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I'm Jason. I'm a film, literary and pop culture enthusiast. Got a soft spot and deep love for animation, comics and nerdy things that go in tandem with them.

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The Mirror Crack'd

Posted : 3 days, 21 hours ago on 26 September 2016 04:20 (A review of The Mirror Crack'd)

Agatha Christie’s star-studded film adaptations are perfect excuses for slumming movie stars to have a bit of fun with a polite murder-mystery story. They line up in a series of eccentric roles, providing a colorful, and loud, cast of characters to bicker, plot, and deliver red herrings galore, before Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot wrap up the who done it through a series of flashbacks and exposition dumps.

 

These films are the perfect type of rainy Sunday afternoon fare, which is how I watched The Mirror Crack’d. By no stretch is this a great movie, but it’s supremely adequate and mildly entertaining way to waste away two hours while stuck inside buried under blankets. It’s also an excuse to watch Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Kim Novak, and Angela Lansbury act opposite each other, and that accounts for a lot of enjoyment and mileage out of this thin material.

 

Lansbury takes over the role of Miss Jane Marple, investigating a murder plot on a movie set with a has-been actress (Taylor) making a comeback after suffering an emotional breakdown, sparring with her long-time rival (Novak), the producer (Curtis), and a shockingly tender and poignant romance with her director husband (Hudson). During a major reception in the small English town they’ll be filming the movie in, the studio invites a select group of villagers up to the manor house to meet-and-greet with the major production players. When a villager turns up dead, all signs point to foul play with the intended victim getting out of it through a mishap, or did they?

 

The Mirror Crack’d is predictable, especially if you know anything about Hollywood history and trivia. Quicker than you can say Gene Tierney, the central mystery is obvious once you see where that particular bit of backstory is going. The real tragedy of The Mirror Crack’d is how it sidelines Marple, and Lansbury by extension, with a sprained ankle for so much of the mid-section of the film, sending in her nephew, Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox), in her place to investigate the major players and scenes of the crime. In fact, the actual business of the murder-mystery is the least interesting aspect of the entire film, so it’s natural most of the business.

 

No, The Mirror Crack’d is much more fun when it lets its movie stars off their leashes and chew the scenery. Taylor and Novak trade bitch verbal barbs and icy glances like a pair of feuding drag queens, and it’s a riot to watch these all too brief scenes. The script lets these two actresses down, they’ve come ready to spar but the script only gives them a few brief moments to let it out then shoves them back into their respective corners. Taylor’s in particularly high-camp mode here, and it works well for an aging diva of the screen prepping herself for a glorious return to form. The same could be said for Novak, normally an actress of interior dialog and neurosis, none of that present here. Novak instead goes for ostentatious exterior, a movie star with no inner life and grand delusions. It feels like she’s getting to tear apart the visage of screen goddess past and present, perhaps even a bit of her own persona.

 

Tony Curtis oozes oily menace, but doesn’t get enough screen time. He spars wonderfully with Novak, Taylor, and most especially Hudson in his few scenes. I wanted more, but the script isn’t up to the task of giving all of the players enough time to shine or invest their characters with major personality, so it rests upon the stars to either bring their own personas and baggage to the parts or to play each of them as brusque archetypes of film productions. Truly, only Rock Hudson gives a fully dimensional performance. He spits acid with Curtis, fends off Novak, and is shockingly tender with Taylor, their off-screen friendship and history together bringing much of the dynamics and weight to their pairing. Even Geraldine Chaplin carries with her the vestiges of Old Hollywood, being the daughter of Charles Chaplin, one of its primary architects.

 

All this talk of the various supporting players and so little of Dame Angela? Well, maybe if The Mirror Crack’d had provided her with more material to work with I’d get to go full on rapturous mode on her performance. Alas, it’s not to be. She’s very good, as she always is, buried under makeup to transform her 55 years into the ancient Miss Marple, but her disappearance from the narrative is a serious blow. In the end, this feels like something of a dry-run for Murder, She Wrote, where Lansbury would once more play a delightfully eccentric and very English detective of grisly crimes.

