Movie Blog - Film Review, Rating, Plot Summary / Synopsis - Archive Spring 2005

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I Love Silents - Silent Movies

2005 BLOG Archive - Spring Season (April, May 2005). My personal movie watching diary. NOTE: there may be spoilers for some entries.

ratings: 1 = dud; 2 = fair; 3 = good; 4 = excellent

May 31, 2005 - Rushmore (1998) - Dark comedy about Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), aggressive, unattractive, geek boy on scholarship who has found the one thing he loves to do and wants to do forever - attend Rushmore Boys Academy. He has organized or joined just about every extracurricular activity in school - assorted weird clubs, beekeeping, debating, writing plays for the drama club, and loads more - but unfortunately, his grades are terrible and the head of the school is threatening to kick him out. Meanwhile Max makes a couple of new friends - namely, the wealthy father of a couple of jerk twins, Mr. Blume (Bill Murray) who seems to like Max better than his sons, and also a pretty first-grade teacher, Miss Cross, who Max falls in love with. Soon Max has competition as Mr. Blume falls for her too. Max decides to have the school remove part of their baseball field to create a huge aquarium of exotic fish to impress Miss Cross - then gets kicked out of school. Sad Max makes the best of it though as, now enrolled at local public school Grover Cleveland High, he immediately starts joining in clubs and starting a dramatic society. Max writes off-the-wall violent dramas for the students to perform (including purchasing dynamite for use in one of his plays!). Meanwhile Max has a falling out with Mr. Blume and Miss Cross, Blume and Max set out to get even with each other by pulling juvenile stunts on each others vehicles, then later all make friends again. Well, this film has a great soundtrack of retro tunes and features some rather interesting photography, but the story is a bit weak and not remotely funny. I find Max to be just an extremely unappealing character, so have little sympathy for anything that happens to him - geeky Max spends most of his time with his nose running or blood coming out his nose, yuck! (3 stars)

May 27, 2005 - This morning saw The Sea Inside (2004), a film from Spain, with English-language subtitles. Based on a true story, about a middle-aged man, Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem), who has been a quadriplegic for 26 years, after a diving accident, and wants to "die with dignity". A lawyer is brought in, an attractive female named Julia who is herself ill and walks with a cane, to help him with his court case to allow euthanasia. Meanwhile, an attractive younger woman named Rosa, sees Ramon on TV relating his story, comes to visit him, and soon falls for him. This is an excellent, and moving film - love the scene where Ramon "flies" and the camera takes us on a first-person flight over the mountains below all the way to the sea. Really nice musical score in this film too. Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film last year. (4 stars)

May 25, 2005 - Hoodoo Ann (1916) - Teenage Hoodoo Ann (Mae Marsh), living at an orphanage since babyhood when she was left there one Friday the 13th (a rather odd orphanage, actually, as ALL the boys are about eleven years old - and ALL the girls are about 17+ - hmmm). Poor Ann is extremely disliked by everyone at the orphanage (the reason why is never really explained, other than that she is "hoodooed") so while she is working as a slavey in the kitchen, the other girls are out playing on a slide in the school playground. When Ann tries to join in the fun, none of the girls will let her. The only person who seems to even tolerate her is the housemaid "Black Cindy" who reads Ann's palm and tells her the hoodoo will end with marriage - hmmm. Anyway, Ann takes the doll of the favored girl of the orphanage, Goldie, which she ends up accidently breaking, so then lies about the doll's disappearance. Meanwhile, a bad boy at school steals some matches and ends up setting the whole orphanage on fire. Ann ends up rescueing beloved Goldie from the flames, and amazingly, gets herself adopted by an older couple down the street who happen to be riding by at the time of the fire - and happen to have lost their own daughter. Ann now becomes a fashion plate, using Vogue as her guide, and wearing some rather outlandish outfits. Then we get into a romance for Ann, who meets boy-next-door Jimmy (Bobby Harron), a young artist/cartoonist. Jimmy and Ann go to the moving picture show where they see this really hokey Western starring that famous "Pansy Thorne" - and Ann, impressed by Pansy's performance, attempts to imitate it at home - using a real gun! Well, the gun goes off, a neighbor disappears, and Ann lies again. Oh dear. Anyway, I thought the scene where they are at the movie went on a bit to long with the "film inside a film". I also find Ann to be a bit of an annoying character - she always, for some reason, looks like she's about to cry, she lies a lot, and is just sort of a drag (I can almost see why she's so disliked at first). I do think this is a reasonably good film though - not great, but interesting to see. Well, I AM a big fan of Mary Pickford, and I really think this film would have been better with Mary in the part - she would have been able to pull off just the right amount of charm to make Hoodoo Ann a more likeable character. The DVD of this is from Unknown Video, and has a good-looking print - just a little bit washed out here and there, a little bit of speckling here and there - but I was very pleased with the quality as a whole. It includes some nice organ music by Bob Vaughn that matches the film well. The DVD also includes two G.M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson one-reelers - the first is "The Making of Broncho Billy (1913)", which isn't really very good, and features a fuzzy-looking print. The second, "Broncho Billy and the Greaser (1914)" has a better story, and a better-looking print too. (3.25 stars)

May 23, 2005 - This morning watched a silent I first saw a few years ago at a Cinecon screening - Through the Back Door (1921), starring Mary Pickford. Mother-love story about Louise, rich widow with a 5-year old daughter named Jeanne - and a suitor who, well, wants mama not daughter (and ends up being quite a creep in other ways, as well). So Louise leaves Jeanne with her nursemaid, Marie, while she goes on her honeymoon - and doesn't come back for five years! Now Jeanne is ten years old (now played by Mary Pickford), living on Marie's farm in Belgium (where she now calls the nursemaid "Mamma Marie") along with a menagerie of dogs, cats, chickens, ducks and a rather stubborn mule. Jeanne has become totally into her peasant lifestyle, and has become a rather mischievious (but still lovable) young girl - cavorting with her animals, stealin' a HUGE fish from the cupboard and using it to pretend she's fishing in this tiny fishing hole, and trackin' in muddy footprints all over the neighbor's clean floors. In a cute scene, Jeanne straps scrub brushes on her feet to clean up the muddy floors she has created, skating around the room on the brushes, and ending up making a huge mess of soap bubbles and water. Meanwhile, Marie, who after five years loves Jeanne like she's her own daughter, lies to Louise when she arrives to get Jeanne back - telling Louise that Jeanne is dead. Cut to five years later, Jeanne now a pretty teenager, and WWI has started. Marie sends Jeanne to America for safety, along with a note revealing the truth to Jeanne's real mom. But for some reason Jeanne just can't seem to get that note over to mom, as she ends up taking a job in the mom's lavish house in Long Island - as her maid! Well, I thought that part went on a bit too long - I just wanted to shout to the screen "Just give her the note!". Ah, well. Still, I love this movie - and Mary is as charming as ever in this part, I think she always does such a great job portraying a child in a very believable and endearing way. The DVD for this is from Milestone Films and includes a quite nice-looking tinted print, and very pleasant orchestral score by Robert Israel. (4 stars)
This evening, on the same DVD, I watched the Mary Pickford version of Cinderella (1914) - This was much better than I was actually expecting. The classic fairy tale of Cinderella, dressed in rags, and badly treated by her wicked Stepmother and two meanie Stepsisters - they even keep poor Cinderella from going to the ball held by Prince Charming (Owen Moore, Mary Pickford's husband in real life when this was filmed), who is looking for a wife. Luckily Cinderella has a fairy godmother to help her out. I really like the way they did this film, it has a real magical "fairyish" feel to it - with pretty young girls as dancing wood nymphs, a wizard and his strange dwarf helpers (dancing and chanting in a circle) and lots of interesting special effects for the day. Some split-screen photography, plus lots of stop-motion camerawork to make characters appear and disappear. This film features the two ugliest step-sisters possible (with fake weird noses glued on, I believe) and the most handsome of handsome man to play Prince Charming - hurrah for that! The Milestone DVD includes a really terrific music score by Donald Sosin that really enhances the film. The tinted print of this is fairly faded, but I did really enjoy this. (3.75 stars)

May 22, 2005 - Tonight on TCM, watched an old fave Clash of the Titans (1981). Based on stories from Greek Mythology, all about the mortals and the "immortals" - the Gods and Goddesses up on Mount Olympus including Zeus as played by Lawrence Olivier (love his little collection of individual clay figures for each of the mortals, that he likes to manipulate around), his wife Hera (Claire Bloom), Thetis (Maggie Smith - I love her, always so great), Aphrodite (Ursula Andress) and Poseidon. Then down on Earth we have Zeus's beefcake son Perseus (Harry Hamlin), the beautiful young Andromeda, and Calibos, son of Thetis. This film is mainly about Zeus and Thetis "getting even" with each other by pulling stunts on each other's sons. Zeus turns Calibos into an ogre who must live in the swamps, Thetis sets Perseus down in an arena, unprotected. Then Zeus demands the Gods give gifts to Perseus to protect him - and he ends up with some rather cool items including a helmet that makes him invisible, a sword that cuts through solid granite, and a shield that speaks to him with the voice of Zeus himself. I love this stuff. Some may think the special effects in this are a bit old-fashioned considering what was already being done by 1981, but I love the way it comes across, all done by Ray Harryhausen - no computer animation here, just neat old-time claymation. Love it. I used to like to read a lot of mythology when I was a kid, and have always really loved this film. (4 stars)

