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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#2,363. Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)

Posted: 30 May 2017 02:00 AM PDT


Directed By: Charles Jarrott

Starring: Richard Burton, Geneviève Bujold, Irene Papas



Tagline: "He was King. She was barely 18. And in their thousand days they played out the most passionate and shocking love story in history!"

Trivia: At one point, producer Hal B. Wallis wanted Peter O'Toole and Geraldine Chaplin to star






British Monarchs have been portrayed on film numerous times, and some of the finest actors and actresses have taken a turn playing them. A few performances have been so good, in fact, that it's difficult to separate the historical king or queen from the performer. Thanks to both Becket and The Lion in Winter, Henry II will, in my mind, always be Peter O'Toole. Likewise, Elizabeth I will forever bear a strong resemblance to Cate Blanchett (1998's Elizabeth and 2007's Elizabeth: The Golden Age). The list goes on and on; George III? That's Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George), and his descendant George VI was the spitting image of Colin Firth (The King's Speech).

Over the years, a number of thespians have played Henry VIII, one of the most influential monarchs in British history. And who better to portray a bigger-than-life individual such as this than Richard Burton?

Directed by Charles Jarrott and based on Maxwell Anderson's stage play of the same name, 1969's Anne of the Thousand Days follows the torrid and ultimately tragic romance between Britain's King Henry VIII (Burton) and Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujold), a beautiful maiden who shocked the world by becoming a queen. 

Unhappy that his current Queen, Katherine (Irene Papas), hasn't given him a male heir, Henry turns his attentions elsewhere, and before long is pursuing the lovely Anne, daughter of Thomas Boleyn (Michael Hordern). Yet despite Henry's best efforts, Anne refuses to sleep with the King until he agrees to make her his queen. So, with the help of chief advisor Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle), Henry petitions the Vatican for an annulment, saying his union with Katherine is cursed because she was once married to his older brother (who died before their marriage was consummated). To Henry's annoyance, the Pope, pressured by Katherine's relatives, denies his request. Ignoring the pleas of his own religious community, Henry then breaks away from the Vatican and, as Protector of the newly-formed Church of England, divorces Katherine and marries Anne.

But the wedded bliss would not last; Henry's and Anne's first child is a girl, Elizabeth, and the second a stillborn son. Without the male heir he so desires, Henry's eye once again wanders, and in time he seduces one of Anne's consorts, Jane Seymour (Lesley Paterson). When Anne protests, Henry, aided by his new advisor Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos), has Anne arrested on trumped-up charges of adultery and treason. Found guilty by the court, Anne is sentenced to death, yet to her final hour she pleads not for her life, but for Henry to recognize Elizabeth as his true heir, telling her husband that their daughter will make "a greater queen than any king of yours".

Richard Burton bellows and charms his way through Anne of the Thousand Days, giving us a Henry VIII we simultaneously admire and fear. He occasionally displays humor and warmth (during the scenes in which he's trying to bed Anne, Henry is almost embarrassingly desperate, yet also seems to develop genuine feelings for the young maiden who, unlike others, temporarily withholds her sexual favors), and when he's angry, Burton's Henry is a force to be reckoned with (many of his subordinates, including Sir Thomas More, played by William Squire, experience his wrath first-hand, and pay with their lives). In every scene, Burton has the bearing and charisma of a king, and his passionate portrayal is what keeps the movie flowing (especially during the film's midsection, which is chock full of political wranglings that some viewers might find dull).

Genevieve Bujold is equally excellent as the proud and occasionally spiteful Anne, while Anthony Quayle's Cardinal Wolsey proves to be the film's most tragic character (I went from despising his arrogance to truly pitying him as events unfolded). Yet as good as these two (and the rest of the cast) are, nobody can wrestle the spotlight away from Richard Burton (at least not for very long).

Others have portrayed Henry VIII with similar gusto: Charles Laughton was brilliant in The Private Life of Henry VIII, as was Robert Shaw in A Man for All Seasons. But as far as I'm concerned, this particular king will always look like Richard Burton, and Anne of the Thousand Days is the reason why.







Monday, May 29, 2017

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#2,362. The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)

Posted: 29 May 2017 07:08 AM PDT


Directed By: Jack Hill

Starring: Jo Johnston, Cheryl Smith, Colleen Camp



Tagline: "They live their fantasies on and off the field!"