 

Even worse is how the film comes roaring out the gate with a film-within-a-film, clearly a meta-moment where Marple is watching a Poirot-inspired story. This opening five minutes is more fun than the next hundred, and that is a major problem. But is a problem of the script or the directing? A little bit of both, really. Guy Hamilton lacks energy here, which is odd considering he cemented and perfected the Bond template with Goldfinger. While the script feels dashed off, a half-hearted affair that makes the killer obvious with the first murder, but painfully so by the second. There’s no mystery or suspense here, and that’s a severe impairment for a murder-mystery. Still, it’s a fine bit of entertainment for what it is, mostly as a chance to watch a series of cinematic legends transforming average material into something better by chewing enough scenery to make a season of RuPaul’s Drag Race feel tame by comparison.



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Just a Gigolo

Posted : 5 days, 11 hours ago on 25 September 2016 02:25 (A review of Just a Gigolo)

As a massive devotee and fan of David Bowie, I’ve been known to refer to him as God on more than one occasion, I’ve been strangely looking forward to viewing this. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, but I knew it was going to be a mess. Perhaps these low expectations lead to my odd enjoyment of the film, but I’m not blind to its numerous faults and weaknesses.

 

Just a Gigolo’s biggest problem is a clumsiness of tonal coherence and narrative purpose. “The Graduate-lite in the Weimar Republic” is as close to a description as I can get to it. Is this trying to be arch and ironic? If so, only a few of the players get that tone and attune their performances accordingly. Is this trying to be a poignant and tragic look at the rise of Nazism? If so, someone please tell the people trying to play things for laughs that they’re undermining it. But watching the two styles clash and consume each other almost becomes an entertainment in its own right.

 

There’s several films fighting for prominence in Just a Gigolo, beginning with the Paths of Glory aping opening, filmed in sepia and taking place entirely in the trenches. Once we return to Berlin, the film pulls a Wizard of Oz and transforms into full color. Each passing year is presented by following a pair of elder gossiping ladies in completely ludicrous hats, seemingly oblivious to the social strife and ills surrounding them. There’s the rise of Nazism, of course, explorations into the subterranean sexual and romantic lives of Berliners that Nazism would seek to destroy.

 

A queer aesthetic runs throughout much of Bowie’s work, so no shock that Just a Gigolo both openly expresses it and flirts with it obliquely. After all, this is a film that managed to get Marlene Dietrich to play the madam of the dancehall’s gigolos and perform the title song late in the film, a moment so poignant and weighted because it is Dietrich delivering such loaded lines with exquisite melancholy. Then there’s Sydne Rome’s divinely decadent Cilly, a clear variation of Cabaret’s Sally Bowles. She performs in a music hall that’s emceed by a drag queen and frequented by Berlin’s queer community. The more oblique queer element resides not only in Bowie’s eventual transition into a gigolo, where the film flirts with his male clients, but the Nazis obsession with him as a good looking symbol for the cause, eager to transform his lithe, willowy looks into a leather-clad submissive.

 

Sydne Rome’s performance is the obvious winner, as she most accurately vibes with the alternating currents of the film’s tones. Her musical number flirts with Cabaret’s editing techniques, and Just a Gigolo fires away on all cylinders for a few brief moments. I wonder what Bob Fosse could have finessed from this material, or, if not him, if Nicolas Roeg’s deconstructed, dream-like collage style, or any number of better directors.

 

There’s several kernels of strong ideas and storytelling choices, but David Hemmings, director and actor of this, doesn’t know what to do with them. He manages to not only get Dietrich for a glorified cameo, but Maria Schell, Curd Jürgens, and Kim Novak are in this in roles that are given weight and dimension by their screen personas. Each of them brings their A-game to their limited scenes, but it’s frustrating to watch, say, Schell play the mother but never get a memorable moment to really dig in to joy of being reunited with her son or despair at his death. Or for Novak to bring her sad, intelligent sex appeal to an older woman looking for comfort, and only manage to really express this in one brief close-up of her still face, eyes filled with sadness, and mouth slightly twisted in frustration.

 

I’m not going to proclaim that Just a Gigolo is somehow underappreciated and deserves another look, because it is entertaining in its awfulness while still being awful. It is a case in which a movie is unique in its badness, not merely one that can be written off as unmemorable and terrible, think of any given year’s major summer blockbusters, which are so ephemeral they may require a new word to describe them. Bowie once described this as all of his Elvis Presley films rolled into one, and that wackiness pervades the entirety of the film. It’s not good in any traditional way, but it’s fascinating to watch. I’m also deeply curious about that alleged three-hour German version, I wonder if a more coherent movie can be found in that edit.



