Film Review Round-up – THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014); HORSE FEATHERS (1932) and FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964)

B00R3DO58KHobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The (2014; New Zealand/USA; Colour; 144m) ∗∗∗½  d. Peter Jackson; w. Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro; ph. Andrew Lesnie; m. Howard Shore. Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Aidan Turner, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Ryan Gage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Jed Brophy, Stephen Hunter, John Callen, Adam Brown, Dean O’Gorman, William Kircher, Peter Hambleton, Mark Hadlow, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Billy Connolly, Christopher Lee, Stephen Fry, Ian Holm, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett. As the dwarves dwell in the mountains, forces of Orcs and Elves descend on them, bringing possibility of a war that threatens all of Middle-earth. Bilbo must take it upon himself to end the conflict, but his actions may come at a terrible cost. Spectacular, action-packed finale, which is light on plot and characterisation and includes some implausible set-pieces. This is essentially one long battle. The visuals are stunning, however. Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Also shot in 3-D. [12]

220px-HorseFeaHorse Feathers (1932; USA; B&W; 68m) ∗∗∗∗½  d. Norman Z. McLeod; w. Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, S.J. Perelman, Will B. Johnstone; ph. Ray June; m. John Leipold.  Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Thelma Todd, David Landau, Florine McKinney, Nat Pendleton, James Pierce, Robert Greig. Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley U, hires bumblers Baravelli and Pinky to help his school win the big football game against rival Darwin U. Fast and furious Marxian lunacy with the gags flowing thick and fast. This one of their most sustained funny films. Although the present running time (68m) is very close to that of the original (70m), there are still a few bits and pieces and lines of dialogue missing due to re-editing in 1935 in order to bring the film up to Production Code standards. [U]

518oyd3UP1L._SY300_Fistful of Dollars (1964; Italy/Spain/West Germany; Technicolor; 99m) ∗∗∗½  d. Sergio Leone; w. Víctor Andrés Catena, Jaime Comas Gil, Sergio Leone; ph. Massimo Dallamano, Federico G. Larraya; m. Ennio Morricone; ed. Roberto Cinquini, Alfonso Santacana.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Mario Brega, Gian Maria Volonte, Marianne Koch, Jose Calvo, Wolfgang Lukschy, Joseph Egger, Sieghardt Rupp, Antonio Prieto, Margarita Lozano, Daniel Martin, Benito Stefanelli, Bruno Carotenuto, Aldo Sambrell. A wandering gunfighter plays two rival families against each other in a town torn apart by greed, pride, and revenge. First of Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy is relatively low key compared to its successors, but highly influential on the genre. Eastwood’s presence is immediately apparent and the story is told with economy and style. A remake of YOJIMBO (1961), which itself was based on the as yet unadapted 1929 novel “Red Harvest” by Dashiell Hammett. Not released in the US until 1967. Original title: PER UN PUGNO DI DOLLARI. Followed by FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965). [15]

Film Review Round-up – BLACK PATCH (1957); INTERSTELLAR (2014) and GO WEST (1940)

113027-338Black Patch (1957; USA; B&W; 82m) ∗∗∗  d. Allen H. Miner; w. Leo Gordon; ph. Edward Colman; m. Jerry Goldsmith.  Cast: George Montgomery, Diane Brewster, Tom Pittman, Leo Gordon, House Peters Jr., Jorge Treviño, Lynn Cartwright, Peter Brocco, Ted Jacques, Strother Martin, Gilman Rankin, Ned Glass, John O’Malley, Stanley Adams, Sebastian Cabot. A one-eyed marshal finds himself accused of a killing due to his past relationship with the dead man’s wife, prompting a young gunslinger to set out to avenge his death.  Unusual western is a heavy-handed and only partially successful attempt to capitalise on psychological elements popular at the time in the genre. The first film scored by Jerry Goldsmith. [PG]

images (1)Interstellar (2014; USA/UK; Colour; 169m) ∗∗∗½  d. Christopher Nolan; w. Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan; ph. Hoyte van Hoytema; m. Hans Zimmer.  Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, David Gyasi, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Wes Bentley, Mackenzie Foy, Timothée Chalamet, Topher Grace, David Oyelowo, Ellen Burstyn. A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to find a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity. Big concept sci-fi knows how to play a crowd, gets by on strong lead performances and holds attention despite its script failing to fully realise the potential of the ideas explored. Won Oscar for Best Visual Effects (Paul J. Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, Scott R. Fisher). Based on a story by Kip Thorne. [12]

download (5)Go West (1940; USA; B&W; 80m) ∗∗∗½  d. Edward Buzzell; w. Irving Brecher; ph. Leonard Smith; m. George Bassman, George Stoll; ed. Blanche Sewell.  Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, John Carroll, Diana Lewis, Walter Woolf King, Robert Barrat, Tully Marshall, June MacCloy, George Lessey. The Marx Brothers come to the rescue in the Wild West when a young man, trying to settle an old family feud so he can marry the girl he loves, runs afoul of crooks. One of the later Marx comedies, has a bland story but some splendid gags – notably the train chase climax. [U]

