Weekly Mishmash: July 5-11
Final Edition (1932). One of the thousand reasons to cherish Turner Classic Movies: they quietly played a trio of pre-Code Mae Clarke vehicles last Friday. Mae who? The lady best known for being at the receiving end of James Cagney’s breakfast in The Public Enemy, that’s who. With her sharp nose and inky dark eyes, she wasn’t a great beauty (strangely, she looks a lot like current actress Laura Dern). As evidenced by the snappy newspaper yarn Final Edition, however, she was an interesting enough presence in her own right. At first this feels like a Front Page ripoff, with Pat O’Brien repeating his amazing motor mouth skills as Clarke’s editor. Then the story detours into crime drama territory with Clarke’s perky reporter getting in over her head with the pencil-mustachioed crime syndicate bigwig she’s trailing. Although there’s nothing particularly outstanding about this spartan little thing, it’s a brisk and fun way to spend slightly more than an hour.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981). Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep as actors whose illicit affair mirrors the star-crossed 19th century couple they are playing in a film-within-a-film. This movie was like a luxurious, exquisitely wrapped package with nothing inside. The cross-generational back and forth only points out the weaknesses in both the boring contemporary scenes and the airless period scenes (which play like Merchant Ivory without the social commentary). Jeremy Irons’ excellent performance is the best reason to see this. Meryl Steep, although looking sensational, seemed disoriented in a role that was beyond her abilities at this stage in her career. A big “blah” for me.
Knowing (2009). Oh dear. Nicolas Cage figures out the end of the world with the help of a few telepathic kiddies. Christopher enjoyed this one, I didn’t. I don’t know if it was Cage’s laconic line recitations (the guy seems like he just learned his lines the night before filming) or plot holes big enough to drive through, but I gave up on this long before the hokey, Left Behind-style Christian parable at windup. The only parts I liked were the spectacular plane and subway crashes seen in the film’s trailer. Advanced CGI and mass destruction are an unbeatable combination, but two good scenes do not a decent movie make.
Mahogany (1975). “Do you know where you’re going to?” Somebody should have asked Diana Ross and Berry Gordy that very question before they decided to undertake this massive ego-fest cum romance movie. I always heard this was a camp classic, but mostly it’s trash — badly directed (what gave Gordy the idea that he could direct?) and with no redeeming characters whatsoever. As a fashion designer turned world famous model, Diana Ross does nada as an actress to give her role any humanity or balance. The woman starts off the film as a selfish brat and winds up a selfish brat at the end. And she delivers her climactic scene covered in candle wax. In the middle, we’re treated to Billy Dee Williams as her earnest, grounded suitor and a typecast Anthony Perkins as the smarmy photographer who makes her a star. Adding to the stench is the fact that the Oriental-meets-Glam-Rock fashions (designed by Ross herself!) are hideous creations that must have taken the applauding extras all their esophageal muscle control not to vomit over. There’s only one scene that I absolutely loved (and it’s not on YouTube, drat) — that’s the montage with Perkins photographing Ross in various exotic looks while Michael Masser’s wonderfully drippy score plays in the background. Oozing with fabulousness, it is the scene that must’ve launched a thousand drag queens.