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Weekly Mishmash: July 20-26

Today I want to give a shout out and a happy birthday to Christopher, the youngest 49 year-old I’ve ever known. Briefly incapacitated by a bug, the mishmash pickin’s are on the slim side this week. Here we go …
The Black Book (1949). Loquacious one Vince Keenan raved about this gothic thriller on his blog, so I recorded the recent TCM showing and gave it a looksie last Monday in between some nasty dry heaves. Originally titled Reign of Terror, this is a nifty example of applying noir atmosphere to a historical subject — in this case, events leading up to the French Revolution. While it certainly looks like a low budget film and takes a while to get moving, director Anthony Mann does wonders with the material and created some truly suspenseful scenes bathed in gorgeous shadows. An edgy and effective Robert Cummings (whom I normally can’t stand) heads up the eccentric and well-chosen cast. This is one of those weird public domain films which only shows up in muddy looking prints; Criterion really oughta look into doing a sparkling DVD reissue.
Memories of Murder (2003). A grisly and overlong film based on the real-life case of the first documented serial killer in Korea. The intriguing story could have made for a good, tense 90 minute film, but at two-plus hours it felt stretched to the limit. Seeing the brutality of the Korean police was an eye-opener, but the fact that every single character had a short fuse got annoying very quickly. I enjoyed the pudgy lead actor, and some genuinely creepy moments come through, but overall this was a disappointment.
Quinceñara (2006). Despite having zero interest in the blossoming ceremonial rituals of latino teen girls, I put this on the Netflix queue due to the great reviews it got. What a nice surprise it turned out to be. The quinceñara (a fancy party given for hispanic girls when they turn 15) forms the bookends for this story of a girl who finds herself pregnant and outcast by her preacher dad. Desperate, she turns to her eccentric great uncle and cousin and the three form their own offbeat familia. This was a charmingly scripted, perceptive film which paints a vivid portrait of a changing subculture in Los Angeles’ Echo Park. I especially liked the subplot with the cousin and his covert fascination with the gay yuppie couple who purchased the home they’re renting from. How often does a film deal realistically with latino life, much less gay latino life?
WALL•E (2008). What does it take to get two confirmed homebodies out to the cinema? One word: Pixar. We finally saw this on Friday, and I concur with all the critics who have been slobbering over themselves. It’s a beautiful and unique achievement that stands among Toy Story and The Incredibles in the Pixar pantheon. Only debit: once Wall-E and Eve leave earth and enter the space station, a bit of specialness is lost.

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