Part 2 of Leni Riefenstahl's documentary on the 1936 Olympics shows no sign of fatigue as she takes up where she left off with the same energy and grace to be found in the first section. In the second section more emphasis is given to the physique of the athletes that Riefenstahl gracefully captures in a poetic slo-mo of divers and gymnasts among others while being equally adept at editing furiously paced bike rides and steeplechases. With its more restrained opening, placing more attention on the athlete than the fan and celebrating rather than reportage "Beauty" might outshine "Nations" slightly but neither shortchanges. A classic documentary with or without its other half.
Fresh from her triumphant Triumph of the Will propaganda masterpiece director Leni Riefenstahl began production work on this 1936 Berlin Olympics documentary to further showcase the superiority of the "master race." Wisely she edited versions for select countries and in the English language version there is a sufficient amount of US and England performances highlighted by the blinding speed of Jesse Owens. For the most part Olympia is an apolitical tract with the occasional shot of Nazi architects but once again with the same tour de force of camera work and editing that made Will so powerful.
Celebrating the athlete and the reflective pride of their countrymen fans, the film boasted an optimistic message of vitality and hope for the future that history would prove otherwise down the road. Olympia is a display of superb artistry recording the graceful beauty of athletes but impossible to watch without a deep feeling of melancholy along the way.
Things had really taken off for the National Socialist Party led by Adolf Hitler in 1934. Bringing Germany back from the defeat of WW1 and a crippling world wide depression he instilled a new pride an optimism in the people with a vision that made Germany momentarily the envy of the globe. Realizing the power of film and its ability to reach and sway the masses propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels suggested this Nazi valentine.
In Triumph of the Will director Leni Riefenstahl showcases the might that would soon be the scourge of the world at the party's 6 day convention in the ancient city of Nuremberg in 1934. Meant not only to awe but intimidate Riefenstahl captured both the might of the precision battalions and the rabid patriotism of its people on vast parade grounds and along the hero welcoming streets of the old city. An incredibly inspirational work of propaganda for its core audience of followers while its show of might, discipline and fealty to its figurehead must have sent chills throughout the rest of the world.
Without doubt Will is one of the most important documentaries in history. The content of a people caught up in dizzying Zeitgeist only to be scrounging for food among rubble a decade later along with the youthful faces of future cannon fodder has a dark sobering effect in hindsight. What truly elevates Triumph above all other docs though is the undeniable artistry of its maker Leni Riefenstahl. A stunning undertaking she captures the pageantry and zealotry of a society at its perceived high water mark of existence with imagery for the ages and editing of an aggressive monolith that invites you to join or risk being run over. Little did she know that like all the joyous faces and dedicated followers in these newsreels they were on the road to ruin by way of their "master plan."
Yul Brynner as Taurus Bulba rides across the pampas filling in for the Steppes of Russia with what looks like every gaucho in Argentina in this massive hot air balloon of an epic on the Cossack's duking it out with the Poles in the 16th century.
Mighty Cossack warrior Taurus Bulba makes the decision to send his sons to be educated by his enemies the Poles. In spite of profound bias one of the sons (Tony Curtis) manages to fall in love with a Polish Princess (Christine Kaufman) and take side against dad.
Brynner is heartily stilted in his leadership but does like to party and even sing a touch in rare moments when he allows his stern stare to take a break. The Curtis, Kaufmann hook-up is insipidly romantic and clearly played far better off screen since Tony married the leading lady.
The battle scenes are massive but unimaginatively edited. There is also some glaringly poor back projection but the attack on the Polish fortress in the film's climactic moment, awesome in its size does offer up some bravura panorama. The cloying story line and cliche speech making however make it far from worth the wait.
There's a trio of fine performances to be found in Hillbilly Elegy, the film adaptation of a runaway bestseller about a proud, mostly invisible segment of American society back on its heels in economically depressed, drug ridden middle America. Director Ron Howard captures the despair and frustration due to lack of opportunity and family dysfunction but the film runs overlong hammering its point home with the protagonist's train wreck of a mom (Amy Adams).
"Hillbilly" JD Vance is on the verge of breaking the family cycle of poverty and ignorance as a bust out law candidate from Yale. Seriously involved with an Indian girlfriend he's scheduled to interview for a major position with a firm but wouldn't you know it his drug addled old mom threatens to sabotage everything.