Trivia: Selected by Quentin Tarantino for the First Quentin Tarantino Film Fest in Austin, Texas, 1996







With The Swinging Cheerleaders, writer/director Jack Hill has crafted a unique motion picture, one that delivers enough nudity and sexcapades to keep its target audience happy while at the same time weaving a story that aptly reflects the socio-political climate of the era in which it was made.

Mesa State University needs a new cheerleader. So, Mary Ann (Colleen Camp), the captain of the squad, and Co-captains Andrea (Cheryl Smith) and Lisa (Rosanne Keaton) hold tryouts one afternoon. After sitting through a number of pathetic auditions, they're wowed by Kate (Jo Johnson), a journalism major who displays the spirit they're looking for. Despite the objections of Mary Ann, who noticed her boyfriend, star quarterback Buck Larsen (Ron Hajek) ogling the new recruit during her tryout, Kate is welcomed onto the squad, and with the last piece of the puzzle now in place, the cheerleaders are ready to spur the football team on to an undefeated season.

But the truth of the matter is that Kate has no interest in football; she's joined the squad to research a paper she's writing, one that will condemn the entire sport of cheerleading (which Kate considers sexist and demeaning). To her surprise, however, Kate finds that she actually likes her fellow cheerleaders, and even falls for Buck, something that doesn't sit well with either Mary Ann or Kate's current boyfriend, hippie/activist Ron (Ian Sander).

Besides, if it wasn't for the cheerleaders, Kate wouldn't have stumbled upon an even bigger story: a betting scandal involving football coach Turner (Jack Denton), Alumni head (and Mary Ann's father) Mr. Putnam (George Wallace), and physics professor Frank Thorpe (Jason Sommers). To fix the games in their favor, Putnam convinces Coach Turner to bench his best players late in the game, so that Mesa doesn't win by a large margin (and the trio can make a small fortune playing the point spread).

Will Lisa blow the whistle on these three powerful men in time to save Mesa State's season, or will the team be forced to throw their big game?

As with most cheerleader films produced in the '70s, The Swinging Cheerleaders doesn't shy away from nudity; most of the main cast appears, at one point or another, in various stages of undress. There's even a subplot about Andrea's quest to lose her virginity; when she's too uptight to go all the way with her football star boyfriend Ross (Ric Carrott), Angela follows the advice given to her by Kate and Lisa, who tell her to sleep with the first stranger she meets (she does so, with decidedly mixed results). The movie also has its share of comedy, culminating in a slapstick-fueled final showdown between the good guys and the villains (though it doesn't fully work as intended, this sequence manages to lighten the mood a bit).

Yet what impressed me most about The Swinging Cheerleaders was how well it merged the comedy and sex with more serious-minded elements, chief among them the gambling scandal that threatens the team's chances at an undefeated season. With Watergate still fresh on people's minds, these scenes likely struck a chord with audiences in 1974 (who knew all too well what can happen when a few bigwigs conspire to commit a crime for their own personal gain). Even some of the film's subplots, such as Lisa's affair with the married Frank Thorpe, yield their share of thought-provoking drama (the scene in which Lisa is confronted by Thorpe's wife, played to perfection by Mae Mercer, reminds us, quite effectively, that there are two sides to every story).

It isn't often that a successful sex comedy works just as well on a dramatic level, but as Jack Hill and company prove time and again over the course of the movie, The Swinging Cheerleaders is not your average exploitation fare.







Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#2,361. Darling (1965)

Posted: 28 May 2017 02:00 AM PDT


Directed By: John Schlesinger

Starring: Julie Christie, Dirk Bogarde, Laurence Harvey



Tag line: "Shame, shame, everybody knows your name!"

Trivia: Shirley MacLaine was originally cast as Diana, but dropped out







Julie Christie is one of my all-time favorite actresses. Her "hooker with a heart of gold" was the only character worth a damn in Robert Altman's brilliant McCabe & Mrs. Miller; and in Dr. Zhivago, despite being surrounded by such legendary actors as Omar Sharif and Rod Steiger, she managed to shine brightly. With her excellent performances in these movies, as well as Shampoo, Don't Look Now, Fahrenheit 451, and Away From Her, you would think that Julie Christie has amassed a slew of Oscar statuettes, but the sad reality is that she only took home that coveted award once, for her portrayal of Diana Scott in 1965's Darling.