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The White Buffalo

Posted : 5 days, 12 hours ago on 25 September 2016 01:12 (A review of The White Buffalo)

Given the creative team behind this, many of the major players of the kitsch-minor classic 70s King Kong, I was ready to view The White Buffalo as a kissing cousin to that oddity. Imagine my surprise when I finished watching it only to discover a film of great promise and premise, undercut only by its technical limitations and anemic supporting roles.

 

I’m not comfortable proclaiming The White Buffalo as a sleeper classic, but it’s close to earning that reputation. If nothing else, it deserves better than the cinematic wasteland it’s been subjugated to. Taking parts of historical truth, forming them around Moby Dick-as-American folk tragedy, and giving two minor actors a chance to shine, The White Buffalo definitely deserves a cursory look.

 

If only then that the film were longer, which is a criticism I don’t frequently make, to really give its loaded themes, symbols, and parade of colorful supporting players more chance to shine. Any film should be lucky and happy to include Slim Pickens, Clint Walker, John Carradine, and Kim Novak among its supporting players, but none of them are given enough material to work with to really land a lasting impression. Carradine’s cameo and Novak’s nothing role (she tries to add some poignancy and sadness to it) are particularly egregious uses of actors with history and loaded cinematic lineage left with nothing to do. Wasting Pickens seems like a sin for a western to commit, that man is the face and voice of the genre in a way that could be argued as equal to that of John Wayne.

 

Yet the film provides some stellar moments for Jack Warden, Charles Bronson, and Will Sampson, the film’s strongest asset and performance. Warden and Bronson find a solid groove, creating history between their characters, and a shared weariness at the narrative they find themselves in. Bronson, in particular, is an actor I’ve never “gotten” aside from Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West, which played well with his natural quiet strength and cragginess. But those traits and so much more are evident here, and it may be one of Bronson’s more essential performances for the way it takes his star persona and exposes the neurosis and fears lurking underneath.

 

Will Sampson is known primarily for playing Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and he’s a standout here. Transforming his take on Crazy Horse into Ahab-on-a-horse, culminating in the climatic confrontation with the titular beast where he rides it and stabs it with a fervor and spiritual possession that borders on the maniacal. Going back to the earlier criticism of not enough time being spent to really develop certain characters, Sampson’s Crazy Horse gets his tragic origin for his quest, then disappears for far too long. The White Buffalo is better when treating Crazy Horse and Bronson’s Wild Bill Hickok as tragic equals, as two kindred spirits intertwined in this quest through forces and obsessions larger than they are.

 

Perhaps the biggest black mark against The White Buffalo is the terrible effects work used to animate the titular beast. In an era with Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman: The Movie, and Alien released within close range of this film, there’s just no excuse for how bad they are. The buffalo never looks real, never moves in a believable way, and threatens to turn the movie from somber, clear-eyed examination of the fear of death, or the obsession of revenge as code of honor, and into a kitsch B-western. Thankfully, director J. Lee Thompson knows how to make scenes moody and evocative, and this skill goes a long way towards masking the weakness of the central special effect. Thompson’s dream-like compositions nearly transform the beast into a hallucinatory hell-beast, and then we see the visible tracks and wires used to animate it and the illusion is punctured.

 

There’s still more strengths to The White Buffalo that manage to overpower the blows of its weaknesses enough to give it a recommendation. I’m happy to glance through the reviews of the recent video release and see its reputation and critical notices improving. It’s just frustrating that so many aspects were left underdeveloped or taken for granted.



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Satan's Triangle

Posted : 5 days, 12 hours ago on 25 September 2016 12:45 (A review of Satan's Triangle)

Perhaps I should be kinder and grade this hokum, C-list television movie for what it is, but I can’t muster up that sympathy. Satan’s Triangle is nothing you haven’t seen before, better, scarier, more believably played elsewhere, anywhere else, honestly. A little bit of the occult, a little bit supernatural, and large dose of religiosity for good measure, Satan’s Triangle can’t even manage itself as good camp.

