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Flick Clique: February 6-13

Dreamgirls (2006). Watched this a second time after finding the deluxe DVD edition at Big Lots (that place again?) for five bucks. Four years on, it’s still a very impressive and perfectly cast movie musical extravaganza. I’ve never seen the stage version, but have been a fan of the original cast recording for years. The arrangements for the movie have been snazzed up somewhat, but they’re still powerful in telling the story of a ’60s girl singing trio’s rise to fame aided by an ambitious R&B label owner with more than a passing resemblance to The Supremes, Berry Gordy and Motown. One of the fun things about this movie is spotting the Supremes/Motown references in the album covers, costumes, etc. Though it doesn’t aim to be a realistic depiction of ’60s R&B music, I can accept the stylization and even dig the many liberties it takes (the overblown “Fake Your Way to the Top Number” comes to mind). The casting couldn’t be more perfect — Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy all seemed to be at the right stages in their careers/singing abilities to play their roles to excellent effect (well, the ladies appear too old to play teens, but that’s just in the beginning). My only quibbles is that the film is too long and several of the new songs written for the film are inessential, including Beyoncé’s “she won’t sign on unless Deena gets her own diva moment” tune “Listen.” The feature length “making of” documentary on the DVD only makes me appreciate more all the hard work that went into this — it really shows!
Money Means Nothing (1934). A modest little programmer with the usual “rich girl marries poor guy and tries to make it work” storyline. Wallace Ford and Gloria Shea play the serviceable leads. This is the third Wallace Ford vehicle I’ve seen on the Comedy Kings 50 Movie DVD set. Although it’s earliest and most enjoyable of the three, Ford’s wishy washy personality places him closer to Comedy Peon than anything else. The film is a breezy, low budget affair typical of the Monogram studio. Probably the most watchable aspect to modern viewers is Edgar Kennedy as the couple’s neighbor. Kennedy was well-known for playing frustrated cops and the like in several Hal Roach shorts at the time. He’s no different here, and even gets to do one of his famous slow burns.
Monsters (2010) and Paranormal Activity 2 (2010). A pair of recent low-budget films that put special effects to creative (and scary) effect. Monsters deals with an alien invasion in a Mexican quarantine zone, and the efforts of two Americans to journey northward by boat, car and foot. This was shot on videotape by a tiny British crew. Shooting in verdant, impressionistic small towns with native Mexicans as extras, the lush photography and subtle CGI in some scenes strike me as a District 9/Cloverfield hybrid. Unfortunately, the film plods along with two awful, unsympathetic leading actors. Combine that with some truly wonky geography (they can see the U.S.Mexico border from atop a Mayan pyramid?) and an unsatisfying finale and you have a film that might be better served as nourishment for a giant octopus creature. Paranormal Activity 2 improves on its predecessor with more scares and better production values, otherwise it’s more of the same. This one is a prequel taking place in yet another San Diego McMansion where the sister of the P.A.1 woman lives with her husband, step-daughter, infant son and Rin Tin Tin (okay, it’s just a regular German Shepard but the resemblance is striking). Weird things ensue in between long stretches of home movie-esque boredom (but not as much boredom as the first one). Unlike the somewhat stilted actors in the first one, the participants in this go-round are actually believable as a real-life, casual family. The scary parts are also much scarier in 2, for what it’s worth.
Not Without My Daughter (1991). Sally Field in the true story of an American woman married to an Iranian doctor (Alfred Molina), who carts her and their kid to his homeland and its oppressive, woman-hating society that she is unable to escape. I always wanted to see this one, which is a well made drama despite the seemingly Lifetime, Television for Women®-derived plotting. As Betty Mahmoody, Sally Field delivers a solid performance, even if she does this petulant thing in her scenes of anger which make her look like a young girl throwing a fit. Alfred Molina is even more impressive, giving his character more depth (and even some sympathy) than what would have appeared on paper. The film drags a bit and Jerry Goldsmith’s score sounds jarringly dated, but overall I found this a compelling, top rate drama.
The President’s Analyst (1967). Another Big Lots find, for three bucks! This patently ’60s satire has a cult following and is a good vehicle for James Coburn, one of the more subversive leading men of his day. He plays a New York psychiatrist who is recruited by the secretive Federal Board of Regulations (F.B.R.) to be the president’s personal shrink. He goes along with the plan, then becomes paranoid and makes an escape, which doesn’t sit well with the government or the phone company/covert wiretapping organization they’re in cahoots with. This film is very much of its time, with plenty of groovy scenes with Coburn doing things like hanging out with a hippie rock group, getting chased by goons, or making sweet love to his willowy, straight-haired girlfriend. It does have a few sharp lines, but mostly I found it shrill and interminable. The one scene I liked the most was an animated demo of how the film’s omnipresent phone company intends to take the leap of invading its own customers’ brainwaves. Seen in the context of the iPhone/Twitter/Facebook generation, that was some forward thinking, indeed.

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