Weekly Mishmash: October 24-30
Art & Copy (Independent Lens, PBS). Intriguing documentary on the advertising industry, exploring various successful campaigns from the “creativity first” revolution of the ’60s through the media saturated landscape of today. This was kind of neat to watch (especially the clips from memorable old commercials), but frustrating as well. It only proves what I’ve known from my limited dealings with ad agency types — they’re a bunch of douchebags with inflated opinions of themselves. Awkwardly using an average-Joe billboard erector as a framing device, the filmmakers interview an impressive array of ad directors as they tell stories of their best known campaigns (Just Do It, Got Milk?, etc.). The film also displays statistics about things like how much money is spent annually on ads, and how many ads the average American sees in a day. They are merely stats, however, and the main issues of why we live in such an ad-saturated society are never adequately discussed. Mostly we see famous ad people crowing about their own achievements, which has the unintended result of making them look like prima donnas whose mothers complimented them on their crayon scribbles one too many times. Interesting subject, frustrating film.
His Private Secretary (1933). Poverty row comedy about a cocky rich kid who charms a minister’s daughter. By all means this is a routine film, chintzy and statically directed with little room for creativity. Its only distinctiveness lies in a young and unknown John Wayne headlining as the playboy. Despite the strange casting, he is very appealing — as is actress Evelyn Knapp as his sweetheart. Might be worth a peek for Wayne fans; I started losing interest in the story about halfway through this already slight (60 minutes) movie.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Inspired a rental after re-seeing the South Park episode in which Kyle, Stan and the other kids are traumatized after witnessing the rape of Indiana Jones by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. We both have to agree. What a load of overproduced, ludicrous crap this is. From the CGI gophers to the positioning of geeky Shia LeBouf as an action hero, this is one monumentally stupid decision after another. Not since Peter Jackson’s King Kong have I seen so much money thrown at the screen — and to what end? At least Kong had a solid story to fall back on, not so much this mishmash of aliens, Russian spies, and monumentally fake CGI set pieces. In its (tiny) defense, at least the film presents Harrison Ford/Indiana as a doddery old guy with some of the charm and appeal that made him an icon. I can get the comedy, but it’s used so often and so unsubtly (LeBouf swinging on vines, really?) that it throws off the tone of the entire film. The hyped return of Karen Allen’s Marion was a disappointment, with the character’s grinning la-di-da hippie disposition sharing little in common with the fiery Marion of old. Normally I love Cate Blanchett, but her villain has little gravity with a voice seemingly copied off Rocky and Bullwinkle‘s Natasha. The criticized “nuke the fridge” scene wasn’t so bad, but man oh man. What a crock.
Magnificent Obsession (1935). Another film that I saw eons ago on the old American Movie Classics channel. I gave it another look after Criterion released it on DVD alongside Douglas Sirk’s better ’50s version. As far as soapy soaps go, this story is awfully preachy and doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the class/race dramas explored in Imitation of Life. It concerns newlywed Irene Dunne who returns from a cruise to find that her beloved surgeon husband has died of a heart attack. The machine that could have saved his life was used on a reckless young playboy (Robert Taylor) who tries to woo the nonplussed Dunne, then inadvertently causes her to go blind in an accident. In a flash, he becomes a Nobel prize winning brain surgeon for the sole reason of curing Dunne — under strict anonymity, of course. Only the best actors could make that hokum somewhat plausible; this version, although entertaining, fails on that level. I tend to like Irene Dunne better in comedic roles; here she has an extreme degree of haughtiness that even Norma Shearer couldn’t dream of attaining. Taylor is affable enough in the role that made him a ’30s matinee idol, but mostly I was distracted by his ginormous head and eye makeup. The characters’ behavior is also quite annoying; you might need an extra shoe to throw at the judgmental supporting characters played by Sara Haden and Betty Furness. Not much was changed for the ’53 remake with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, but at least that film has director Douglas Sirk’s visual elan to recommend it. Not so for the original. Incidentally, actress Joyce Compton supposedly has a bit part as a nurse (according to her IMDb listing, anyhow). She is actually not in the film.
The Outside Man (1973). Gritty little ’70s actioner with an odd cast that includes Ann-Margret, Angie Dickinson, Roy Scheider and The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s lovable ditz, Georgia Engel. In a unique France-meets-U.S. scenario, Jean Louis Trintignant plays a contract assassin sent to kill a crime kingpin in sunny, decadent Los Angeles. Something goes awry, however, and instead Tintignant finds himself on the run from another killer (Scheider, quiet and menacing). He gets help from a blowsy friend of a friend (Ann-Margret), but when when the time comes to depart he can’t find himself leaving loose ends behind. This was a flawed but very interesting and watchable time capsule that reminded me in places of The Long Goodbye. As in Goodbye, we got a kick out of the varied ’70s L.A. locales and the sun-baked noir mood certainly comes into play in both. This film never quite jells, however, despite quirky touches like Engel’s daffy, publicity hungry housewife (with Jackie Earle Haley as her son, no less). Oddly enough, she’s the best thing in the movie!
The Thing Called Love (1993). Genial, somewhat routine romantic comedy about a group of young aspiring songwriters/performers trying to make sense of their careers and relationships in Nashville, Tennessee. This was directed by Peter Bogdonavitch, whose films tend to be either pretty good or horrible, with a cast that included River Phoenix in one of his final roles and Sandra Bullock shortly before she attained A-list status. Samantha Mathis is a decent enough lead, but she can’t sing (realistic at first, ludicrous for the finale) and doesn’t have the right “country” tone for the part. I could say the same for Phoenix, who comes across as sulky and not quite the magnetic, misunderstood soul the film makes him out to be. Ironically, it is Sandra Bullock who fares the best as a pretty wannabe country music star who, deep in her heart, knows she’s merely pageant contestant material. She has the sweet authenticity that the leads lack. Iffy casting aside, I found this a sweetly watchable film.