May 20, 2005 - Tonight saw The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) - About ten to fifteen years ago I was completely into reading mystery novels, mostly classics. In addition to tons and tons of Agatha Christie mysteries, one that I read that became one of my very favorite mysteries is "The Talented Mr. Ripley" by Patricia Highsmith. Great book. Since it has been quite a while since I read the book, I don't completely remember the story, so was able to watch this film without totally remembering everything. But I did remember enough that the mystery element of this film came as no surprise. The story revolves around sociopath Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), who goes to Italy to try and persuade Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), a young man he doesn't even know, to come home - all paid for by Dickie's father, under the mistaken impression that Tom knows Dickie from school days. I won't go into the details of the plot here, so as not to destroy the mystery - but as I remember from the book, Jude Law is PERFECTLY cast in the part of Dickie, I was unsure about Tom Ripley as played by Matt Damon, but as the film progressed and I started forgetting the book and just enjoying the film, in the end I was satisfied (maybe not completely though) with him in the part. I quite enjoyed this movie, just on it's own aside from the book - I actually have three of the different Ripley novels, I am inspired now to read them again soon. (3.75 stars)

May 19, 2005 - Raise Your Voice (2004) - Hilary Duff as Terri Fletcher - Flagstaff, Arizona high school girl who sings in the chorus and dreams of spending part of her summer vacation at a music conservatory camp in Los Angeles. Her brother Paul sends in a special DVD he has made of her performing, but when he and Terri sneak out for a night at a rock concert, Paul is killed in a car accident on the way home. Terri is accepted to the school, her dad forbids her to go, but she lies to dad and pretends she is spending a month with her mini-skirted aunt in Palm Desert. Off she goes to L.A. where she soon is trying to cope with the rather unfriendly pack of other students at the conservatory. Perky little Terri soon manages to sway them (well, some of them anyway) over to her side, as she befriends her talented roomie Denise, and a cute English guy named Jay (I don't really know why these people were all being so unfriendly in the first place, actually). Meanwhile, poor Terri is struggling with her strong emotions over the death of her brother, but manages in the end to hook up with Jay to work together on the words and music for a new song which they perform together (vocals by Terri, Jay on guitar) for the school's big finale to try and win a scholarship. This film in a lot of ways reminded me of the film Fame (1980) - including all the students joining in for a spur-of-the-moment performance in the lunch area while Terri stands by feeling uncomfortable, a variety of dedicated, oddish teachers, hallways of practice rooms full of a variety of students practicing a variety of instruments, and one student who plays a modernistic one-band electronic piece. Hilary Duff is just so cute and perky, it would be hard not to like anything she's in. This is a quite enjoyable film. (3.5 stars)

May 17, 2005 - This morning on TCM, The Flame Within (1935) - Clown-costumed Doctor Gordon Phillips (Herbert Marshall) gets called away from the Hospital Costume Ball, to treat a beautiful rich young lady, Lillian Belton (Maureen O'Sullivan) who has just tried to commit suicide over the inattentiveness of her drunkard beau, Jack Kerry (Louis Hayward). Gordon is in love with Mary White (Ann Harding - gosh, she looks a lot like Helen Hunt), herself a serious psychiatric doctor (with hair worn slickly back in appropriate bun to show how SERIOUS she is). Gordon wants her to marry him but she won't 'cause it would mean giving up her career (yeah - you got it, in the old days the gals always have to give up their job when a guy marries them). Anyway, Gordon gets Mary to help out with Miss Belton - and Mary decides the best way to help her, of all things, is to cure Jack of his alcohol problem. She sends him away for the CURE, then falls for him. Hey, Jack falls for the doctor too, but still marries his rich gal - but not before he's invented the "Air Chair" for airplanes 'cause he's the kind of guy who won't live off a woman's money. Not a bad film - not great either. And I really wasn't that keen on the way this film ended. (2.75 stars)
Later saw Exit Smiling (1926) - About a theatrical troupe that travels from smal town to small town putting on a production of an apparently dreadful play called "Flaming Women", with a dastardly villian, vampire, and hero (played amusingly by Franklin Pangborn). Violet (Beatrice Lillie), the drudge of the troupe, cleans, irons, and also has a part in the play - as, of course, the maid. But she dreams of playing the lead part of the vampire. Meanwhile, a young man and real cutie-pie by the name of Jimmy Marsh (played by cutie-pie Jack Picford) boards the train the troupe is traveling on, and soon meets Violet, who develops a quick crush on him. When she finds out the troupe needs a replacement for their "juvenile" - she helps Jimmy get the part (including squeezing an onion under his nose, so his tryout looks like he was able to cry on cue). Anyway, it seems Jimmy has run away from a little town where he has been accused of embezzling 5,000 dollars from the bank where he worked. He also left behind the girl he loves. But Violet is now totally in love herself - with Jimmy. When he can't appear on stage when the troupe hits the town he has run away from, Violet takes over his part disguising herself as a man (not hard to do apparently, in an earlier scene she almost gets to take the lead from the main actress who is late and I thought she looked like a man in drag when she put the girl's costume on!). Well, turns out she is a terrible actress after all as she proceeds, via mostly slapstick, to wreck the play. But she soon disguises herself for REAL using the vampire costume and lines from the play to save the day for our Jim. Hurrah! I thought this film started out just so-so, though it did get quite a bit better in the end. I didn't really care for Beatrice Lillie that much, but on the other hand, I am pretty much in love with Jack Pickford - so his scenes really saved the day for this film, in my book. This was shown on TCM and the print looked just okay. I really did not care for the musical score for this, done by a winner of one of TCM's young composer competitions. I thought it was quite annoying through a lot of the film as it just didn't seem to match what was going on most of the time. The music seemed too dark and dramatic (lots of bass drum and stuff) for what is really a comedy. (3 stars)

May 16, 2005 - Watched Les Choristes (The Chorus) (2004) - Excellent French film with subtitles, set in 1949. The story of a patient new teacher, Clement Mathieu, who brings new hope into the lives of the youth at a run-down boarding school for troubled boys that is ruled by a real meanie of a headmaster. Mathieu, a frustated musician, decides to start a school chorus and gets the boys to sing songs that he himself wrote. One of the boys, angelic-faced but one of the biggest troublemakers at school, is Pierre Morhange - who turns out to have the voice of an angel, and is helped out of his troubles by becoming the choir's soloist. Meanwhile, Mathieu develops a bit of a crush on Morhange's mom, and a really bad older youth, just out of a reformatory, arrives at the school to stir up new troubles. This is a terrific and moving film, with beautiful music sung by the boy's choir, and just the right touch of sentimentality. Loved this. (4 stars)

May 13, 2005 - This evening watched Suds (1920) - The story of Sudsie, Cockney girl who works at the "French Hand Laundry" in London, her dream man Horace Greensmith (Albert Austin), and a SHIRT. Waifish Sudsie dreams of Horace, who left his shirt at the laundry over eight months ago - she washes it twice a week, waiting for the day he will one day pick it up. The mean girls of the laundrette make fun of her, but she doesn't seem to care as she relays fanciful stories of her father being an Archduke and she a rich girl working to hide herself from fortune hunters, basically. Meanwhile, the aging white horse Lavender who pulls the laundry delivery cart, is sold by the mean mean owner of the laundrette, and sent to the "glue factory". Sudsie gives her last bit of change over to rescue the poor horse, lets him sleep in her room, and curlycues his hair. Luckily for Sudsie, a kindly rich matron offers to let Lavender live on her farm. Hurrah! The sentimentality in this film reminds me of a Chaplin film - with Mary as her own version of The Little Tramp (the film even has Albert Austin, who I'm so used to seeing in Chaplin films). The film starts off somewhat slow, but in the end I thought it was quite good. The DVD is from Milestone Films with a very nice orchestral score done by the Mont Alto Orchestra including lots of familiar and enjoyable themes. The print of this is decent, though it is fairly scratchy and a little fuzzy. But I've certainly seen far worse. NOTE: The DVD includes the foreign release of this film, which I watched a few days later. And, well, it has a significantly better looking print. The organ music by Gaylord Carter wasn't as good for this film as that by the Mont Alto Orchestra - but boy, WHAT a difference in the print. The foreign release version also has a different ending, which I liked better. I'm not sure I wouldn't have preferred to see this version first, even with the music not being as good. (3.5 stars)
Then after that I watched American Beauty (1999) - About a major dysfunctional suburban family and their dysfunctional friends and neighbors. The mom, Caroline (Annette Bening), is a neurotic real estate lady, the 42-year old dad, Lester (Kevin Spacey), develops a sort of mid-life crisis as he finds he has a crush on the beautiful, blonde 16-year old cheerleader gal pal of his daughter Jane (Thora Birch). Jane finds she likes the kind of strange, drug-dealer, teenage guy named Ricky (Wes Bentley) who moves in next-door and likes to film, literally, everything he sees or does. Ricky's dad is a gay-hating Nazi-type who likes to clobber his son, his mom is a zombie who just sort of sits around staring. I think this film may have been meant to be sort of a black comedy - but I saw close to no comedy in it at all. Yet the way it is done, with the terrific, haunting music score (by one of my very favorite film composers, Thomas Newman), and the style of photography - this film just comes across terrifically. I thought it was great - one of the best I've seen in awhile. It's really quite unusual too, quite different and original - and I have seen a whole LOT of movies. Kevin Spacey (who I always like) is perfectly cast in this part, Annette Bening does a great job too - as does all the cast. I love this film. (4 stars)