Most of Elegy is in flashback of JD (Owen Aztalos) growing up in the midst of dreadful circumstance his Mamaw (Glenn Close) doing her able best to keep the boy on the right path while mom bonds on occasion between fixes and boyfriends. Amy Adams is powerfully infuriating as the old lady, blaming the world for all her problems inflicting great emotional pain on JD. Glenn Close is simply her equal as a wobbly tower of strength trying to hold the family together. Howard's direction is poorly paced with overlong phone conversations and an excess of mom infractions, the depressed state of Middle America disposed in perfunctory montage. There is little comic relief to be found and Howard pouring on excess glum asks for the same patience mom does with her incessant drug use when both call for tough love. An overlong misery trip in need of some scissoring.
This heavy handed, misandy ridden tale of sexual harassment in the age of #MeToo featuring an ogre and a trio of ambitious blondes immerses itself in close-up and catty conversation early and remains boringly so the rest of the way. Based on a true story involving media titan Roger Ailes and his "hands on" training methods of aspirant ladies looking for a career at Fox, it broods rather than move.
All men are conniving sleazy tomcats according to Charles Randolph's script as fictional character Kayla Posipipil is finding out at Fox. Thank heavens lesbian Jess Carr is around to help guide her through the swamp of male creeps, the biggest and most repulsive Ailes (John Lithgow) also the most powerful. Even between the sheets with naïve Kayla she can respect boundaries. There's also real life survivors Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) to bring veracity to the script but given their rich and famous life style hardly in a position to match the urgent music and pensive expressions of life in the balance the film is providing them.
I'm not downplaying the seriousness of sexual harassment in the work place, it should not be tolerated anywhere. The stage in Bombshell they choose to shed light on it is permeated with privileged, entitled and intelligent people who have been around the block however with access to legal council. Better they should examine it among blue collar workers with neither alternative or recourse like the parade of energetic blonds who are down to get their foot in the door, then when powerful enough, suddenly shocked and lawyered up by the tone of the conversation. The lettuce picker, the widgit maker in a factory could use the exposure more than these pretty rich girls, multi millionaires Fox and Carlson. But then again writer Randolph and director Jay Roach might have a harder time without three hot blondes to sell their story. One slick, smarmy man hater of a picture.
Elton John is the author of a discography like few others in the music business with a staying power spanning decades. In this musical-bio they judiciously weight the musical portion to a greater degree in order give the rather mundane cold childhood to fame and excess a pulse in this tepid Tommy without the Ken Russell.
The dramatic side offers quick slight before going into song most of the way as he sums up cold parents and lovers followed by song and dance with a glum or drug fueled John crawling along in self pity in search of a "proper love."
Taron Egerton gives a serviceable performance while Bryce Dallas Howard as chilly mom Sheila earns acting honors while the rest of the cast mostly stands around reacting with concern or connivance.
The musical numbers are adequate, choreography unspectacular and face it, the songs something you would rather have Elton warble himself. A rather dull story told in familiar song.
There's a lot of anger on the streets these days where a certain segment of society is portrayed by the media as an out of control mob who feel looting and rioting is a form of "reparations." Race baiting means dollars for the MSM and the talking heads can lay it on real thick.
What we don't see much of is the conservative Black who by the sweat of his brow has achieved success in this land of opportunity by rejecting the stereotype of victimhood and Uncle Tom does a superb job of leveling the playing field.
Tom recounts a myriad of remarkable success stories by men and women who faced the far more daunting task of confronting racism in their time than the spoiled malcontents of today tragically being led around by race hustlers like Al Sharpton, Van Jones and Maxine Waters who have become quite wealthy in the process while followers continue to languish.
Larry Elder leads and presents a group of highly accomplished men and women such as Robert Woodson, Herman Cain, Ben Carson, Carol Swain and Allen West who testify to the promise of the American Dream as shining examples of it while taking a far more challenging path in the process. Facts, figures and history glossed over and ignored by most media outlets further buttresses a hypocrisy practiced by Democrats before the Civil War until now.
