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Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971

Miss Price (Angela Lansbury) is a respectable single lady living on her own in the British countryside, pursuing her dream of becoming a witch. With World War 2 at its peak, she is voluntold that she'll be hosting a trio of children who have been evacuated from London. They soon discover her secret vocation, and they all set off on an adventure to find a man named Emelius (David Tomlinson) who holds the final secrets to Miss Price's powers. The problem is that Emelius is a con man who is shocked to learn that his sham magic lessons actually work for Miss Price.

Despite valiant efforts from all involved--especially Landsbury--this mix of live action and cartoon adventures fails to gain compelling momentum.

Landsbury is a lot of fun in the lead role, letting herself be flung around on (unfortunately visible) wires and imbuing her character with an infectious optimism. The premise of a new magic user is an oldie but a goodie, and hers is a fun variation on the trope. Sadly, the rest of the characters are pretty thinly written. Tomlinson's Emelius is probably the worst off, with the role neither moving through a satisfying character arc nor developing a solid relationship to the other characters. The kid actors do just fine (and is it just me, or does Ian Weighill look a bit like a lost Culkin brother?!) with a mix of child-like amazement and world-weary inner-city kid stuff.

The first act is okay, but boy does the middle absolutely languish. This is the part of the film where the characters interact with cartoons, including a visit to what is supposedly an island of animals who were made human-like by a wizard, but in fact appears to be a collection of recycled characters like Prince John or Baloo. There is an absolutely interminable sequence where Emelius referees a soccer game between the animals.

Things definitely pick up again when the gang returns to England, where the Germans are doing a practice invasion and Miss Price must use her magic to fend them off. But at that point the movie is well past 100 minutes and it was hard to get back in the swing of things.

The movie feels like it's going for a Mary Poppins vibe. I will say that the final sequence has some really fun special/practical effects. But in all of the other respects, this one suffers by the comparison. The songs aren't as good ("Substitutiary Locomotion" is no "Spoonful of Sugar"). The overall story isn't as compelling. The characters aren't as well-drawn or as fun. Also, there's an out-of-place sequence where Emelius has a sexual fantasy about Miss Price that, fine, ADULT me was charmed by Landsbury catwalking down a railroad track in a swimsuit, but in a kids' film? No thank you.

I suppose this one is okay for a Disney completist, but I wouldn't be in any rush to get to it.






Bell, Book, and Candle, 1958

Gillian (Kim Novak) is a witch who, out of some mix of attraction and boredom, decides to put a love spell on her neighbor, Shep (Jimmy Stewart). Forcing Shep to break off his engagement with Merle (Janice Rule)--an old school rival of Gillian's--the spell then causes him to become infatuated. Unfortunately, Shep learns about Gillian's magical abilities and the two come into conflict about Shep's interest in the world of witchcraft.

Despite a really winning cast and a fun visual style, this fantasy-romance never quite comes together as a whole and instead stands as a collection of fun sequences and setpieces.

Kim Novak is absolutely stunning, a perfect storm of her sultry voice, an amazing wardrobe, and a laconic delivery that would be enchanting without a drop of a magic spell. But as with a lot of movies where a magical, powerful person falls in love with an everyday Joe, Shep is . . . fine. I mean, he's Jimmy Stewart, so there's a base level of charm but as a character he's not very compelling. His main job in the film is to be shocked and/or outraged at what he learns about magic. He's also visibly the 25 years older than Gillian, and as much as I like Stewart as an actor, Shep the character kept me asking "Really? This guy?!".

The supporting cast is good fun. Rule's Merle gives a good portrayal of a high school mean girl all grown up, though to be fair she's given very little screen time before we're just supposed to hate her. (Also, is it a total betrayal to say I liked her paintings?). Elsa Lanchester is great fun as Gillian's aunt, Queenie, who kicks off the whole movie by casually breaking into Shep's apartment. Jack Lemmon is a ton of fun as Gillian's warlock brother who also plays the drums at an underground club. Lemmon brings a much needed sparkle to the film, and his energy is missed when he's not on screen.

I did really love the way that the magic in the film was portrayed. It's done mainly via colored lighting cast on the actors' faces, and it's one of those simple-but-effective effects that's enjoyable every time. The movie benefits greatly by having the magic be implicit and not going overboard with effects.

