Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Movie Review: The Call Of The Wild (1935)

A gold rush adventure story, The Call Of The Wild features spirited settings and characters but only elemental human drama.

The bustling frontier town of Skagway, Alaska in 1900 at the height of the gold rush. Prospector and gambler Jack Thornton (Clark Gable) meets Shorty Hoolihan (Jack Oakie), who has recently been released from prison after serving time for mail theft. Shorty claims to have seen a map indicating the location of a gold-rich plot of land. Jack and Shorty team up to find the fortune, and soon tangle with the pompous Mr. Smith (Reginald Owen), a rich prospector on his own quest. Jack purchases Buck, a fierce and powerful St. Bernard, to be part of his sled-pulling dog team.

Once in the wild, Jack and Shorty stumble upon Claire Blake (Loretta Young), who is on a similar expedition to find the gold. With her husband missing, Claire is at first unwilling but then joins them on their journey to Dawson City in the Yukon. The trio then set off by raft to follow the path indicated on the map. As they near their destination, Jack and Claire start to fall in love, but others are also closing in on the precious riverside land.

A partial adaptation of the Jack London classic novel, The Call Of The Wild is a rough and ready adventure directed by William A. Wellman. The emphasis is on recreating the chaos and greed that fuel a gold rush, and Gable and Oakie do a fine job bringing to life two prospectors chasing the dream and perhaps enjoying the expedition more than the outcome.

From taming Buck the dog to subjugating Claire to their will, Jack and Shorty are not here to be nice. They are intent on conquering the land, the animals and the women all in search of riches, as long as their is fun to be had along the way. Wellman recreates a quite impressively anarchic Skagway and a Dawson City consumed by greed, both filled with the wannabe rich and those who leach upon them. And the film also spends plenty of time in the wilderness enjoying the outdoors and capturing the dangerous beauty of remote winters in a rugged land.

The film does get bogged down in too many dog-related chapters and not enough character development. Although the book is primarily about Buck, on the screen this becomes a weakness. Too many scenes feature the antics of Buck, and the dog emerges as the most animated and dominant character in the film, to the detriment of the humans. Some interesting parallels are drawn between the pull of the wild on Buck's instincts and men reverting to primordial behaviour to survive the conditions, but these themes are underdeveloped.

Jack, Shorty and Claire are just about the same from start to end, and little new is learned about them during the 89 minutes of running time. Claire suffers the most, showing hardly any grief due to the separation from her husband, and falling in love with Jack just because the script seems to demand it.

Featuring an energetic spirit but riding on a thin layer of snow, The Call Of The Wild has plenty of dog but limited bite.

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Sunday, 19 February 2017

Movie Review: The Return Of Frank James (1940)

A colourful western with a nuanced revenge theme, The Return Of Frank James is a proficient adventure with balanced mix of action and dilemmas for the central character to grapple with.

With a huge reward on his head set by the railway company, notorious outlaw Jesse James is shot in the back and killed by the Ford brothers Bob (John Carradine) and Charlie (Charles Tannen). Upon hearing that the Fords were pardoned, Jesse's brother Frank (Henry Fonda) decides to emerge from his peaceful life as a farmer to seek justice for his brother. Along with his young sidekick Clem (Jackie Cooper) they go looking for the Fords, leaving loyal farmhand Pinky (Ernest Whitman) behind.

Frank is intrinsically a peaceful man who eschews violence, and yet has to find a way to avenge his brother while himself avoiding the long arm of the law. He robs a railway company office to raise money for his quest, a heist that ends with him being wrongly accused of murder. He uses naive reporter Eleanor Stone (Gene Tierney) to spread false rumours of his death while continuing to track down the Fords. But then Pinky is arrested and Frank develops feelings for Eleanor, forcing him to his reassess his priorities.

Directed by Fritz Lang and only loosely inspired by real events, The Return Of Frank James is an entertaining sequel to 1939's Jesse James. Filmed in rich colour and featuring Henry Fonda in fine form and Gene Tierney's screen debut, the film draws its energy from a conflicted central character seeking vengeance but also uncomfortable with violence. The Sam Hellman script perhaps tilts too far towards sanitizing Frank's character, but Fonda does the most with the role, building his screen persona as the morally upright man who nevertheless wants to ensure justice is served.