May 11, 2005 - This evening, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) - I'm a big fan of the first Bridget Jones movie, and I love, love, love Colin Firth - so was quite looking forward to this one. The story starts as Bridget (Renee Zellweger) has now been dating handsome Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) for something like six weeks and seventy shags. She becomes jealous of Mark's new co-worker - pretty, skinny, 22-year old Rebecca. Now the story kind of revolves around this jealousy thing, and soon Bridget dumps Mark, then joins up with her cad boyfriend from Bridget Jone's Diary, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) as co-host on Daniel's travel show. They go on a trip to Thailand and poor Bridget gets arrested, but Mark comes to secretly save the day (hey, just like Mr. Darcy saves the day for the Bennets when saucy little Lydia runs off with that creep, Wickham, in Pride and Prejudice). Anyway, this film is not nearly as good as the first Bridget Jones, but I still thought it was quite good. Fortunately the makers of this film were able to get all the original actors to reprise their roles. I really enjoy these characters, and Colin Firth is a such a, um, heartthrob - and, gee, I must say, the character of Mark Darcy is pretty much in my mind the perfect boyfriend - gorgeous, sweet, humble, well-to-do, quiet, thoughtful, and did I mention gorgeous?! Renee Zellweger does look quite a bit more pudgy as Bridget than in the first film, even though it's only supposed to be six weeks later - but she IS the perfect Bridget (I like her in this role more than any other I've seen her in). I like the actors that play Bridget's circle of friends, and Hugh Grant, of course, is as amusing as ever. (3.75 stars)

May 10, 2005 - Heart O' the Hills (1919) - In the mountains of Kentucky, twelve-year-old Mavis Hawn (Mary Pickford), is her own version of a young Annie Oakley including ragged hillbilly clothes and gun strapped on her back. Mavis has one main goal in life - to shoot straight so she can avenge the gunshot murder of her pappy years ago. She likes to go fishin' with her best guy pal Jason, who has a varmint of a step-daddy named Steve Honeycutt. Steve is busy romancing Mavis's Mammy to try and get ahold of her land and sell it to a group of lowlander "bad men" who want to steal the mountain people's land and mine it for coal. When the lowlanders are visiting the mountain one day, we meet Gray Pendleton (played by a youthful John Gilbert), handsome young son of rich Colonel Pendleton (the Colonel's a good man, but being duped by the bad men into joining into the shady coal deal). Mavis and Gray have a bit of a flirtation (much to Jason's dismay) at a big shindig that night thrown by Grandpappy Hawn, clan patriarch - and in a cute scene, the rival fellows dance a wild hillybilly feet-stompin' dance, along with Mavis, to capture her affection. Mammy and Steve are soon married, the land has been stolen, and the mountain people go on a night-ride dressed in Klu Klux Klan-type white robes to rid the town of the bad men and restore their land. Next thing you know, poor little Mavis has wrongly been put on trial for murdering the ringleader - luckily the jury, comprised of locals, remain loyal to our Mavis. Now the story switches to Mavis attending the lowland school, getting herself adopted by the Colonel (feeling guilty over his part in stealing her land), and growin' up. The film is nicely photographed in a pretty, sun-bathed wooded mountain setting. The DVD of this film is from Milestone and has a tinted print that looks nice, a little sort of bright here and there - but, all in all, quite good. The bluegrass music (complete with some rather odd whistles and sound effects) by Maria Newman went well with this particular story, though a couple of times became a bit annoying - especially in the more dramatic scenes where the music switched to this drum beat thing. Fairly good movie with Mary delightful as always, though I would not rank this as one of my favorite of her films. (3.25 stars)
On the same DVD, M'Liss (1919) - In the town of Red Gulch, a small mining town in the High Sierras lives spunky "M'Liss" Smith (Mary Pickford) - still a kid as she plays with her favorite doll and likes to pretend she's holdin' up the stagecoach. She also takes care of her drunken widowed father, "Bummer" Smith (hmmm - a really old man to be father of such a young girl, I must say) who lost all his money in the gold mines, and has a cute little pet hen named Hildegarde (and this is cute - she comes in through a hen pet door). Anyway, new man in town is the good-looking beefcake of a schoolmaster named Charles Gray (Thomas Meighan) who all the schoolgirls immediately have a crush on. M'Liss doesn't attend school until she accidentally breaks her doll with her slingshot, then decides to give school a chance - and soon she too is in love with the hunky teacher. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Bummer's wealthy brother dies leaving his fortune to Bummer (or Bummer's wife, if Bummer is no longer living). But the brother's two sleaze-bucket servants (mad 'cause he only left them $500 each) seek to steal the inheritence from Bummer. They arrive in town separately, Bummer is murdered, and the female servant arrives pretending to be Bummer's long-lost WIFE. Meanwhile, our poor handsome hero, the schoolmaster, is rounded up as Bummer's murderer and put on trial. There is a neat scene of M'Liss and the schoolmaster looking at each other through the jailhouse bars, shot in extreme facial close-ups - really well done. This film, like Heart o' the Hills, is filmed in a sunshiny outdoor rural setting. The black and white print of this on the Milestone DVD looks good, very slightly scratchy here and there. The music is a quite enjoyable, perky piano score by Donald Sosin that matches the film very well. This film has many similarities to Heart o' the Hills, I do like M'Liss a bit more. Love seeing Monte Blue as "Mexican Joe", quite a different part than the last time I saw him a few months ago in The Marriage Circle! (3.5 stars)

May 9, 2005 - This morning, watched Ned Kelly (2003) - the Kelly Gang versus the coppers, a true story. In 1871 Victoria, Australia, young Irishman Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger) is falsely accused (more than one time) of stealing horses and is even imprisoned for three years as a horse thief. The cops, a bad lot, steal horses from the Kelly homestead and when Ned, his brother Dan, and pals Joe Bryne (cutie Orlando Bloom) and Steve Hart seek to steal back the horses, things go from bad to worse as several coppers are killed and Ned's mum is imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit. Ned and his gang are soon notorious outlaws on the run, with a proclamation on their heads that ANYONE in the country may shoot them to kill. The Kelly Gang now roams the country, robbing banks, burning mortgages, killing cops and becoming a sort of Australian version of Robin Hood and his merry men - beloved by the people, hated by the Victorian police who are after them. This film is well photographed featuring nice on-location landscapes and interesting lighting, plus well done art direction and voice-over narration by Heath Ledger (who, oh my goodness, is stunningly gorgeous - even with the bushy beard). I found the film to be interesting, though not my favorite of Heath Ledger's films. Naomi Watts has almost nothing to do in this as she plays a married woman Ned meets and sleeps with in one scene. I actually watched this with the hearing impaired subtitles going, 'cause I was having a little trouble with some of the Irish accents. The DVD includes an interesting mini documentary about the real Ned Kelly. (3.25 stars)

May 8, 2005 - Today watched an unusual German silent, Sex in Chains (1928), a sort of prison system reform movie pushing conjugal visits for inmates. Franz Sommer (played by William Dieterle, who also directed this film) is an out-of-work young man who takes a job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door while his wife, Helene, takes work as the cigarette girl in a local cafe. One night a male patron who is in the cafe just won't stop pestering Helene, but hubby Franz comes to her rescue - unfortunately it seems for both of them, as he knocks the guy down and gets carted off to prison. The man he knocks down ends up dying and Franz is sentenced to three years - forever for the young couple! Meanwhile, an older man named Steinau (who Franz met while awaiting sentence) is released and bound and determined to reform the terrible conditions humans are subject to while imprisoned. Steinau gives Helene a job in his company, while Franz suffers to no end in prison 'cause he's not getting sex (and one of his cellmates, desperate for just one night with his "bride", attempts to "unman" himself one day with some sort of arrowhead or something he finds on the ground!). Helene is suffering from her lack of a man too - and she ends up sleeping with Steinau who, of course, has fallen for her. Our boy Franz, meanwhile, strays too and ends up going the gay route as a good-looking square-jawed blondie, Alfred, arrives as new man in the cell (the relationship between the two men is really just HINTED at, but I actually liked Franz better coupled with Alfred than his nitwit wife - Franz and Alfred really seemed to care about each other). Hey, I thought this film was quite a good one, it certainly held my interest. The story is a bit far-fetched, I mean, Helene practically faints when she hears his sentence is three years (and I was thinking, she's lucky he got such a short sentence) and Helene's father pushes her to divorce him (dad and daughter acting more like he got twenty years than just three!). And, goodness, I personally know more than one man who is not gay, not in prison, and hasn't dated a woman in years and years - yet they don't feel the need to "unman" themselves. Ah, well. Lots of interesting photography including overlapping camera work, some fast-paced editing, and loads of extreme close-ups. The DVD is a Kino release packaged under the theme "Gay Themed Films of the German Silent Era". - it has a nice-looking print and a neutral, but suitable piano score. (3.75 stars)