Despite an easy chemistry between Stewart and Novak, I was never really convinced by the romance, which made it hard to root for an ending where they end up together. Frankly she's too cool for him, and he should have the right to pick his own partner without magical interference. As a dynamic it just didn't work for me. I was also not a fan of the animal mishandling in the film. It's pretty obvious in several scenes that the cats being used are not being treated well, and a trivia item on the IMDb confirms that it's worse than I initially suspected.

Enough good here to be worth recommending, but it feels a full step down from what it could have/should have been.






The Squeaker aka Murder on Diamond Row, 1937

Barrabal (Edmund Lowe) is an alcoholic ex-detective who is drafted by the police to go undercover in order to suss out a stolen jewelry fence known only as The Squeaker. Things get complicated when a man named Larry (Robert Newton) does "one last job" and happens to discover the identity of The Squeaker. As tensions escalate, Barrabal starts to become infatuated with Carol (Ann Todd), who just happens to be dating a suspect named Frank (Sebastian Shaw) who Barrabal suspects may be the criminal mastermind.

Despite an interesting premise and a few well-staged scenes, this film suffers from a slow pace and a too-subdued energy.

I really enjoyed the first act of the film where we see The Squeaker---so called because anyone who refuses to sell to him gets sold out to the cops--at work. I liked the staging whereby the Squeaker communicates only by writing notes in the window of his car.

I also enjoyed Ann Todd's performance. She's not given the deepest character, but she's one of the only actors really bringing an energy to the film. Everyone else seems stuck in slow, deliberate deliveries, with occasional awkward silence thrown in there. Lowe is simply not very interesting in the lead role. I liked Newton's Larry, and I also liked the character of Larry's girlfriend, Tamara (Tamara Desni).

But my gosh, despite being only 77 minutes long, this film somehow manages to drag. Twice we stop for song and dance numbers in a nightclub. The numbers aren't bad at all---and one of them even adds nicely to the plot and character development--but they don't feel like the best use of time. The whole movie lacks any sense of urgency, except when Todd is on screen to scrutinize the words and mannerisms of those around her, trying to make sense of the strange events.

There are moments of visual interest: the writing in the car window, a scene that begins with a man's head being pulled up from a table, a daring prison escape. But these moments are too few and far between.

Kind of a dud, but at least it's brief.






Bell, Book, and Candle, 1958


Despite an easy chemistry between Stewart and Novak, I was never really convinced by the romance, which made it hard to root for an ending where they end up together. Frankly she's too cool for him, and he should have the right to pick his own partner without magical interference. As a dynamic it just didn't work for me. I was also not a fan of the animal mishandling in the film. It's pretty obvious in several scenes that the cats being used are not being treated well, and a trivia item on the IMDb confirms that it's worse than I initially suspected.




This is a favorite of mine. But it is weird, Gillian falling for a square. I also love Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold and that French performer at the club, whoever he may be.





Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971

Miss Price (Angela Lansbury) is a respectable single lady living on her own in the British countryside, pursuing her dream of becoming a witch. With World War 2 at its peak, she is voluntold that she'll be hosting a trio of children who have been evacuated from London. They soon discover her secret vocation, and they all set off on an adventure to find a man named Emelius (David Tomlinson) who holds the final secrets to Miss Price's powers. The problem is that Emelius is a con man who is shocked to learn that his sham magic lessons actually work for Miss Price.

Despite valiant efforts from all involved--especially Landsbury--this mix of live action and cartoon adventures fails to gain compelling momentum.

Landsbury is a lot of fun in the lead role, letting herself be flung around on (unfortunately visible) wires and imbuing her character with an infectious optimism. The premise of a new magic user is an oldie but a goodie, and hers is a fun variation on the trope. Sadly, the rest of the characters are pretty thinly written. Tomlinson's Emelius is probably the worst off, with the role neither moving through a satisfying character arc nor developing a solid relationship to the other characters. The kid actors do just fine (and is it just me, or does Ian Weighill look a bit like a lost Culkin brother?!) with a mix of child-like amazement and world-weary inner-city kid stuff.

The first act is okay, but boy does the middle absolutely languish. This is the part of the film where the characters interact with cartoons, including a visit to what is supposedly an island of animals who were made human-like by a wizard, but in fact appears to be a collection of recycled characters like Prince John or Baloo. There is an absolutely interminable sequence where Emelius referees a soccer game between the animals.

Things definitely pick up again when the gang returns to England, where the Germans are doing a practice invasion and Miss Price must use her magic to fend them off. But at that point the movie is well past 100 minutes and it was hard to get back in the swing of things.

