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Frank's Movie Log

My life at the movies.

  1. A still from The Big Trail (1930)

    The Big Trail 1930

    B-: 4 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Louis R. Loeffler and Raoul Walsh. Starring John Wayne, Marguerite Churchill, El Brendel, and Tully Marshall.

    John Wayne’s first starring role. He’s good but raw—on par with the poverty-row oaters he’d headline for the next nine years. Here he plays a trapper leading a wagon train up the Oregon Trail. The script includes the requisite character drama and romantic interest. Disregard them. The production itself proves the real star. Continue reading...

  2. A still from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

    Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 2017

    C+: 3 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by James Gunn. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and Vin Diesel.

    Quill’s man-child characterization wears thin. Drax remains funny as ever. Baby Groot steals the show.

    Watched on 29 Aug, 2020
  3. A still from The Abominable Snowman (1957)

    The Abominable Snowman 1957

    D+: 2 stars (out of 5)

    Directed by Val Guest. Starring Forrest Tucker, Peter Cushing, Maureen Connell, and Richard Wattis.

    Peter Cushing’s second film for Hammer. He plays a botanist who hitches a ride aboard Forrest Tucker’s Himalayan expedition to find and study the legendary Yeti. Of course, Tucker’s motives prove less than scientific. And of course, one-by-one the party members meet unfortunate ends. Continue reading...

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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...

  7. 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
  8. 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 Lorber print looks great.

    Followed by Quatermass 2.

  9. 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 targeting 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.

  10. 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.


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