April 29, 2005 - Saw The Flapper (1920), a silent film I have been looking forward to seeing. Pretty sixteen-year old Genevieve "Ginger" King (Olive Thomas) lives in the small town of Orange Springs, where everyone seems to live an idyllic life - palm trees, croquet on the lawn, boat rides and lemonade with your fella. Ginger's daddy, a stern Senator, thinks she's too wild, so packs her off to Miss Paddle's boarding school for girls in New York. Wintertime, and everyone around seems to be totally into winter sports - sledding, skiing, ice skating, ski jumping, you name it. Ginger, the only school gal seen wearing pants, is soon cavorting in the snow with the other girls. The girls all love an older, handsome "Mystery Man" they see riding by - they figure he must be "notorious, very gay (no - I don't think they mean THAT way), or perhaps an English Lord". Ginger happens to meet up with her fellow from back home (who coincidentally is attending a nearby military academy), braggart Bill E. Forbes, who next day takes her for a horse-drawn sled ride. Unfortunately, he's never handled a horse and the sled tips over, spilling them into the snow. While young Bill is chasing down the horse, Ginger is rescued by - you got it, our Mystery Man, Richard Channing. Well, the mystery of who HE is is never really stated, but it does seem that he's a rich man, and a bit of a perve as he invites youthful Ginger to his Country Club dance. She sneaks out to go, but soon realizes he's really only being kind to a "kid" (hmmm - that's what HE says, I wonder). Ginger later decides to "vamp" him and show she's NOT a kid anymore. She dresses up in a vampire outfit taken from a suitcase she just happens to have full of loot stolen by a girl from her school (introduced as "a moth among the butterflies" at the beginning - no surprise SHE turns out bad) and a bad man "The Eel" (but I'm not really going to go into the "stolen goods" sub-plot as it was kind of boring). Cute movie. This started really, really great - then kind of broke down a bit as it moved into the weird thievery plot. Still, I really thought this was good, with nice photography, including the pretty, snow-covered scenes of New York. It also has rather interesting intertitles that include cute little drawings (a few are even animated). The DVD is from Milestone Films - the tinted print looks great, Olive looks lovely and is full of charm, and the piano music by Robert Israel is terrific. (3.75 stars)

April 28, 2005 - This morning, Bring It On (2000) - San Diego high school senior, Torrance (Kirsten Dunst), captain of the school's cheerleading squad, the Toros, longs to bring her team to the win in the annual National Cheerleading Championships, which they have won for the last five years. But bad news comes soon - it turns out that their previous captain, "Big Red", stole the cheers from an L.A. inner city team, the East Compton Clovers (who are REALLY good). What will they do?! Only four weeks 'til Regionals and no cheer! So Torrance rounds up 2,000 bucks to hire a "choreographer" named Sparky who ends up being this really queer, leather-booted weirdo that apparently only has one dance cheer in him. Six teams got rooked by this guy and end up performing the same cheer, but lucky thing for the Toros - they have an IN anyway 'cause of last year's win (so why did they even have to go to Regionals?). So now they give their all to create a new cheer for the Nationals - and only have three weeks to do it (hmmm - before the Regionals they acted like they didn't have enough TIME to prepare a new cheer, and they actually had FOUR weeks then - ah, well). Side story in this whole thing is the arrival at school of new sister and brother duo - the girl is a rebel who is great at gymnastics and joins up on the cheer squad, the brother is a cutie that Torrance develops a crush on (forget about her college freshman "boyfriend", he's a jerk anyway as it turns out). I enjoyed the cheer routines in this, it was otherwise a fairly so-so teen movie. But not too bad. The scene with the cheerleader tryouts had performances so bad they reminded me of Jan Brady's atrocious pom pom girl routine (and yes, in a different episode Marcia does a bad cheer tryout too) in the Brady Bunch (and how could I forget this Brady ditty: F F F I L - L L L M O - O O O R E - Fillmore Junior High!). (3 stars)
Later watched Best Picture winner Gladiator (2000) - In 180 A.D., Maximus (Russell Crowe) is the heroic general of the Roman army who has just defeated the barbarians of Germania. Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), the aging Emperor of Rome, is dying and wants to make Maximus his successor instead of his nutcase son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), but when he tells Commodus he will not succeed him as Emperor, Commodus kills him. Commodus is immediately proclaimed Caesar and promptly sends Maximus and his family to death. But Maximus escapes his death squad and through a series of incidents ends of a slave who is taken to a Middle Eastern land and made to become a Gladiator - fighting in the arena to the death. Meanwhile back in Rome, Commodus starts up 150 days of games in the Coliseum, and next thing you know, Maximus and his fellow Gladiators are brought to Rome to perform before the Emperor and his family. Maximus has become a great Gladiator by now and becomes hugely popular with the arena mob, but Commodus is "vexed" that Maximus is not only still alive, but now getting the crowd on his side. Now this Commodus is really a sick one - let's see, he kills his father, tries to seduce his own sister, admits he's afraid of the dark, and cries 'cause "no one loves him". He's a sneaky coward to boot - no wonder there's soon a group (including his sister and Senator Gracchus, well-played by Derek Jacobi) who want to see him dead. This film is terrific - a bit brutal, but exciting. With fabulous art direction and lavish costumes, not to mention great photography of battles and the ancient city. Love the scene where the camera takes a bird's eye view to zoom over the packed Coliseum. The battle at the beginning was filmed so much like King Arthur I saw last week - with the flying fire-tipped arrows, and falling snowflakes (of course, Gladiator is four years older!). Great performances of all the cast - especially Joaquin Phoenix does a great job portraying the unstable, mental case Commodus. Not particularly historically accurate, but nevertheless a great movie. (4 stars)

April 27, 2005 - This afternoon watched the silent film Captain Salvation (1927) - About a young man, Anson Campbell (Lars Hanson) and his journey from barefoot, shirt-tailed youth to a MAN with a Calling. In 1840, in the village of Maple Harbour, Anson arrives home from Seminary and hopes to one day become parson and take over the pulpit of the father of pretty Mary (Marceline Day), who just happens to be in love with him. As Anson and Mary become engaged on the nearby shore rocks, a windstorm blows in 'causing them to hide out in the shoreline cabin of three old curmudgeons (who engage in a very weird contest to see who can bust their belt first) including Zeke, the picture postcard image of a stereotypical old seaman. A ship washes ashore and our Anson finds an injured woman laying on the beach - it's low-class trull,"waterfront Jezebel" Bess Morgan. He takes the woman back to the cabin to treat her, but meanwhile the village gossips (who don't seem to really think much of Anson to begin with) are sure he is up to "no good" with this bad woman, including "bare legged" dances and orgies (well, he does MASSAGE her bare legs, but that's it). The gossip spreads to Mary who, the silly ninny, breaks their engagement. Next thing you know, Anson and Bess are tricked into sailing onboard a convict ship. Now this films gets into some really campy stuff here - an evil sea captain who wants Bess to bed down with him or face being thrown to the convicts, Anson forced to assist in the red hot poker branding of the convicts, Anson receiving a bare-backed whipping, then Bess pulling off her pantaloons to treat Anson's wounds while the group of chanting, bar-rattling convicts in the hold are watching. Yeah, pretty good stuff. This started off a little slow for me, but got better and better as the film progressed into the story. This film has an okay looking print (hard for me to tell, since this was video taped off of TCM through my BAD-BAD cable) and a nice orchestral score by Philip Carli. (3.25 stars)

April 25, 2005 - This morning saw Birth (2004) - Well-to-do New York City gal Anna (Nicole Kidman) has just become engaged to dull guy Joe, but arriving at her door one night is a ten-year old boy, Sean (Cameron Bright), who claims to be in love with Anna - AND the reincarnation of her husband who died ten years earlier. No one believes this rather serious young man's story - but he seems to know an awful lot about Anna's background and all the people she knows. Tall Anna literally TOWERS over the young lad, but when she bends way over to kiss him she actually starts to believe his story. Soon he's naked in the tub with her (no "funny business" happens - don't worry), as she considers dropping her fiance and getting together with the boy. This film is mysterious and interesting, though I am not particularly keen on the way it ended and thought there were a few loose ends and unresolved issues I would have like to have seen resolved. The music score was beautiful, haunting and terrific - perfect for the movie, and I liked seeing the wintery scenes of a pretty New York City. Enjoyed seeing Lauren Bacall in a small part as Anna's mother. I have actually never seen a reincarnation movie I didn't like - and I liked this, though perhaps just oh so slightly disappointing. (3.75 stars)
This evening saw The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) on TCM. J.P. Merrick (Charles Coburn), the richest man in the world, decides to go undercover at one of his properties, Neeley's Department Store, to find out who is behind the recent rebellious attacks on his character (namely, a dummy of himself hung in front of the store in attempts to organize the employees into a union). He poses under the name Tom Higgins as new salesman in the slippers and children's shoe department, and soon befriends saleswomen Mary (Jean Arthur) and Elizabeth (Spring Byington), plus Mary's boyfriend Joe (Robert Cummings), who just happens to be head agitator of the union organization effort. All of them think "Tom" is just a nice older salesman with little money, and trouble keeping a job 'cause of his age. I like the scene where they all go on a picnic at Coney Island together (probably the most crowded beach ever seen in the history of film!) and through a series of incidents involving J.P./Tom's bathing-costumed search for his clothes, he ends up arrested and taken to the police station. Also, very funny scene where, in order to make a sale, J.P. has his butler pose as a customer who brings with him a VERY bratty young girl to buy children's shoes. Very amusing film - lots of fun. Love it. Edmund Gwenn appears in this film as the complete OPPOSITE of his most famous role as Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street - in this, he is the MEANEST sales manager in town. (4 stars)