Film Review Round-up – 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2014); THE MAN FROM COLORADO (1948) and DUCK SOUP (1933)

51sTNjOLpGL._SY300_12 Years a Slave (2013; USA/UK; DeLuxe; 134m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Steve McQueen; w. John Ridley; ph. Sean Bobbitt; m. Hans Zimmer; ed. Joe Walker.  Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Michael K. Williams, Garret Dillahunt, Quvenzhané Wallis, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Bryan Batt, Dwight Henry. Based on a true story, this is a riveting account of a free black man kidnapped from New York and sold into brutal slavery in mid-1850s Louisiana, and the inspiring story of his desperate struggle to return home to his family. A tough watch that holds the viewer through the brilliant performances of the cast – notably Ejiofor. The screenplay serves to tell the story without recourse to Hollywood conventions. Won Oscars for Best Picture; Supporting Actress (Nyong’o) and Adapted Screenplay. Based on the biography by Solomon Northup. [15]

download (3)Man from Colorado, The (1948; USA; Technicolor; 100m) ∗∗∗  d. Henry Levin; w. Robert Hardy Andrews, Ben Maddow; ph. William E. Snyder; m. George Duning; ed. Charles Nelson.  Cast: Glenn Ford, William Holden, Ellen Drew, Ray Collins, Edgar Buchanan, Jerome Courtland, James Millican, Jim Bannon, William Phillips. Two friends return home after their discharge from the army after the Civil War. However, one of them has had deep-rooted psychological damage due to his experiences during the war, and as his behaviour becomes more erratic–and violent–his friend desperately tries to find a way to help him. Attempts to comment on the effects of war, but Ford descends into the melodramatic in his interpretation of the tortured judge. Good production values and serviceable script are pluses. Based on a story by Borden Chase. [PG]

0023969Duck Soup (1933; USA; B&W; 68m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Leo McCarey; w. Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin; ph. Henry Sharp; m. John Leipold; ed. LeRoy Stone.  Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Edmund Breese, Louis Calhern, Margaret Dumont, Edgar Kennedy, Charles Middleton, Edwin Maxwell, Raquel Torres, Verna Hillie, Leonid Kinskey, William Worthington, Eric Mayne. Rufus T. Firefly is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale. This is top-drawer Marxian humour. A satirical and zany masterpiece with numerous memorable set-pieces. Unlike many of their other films this one not only sustains the laughter level to the end but actually ramps it up a level in the last fifteen minutes. Last appearance of Zeppo Marx in The Marx Brothers films. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #60 Greatest Movie of All Time. [U]

Film Review Round-up – ABOVE THE LAW (1988); ABSENCE OF MALICE (1981); THE BIG STORE (1941); CASINO ROYALE (1967); CASINO ROYALE (2006)

Above the LawAbove the Law (1988; USA; Technicolor; 97m) ∗∗  d. Andrew Davis; w. Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett, Andrew Davis, Steven Seagal; ph. Robert Steadman; m. David Michael Frank; ed. Michael Brown.  Cast: Steven Seagal, Pam Grier, Sharon Stone, Daniel Faraldo, Ron Dean, Jack Wallace, Henry Silva. An ex-CIA policeman working for the local police department, while doing an investigation discovers the existence of a big weapon trade. Seagal has the physical attributes but not the charisma of a Clint Eastwood. The plot is used merely as a prop from which to hang a number of admittedly polished action scenes. Aka: NICO: ABOVE THE LAW. [18]

Absence of MaliceAbsence of Malice (1981; USA; Colour; 117m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Sydney Pollack; w. Kurt Luedtke; ph. Owen Roizman; m. Dave Grusin; ed. Sheldon Kahn.  Cast: Paul Newman, Sally Field, Bob Balaban, Melinda Dillon, Luther Adler, Barry Primus, Josef Sommer, John Harkins, Don Hood, Wilford Brimley, Arnie Ross, Anna Marie Napoles. When a prosecutor leaks a false story that a liquor warehouse owner is involved in the murder of a union head, the man’s life begins to unravel. Absorbing and well-made conspiracy thriller with excellent star turns from Newmand and Field. Adler’s last film. [PG]

Big StoreThe Big Store (1941; USA; B&W; 83m) ∗∗∗  d. Charles Reisner; w. Sid Kuller, Hal Fimberg, Ray Golden; ph. Charles Lawton Jr.; m. George Stoll (musical director); ed. Conrad A. Nervig.  Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Tony Martin, Virginia Grey, Margaret Dumont, Douglass Dumbrille, William Tannen, Marion Martin, Virginia O’Brien. A detective is hired to protect the life of a singer, who has recently inherited a department store, from the store’s crooked manager. Although the musical interludes threaten to drown the comedy there is much here to enjoy notably Groucho’s rendition of “Sing While You Sell” and the slapstick finale chase through the department store. Based on a story by Nat Perrin. The Marx Brothers announced that this would be their last film, but they actually went on to make two more. [U]

