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Weekly Mishmash: February 7-13

Julia (1977). I’ve been wanting to see this one for years — Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman and Vanessa Redgrave as the title character, Hellman’s childhood friend, who takes a different path that leads both to intrigue in wartime Europe. The film certainly has the polish of an Oscar-winning drama, but all in all I was somewhat disappointed. Redgrave did a great job, but Fonda is too mannered and fussy, and I really don’t know why Jason Robards Jr. netted an Oscar for his few scenes as Hellman’s lover Dashiell Hammett. I also wish the film concentrated more on Hellman’s writing career (we see her busily working on something, but frustratingly don’t know what), and less on the standard WWII spying angle. In her first film, Meryl Streep has an amusing, brief scene here as Fonda’s fair weather friend.
poster_moonriseMoonrise (1948). Generally I find much of what TCM offers in its yearly 31 Days of Oscar boring as all get out, but I made an exception for a rare showing Frank Borzage’s moody noir Moonrise (which only got one nomination the year it came out — for sound mixing). This one stars underrated Dane Clark as a young man who is ostracized in his small Southern town for his dad going to the gallows. Convinced he has bad blood, he accidentally kills one of his tormentors (Lloyd Bridges) and takes refuge with a sweet schoolteacher (Gail Russell) who counts among the few who see the good in him. This was a pretty nice film, hokey at times but beautifully acted and photographed. I always liked Dane Clark and his “average joe” appeal, and he’s well matched with the ethereal Russell (contrary to the poster art, the two do not resemble Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh!). At times I felt like Borzage was laying the romantic atmosphere on a bit thick, perhaps to make up for the script’s shortcomings. There are, however, a lot of effective cloaked with Southern gothic atmosphere. Much of the film takes place outdoors, on artfully lit sets that highlight the characters’ unspoken yearnings. Highlight: ferris wheel scene.
9 (2009). A post apocalyptic animated opus that disappeared from theaters faster than Heidi Montag’s barely perceptible crows feet. I found it a moderate success with stunning visuals making up for its myriad shortcomings. With a cast of doll-like creatures trying to save themselves in a battle-scarred landscape full of the machines that destroyed humanity, this premise is bleaker than bleak. Even the hopeful ending isn’t all that hopeful, and the fact that this feels like a short film (over) expanded to feature-length doesn’t help things. Still, I loved the fully realized steampunk/industrial ’40s setting, and the variations between the creatures was fascinating. Although this does bear the imprimatur of co-producer Tim Burton, even Burton himself rarely goes to the bleak places that creator Shane Acker journeys to here — which is somewhat admirable for a kiddie film.
Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America (VH1). Excellent documentary which almost — almost — makes up for the rest of the crap being played on VH1. Seek it out if you can and get down with yo’ bad self. Or at the very least, check out this clip of the famed Soul Train line dancers in action:

Viva Villa! (1934). Another TCM 31 Days of Oscar viewing, this historical biopic traces the life of Pancho Villa and his conquest of Mexico with an utterly caucasian cast headed by burly Wallace Beery. Yes, Beery seems about as Mexican as a Taco Bell Chalupa, but I’d enjoy him in just about anything and this rip roaring actioner is no exception to the rule. Despite some well-reported behind the scenes turmoil, this is a smooth and nicely paced film that defies its nearly two hour length. I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy on display, but as far as mid-’30s MGM extravaganzas go it holds up pretty well. It kind of makes me wonder what Mexicans think of the film (is it stereotypical or true to life?).
The Wedding Banquet (1993). Uh huh… yet another movie that I’d waited years to see. This one proves that writer-director Ang Lee had the terrific domestic drama thing going on almost right off the bat (I haven’t seen his debut feature, 1992’s Pushing Hands — and from what Lee says apparently he doesn’t want anyone else seeing it, either). About an assimilated Chinese-American who hastily marries to hide his gayness from his traditional parents, this boasts a lot of funny true-to-life scenes and even more warmth and soul. I’d hasten to truly call it a gay film, since the clash of cultures between the traditional and modern Chinese is a bigger theme here than the gay thing. The atmosphere throughout is very early ’90s indie-ish, but all that knowing dialogue (mostly not English) helps make it a timeless film.

4 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: February 7-13

  1. Moonrise is a strange and haunting film, isn’t it? You’re absolutely right about that ferris wheel scene. And the opening sequence conjures up a feeling of dread in no time flat.

  2. Yeah! I forgot to mention Rex Ingram’s good, non-stereotypical performance. The movie kind of reminded me of Pinky (which followed on TCM that night) in that respect.

  3. Ronald LaRiviere on February 15, 2010 at 5:52 pm said:

    Hello…found your site while researching an item I have…I am in the possession of the ostrich figurine from the 1940 film of Fantasia….it is from the Vernon Kilns and is marked 1940 on the bottom…it is one of three poses…. it is number 31. and is in perfect condition……I am looking to sell it….can you help me?

  4. Brad In Worcester on February 15, 2010 at 11:30 pm said:

    Nailed it on the head regarding La Fonda, Matt; she is just too self-aware, too “I KNOW how interesting and deep I am this very second!” to be real.
    If memory serves, “Julia” is the stepson of “Pentimenti”, the bastard child of “Scoundrel Time”, and actually was uncovered to be a complete fraud.
    Hellman passed off this stuff for years as the truth in the many iterations of her memoirs, and it all JUST DIDN’T HAPPEN.

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