The Cinema Cafe

Serving Cinema's Tastiest Treasures

21st Century Treasure Quest #10

 

Our contributor Renard N. Bansale has completed 10 more contemporary film reviews for your consideration. The rating system he'll use is devised primarily to give those who are trying to decide which films to see, a fun and easy way of (hopefully) choosing a more pleasurable movie-going experience. For a more thorough introduction to this series please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #1. (A.G.)

 

The Ratings

1 chest: Definitely worth missing
2 chests: Okay to kill some time
3 chests: Not a complete success, but rewarding
4 chests: Well-crafted, creative and memorable
5 chests: A real treasure, deep, profound and original

 

 

Buddies in India (2017—Director: Wang Baoquiang)

Chinese actor Wang Baoquing makes his directorial debut approaching this unique cultural subject with raw enthusiasm. These traits cannot, however, begin to substitute for this unsophisticated, over-the-top action adventure comedy, riddled with cheap special effects and shoddy editing that results in discontinuity, not to mention the incongruous English subtitles or dialogue. 

 

 

 

The Bye Bye Man (2017—Director: Stacy Title)

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There’s little substance to this adaptation of 'The Bridge to Body Island' (a chapter from Robert Damon Schneck's novel The President's Vampire) presenting itself as a cut-rate It Follows from 2015, which would make this offering hardly worth recommending. There is, however, strong redemption from the smooth, spectral, and bold cinematography of James Kniest (Annabelle, Hush). Bye Bye Man could have gone forgettably “bye bye” along with the other cinematic horror dross of 2017, if not for Kniest who has single-handedly elevated this to a more respectable tier of modern horror cinema. 

 

 

 

A Dog's Purpose (2017—Director: Lasse Hallström)

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This delightful adaptation of the 2010 novel of the same name by American humorist, and co-screenwriter, W. Bruce Cameron, hearkens back to the heartfelt, old-fashioned, and family-friendly bygone days of Hollywood storytelling. Director Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules, The Hundred-Foot Journey) effortlessly guides the journey allowing neither the cuteness of the canine (voice of Josh Gad) or the mature themes surrounding his various human companions, overwhelm each other. Neither do these elements dilute the undeniably poignant lessons the audience will surely take to heart afterwards.

 

 

 

I am Jane Doe (2017—Director: Mary Mazzio)

Documentarian Mary Mazzio takes a direct and informational route in laying the background for the ongoing fight against illegal sex trafficking perpetuated by the online classifieds site Backpage.com. In covering a legal timeline too extensive for its 82-minute length, several interviews exhibit rough sound editing when transitioning between them. Composers Alex Lasarenko and David Little have furnished a heavily emotional score over portions covering the documentary's three main victims, whereas a subdued approach would have been more dramatically effective in allowing the girls' testimonies to speak for themselves. Still, the issue Ms. Mazzio's documentary presents is undeniably relevant, informative, and posits broader implications concerning humanitarian justice and society’s values especially in our advanced age of the Internet.

 

 

 

Kung Fu Yoga (2017—Director: Stanley Tong)

Despite having reached his autumn years, Jackie Chan (along with writer-director and longtime collaborator Stanley Tong) never fails to bring a smile to action fans with his peerless fighting and stunt choreography, seamlessly combining dramatic force with invigorating slapstick, even when the surrounding plot material demonstrably lacks his immeasurable finesse. Such is the case with this enjoyable but throwaway action-adventure comedy mashup of some lesser Indiana Jones and National Treasure 2 plot devices, with a car chase from a Fast & Furious installment tossed in for good measure.

 

 

 

Monster Trucks (2017—Director: Chris Wedge)

Director Chris Wedge (Ice Age), makes a confident transition from animated to live-action features, perhaps too confident, as the results here seem heavy-handed. Despite a competent lead turn by Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class, Television’s MacGyver) and workable special effects to bring the unattractive but cuddly monsters to life, what could have been a charming youth-bonding family adventure keeps pumping the gas and floods the engine. 

 

 

 

Rings (2017—Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez)

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As one who admires the original 1998 Japanese psychological horror film, this third instalment of the American franchise first inspired by Kôji Suzuki's 1991 novel, severely disappoints in comparison, indulging in some of the worst series of cheap jump scares this critic has witnessed. Director F. Javier Gutiérrez presents a curiously innovative take on this otherwise familiar horror lore of a professor farming the effects of the cursed video to his students, only to later discard this preferred story element in favor of a predictable small-town sleuthing expedition conducted by the lifeless lead couple (Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe).