 

For some odd reason, the myth of Bermuda Triangle’s supernatural occurrences was a large obsession in 70s horror, look no further than a host of other TV movies and specials with studio era stars slumming it in obscure parts. Well, here’s another one that several people, I guess with a heaping dose of nostalgia filters on, deem an underrated jewel in the sub-genre. I think they’re all misremembering what is an otherwise routine and predictably stale hour.

 

But praise be to Kim Novak for trying valiantly to make this all work. She said the material appealed to her for the way it dabbled in the supernatural, and her appearances in Vertigo and Bell Book and Candle already clue us into her interests in that particular subject. She’s the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and she spends the night with Doug McClure’s lieutenant who answered her ship’s SOS call recounting the horrors she’s witnessed. Then it all ends in a twist that you’ll see coming the moment a priest is introduced to the narrative.

 

Still, Novak’s sublime leading work makes Satan’s Triangle worth sitting through, even if nothing much else does. Her vacant stares and choked vocal deliveries in her earliest scenes work very well for a trauma survivor. Then her vacant, distant face transforming into a diabolic smile and husky laugh in the twist ending are potent and strong variations in her performance, enough to give the material a bite it otherwise lacks.



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The Third Girl from the Left

Posted : 1 week, 1 day ago on 21 September 2016 04:13 (A review of The Third Girl from the Left)

After 1960, Kim Novak lost interest in being a movie star and her film appearances became sporadic. By 1973 she hadn’t made a movie in four years. Then she appeared in Tales That Witness Madness and this film, her television debut. While her performance was self-conscious and monotone (essentially banging on the same neurotic key of fluttering, hand waving, and anxious breathing) in Madness, she’s touchingly vulnerable and real in The Third Girl from the Left.

 

While the film is not great, undiscovered treasure, it’s easy to see Novak’s attraction to the material. Parts of the Third Girl feel ripped straight from her life. The story of an aging chorus girl who realizes her career and romantic life are going nowhere, life has passed her by, and her choices and chances are quickly diminishing. There’s a poignancy built into the part that Novak tears into with her cool, cerebral detachment.

 

The opening credits are played over a tight close-up of Novak’s face as she slowly transforms from a real person into an idealized sex symbol. The fetishistic quality of it is pronounced enough, but once you factor in Novak’s reputation as a screen goddess an extra layer is added. This Marilyn Novak openly demonstrating how she transforms into Kim Novak, completely wordless, her face a blank, withheld canvas that warms up and breaks into a sultry smile once she completes the transformation. The way we build up cinematic personas, and love goddesses in particular, is examined in a matter of minutes, and it is a damn knockout sequence.

 

Shame then that the screenplay frequently fails Novak’s work. Numerous sequences are populated by awful dialog that needed a few more edits to sound plausible, and story beats that needed more modifications to develop. The isolation of Novak’s showgirl is felt in a minor way from the scripting, with most of the major work done by Novak’s moody, introspective persona. The constant worrying about aging out, or fending off hungry up-and-coming talent, doesn’t get enough traction to really reverberate, but what is there is solid. The subplot involving the romance with Michael Brandon as a young delivery boy has a few moments, but several of the scenes just feel artificial.

 

Still, for all of these clichés and problems (including sticking Tony Curtis with too thin of a role), The Third Girl from the Left is worth a look. It’s an engrossing enough piece of work on its own, but it’s immeasurably aided by Kim Novak. She brings the weight and reality of the life lived as a projection of lustful thoughts, and I’d wager that this performance is one of her unsung greats. Granted, it’s not up there with essential works like Vertigo, Kiss Me, Stupid, or Bell Book and Candle, but as a fan of her work, it’s nice to see a late period performance this strong after a few missteps and obtuse choices.



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Tales That Witness Madness

Posted : 1 week, 1 day ago on 21 September 2016 03:35 (A review of Tales That Witness Madness)

An anthology of horrors, Tales That Witness Madness is minor to the point of anemia with one-note, passive performances, predictable stories, and yet it’s still entertaining in its limited way. There’s a few moments of deadpan humor in here, but this strength is frustratingly underdeveloped, like so much of the film.