April 23, 2005 - Today watched Sideways (2004) - About two middle-aged pals, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), who go off for a week's vacation in the California wine country before Jack's upcoming wedding the following Saturday. Jack is a kind of dumbbell actor who once had a part on One Life to Live, but now works mainly as a voice actor. Miles is an eighth grade English teacher, wannabee writer, and wine snob - he knows all about wine tasting, loves Pinot Noir, and won't even tolerate being at the same table with someone who orders Merlot - hmmm. Anyway, Jack comes up with the idea that he is going to get Miles, two years divorced, "laid" - and at the same time, Jack the lady killer, decides to get himself a little action before he is a married guy. Anyway, these two go around Santa Rosa to the wineries to sample wines and meanwhile meet a waitress, Maya (Virginia Madsen), who likes Miles - and a girl who works in a wine tasting room named Stephanie (Sandra Oh), who likes Jack. The two guys decide to try to hook up with the two girls, and hence get into a series of lies including saying Miles is about to be a published author, and omitting the fact that Jack is about to be married. I thought this film was pretty good (and enjoyed seeing local areas I have been, like the restaurant they go to in Solvang), but these guys are kind of jerky so it's hard to really care. The deleted scenes on the DVD include a really sick scene with a dog (that Miles had hit and killed with his car in another deleted scene) and a vulture - did they really have to come up with such a scene? Glad they got rid of it, I don't know what kind of mind came up with a scene like that. Anyway, I was really expecting this to be more of a comedy than it is - still, I did find the movie enjoyable, with it's subtle jazz score, and interesting photography style reminiscent of a sort of seventies/early eighties style. (3.5 stars)

April 22, 2005 - This morning watched a British silent film, Hindle Wakes (1927). In Hindle, Lancashire - "Wakes Week" is a week off for holiday after a year of drudgery in the cotton mills. Modern young Fanny and her gal pal Mary, two factory girls, go off by train to spend their holiday week in Blackpool, Britain's version of Coney Island. They meet up with two young men, one of which is Allan, he's the son of the wealthy owner of the cotton mill where the girls work and engaged to Beatrice, daughter of the Mayor of Hindle. Fanny and Allan immediately "click" as they spend a day of fun, including a spin on the dance floor that evening where they romantically appear to be falling in love. They stay out all night, then run away together to secretly spend the rest of the week alone in Llandudno - but as tragedy strikes, both their family's find out, and this film turns into a real soaper (gosh, Fanny has a mean mum - she beats up her daughter, and flashes her some really hateful looks too. All the girl did was spend a week with a man, and, I mean, he's handsome and rich to boot). The first half of this film is absolutely terrific and loaded with neat photography - the camera strapped to the rides of Blackpool (hey, that tunnel slide they go down looks really fun to me!), the play of light over a huge dance floor full of hundreds of moving dancers, plus lots of close-ups of shoes - the shuffling feet of workers as they trudge into the factory, the dancing feet of the dancers gliding along the dance hall floor, even the shoes of Fanny and Allan as they wake up in the morning at the beginning of the movie, immediately revealing that one is poor, the other rich. The second half of the film drags slightly, but still I must say this is a terrific movie. The music, an orchestral score done by British group In the Nursery, gave this film a haunting, romantic, and tragic quality that suited the movie and, I thought, increased the enjoyment of the film. There is also an alternate piano score available on the DVD, done by Phil Carli. The DVD is from Milestone Films and has a black and white print that has a good amount of contrast and looks great. Really, really enjoyed this one. (4 stars)

April 18, 2005 - This morning I watched The Man Who Laughs (1928) - Silent film with sound effects and orchestral score. In late 17th century England, a young boy named Gywnplaine, kidnapped son of a Lord, has had an unfortunate surgery performed on him by evil gypsies looking to profit by turning children into clowns or jesters. His face has been contorted into having a permanent toothy smile, making him look like he is constantly laughing. Poor Gywnplaine, struggling out in the snow, comes upon a blind baby and her dead mother. He takes the babe in arms and arrives at the home of Ursus the Philosopher, who takes them in. Hop to about twenty years later where Gywnplaine (played by Conrad Veidt) and the baby, now a grown-up beautiful young lady named Dea (Mary Philbin), are performing in a sideshow act as "The Laughing Man" and his blind beauty in the traveling circus run by Ursus. Gwynplaine and Dea are in love, but Gwynplaine does not feel worthy of her love, as she is blind, so has never seen his freakish appearance. Meanwhile, Duchess Josiana (a Madonna lookalike - or maybe Kate Winslet - I could see both in her), a woman of pretty loose morals who likes to cavort around half naked and go into town dressed down to flirt with the non-aristocrats of the village, is living off the estate that should belong to Gwynplaine. The Laughing Man has begun to gain a lot of fame, and the Duchess goes to see his show at the local Fair, then gets some real weird looks on her face as she is watching (not sure what she is thinking here - bad acting or what?!) and later sends him a note saying she is either "feeling pity or love" towards him, invites him to her place where she is lounging on her bed in a negligee, then crawls all over him - kind of strange. Anyway, soon Gywnplaine's background is discovered, and his place is restored in the House of Lords (plus a marriage is arranged to the weird Duchess) - but he just doesn't fit in. Eventually, Homo the Wolf, first seen when Dea is a baby (a very long-lived dog) turns out to save the day for our Gywnplaine and Dea. This film is really good and unusual too - with an interesting, kind of creepy story. I think Conrad Veidt does a good job with this part, though I may have preferred Lon Chaney in this. The musical score for this is quite good - the DVD, from Kino, has a very nice-looking print of this film. I gave this film a 3.75 rating - but the next day, I changed it to 4 stars as this film has kind of haunted me as I am still thinking about it the next day. (4 stars)
Later in the day, King Arthur (2004) - About Arthur (Clive Owen) and the Knights of the Round Table and their numerous battles defending Southern Britain from roving rebel Brits who cross Hadrian's Wall from the North and a band of very evil invading Saxons. On one last mission at the end of their fifteen-year servitude to Rome, the Knights set out to rescue a Roman family in the North, where they also end up saving a dungeoned Guinevere (Keira Knightley) - beautiful and REALLY good with the bow and arrow - she ends up romancing Arthur and joining in with the men in the final battle with the Saxons wearing a rather skimpy leather-looking outfit. I partly watched this film 'cause I LOVE Ioan Gruffudd (absolutely gorgeous in The Forsythe Saga, not to mention Horatio Hornblower - um, swoon!) - he plays Lancelot (not looking as cute as usual with curly-head and beard - ah, well. His acting though, always great). I thought the movie was pretty good, is visually interesting with beautiful landscapes, falling snow flakes, lavishly costumed fighters, etc. - but was a bit overloaded with battles and more battles and too much blood. (3.25 stars)