The Return Of Frank James sets itself apart from many westerns by having Frank stop and pause at a couple of key junctures. He is initially content to let the justice system deal with the Fords, and only after they are pardoned does he struggle with the decision to abandon his quiet life as a farmer. Later Frank reaches another crossroads and has to decide whether to continue his pursuit or rescue Pinky from an undeserved fate and explore a potential relationship with Eleanor. Fonda excels at exploiting such predicaments, elevating the film from the routine towards the cerebral.

Lang and Hellman do a good job of demonizing the Fords with subtle jabs, as the brothers aim to profit from their infamy by staging a cheesy play twisting their assassination of Jesse into fictional heroics. Further colour is added around the edges with Eleanor fighting to gain the respect of her father (a Denver newspaper owner).

The film's final chapter includes plenty of attempts at humour as the action shifts to the court room (this part of the story very much inspired by real events), as Frank defends himself against accusations of robbery and murder.

The Return Of Frank James is a pleasingly textured western, finding the gloss of human conflict in the legendary stories of outlaws and villains.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Movie Review: Here On Earth (2000)

A stultifyingly atrocious teen romantic triangle drama, Here On Earth is a stinking miracle of rehashed ideas mixed with bad writing and lousy acting.

Rich teenager Kelley (Chris Klein) is about to graduate as the class valedictorian from a prestigious private college located near a working class suburb of Boston. Demonstrating ridiculously poor judgment on the eve of graduation, Chris goes for a wild joy ride in a brand new Mercedes, antagonizes local blue collar teen Jasper (Josh Hartnett), and makes a move for Jasper's long-time girlfriend Samantha (Leelee Sobieski). The evening ends with an old fashioned car chase and the two boys wreck the local (but fortunately empty) diner in an impressive fireball.

Kelley and Jasper get away with a light sentence that requires them to rebuild the diner, with Kelley forced to stay with Jasper's parents over the summer. The boys spend their days sneering at each other at the construction site, while Sam starts openly flirting with Kelley. They fall in love, but a devastating disease is waiting to dramatically enter the story.

Possibly one of the worst written movies to somehow receive respectable financing and a studio release, Here On Earth was scripted by Michael Seitzman and directed by Mark Piznarski with a reported $15 million budget. While some moments of adequate cinematography and lush scenery are pleasing to the eye, it is otherwise difficult to see how this turkey could have consumed millions in production dollars.

The black hole at the heart of the drama is a script devoid of any genuine emotion, sympathy or believable characters. Kelley and Samantha emerge as the romantic leads, and both are distinctly unlikable and incomprehensible characters, their on-screen behaviour totally inconsistent with their background. Kelley is supposed to be the class valedictorian yet spends the first 30 minutes of the film behaving like a total jerk, and then somehow he has to become the heart of the story. Seitzman throws in an oh-so-original stern dad and dead mom to justify Kelley's actions, and so he's not such a bad kid after all.

Meanwhile Samantha discards a life-long friendship with Jasper to chase after the kid who destroyed her family's business. Desperate to make his heroine more appealing, Seitzman hatches a serious ailment for the young lovers to contend with. They may be a dreadful couple, but they have tragic issues to deal with.

Klein, Hartnett and Sobieski read their lines with dead looks in their eyes, with Klein and Hartnett breaking out into shirtless macho fights at regular intervals. The supporting cast features actors who should know better than to appear as the parents of these kids, including Michael Rooker, Bruce Greenwood and Annette O'Toole.

Somehow in amongst the dross there are dreamy lines of dialogue about what heaven must be like. Never mind that, Here On Earth is cinematic hell, unearthed.

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Friday, 17 February 2017

Movie Review: Big Jake (1971)

A routine late-era John Wayne western, Big Jake tries to adjust to the cinematic times but defaults to an inconsistent mishmash of gore and camp.

It's 1909, and the West is slowly modernizing with the arrival of automobiles and motorcycles. Nevertheless, lawlessness abounds, and a gang of nine thugs under the leadership of John Fain (Richard Boone) pillages the McCandles ranch, killing several people and kidnapping Little Jake (Ethan Wayne) for a $1 million  ransom. Little Jake's grandmother Martha (Maureen O'Hara) survives the raid, and calls on her estranged husband Big Jake (John Wayne) to handle the ransom payment and free the young boy.

