Bad Therapy (2020)

Bad Therapy

Aka Judy Small. I want a break from all the drudgery. I want my life to expand. Nature TV editor Bob Howard (Rob Corddry) and his realtor wife Susan (Alicia Silverstone) are enduring some financial issues. It’s her second marriage and she has a daughter Louise (Anna Pniowsky) from her first marriage which ended with her husband’s accidental death. They see marriage counselor, Judy Small (Michaela Watkins) to improve their relationship. However, Judy’s insistence that all three of the family see her separately reveals dark impulses that will bring Bob and Susan’s marriage to the breaking point as she manipulates them into losing trust in each other. And Judy’s former colleagues have discovered that she is practising two years after being barred due to the suicide of a client and what’s that mannequin she talks to in a back room?…  It was an unfortunate instance of counter-transference enactment. Nancy Doyne adapts her novel Judy Small with the tone shifting unevenly from comedy to thriller and back, an unsettling portrait of what therapists can do to their clients and a worrying insight into how the industry is governed (David Paymer ends up at the bottom of a staircase and not in a good way). Ironically while this film enjoys pushing its protagonists’ buttons it doesn’t sensibly explain the reason for the chaos caused by this disturbed psycho(therapist) and the fact that the couple continues seeing her makes it a little silly. The women are terrific in this throwback yuppies in peril-style thriller. Directed by William Teitler. Let me help you now

White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd (1991) (TVM)

White_Hot_The_Mysterious_Murder_of_Thelma_Todd

Just what this town needed – another gorgeous skinny dumb blonde. Los Angeles, 1935. When beautiful movie star Thelma Todd (Loni Anderson) is found dead in her car at the age of 29 it’s initially put down to suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning but Assistant DA Louis Marsden (Scott Paulin) hears her distraught mother Alice (Lois Smith) screaming, For God’s sake, what’s the matter with you? Don’t you know a murder when you see one? He pursues it with the supposed help of the DA in Los Angeles Buron Fitts (Dakin Matthews) and questions the people in Thelma’s life, putting together a picture of her as an actress but also the proprietress of Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe at the beach where all Hollywood society likes to dine and which might hold the clues to her violent demise. He unspools stories that eventually reveal her ex Pat DiCicco (John O’Hurley) drove her into the arms of notorious Mafioso Lucky Luciano (Robert Davi) who wanted to use a room at her restaurant as a casino to blackmail the studio heads …… I want to buy you everything you ever wanted. A Rashomon-like approach to this Hollywood biopic pays dividends in this adaptation of the book Hot Toddy by Andy Edmonds, as Matthews pursues witnesses to a likely murder. As he questions her one-time married boyfriend Roland West (Lawrence Pressman) and business partner whose wife is putting up the money for their joint venture in a restaurant; Thelma’s mother; her movie sidekick Patsy Kelly (Maryedith Burrell); her ex-husband DiCicco (The Glamour Boy of Hollywood as this putative gangster associate and cousin of James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli was known); and Lucky Luciano’s henchman – we get a ripe picture of movie town and all the power players, locating the real people behind the silver screen at a time when the Mafia had most of the studios by the short and curlies via the unions. Smith gets some pearls to deliver as Thelma’s mother, a woman who finally shuts up when she realises the DA’s office is putting together the real story and her life could be at stake too. Todd is a name that’s little remembered now but she was a brilliant comedienne, enjoyed stardom (known as The Ice Cream Blonde) and as well as a lot of Hal Roach (played here by Paul Dooley) comedies (particularly with Queen of Wisecracks Kelly) she played opposite the Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers. Anderson might be a tad old for the role but it’s a spirited performance of a woman who apparently barely slept, surviving on a cocktail of diet drugs, uppers and champagne, high on life and longing for true love, eventually stepping way out of her league. It’s a loose interpretation of what is known, but it’s beautifully shot by Chuck Arnold with fantastic set design by Donald Lee Harris and Lee Vail, with simply gorgeous costumes for Anderson by Heidi Kaczenski (apparently most of the clothes were leftovers from The Untouchables, designed by Giorgio Armani). There’s a period-type score composed by Mark Snow, adding to the atmosphere of this impressive TV movie, directed by veteran Paul Wendkos. Adapted by Robert E. Thompson and Lindsay Harrison. Look out for an uncredited Ann Turkel as Gloria Swanson – coincidentally, Turkel’s mother’s name is Thelma!  Incredibly, this was broadcast as a double feature with Anderson doing headlining duty in The Jayne Mansfield Story too.  I understand the only basic law of human nature – love talks, money walks

