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Flick Clique: February 13-19

The King’s Speech (2010). Christopher had the week off, so we spent it doing day trips (hello, Wickenburg and Queen Creek) and fun excursions — such as seeing this recent Oscar nominee at the local cinema. Going in, I knew what to expect: a genteel period piece with finely wrought performances. The actual film, however, is all that and much more. As history, the story it tells puts a personal spin on an already engrossing Royal sidebar (I had no idea about King George VI’s stuttering problem). The production design and score are both top notch, but what impressed me the most was the acting. Not just Colin Firth (amazing) and Geoffrey Rush (does an accomplished job with what could have been a hammy role), but Helena Bonham Carter (wonderful and every bit as deserving of a statuette) and Guy Pierce, who has been somewhat overlooked as Edward VIII. The more familiar Edward side of the story with him abdicating the throne for Wallis Simpson (slyly played by Eve Best) takes a back seat to the potentially more hackneyed angle of George overcoming a speech impediment to triumph over England. It’s a fabulously made film, and the climactic speech is nicely orchestrated. Alexandre Desplat’s music is subtly invigorating, just the way a great score ought to function (see below). Side note: this movie had the oldest crowd I’ve ever seen at the theater. The median age must’ve been in the 90s!
Let the Right One In (2008). In this Swedish scare flick, a shy, picked-upon boy named Oskar becomes infatuated with Eli, the creepy girl who moved in next door at their icy suburban apartment building. She gradually teaches him to face up to his bullies, while a series of random killings in the area reveal that the girl is a vampire. What a great, unsettling film (remade in the U.S., apparently), one that turns an overdone subject on its head. At first it seems too deliberately paced and talky, but eventually I was sucked in (…) by the storyline and the terrific young actors playing the leads. Director Tomas Alfredson perfectly sets off the odd doings by placing the characters in a remote environment in which everything has a disconnect — chiefly adults and kids. It also takes place in 1982, but the period details are so subtle that it only adds to the off-kilter surroundings (gee, people sure dress clunky in Sweden, I thought). Except for a few dull stretches and some scenes using obvious CGI, this was a thoroughly engrossing film.
poster_littlegiantThe Little Giant (1933). The Little Giant holds a nostalgic place in my heart, since it counted among the handful of nifty, lesser-known early Warner Bros. movies that my local UHF TV station aired late nights circa 1993. The movies (which also included James Cagney in The Mayor of Hell and Bette Davis in Bureau of Missing Persons) served as a nice antidote to the often geriatic American Movie Classics in that pre-TCM era, and even seen with commercial breaks on rotting VHS tapes I am thankful they were around back then. Getting re-acquainted with The Little Giant via the recent DVD edition was an interesting experience. The brief and breezy comedy was a change of pace for Edward G. Robinson, still in Little Caesar mode but seemingly relishing this turn as a Chicago bootlegging kingpin who turns over a new leaf by desperately trying to fit into California high society. He falls for manipulative dame Helen Vinson, whose affection he tries to favor by buying an impressive mansion from realtor-turned personal secretary Mary Astor (elegant Mary also carries a torch for Eddie, somewhat unbelievably). This probably isn’t as good as my nostalgia colored it, but the film is a great example of likable, economic storytelling enacted by an appealing cast. There’s something encouraging about the fact that all the characters are not who they appear to be at first, and only by revealing their true selves does happiness prevail. It must have been a comforting theme for Depression-era audiences; even now, it gives a lift to what would otherwise be a hokey effort. Oh, and Edward G. Robinson (one of my faves) does an excellent job here!
The Untouchables (1987). Another one of those ’80s blockbusters that I’ve never seen (was I living under a rock then?), so it got put on the DVR. Brian DePalma’s romanticized depiction of the prosecution of Al Capone (a hammy Robert DeNiro) by a ragtag team of cops headed by earnest Fed agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) was a critical and commercial hit, capped by Sean Connery’s Oscar-winning turn as the crusty mentor on the good guys’ side. This one had a few good moments, but mostly it seemed bombastic and more than a bit choppy to me (perhaps due to ThisTV’s pan-n-scan, profanity dubbed broadcast version?). I enjoyed the oddball teaming of Costner, Connery, Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia as the only cops willing to take on Capone’s stranglehold over Prohibition-era Chicago. It was also neat to see a young Patricia Clarkson as Costner’s wife. The direction came across as ham-handed, though, and Ennio Morricone’s weirdly synchronized, obtrusive score doesn’t help at all. For a period piece, it also seems firmly rooted in ’80s action movie turf. Wonder if Tim Burton’s Batman suffered a similar fate?

2 Thoughts on “Flick Clique: February 13-19

  1. “Little Giant” is a fun one, though as you say, flawed–but you failed to mention its real distinction–it has to be the first movie where a character uses the word “fags” not in reference to cigarettes. I saw it at the Music Box in Chicago and when Robinson talks about being fooled by “a bunch of fags in white waistcoats” the place went nuts.

  2. That was a surprising, very Pre Code moment. I also liked this exchange –
    Eddie (pointing at abstract painting): You ever seen anything like that?
    Eddie’s friend: Not since I quit cocaine.

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