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Weekly Mishmash: June 13-19

Anita Baker — Rapture. Anita Baker’s “Quiet Storm” breakthrough Rapture is one of those albums that was critically acclaimed in its time (1986) but seems to have unjustly fallen under the radar in recent years. Which is a shame, since the album is a lushly produced charmer; seductive and consistent without sounding samey, and never falling into the bathetic realm of a “smooth jazz” radio station. Like Patti Austin, Baker approaches the material with a jazz singer’s finesse that many of her followers never picked up on. She’s a great singer, and the fact that she wrote much of this album is all the more impressive. For only eight tracks there sure are a lot of hits to enjoy. “Sweet Love” was the biggest, joined by “Caught Up in the Rapture,” “Same Old Love” and the mellowlicious “No One in the World” (a fourth track, “Watch Your Step,” also made waves on the R&B chart). This is an album for my inner Claire Huxtable to groove on.

Come Drink with Me (1966). An early Hong Kong action flick whose influence can be seen in many subsequent films, chief among them Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film is beautifully photographed, lushly produced, but rather blah in the storytelling department. Probably the biggest appeal it has to modern audiences lies in spotting the elements that Crouching Tiger paid homage to, including a kick-butt heroine (effectively played by Pei-Pei Cheng) that serves as a prototype for the Michelle Yeohs that came along afterward. I enjoyed the many fight scenes, too, even if they have hoards of men stupidly standing idle just waiting to get a kung fu sock in the gut. The film is actually very well made; director King Hu deliberately frames the scenes like an artist carefully composing a canvas. For that element alone, I bestow this film a (very slight) recommendation.
Flashdance (1983). One of many ’80s blockbusters that I hadn’t previously seen, even though I find the soundtrack album one of the best of its time (really!). This was, in all honesty, a pretty stupid movie. But I found it utterly fascinating as a relic of that period, and I love the ingenious way director Adrian Lyne got around the obviously cheap production by shooting the film like an ultra glossy, seductive TV commercial (similar to Foxes. And 9-1/2 Weeks. And that Jovan musk “what is sexy” ad). A good example is the scene set in a gym with Jennifer Beals and pals working out in front of harsh white back lighting (scored to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” no less). Have you ever seen a gym that looks like that? And yet it fits into this film’s weird alternate universe in which Beals’ winsome welder by day, stripper by night seems to passively waft through. Adding to the inanity is a Joe Eszterhas penned script which drops f-bombs to signify character development. Jennifer Beals with all her poise and inner serenity is probably the best thing about this flick — next to the still kickin’ soundtrack, of course. Corny as it seems, I often think about Irene Cara’s “take your passion and make it happen” line while making screen prints. It might sound silly, but it’s true!
poster_judgementJudgement at Nuremberg (1961). Whoa, I heard this was an effective film but I didn’t expect something this powerful. Somehow I got into my mind that this was a pretentious snoozer (who wants to watch three hours of courtroom testimony?), but luckily the film turned out better and filled with considerably more depth than that. It really examines the depths of humanity’s responsibility to itself, using the famed Nuremberg trials of surviving Nazi war criminals as a backdrop. Spencer Tracy is the presiding American judge, presented as the wise voice of reason while also allowing him to have his own quirky personality. It’s a terrific role and Tracy is great. I also enjoyed Maxmillian Schell as the German attorney, but some of the best performances went to actors in smaller roles. Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland are both amazing, and Marlene Dietrich surprises as a German officer’s wife who not so convincingly pleads ignorance to Tracy’s character on the horrors her spouse is accused of committing. I was also surprised that director Stanley Cramer used actual footage of WWII concentration camp victims in the film. The images still pack a wallop; I can’t imagine what it must have been like in 1961 when the horrors were still fresh in moviegoers’ minds.
Shutter Island (2010). In their fourth collaboration, Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in this ’50s period thriller. As a police detective investigating a murder case in an insane asylum, DiCaprio essays an okay if somewhat hammy performance. To his credit, Scorsese does deliver some effectively creepy scenes at the asylum, a place filled with the stock forbidding doctors and spasmodic patients. This could have been a fun little throwback to the pulpy thrillers of yesteryear, but in the end the film is as bloated and overproduced as The Aviator. It takes to long to get from here to there — and once we arrive at a major plot point (the supposedly shocking “twist” scene, for example), it comes with a whimper instead of a shout. I suggest Scorsese needs to watch more old movies, since even the hackiest of ’40s/’50s directors knew how to be concise and to the point.

2 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: June 13-19

  1. urian on June 23, 2010 at 7:31 pm said:

    Judgement at Nuremburg is a pretty wacky movie. It stars the angry general from Swarm so the whole movie I kept expecting a bunch of angry bees come in to sting the Krauts. Then a super smarmy William Shatnerd shows up to chew the scenery. And Judy Garland (who I normally love) over acts her dress off and keeps going on about sitting on some dude’s lap and calling him “Daddy”

    Ha! It’s a riot!

  2. Wacky? Well, it is wacky seeing Shat and Werner Klemperer before Star Trek and Hogan’s Heroes. I thought Judy was great, but then again as a gay male I’m supposedly hard wired to think everything she does is great.

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