Other than its completely over the top music score, Uncle Tom's greatest drawback is that it threatens to become an add for the Republican Party while it backs up Dem double dealing as the party of the KKK and points to its attempts to derail 60s Civil Rights legislation. This bias aside Uncle Tom is a devastating expose that probably should be shown in all American classrooms to bring some balance to this conversation that is plaguing America. Larry Elder is not only to be praised for his tireless work at getting the other side heard but perhaps even more importantly for inspiring the likes of the eloquent young firebrand Candace Owen, not just a great Black hope but also
a great hope for all of America. One very enlightening. documentary.
Miles Ahead is a split decision for Don Cheadle who gives an impressive performance as famed jazz musician Miles Davis while his direction wavers throughout before the wheels come off entirely in the last reel.
Taking place during his self imposed isolation during the 70s, an obnoxious reporter, Dave Braden ( I apologize for the redundancy) played by Ewan McGregor literally forces his way into Miles apartment to see what's been cooking with the jazz giant. Drugs and a new work he finds out as he tags along on a coke buy and to recover the lost work.
Filming Davis nodding out on drugs does not make for an interesting film so Cheadle spices things up with some flights of fancy involving violence and gunplay as he tries to recover the tape. Not much fact surrounding these incidents, other than an attempt to lift the overall feeling of torpor the film has.
Simply a wasted mess of an opportunity to do a biography on one of the most controversial and finest jazz artists of the 20th century. In order to do any justice regarding his life and times it would have to follow the warts and all unfettered bio of Jake La Motta by Scorsese for Davis was a surly genius, abusive to women, with two bouts of heroin addiction under his belt as well as being a knee jerk bigot. I doubt very much that the trustees protecting his legacy would allow it, leaving us with this sloppy piece of raging bull that brings you close to his music but miles away from the man.
An exceptionally well edited and sound synchronized work of composer Arthur Honegger probably wedded by the filmmaker through title as much as rhythm.
I've researched neither of the collaborators but given Honneger's titling I guess we can assume a connection and inspiration that director Mark Mitry achieves in this short "non-doc" experimental.
Gargantuan man made objects of power and strength such as airliners, ocean liners and bridges over bays may be larger but they do not awe with the expressive intimacy that a locomotive must have provided as it flexed it muscles along the rails, smoked and hissed at the station crowd. The film with its three minute prelude of ambient sound has its own sense of lyricism before joining in with the composer's work allowing for a fuller experience that is both grounded and poetic but with the locomotive its star from rounhouse to destination.
With the count one an one ( dignified Pride of the Yankees, abysmal The Babe Ruth Story) Jackie Robinson forgoes a pinch hitter and steps up to the plate on his own to play the lead at the height of his career in his own biography. At times he is as wooden as the 34 Hillerich-Bradbury he swings but does manage to convey a sympathetic gentle, sensitivity in the face of hate, further emphasized by the fact he was still living amid rampant societal prejudice.
The film to its credit does not shy away from the blatant racism Robinson encountered on his journey to the majors by a white society still firmly entrenched in Jim Crow practice upon the pictures release. Some moments are heavy handed and far too much time is wasted on wind-ups and ground balls, yet I would dare any popular method actor of the day to reach down internalize and convey what the face of Robinson does on deck as he stoically listen to the slurs and insults of the fans around him. He was living it, not playing it.
The film that director Roy Del Ruth builds celebrating the life of the greatest sports hero in history to that point is made of all cheap material. Far from the quality and dignity of the 42 bio on teammate Lou Gehrig featuring Gary Cooper we get this comic book rendition with second banana character actor William Bendix.
Mawkish from the outset, the buffoonish Bendix plays the Babe with an overgrown kid vitality while the sugar coated script plays fast and loose around facts. It is simply grotesque watching the graceless out of shape Bendix swinging a bat or running down a fly while performing a couple of miracles along the way as well as being a lovable slug around babes with an unquenchable appetite for hotdogs.
Released the same year he passed away I found myself checking dates in hopes he was gone before its September opening, he was. Better his departure from this world believing another Pride of the Yankees was preserving his legacy than this minor league travesty.
Minus the humor and working with an entirely different plot line from the 47 Danny Kaye original the only resemblance to this rambling travelogue is in name only.
