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Weekly Mishmash: September 13-19

American Dreamz (2006). A slow week of pop culture consumption began with this well-intentioned but iffy comedy, recorded off the Oxygen channel. This was the recent but already dated American Idol satire with Hugh Grant and Dennis Quaid as characters which in no way resemble Simon Cowell and George W. Bush, no sir. Mandy Moore also stars, showing her chops as a surprisingly good actor. The concept of a popular A.I.-like talent show being infiltrated by a terrorist while the president is making a guest appearance is a solid one. The filmmakers never quite shed the fact that this is a mainstream Hollywood movie, however. Too many concessions were made and (despite a few effective bits) the satire ultimately comes across as toothless. The presence of Jennifer Coolidge as Moore’s earthy ma makes me wish Christopher Guest got his hands on the script first.
poster_manwho56The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Way, way back when I was first getting into “old movies,” I can remember watching this one as part of a personal Alfred Hitchcock cram course and not being very impressed. Something about James Stewart and Doris Day just bugged me, and the candy-colored photography didn’t jibe with the film’s dark plot. Watching it again, I found it to be a nicely cast and effective thriller — perhaps not one of Hitch’s best, but a good deal better than most films of that era. Stewart and Day play a prototypical American couple vacationing with their young son in Africa. A series of initially harmless events cause Stewart to cross paths with a man who is involved with an underground plot to assassinate a British ambassador, leading to their kid getting abducted. Doris somehow finds the time to sing “Que Sera Sera” twice during all this, too. As an adult, I found myself empathizing with Stewart and Day’s agonizing over their son’s disappearance. Both actors fret convincingly. Although she gets a bit histrionic at times, Day was excellent in the film’s climactic scene where she witnesses the assassination about to take place (during a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall) — unable to do anything to stop it. The segment is Hitchcock at his best, manipulating the viewers’ thoughts to create a building, agonizing tension. Although I haven’t seen the 1934 version recently enough to compare, I believe that Hitchcock would have to perform the directorial equivalent of a triple axel to top the remake.

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