The movie feels like it's going for a Mary Poppins vibe. I will say that the final sequence has some really fun special/practical effects. But in all of the other respects, this one suffers by the comparison. The songs aren't as good ("Substitutiary Locomotion" is no "Spoonful of Sugar"). The overall story isn't as compelling. The characters aren't as well-drawn or as fun. Also, there's an out-of-place sequence where Emelius has a sexual fantasy about Miss Price that, fine, ADULT me was charmed by Landsbury catwalking down a railroad track in a swimsuit, but in a kids' film? No thank you.

I suppose this one is okay for a Disney completist, but I wouldn't be in any rush to get to it.




Bedknobs has the most metal ending I've ever seen in a children's movie, Angela Lansbury uses black magic to summon an undead army to fight Nazis. That scene objectively rules.





I forgot the opening line.

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Nightmare Alley - (2021)

Very tired and fatigued last night and didn't want to have to concentrate on something new, so I reached into the "I wanted to see that again" pile and came up with Nightmare Alley. My second go-around was pretty much the same as the first, and my feelings remain the same - I was perhaps hoping to like it a little more, but that's not to say I don't like it - I think it's really good, especially when Cate Blanchett comes into it looking like a lioness. You detect dark undercurrents, but you can understand why Stan (Bradley Cooper) doesn't. Cooper and Blanchett are excellent, and well supported by del Toro's direction. David Strathairn was also great. I still haven't seen the original, so I can't make comparisons, but it's examination of people's worst inclinations - con-man or carny - strike deep. I'm reminded of that season of American Horror Story that was based on a carnival freak show - in my opinion the best ever season of that horror series.

7/10
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My movie ratings often go up or down a point or two after more reflection, research and rewatches.




The Force is Favreau

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Nightmare Alley - (2021)

Very tired and fatigued last night and didn't want to have to concentrate on something new, so I reached into the "I wanted to see that again" pile and came up with Nightmare Alley. My second go-around was pretty much the same as the first, and my feelings remain the same - I was perhaps hoping to like it a little more, but that's not to say I don't like it - I think it's really good, especially when Cate Blanchett comes into it looking like a lioness. You detect dark undercurrents, but you can understand why Stan (Bradley Cooper) doesn't. Cooper and Blanchett are excellent, and well supported by del Toro's direction. David Strathairn was also great. I still haven't seen the original, so I can't make comparisons, but it's examination of people's worst inclinations - con-man or carny - strike deep. I'm reminded of that season of American Horror Story that was based on a carnival freak show - in my opinion the best ever season of that horror series.

7/10

The original in YouTube in good quality, if you're interested.



The Pale Blue Eye: 7/10

Need to rewatch to properly review but enjoyed the film a great bit



Professional horse shoe straightener
'Rainy Dog' (1997)

Directed by Takashi Miike.


A Takashi Miike film that slightly wanders from his trademark theme of brutal crazy violence and goes for a more composed neo-noir approach. This is like a Takeshi Kitano film that melds elements of Le Samourai and Leon The Professional. There are violent moments but there are a lot more tender moments mixed in. The main character Yuuji is a failed Yakuza member stranded in Taiwan. Heís rather lost until one day a woman brings him a surprise and he has to try and alter his life as he has suddenly found a meaning to it.

The ending is slightly hysterical in terms of plot but it does work and this feels a bit like a hidden gem. Fans of films that explore lost characters on the edge of society will enjoy it.







Red Rock West (1993)

This is a solid neo-noir set in present day Wyoming, with a little dark comedy and some Hitchcockian twists thrown in. Itís both directed and written by John Dahl (Unforgettable; Rounders)-- well known for his neo-noir work. DP Marc Reshovsky provides some very tasty photography. Composer William Olvis provides an expressive and moody score.

After Michael Williams (
Nicholas Cage) is discharged from the Marine Corps he drifts around looking for work. Heís rejected as a hire for an oil field worker due to a war injury to his leg. His wandering takes him to Red Rock, Wyoming. When he sits down at a bar, and the bartender, Wayne (J.T. Walsh), spots Williamsí Texas license plates out front, the bartender mistakenly presumes that Williams is the hit man (Lyle from Texas) that he has hired to murder his wife. When the bartender plunks down one-half payment of the hit manís fee, Williams sees the mistake, plays along, and accepts the money.

