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Weekly Mishmash: May 24-30

Babel (2006). Well-made, admirable and pretentious multi-continent epic from Mexico’s Alejandro González Iñárritu. This was the director who also helmed the brilliant Amores Perros (Love’s A Bitch) in 2000, an infinitely more modest film with which this venture pales a bit in comparison. I really enjoyed this, however. Despite some overlong and self-indulgent sequences (such as the Japanese nightclub scene), the ambitious multi-country scope is handled well with several noteworthy performances. Several questions linger in my mind about the plot, however. Such as — what was Cate Blanchett doing in Morocco if she hated it so much? Why was the nympho deaf girl featured so prominently? And, where was the ending for the Mexico storyline?
Crime Wave (1954) and Decoy (1946). Two films that could loosely be called noirs, although the only thing they really share is a single Warner Home Video DVD. Scenes from the gritty Crime Wave were included in the making-ofs on the expanded L.A. Confidential DVD. With its unadorned scenes of the workaday dealings of L.A. cops, I could see the influence on the latter. Gruff Sterling Hayden stars as a detective trailing an ex-con (Gene Nelson) who has been unwillingly roped into another crime by his unsavory former cellmates. Fun location footage in and around Glendale, California adds to the realism. If Crime Wave is the treat, the unimpressive ‘B’ Decoy must be the trick. A cheap melodrama produced by z-grade studio Monogram, this film follows a ruthless woman (played by the obscure but oddly compelling Jean Gillie) as she plots with an unsuspecting doctor (bland Edward Norris) to grab a box of loot buried by her jailbird beau (Robert Armstrong, looking a lot older than in King Kong). Ludicrous story is given a painfully dull treatment. Strangely enough, this film was championed by DVD Savant‘s Glenn Erickson, whose opinions I normally agree with.
Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). Colorful Disney hokum about leprechauns, most notable for having a young and toothy Sean Connery (who even sings!) in one of his earliest film roles. Predictable as all get out, but I loved the special effects creating the illusion of a secret enclave of wee men (the DVD included a fun featurette explaining how it was done). Very impressive, even by today’s standards.
End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003). Movie Channel recording. Pretty good, somewhat blandly made documentary on the seminal punk band. I didn’t know about the band members’ infighting, which makes the fact that they kept the band going for 20 plus years a remarkable feat. I think Dee Dee (who died of a drug o.d. in 2004) was the most fascinating character in the Ramones. His bizarre sideline as a rapper in the late ’80s, with a look that strangely prefigured Kid Rock’s, was one of the most interesting parts of the doc. It was also cool to hear about the opposing political viewpoints of Joey and Johnny Ramone. For a band that epitomized the opposite of slickness, this film could have used a tighter approach with considerably less rambling interviews, but it was compelling enough.
Edu Lobo - Sergio Mendes PresentsEdu Lobo – Sergio Mendes Presents Lobo. My second iTunes album download was this ’69 gem from that bastion of grooviness, A&M Records. This was an attempt to break Brazilian songwriter Edu Lobo in America, under the tutelage of Brasil ’66 hitmaker Sergio Mendes. While I’m not sure if it was successful saleswise (to my knowledge, Lobo never recorded another LP here), the album is a warm and wonderful delight. It sounds like a more authentic Brasil ’66 record, only without the loungey female vocals. It actually goes into a lot of daring territory rhythmically. Lobo has a pleasant voice and he acquaints himself well with the English language, especially with the six minute “Crystal Illusions” (also recorded by Mendes and the Brasil ’66). He also wrote all the songs here, with the exceptions of arranger Ermeto Pascoal’s tropical instrumental “Sharp Tongue” and an understated cover of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” Great album.
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006). Sundance Channel recording. Fun ’60s spy spoof from France, a more loving and good-natured tribute than the vulgar Austin Powers movies could ever muster. Jean Dujardin manages to be both suave and silly as secret agent OSS 177, ’50s soldier turned spy investigating some kind of international brouhaha having to do with chicken farms in exotic Egypt. Although this didn’t elicit a lot of laughs from us — it was more goofy than funny — we enjoyed the film’s chi chi look and fidelity to the period. Even the filming techniques were on the money (lots of back screen projection). A sequel set in Brazil just came out in France. Whenever that comes over to our shores, I’ll be on it.

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