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Weekly Mishmash: April 4-10

Breakin’ (1984). This breakdance opus, a product of the über-’80s cheese factory Cannon Films, was the other netting of our free Showtime weekend. Strangely enough, this and Superhero Movie both star Christopher McDonald, seen here twenty-plus years younger and several pounds thinner as a Hollywood agent with a special interest in a comely dancer (Lucinda Dickey) and her two streetwise, popping and locking buddies (Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones and Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers). OK, this is one crappily made movie bubbling over with scenes that stretch the credibility of even the showbiz la-la land it’s presenting, but as a period piece it’s fascinating stuff. The great soundtrack of high ’80s electro-funk almost made me forget how stilted the acting was. Almost. Seeing this sorta makes me wish that Turner Classic Movies would do a Cannon/Golan & Globus retrospective. Yeah, dream on.

An Education (2009). The first of what turned out to be two films centering around foolish women blinded by love. In An Education, Carey Mulligan’s preternaturally smart London teenager falls for an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) who introduces her to a world of sophistication she’d previously only dreamed of. More than anything else, this film triumphs in recreating the society and atmosphere of 1961 London. Nick Hornby’s sharp screenplay really underscores that the only options for young women back then were to either marry young or study laboriously for a career and spinsterhood. Mulligan was very good, Sarsgaard couldn’t quite get a Brit accent right, and the gorgeous duo of Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike couldn’t be more perfectly cast as (respectively) the business partner of the Sarsgaard character and his dim but glamorous girlfriend.
poster_letterwomanLetter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Here it is, one of those lost classics I’ve been wanting to see for twenty years. I was so excited to see it on the TCM schedule this month, and I must have not been alone since Robert Osborn noted in his intro that it was the most requested film from TCM viewers. Despite having a plotline that looks annoyingly quaint and un-p.c. on paper, this is one of the great romantic films of all time. In her best performance, Joan Fontaine plays a meek woman who falls for a composer (Louis Jordan) in circa 1900 Vienna. As the years go by, what was a forgotten fling for him becomes a consuming passion for her. Fontaine’s weird passivity and stalkerish behavior might be worthy of a good slap if the film didn’t treat the character with utmost nobility. Indeed, the woman has courage in her convictions and she winds up more admirable than the shallow Jordan. Mostly what I loved about this movie was the dreamy and gorgeously photographed atmosphere conjured up by director Max Ophuls (whose acclaimed European films La Ronde and Lola Montes I found insufferably twee) working on one of his few U.S. studio projects. Some scenes, such as when Fontaine and Jordan discuss their most cherished memories on a fake train, are so impeccably staged that one could get lost in them.
album_lauranyroLaura Nyro & LaBelle — Gonna Take A Miracle. My last eMusic album of the month was this 1971 collaboration that’s like an organic melding of soul and singer-songwriting. Laura Nyro’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but this set of covers with funky girl trio LaBelle and Philly soul producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff is an ingratiating listen. Hearing the album is like sitting in on a casual afternoon jam session with lots of finger popping and harmonizing voices. Nyro approaches the material nostalgically, even if the songs aren’t that old (one, “The Bells” by the Originals, hadn’t even been out a year by the time Nyro got to it). With the exception of a shrill and repetitive “Nowhere To Run,” this is an excellent listen.
The Savages (2007). Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as pseudo-intellectual siblings attempting to cope with their ailing father. This film takes on a weird, cartoony tone in its first few scenes, portraying Sun City, Arizona as an oblivious suburb straight out of Edward Scissorhands (it isn’t really that way, although the streets full of pebbled lawns are really something to see). When the scenery shifts to a wintery upstate New York, however, the film takes off with quality performances by the two leads. Elder care isn’t addressed very often in movies, and here it’s addressed with realism and biting humor. Good film.

One Thought on “Weekly Mishmash: April 4-10

  1. I couldn’t help it. I just had to give you this award:

    Keep up the good work!

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