 

Hell Bent for Leather (1960)

Hell Bent For Leather

I used to love this country but now it seems so ugly.  Horse dealer Clay Santell (Audie Murphy) has his horse stolen where he’s camping in the hills and the culprit drops his ornate rifle when Clay shoots at him. Clay stops in the town of Sutterville. He is mistakenly identified by townspeople for a murderer named Travers (Jan Merlin) because of the gun he’s carrying, and is handed over to Marshal Harry Deckett (Stephen McNally) who wants to return him to Colorado for a jury trial. Deckett knows the truth but decides to kill Clay and pass him off as the real Travers to enhance his reputation and collect the reward money. Clay escapes and takes mother of seven Janet Gifford (Felicia Farr) hostage until he can prove his innocence. She knows the hills and after they arrive at the way station where she grew up a wounded man Ambrose (Robert Middleton) and his two brothers, who are his thieving accomplices show up in a rainstorm … How far do you think you can run? Adapted by Christopher Knopf from Ray Morgan’s novel Outlaw Marshal, this is a stunning looking wrong man pursuit western, shot by Clifford Stine in Widescreen and Technicolor in and around Lone Pine, CA. and the first of seven low budget productions Murphy made in collaboration with producer Gordon Kay. The template of three major characters in single locations kept the films profitable and this is tautly constructed, exceptionally well characterised (Farr has a decent backstory) and makes great use of the setting with intense use of shadows paying off in this morality tale. The sonorous score is by Irving Gertz and William Lava. Directed by George Sherman, this is one of Audie’s best. All you had in mind was glorifying yourself

 

The End of the Affair (1955)

The End of the Affair 1955

Trust is a variable quality. London during World War 2. Novelist Maurice Bendrix (Van Johnson) meets Sarah Miles (Deborah Kerr) the wife of civil servant Henry Miles (Peter Cushing) at their sherry party. He is asking Henry for information to help with his next book. Maurice is intrigued by Sarah after he sees her kissing another man. They become lovers that night at his hotel. After his rooms are bombed when they are together there, she ends their relationship and he suffers from the delayed shock from the bombing and from her ending the affair. After their break-up and the end of the war, Bendrix encounters Henry, who invites him for a drink at his home, especially since Sarah is out.  Henry confides that he suspects Sarah is unfaithful and has looked into engaging a private investigator, but then decides against it. Sarah returns home before Bendrix leaves and is curt with him. Bendrix follows through with hiring a private detective agency on his own account. They come across information which suggests that Sarah is being unfaithful, which Bendrix shares with Henry in revenge. Bendrix then obtains Sarah’s diary via the private investigator Albert Parkis (John Mills) which reveals that Sarah is not having an affair and that she promised God to give Bendrix up if he was spared death in the bombing. Then they meet again … I’ve learned that you must pray like you make love – with everything you have. A deeply felt narrative revolving around love, sex and religious belief sounds like a melodramatic quagmire but Lenore Coffee’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1951 semi-autobiographical novel is a rich textured work with impressive performances by the entire cast. Kerr and Johnson might be perceived to be something of a mismatch but that’s the point of the story:  he is fated to forever misunderstand her and as he tries to navigate his way through her complex emotions and her deals with God, he responds with just one emotion – jealousy. His unruly misunderstanding in a world of good manners and looking the other way means he flails hopelessly while we are then persuaded of her beliefs via her diary, the contents of which dominate the film’s second half, leading him to regret his desire for revenge. Love doesn’t end just because we don’t see each other. The ensemble is well presented and their individual big moments are sketches of superb characterisation, Mills’ pride in his snooping a particular highlight. It’s extraordinarily well done, very touching and filled with moments of truth which never fail to hit home in a story that is cunningly managed and beautifully tempered with empathy. Kerr is simply great. Directed by Edward Dmytryk. The ‘not done’ things are done every day. I’ve done most of them myself

