Own the Night and The Yards.

Directing a movie is all about establishing and maintaining a consistent tone. When the editing, art direction, and cinematography all complement each other -- and when the actors understand how subtly they need to play each scene -- that's when a filmmaker has greatness within reach. James Gray achieves just that with Two Lovers because he tells a story of emotionally operatic proportion in the tone of a gentle whisper.

Phoenix drives the movie with a remarkable performance as a simple man who's as torn apart by his passions as he is compelled to act on them. Taking advantage of the nuances in the script, Phoenix plays all of these internal struggles without resorting to James Dean-inspired brooding. Phoenix reveals the depth of Leonard's pain in the character's everyday conversations.

The entire story practically begs for scenes with huge cathartic upheavals -- the kind of scenes that make their way into Oscar highlight reels -- but instead Gray plays everything close to the vest because he knows that's exactly what his characters would do. (110 mins.)

My Rating: ***

Friday, September 18, 2009

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976)


Starring: David Bowie & Rip Torn
Director: Nicolas Roeg

A moody, cerebral science-fiction thriller about an alien (David Bowie) who becomes trapped on our planet. Its occasional ambiguities are overpowered by sheer mind-tugging bizarreness and directorial brilliance.

Title character ostensibly heads world conglomerate, but is actually here to find water for his planet. Highly original, fabulously photographed adaptation of Walter Tevis' classic fantasy novel is riveting for the first two-thirds, goes downhill toward the end. Still tops of its kind. (140 mins.)

My Rating: ***1/2


RICHARD III (1955)

Starring & Director: Laurence Olivier


Elaborate if stagy version of Shakespeare's chronicle of ambitious 15th century British king and his court intrigues.

Once again, as in Henry V and Hamlet, England's foremost player displays his near-matchless acting and directing skills in bringing Shakespeare to life on film. His royal crookback usurper is beautifully malevolent, a completely intriguing, smiling villain. This film fascinates from first to last. (161 mins.)

My Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

THE OMEGA MAN (1971)

Starring: Charlton Heston
Director: Boris Sagal

Visually striking but unsatisfying second filming of Richard Matheson's sci-fi thriller I Am Legend. Heston is under siege by a race of zombies spawned by apocalyptic germ warfare. Heston is superior to Vincent Price (who had role in THE LAST MAN ON EARTH).

Heston does a last-man-on-Earth number in this free adaptation. The novel's vampirism has been toned down, but Chuck still is holed up in his high-rise mansion by night, and killing robed (and sleeping) zombies by day. Although this is no more faithful to Matheson's work than 1964's The Last Man On Earth, it has enough throat-grabbing suspense to keep it moving. (98 mins.)

My Rating: ***

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

CASTLE KEEP (1969)

Starring: Burt Lancaster
Director: Sydney Pollack

Offbeat, well-produced WWII story set in a Belgian castle where a great many art treasures are kept. Lancaster is the major who has to hold off a German attack from the castle, and he comes to grips with the Count of the castle, who can't stand by and see the priceless art be destroyed.

Pretentious adaptation of William Eastlake's novel about eight soldiers on French border. Good cast, but film has no coherency. (105 mins.)

My Rating: *





Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MY FILM NOIR MOVIES

http://www.flixster.com/movie-list/my-film-noir-movies

Monday, July 27, 2009

MY 100 FAVORITE MOVIES I'D EVER SEEN

http://www.flixster.com/user/eviepaul69/movie-list/my-favorite-movies

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MY FAVORITE STANLEY KUBRICK MOVIES

http://www.flixster.com/movie-list/my-favorite-stanley-kubrick-movies

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND

Formed:     1964 (New York, NY)
Disbanded: 1973

Instruments: Lou Reed (Vocals, Guitar), John Cale (Bass, Viola & Organ), Sterling Morrison (Guitars) & Maureen Tucker (Percussion & Drums)
Genre: Experimental Rock, Proto-Punk, Rock & Roll

     The most influential rock & roll band of the last 40 years? This one--no contest. However, the Velvet Underground wasn't really "ahead of its time." These records offer a clarifying, bracing vision; Lou Reed trained his acute songwriter's eye on the world around him. specifically, the streets and demimonde of New York City.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO/1967/Verve****

WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT/1967/Verve***

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND/1969/Verve****

LOADED/1970/WB****

LIVE AT MAX'S KANSAS CITY/1972/Atlantic**

1969 LIVE/1974/Mercury***

VU/1985/Verve****

ANOTHER VIEW/1986/Verve**

THE BEST OF THE VELVET UNDERGROUND/1989/Verve****

PEEL SLOWLY AND SEE/1995/Polydor****

     While San Francisco groups benignly celebrated the Summer of Love, The Velvet Underground & Nico documented the side effects of drug experimentation and sexual freedom on chilling tracks like Heroin and Waiting For My Man. A former student of the avant-garde classical music, bassist John Cale tempers the Velvet's dense  guitar onslaught with stark, jarring viola cries. Reed and Sterling Morrison's had been playing guitar together since the early '60s; they took the steady, rhythmic strumming of folk and gradually distorted it into a crude, propulsive electric blur. But Reed also displays a finely honed pop sense on the achingly insightful love songs Femme Fatale and I'll Be Your Mirror. Nico's artfully murmured vocals on these two tracks are a matter of taste; certainly, her efforts pale in comparison to Reed's deadpan mastery of talk-singing.

     By the second album, Nico was gone and the Velvet Underground's association with Andy Warhol was winding down. White Light/White Heat taps into the group's brilliamt, blinding musical essence: the 17-minute Sister Ray--minimalist tour de force--hurtles along like an amphetamine rush, bypassing the usual psychedelic detours in a headlong charge. Yet in the end, underneath the guitar mesh and trance-inducing organ, Maureen Tucker's nervous-but-steady drum pulse just may be what renders Sister Ray so hypnotic. Just as confidently, The Velvet Underground bolts off in the opposite direction. With Cale departed for a solo career, Reed really starts to deepen his songwriting. Pale Blue Eyes and Beginning To See The Light reveal the compassion and insight behind his skeptical, world-weary stance, while What Goes On indicates the Velvets can still push your stereo's readout dials well into the red zone.

     Reed reaches his songwriting zenith on Loaded, and the band's wall-of-raunch crystalyzes into instantly recognizable sonmg structures. Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll deserve their status as anthems; those invigorating three-chord heartbeat riffs underscore the stirring, evocative details in the lyrics. Singing about suburban Jenny, whose lyrics "life was saved by rock & roll," Reed struck a resonant chord with a new, disaffected generation of rock & rollers. Never was it a  best-seller.

NICK DRAKE

Born: June 19, 1948 (Rangoon, Burma)
Died:  November 25, 1974 (Tanworth-in-Arden, England)

Instruments: Vocals, Piano, Guitar
Genre: British Folk-Rock, Baroque Pop, Progressive Folk, British Folk, Folk-Rock, Singer/Songwriter

A singular talent who passed almost unnoticed during his brief lifetime, Nick Drake produced several albums of chilling, somber beauty. With hindsight, these have come to be recognized as peak achievements of both the British folk-rock scene and the entire rock singer/songwriter genre. Sometimes compared to Van Morrison, Drake, in fact, resembled Donovan much more in his breathy vocals, strong meolodies, and the accoustic-based orchestral sweep of his arrangements. His was a much darker version than Donovan's, however, with disturbing themes of melancholy, failed romance, mortality, and depression lurking just beneath, or even well above, the surface. Ironically, Drake has achieved a far greater stature in the decades following his death, with an avid cult following that grows by the year. In the manner of the young romantic poets of the 19th century who died before their time, Drake is revered by many listeners today, with a following that spans generations. Baby boomers who missed him the first time around found much to revisit once they discovered him, and his pensive loneliness speaks directly to contemporary alternative rockers who share his sense of morose alienation.

FIVE LEAVES LEFT/1969/Hannibal****

BRYTER LAYTER/1970/Hannibal****

PINK MOON/1972/Hannibal****

TIME OF NO REPLY/1986/Hannibal***

Music of a melancholy, twilit beauty, Drake's 3 albums: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon echo, in muted intensity, Van Morrison's Astral Weeks; they are suites of gemlike songs urged on by Drake's nimble guitar, set against arrangements whose finesse recalls chamber music. Pink Moon is the sparest; some of its lyrics read like Zen koans. Everything Drake wrote--and sang in a haunting, sometimes chilling near-whisper--is pervaded by a fragile hypersensitivity, and while his mood seldom varies, it has its dark, resonant magic. Dead of a drug overdose in 1974, Drake was sudden like lightning--and the afterglow still simmers. Time Of No Reply is a collection of outtakes and fine unreleased tracks.