Instead, Williams goes to the manís wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle), and informs her of her husbandís murder plot. Suzanne then offers Williams double the money to kill her husband. After that meeting Williams decides to leave town, but along the way he has an auto accident. When the sheriff shows up it turns out that he is the same man as Wayne the bartender who he met earlier. Wayne realizes the ruse, and wants to dispose of Williams. But Williams escapes on foot, and is eventually picked up by a motorist who turns out to be the real hit man-- Lyle from Texas (Dennis Hopper).

The two bad guys, the femme fatale, and Williams proceed to partake in a deadly square dance to get the cache of money that Wayne had stolen back east, and to do away with each other. It all comes to head when the quartet ends up at a remote graveyard to dig up the stolen money, leading to a satisfying finish.

Michael tries several times to get out of Red Rock, but keeps getting brought back for one reason or another. Being chased by the bad guys at one point, he jumps off of a building onto a departing semi truck to get out of town. But several miles later the truck driver (Dwight Yoakam) discovers him, only to order him out of the truck at gunpoint.

The casting was first rate. Cage is good at playing a guy thrown into a situation not entirely of his making, and in that way is a little reminiscent of his hapless characterís role in Raising Arizona. Boyle (Twin Peaks) makes for a convincing femme fatale. The inestimable J.T. Walsh is perfect as an unblinking double dealer. And Hopper couldnít have been a better choice for a kooky but threatening hit man whoís going for all the marbles.

Docís rating: 8/10



'Rainy Dog' (1997)

Directed by Takashi Miike.


A Takashi Miike film that slightly wanders from his trademark theme of brutal crazy violence and goes for a more composed neo-noir approach. This is like a Takeshi Kitano film that melds elements of Le Samourai and Leon The Professional. There are violent moments but there are a lot more tender moments mixed in. The main character Yuuji is a failed Yakuza member stranded in Taiwan. Heís rather lost until one day a woman brings him a surprise and he has to try and alter his life as he has suddenly found a meaning to it.

The ending is slightly hysterical in terms of plot but it does work and this feels a bit like a hidden gem. Fans of films that explore lost characters on the edge of society will enjoy it.

Hmmm, quite interested in this one.



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Bless Their Little Hearts - 7.5/10
I knew it was made by Charles Burnett within a few seconds.. "To Sleep With Anger" (w/ Danny Glover) is my favorite of his, but this movie has the same working-class, realistic domestic kitchen-sink struggle kinda movie. Not fast paced, which works fine, although I wouldn't have dedicated so much time (85 minute movie) to see his entire shaving routine.







Bell, Book, and Candle, 1958

Gillian (Kim Novak) is a witch who, out of some mix of attraction and boredom, decides to put a love spell on her neighbor, Shep (Jimmy Stewart). Forcing Shep to break off his engagement with Merle (Janice Rule)--an old school rival of Gillian's--the spell then causes him to become infatuated. Unfortunately, Shep learns about Gillian's magical abilities and the two come into conflict about Shep's interest in the world of witchcraft.

Despite a really winning cast and a fun visual style, this fantasy-romance never quite comes together as a whole and instead stands as a collection of fun sequences and setpieces.

Kim Novak is absolutely stunning, a perfect storm of her sultry voice, an amazing wardrobe, and a laconic delivery that would be enchanting without a drop of a magic spell. But as with a lot of movies where a magical, powerful person falls in love with an everyday Joe, Shep is . . . fine. I mean, he's Jimmy Stewart, so there's a base level of charm but as a character he's not very compelling. His main job in the film is to be shocked and/or outraged at what he learns about magic. He's also visibly the 25 years older than Gillian, and as much as I like Stewart as an actor, Shep the character kept me asking "Really? This guy?!".

The supporting cast is good fun. Rule's Merle gives a good portrayal of a high school mean girl all grown up, though to be fair she's given very little screen time before we're just supposed to hate her. (Also, is it a total betrayal to say I liked her paintings?). Elsa Lanchester is great fun as Gillian's aunt, Queenie, who kicks off the whole movie by casually breaking into Shep's apartment. Jack Lemmon is a ton of fun as Gillian's warlock brother who also plays the drums at an underground club. Lemmon brings a much needed sparkle to the film, and his energy is missed when he's not on screen.

I did really love the way that the magic in the film was portrayed. It's done mainly via colored lighting cast on the actors' faces, and it's one of those simple-but-effective effects that's enjoyable every time. The movie benefits greatly by having the magic be implicit and not going overboard with effects.