 

Telling four stories as flashbacks as the primary characters are stuck in a mental institution, Tales That Witness Madness gives them unhappy home and interior lives to explain their psychological and supernatural scarring. The first story is about a little boy with an imaginary friend named Mr. Tiger, who is maybe not so imaginary. The story culminates with Mr. Tiger, revealed as an actual tiger, killing the boy’s frigid mother and uninvolved father while he passively looks on playing his toy piano. The only strength of this section is its ending scene, which verges on a chilling/camp psycho-sexual payoff.

 

The second story, “Penny Farthing,” is the weakest of the lot with nothing distinguishing or memorable about it. An antique store owner is haunted by a portrait and a penny farthing bicycle, there’s some time travel, and a fiery climax. This is the most enthusiasm I can muster for it. Thankfully the final two sequences whip themselves into a hysterical frenzy.

 

The third story, and possibly the most bonkers of the four, “Mel,” is about a man who finds an oddly shaped dead tree, brings it into his house as a piece of “found art,” and becomes increasingly obsessed with it to the point where his wife (Joan Collins, the lone actor in the entire film to find the right tone of stuffy kitsch) ratchets up the jealousy and paranoia. It comes to a climax, quite literally, with the man replacing his wife with the dead tree, now shaved into a vaguely vaginal shaped face and a noticeable pair of breasts. Understated it is not, but the consistent tone of martial and filial jaundice throughout Tales That Witness Madness reaches an apex here, and “Mel” is reason enough to watch the entire thing.  

 

The final segment, “Luau,” features the top-billed Kim Novak, replacing Rita Hayworth who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. “Luau” features Novak’s most monotone performance to date, as she begins on the edge of neurotic, hysterical neediness and never leaves that tone. She plays a literary agent involved in sexual jealousy with her teenage daughter. Into this cold war comes a Hawaiian client of Novak’s who must sacrifice a virgin to appease his god, and you can guess exactly where the story goes. Why exactly this story brought Novak out of a four year exile is anyone’s guess, perhaps it was a fat paycheck and some easy work but it feels beneath her.

 

It’s stupid but watchable, but where else can you find a film containing human sacrifice, a tree with smoothly shaped breasts, and two sex sirens doing bizarre work? Tales That Witness Madness is an uneven affair like any other anthology collection, but there’s some mileage to get out of the more ludicrous moments. Kim Novak may get top billing, but it’s Joan Collins who steals the movie.



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The Great Bank Robbery

Posted : 1 week, 3 days ago on 19 September 2016 03:27 (A review of The Great Bank Robbery)

An alleged western comedy, well, that’s not an entirely fair description. It’s very much a western, but debatable as a comedy. An effective comedy requires a bit of energy, and The Great Bank Robbery is distinctly lacking. This is a shame since there’s an enviable roster of solid comedy actors, a few sexy movie stars, and a few solid smiles, but it never adds up to much of anything.

 

How do you cast Zero Mostel in a leading role and then muzzle his manic, scenery-chewing energy? Casting Mostel as a bank robber disguised as an evangelist is inspired, and one hopes that he’ll be allowed to run wild like he does in The Producers. No such luck here. The Great Bank Robbery keeps him oddly muted when it needed him to yell and bug his eyes out as much as possible. The choice of sacking him with a terrible musical number is just another unfunny bit they sink him with.

 

Even worse is populating the film with Sam Jaffe, Akim Tamiroff, Elisha Cook Jr., John Fiedler, and Ruth Warrick then leaving them with nothing to play. How do you stack the cast with so many wonderfully oddball career character actors and give them so anemic material? The Great Bank Robbery deserves a good thrashing for this cinematic sin alone.

 

Then there’s the sexy movie stars, Clint Walker and Kim Novak. They get some of the best bits to play, providing the few moments of half-hearted smiles from me. Novak gets to play her sexuality and screen siren persona for laughs, flashing her cleavage for laughs and feeding Walker peyote candy then seducing him. Walker plays the straight-talking, stuff-shirt good boy very well, and tries his best to keep it under control while drugged with Novak. Much like the solid supporting players and comedic actors, they don’t get too much else to play aside from these few moments.