Life ( the magazine) is about to expire and the last cover will be using negative 25 from a contact sheet of the legendary but elusive photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn). Archivist Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) entrusted with its safekeeping fails to produce it and is fired. A hardcore dullard he resolves to grow a pair, find the shutterbug and while he's at it win the girl.
An insult to the memory of the original with the usual schlub bordering on clinically depressed Stiller role in which we are expected to feel sympathy for him with his incessant mopey close-ups. Ok, we feel your pain, now what? How about some laughs. Kristin Wig as the romantic interest is dressed down in wrinkled dress and dirty hair in order to make her a palpable match for Wally..
There are some spectacular sights to behold, a Keatonesque like scene as he jumps from a helicopter and some decent day dreaming moments but overall Mitty is just another self pity Stiller turn found in all of his light comedies, except this time around he provides breathtaking backdrops along with an obnoxiously inspiring music score while he does. Best Mitty keep its secret to itself.
The first of the thrice filmed Fanny Hurst novel under the tasteful direction of John Stahl features a superb performance from Irene Dunne. From carefree youth to dying day Dunne gives an incredibly restrained yet powerfully emotional effort of a woman who signs her own death warrant to the American ideal.
Ray Schmidt is one elusive chick to the men chasing her. On to the traveling salesman con she also rejects the well intentioned local boy with promise Kurt Schlender who nevertheless remains persistent. One day at the train depot she's introduced to Walter Saxel (John Boles). The two hit it off and embark on an on off affair until the day they die.
Dunne endures the highs and lows of the relationship with a low key melancholy, much of it reflected in her eyes and long silences that reaches the audience and speaks volumes. The tragic chemistry between the two is evident in many of their scenes as they knowingly play out the doomed affair that will never attain respectability with a wan despair.
Stahl along with cameraman Karl Freund provide one fine background after the next with some beautiful set pieces as well some tender two shot close-ups of the star crossed lovers conflicted by their desperate passion for each other and the "proper " thing to do. A top rate tearjerker.
This sloppy, unstructured two reeler featuring a diamond in the rough, blues singer Bessie Smith, is a it of a bumpy buggy ride but it does lay claim to having the only visual recording of the finest female blues singer outside of Billie Holliday.
Slick Jimmy the pimp is quite a rascal around the ladies but Bessie can't quit him. Caught philandering again Bess beats the woman and Jim walks. Drowning her melancholy in beer, Jimbo reappears to the delight of the locals, busts same energetic moves and takes her for a ride again.
Blues bustles with activity from a crap game to a jumping nightclub where customers and waiters camp it up while Bessie broods. She is indeed the jewel in the crown in the picture but there are also jazz giants (James P. Johnson, Thomas Morris) as well as Johnson Hall's Choir lending support to this unevenly edited, music explosion of rare and only filmed recording of The Empress of Blues.
An orphan street performing before 10, killed in a car crash at the height of her career, bisexual Smith's tempestuous personal life probably had a Jimmie or two in it as well. If anyone had the reason to sing the blues it was certainly the tragic Smith. A must for anyone interested in the history of American music.
One of seven shorts Buster Keaton released in 1922, most of the action takes place at the village smithy's where Buster finds himself bullied by the brutish proprietor. When the owner is arrested and carted off to jail Buster is left to his own devices.
One of Keaton's minor shorts with not enough for him to do as he fits a horse for shoes and clumsily dismantles a flashy car. The horsing around along with a giant magnetic horseshoe gag wear thin quickly while the grease laden hands of Buster doing damage as a running gag, stumbles along. He does get the girl in the end but with fewer laughs than usual to get there. The Blacksmith Mediocre Buster.
70s stand-up superstar Steve Martin delivered big time his first time out with the Jerk. Offering more of his wild and crazy humor in film form he did not miss a beat with an endless array of absurd and outrageous situations that made it one extended if sometimes erratic chuckle. From the new phone book to cat juggling Martin's comic imagination rans wild, only slowing down (to the film's detriment) with a wasteful romantic angle involving a grating Roberta Peters. With his unique brand of humor it looked like Martin had vaulted into the 70s comedy heavyweight division with Allen, Brooks and the Python tag team.