STRANGE DAYS (1995)

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett & Juliette Lewis
Director: Kathryn Bigelow

     The drug of choice in 1999 is a virtual-reality setup that allows people to relive their own or someone else's experiences. During the last 48 hours of the 20th century, a seedy former vice cop gets involved with two such "wiretrips"- one a grisly sex murder, the other the backstreet killing of a rap star by racist cops. 

     This feverish audiovisual orgy leers inot the future of virtual reality and greases it with sleaze. Rated R for graphic violence, sex, nudity and language. 145 mins.

My Rating: ***

THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946)

Starring: Hedy Lamarr & George Sanders
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer

     Lusty tale of a woman who conspires with her stepson to kill her husband. A strange adaptation of the Ben Ames Williams bestseller, mainly because Hedy Lamarr looks better than she acts. 

     She bought the rights to the book, selected cast and director, and listed herself as an associate producer. 100 mins.

My Rating: **

STRANGE ILLUSION (1945)

Starring: Jimmy Lydon, Sally Eilers & Regis Toomey
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer

     Following the mysterious dissapearance of his father, a teenager on a fishing holiday with the family physician is disturbed by a strange dream concerning his mother. 80 mins.

My Rating: ** 1/2

THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946)

Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin & Kirk Douglas
Director: Lewis Milestone

     Terrible title doesn't do this well-acted drama justice. 

     Woman-with-a-past Barbara Stanwyck excels in this story of a secret that comes back to threaten her now-stable life and the lengths she must go to in order to ensure her security. 

     Young Kirk Douglas in his film debut already charges the screen with electricity. 117 mins.

My Rating: *** 1/2

THE STRANGER (1946)

Starring: Orson Welles, Loretta Young & Edward G. Robinson
Director: Orson Welles

     Nazi war criminal (Orson Welles) assumes a new identity in a Connecticut town following World War II, unaware that a government agent (Edward G. Robinson) is tailing him. 

     Extremely well-done film, holds the viewer's interest from start to finish. 95 mins.

My Rating: ***1/2

SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948)

Starring: Barbara Stanwyck & Burt Lancaster
Director: Anatole Litvak

     Slick cinema adaptation, by the author herself, of Lucille Fletcher's famed radio drama. Barbara Stanwyck is superb-and received an Oscar nomination-as an invalid who, due to those "crossed wires" so beloved in fiction, overhears two men plotting the murder of a woman. 

     Gradually, Stanwyck realizes that she is the target. 89 mins.

My Rating: ***

RED HOUSE (1947)

Starring: Edward G. Robinson
Director: Delmer Daves

     A gripping suspense melodrama enhanced by a musical score by Miklos Rozsa. Edward G. Robinson employs Rory Calhoun to keep the curious away from a decaying old house deep in the woods. 
     
     But his niece and a young hired hand must learn the secret. 100 mins.

My Rating: ***

Thursday, January 8, 2009

BLACK ANGEL (1946)

Starring: Dan Duryea & June Vincent
Director: Roy William Neill
80 mins.

First-rate whodunit (by Conrad Woolrich) of Vincent trying to clear husband of charge that he murdered Duryea's wife. 

Imaginative film will have you glued to the screen all the way.

My Rating: ***

THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942)

Starring: Alan Ladd & Veronica Lake
Director: Frank Tuttle
80 mins.

Ladd came into his own as paid gunman seeking revenge on man who double-crossed him, with Lake as a fetching vis-a-vis. Script by W.R. Burnett and Albert Maltz, fom Graham Greene's novel A Gun Fo Sale.

Remade in 1957 as SHORT CUT TO HELL and for cable TV in 1991 with Robert Wagner.

My Rating: ***

Monday, January 5, 2009

DETOUR (1945)

Starring: Tom Neal & Ann Savage
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
69 mins.

Intriguing melodrama about hitchhiker Neal, who gets involved with femme fatale Savage, and murder. Ultracheap movie has deserved cult following.

My Rating: ***

MY MOVIES & MUSIC RATINGS

Ratings range from ****, for the best, down to *.

And for the really bad and worst, I use the citation BOMB.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Happy New Year to all you bloggers!