Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Starring: Lew Ayres & Teresa Wright
Director: John Sturges

Virtually ignored at the time of its release, this film has built up a small but enthusiastic following since its lapse into public domain. American oil man (Ayres) kills a coworker whom he suspects of robbery. Thinking it over, he wonders whether or not the man was innocent. He seeks out his victim's widow, played by Teresa Wright. They fall in love and marry, which does nothing to soothe Ayres' guilty conscience. When he discovers who was actually behind the robbery, he goes after the real culprit, who is accidentally killed before justice can be done. Falsely accused of murder, he now fully understands the untenable position of the man he'd killed so long before. The Capture was produced by Niven Busch, the then-husband of Wright.

The Capture is a treat for viewers looking for an intriguing drama that they haven't seen time and time again. Relatively obscure, thanks to its financial failure when first released, it is a lean, crisply directed thriller that plays with interesting questions or morality, innocence and guilt. Playing at times like a Western, at other times like a mystery, and at others like a romance, it perhaps tries a little too hard to be all three types and thus becomes slightly unfocused; but most viewers will be adequately rewarded by its assets and forgive it for being perhaps a little overly ambitious in trying to bridge these genres. Certainly there will be no complaints about its cast, with an appropriately guilty Ayres and a typically luminous Wright leading the way and a dependable supporting cast. Busch's screenplay is well constructed, setting up its situations with a sure hand, utilizing the flashback structure most effectively, and raising moral issues in a manner than both supports the story and adds depth to the characters. Sturges' direction is spot-on, and there's fine cinematography from Edward J. Conjager that adds to the atmosphere and tension. Thos seeking something a little off the beaten path should keep an eye out for the Capture. (67 mins.)

My Rating: ***


Starring: Clive Owen & Naomi Watts
Director: Tom Tykwer

This taut political thriller has a lot going for it: an elaborate, ripped-from-the-headlines plot about political intrigue and corporate hegemony; intense performances by the very concerned-looking Owen and Watts; and a perfectly orchestrated, impossibly awesome shoot-out staged in the Guggenheim. You'd think that all this would be enough to give any movie a solid thumbs-up, but despite all the points it gains for furrowed brows and kick-ass gunfights, the film loses quite a few for being dry as burnt toast.

The rather complex story centers on Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Owen) and New York Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Watts), who stumble upon a corporate-backed geopolitical conspiracy stemming from an institution called the International Bank of Business and Credit. The two embark on an investigation into the IBBC, only to find it jacked into governments and corporations all over the world, with the idea of bringing the powerful entity to justice growing less and less realistic as their quest lands them in New York, Milan, Istanbul, and Berlin. Before the credits roll, the two have dealt with just about everything in the conspiracy thriller playbook, including money laundering, former Soviet loyalists, club-legged hitmen, the Italian mob, Middle Eastern war profiteering, and an old-school, shot-at-the-podium political assassination.

Weaving all that (and much, much more) into a coherent story was probably a difficult task, and while it's possible that it makes sense on paper -- with all the dots connected and the plot holes closed -- that doesn't mean it's enjoyable on film. There's such a massive assortment of characters, locations, loyalties, and interests at play, the narrative continually loses cohesion, as viewers inevitably lose interest. Probably more important, though, is that even the coolest web of seditious, above-the-law power brokering would seem flat without compelling characters, and no matter how much we know they're capable of, the stars just aren't given the chance here to make us care. (118 mins.)

My Rating: ***

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio & Russell Crowe
Director: Ridley Scott

Scott's Body Of Lies follows the increasingly complex machinations of CIA agent Roger Ferris (DiCaprio), who begins the film as a field agent in the Middle East attempting to secure information that would stop upcoming terrorist attacks. Ferris maintains regular phone contact with his boss Ed Hoffman (Crowe), a CIA bigwig -- forever on his cell phone -- dispensing directives while attending to domestic duties like kiddie soccer games. After a promotion, Ferris becomes the Agency's number one man in Jordan, quickly earning the trust of Jordanian intelligence official Hani (Mark Strong in a scene-stealing performance) -- a relationship that Hoffman compromises in an attempt to catch one of the world's most feared terrorists.

All of these characters come to life thanks to William Monahan's airtight adaptation of David Ignatious' novel, and the uniformly excellent performances. In addition to serving up some deliciously funny one-liners, Monahan employs a simple step-by-step construction in order to tell this remarkably complicated espionage tale -- a story chock-full of divided loyalties and paranoia. The audience always knows exactly as much as Ferris does, a fact that keeps his motivations -- and therefore the entire plot -- clear. As for the actors, DiCaprio is, in no uncertain terms, a movie star; and this is a star turn. He's certainly credible as an action hero, but he also communicates intelligence, fear, and an inherent morality in the scenes between the big explosions. This accomplishment makes the chases and gunfights all the more entertaining because we actually care about the person whose life is constantly at risk. Crowe complements DiCaprio as the Aussie's strong physical presence plays off DiCaprio's inherent softness (no matter how much time he spends in the weight room, he will always be a baby face).

Scott's movies have always betrayed his formative years in advertising; his films always offer loads of surface pleasure, but they rarely have strong ideas. The crisply photographed and edited Body of Lies reveals some ambition, for while it certainly works as pure entertainment, this tale of a good man trying to extract himself from an impossible situation offers some commentary on America's feelings about being in Iraq. Fortunately, Scott never hammers this point home, and the result isn't a lecture about American foreign policy, but a smartly updated old-fashioned espionage thriller. (129 mins.)

My Rating; **1/2

LOGAN'S RUN (1976)

Starring: Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Peter Ustinov, Richard Jordan & Farrah Faucett-Majors
Director: Michael Anderson

Popular but overlong sci-fi film concerning a futuristic society where people are only allowed to live to the age of 30, and a policeman nearing the limit who searches desperately for a way to avoid mandatory extermination. Nice production is enhanced immeasurably by outlandish sets and beautiful, imaginative miniatures.

A science fiction film that is less concerned with philosophizing about the future than providing some entertainment with dazzling sets and futuristic gadgets. Living in a domed-in hedonistic civilization, Logan (York) is a policeman who hunts down "runners" who attempt to escape society's law that at 30 you must submit to "renewal," which is actually execution.

Dazzling first half, showing life of unending pleasure and extinction at age 30 in the year 2274, canceled out by dreary second half. Earned a special Oscar for visual effects. From novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Later a brief TV series. (120 mins.)

My Rating: **1/2


Starring: Ray Milland & Charles Laughton
Director: John Farrow

Tyrannical publisher of crime magazine (Laughton) commits murder, his editor (Milland) tries to solve case and finds all the clues pointing to himself. Vibrant melodrama; taut script by Jonathan Latimer from Kenneth Fearing novel. Elsa Lanchester has hilarious vignette as eccentric artist.

Remade as NO WAY OUT (1987). (95 mins.)

My Rating: ***