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Flick Clique II: March 20-26

Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933). Understated late silent Japanese melodrama, part of Criterion’s Eclipse set celebrating acclaimed director Hiroshi Shimizu. This film chronicles two schoolgirls who are best friends. A local bad boy tempts one of the girls into riding on his bicycle, which causes a rift between the two that deepens over the ensuing years. One girl descends into prostitution (yet another Japanese hooker movie!), while the other marries young and lives a quiet life in the ‘burbs. Truth be told, this was actually somewhat dull in the plotting department, and the cast is full of pleasant, unmemorable actors. The film’s biggest assets lie in the unusually fluid camerawork and the scenery, which captures a small ocean town caught between tradition and the industrialized future.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Another Best Picture Oscar winner that I stuck on my Netflix queue roughly three years ago. Now that it has finally made its way to the top, I’m glad I finally got to catch it. You recall that this is the story of a young man from the slums (Dev Patel) who is tortured and interrogated because the correct answers he gives on the Indian Who Wants To Be A Millionaire seem too coincidental to be truly on the level. As we learn through flashbacks of his hardscrabble childhood, we find he’s an honest young man who only wants to reconnect with the beautiful girl (Freda Pinto) he loves. An entertaining story that director Danny Boyle keeps moving along with impressive fluidity, but somehow this one didn’t wow me all that much. It might be due to the fact that the film’s central theme was already covered in the better City Of God, or perhaps it’s the game yet underwhelming cast of young Indian actors (including Patel, whose emotions apparently range from dumbstruck to mildly shell shocked). I’m a big fan of Boyle’s movies going back to Trainspotting, but here he seems to be going through the motions. Even Sunshine, with its crappy “serial killer in space” development, was more visually stunning. Both of us enjoyed the “Ja Ho” Bollywood number at the conclusion, despite being sorely out of place.
Unstoppable (2010). This is the recent action film starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, one that ought to have been called Runaway Train if that title hadn’t already been taken. The film was based on a true story of a freight train carrying dangerous chemicals that ended up running amok in Ohio (which the film moves to the more picturesque Pennsylvania in autumn), although you can be guaranteed that the engineer involved in stopping the train wasn’t quite as hunky as Chris Pine. The film moves quickly, but is also saddled with cliché-ridden characters and dialogue. Tony Scott directs with a sense of impending tension that never really connects with the viewer. Supporting players include a different train full of noisy school kids, a speedy flatbed pickup truck, Rosario Dawson’s microphone, a horse trailer, and several news copters that get dangerously close to the runaway star.

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