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Frank's Movie Log

My life at the movies.

  1. A still from The Benson Murder Case (1930)

    The Benson Murder Case 1930

    C: 3 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Frank Tuttle. Starring William Powell, William 'Stage' Boyd, Eugene Pallette, Paul Lukas, and Natalie Moorhead.

    William Powell’s third outing as amateur detective Philo Vance. After the disappointing Green Murder Case, the franchise returns to form with a closed-circle mystery pitting Powell against a notorious bootlegger. The early thunderstorm generates a terrific atmosphere and the eccentric supporting cast sprinkles in the right dose of light comedy.

    I’d like to revisit a better print. All the uploads online appear sourced from the same low-res scan.

  2. A still from Interference (1928)

    Interference 1928

    D+: 2 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Lothar Mendes and Roy Pomeroy. Starring Evelyn Brent, Clive Brook, William Powell, and Doris Kenyon.

    William Powell’s first talkie. Despite only rating third billing, he carries the picture. Powell plays a womanizer believed dead in the first World War. When he’s discovered living under an assumed name, a former flame—played by top-billed Evelyn Brent—seizes the opportunity to blackmail her former rival, Powell’s ex-wife, now married to an upstanding doctor. It’s a stiff drama with no emotional stakes. The quiet dignity of Powell’s performance provides the film’s only resonance.

  3. A still from Behind the Make-Up (1930)

    Behind the Make-Up 1930

    C+: 3 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Dorothy Arzner, Henry Hathaway, Rollo Lloyd, and Robert Milton. Starring Hal Skelly, William Powell, Fay Wray, and Kay Francis.

    Hal Skelly plays Hap, a well-named vaudeville bicycle-clown eking out a meager living. He takes in another vaudeville performer named Gardoni (just Gardoni—like Bono or Madonna), played with an Italian accent by William Powell. Continue reading...

  4. A still from Doctor Strange (2016)

    Doctor Strange 2016

    C: 3 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, and Benedict Wong.

    Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Stephen Strange, a hotshot neurosurgeon. After a car accident cripples his hands, Strange’s search for a miracle cure leads him to Nepal. There he meets The Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, who trains him in sorcery. Continue reading...

    Watched on 22 Aug, 2020
  5. A still from The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

    The Quatermass Xperiment 1955

    B-: 4 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Val Guest. Starring Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Margia Dean, and Thora Hird.

    Hammer’s first plunge into sci-fi horror stars Brian Donlevy as bulldog scientist Quatermass dealing with a rocket ship returned from space whose lone-survivor, played by Richard Wordsworth, may no longer be human. Donlevy’s commanding presence overcomes his suspect casting as a scientist, and Wordsworth steals the film with his dead-eyed performance. Love director Val Guest’s decision to adopt a realistic style—it helps the film age well. He keeps the special effects off-screen as much as possible. When he does show the goods they often deliver, and even when they fall short they’re still unsettling. The Kino Lober print looks great.

    Followed by Quatermass 2.

  6. A still from The Unholy Night (1929)

    The Unholy Night 1929

    D+: 2 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Lionel Barrymore. Starring Ernest Torrence, Roland Young, Dorothy Sebastian, and Natalie Moorhead.

    A thick fog envelops London. A mysterious killer strangles several men in the shadowy streets. We learn the killer is targetting officers in a particular WWI unit. The setting shifts to a manor house. Roland Young delivers a charming, wry performance as the story settles into a closed-circle mystery. Then Dorothy Sebastian and Boris Karloff burst in. Sebastian over-emotes and struggles to maintain her ludicrous accent. Karloff struggles with his own invented accent and looks lost. The tonal shift proves fatal as the film limps along to an elaborate climax with a cheat ending. Great title, poor execution. The print—sourced from TCM—is passable.

  7. A still from The Thirteenth Chair (1929)

    The Thirteenth Chair 1929

    D+: 2 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Tod Browning. Starring Conrad Nagel, Leila Hyams, Margaret Wycherly, and Helene Millard.

    Bela Lugosi’s first talkie. He plays a sharp-dressed police inspector investigating a mysterious murder at a British estate in colonial India. I always assumed a) Lugosi and director Tod Browning first worked together on Dracula and b) Dracula was Lugosi’s first significant talkie. Wrong on both counts. Back to this movie. It’s an atmospheric mystery undone by a convoluted ending that reveals a slew of information the audience couldn’t have intuited. Disappointing, but Lugosi’s performance remains strong. The Warner Archive DVD print is watchable.

  8. A still from X the Unknown (1956)

    X the Unknown 1956

    C+: 3 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Joseph Losey and Leslie Norman. Starring Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern, and Anthony Newley.

    If The Quatermass Xperiment marked Hammer Horror’s conception, this marks its birth. Dean Jagger plays a scientist battling a radioactive blob spewed forth from the earth’s core. Unlike the other blob movie (that came two years later), Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay—his first produced—plays more grown-up, remixing the Quatermass essence into an efficient thriller exploiting the era’s atomic-age fears. Engaging performances and gruesome makeup effects offset the budget-constrained miniature work. Love the pervasive hints of cold, from the ice in the mud to the foggy puffs of breath in every outdoor shot. The Scream Factory print looks great, though not as good as the Kino Lorber Quatermass.

  9. A still from The World Is Not Enough (1999)

    The World Is Not Enough 1999

    C-: 3 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Michael Apted. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, and Denise Richards.

    So many reviewers savaged Denise Richards’ casting, yet the script called for a nuclear scientist named Christmas Jones capable of passing for a high-class prostitute to a Russian black-market gangster. To those reviewers, I ask: Who would you have cast?

  10. A still from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

    Tomorrow Never Dies 1997

    D+: 2 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, and Teri Hatcher.

    Reminds me of a great bit from Austin Powers:

    Dr. Evil: Are we ready to release our new software?

    Number 2: Yes, sir. As requested, it’s full of bugs, which means people will be forced to upgrade for years.

    Dr. Evil: Outstanding.

    Except that’s in this movie. Both hit theaters in 1997, so that’s… something? I dunno. Everything looks cheap: the sets, the car, the effects, even the clothes. Makes a compelling case for Worst Bond Movie. Insert joke about Ricky Jay wishing he could disappear from this turkey. Followed by The World Is Not Enough.


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