Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Coolidge's "Thrilling 3-D Film Festival!"

(Because, hey, it was a pain in the neck to upload it to Verizon's pain-in-the-neck case-sensitive server)

It was a thoroughly enjoyable series. My brother Matt and his girlfriend Morgan came to see Dial M For Murder, and they seemed to really enjoy it. I mean, how do they not, right? It's Hitchcock and Grace Kelley, and John Williams stealing every scene that isn't nailed down as the investigating officer.

3-D is fun. One thing I noticed, big time, was that I noticed depth, in terms of things going into the screen rather than jumping out. Also, the polarized, "Natural-Vision" 3-D looks so much better than the red-blue that it's not even funny. Growing up in the 1980s, I thought that the polarized glasses were a relatively new technology; I first encountered them on a trip to Walt Disney World, and had thought that 3-D films during their heyday in the 1950s all used the colored glasses. Not the case. Of course, I didn't know about the different projector set-ups theaters used then, or the difference between a white and a silver screen. Most theaters today can't show these films the way they were - the projectors have to have different lenses, and need the reflective screen.

So I'm sort of curious how Disney's 3-D Chicken Little is going to work. Apparently, it's going to require digital projection, and won't be red-blue. So I'm guessing it's LCDs on the lens, alternating between vertical and horizontal along with the individual frames. But that's got to be just asking for a seizure, right?

Anyway, Clinton McClurg (the highly entertaining program director of the Coolidge), says that they'll be doing it again soon. It would potentially be a heck of a thing to do around Halloween.

Kiss Me Kate

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

Kiss Me Kate has one of the most clever uses for 3-D that I can recall seeing, in that it explicitly delineates three different levels of reality. It's a backstage comedy, you see, so during the final performance sequence, director George Sidney occasionally arranges the action so that the audience for the play is between the movie audience and the action on stage. It's a constant, subtle reminder that while what's going on on-stage is funny, it's not as "real" as what's going on backstage.

In a lot of movies, I'd suspect that this was just an attempt to create a flashy 3-D effect, but the structure of the play is self-referential enough that for me figure it's deliberate. Kiss Me Kate is a movie (adapted from a Broadway musical) about the mounting of a Broadway musical based upon Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. The movie has songs by Cole Porter, and also has a character named Cole Porter writing songs for the play. Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred Graham (Howard Keel) don't quite fit into their roles of Katherine and Petruchio off-stage - they're a divorced pair of actors whose mutual annoyance trumps their love, more His Girl Friday than Shakespeare - but it's close enough for government work.

Read the rest on HBS.

Dial M for Murder

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

In Dial M for Murder, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a former tennis player, although his plan for ridding himself of his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) suggests his true talents lie in a different sort of game. Chess, perhaps. Tennis, after all, is a game made up almost entirely of quick reactions and physical endurance; murder, at least as Wendice plays it, requires careful planning and the ability to think several moves ahead in addition to being able to react quickly to an unexpectedly strong opponent. And as Alfred Hitchcock shows to delightful effect, it's somewhat easier when you're the only one who knows about the game.

Tony and Margot, obviously, don't have the perfect marriage. She was attracted to the famous athlete, but soon tired of the travel; he, suspecting an affair, quit tennis and settled down in a regular job. Now, it's the better part of a year later and the American friend Margot had been seeing, mystery writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), is back in town. But Wendice isn't worried; he's hatched a perfect plan to have his wife murdered (and inherit her money) while Halliday vouches for his location. Perfect except for one detail: Margot turns the tables on Charles Swann (Anthony Dawson), the man Wendice blackmails into actually doing the deed, killing him in self-defense. But not to worry; for Tony Wendice, this could prove to be only a minor setback.

Read the rest at HBS.

House of Wax

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

Were wax museums considered creepy before this movie? Certainly, the visitors to Henry Jarrod's second wax museum are coming for the macabre, but so were the people seeing the movie, and that doesn't make the Coolidge Corner Theater creepy. House of Wax takes place at around the turn of the twentieth century, and for all I know, buildings full of wax statues were fun, family entertainment before horror movies and pulp fiction pointed out how creepy statues that still and lifelike could be. This movie in particular does a pretty good job.

The film starts with Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) showing the painstaking recreations of historical figures in his wax museum to Scott Andrews (Paul Picerni), a critic and Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts), his partner. The critic is impressed, and likely to write a glowing review upon his return from Europe, but the partner wants a more immediate return on his investment, and if Jarrod won't create grotesqueries to compete with the other wax museums, well, collecting on the fire insurance is just fine. Jarrod tries to stop him, but is knocked unconscious as the fire consumes the museum around him. Of course, with such suspicious circumstances, it takes months for the insurance to be collected, and soon after, Andrews and his girlfriend Cathy (Carolyn Jones) are killed by a mysterious, silent attacker. At the same time a wheelchair-bound Jarrod reappears, planning a new museum where he'll give the public what they want, and accompanied by a hulking, silent assistant. Soon, bodies are going missing from the morgue, and Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) swears that one of the statues bears an uncanny resemblance to Cathy, her former roommate. Hmm...