Big Jake is a crusty frontiersman who walked out on the family years prior for vague reasons. He has an uneasy relationship with his sons, but nevertheless teams up with James (Patrick Wayne) and Michael (Christopher Mitchum). Along with Indian scout Sam (Bruce Cabot) they go after the kidnappers, who are lying in wait across the border in Mexico.

With 1969's The Wild Bunch popularizing the death of the old west and redefining the allowable gore quotient in Westerns, John Wayne attempts to align his persona with the modern on-screen times. Big Jake features plenty of bright red squibs to simulate gun shots, and many references to the changing landscape, with civilization creeping in from the east. But a John Wayne western is also required to meet the expectations of long-time fans, and by 1971 this means an abundance of unnecessary slapstick, frequent superfluous fist fights, and a jerky tone as the unevenly applied visual violence sits uneasily next to more old fashioned sensibilities.

At least Wayne is not beyond poking fun at himself. Jake's age, declining abilities and fading eyesight are frequent points of reference. He tries to use more brains than brawn to try and outsmart his younger opponents. Jake also meets his match and loses a bare knuckled fight, although that may be an intentional distraction.

More disappointing is a trite story of pursuit and revenge, punctuated by unconvincing tension between Big Jake and his sons. The script is tired, with the dialogue exchanges often descending into the same macho posturing on a loop. The bad guys make key mistakes at critical times, never pull the trigger when they can, and always allow Jake and his sons time to weasel out of tight spots. The entire premise of the story is also suspect: a trunk containing $1 million is apparently right there at the McCandles ranch, and with minimal effort the Fain gang could have escaped with the cash rather than the kid.

On the more positive side, director George Sherman, delivering his final film, captures impressive and satisfyingly rich vistas. The action sequences are adequate, and the final showdown is a reasonably enjoyable and prolonged climax featuring a mix of close up and long range combat.

The supporting cast is filled with B-movie talent pushed by nepotism into prominent roles, Wayne's son Patrick and Robert Mitchum's son Christopher given more screen time than their talent deserves. Richard Boone emerges as the one weighty presence, but he is underused.

Maureen O'Hara only features in the opening 20 minutes or so, and Big Jake represents the last of her five on-screen teamings with Wayne. As the traditional west is erased by the sands of time, both the stars and partnerships of old fade into mediocre movies.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Movie Review: Unfaithful (2002)

A story of lust and betrayal in an idyllic middle class suburban household, Unfaithful unfortunately abandons an ambitious exploration of human instincts and veers towards more routine and much less interesting fare.

In a tony suburb of New York City, business owner Edward Sumner (Richard Gere) lives with his wife Connie (Diane Lane) and eight year old son Charlie. The marriage appears healthy and the couple are comfortably moving into middle age. On a visit to the city on a windswept day, Connie literally bumps into handsome book dealer Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), a much younger and irresistibly attractive man.

Unable to control her impulses, Connie arranges several follow-up meetings and soon she is carrying on a hot affair with Paul, with frequent sex sessions at his apartment. Her lies catch up to her, Edward suspects that something is wrong and hires a private detective to tail his wife. But the threat to their marriage takes an even worse turn when Edward reacts badly upon confronting Paul.

Directed by Adrian Lyne, Unfaithful boasts a promising start but a rapidly disintegrating second half. The film sets out to explore the forces that shape infidelity, and the emotional and psychological toll imposed by all the lying and deception. There is a tremendous story to be told about why a seemingly content wife decides to stray, and for a while, Unfaithful steps forward into the rich terrain of a marriage under threat of insidious erosion, with parenting as collateral damage.

Then Lyne and his screenwriters Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr. (adapting a Claude Chabrol film) take a left turn towards Hitchcockian suspense territory, and Unfaithful never recovers. A carpet is used to warp a body, a moody elevator breaks down just at the wrong moment, a corpse is stuffed in a car trunk then a landfill, and all the carefully built up subtle domestic tension seeps out of the screen in favour of more blatant and over-familiar thriller elements.

And in a further neck twisting change of gears, Unfaithful converts to a brooding study of a damaged couple jointly coping with cascading crises of conscience. The sharp changes in tone are disorienting, and the film appears to work extra hard to undermine its own effectiveness in any one key.

