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Weekly Mishmash: June 21-27

The Aura (2005). The final film for South American director-screenwriter Fabián Bielinsky. Like his previous Four Queens, this one concerns an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. A timid taxidermist (Ricardo Darín) dreams of committing the perfect crime, never thinking he’d accomplish such a thing until a fateful hunting trip spins things into motion. Deliberately paced, beautifully photographed suspenser often gets by merely with the changing expressions in Darín’s face. Fulfilling up to and including the very last frames; I actually enjoyed this more than Four Queens (also recommended).
Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 4: 1964Various — The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 4: 1964. A crazy quilt of a box set covering 163 a- and b-sides that Motown or its subsidiaries released (or planned to release) during 1964. This was the first year in which Motown had sustainable pop success, culminating with the Supremes’ first three #1 hits. It was also the year that the Temptations broke through after years of failed attempts at hits, the debut of the Four Tops with the peerless “Baby I Need Your Loving,” and the commercial peaks of Martha & The Vandellas (“Dancing In the Street”) and Mary Wells (“My Guy”). It’s interesting to listen to these enduring hits in the context of when they came out, surrounded by sometimes forgettable b-sides, interesting failures and outright flops (former child star Bobby Breen among the latter). Being the year of Beatlemania, you also have the blatant cash-in “Give Me A Kiss” by the Hornets — a bald faced “I Want To Hold Your Hand” ripoff — R. Dean Taylor’s silly “Lady Bug Stay Away From That Beatle” (cooler heads prevailed when they canceled the release of that one), and one of the few R&B attempts at a Fab Four sound with Oma Heard’s “Lifetime Man.” I find that, as I go earlier with these sets, there’s a lot more basic filler to be found. That’s especially the case with the samey sounding C&W on the Mel-O-Dy label, Berry Gordy’s valiant try at crashing the Country charts. Still, these are fascinating sets. I don’t mind at all that I’m going poor trying to collect them. Not at all!
Peter Pan (1953). I think it’s been about 25 or 30 years since I last saw this. When I first saw Peter Pan as a child, I remember being spellbound with the “You Can Fly” scene (it’s still enchanting). Besides that one highlight, however, this has never ranked among my favorite Disney classics. It just seems too shrill and unlovable, marred by several bad decisions. Making Peter Pan into a teenager with several girls competing for his attention was flaw #1. I also hated the bratty Tinkerbell as much now as I did at age ten. It really astonishes me that Disney is currently putting their marketing muscle behind her widely proportioned butt. The film is also too short (which is like complaining that the meal was lousy and the portions were too small, I know). One instance where the theme park attraction outdid the film it’s based upon, for sure.
A Royal Scandal (1945) - PosterA Royal Scandal (1945) and Angel Face (1952). Two recordings from TCM’s director salute to Otto Preminger. With A Royal Scandal, Preminger took over for an ailing Ernst Lubitch. This doesn’t surprise, since Lubitch’s stamp of forced gaiety is all over this gilded fabergé egg of a film chronicling Catherine the Great (Tallulah Bankhead) as she seduces a young army officer (William Eythe). In her last role as a screen leading lady, Bankhead has a wonderfully droll way with her lines that elevates the material. I also enjoyed the opportunity to see the underused and attractive Eythe in a meaty role (for more on Eythe, see Just Ask Christopher). Too bad the script was a stagey, cliché-ridden waste. The melodramatic Angel Face made for somewhat more worthwhile viewing, even if it often falls into the old “beautiful girl goes apeshit” trap. In the title role, Jean Simmons plays a rich and deceptively controlling young woman who convinces beefy ambulance driver Robert Mitchum to help her dispose of an annoying relative. Claptrap of the most enjoyable kind, with a genuinely surprising climax.
Who Gets To Call It Art? (2006). Sundance Channel recording. A lively documentary on Henry Geldzahler, legendary curator of modern acquisitions at the Metropolitain Museum of Art from the ’60s to the ’80s. From this film, Geldzahler comes across as a flamboyant enigma with a talent for befriending every emerging artist just before they “make it”. The only glimpse at his private life can be seen in the figure of a man standing nearby in David Hockney’s famous portrait of the man. On that count the film doesn’t succeed, but it is a cool look at the art scene of that era brimming with nice contemporary interviews with Hockney, Frank Stella, Larry Poons and James Rosenquist. This film even uses footage from the duller than dull Painters Painting to good effect.
A Woman Under the Influence (1974). I’ve never seen a John Cassavetes film before this particular one popped up on the Sundance channel lineup (an aside: I love the Sundance channel). Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk star as a married couple in L.A. dealing with her descent into madness. Although it takes a good while to gain momentum and Cassavetes’ sloppiness as a director is all too evident, this film packs a wallop. Though well-intentioned, Falk’s character does all the wrong things in reacting to his wife’s puzzling behavior — which makes the film all the more agonizing. Rowlands is, in a word, amazing. This movie could have easily been pruned by a half hour, but what remains is a wow.

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