 

 

 

Sleepless (2017—Director: Baran Bo Odar)

Director Baran Bo Odar (Who Am I: No System Is Safe) often relies on standard genre cliches and plot contrivances in remaking the 2011 French-language action-thriller Nuit Blanche in his first English-language outing. Nevertheless, he manages to trim most of the narrative filler that exists in other films of this nature. Additionally, director Odar together with screenwriter Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) effectively substantiates and builds character identification by limiting the last two-thirds of the story to one evening at a large casino resort. This single-setting additionally provides the narrative with stronger dynamics and impressions. The result is a distinctive and enjoyable action sampling with a tempting re-watchability factor.

 

 

 

The Space Between Us (2017—Director: Peter Chelsom)

A romantic science fiction adventure that starts off with both an intriguing concept and the promise of its strong execution, sadly deteriorates just like the physical body of lead character Gardner (played by a stiff Asa Butterfield). Allan Loeb’s (Things We Lost in the Fire, Collateral Beauty) screenplay languished in developmental hell for nearly two decades before being resuscitated. Director Peter Chelsom (Hector & the Search for Happiness) fails to capitalize on the story's potential and generate any emotional depth, resulting in a laborious middle act that eventually overruns and causes the film’s entirety to crash and burn into a heap of melting cheesy melodrama. 

 

 

 

Split (2017—Director: M. Night Shyamalan)

Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, The Visit) seems to have recaptured box office success, but his filmmaking ability could still incorporate a bit more restraint, balance, and refinement. He deserves recognition for permitting lead star James McAvoy to command the screen with his take on two dozen distinct personalities, spanning various ages, genders, habits, and demeanors. On the other hand, McAvoy's ostentatious performance(s), coupled with Shyamalan's off-kilter shooting and editing style, significantly detracts from the dramatic impact and individuality of the trio he kidnaps, especially 2016’s breakout star Anya Taylor-Joy’s lead female victim.

 

R.N.B.

"Now Listen to Me..."

 

 

Just some thoughts on current happenings: 

 

There are 16 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:

 

Umberto D. is a previous TCM recommendation here. Carlo Battisti provides a heart-wrenching portrayal of a Government pensioner in Rome as he desperately struggles to survive his impoverished circumstances. Director Vittorio De Sica's humanity will shine on Umberto and his endearing friends Wednesday, March 1 at 3:15pm PST.

 

 

 

 

 

Occasionally, there is debate among aficionados as to whether or not Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo deserves to be in the film noir lexicon. 

James Stewart, Kim Novak

James Stewart, Kim Novak

There is a substantial criminal element, the film was released during noir's classic time period (1958), and a deeply probative exploration into the central character's psychology remains the filmmakers' focus, an individual we witness becoming increasingly unhinged and out of his depth as his investigation continues. All of these factors point to this film's inclusion. The criminal element is, however, not revealed until the end of the story, the main character's thoughts and behaviour and the mystery surrounding his person of interest are both exclusively tied to a romantic obsession throughout, even at this motion picture's spellbinding conclusion, which for myself, rules it out as film noir. Either way, Vertigo is one hell of a ride, loaded with multi-faceted insights and hidden ruminations on human relationships, providing viewers with much to ponder long after this immersive tale ends. Previously written about at length in Opening Up a Treasure: Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock's most profound and hypnotic work will be revealed also on Wednesday, March 1 at 7pm PST.    

 

 

 

 

 

A criminal's mother-fixated pathology and the undercover cop trying to catch him are the topics of an undisputed film noir, White Heat, a previous recommendation here. TCM's screen will heat up Thursday, March 2 (technically Friday morning) at 2:45 am PST and again Tuesday, March 21 (late evening) at 12:30am PST. 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Loden

Barbara Loden

Barbara Loden's critically acclaimed directorial debut Wanda, is Hidden Gem #29, and a previous TCM recommendation here. Her tragic but compelling journey will take place Wednesday, March 8 at 9:30am PST.

 

 

 

 

My next TCM recommendation is 1955's modern-day take on the American Western, Bad Day at Black Rock.