Visually Unfaithful is enriched with touches of class, and stylistically Lyne still loves to create steamy and artistic sex scenes, Olivier Martinez and Diane Lane obliging with several window-fogging private and public romps. Lane owns the first part of the film and creates a complex portrait of a happy wife and lust-seeking lover, before Gere takes over in the second and weaker half.

Unfaithful is part of a very good film, before treacherous narrative missteps betray the good intentions.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Movie Review: Come To The Stable (1949)

A religious drama and comedy, Come To The Stable celebrates the impenetrable power of faith with a wink and a smile.

New England, shortly after the end of World War Two. French nuns Sister Margaret (Loretta Young) and Sister Scholastica (Celeste Holm) arrive to the small town of Bethlehem in search of land and money to build a children's hospital. Margaret made a promise to build the facility after American troops avoided damaging the French hospital where she worked during the Normandy landings.

The nuns take up residence at the simple home of dotty religious artist Amelia Potts (Elsa Lanchester), but face numerous obstacles to their plans. The idyllic hill top parcel the nuns set their eyes on is owned by New York City mobster Luigi Rossi (Thomas Gomez). Local land owner and celebrated songwriter Robert Masen (Hugh Marlowe) at first appears supportive but becomes opposed to having a hospital in his quiet neighbourhood. Even the local Bishop (Basil Ruysdael) is skeptical. But Sisters Margaret and Scholastica are nothing if not persistent, and they set about to make their far-fetched dream a reality.

Directed by Henry Koster and inspired by a true story, Come To The Stable finds the right tone for its message. Delivering an affirmation of belief with a light touch, the film provides a steady drip of self-deprecatory humour to keep the more dramatic moments in check. The outcome is an experience that undoubtedly salutes good religious intentions, but within a pragmatic context.

Koster achieves a couple of memorable highlights. Margaret and Scholastica blithely march into the headquarters of crime boss Luigi Rossi in New York City, and persevere despite the dismissiveness of first his henchmen and then Rossi himself. The French nuns and the Italian-American gangster finally break the barriers between them by finding an unexpected common bond. The theme is cleverly amplified with songwriter Robert Masen. Initially helpful but gradually more resistant to the nuns' project, Masen will also awaken to the unlikely connection between his music and the battlefields of Europe.

The performances match the film's attitude. Loretta Young stays within herself and allows the mission to march ahead of the character. Celeste Holm is even more reserved but gets a wacky moment to shine on the tennis courts. Hugh Marlowe leads a steady supporting cast, with Koster animating the local community with plenty of life and avoiding most of the obvious maudlin traps.

Come To The Stable wraps up in an efficient 94 minutes, the French nuns' perfectly executed friendly invasion of New England a small but worthwhile echo of a distant war.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Movie Review: Where The Sidewalk Ends (1950)

A film noir focusing on a flawed detective, Where The Sidewalk Ends hits many of the right dark notes but falls just short of perfect sharpness.

In New York City, police detective Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) is warned about his violent methods. Too quick with his fists, Dixon's hatred of hoodlums stems from wanting to distance himself from the memory of his father, an infamous thief. Dixon and his partner Klein (Bert Freed) investigate the murder of Texas businessman Morrison, stabbed to death by abusive low life Ken Paine at an illegal gambling joint run by notorious criminal Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill).

Dixon tracks down Paine and accidentally kills him with a punch. In a cold panic, Dixon decides to cover up his role in Paine's death, and works to implicate Scalise for the murders of both Morrison and Paine. In the meantime Dixon also starts to fall in love with Paine's estranged wife Morgan (Gene Tierney). But when Morgan's father Jiggs (Tom Tully) becomes the chief suspect in Paine's murder, Dixon finds his troubles multiplying.

Where The Sidewalk Ends reunites director Otto Preminger with stars Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney, the talent trio responsible for 1944's Laura. And with a script by Ben Hecht, Where The Sidewalk Ends gets many things right. The black and white photography is rich with bright light sources cutting through imposing shadows, heavy coats, glistening streets, neon signs and an abundance of hooligans. Mark Dixon as the central protagonist is a deeply damaged man, fighting internal demons with a career rumbling in reverse gear. And the plot is filled with just enough complexity and coincidence to highlight the ironies of life without slipping into irrational territory.