April 16, 2005 - This afternoon I watched Billy Elliot (2000) - All about a young English boy named, what else, Billy Elliot (hey - by coincidence, my grandpa's name was William Elliot - I knew him as "Grandpa Bill", I bet as a boy he was Billy Elliot too). It's 1984, where working class twelve-year old Billy (Jamie Bell) lives in a Northern England coal-mining town, takes boxing lessons, but one day takes a fancy to the girl's ballet class which is taking place in the same building. Soon Billy is taking ballet lessons from the hard-nosed, aggressive teacher (Julie Walters) who encourages him on. Billy keeps the classes a secret from his dad and brother (two hard-nosed coal miners, currently on strike - but that's a side story of this film) 'cause they may think him a poofter. Billy happens to have a good pal who seems to be a bit of a "poof" himself, as he likes to wear girl's dresses and give Billy kisses - but that's a side story. Anyway, Billy's teacher encourages him to prepare for auditioning for the Royal Ballet Dancing School in London - Billy does so, although goes kind of nutters in some scenes, what with the conflict with his dad, conflict with brother, conflict with teacher, etc. I was hoping for quite a bit more ballet in this film - not a whole lot of dancing here (the dancing that there is, is quite good), just the story of the characters, which is, as it happens, pretty interesting. I had a problem, particularly in the earlier parts of the film, of understanding the thick British accents - but started to get used to it as the film progressed. Anyway, this was not as good as I was hoping (I have had high expectations of this film, particularly I have been interested because of the common family name which comes from my mom's side - plus, I love ballet) - still a very, very good movie. (3.75 stars)
Tonight I watched an old video tape I have from years ago (and in kind of shaky condition now too) of Sooner or Later (1978). Thirteen-year old Jessie (Denise Miller) is at the mall one day where she gets a make-up demo done on her face. Magic - with the make-up on, Jessie finds she looks SIXTEEN years old. On the way out of the mall, Jessie and her best gal pal, Caroline, stop for an outdoor concert by a local high school band (hmmm - most of these band members look mid-twenties) featuring "seventeen-year old" lead singer Michael Skye (Rex Smith), with tight white t-shirt emblazened with "The Skye Band" logo, cool Seventies suspenders, thick, feathered, long blonde locks, and the most skin-tight blue jeans you can imagine - this guy is an absolutely gorgeous hottie (girls, and maybe some of you guys out there - if you haven't seen this film you may just want to check out Rex Smith in this!). Jessie, from the front row, flirts with Michael as he sings on stage. Next day, Jessie heads out to take guitar lessons and guess who ends up being the teacher - yeah, you guessed it, Michael apparently plays guitar as well. Soon Michael asks Jessie out - after Jessie has gotten herself into a series of lies to get Michael interested including telling him she is sixteen, pretending she jogs 'cause he does, telling him she attends Catholic School to cover up the fact she is still in junior high, etc. Well, when Jessie and Michael finally kiss there is not a whole lot of chemistry there (at least between the actors), and it really almost looks like a much older guy kissing a little girl (I believe Rex Smith was twenty-two when he made this - Denise Miller was about fifteen) but I do really like this movie a lot. My favorite part is a very romantic scene when Michael has put words to the little tune that he and Jessie have been practicing during the guitar lessons - and has turned it into a love song for Jessie, which he sings to her in front of everyone at a Skye Band rehearsal. It's a really good song too (my favorite in the movie) - this film is filled with great songs sung by Rex Smith, and, oh my gawd, this guy makes me swoon. I really enjoy this film - if just to gaze at Rex Smith at his most gorgeous. (3.75 stars)

April 14, 2005 - This morning watched a good Pre-code film, Turn Back the Clock (1933) - Lee Tracy plays Joe Gimlet, man who works in a cigar shop, lives above it, and is married to simple, plainish hometown girl Mary (Mae Clarke). One day an old friend from Joe's hometown of Corliss, Ted Wright, comes into the shop looking for smokes and invites Joe and Mary to get together for dinner with him and his wife, Elvina. When Joe meets up with Elvina again, a much more showy girl than Mary, it seems these two were once sweethearts. Ted is rich now, and Joe kind of still seems to fancy Elvina, and wishes he had not made the mistake in his youth of turning down Elvina's daddy who wanted Joe to invest his life savings of $400 in a real estate deal. Joe and Mary now go home and have a BIG fight and Joe wishes he could change his past and marry Elvina and become rich like Ted. Well, he gets hit by a car, and while unconscious - gets his wish! Back in time twenty years or so - TR is President, and horse and buggy has replaced the auto. Joe makes sure to invest his 400 bucks this time - and ends up rich and married to Elvina, with the same career path as Ted went on. Meanwhile Ted marries Mary and works in the cigar shop - - so basically, Joe and Ben have reversed their lifes. Oh, one more thing, Joe still can remember his "other life" so knows what will happen in the future - ya know, WW1, stock market crash, etc. This film was really, very good - an interesting plot. The Three Stooges appear in a brief scene (unusually, not a comedy scene) as part of a barbershop quartet. (3.5 stars)
Later, I saw another Lee Tracy film (and it, coincidentally, also has a Stooge connection) - the sort of oddball, but interesting story of Millionaires in Prision (1940). B-movie about five men just checking into prison - all millionaires. Two of the millionaires are sort of goofy older men used to the rich lifestyle, who spend most of their time worrying about the poor fit and lack of cuffs on their prison suit, whether they can get a guard to act as a valet, and getting the prison to serve them a filet instead of beans for dinner - you get the idea. Two of the millionaires are hardened criminals, who get busy right away trying to sucker their fellow inmates into investing their dough in a phony copper mine deal. The fifth millionaire is a doctor, in for drunk driving, who gets busy trying to find a cure for "Malta Fever". Then, later in the film, the head prison doctor gets four prisoners (one of them Shemp Howard) to be injected with Malta Fever in exchange for $10,000, so Millionaire Doc can see if the cure he has found to work on a mouse will work on a man. Meanwhile, while all this is going on, Nick Burton (Lee Tracy), leader of the prison men and really NOT such a bad guy, is busy sticking his nose into everything. This prison comes across as more of a men's club than prison (except for the eight men to each tiny cell and march into the dining room that looks like Oliver Twist and company marching in to receive their gruel). A decent movie and I am really starting to like Lee Tracy more and more, he has an engaging acting style and personality. (3 stars)

April 13, 2005 - Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) - Wow - this one totally kept me on the edge of my seat. Really loved this - no secret here, I may add, I do love an "adventure tale at sea". In 1805, the HMS Surprise is in the area of Brazil in search for battle with a certain French "Man of War", which early on is discovered to be a much more powerful ship than the Surprise. But this is really more the story of two men - the Captain of the Surprise (Russell Crowe) and ship's doctor / wannabee naturalist (Paul Bettany) - and their friendship. As well as the numerous other characters onboard - especially a REALLY young Lord who loses an arm early on, then later gives command in the Surprise's most important battle. Plus our story takes us on a ship's journey through battles, winds, no winds, the Galapagos Islands (and back again - and back again) and the hard brutalities of life on shipboard. The way this film was done - the music, the sound effects including the constant sound of wind, sea, shipboard noises overhead, etc. - plus, the photography making it graphically clear the confining space, the low ceilings below decks, the harshness, the dirt of this early ship life - it made me feel like for a few hours I was really there, back in time, on the ship, but fortunately, without the real danger! Anyway, it's what I like most about film - being transported to another time and place - this film really did that for me. (4 stars)

April 11, 2005 - Saved! (2004) - Mary (Jena Malone), just about to enter her senior year at American Eagle Christian High School, likes to tell underwater secrets with her boyfriend Dean. One summer day, he reveals to her that he is gay. She, as a young Christian, decides she must "save" him - so decides to give her virginity in the name of Jesus. As it happens, she ends up pregnant (and somehow keeps it a secret most of the school year!). Meanwhile, Christian school's version of a movie "mean girl", stuck-up blonde Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) runs most of the girl stuff at school - including the school's prized singing group, the "Christian Jewels". Dean is shipped off to live at Mercy House to be saved, and meanwhile a new guy arrives at school, Patrick (Patrick Fugit), proclaimed a real "tomcat" (ya - he IS cute) who happens to be the son of Pastor Skip, school principal and sort of having pastor meetings/dates with Mary's mom. Patrick likes Mary, Mary likes Patrick (but won't date him, 'cause of her secret pregnancy). There are also a number of interesting side characters at this school including a rebellious Jewish girl, Cassandra, who is only attending this school 'cause she was expelled from her other school (and who Hilary Faye is very busy trying to "convert"). There is also Hilary Faye's wheelchair-bound brother (Macaulay Culkin) who starts dating Cassandra, and Hilary Faye wannabee/follower Tia (Heather Matarazzo) - geek girl who just seems to be going along with the Christian way so she that she is in with Hilary Faye's crowd. This film was pretty good, enjoyed it - I though it was going to be more of a comedy, but had a lot of drama too. There also, seemed to me, to be plenty of chemistry between the actors playing Patrick and Mary going on here. (3.5 stars)

April 10, 2005 - Tonight on Turner Classic Movie's Silent Sunday screening I saw "something new" for me - Something New (1920) directed by, written, and starring Nell Shipman as a lady writer who is looking for, you guessed it, something new to write about. She decides to go to Mexico, for some adventure, I guess. She ends up being kidnapped by a band of "bad" Mexican banditos, the leader and worst of the pack, Gorgez (aka "Chile Con Carne"!) is ready to do the inevitable to the poor gal as she begins to drowse from lack of sleep. But luckily, our HERO (he comes with a car, a dog, AND a smile) is on his way to rescue her. All the horses gone, he is forced to use his trusty Maxwell Auto as an all-terrain vehicle - driving it across desert, rocks, hills, etc to save the girl - with loyal dog pal, Laddie in the back seat (well, sometimes you just can't see him - but he is SUPPOSED to be there) the whole way! The girl even gets to drive the early day ATV at one point, as our hero becomes injured, with blood-spotted bandage around head, and can't drive. Well, this film just goes on and on with the drive over rocks and more rocks and, oh dear, more rocks - too much for my taste. This would have been better as a two-reeler. It comes across as sort of an ad for the car - they even make sure you see the Maxwell logo on the car, so there's no doubt what MAKE it is - hmmmm. Anyway, it still was interesting to see this early, rare film. It had a nice tinted print too, as well as decent piano score. (2.75 stars)

