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Flick Clique: March 27 – April 2

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). This horror-comedy gem aired as part of This TV‘s April Fools Day marathon of A&C features. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello play delivery men on a job involving taking two huge packages to a museum of horrors. Little do they know that the boxes contain Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange). An anguished man with a curse (Lon Chaney, Jr.) tries to warm them about the shipment, only his interruptions are strategically timed to whenever a full moon is out. This movie was actually a well-done riot, and had I been eight years old I would eat it up. Even as an adult, the film’s good-natured briskness won me over. Abbott and Costello have more élan than the Three Stooges, and they are effectively supported by not only the famed trio of monsters (all of whom play things totally straight) but a couple of lovely ladies played by Lenore Aubert and Jane Randolph. Universal studios gave this particular film a top-flight production, which included clever animated bits by director Walter Lantz of Woody Woodpecker fame. This seems like the kind of movie (like the Hope-Crosby Road pictures) where the fun the participants had spills over into the viewers’ delight. Speaking of which, here are some outtakes from the film posted on YouTube:

Battle: Los Angeles (2011). Our afternoon out at the movies, leave your brain at the door. For the record, this was Christopher’s choice, not mine, although I went along since the trailers were effectively scary and the concept of industrialized aliens invading L.A. was at least somewhat intriguing. Well, the film has the bones of a good, brainless romp, but the film is too consumed with rah-rah jingoistic clichés centered around its lead characters to be truly enjoyable. In all honesty, this could be a recruiting film for the Marines, aimed at gullible young people who buy into all that macho bullcrap. Dimple-chinned Aaron Eckhart gives it a go as a Marine officer, about to be forcibly retired, who is drafted back into service when meteorites strike off the shores of several worldwide metropolises. Our wonderful team of ragtag fighters are at the ready when it is revealed that the meteorites are actually aliens (uh oh) who unleash a battery of militarized firepower to colonize earth (double uh oh) for our water supply. The aliens are formidable, reptillian creatures who use sophisticated droid ships to fire down on people — in fact, the single most impressive moment in this film is a sequence showing the droid fighters forming into a giant ring in the air. That, alas is only about 30 seconds in what amounts to a 116 minute endurance test. Too bad the film gives so much air time to Eckhart and his fellow Marine-clichés trudging through a hackneyed save-the-civilians story (let’s not forget the adorable, scared shitless kids!). Christopher had a similar reaction, explained more artfully, on Just Ask Christopher.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973). Multilayered, über ’70s crime drama that flew below my radar until it recently got a deluxe Criterion release. A sense of resignation hangs over this Peter Yates-directed tale of small-time hood Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum), who decides to tip off federal investigators to an underground gun dealing operation in order to avoid serving jail time. The probe sets off ripples in Coyle’s circle, including a shady bartender (Peter Boyle), a man (Alex Rocco) who stages elaborate bank robberies, and a nervous guy (Steven Keats, a solid mainstay of ’70s-’80s movies and TV) dealing firearms out of the trunk of his lime green econocar. This one reminded me of The Conversation in having a wide array of fascinating characters with a vague air of uncertainty (only Dave Grusin’s score seems cheesy/dated). Having the film set in grubby, autumnal Massachusetts was another good stroke. Mitchum is excellently cast, but the same could be said for the smaller players as well. The ending threw us for a loop; an intelligent, thoughtful gem from the ’70s!
poster_itsapleasureIt’s A Pleasure (1945). I rented this glossy musical more out of curiosity to see Olympic skater Sonja Heine, one of the most popular movie stars of the 1930s but largely forgotten today. It’s A Pleasure is one of her later vehicles, in which she plays a figure skater named Chris who helps recruit Don, a a gruff hockey player (Michael O’Shea), into her traveling show. The couple fall in love and marry, but their marriage is tested by his drinking and a scheming woman (Gale Fletcher) who wants to tear them apart. Rather routine picture enlivened by sharp, beautifully preserved Technicolor photography and outlandish, costumey 1940s fashions (this would be a field day for a drag queen). Heine, best known for her dizzying spins on the ice, is something of an Ether Williams-style one trick pony with a dazzling albeit forced smile and little in the way of screen presence. She is oddly matched with burly O’Shea, who seems to have wandered onto the wrong set on his way to the film noir he was supposed to shoot. At least Iris Adrian is on hand to play one of her usual salty gal pals. Most of the numbers are forgettable, although there is one strange attempt to transplant Latin standard “Tico Tico” to an ice-bound setting. Because of the lead characters’ unique names, I motion that this film be retitled Chris & Don: A Love Story.
127 Hours (2010). James Franco as Aron Ralston, Utah hiker famous as the guy who hacked his own arm off to escape being trapped by a fallen boulder in a remote crevice back in 2003. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this film, since the story was already well known well before filming started. And how entertaining can a film about a guy stuck under a rock be, anyhow? Well, this was an eye-opening, very life-affirming experience. Expertly directed and co-scripted by Danny Boyle, the film delves more into the psychological aspects of Ralston’s plight, making it more of a memory piece on family, memory, regret and always letting loved ones know when taking a dangerous solo trip somewhere. Boyle’s flashy directing style, overstated on Slumdog Millionaire, seems perfectly pitched for this material (really, the editing is fantastic). I also liked Franco’s performance, which capably goes from humorous to reflective to self-despairing, sometimes within a minute’s span. Viewers got caught up in the self mutilating aspect, but that scene wasn’t so horrifying as the initial sound of Franco breaking his own arm bones. Would any of us find the courage to do the same thing?

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