Andre Previn’s aggressive fanfare accompanies a train thundering through the desert. For the first time in 4 years it stops at the small town of Black Rock. A one-armed WWII veteran, John J. Macreedy (played with a persistent, quiet intractability by Spencer Tracy) is its sole departing passenger dressed in the town’s titular colour, appropriate for the “bad day” his visit there will bring about. Fear, hostility and the reminder of a dark and deadly secret will be the order of this fateful day. 

 

Macreedy’s presence alone is enough to send the townsfolk into a panic, particularly their leader, Reno Smith (a seething, practically blood spitting Robert Ryan) who stands to lose the most if Macreedy discovers what really happened to the Japanese-American farmer Komoko he’s there to visit. The actions Reno and his henchmen (a distinctively nasty duo played by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) will take to quell Macreedy's investigation and later end his life altogether, provide the basis for this tightly constructed, enormously suspenseful film filled with unique, detailed, and absorbing characters and situations, choice dialogue and purposeful use of the Cinemascope canvas. 

 

Looking deeper, one can find a separate unification of time, place, and action each of which opposes one man, who will single-handedly (quite literally here) try to put asunder. Bad Day at Black Rock provides an insightful morality lesson on complacency (most clearly represented by veteran actors Walter Brennan as Doc Velie with his conflicted conscious and Dean Jagger as the town’s Sheriff who’s drowning his guilt in alcohol), capable of enveloping those who otherwise wouldn’t have a bar of the extremely hateful actions their fellow residents have committed. There’s also a reminder as to just how much bigotry can account for man’s most heinous crimes and spread like a virus infecting everyone in its path. The passing of time and the chief instigator’s power and influence over others who might have stood up for what is right, are exacerbating factors explored here as well.

(In foreground from left) Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine

(In foreground from left) Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine

Anne Francis

Anne Francis

The more than capable direction of John Sturges secures stellar performances from his entire cast including the one female part given a set of feisty and unpredictable characteristics by Anne Francis.   

 

   

This tense as a coiled rattlesnake and explosively proficient as a Molotov cocktail film has the added proverbial bonus of providing a banquet of “food for thought”. The streamliner will stop at the TCM station Friday, March 10 at 10:15am PST. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next is Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country. The famous director's love for his characters and the Western frontier they inhabit greatly enriches this compelling tale (metaphorically suggested by the film's title) of moral redemption. The casting is inspired, not only of the actors but the technical crew as well. This is Top Ten Western #4, previously reviewed here and will ride into TCM Saturday, March 11 at 3pm PST.

(From left) Randolph Scott, Ron Starr, Joel McCrea

(From left) Randolph Scott, Ron Starr, Joel McCrea

 

 

 

 

Before 2 detectives wound up with a bunch of stolen money in Private Hell 36, or Flashpoint’s 2 Border guards found even more loot in a buried jeep, and a couple of brothers stumbled across millions in A Simple Plan’s crashed plane, not to mention the married hunter who discovered a ton of cash from a drug deal gone wrong in No Country for Old Men, there was 1949’s tale of a typical middle-class couple who while driving one fateful evening on a rather unpopulated L.A. road, had a bag full of blackmail money mistakenly thrown into their convertible in one of film’s noirest of noir’s, Too Late for Tears

Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy

Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy

Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea

Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea

This alluring premise ups the engagement ante, immediately increasing character identification by asking “what would you do” if you found yourself in one of these character’s newly discovered wealth of cinematic shoes. This, and the reassurance of knowing that whatever crime resulted in one’s sudden financial gains had nothing to do with us… (so far that is), makes it kind of hard not to root for our recipient’s success at keeping the swag. Well, in Too Late for Tears it’s never too late for greed to subsume Lizabeth Scott’s Jane Palmer as we look on astonished to witness her transgress from a seemingly content American housewife to a treacherous, money obsessed femme-fatale. Scott, the reigning queen of noir was a terrific reactionary actress: The more filmmakers’ dramatically embellished her situations the more they suited Scott’s classically assertive approach to characterisation. Here, the template couldn’t be better, allowing her to bask in glorious obstinacy. Her feisty aggressiveness enraptures the viewer as she convincingly dominates one male adversary after another, while managing to barb her way out of noir’s hairiest predicaments, quite a feat when one of her foremost opponents, the dough’s intended beneficiary, is noir’s devious and slimiest of slime buckets indubitably played by Dan Duryea. 

