Jeez, I saw a lot of movies in the past week.
Blindness (2008). Considering its pedigree, something of a disappointment. Julianne Moore (great as always) leads the cast as the sole sighted woman after an unnamed metropolis is gripped in a mysterious blindness epidemic. Had a lot of potential going in, but the story gets tripped up with one implausibility after another. The direction came across as too “artsy fartsy,” especially considering that the film veers into predictable Lord of the Flies-style territory. It’s a shame, since there are many good, small performances in this one.
Chained for Life (1951). Fascinating, at times downright awful vehicle for conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton. The Hiltons were minor celebrities in the ’20s and ’30s — famous for being charismatic and beautiful entertainers who just happened to be permanently joined in their rear quarters. They even netted small roles in the notorious Freaks (1932); the poverty row production Chained for Life was their one attempt at leading ladydom. By this time they were in their forties and looking a bit haggard; although stilted actresses (Violet was pretty decent, Daisy awful), the ladies are charming nonetheless in this rote story of unrequited love gone bad on the vaudeville circuit. The twins sing a few cute numbers; strangely, I never noticed their condition until they started walking around. This film has a strange ending and the DVD’s blurry print is a pain to sit through, but it’s worth a watch for the morbidly curious.
Coraline (2009). We finally caught this last Thursday — at a showing in which we were the only patrons in the entire theater! What can I say, it’s excellent — although I did find Dakota Fanning’s voice shrill at times. Christopher found it underwhelming, but I was captivated by the creepy atmosphere and the fantastic attention to detail (e.g., bug-themed wallpaper in the bug room). I hope whoever already saw this stuck it out through the very end — the post-credits bit was an extra special treat.
The Doll Squad (1973). Was Ted V. Mikels the Ed Wood of the ’70s? After seeing this kitsch classic, I’d have to say hell yeah. The Doll Squad is best known for having so many similarities to Charlie’s Angels that the filmmakers sued. Where Aaron Spelling’s TV hit was all jiggle and fluff, though, this movie is violent, sleazy and tackier than a roomful of olive green shag carpeting. This movie is about a team of beautiful undercover female agents, with a surprisingly competent Francine York as the head Doll who knows how to kick a baddie’s ass without mussing up a single auburn hair. The first half is frenetically paced and campy, filled with weird moments like the scene where two Dolls off a pair of guards with poisoned vodka and cookies (?). However, the film’s dull second act is proof positive that Mikels was a big hack. Actually, my favorite thing about this movie is Nicholas Carras’ “cop show” style soundtrack, energetic and hilariously inappropriate in some spots (really, ’70s wacka wacka guitars for shots of people walking across the room?).
Harakiri (1962). This well-acted, beautifully told samurai film has danced in and out of the IMDb Top 250 for some time now. While overlong and talky, the film does explore an angle not usually covered in films of this ilk. Namely, what happens to an old samurai warrior after he’s outlived his usefulness? Most of the action takes place in the austere but huge home of a 17th century feudal lord in Edo, Japan. A flashback-filled tale unfolds in beautiful black and white. The wide screen cinematography, neatly presented on Criterion’s DVD, is some of the most beautiful I’ve seen.
They All Laughed (1981). Peter Bogdanovich loves this movie. I do not. The plot was thin, the women were vacuous, and — except for some fabulous street footage of New York in 1980 — I was bored.
Wife, Husband and Friend (1939). Plodding fluff about a socialite who desperately wants to be an opera singer, despite having no singing talent. She is further vexed when her husband actually becomes a famous opera singer without even trying. This was, oddly, based on a James M. Cain story, which kinda made me wish the characters plotted to murder each other. It would have been a lot more interesting that way. Loretta Young is miscast in the lead; she’s too young and lovely and her singing voice is obviously dubbed (and not incompetent enough to be believable). Obviously the part should have been played by a saucy Verree Teasdale type, an actress who would have been infinitely better matched with Warner Baxter as the husband.