The film's texture is enhanced by several nice touches. Mobster Scalise is smooth as silk, Gary Merrill perfecting a condescending smarm and augmenting it with constant sniffing of an unknown substance to keep his airways clean and his brain in overdrive. Dixon's partner Klein is also hard headed but has it under control, and gets a moment to shine with his wife when Dixon comes calling for financial help. And an assortment of secondary characters including a taxi driver, a dotty neighbour, a caustic diner waitress, an ex-convict on parole and numerous hissing musclemen add animation at every turn. Karl Malden shows us as the newly minted Lieutenant at Dixon's precinct.

While Dana Andrews does well and has plenty to bite into as the emotionally distressed Dixon, the character of Morgan is less successful. Gene Tierney is generally unable to do much with the underwritten role of a too-good woman with poor judgement in men.  And while Hecht's writing is sturdy, it lacks a cutting edge in dialogue exchanges that sound appropriately belligerent but lack in wit.

Where The Sidewalk Ends is worthwhile place to visit, one detective finally running out of fist room in the confrontation with the ghost of his father's legacy.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Movie Review: McLintock! (1963)

A comedy Western, McLintock! is a tedious exercise in atrocious low brow humour.

George Washington "G.W." McLintock (John Wayne) is a tough but fair cattle baron who owns most of the land and businesses in the town that carries his family's name. The arrival of settlers creates some tension among the local cattle ranchers, as do Indians who show up to welcome incoming Chiefs. McLintock offers a job to Devlin Warren (Patrick Wayne), an enthusiastic young man, and also takes in Devlin's mother Louise (Yvonne De Carlo) as the new household cook.

G.W.'s ill-tempered wife Katherine (Maureen O'Hara) shows up after a long separation, demanding a divorce and insisting that she will scoop their daughter Becky (Stefanie Powers) back east. G.W. refuses to agree to any of her demands, and their relationship remains toxic. Meanwhile Devlin sets his eyes on Becky, while Louise is also on the prowl for a partner to take the place of her deceased husband.

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen from a script developed by John Wayne but credited to James Edward Grant, McLintock! is an adaptation of sorts of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew. The film wallows in infantile slapstick humour, and surrenders to misogynistic and racist tendencies. Women's bottoms are spanked with coal shovels, Indians are generally treated as whiskey-loving caricatures, and the humour is anchored by increasingly tiresome and seemingly endless fistfights, people sliding into water pits and drunks tumbling down the stairs. Three times, just to make the point.

With the genre clearly reaching its nadir in terms of ideas, creativity and energy, dross like McLintock! explains the emergence of the Spaghetti Western, Sergio Leone and his cohorts grabbing the Western by the boot spurs and injecting a large of dose of stylistic steroids to reinvigorate its potential.

McLintock! extends to an agonizing 127 minutes, McLaglen seemingly clueless about how to try and sharpen the focus onto any of the loose threads that attempt to pass as plot. The film just throws ideas at the screen and does exactly nothing with any of them. Cattle ranchers against settlers, incompetent politicians, Indians fighting for respect, several unconvincing romances and finally a Comanche raid during a 4th of July celebration. All of it comes and goes with barren soullessness, and the story lines disintegrate into interludes that mainly serve to interrupt Wayne's awkward soliloquies espousing his philosophies on life.

Not even the central conflict between Katherine and G.W. is given its due. She is bitter and angry, he is uncaring, and so it stays for the best part of two hours until Katherine gets her humiliating comeuppance.

Far from funny, McLintock! is boring, imbecilic, and grotesquely dated.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Movie Review: Legend Of The Lost (1957)

A creaky adventure set in the desert, Legend Of The Lost borrows heavily from better movies and aimlessly scatters good ideas into the sand dunes.

Rich European Paul Bonnard (Rosanno Brazzi) arrives in Timbuktu, quickly demonstrates sympathy for scrappy street thief Dita (Sophia Loren) and connects with experienced guide Joe January (John Wayne). The trio set out on a multi-week trek, and Bonnard gradually reveals his motives: he is following clues from his father's writings to search the unforgiving desert for a lost city with buried treasure.

Joe is disgusted that Dita has fallen for Bonnard's smarmy charms, and despite the surrounding dangers of oppressive heat, limited water, uncharted terrain and dangerous tribes, the two men never get along and fight often. Finally they arrive at their destination, but nerves are frayed and nasty secrets await.