 

Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy

Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy

The great Arthur Kennedy portrays her husband Alan Palmer, another victim of Scott’s ruthlessness. Kennedy is an actor who always excels at conveying earnest outrage emanating from the most emphatic of anxious worriers. There’s also Kristine Miller as Alan’s sister, an actress equally adept at communicating her ever growing suspicions over her sister-in-law’s truthfulness and Don DeFore’s persuasive inquisitor who’s not above some grand deceptions of his own in getting to the truth behind Alan’s sudden disappearance.

 

(From left) Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Kristine Miller

(From left) Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Kristine Miller

Byron Haskin (Scott’s previous director from noir’s I Walk Alone) assuredly helmed Roy Huggins’ wildly engaging screenplay based on his Saturday Evening Post serial. This madly character-driven vehicle will careen down a curvy road and crash-land in noir’s archetypally bleak but delectably satisfying fashion on TCM Wednesday, March 15 (early morning) at 4:30am PST. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan

Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan

Later that same Wednesday afternoon Barbara Stanwyck stars as Lizabeth Scott's opposite kind of wife, devoted to saving her husband played by Barry Sullivan, but equally determined to combat killer Ralph Meeker in order to do so, in the previously recommended (here) noir, 1953's Jeopardy. This life or death struggle will commence Wednesday, March 15 at 2pm PST. 

 

 

 

 

 

Rarely does an atmosphere of such overpowering dread subsume a cinematic story so completely as it does 1943's The Seventh Victim.

Jean Brooks

Jean Brooks

Kim Hunter, Lou Lubin

Kim Hunter, Lou Lubin

A young woman (portrayed as a fetching innocent by Kim Hunter) goes searching for her missing sister (enigmatically played by Jean Brooks) in New York City's Greenwich Village and stumbles upon a satanic cult of devil worshipers putting both of their lives at risk. Mark Robson, who directed a number of these Val Lewton produced gems is himself at the peak of his considerable creative powers. This devilishly striking combination of horror and film noir was a previous TCM recommendation and reviewed here. The fate of both sisters will be determined (updated) Monday, March 20 (early morning) at 4:15am PST. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Ford's most expressively emotional western, The Searchers, previously reviewed here is Top Ten Western #2 and is as likely as any film to provide one with a truly unforgettable, rich and rewarding movie watching experience. The journey will begin Monday, March 20 at 11am PST.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also playing Monday, March 20th is a highly expressionistic Grimm-like fable, that appears as if conveyed from a child's point of view. This "fairytale noir" as Film Noir expert Eddie Muller calls it, was reviewed in Opening Up a Treasure: The Night of the Hunter and will be told Monday, March 20 at 9pm PST.

 

 

 

 

 

Another American cinematic treasure, Double Indemnity stands at the top of noir's hierarchy. Like the preceding TCM recommendation, it has been described as such in Opening Up a Treasure: Double Indemnity. One can "cash in their policy" Tuesday, March 21 at 5pm PST. 

 

 

 

 

 

How a Brit managed to so precisely execute such an authentic and impactful film arising from a distinctly American crime milieu, is practically incomprehensible. Director John Boorman has, however, delivered with the precision of his film's title that and more in 1967's Point Blank, a neo-noir masterpiece fortified with style and driven by purpose.

Lee Marvin, Sharon Acker

Lee Marvin, Sharon Acker

The later made Terminator films have nothing on Lee Marvin's 'cold as a frozen corpse' Walker, a machine-like man on a mission, unstoppable as he struts through LAX possessed with unbridled vengeance. It's also quite ironic that despite Walker's hardened resolve, the considerable threat he poses, generous amount of punishment he dishes out, and the high body count he seems responsible for, Walker doesn't directly kill anyone in the entire picture. "Was it a dream?" You be the judge when Point Blank (first acclaimed here) hits Tuesday, March 21 at 10:30pm PST.  

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Basehart, Audrey Totter

Richard Basehart, Audrey Totter

Another of film noir's most satisfying sensations is provided by Tension, a prior TCM recommendation here and can be felt Sunday, March 26 at 7am PST. As an added bonus it will be introduced by the "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller as part of his ongoing series 'Noir Alley'. For more information on 'Noir Alley' click here.