Read the rest at HBS.

The Mad Magician

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

When a movie is a big success, knock-offs are inevitable. After Warner Brothers's House of Wax was a huge hit in 1953, Columbia Pictures set out to clone it. To their credit, they had a great deal of the original film's DNA to work with - star Vincent Price, producer Bryan Foy, cinematographer Bert Glennon, and writer Crane Wilbur, who provided a very similar story and used some of the same devices. But, as anyone who has seen a sci-fi movie can tell you, a clone seldom measures up to the original.

Here, Price plays Don Gallico, a gifted engineer whose creations for Ross Ormand's company have made Ormand (Donald Randolph) and pompous illusionists such The Great Rinaldi (John Emery) rich; to add insult to injury, his wife Claire (Eva Gabor) divorced him to marry Ormand. He devises an elaborate apparatus to saw a woman in half on his own time, but before he is able to demonstrate it on stage as "Gallico the Great", Ormand appears with an injunction to cease and desist. A man can only stand so much, and soon Ormand is being fed into the device with the safety off. Gallico's knowledge of prestidigitation will take a backseat to his skills at mimicry as he attempts to hide his crime(s).

Read the rest at HBS.

Miss Sadie Thompson

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

Rita Hayworth was a movie star. She was also a dancer, and probably wrote "actress" on her tax forms, but when all is said and done, she will be remembered as a celebrity who looked fantastic, had a couple of high-profile marriages, and made a couple of pretty good movies. Miss Sadie Thompson, however, isn't among them.

An adaptation of a story by W. Somerset Maugham, Miss Sadie Thompson follows its title character as she lands in American Somoa, quarantined on her trip from from Hawaii to Malaysia, where she's got a job waiting. The marines stationed on the base are as excited as can be - she's fun-loving and outgoing, and looks like Rita Hayworth, not a combination often seen in those parts. One of her fellow passengers, Alfred Davidson (Jose Ferrer), is less delighted - he's running the missionary foundation his father started, and loose women like Sadie are, he figures, a danger to the souls of both the soldiers and the natives. He's wealthy and intolerant, and has a lot of pull with the territorial governor. Sgt. Phil O'Hara (Aldo Ray) isn't going to let that stand, since it's love at first sight for him. But he doesn't know why Sadie has left Hawaii.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner #1 (3-D Film Festival) (Anaglyph 3-D)

The last gasp of of Universal's monster franchise was "the creature", an amphibious beast from deep within the Amazon basin. It's no match for some of Universal's other monster series, in part because its monster is almost entirely a creation of foam rubber; the twisted humanity that makes Dracula or Frankenstein's monster so compelling is almost missing.

This monster is the apparent last survivor of a species of water-dwelling humanoids native to the Amazon river area. When Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovers a fossil, he determines to mount an expedition, not realizing that the species isn't extinct - while he's meeting with old students David (Richard Carlson) and Kay (Julie Adams), the creature is busy killing the assistants he left behind at the dig site. Before heading up the river, the three add Mark Williams (Richard Denning) and Dr. Thompson (Whit Bissel) to their party, which will use the vessel "Rita", captained by Lucas (Nestor Paiva). There will be tension in the party, of course, as Dr. Maia and his students mainly want to collect photographs and specimens, while Mark wants a trophy, and the creature is looking to kill the gill-less monsters invading its home.

Read the rest at HBS.

It Came from Outer Space

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner #1 (3-D Film Festival) (Anaglyph 3-D)

It Came from Outer Space is a movie that certain critics will say transcends its genre because even though it starts out as a basic Body Snatchers clone, it eventually focusing on the hero having to stop the military and/or law enforcement from attacking the aliens. Yes, one can see them say, this must be a superior motion picture, for it agrees with my attitude toward the people in authority. Which can be well and good, but not when, as happens in It Came from Outer Space, coming to that conclusion involves overlooking what the aliens have been up to for the rest of the movie.

Which, at first, is crashing in the Arizona desert. Local photographer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) sees this crash, and along with his girlfriend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush), charters a helicopter to investigate. He finds signs that it wasn't just a meteor, but no-one believes him. Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) starts to change his mind, though, when a local road crew starts acting just as erratically as Putnam seems to be.

Read the rest at HBS.

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