Taking elements from 1948's The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and 1950's King Solomon's Mines, Legend Of The Lost throws three people together and sends them off on an ill-defined quest. The script, co-written by Ben Hecht, is a cheap excuse to delve into lust and greed themes at the most superficial level while combing American and Italian acting talent in search of an international hit. None of it works. The emotions are always close to boiling, the jealousies are juvenile and whatever is supposed to pass as passion never ignites. The two men continuously circle each other and break into tiresome fisticuffs at almost every rest stop.

Neither the characters nor the events come close to passing a basic rationality test. Bonnard and Dita fall for each other based on one night of psychobabble. Joe is suddenly jealous although theoretically he had every opportunity to win Dita's heart before Bonnard ever set foot in Timbuktu. The film never explains how Bonnard contrived to received his father's letters, but worse is to come when the trio arrive at the ruins of an ancient lost Roman city. Three skeletons are quickly interpreted as a love triangle gone wrong, and Bonnard slips off the edge of reason, triggering an astonishing round of assault, mistrust and violence.

Filming in Libya, director Henry Hathaway and cinematographer Jack Cardiff do capture a few impressive vistas and exotic flavours in "Technirama" widescreen. And despite the almost laughable story, the presence of John Wayne, Sophia Loren and Rosanno Brazzi ensure that the film is at least passably watchable. Wayne emerges with some dignity intact, while Loren and Brazzi suffer more in roles requiring whiplash-inducing emotional u-turns.

Despite some nuggets of interest, Legend Of The Lost is a lot more lost than legend.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Movie Review: I'll See You In My Dreams (2015)

A low-key drama about love and death, I'll See You In My Dreams enjoys a heartfelt Blythe Danner performance but otherwise meanders in and out of cul-de-sacs.

Carol Peterson (Danner) has been a widow for more than 20 years, and she enjoys an independent lifestyle close enough but not within a retirement community. Her dog Hazel is a close companion, as are her friends Georgina (June Squibb), Sally (Rhea Pearlman) and Rona (Mary Kay Place). When Hazel dies of old age, loneliness sets in, and Carol is further annoyed by an elusive rat that takes up residence in her apartment.

Carol starts a tentative friendship with underachieving pool cleaner Lloyd (Martin Starr), a much younger man, and then she is asked out on a date by the rich, confident and masculine retiree Bill (Sam Elliott). A karaoke date with Lloyd reawakens her passion for music, while Bill wants to move quickly towards a serious relationship. With Carol wondering which way to steer her emotional life, daughter Katherine (Malin Åkerman) comes for a visit.

An independent production directed and co-written by Brett Haley, I'll See You In My Dreams tackles themes of loneliness, love and death's looming shadow in the latter stages of life. The film maintains a soft and grounded tone, with Haley sprinkling touches of humour and wisdom in enough doses to keep the mood more light than overbearing. At 96 minutes the film is perfectly paced, with enough time for Carol's story to unfold without unnecessary moping.

The death of Carol's dog Hazel is the trigger for reflection on what level of companionship she needs. Hazel and the small circle of friends had papered over the gaps caused by the death of her husband, but now Carol needs more, with pool boy Lloyd and the flamboyant Bill presenting contrasting alternatives. Lloyd is a young man already stuck in the neutral gear of life and a dead-end job, but he has the sensitivity to coax Carol back towards her singing passion. Meanwhile, cigar chomping Bill has a heart as big as Texas and confidence to match. He is all about living life to the fullest, spending lavishly, not having any regrets, and not wasting any time.

The two men nourish Carol's soul in different ways, but events intervene and cause her to remember why she valued being alone: caring about others can be hard work, and the emotional investment comes at a price. She does not doubt the pleasure of companionship, but the pressure is also not to be discounted.

Despite an absorbing performance from Blythe Danner, I'll See You In My Dreams peters out in its final third. Katherine's appearance is left hanging and the choice between the two men self-resolves. Carol becomes more of an observer and listener rather than a catalyst, and she defaults to an unimaginative level of comfort. While it's a pragmatic reality that mature people rarely embrace new risks, it's still vaguely disappointing that Carol doesn't more strongly advocate for girls just wanting to have fun, at any age.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Movie Review: Gold (2016)

A tattered rags to prospective riches story inspired by real events, Gold is a reasonably satisfying escapade through the rollercoaster world of gold stock promotions. The film draws some energy from a scrappy and desperate central character, but then idles instead of soaring.