April 8, 2005 - Saw P.S. (2004) - Lonely, bored, 39 year-old divorcee Louise (Laura Linney) works as director of admissions for the School of Visual Arts at Columbia University. She happens upon an application for a young man named F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace) who coincidentally has the same name as her high school boyfriend who died 20 years ago in a car accident. When she meets F. Scott, he also happens to talk, paint, and look like the dead guy. Weird, eh?! Anyway, within a few hours of meeting F. Scott, Louise has invited him to her apartment, seduced him with wine, and slept with him - a fast worker, eh?! Young F. Scott apparently gets drunk on only a FEW sips of wine, as he later needed a shower to, as he says, "sober up" - hmmm. Meanwhile Louise's ex-husband (Gabriel Byrne), still a good friend, admits to Louise he is a sex addict. Plus, Louise's best friend Missy (Marcia Gay Harden) is always on the phone with Louise talking about seducing the pool boy, etc. This film was okay, nothing great - though did hold my interest. The character of Louise was just too mental - too unsympathetic - for me to even care. The "sex scene" is, um, not exactly romantic. NOTE: After writing this review, I watched the deleted scenes that are on the DVD. I think this film would have been a great deal better if they had left some of these deleted scenes in. In particular, a scene in a cafe that leads up to her bringing F. Scott to her apartment. That scene makes everything make more sense, otherwise it seems like they just hop into bed after barely speaking to each other. Plus, the scene in the cafe explains F. Scott and the "few sips of wine" - 'cause he has some in the cafe (but you don't see that in the final film version). I would say the problems with this movie are mostly based on poor editing decisions. (3 stars)

April 6, 2005 - The Bells (1926) - Silent film taking place in Alsatia during Christmastime, 1868. Lionel Barrymore as Mathias, who owns the village inn and adjoining flour mill, and likes to give out credit for drinks and flour in hopes he will be proclaimed Burgomaster. Mathias owes a debt of 6,000 francs to a mean man, Frantz, who offers to can the debt if he can marry the daughter of Mathias - Annette (who is usually seen wearing a really HUGE bow on the back of her head). Mathias refuses - but soon manages to pay off the debt and make his family rich to boot. On Christmas night, during a huge snowstorm, he murders a traveler from Poland with an axe, and steals his money belt that is packed full with "bright, shining gold". A handsome young gendarme named Christian, who happens to become engaged to young Annette, seeks to find the murderer and perhaps win himself a promotion. Meanwhile, Mathias has a guilty conscience which haunts him with visions of the ghost of the murdered man, plus the shaking sleigh bells that the man was holding as he fell to his death in the snow. There is also an odd man who keeps lurking around town (we first see him on "Fair Day" trying to rook the village idiots) - the Mesmerist (played by Boris Karloff) who claims he can make all criminals confess to their crimes. This film is very good - an interesting story. The DVD, from Image Entertainment, includes a beautiful tinted print, and very nice orchestral score by Eric Beheim. (3.75 stars)
On the same DVD is a short version of The Crazy Ray (1923), directed by Rene Clair - this is a fantastic little film - a real find for me. Surreal "Twilight Zone-like" sci-fi/fantasy story about a young Parisian, a night watchman on the third platform of the Eiffel Tower, who wakes up at the top of the Tower to find that the whole world has stopped, with everyone frozen in motion and the clocks stopped at 3:25 A.M. The only other people that seem to be living are five people (a pilot, a "butter-and-egg" man, a Scotland Yard inspector, his prisoner, Slippery Joe, and a young, wealthy lady tourist) who arrived by airplane from Marseilles at 4:00 A.M. This film has great photography (especially when the six people are up in the Tower), a fascinating story, and a gorgeously tinted print. The music is a terrific match for the film and suitably Twilight Zone-ish too. I just loved this. (4 stars)

April 5, 2005 - Today The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) - Sequel to The Princess Diaries, though not nearly as good. Now Mia (Anne Hathaway) is 21 years old, just graduated from college, and about to become Queen of Genovia. But a glitch comes up that threatens to stand in the way of her taking her grandma's (Julie Andrews) place as Queen - she has 30 days to become married or lose the crown to rival Lord Devereaux aka "Nicholas", someone she by chance met and flirted with at her 21st birthday party, unaware of who he was. So now the search is on to find Mia a husband, and meanwhile the good-looking, young Nicholas comes to stay in the castle with them, for some reason. The powers-that-be quickly find a suitable match for Mia - but meanwhile she is starting to flirt and fall for the young Lord. Gee, wonder what will happen. Not what you might think, though, as this film ends with the clear intention of yet another sequel being filmed. So-so movie. Heather Matarazzo, who I really like as an actress, appears again as Mia's best friend Lilly, but is wasted as she is given practically nothing to do. Plus, I think the scenes with the two silly maids, Brigitte and Brigitta, are pretty dumb and annoying. (2.75 stars)