Despite an easy chemistry between Stewart and Novak, I was never really convinced by the romance, which made it hard to root for an ending where they end up together. Frankly she's too cool for him, and he should have the right to pick his own partner without magical interference. As a dynamic it just didn't work for me. I was also not a fan of the animal mishandling in the film. It's pretty obvious in several scenes that the cats being used are not being treated well, and a trivia item on the IMDb confirms that it's worse than I initially suspected.

Enough good here to be worth recommending, but it feels a full step down from what it could have/should have been.

I really liked this movie, but I found myself wondering how much better it would have been if Hitchcock had directed it.



This is a favorite of mine. But it is weird, Gillian falling for a square. I also love Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold and that French performer at the club, whoever he may be.
I really liked this movie, but I found myself wondering how much better it would have been if Hitchcock had directed it.
I could see it becoming a low-key favorite. It's inoffensive for the most part, I just wish it was a notch better.

Bedknobs has the most metal ending I've ever seen in a children's movie, Angela Lansbury uses black magic to summon an undead army to fight Nazis. That scene objectively rules.
If the movie were just the opening 20 minutes and then the last 10 minutes, it would be a 5-star film.





Skin, 2008

Sandy (Sophie Okonedo) is born in South Africa in the 1950s to parents Sannie (Alice Krige) and Abraham (Sam Neill). The only problem: Apartheid is in full swing, Sannie and Abraham are visibly white, and Sandy very much does not look white. The older Sandy gets, the worse things become. Her parents fight endless court cases trying to have their daughter classified as white---because if she's classified as Black or Coloured (ie mixed race) she cannot legally live with them--but Sandy constantly finds herself trapped between worlds.

There's no other way to describe this movie except to say that it is brutal. It's a harrowing look at the way that racial classifications are both arbitrary and yet potentially life-ruining.

At first blush, the film seems like it will be about Sandy's parents fighting for equality in social standing and education. It very much is not. What becomes clear very quickly is that Sandy's parents, and particularly her father, are deeply racist. Because they know that Sandy is "white", they fight for her. But them wanting her to be classified that way isn't really about justice for their child, or even recognizing her as a formal part of their family--it's just as much about them NOT wanting her to be Black.

Neill's turn as Sandy's father Abraham is intense and complicated. He obviously has a lot of love for his daughter--a daughter who looks to be mixed race. But as Sandy grows up, Abraham's anger turns toward his daughter. The more he tries to force her into white spaces--to her clear fear and discomfort--the more she pushes back and he starts to develop a contempt for her. Krige's Sannie is more sympathetic, but also deeply prejudiced. When Sandy finally just says out loud what everyone is thinking, that she isn't white, her mother strikes her.

Okonedo is very good as Sandy, a young woman who is smart and funny, and who in another time and place could have lived a happy, uncomplicated life. But at every turn she is made to feel out of place and shame for the color of her skin, something over which she has zero control. Her white family is deeply contemptuous of her attempts to socialize with Black friends. Her Black boyfriend resents her privileged upbringing. At one point Sandy has been classified as white, meaning that it is illegal for her to live with her own children, who are classified as Coloured. When she begs to be reclassified as Coloured, she meets with stone-faced bureaucracy. No matter what label is given her, it always manages to leave her on the receiving end of abuse and hateful words.

What is the difference between a Black person and a white person? The film displays the futility of trying to make official such a distinction. The language used in Sandy's court hearing is truly something else. "The definition of a white person is a person who in appearance obviously is a white person and who is not generally accepted as a colored person... Or who is generally accepted as a white person and is not in appearance
obviously not a white person." I mean, wow. They also perform scientific investigations like sticking a pencil in Sandy's hair and seeing if it falls out when she turns her head. When a scientist testifies that Sandy's case can be explained by the presence of Black genetic material in Afrikaaners, so that people who are visibly white could produce a child who is visibly Black, the white audience scoffs in disbelief.

There are several cultural properties that have delved into the idea of "passing", ie people who are born to Black families but who are assumed because of their appearance to be white. It was interesting to watch a story on the other side of that genetic phenomenon. Sandy's case only highlights the arbitrary and cruel nature of segregation. If Sandy is white she deserves her spot in the nice boarding school, but she doesn't deserve that education if she's Black? Sandy can live with her parents if her government ID says one thing, but it's illegal for her to live with her parents if it says something else?

I had very few complaints about this one. My only minor gripe is that Okonedo plays Sandy from teenagehood up through adulthood, and she definitely looks too old in the sequences where she's meant to be in her late teens and going on dates. She very much looks like a woman in her 30s and it makes those scenes feel like a stretch.

Compelling stuff, and well acted.