 

Yet there’s nothing much to The Great Bank Robbery to inspire much passion either way. After the bizarre viewing experiences I’ve previously had in Kim Novak’s films, this one commits the cardinal sin of being merely boring and forgettable. I’ve felt far more passionate disdain (The Eddy Duchin Story) or camp appreciation (The Legend Lylah Clare) for several other films, and this one inspires a mere shrug from me.

 

It doesn’t matter much what it’s about, there’s too many players at work here, too much story to burn through in a short time, and no one gets any really golden bit. I suppose one could argue that sex symbols Walker and Novak stripping down could be that, but these moments feel more tacked on for salacious interest than for any humorous purposes. The New York Times review described this movie as “so casually inept it can’t support even negative superlatives,” and that’s a perfect summary of it, really. It’s there, but if you really want to watch a great western comedy, go watch Blazing Saddles.



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The Legend of Lylah Clare

Posted : 1 week, 3 days ago on 19 September 2016 02:42 (A review of The Legend of Lylah Clare)

Can a movie be a must-see viewing experience without actually being good in any demonstrable level? Yes, and this phenomenon is practically the reason we have midnight movies and cult classics. I present you with The Legend of Lylah Clare, a hodge-podge narrative of corrosive Hollywood dreams.

 

Echoing Sunset Boulevard, Vertigo, and Rebecca most prominently, and lacking all of the wit, poetry, and warped beauty of those films, The Legend of Lylah Clare tells the story of a naïve starlet cast in a biographical film of a tragic actress, only to be possessed by her spirit. Or is she just bonkers? In the end, it doesn’t even matter as the film presents this as a possible major story beat only to forget about it halfway through.

 

Lylah Clare is consistently fascinating in its layers of terrible choices and confounding performances. Initially director Robert Aldrich was thrilled with casting Kim Novak in the title role, and on paper it seems like a perfect match for her. Once again, Novak gets to play a dual role, but unlike in prior films, she’s clearly unenthused with the material and commits the strangest performance of her career to this film.

 

Novak alternates between enjoying herself speaking with a ridiculous accent (is it supposed to be Italian? I’m not sure what it is, but it’s fascinating), and sleepwalking through the rest of the film. The Legend of Lylah Clare continues with subjecting Novak to scenes of undress and sexual objectification, and while she’s lovely to look at, she’s palpably uncomfortable in more sexually aggressive moments. Like the film around her, Novak is awful but completely fascinating.

 

Lylah Clare populates its supporting players with European chic players and sturdy character actors. Ernest Borgnine and Peter Finch chew the scenery as insider Hollywood types, while Carol Browne and Valentina Cortese radiate glamour and mystique but are asked for little else. The wildest supporting player is clearly Rossella Falk as the lesbian housekeeper who was in love with Lylah, addicted to heroin, and too eager to take care of the new starlet being remade in Lylah’s specter.

 

All of these various players are grotesque cartoons, with not a viable or believable person to be found among them. This grotesque, near burlesque tone continues throughout until it culminates in one of the more bizarre endings of any film I’ve ever seen. It takes the phrase “dog eat dog” quite literally, and feels like the perfect piece of “what the fuck” imagery to send us out on. I’m not sure it’s good in any conventional sense, but my god if Lylah Clare isn't absolutely worth a watch.



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The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders

Posted : 1 week, 6 days ago on 16 September 2016 03:43 (A review of The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders)

If you kept most of the individual elements of The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders and just tweaked the script, you’d have something. I’m not sure if it would be very good, but I know it would be better than this. Moll Flanders comes out with heaving bosoms and ribald humor, then quickly settles into a shapeless mess of odd pacing and a limp central performance.

 

Not that star Kim Novak is given much to play for a good chunk of the film mind you, but most of her performance here rests upon her ample cleavage and red wig. She’s positively lovely here, carnal and ample bodied, but once again clearly uncomfortable playing the sex pot for a majority of the movie. Her Moll Flanders is a bit of a limp noodle, managing only to show some personality in scenes where she argues with Richard Johnson, becomes a thief and adopts a series of ridiculous disguises, or fends off the lecherous advances of Vittorio de Sica. After the prior year’s career high, and something a caper as it turns out, her work here is frustratingly limited.