In Nevada, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is a down-on-his-luck mining stock promoter, down to his last penny and barely able to support his long-time girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard). Desperate to reverse his fortune, Kenny travels to Indonesia and connects with geologist Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), who harbours unproven theories about rich gold deposits deep in the Indonesian jungle.

Kenny and his coterie of similarly luckless penny stock promoters work the phones and raise enough cash to get Acosta's drilling operations up and running. No gold is found in the early samples and Kenny contracts malaria in the Indonesian jungle. With the money about to run out, the analysis lab starts to report rich gold content from the latest core samples. Kenny and Michael find themselves sitting on the biggest gold find in decades. Kenny's life is turned upside down, but profiteers in the form of bankers, large mining companies and the Indonesian government soon move in.

Inspired by the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction Bre-X scandal, Gold has a humdinger of a story to work with. And in Kenny Wells, the film finds a unique perspective, a prematurely aging, overweight, sweaty sad man with failure labelled on his receding hairline but still hoping for that life changing gold discovery. The front end of the film hums on the fuel of Wells edging ever nearer to the cliff of abject failure, having lost his father's business, reduced to making phone calls out of a bar and gambling everything on a final Hail Mary play to reverse his fortune.

But as directed by Stephen Gaghan, Gold becomes strangely subdued and loses momentum in its second half. As the drama shifts from the last-roll-of-the-dice rigours of prospecting to dealing with the aftermath of a massive gold find, the film suffers by sticking too closely with Wells. Rightfully or not, the global ripple effects of a multi-billion dollar gold strike become much bigger than one man, and the film sidelines itself by narrowly focusing on a small hustler who is now a misfit in a much larger game. Kenny does matter, but he matters a lot less when the big players move in and the entire mining sector is shaken to its foundations.

This does not stop McConaughey from delivering a committed performance, nailing the bug-eyed desperation of a small-time operator whose very survival depends on fake confidence. The supporting cast includes small roles for Bruce Greenwood, Craig T. Nelson and Stacy Keach.

Gold has decent sprinklings of stuff that glitters, but misses the motherlode.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Movie Review: Love Affair (1939)

A classic romantic drama, Love Story is brilliantly crafted and elegantly delivered with restrained passion.

Celebrated international playboy Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) meets American aspiring singer Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic. Despite both being in relationships with other people, they cannot help but fall in love. During a stop at the island of Madeira they visit Michel's elderly grandmother Janou (Maria Ouspenskaya). She reveals that Michel is a talented painter lacking the motivation to dedicate himself to his craft.

On the approach to New York City, Terry and Michel arrange to meet again six months later at the top of the Empire State Building if they succeed in settling their affairs and launching their careers. Both break off their prior relationships, Michel works hard to start painting again and Terry proves herself a successful singer. But on the appointed date and at the agreed-upon time, destiny has a surprise for the seemingly perfect couple.

Directed by Leo McCarey, Love Story has stood the test of time remarkably well. A great deal of credit goes to the idyllic and timeless story of two people finding each other while literally drifting through life, but McCarey makes it all work by tuning down melodrama in favour of pragmatism. The film avoids lingering in one place or overplaying any one moment. For all the romance on display, the story concludes in a brisk 87 minutes, with the power derived from the strength of attraction rather than any sense of inflated sentiment.

Using essentially the same script, McCarey remade his own film as An Affair To Remember in 1957 with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The remake is glossier, but also loses Boyer's international charm while unnecessarily inflating the running time to nearly two hours.

Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer are perfectly matched, and both bring a mischievous glint to the proceedings. On the confined yet artificially secluded boat, they are adults alone but attached, and afforded the freedom to flirt. The relationship pull is presented with warmth and recognizable realism. The unexpected highlight of the evolving romance occurs during the Madeira interlude with grandmother Janou, one of those serendipitous moments in cinema, transcending the screen to achieve an ethereal quality with Maria Ouspenskaya sprinkling the magic dust.

Back in New York the action moves swiftly as they separate to sort out their emotions and lives, McCarey wisely aware that the strength of the film resides when his couple are in close orbits.

Love Affair reaches a quite magnificent climax, Michel and Terry succumbing to the forces of destiny despite strong side winds. Boyer and Dunne rise to peaks of performance in a final scene where the words being spoken hide the genuine conversation underneath, until Boyer pulls off a shattering moment of realization.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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