Casino Royale 1967Casino Royale (1967; UK; Technicolor; 131m) ∗∗  d. Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest; w. Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, Michael Sayers; ph. Jack Hildyard; m. Burt Bacharach; ed. Bill Lenny.  Cast: Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, William Holden, Deborah Kerr, Daliah Lavi, John Huston, George Raft, Joanna Pettet, Charles Boyer, Kurt Kasznar, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Peter O’Toole. In an early spy spoof, aging Sir James Bond comes out of retirement to take on SMERSH. Out-of-control spoof is interesting mainly for its cast and Burt Bacharach’s score. The whole thing, though, is ill-conceived and loses its way completely in a free-for-all climax. Based on the novel by Ian Fleming. [PG]

Casino Royale 2006Casino Royale (2006; USA/UK/Germany/Czech Republic; Colour; 144m) ∗∗∗∗½  d. Martin Campbell; w. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis; ph. Phil Meheux; m. David Arnold; ed. Stuart Baird.  Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Isaach De Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic, Tobias Menzies, Claudio Santamaria, Sebastien Foucan, Malcolm Sinclair. In his first mission, James Bond must stop Le Chiffre, a banker to the world’s terrorist organizations, from winning a high-stakes poker tournament at Casino Royale in Montenegro. Craig makes an excellent debut in arguably the best Bond movie. The action is fast and furious in the opening sequence and the plot carries us through the centre of the film. All the elements are there but this is a tough, rugged entry in a series that has rebooted itself in some considerable style. Based on the novel by Ian Fleming. [12]

Film Review Round-up – AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007); ARGO (2012); THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950); AT THE CIRCUS (1939)

8442765_detAmerican Gangster (2007; USA; Technicolor; 157m) ∗∗∗½  d. Ridley Scott; w. Steven Zaillian; ph. Harris Savides; m. Marc Streitenfeld; ed. Pietro Scalia.  Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Lymari Nadal, Ted Levine, Roger Guenveur Smith, John Hawkes, RZA, Yul Vazquez, Malcolm Goodwin, Ruby Dee, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, John Ortiz, Cuba Gooding Jr., Armand Assante, Idris Elba. In 1970s America, a detective works to bring down the drug empire of Frank Lucas, a heroin kingpin from Manhattan, who is smuggling the drug into the country from the Far East. Straightforward biopic coasts on strong performances from Washington and Crowe and solid direction from Scott despite the stuttering nature of the narrative. Based on the article “The Return of Superfly” by Mark Jacobson. Unrated version runs to 176m. [18]

ArgoArgo (2012; USA; DeLuxe; 120m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Ben Affleck; w. Chris Terrio; ph. Rodrigo Prieto; m. Alexandre Desplat; ed. William Goldenberg.  Cast: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Taylor Schilling, Chris Messina, Kyle Chandler, Clea DuVall, Alan Arkin, Zeljko Ivanek, Tate Donovan, Titus Welliver, Victor Garber, Adrienne Barbeau, Michael Cassidy, Rory Cochrane. A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran. Absorbing account of the rescue is brilliantly directed and acted. Occasional lapses into contrivances to create dramatic tension and an unnecassary subplot involving Affleck’s family stop this from being great – but impressive nevertheless.  Won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Writing: Adapted Screenplay (Terrio) and Best Film Editing (Goldenberg). Based on the book “The Master of Disguise” by Tony Mendez and the article “Escape from Tehran” by Joshuah Bearman. Extended cut runs to 130m. [15]

Asphalt JungleThe Asphalt Jungle (1950; USA; B&W; 112m) ∗∗∗∗  d. John Huston; w. Ben Maddow, John Huston; ph. Harold Rosson; m. Miklós Rózsa; ed. George Boemler.  Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marc Lawrence, Marilyn Monroe, Barry Kelley, Anthony Caruso, Teresa Celli, William ‘Wee Willie’ Davis, Dorothy Tree, Brad Dexter, John Maxwell. A major heist goes off as planned, until bad luck and double crosses cause everything to unravel. Slick, efficient and highly effective with a strong cast giving excellent performances. Became a major influence on a generation of filmmakers. Debuts of Strother Martin and Jack Warden. Based on the novel by W.R. Burnett. [PG]

At the CircusAt the Circus (1939; USA; B&W; 87m) ∗∗∗½  d. Edward Buzzell; w. Irving Brecher; ph. Leonard Smith; m. Harold Arlen; ed. William H. Terhune.  Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Kenny Baker, Florence Rice, Eve Arden, Margaret Dumont, Nat Pendleton, Fritz Feld, James Burke, Jerry Maren, Barnett Parker, Mariska Aldrich, Irving Bacon, Willie Best. The Marx Brothers try to help the owner of a circus recover some stolen funds before he finds himself out of a job. Entertaining mix of zany comedy and musical numbers with the Marxes in good form. More controlled than their earlier films but the laughs are still frequent. [U]