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

The Eiger Sanction

Why am I the only one that can perform the sanction? Art professor and collector Dr. Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) a retired assassin for C2 a secret Government organisation run by albino Dragon (Thayer David), is blackmailed into returning to his deadly profession and do one more ‘sanction,’ a euphemism for killing. Duped by C2 operative Jemima Brown (Vonetta McGee), he agrees to join an international climbing team in Switzerland planning an ascent north face of the Eiger Mountain in order to complete a second sanction to avenge the murder of old friend, Wormwood aka Henri Baq who fought with him in the Green Berets back in Indochina.  He trains with another friend from his climbing days, Ben Bowman (George Kennedy) who runs a school in the desert where another Indochina ally, flamboyant gay hit man Miles Mellough (Jack Cassidy) turns up and tries to kill Hemlock. Ben is leading the Eiger team and when Hemlock is tracking the killer, he finds himself on a treacherous mountain passage, unable to identify his target … You’re getting religion a little late. A barmy enterprise for Clint Eastwood to star in and direct but not without its consolations – a deal of wit; awesome photography (by Frank Stanley) of the locations in Monument Valley, the southwest and Switzerland; and terrific characterisation – but that all depends on caricature, homophobia and race stereotyping typical of the era.  So it goes in a text that was fatally misunderstood:  the novel on which it was based by the pseudonymous ‘Trevanian’ was a spoof – and in a later book he called it ‘vapid’ in a footnote! Eastwood did his own stunts, training for months and it is actually astonishing to see a star of his magnitude defying death at such extreme heights. One of the experienced mountaineers employed on the team wasn’t so fortunate:  British climber David Knowles died on the second day of filming in what was a very dangerous shoot. It’s good to see Kennedy and Eastwood working together again after Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and the romance with blaxploitation star McGee is certainly progressive but it’s Cassidy as the unbelievably dangerous cissy who steals the show in an unforgettable performance. Adapted by Trevanian (actually film scholar Rodney Whitaker) and mystery novelist Warren Murphy. Wish-fulfilment writ large, this is a lot of stylish fun. Here’s to the selfish killer and patriotic whore

Bad Education (2019)

