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Weekly Mishmash: February 22-28

Mephisto (1981). Recently, TCM aired this Best Foreign Language Film winner as part of a night of Oscar-nominated and -winning films dealing with actors and the stage. Well-mounted in a manner reminiscent of Chariots of Fire, a lot of this film’s energy derives from the magnetic performance of Klaus Maria Brandauer as an actor who gradually sells his soul to the emerging Nazi party in ’30s Germany. Brandauer’s character Hendrik Hoefgen is an interesting paradox, so ambitious that he befriends a high ranking Nazi official to help his career even if he doesn’t necessarily believe in their dogma. When he becomes a success, he is forced to play roles both on stage and off. This film drags a bit at times, but it never fails to be thought provoking and well acted all the way through.
Quai des Orfevres posterQuai des Orfèvres (1947). This was a gem of a police procedural film from the ’40s, directed with loads of atmosphere by Henri-Georges Clouzot (who was also responsible for one of my all time fave French films, Diabolique). When the wealthy paramour of a Parisian singer (Suzy Delair) turns up dead, the woman’s suspicious behavior tags her as a suspect with the main investigator (Louis Jouvet). As things unfold, both the entertainer’s husband (Bernard Blier) and her sexually ambiguous photographer friend (Simone Renant) become suspects as well. Although this movie temporarily gets lost in a theatrical milieu in the first half, it quickly gains speed as it goes along and becomes a hugely entertaining affair. I especially enjoyed the dialogue, which is earthy, fresh and very unlike what you’d usually hear in 1940s movies. The film’s gorgeous b&w cinematography is nicely preserved in Criterion’s DVD — which also includes some neat interviews with the film’s director and principal cast, from a TV special done 20-odd years later. Great fun. I heartily recommend.
Quarantine (2008). I expected pure cheese with this one, a low-rent Cloverfield with zombies (yep, that’s what it is). For what it’s worth, the movie winds up being an addictive and competently made chiller — predictable, but hella fun. Leading lady Jennifer Carpenter screamed in all the right places, but I kept thinking it would have been so much cooler if the producers had waited a bit and cast Scream Queens winner Tanedra in the part instead. Jay Hernandez brings the hotness as a hunky fireman. Oh, and I loved the Spanish style vintage apartment set design (both of us thought it was filmed in a real, Melrose Place-esque dwelling).
Rabbit, Run by John Updike. Because I was curious about Updike but never read anything of his outside a few New Yorker short stories, I checked this one out from the library last month — only a day before the guy died. Updike had a real gift for describing mundane things, but he also sprinkles enough current references to give a tangible sense of place and time (late ’50s/early ’60s Pennsylvania, in this case). Too often I found myself empathizing with the character of Rabbit Angstrom, aimless guy in his mid-20s who has a premature midlife crisis, abandoning his pregnant wife and go-nowhere job to “find” himself. Strangely, the book loses me (only temporarily) whenever Updike focuses on the other characters — Rabbit is such a strong presence that the book loses a bit of air in the brief scenes when he’s not around, even though he remains the focal point throughout. Now I’d like to check out Updike’s three other Rabbit books to see where he takes the character. Coincidentally, NPR’s Diane Rehm Show had a roundtable discussion of the novel this week. Apparently people are still arguing over Rabbit, forty plus years later.

2 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: February 22-28

  1. Nice to know I’m not the only one who can’t get Scream Queens out of his head. And I adore Quai des Orfevres. Talk about a gem. Saucy and suspenseful.

  2. Yeah, Vince, it was thanks to your Twitter feed that I first heard about Scream Queens. Much better than the usual reality crap.

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