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Flick Clique: March 6-12

Chris & Don: A Love Story (2007). Fascinating, touching documentary on the loving, 34-years long relationship between author Christoper Isherwood (Cabaret, A Single Man) and portrait artist Don Bachardy. The film is reflected through Bachardy’s perspective as he recalls meeting Isherwood and the life they forged together in ’50s-’80s L.A. The film has a lot of heart and humor, and the fact that these two could make a go of it despite their age difference and the struggle of having an openly gay relationship (even in the liberal Hollywood scene where they lived) is really inspirational. It was very illuminating to this older writer/younger artist combo. The Chris/Don relationship survives lots of bumps along the way, illuminated with home movie footage and animation (which doesn’t get too cloying). Bachardy is really quite amusing, even in his ’70s, as he recalls his star-struck young self mingling with leading figures of the literary and film worlds. As he develops into a talented artist himself, we’re left cheering. Definitely a heart warming, life affirming film.
Never Let Me Go (2010). In an alternate version of 1970s Britain, children at a private school are instructed that they are very special for reasons that are so vague it drives them batty trying to uncover why. As three of the classmates form complex bonds and mature into Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightley and Andrew Garfield, they come to accept the shocking reality of their existence. More of a moody drama with subtle sci-fi undertones, Mark Romanek’s feature is certainly nice to look at. It must have been quite an effort to make three lively young actors look and behave so drab and listless. Charlotte Rampling ups the energy level a bit as the formidable school headmistress. On the whole, the movie just lied there, patiently biding its time for a revelation that never arrives. I can appreciate its quiet artistry, but even on that level it never really resonated with me. Christopher loved it; your mileage may vary.
Ninotchka (1939). Another (re)visit with Greta Garbo courtesy of the huge DVD set I recently bought. Garbo is pretty fabulous here as a Russian emissary sent to Paris to investigate a cache of stolen jewels in the possession of an exiled dutchess (Ina Claire). In the process of attempting to return the jewels to her homeland, she falls for Claire’s friend, Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas). A lot of the film’s appeal lies in Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett’s sparkling dialogue, of course. Garbo is pretty funny, but I also liked the routinely under-appreciated Douglas as well. Would it be too nit-picky of me to say that the film becomes overstated and even downright draggy in the second half? Even so, the film makes one wish that Garbo did more light comedy in the Claudette Colbert/Jean Arthur vein.
poster_plunderroadPlunder Road (1957). Another film noir gem that I got to check out on Netflix’s streaming. Plunder Road opens with a long, dialogue free sequence of men hijacking a train in a fierce rainstorm. Eventually we find that it was valuable bricks of gold that was stolen, with ringleader Gene Raymond arranging to move the gold out of California on three trucks taking different routes to Mexico. Even if the picture quality wasn’t so hot (blurry and pan-‘n-scanned), this was a gritty, interesting little flick. The characters have that totally noir quality of accepting their fate when things turn bad — and it wouldn’t be a true noir without that, right? I liked Raymond (whom I’d mostly known from lighter ’30s romances and comedies); even better are Elisha Cook, Jr. and Wayne Morris as another pair of drivers on the team. Oddly, their characters make a quick exit, and the ending comes hastily as well. It still makes me curious to check out the two-dozen odd, lesser-known noir films on my “Watch Instantly” queue. If anybody has recommendations, share ’em here. I’d appreciate it!

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