 

 

 

 

Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake

Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake

Later that same Sunday is Preston Sturges' comedy classic Sullivan's Travels, this time a previous Blu-ray selection here. The journey will begin Sunday, March 26 at 11:15am PST.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The multi-talented Gordon Parks made his directorial debut at age 57 with 1969's The Learning Tree based on his semi-autobiographical novel of the same name.

(From left) Kyle Johnson, Alex Clarke

(From left) Kyle Johnson, Alex Clarke

This touching coming of age story was previously lauded, along with its creator Parks, in an article entitled: Exploring the Artifacts #5: The Alchemist. Included are some clips of Parks' music compositions for The Learning Tree and Shaft's Big ScoreThe Learning Tree can be studied Thursday, March 30 at 7pm PST.

TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right-hand corner of TCM's programme.

 

 

 

 

 

This month's Happy Birthday shout-out goes to the lovely and talented Swedish actress May Britt who turns 83 on March 22nd.

She was discovered by producer Carlo Ponti and director Mario Soldati. After acting in some rather undistinguished Italian films, May was signed by 20th Century Fox and came to Hollywood. There, she appeared in King Vidor's War and Peace, Edward Dmytryk's The Young Lions (probably her best known role effectively holding her own with Marlon Brando), Dick Powell's The Hunters, Dmytryk's remake of The Blue Angel (1959), Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg's Murder, Inc., and her final motion picture role in 1977, Herb Freed's Haunts, these last three films for which she played the leading female part. May was also known for her marriage to Sammy Davis Jr. from 1960 - 1968.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March's Soundtrack recommendation is to The Lighthorsemen composed by one of Australia's finest composers, Mario Millo.

Millo's thunderously thematic large-scale orchestral film score is widely considered to be one of his country's greatest. This soundtrack was previously released on compact disc by 1M1 Records in 1991 but is long out-of-print. Dragon’s Domain Records has brought this amazing score back in a newly remastered but extremely limited fashion (only 1000 units). It is currently available from Intrada Records. For more information including international ordering, simply click on the image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This month's Blu-ray recommendation is to the above reviewed Bad Day at Black Rock, recently made available on a region-free disc from Warner Archive and can be ordered from Amazon U.S. by clicking on the image.

 

 

 

 

A.G.

"Now Listen to Me..."

Just some thoughts on current happenings: 

Read More

End Credits #59: Cinema's 2016 Lost Treasures Montage Part 2

Some of Cinema's 2016 Lost Treasures. The music by Ennio Morricone is from the TV Mini Series Il principe del deserto.

(A link to Part 1 is here).

21st Century Treasure Quest #9

Our contributor Renard N. Bansale has completed 10 more contemporary film reviews for your consideration. The rating system he'll use is devised primarily to give those who are trying to decide which films to see, a fun and easy way of (hopefully) choosing a more pleasurable movie-going experience. For a more thorough introduction to this series please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #1. (A.G.)

Read More

End Credits #57: Cinema's 2016 Lost Treasures Montage Part 1

Some of Cinema's 2016 Lost Treasures. The music by John Barry is from the film Walkabout.

(A link to Part 2 is here).

Treasure Trivia: Quiz #7

Treasure Trivia:

The Cinema Cafe has a chat room on Facebook that readers are welcome to join here. On Mondays, we have a movie trivia game called "Match-up Mondays" where the object is to name the common denominator between all of the films pictured and also correctly identify them. 

Like Quiz #6, there is a commonality between the films depicted here, but this time, instead of the characters having something in common it is one of the scenes in each of the films represented below.  Can you name the films shown and what each of their scenes has in common? Feel free to use all resources that are available. The first person to complete the answers here will win their choice between a Region 4 (Australia) DVD of Top Ten Guilty Treasure Let It Ride or the Michael Curtiz/Elvis Presley film King Creole, neither of which are presently available on Blu-ray.  

#Edit: On closer inspection, it's been discovered that the selected scene from The Getaway (previously #4) does not actually occur at the same type of location as the others. It has therefore been replaced by another film that does fit the criteria and an additional film has been added bringing the total to 6.   

 

Here are the (now) 6 films (Good luck!):

 

 

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

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5.

 

6.

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