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Weekly Mishmash: February 14-20

album_cruiseJulee Cruise — Floating into the Night. An album I’ve been wanting to hear ever since it came out 21 (!) years ago. The 1989 fusion of the scintillating Ms. Cruise, arranger Angelo Badalamenti, and director David Lynch is a spellbinding exercise in dream pop. Much of the album floats by in a dreamlike, eerie atmosphere with the occasional ’50s pop flourish (e.g. the abstract sax solo on “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart”). “Falling,” a vocal rendition of the Twin Peaks theme, is the best-known tune here, but I like how the album’s second half delves into the darker, sleepier mood of a sustained lullaby. Listening to it from this distance makes me realize how truly one-of-a-kind this collaboration was, although it inspires cravings for cherry pie and damn fine coffee.
49 Up (2006). The most recent chapter in Michael Apted’s astonishing documentary series that profiles several “average” British citizens at seven year intervals from childhood through middle age. At this stage, the subjects are feeling very ambivalent about revisiting Apted and the strange celebrity that comes as a result of these films. It makes for voyeuristic but compelling viewing. Mostly it feels like catching up with old friends that you haven’t seen in a while. I’m always amazed at the editing, which has curious, gawky children gradually morphing into self-aware, pudgy adults. It must be somewhat painful for these people having to re-evaluate their lives every seven years, but I hope they’re aware of the great contributions they’re making to film history.
Hunger (2008). Great film about the brutal treatment of IRA members in the early ’80s British prison system, culminating in the two month hunger strike of resistance leader Bobby Sands (brilliantly played by actor Michael Fassbender). Director Steve McQueen crafted this film into an impressionistic mood piece that gradually draws the viewer in. The approach works infinitely better than it would have been with strict, straightforward storytelling. The film is filled with static shots of things like the prisoners’ feces-smeared cell walls, ugly things that look strangely beautiful in this setting. The gradual deterioration of Fassbender’s body fits into that milieu, as well. I was puzzled as to why McQueen focused on a prison guard, then an average prisoner, then Sands in the course of the film. It may have made more sense to have it centered around a few characters throughout — nonetheless, this film is an uneasy, unforgettable experience.
Orphan (2009). Well-made but far from subtle horror flick about a well-heeled couple (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga) who adopt a creepy Russian girl with precocious talents for folksy paintings and quasi-Victorian fashions. After settling in with the couple’s other two children, things start to go very, very wrong and the concerned ma starts to suspect that little Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) isn’t who she appears to be. This is a pretty stupid, predictable little potboiler, but it’s fun. I was entertained by the way this film so liberally takes cues from other “bad child” movies such as The Bad Seed and The Good Son (the giant treehouse built prohibitively high above ground level in the latter). The cast seems committed — I was particularly impressed with Aryana Engineer as the youngest kid — but this is pure hokum from start to finish. It might even have the makings for the next camp classic.

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