One hit wonders in music and film from Strawberry Alarm Clock to Mac Clean Stevenson are quite common in these industries. Martin is far from being in the same boat but The Jerk it seemed was readying us for an onslaught of Martin originality to come that never arrived as he medium cooled and disappeared into re-boots of other comics. In hindsight we are seeing Martin at his artistic peak in The Jerk where the passage of time emphasizes both the comic brilliance and the slow fade into mediocrity of Martin mostly treading water since then. So forget the career, enjoy the film, it's a laugh riot.
Some of the better actresses of the 70s ( Madeline Khan, Eileen Brennan, Ann-Margaret, Louise Fletcher, Marsha Mason, Stockard Channing) waste their time and talent in this abrasive comedy-mystery by Neil Simon that attempts to dazzle with its cast and the raging popularity of its TV detective lead, Peter Falk. It is one gaudy mess of hackneyed humor and heavy handed performances by all concerned.
Simply put, Simon's script presents a Bogie like character doing comic riffs on the classics (Falcon, Sleep, Casablanca etc.) as well known TV actors join the ladies on nostalgic sets in well pressed nostalgic duds to wildly recite lame lines.
Directed by TV experienced Robert Moore many of the scenes have an over the top variety show burlesque without the saving grace of a TV commercial selling fabric softener to mercifully spell you from this crass spoof of quality players embarrassing themselves. Cheap is cheap.
The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss is a dull comedy romance featuring Cary Grant in one of his early and more forgettable films. While Grant's charm is evident the script is a bit morose and it impedes Cary's wit and energy through most of the film with assistance from a rather transparent supporting cast.
Wealthy Ernie Bliss is bored and it seems to be having an effect on his health. His doctor who has little respect for him agrees to a wager in which Bliss can redeem himself by becoming a self made man. He decides to hit the road with five pounds in his pocket.
This feel good depression era film is Capra without the depth of both storyline and plausible scenario. Secret Santa Bliss can only spread his kindness so far before a far fetched coincidence returns him to his home and a butler suffering from the same ennui as his employer. It plays well to an inside joke regarding a box of cigars as well as emphasize the corrupting force of a lot of time on one's hands. But it also points to the fact there is little of interest outside of Mr. Bliss feeling good about himself because he can afford it. Nothing amazing about that at all.
Helen Twelvetrees martyrs and mopes through a couple of decades of men in this creaky melodrama. Helped immeasurably by the presence of two gold digger bisexuals played by Lilyan Tashman and Joan Blondell along with the sophisticated depravity of John Halliday it is a well mounted picture that unashamedly injects a fashion show for the ladies from end to end. With clothes to admire and men to despise Millie probably did not need a free china night to pack them in at the Bijou.
Popular Millie runs off with Jack Maitland to marry. She gives birth and he's wandering in no time. The marriage ends and she falls for a reporter, no better than Maitland and with less money. A long time pursuer (Halliday) gives up on Millie and instead devotes his seductive attentions to her teenage daughter.
Millie is a misandrist field day with nearly every male a drunk, a cheat or both and both Tashman and Blondell providing sardonic commentary whether in bed together or draped in elaborate finery reinforce it with their terse, comic insight. Halliday simply oozes unctuous respectability, his perverse voyeurism drawing him to a Sunday service to ogle Millie's teen.
The film ultimately implodes in the overwrought court scene finale but not before an elaborate fashion show and some entertaining cynical girl talk from Tashman and Blondell that carry MIllie up until that point.
Prolific television and second feature director Robert Florey teamed with Gregg Toland and others to produce this dark short around the advent of sound. It's a rather acerbic comic work that suggests instead of going west young man, better to stay put.
An optimistic fellow sets his sight on Hollywood stardom and takes Greeley's advice. Starting in at the bottom floor he is assigned an impersonal number for identification. Dehumanization of the spirit follows as reality sets in, employment wavers and bills pile up.
This avant garde word to the wise features some sharp camera work, dissolves and double exposure for its day. Well edited, it has a tragi-comic touch that remains unrelenting in its condemnation of the industry. A deceptively disturbing work in miniature.
The comedy team of of Pitts and Todd find themselves unable to get a date to anywhere but Coney Island but feel they are headed uptown when a Euro bon vivant in his flashy car splashes them with mud. He springs for new duds and asks them out on a date with his pal to where else but.