 

Much better are a series of British thespians hamming it up with relish. Angela Lansbury, George Sanders, Lilli Palmer, and glorified cameos by Hugh Griffith and Roger Livesey liven things up routinely. They get the exaggerated and cartoon-like parts where they can play the smutty humor for its all of its artifice and kitsch value. The best performance though belongs to the great neo-realist Italian director, Vittorio de Sica. He’s deliciously camp here, bringing a similar quality that Charles Laughton brought to his lesser roles, seemingly playing as broadly as possible with poor material in effort to amuse himself.

 

But that’s the major problem with Moll Flanders, at two hours long and with a romance that’s indifferent at best, just boring at worst, there’s not enough story to justify the bloated running time. The first thirty minutes or so is a romp, a trashy glimpse into one woman’s quest of upward mobility through her sexuality and a series of opportunistic marriages. Yet there’s not enough bite to make the jokes sting, the stakes aren’t played seriously enough, and it quickly loses any semblance of personality or spirit before winding up as a distaff Tom Jones without the healthy dose of cynicism.

 

For all of its myriad of problems, Moll Flanders is vibrantly colored and lovely to look at. The score is pleasant, and there’s glimpses of a much better film lurking underneath it all. Novak’s wishy-washy performance could have been shaped into something better if the script gave her more to play with, and when Moll Flanders becomes a robber the film flirts with high-spirited adventure and interest just before realizing it has provided her too much agency and quickly wrapping up the story by sending everyone on a boat to America. It’s an ending alright, but like the film that preceded it, it’s more of a shrug than anything else.



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Kiss Me, Stupid

Posted : 2 weeks ago on 15 September 2016 07:46 (A review of Kiss Me, Stupid)

No one could ever incorrectly accuse Billy Wilder of being cynical, but given the jaundiced nature of his outlook and work, there’s still something bracing about Kiss Me, Stupid’s acerbic quality. Not only does Wilder put female exploitation and fragile masculinity through the ringer, but marriage and upward mobility. If you want to achieve your dreams, then you better be prepared to pay and pay and pay.

 

Kiss Me, Stupid is something of a stepchild in Wilder’s work, with many people ready to close the book on him post-The Apartment, there’s a flawed, but tremendously rewarding body of work that’s being forgotten about. I have a deep fondness for Kiss Me, Stupid, think One, Two, Three is overdue for critical reevaluation, and find Irma La Douce and The Fortune Cookie to be highly entertaining, if messy, pieces of work.

 

But why is Kiss Me, Stupid treated so poorly? It could be any of the following things, or a combination thereof: a troubled production, a muted release through a subsidiary after the distributor got clammy, condemnation by the Catholic Legion of Decency, and a sourness that’s shocking even by Wilder’s standards. Doesn’t mean Kiss Me, Stupid is without merits, or that it’s not entertaining, because it very much is, just that it’s commonly treaded as the thing that handicapped a career of one of the greatest writer/director/producers ever.

 

Looking back, the slow destruction of the studio system probably played a larger hand in the eventual awkward gait of Wilder’s career, not like he was alone, practically all of the great craftsmen and auteurs of the studio era had trouble adapting to the New Hollywood generation. Yet the troubled production would be a major blow to just about anyone.

 

Originally conceived with Marilyn Monroe in the sex pot role, her untimely death was but the first sea change. Jayne Mansfield was then considered for the role, but she had to bow out due to pregnancy. Wilder originally hired Peter Sellers as Orville, our neurotic, jealous husband with dreams of being a major songwriter. Six weeks into production and Sellers suffered a major heart attack, causing Wilder to scrap the entire production and start over.  Any of the replacements (Tony Randall, Tom Ewell, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye) would have been stellar in the role, but we got Ray Walston in the role.

 

His work is complicated for me, and the major hindrance towards my praising Kiss Me, Stupid as a slept-on masterpiece awaiting rediscovery. In the later scenes with Kim Novak, Walston manages a warmth and tenderness that is most pleasing, and he creates a believable partnership with Cliff Osmond, but these praises can’t distract from the first act’s volley of loud overacting. Walston projects his fragile masculinity so severely it’s like he’s playing to cheap seats in an auditorium three blocks away.