Truth be told, not many actresses could take a character as morally bankrupt as Diana and make her seem fascinating, but Christie does just that in John Schlesinger's award-winning, though ultimately flawed motion picture.

Darling follows Diana's meteoric rise to the top of the fashion industry in 1960's London, beginning with her days as a young housewife (married to her childhood sweetheart, Tony, played by Trevor Bower) through to the time she met and fell in love with writer / television personality Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), who eventually abandoned his wife and two kids to be with Diana (she, in turn, left Tony and moved in with Robert). But despite her feelings for Robert, Diana grew bored of her humdrum life, and while helping out at a charity event she was introduced to Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey), a powerful advertising executive, who swept her off her feet. It was Miles who helped Diana break into modeling, and her ambition soon got the better of her. Shortly after her love affairs with Robert and Miles ended, Diana, while vacationing in Capri, met Italian Prince Cesare della Romita (José Luis de Villalonga), who was so smitten with her that he asked Diana to be his wife. For a girl like Diana, becoming a Princess was a dream come true, but was she ready to throw away her career and settle down?

Whatever affection we feel for Diana early on, when she falls madly in love with Robert, slowly slips away over the course of Darling. By the time she becomes a fixture in the glamorous yet empty world of '60s fashion and begins sleeping with Laurence Harvey's Miles (an affair that, the moment it begins, we know won't last), I found myself hoping that Robert would discover her tryst and give Diana her walking papers. From her phony demeanor while chatting with the so-called "elite" of London society to the manner in which she leads on the Prince late in the film, Diana grows increasingly more loathsome as the movie progresses.

In the hands of any other actress, Diana's antics might become tiresome, but Christie keeps us engaged by allowing a glimmer of humanity to occasionally peek its way through her character's façade. More often than not, this "glimmer" is so slight that it's barely perceivable. But it's there, and usually sticks around just long enough to remind us that Diana is, in reality, a lost soul, following her ambitions down whatever path they may lead her. It's a journey she takes often enough throughout Darling, yet rarely does it produce the result she desires. Diana Scott does some awful things throughout Darling, but Christie somehow fools us, however briefly, into believing there's more to this young woman than meets the eye, and that alone is enough to keep us watching… and hoping. 

Still, even with Christie's tour-de-force performance, the excellent supporting work turned in by both Bogarde and Harvey, and the film's progressive attitude towards such previously taboo subjects as abortion, promiscuity, and homosexuality (some of the movie's best sequences involves Diana's holiday in Capri, which she spends in the company of gay photographer Malcolm, portrayed by Roland Currem), Darling is a tough movie to recommend. It's played far too straight to be a satire (which makes it all the more depressing), and the period it recreates (the swinging '60s) may be a bit too archaic for modern audiences.

In fact, I can't imagine a time when I myself will want to sit through Darling again. Julie Christine has turned in numerous Oscar-worthy performances over the course of her career, and I'd probably choose to watch any one of them over the role that actually netted her the award.







Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#2,360. SS Hell Camp (1977)

Posted: 27 May 2017 02:00 AM PDT


Directed By: Luigi Batzella

Starring: Macha Magall, Gino Turini, Edilio Kim




Tag line: "Horrifying experiences in the last days of the S.S."

Trivia: The film was listed as one of the DPP's 72 video nasties in the UK and even made the final list of 39 official titles for prosecution







Noted for their scenes of sadistic torture and unspeakable violence, the Nazisploitation films of the '70s always found new and exciting ways to shock their audience. Yet as vile and bloody as these movies could sometimes be, 1977's SS Hell Camp pushed the envelope even further, and ranks as one of the most disturbing Nazisploitation flicks that I've ever seen.

SS Officer/scientist Dr. Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall) has created what she believes to be the perfect man: a dwarf-sized Neanderthal (played by Salvatore Baccaro) whose voracious appetite for sex is never satisfied. To keep him happy, Dr. Kratsch regularly selects one of the Gestapo's prettiest female prisoners, strips her naked, then has her tossed into the creature's cage, where the poor girl is violently raped, then beaten to within an inch of her life.

At the same time this is going on, a group of Italian partisans is taking the fight to the Nazis, sabotaging their supply chain and killing every German soldier they come across. In an effort to crush this rebellion, Nazi Capt. Hardinghauser (Edilio Kim) teams up with Dr. Kratsch, whose "interrogation methods" have been known to get results. But while Kratsch and Hardinghauser are busy brutalizing one prisoner after another to obtain information, the remaining Partisans are planning an all-out attack that, if successful, will drive the Germans from their territory once and for all.