The girls are their usually entertainingly clumsy clownish selves but this time with a decided advantage over their cad pursuers. The girls and the rubes play well off each other harmlessly and the pair have a fun scene in the dark bonding over past jaunts to Coney but Billy Gilbert's effeminate dress designer is outrageously hilarious especially if you are familiar with his extensive career of playing blustery, frustrated characters. With a surprise ending regarding their last pair of dates suggesting they go to you guessed it makes On the loose a pretty tight short.
Billed third, it is obvious within the first minutes that this is comic actor Mantan Moreland's picture. Given more screen time and lines than the "heroes" or villain, a Bela Lugosi clone, he carries what humor is to be found in this comic horror from start to finish.
Three stooges in a model airplane crash on an island run by a Lugosi manque, Dr. Sange (Henry Viktor). Sange tinkers with zombies but is also working as an agent for an enemy government. Two of the stranded are pretty dense to what is going on but Jeff (Moreland) with the assistance of a comely maid is soon up to speed.
Moreland's reactions and throw away non-sequitors are hilarious most of the way as you willingly give into the far fetched plot but outside of Viktor and Madame Sul-Te-Wan as Tahama the cook the chills remain tepid and it is left up to Mantan to give scenes any life with his wide eyed, mumbling responses in what is basically a one man show..
Brothers from different mothers Marty Rome (Richard Conti) and Vito (Victor Mature) have taken different paths to adulthood, one the law the other criminality. When the cold but seductively charming Marty is critically wounded after murdering a cop he uses that appeal to escape and make contacts on the outside who assist him as well as a few out to betray him. Det. Cammela in pursuit looks for assistance from Rome's family but momma is not about to turn in her boy while Marty's younger brother shows sign of taking the same career path.
Cry of the City is an outstanding underrated noir masterfully directed by Robert Siodmak. There are at least a quartet (hospital escape, lawyer's office, masseuse encounter, finale) of paced beautifully framed scenes and shots of taut suspense that carry the film along with a pressing tense rhythm with the films final scene a powerfully subtle exit the opposite of White Heat.
Mature's dogged passion manages to hold his own in scenes with the persuasive serpentine performance of Conte, probably giving the best of his career. Exploiting and destroying folks at will he goes through a myriad of characters up and down the food chain, the one sentimental chink in his armor, a virginal clueless girlfriend (Debra Paget).
A supporting cast of pathetic and sadistic lend there own desperation and venality to the story, some entering late in the picture to give an added boost and darken things even more. Berry Kroger, Fred Clark, Shelly Winters standout among others but Hope Emerson as a hulking masseuse is imposingly memorable, her monologue while massaging Marty one cynical rant allowing Siodmak to subtly solve a murder without name or admission and more importantly without interrupting the flow of the film. It is a simple aside that answers a major question and fleshes out the superb villainy of Emerson.
Few spoke cinema language as well as Robert Siodmak and in Cry of the City he is at his most fluent. A pantheon noir.
Jazz on a Summer's Day features some legendary jazz musicians playing in the famed Newport Jazz Fest 1958. Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Jack Teargarden, Dinah Washington and Chuck Berry (Chuck Berry?) are among the impressive list but sloppy editing does more to infuriate and while some snippets are gems director Bert Stern decides to clumsily cut in key moments in favor of some banal audience reaction and sailboats on the bay. There's some staged partying off festival grounds that also detracts and wastes time when it should be recording more of the performances by Armstrong and the other giants. The co-starring "City by the Sea" Newport, a city I cycle a couple of dozen times a year also gets short shift utilizing a Dixieland band as tour guide horsing around in a Stutz Bearcat when it could showcase one of the more remarkable cities in the US.
Jazz does offer some sublime moments such as a Buck Clayton and Gerry Mulligan duet along a swinging classy Anita O'Day simply stealing the film in hat and gloves, disguising her habit on stage with incredible command. But with Stern's emphasis on audience this interesting time piece runs poorly and annoys with superfluous shots of well scrubbed hipsters acting out when the sight of Berry playing with the legendary jazz drummer Jo Jones instead of a local pick-up band as he was want to do while touring should have been given far more attention.