April 4, 2005 - Today was a day of silent comedy on TCM. I watched a number of the films shown (and had a great time doing it!). First I saw a bunch of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle shorts and a rare feature. All the prints for the shorts looked similar - decent / fairly nice, though nothing spectacular. With the exception of Love (1919) which looked really good! This was a VERY windy day at my house, so I am not sure if part of the way the prints looked (sort of fading in and out) was caused by this windstorm (or perhaps just TCM - a lot of the films I have seen on this channel lately have been a bit fluky).
First up, I saw The Knockout (1914) - Keystone comedy short starring Fatty Arbuckle as a guy whose girl won't kiss him until he fights off a bunch of mashers that are bothering her. Then she pushes him into a boxing contest with Cyclone Flynn, and disguises herself as a man to get in with the all-male audience to see the fight (and, I think, looks a lot cuter dressed as a man than she does in a dress). Charlie Chaplin appears briefly as the fight referee. This comedy ends with a Keystone cop chase scene. This film was okay, it included a nice piano score. (2.75 stars)
The Rounders (1914) - Another Keystone comedy about two top-hatted, drunken Lodge brothers, Chaplin and Arbuckle, who arrive home to their across the hall apartments only to get beat up by their respective wives. So they run off together and end up in this restaurant where they fall asleep on the floor under other patrons tableclothes, then get chased down by the wives. Good orchestral score for this, and quite a few laughs. (3.5 stars)
Leading Lizzie Astray (1914) - Country boy Fatty helps change a tire on the car of a city man who gets a flat and then tempts Fatty's fiancee (Minta Durfee) to run away to the city with him where she ends up at this wild dance hall / bar. She is very uncomfortable there, but Fatty comes to the rescue. Not very good, but had an excellent piano score. (2.25 stars)
Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day (1915) - Cute short about Mabel, doing all the washing up work while her hubby sleeps, and her fat neighbor, Fatty, doing all the work while his shrewish wife yells at him. Mabel and Fatty flirt while hanging underwear on their shared clothesline, then later while out on strolls with their respective spouses, sneak off together to share sodas at an outdoor cafe. Not really very funny, but enjoyable, and I love Mabel Normand. The print for this was somewhat washed out, but this had a nice piano score. (3 stars)
Wished on Mabel (1915) - On a day out in the park with Mamma, Mabel meets up with her "chubby admirer" Fatty, who gives a kiss to Mabel (and is forced to give a kiss to Mamma as well). Then Mabel and Fatty frolic together in the park, while a "bad man" (first seen sleeping on a park bench, and then getting clobbered over the head several times by a cop) steals Mamma's watch. Fatty later finds the same watch on the ground, and (oh dear) gives it to his sweetie as a gift. Quite cute short, Mabel is adorable in this, and I think Fatty Arbuckle really comes to life when he is paired up with Mabel Normand. Okay piano score for this. (3 stars)
Fatty's Tintype Tangle (1915) - Keystone comedy in "two parts" (with 1 minute intermission, as stated on title card - oh dear, a break after only 10 minutes!) - Fatty, "the kitchen expert", seems to pretty much take charge of the household chores - what with cooking breakfast, doing Wifey's hair, tieing up Wifey's Mamma's corset (yeah, Mamma lives with them, at least in the early part of this short). Fatty walks in on Mamma in the bathtub, then later drinks himself some "Distilled Courage" and starts breaking apart the house. Next he leaves and ends on up a park bench next to a woman who is part of a couple declared as "home-seekers from Alaska" (and dressed in, I gather, some VERY unstylish clothing and hairdos), and a nearby photographer takes the picture of the two of them together which later ends up in the hands of Mamma. Meanwhile, Fatty leaves home for a month, and Wifey rents out their apartment to, by coincidence, the weird Alaskan couple (and Wifey "goes home to Mamma" - hey, I thought the Mamma lived with them?!). The ending of this includes a Keystone cop chase that was kind of dragging for me. This film was okay, but just went on way to long to carry the story off well. Decent / neutral piano score. (2.5 stars)
The Waiter's Ball (1916) - Mack Sennett two-reeler with Fatty Arbuckle as the chef in this messy little cafe (with display sign "not responsible for chewing gum stuck under tables"), and Al St. John as the waiter. There are an assembly of patrons who come in and place orders, while St. John shouts the order to Fatty in the kitchen in diner talk (like "Hold Your Nose" for a man's order of a Limburger Cheese Sandwich - why is it only in old comedies that people EVER eat Limburger Cheese, hmm?!). A pretty girl comes in who has to keep switching from table to table to avoid the variety of cretins in this place. At one point Fatty and Al get in a big fanny-slappin' broom fight. The last part of this short involves the Waiter's Ball that evening - 50 cents for gents, ladies get in free. The Ball requires "full dress" so when Al takes Fatty's suit, Fatty must wear the only fancy dress left for him, a heavy woman who works in the restaurant's fat girl evening gown. Fatty goes to the Ball dressed as a woman, which he seems to have NO problem with - he just dances with men. Well, good attitude. Anyway, that last part was quite amusing. I quite liked this short and the enjoyment of this was increased by a very perky and good ragtime score done by the Mont Alto Orchestra. (3.5 stars)
Love (1919) - Fatty and Al St. John are rivals for the affections of pretty blonde Winifred "Winnie". Fatty rides to her house in a Ford "Express" model - a motorized wagon with "Fordette" written on the side. Winnie's father falls down the longest well in the world, and Fatty attempts to get him out. Later Al's father sends a note to Winnie's father that he will give him half his land if he makes Winnie marry his son - done. Winnie's dad agrees, so Fatty tries to elope with Winnie, and loads of slapstick follows. The elopement fails, so then Fatty gets even by putting soap in the stew, getting the cook fired, then, amusingly arrives in drag as the new cook. Ha! Really funny - I laughed out loud many times during this film (I was especially amused by the falling down the well scenes), and with a very good score by Mont Alto and terrific looking print, this was the winner of the day. This film includes that same "butt-slapping back and forth with brooms" gag that's done in The Waiter's Ball. (4 stars)
Leap Year (1921) - Feature length film with Arbuckle playing Stanley Piper, heir to the millions of his gouty, grumpy, girl-hater Uncle. Uncle leaves for the cure, while his "girl crazy" nephew is sent off on a "fishing trip" to keep him away from girls but ends up at Catalina Island. Now Stanley, in love with his uncle's bobbed haired nurse, ends up accidently engaged to three girls he meets up with in Catalina including a beatiful bathing beauty, a young golfing girl with a REALLY young boyfriend, and a rich girl on a yacht (well, they ARE all aware he is going to be a millionaire). Back home, he pretends to be sick when the three girls all arrive at once, then proceeds to shuffle the girls from room to room. They end up in rooms upstairs, Uncle arrives home and the girls are explained to him as recovering "home-brewers". There is an interesting odd man who keeps lurking through this film, and walks and moves in a really strange way. He keeps appearing darting around corners, etc. (he IS explained at the end). This film was fairly good, though the print was quite fuzzy and had an odd tinting that looked strange and was distracting. This included a nice orchestral score by the Mont Alto Orchestra with some tunes I've heard done by them in other silent films. (3 stars)
Seven Years Bad Luck (1921) - Starring Max Linder as a man who arrives home drunk after his bachelor party, mistakes the closet for the window (and vice versa), wakes up in the morning to the sound of his butler and maid, who in chasing each other around his mirror, break it. Hence an amusing scene where Max and a servant from the kitchen, who by coincidence resembles Max, do the famous mirror stunt (most familiarly done in the Marx Brothers Duck Soup, and later by Harpo and Lucille Ball in an I Love Lucy episode). So that Max doesn't know the mirror is broken, the servant stands behind the mirror and imitates his every move. Max catches on though, leaves the room, then ends up throwing his shoe at the mirror - but, alas, the mirror has now been replaced and Max breaks it. Then Max's fiancee Betty, breaks up with him over two incidents - Max puts her puppy in a vase of water (!), then he turns her home into a "dance hall", playing piano for a hula dancing maid. Ah well. So, figuring he has "seven years bad luck" from the mirror incident, he leaves by train. Hence follows a series of amusing gags including a funny scene where Max tries to sneak on the train hidden behind a big lug, and when he, trying to avoid the train conductor, puts a black stocking over his face (!) and pretends to be a black porter. This film was quite good - and included a nice quality tinted print, and really good orchestral score by Robert Israel. I really like Max Linder too - he sort of reminds me of "Mr. Bean", Rowan Atkinson. (3.75 stars)
In the evening I watched The Freshman (1925), a film I have seen many, many times before - but love! Harold Lloyd plays Harold "Speedy" Lamb, college freshman at Tate College who wants more than anything to be popular. Speedy admires more than anyone else Chet Trask - football captain voted most popular man on campus for 1924. Speedy dreams of being voted "most popular man for 1925". He imitates a chant and jig he saw in a movie called "The College Hero" - "I'm just a regular fellow - step right up and call me Speedy", which he does as a greeting to the mean guys and gals at school, soon becoming the "College Boob". Part of his effort towards gaining popularity is to try out for the football team - which includes an amusing scene involving a tackling dummy. Poor Speedy is told he made the team, but really is only the water boy. Earlier, on the train to college, Speedy meets a pretty "good girl" named Peggy (Jobyna Ralston) and flirts with her over the newest craze - a crossword puzzle. Later, he ends up living in a room at her Mom's boarding house, and they soon fall in love, as she kindly keeps the secret that he is the school laughing stock from him. My favorite part of this film is when Speedy steps up to host the "Fall Frolic" and arrives with a suit only "lightly basted". So as he is dancing, pieces of the suit keep falling off, and the old drunkard tailor who created this masterpiece follows him around to restitch it when needed. Quite funny. I do love this movie, though it has a bit too much football in it for my taste, and it seems really sad that Harold cares so much about being liked by this pack of complete jerks, who only end up liking him when he helps win a football game. Oh well. The tinted print for this looks great, and the music, done by Robert Israel, is very good. (4 stars)

April 2, 2005 - Almost Famous (2000) - It's 1973 and 15 year-old Mama's boy, William, dreams of being a rock journalist. At a concert he meets several groupies (or as they call themselves Band Aid girls) including a cute blonde named Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), then manages to talk his way into the stage door for an interview with rock band Stillwater for small-time magazine Creem. Based on his Creem article about Stillwater, he gets a gig writing an article for, of all things, Rolling Stone about the band, and heads out with them for their "Almost Famous - 73" concert tour in a cross-country bus. Along for the ride are Penny Lane, the groupie girls, and assorted roadies. Then William spends pretty much the whole movie trying without success to interview Stillwater's lead guitarist and main hottie, Russell. Plus, along the way William is "de-flowered" by three of the groupie girls and falls in love with Penny Lane. This film is really good, with lots of great rock music of the era, and interesting story. Good one. (4 stars)

April 1, 2005 - Laurel and Hardy day on TCM. I only had time to watch a few things, so - first up for me today was Tit for Tat (1935), a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler. Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy open up an electrical supplies shop, where they have loads of trouble installing the light bulbs around their shop sign. Then Ollie's "spotless reputation" is "slandered" by the next-door grocer (Charlie Hall) who accuses Ollie of cavorting with his wife (Mae Busch). Next follows a "tit for tat" fight between Stan and Ollie and the grocer man. Type of fight seen in lots of other Laurel and Hardy films, each side of the fight does something to get even while the other side stands and takes it - soon escalading into a big brawl. The grocer puts the boys supply of $1 watches into a drink blender, wrecking them. So the boys go to the grocer's shop and pour honey into the grocer's cash register, then the grocer cuts Ollie's hat in half in his electric meat cutter, and so on. Lots of laughs in this one - enjoyable. I love the Leroy Shield music themes in the background of Laurel and Hardy shorts, same music as in Our Gang talkies. I have two CDs of that music done by The Beau Hunks. Love it. (3.5 stars)
Next I watched the three-reeler Chickens Come Home (1931). Laurel and Hardy are "dealers in high grade fertilizer". Ollie, running for mayor, has an office run-in with a vamp in black and white satin (Mae Busch), who tries to bribe her "apple-cheeked boy" with a swimsuit-clad seaside photo of the two of them from Ollie's "gilded youth" with her straddling his shoulders. Ollie arranges to meet her at 7:00 P.M. that night to give her a "settlement", but next thing you know, his wife (Thelma Todd) arrives at the office, the vamp hides behind a towel in the bathroom, and wifey tells him she is having an important dinner party that evening. So Ollie sends Stan in his place to appease his former flame, while Stan's wife "Mama" threatens to "break his arm" if he is not home for dinner, and later chases Stan with an axe (!). A hoot. And I love Mae Busch - always so great as playing a "mean" woman. Plus I always love Jimmy Finlayson - in this one he plays Ollie's butler during the dinner party scenes. (3.75 stars)
Then I watched Nothing But Trouble (1944) - L & H take on a job as butler and chef at the house of a rich society matron, to serve at an important dinner party that night for Christopher "Chris", the Boy King of Orlandia and his Uncle, the Prince. Chris, however, would rather play football than be king - so first chance he gets, he darts off to play ball with a bunch of ragamuffin youths. Hiding his identity, he soon meets up with Stan and Ollie and pretends he is mistreated at home so that they take him back to the house where, by coincidence, the boy king was set to have dinner that same evening. Lucky thing too, 'cause meanwhile Chris's wicked Uncle wants to poison him and take over the crown. The Prince arrives at the house for dinner while Chris hides under the dinner table, and Ollie cooks up his famous "Steak ala Ollie", a very rough cut of meat apparently (in an earlier scene, stolen from a lion), and served up by an inept Stan. Not a very funny film. I have seen just about all of Laurel and Hardy's films, some many times, and this one is definitely one of their worst. (2.5 stars)

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