Bad Education

You were always the guy in the suits. Long Island, New York, 2002. Dr. Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) is the superintendent of Roslyn School District which oversees Roslyn High School. Frank, along with his assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) have overseen major improvements in the district, with Roslyn becoming the 4th ranked public school in the country under their watch. This in turn stimulates the local economy, reaping rewards for school board head and real estate broker Bob Spicer (Ray Romano). Frank is beloved by students and parents alike, and sought after by women; Frank claims to have lost his wife several years ago, but is in fact gay, living with Tom Tuggiero (Stephen Spinella) in NYC. While attending a conference in Las Vegas, Frank begins an affair with former student Kyle Contreras (Rafeal Casal) who has given up his dream of writing sci fi for waiting tables and dancing. While writing an article for the Roslyn school paper about an $8m sky bridge the school is planning to construct, student reporter Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) begins to discover discrepancies in the district’s finances. Unbeknownst to anyone at the school, Frank and Pam are co-conspirators in a massive embezzlement scheme that has cost millions of taxpayer dollars and her steady research leads all the way to the top and when Frank gives up Pam there will be hell to pay ... We come in here at the crack of dawn because we’re good people.  We want you to have a good life. Adapted from Bad Superintendent, a story by Robert Kolker in New York magazine by Mike Makowsky, who was a middle school student in that school district when Tassone was arrested for grand larceny.  Viswanathan isn’t a particularly interesting performer but she does what all journalists have done since watching All the President’s Men – she follows the money. It’s dogged old-school reporting stuff, looking at purchase orders, not finding receipts and then questioning everyone concerned.  It’s fun to see those moments with her doubtful student paper editor Nick Fleischman (Alex Wolff) doing a junior Ben Bradlee. The moment one hour in where she finds the so-called offices of the school’s pamphlet producer and realises it’s Tassone’s plush apartment where he’s co-habiting with a man is brilliantly done – capped when Tassone arrives and sees her desperate to leave the building. Jackman is superb as a charismatic man with many secrets, utilising his ability to psychoanalyse everyone around him to get the better of them since he seems to care so much about them. For the longest time we don’t even know the extent of his involvement as information is drip fed slowly through the narrative. His vanity is reflected in the scenes with him attending to his cosmetic routine, culminating in surgery. Jackman finds ways to plumb the breadth of the character and elicit empathy, stealing our hearts as easily as expensing first class flights to London with his boyfriend and deflecting come-ons from women in the parents’ association book club. Janney is superb in a chewy role – able to talk her way out of trouble, trying to buy her children’s affections even when her son is a total loser and ultimately choosing the path of revenge. Erring more on the dramatic rather than the comedic side of genre, this gives a rare insight into white collar crime – the quotidian corruption that afflicts cosy cartels running public bodies leading to those occasional stupefying headlines when you see something has gone bust yet all the admin people are living high on the hog while their workplaces are falling apart with damp. The sidebars about food intake, digestive issues, cosmetics, clothes, jewellery, pushy parenting and spoiling wrong ‘uns are well judged subplots amplifying the drudgery of the teaching environment and the desire to rise above the mere plebs. It’s wordy, it’s smart, it’s filled with people covering their asses and it’s called the ring of truth. Directed by Cory Finley. I am not the sociopath here

Home to Danger (1951)

Home to Danger

I never suspect anything, Sir. Barbara Cummings (Rona Anderson) returns to Britain following the death of her estranged, wealthy father who is believed to have committed suicide. It is expected that the bulk of the estate will pass to his business partner Hughes (Alan Wheatley). However, when the will is read out and she is reunited with her childhood sweetheart novelist Robert (Guy Rolfe) she is given most of the money as a gesture of reconciliation by her father. She clings to her belief that he did not kill himself and investigates the circumstances of his death. Before long, plots are being hatched to kill her and she is followed to her country house by Lips Leonard (Peter Jones) whose murder at the property leads Barbara and Robert to the backstreets of London and a drugs deal that implicates Hughes with Jimmy-the-One (Dennis Harkin) leading them to where it’s all at … Is this a new version of our old game? Probably of most interest nowadays for Stanley Baker’s early performance as a kind of wild-eyed half-wit called Willie Dougan who of course knows more than anyone realises, although for myself I’ll go a long way to see Peter Jones lurking in the undergrowth. This is a neatly constructed and well-performed programmer destined for the lower half of a double bill. The drug-oriented content is a surprise but this was becoming a social problem and is clearly demarcated in a city milieu. It features the final performance by Francis Lister who plays a murderous children’s home proprietor. Written by Ian Stuart Black  from an original screen story by Francis Edge and John Temple-Smith. Produced by Lance Comfort at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith with a score by Malcolm Arnold and it’s shot by Reginald Wyer. Directed by Terence Fisher. You never know where you are with a dope

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2019)