 

Thankfully to act as a counter balance Wilder brings in two movie stars and allows them to deconstruct (even outright parody) their familiar personas. Dean Martin does a daring, even bravely unself-conscious, piece of self-parody in the role of Dino, a popular singer with a penchant for booze and girls. Once Dino winds up in Climax, Neveda he deadpans, “The only way to go.” Yes, it’s an easy joke, but Martin delivers it with drunken swagger, landing the joke with more bite. Even better is a sight gag involving his hand getting stuck in an empty Kleenex box that verges on the pornographic for all the smuttiness he plays it up for, and god bless him for it. Martin’s star persona dominates everything in the sleepy hamlet, hammering home the predatory nature of the male ego as Dino happily exchanges sex for performing Orville’s song on a Bob Hope special.

 

Martin’s performance is one of his greatest, but Kim Novak is even better. Novak’s casting as a sex bomb is no stretch, and in other films that rested upon her character’s carnality, she displayed a strong discomfort in the role. Not so here. Novak plays Polly the Pistol (what a name!) with a deeply melancholy, and once again finds herself in a role that fractures. There’s Polly, the waitress/prostitute, and then there’s “Zelda,” where Polly pretends to be Orville’s wife and seduce Dino as an indirect route to sell their song(s) on the pop star. Novak commits completely to the role, deploying a deep, husky voice (her character has a cold), and is at her best in a scene where she expertly avoids the grabby, greedy hands of the bar patrons. Novak gets to be both an object of desire and a knowing but undefeated, the role has echoes of her sublime work in Picnic and Vertigo, and it remains one of Novak’s essential roles.

 

In the end, Kiss Me, Stupid shutters around its two female characters into the roles of wife and whore, then they switch, then back again. For all of the toxic masculinity on display, which Wilder plays as burlesque cruelty and condemns, these two are several steps ahead of the bumbling idiots around them. That final stinger, a strong point for Wilder’s films of the era, gives the distinct impression that fucking around on your spouse can be as effective as marriage therapy. Hell, it may even improve your finances. Kiss Me, Stupid is an abrasive, corrosive and possessing a vulgar integrity, it’s like The Apartment’s more grown-up, bitter cousin.



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Posted: 5 months ago at Apr 29 15:46
At last! I'm finally done with this list...
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Posted: 6 months ago at Mar 30 15:29
Thanks for your help! The list has been updated :
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Posted: 7 months, 3 weeks ago at Feb 11 16:24
Yes, it is once again time for our yearly tradition. What is the best movie, according to you, Listal member? What are you waiting for?!? VOTE!!!!

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Posted: 2 years, 11 months ago at Oct 26 17:23
Posted: 3 years, 5 months ago at Apr 8 14:36
hi friend check out my new list .
hope you like it and thanks for your
time
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Posted: 3 years, 6 months ago at Mar 30 14:02
This might just sound schize, but thanks for re-writing my "Pocahontas" review-- saves me the trouble of figuring it all out *again* myself, a-hahahaha....
Posted: 3 years, 6 months ago at Mar 18 22:57
Thanks for participating in my lists.
Sorry, but you can't do another top, really sorry.
But thanks.
Posted: 3 years, 6 months ago at Mar 10 18:22
Thanks for taking part in my musicals list!

I also know how you feel, I found it hard to limit my choices down to 10.
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hey friend check out my new list. hope you like it
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Posted: 3 years, 9 months ago at Dec 21 16:14
Hello there! I enjoyed your review of Dracula and took myself the freedom to link it to my Universal Horror Films - Best to Worst list. Hope you're fine with that!
Posted: 4 years, 2 months ago at Jul 21 2:52
Thank u 4 your comment on the muses list. Suggestion added.
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I'm working on a new project. Maybe you can check it out and help me. From which State are you from? and in which State are you living right now?

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Posted: 5 years, 2 months ago at Jul 16 13:06
I'm working on a new project. Maybe you can check it out and help me. From which State are you from? and in which State are you living right now?

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Posted: 5 years, 10 months ago at Nov 18 1:19
O.O Thanks!!
Posted: 7 years, 8 months ago at Jan 12 20:17
cool reviews =]
Posted: 7 years, 10 months ago at Nov 15 17:51
Posted: 8 years, 1 month ago at Aug 12 18:48
Hey man, I see you're pretty new, I'm loving the reviews though! Great job.

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