SS Hell Camp (also released as The Beast in Heat) is, in essence, two movies in one; a large portion of the film is dedicated to the Partisan army and their battles, and while some of these scenes are, indeed, exciting (especially an early sequence in which the group sabotages a railroad track), this entire section features far too many characters, and the footage lifted from another (bigger) movie to flesh out the fight scenes feels out of place.

In addition to this, we're treated to what goes on inside Dr. Kratsch's laboratory and, for better or worse, this is where SS Hell Camp truly distinguishes itself. In the opening minutes, we witness the rape and murder of a beautiful young woman, who is thrown, kicking and screaming, into the creature's cage. Both she and the monster are naked (unlike most movies of this ilk, SS Hell Camp contains equal amounts of male and female nudity), and by the time it's over, the girl is dead.

Yet as troubling as this opening is, it's nowhere near the film's most outrageous sequence. Later on, there's a scene where the good doctor interrogates three nude male prisoners (she swats two on the genitals with her riding crop, then takes off her top and rubs her breasts up against the third man, hoping to make him talk). From there, things get downright disgusting: one unfortunate girl has electrodes attached to her vagina, while, just next to her, a naked man is tied upside-down and occasionally dunked into a large tub of water. Yet, for me, the most shocking scene in SS Hell Camp comes when Dr. Kratsch's creature, after raping yet another woman, tears out his victim's pubic hairs with his bare hands, then pops them into his mouth!

Macha Magall is both sinister and sexy as Dr. Kratsch, and does a decent enough job in the lead role, but in the end, SS Hell Camp fails to deliver the goods, giving us a war story that isn't all that interesting and a series of gross-out sequences that falter under the weight of their own excesses.







Friday, May 26, 2017

New Reviews at RogerEbert.com for the week of May 26, 2017

This is your weekly update of new reviews on RogerEbert.com, the world's preeminent destination for movie criticism, commentary and community.

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2017 Cannes Film Festival Videos

Be the first to see our up close and personal video reports from the South of France! The stars, the movies, the parties, and more. Enjoy! In this first video, Chaz Ebert reports on "Wonderstruck," "Loveless" and the Netflix controversy at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. In our second video, Chaz Ebert reports on "Okja," "The Square," "Jupiter's Moon," "120 Beats Per Minute" at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

New Reviews at RogerEbert.com for the week of May 26, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Poster

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Been there, plundered that.

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Buena Vista Social Club: Adios Poster

Buena Vista Social Club: Adios

Review by Matt Zoller Seitz

A nostalgic look back at a vanished era, but also another, better movie.

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Baywatch Poster

Baywatch

Review by Glenn Kenny

A full feature with a storyline that an enterprising six-year-old might have thought was a little too rudimentary.

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The Women's Balcony Poster

The Women's Balcony

Review by Sheila O'Malley

While the mood is that of a gentle and affectionate comedy, the film makes some extremely sharp points about fanaticism, sexism masked as holiness, and tolerance among the faithful.

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War Machine Poster

War Machine

Review by Brian Tallerico

Critics have a habit of calling movies tonally inconsistent, but this should now be the textbook example, a film that veers wildly from war movie to character drama to satire to history piece to a blended gray of nothing.

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Long Strange Trip Poster

Long Strange Trip

Review by Glenn Kenny

These multivalent tales of the Dead are awe-inspiring and thought-provoking without fail.

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Berlin Syndrome Poster

Berlin Syndrome

Review by Christy Lemire

Berlin Syndrome will make you question any wanderlust-inspired notions you may have of traveling alone to a foreign country on a quest for self-discovery.

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Hermia & Helena Poster

Hermia & Helena

Review by Nick Allen

Hermia & Helena's touch-and-go approach weakens the movie's key expression of being a relatable story about being lost during your late 20s/early 30s.

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Black Butterfly Poster

Black Butterfly

Review by Vikram Murthi

A charmless, nonsensical thriller that doubles as a hack screenwriter's wet dream, filled to the brim with faux-insights that wouldn't impress even the most inattentive college freshmen.

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Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower Poster

Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower

Review by Matt Fagerholm

A stirring ode to the power of the individual in a society that values conformity over individuality.

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Abacus: Small Enough to Jail Poster

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Review by Matt Zoller Seitz

A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.

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