What She Said The Art of Pauline Kael

People don’t tend to like a good critic. They tend to hate your guts. Film critic Pauline Kael had an unimaginable influence in the world of thumbs up, thumbs down reviewing and accumulated acolytes and rivals as she cultivated what she believed was an expressive art form. She was a failed playwright from California who moved to New York City, had an illegitimate daughter by experimental filmmaker James Broughton and returned to Berkeley where she started talking about movies on a radio show. What she failed at in her theatre writing she achieved in reviewing. Something just clicked, as one interviewee recalls. She loved Shoeshine, damned Limelight and got herself in print with a book called I Lost it at the Movies which made her a name. And that title underwrites everything about a woman who regarded every movie as a date. She worked at McCalls’ until she was asked to leave because she did not sit on the fence and was not in tune with the mainstream. She crucified some films, like Hiroshima, mon amour and Lawrence of Arabia. She deplored American cinema at the time. Bonnie and Clyde is the review that made her famous in the wake of Bosley Crowther’s famously damning criticism. Her review was rejected by The New Republic and when The New Yorker published it it was a sensation and she got a job there on a six-month on, six-month off contract.  Robert Towne, who consulted on the film, describes how it helped the film. She loved movies and famously wrote Trash, Art and the Movies where she delineates the difference between the good and the bad as she saw it. She experienced sexism, as she stated on a 1973 TV show:  It is very difficult for men to accept that women can argue reasonably. She had her favourites – Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Warren Beatty among them. Camille Paglia shudders and says she can’t understand why she went to the mat for Last Tango in Paris:  she bought her own ticket at the New York Film Festival and stole the march on her rivals, giving it a rave that weekend. Mean Streets she loved and Scorsese was one filmmaker who benefitted from her cheerleading. She crucified films she thought were phony – she described Shoah as having a lack of moral complexity and summed up Apocalypse Now as white man – he devil. She would not be intimidated. She hated horror movies – she lived in New York City and said she had a hard enough time living in such a scary place without having to contend with The Exorcist and its ilk. There’s an excerpt of a TV interview with author William Peter Blatty saying that Kael’s reviews are full of personal poison. She got herself a great big house in Massachusetts and would spend a week at a time in New York at screenings. She enhanced some careers,  damaged others. She had her camp followers and encouraged Paulettes like Paul Schrader who would take on a job on the LA Weekly and then jump on the bandwagon for a particular film at her request. She had a rivalry with auteurist critic Andrew Sarris whom she castigates in her essay Circles and Squares. His widow Molly Haskell says of Kael, No male critic had as much testosterone as Pauline. While this is quite good on context it never really nails the nitty gritty of what it is to be a journalist and to go out on a limb giving the only viciously – and presumptively – perceptive account of a film that other critics are afraid to give what she would call a con. Her famous book about Citizen Kane‘s authorship rehabilitated the reputation of forgotten screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his role in creating that masterpiece.  But just as Beatty sought to keep her quiet by giving her a job in Hollywood it showed she had blind spots and was perhaps rather naive:  she had come to believe her own publicity much as she professed to scorn the studios’: She was a virgin who was very willing to be seduced. Those six months made her bid a hasty retreat to the rather safer confines of critcism. When she loved something, you knew it:  she came out in a big way for Casualties of War. After 24 years and suffering from Parkinson’s she retired from The New Yorker. Readings from letters and telegrams that celebrities wrote to her capture some of the devastation she wrought including one from Gregory Peck:  You may have cost me good roles in the most productive phase of my career. Her review of Blade Runner was so damaging that director Ridley Scott hasn’t read a review since. On the other hand, Steven Spielberg wrote, 1000 reviews later you are the only writer who really understood Jaws.  It is interesting  – and impossible to credit in the democratised, non-edited non-hierarchical space and era of social media and the internet in which nobody has any particular importance – that one critic could have held such sway over popular opinion in a world where limited opening dominated. For Pauline Kael everything was a conversation. There are a lot of interviews here but their content feels circumstantial rather than deep or meaningful. It’s something of an irony. Written and directed by Rob Garver.  The movies needed her

 

Harlow (1965)

