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Weekly Mishmash: January 3-9

If I Had A Million (1932). When this Depression-era anthology showed up on the TCM schedule, I was so delighted. For one, it’s one of Joyce Compton‘s earlier films that I’d never seen. For another, I’ve always heard that this was one of the better films of its kind (different directors contributing short bits on a central theme) ever made. I wasn’t disappointed. The film opens with an eccentric dying multi-millionaire (Richard Bennett), fed up with his greedy family, deciding to leave his fortune to a bunch of randomly picked New Yorkers. Several vignettes then explore how a sudden flush of money affects everyone from a henpecked store clerk to a criminal on the lam. While it’s true that some segments were more successfully pulled off than others, overall I felt the film captures the tone of that time better than almost anything else. The segment with W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth as a pair of crusty vaudevillians who take revenge on “road hogs” gets the most attention; mostly I enjoyed that part for the priceless street views of 1932 L.A. The segment with Wynne Gibson as a prostitute with a simple desire to sleep in a plush bed by herself was a marvel of economy. The very best part, however, was the closing segment with May Robson delivering a wonderful performance as a feisty resident in a stifling home for elderly women. It’s a revenge tale like the Fields/Skipworth segment, only twice as sweet.
Jennifer’s Body (2009). Pretty awful teen horror comedy with Megan Fox as a stuck-up girl who gets transformed into a flesh-hungry demon by a touring emo band, much to the dismay of her nerdy best friend (not-bad Amanda Seyfried). This is notable for being Diablo Cody’s first produced screenplay after Juno rocketed her into the a-list. I’ve never seen that film, but based on this one Cody’s slangy, painfully straining-for-hipness screenwriting style is not for me. At one point Megan Fox even says “MoveOn.org, girl!” — something that might look cute in a twitter post, but plays like an incredibly lame joke onscreen. It doesn’t help that her story makes little sense, and Fox further proves that she’s a smokin’ hot chick with little else in the talent department.
The Namesake (2006). Mira Nair’s ambitious feature on cultural clashes within an Indian-American family is earnest and well acted, but ultimately the film winds up an overlong example of biting off more than one can chew. The early scenes, depicting the arranged marriage and awkward early years of a young couple (Irrfan Khan and Tabu, both fine), are nicely done and poignant. I also enjoyed the appealing Kal Penn as the couple’s Americanized son, whose differing views on life from his own father’s form the backbone of the film. As soon as the story detours into soap opera-ish territory in the film’s second half, however, things get dicey. There were a few points at which the movie could have satisfyingly concluded, but then another wrinkle develops and the story continues — and this happens several times! Somewhat worthy if you’re into Indian cuture; otherwise beware.
The Stranger (1946). TCM included this suspenser on a morning-long salute to actress Loretta Young this week. Although Young frets nicely as a small town newlywed who slowly discovers her new hubby is a Nazi, this film really belongs to Orson Welles (in the title role) and Edward G. Robinson (as a government inspector tracking Welles down). Wells also directs, and this film does have a stylistic similarity to Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, albeit in a watered-down fashion. The flourishes are enough to make it stand out over the somewhat routine script, and the three main actors are a joy to watch. Fun viewing that reminds me of how great black and white movies can be (even the silly ones) — and you can’t beat that clock tower climax.
album_tipsybuzzzTipsy — Buzzz. eMusic download. Tipsy is known for seductive instrumental mashups that incorporate tasty samples from weird old easy listening records (or at least that’s what it sounds like to these ears). 2008’s Buzzz was his first album in a few years, a subtle departure from the more overtly kitschy sound he’s known for. Some fans don’t favor this “chillout” approach as much, but as far as swanky background music goes this album is tops. It sets a relaxed mood overall, but there is enough variety in individual tracks to keep things interesting. Some tracks even live up to the very descriptive titles they’ve been given — “Kitty’s Daydream” is a highlight. The only thing missing here is a cocktail festooned with a tiny umbrella.
Wee Willie Winkie (1937). Shirley Temple plays a girl named Priscilla who is sent with her mother to live in a British army outpost in early 1900s India. Unlike many of her other flicks, this film comes with a pedigree — it was based on a Rudyard Kipling story, John Ford directed (I can’t really picture the macho Ford growling “Play this scene cuter, will ya Shirley,” can you?), and co-heading with Shirley was recent Oscar winner Victor McLaglen. All those ingredients make this kiddie adventure a little less grating than usual, even somewhat touching at times. Sure, Shirley seems to be laying on the adorableness a bit thickly here, but that girl had such incredible poise and presence for someone so young. She is really kind of fascinating to watch, and the quality on display throughout makes Winkie one of her better starring efforts (1939’s The Little Princess will always be my fave Temple movie, however).

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