Harlow

Everything about me is real.  Jean Harlow (Carroll Baker) arrives in Los Angeles as a teenager, pushed into showbiz by her sex-mad mother Mama Jean (Angela Lansbury) and grasping stepfather Marino Bello (Raf Vallone). Kindhearted agent Arthur Landau (Red Buttons) becomes Jean’s mentor and rescues her from glamour shots and the casting couch, while a devious Howard Hughes-like mogul Richard Manley (Leslie Nielsen) grows infatuated with the beautiful young actress. Harlow herself falls for writer/producer Paul Bern (Peter Lawford) before tragedy strikes right after their marriage and her efforts to get together with fellow studio star Jack Harrison (Mike Connors) come to nothing …  You have the body of a woman and the emotions of a child!  The big-budget version of the screen icon’s life was beaten to it by a cheaper experimental film starring Carol Lynley that barely scraped into theatres so this is the one that people remember, if at all. Adapted in part from Landau and Irving Shulman’s pulpy biography of the sex goddess by John Michael Hayes, this skips and jumps through Harlow’s life, eliminating altogether any direct reference to her relationship with William Powell (Connors plays a variation on him) or her co-star Clark Gable, more or less fabricating whole sequences and introducing an element of wantonness involving her stepfather that seems excessive even in this version of events. It’s rather lurid and seems to deviate from what is known of Harlow’s true character but it’s rather interesting to see an interpretation of the platinum blonde in vivid Technicolor with Edith Head making the most of the opportunity to create some stunning gowns. Baker had featured in the controversial Hayes adaptation of Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers a year earlier and shot a famous nude scene in the role of Rina, a thinly veiled version of Harlow – so her casting here is no surprise given that Paramount produced both pictures. Effectively, then, this is a remake in part of part of a year-old film. Baker is a decade older than Harlow at the time of her death but her performance is tender and appealing, capturing some of the spirit of Harlow’s great characters against a melodramatic backdrop that nonetheless plays fast and loose with the facts including the circumstances of her demise. Lansbury and Vallone are extremely impressive as the lusty parental figures while Buttons is very good as the kind man who remains her one true friend. A fascinating insight into how Hollywood saw itself at one time. Welcome to the velvet prison. Hayes deserves his reputation as a great writer of dialogue and he manages to invest showbiz clichés with the ring of truth especially when uttered venomously by Connors; Julie Parrish appears uncredited as Connors’ wife and would make a couple of appearances opposite him on Mannix five years later. The production design by Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira and James W. Payne is jaw dropping. The theme song Lonely Girl is sung by Bobby Vinton. Directed by Gordon Douglas. There’s nobody deader than I am right now. Oh, I guarantee all of you I won’t be by tomorrow

The Beach Bum (2019)

The Beach Bum

He may be a jerk, but he’s a great man. Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) is a fun-loving, pot-smoking, beer-drinking writer who lives life on his own terms in Key West, Florida. Luckily, his wealthy wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) loves him for exactly those qualities. She lives further up the coast in Miami and cavorts about with Lingerie (Snoop Dogg) courtesy of their open marriage. Following his daughter Heather’s (Stefania LaVie Owen) wedding, a tragic accident brings unexpected changes to Moondog’s relaxed lifestyle. Suddenly, putting his literary talent to good use and finishing his next great book is a more pressing matter than he would have liked it to be and he embarks upon a life-changing quest, encountering all kinds of freaks en route including a dolphin tour guide Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence), a sociopathic roomie Flicker (Zac Efron) in rehab and Southern friend and good ol’ boy Lewis (Jonah Hill) I gotta go low to get high. An extraordinary looking piece of auteur work from Harmony Korine, courtesy of the inventive and beautiful shooting of cinematographer Benoît Debie, this is a nod to McConaughey’s arch stoner credentials and the persona he established back in Dazed and Confused. And what about this for an example of his poetry:  Look down at my penis./ Knowing it was inside you twice today/Makes me feel beautiful.  He is convinced the world is conspiring to make him happy no matter what happens. There’s little plot to speak of once the main action is established in the first thirty minutes but what unspools is so genial and unforced and funny that you can’t help but wish you were part of the woozy hedonistic bonhomie. Jimmy Buffett appears as … Jimmy Buffett in a film that’s so Zen it’s horizontal. Bliss. We can do anything we want or nothing at all