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Flick Clique: April 10-16

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Evangeline (1929). Lush, romantic late silent is a good vehicle for the beautiful Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio. Based on a Longfellow poem chronicling real historic events, the story revolves around Del Rio as she is set to wed her beloved (Roland Drew) in the bucolic Canadian village they share. British troops storm in on their wedding day, however, and the lovers are separated in the fiery conflict. As Del Rio and several other villagers escape to Louisiana, she spends years trying to locate Drew, who is also in pursuit of her. This is, first and foremost, a beautifully photographed film. Not only does it make great use of Northern Californian locales (standing in for Canada), but Del Rio receives some of the most angelic, luminous close-ups ever committed to celluloid. For a viewer mostly familiar with the more exotic, less challenging roles she did at Warner Bros. in the ’30s, this particular film was an eye-opener in terms of the complex emotions Del Rio goes through. I also thought it was interesting to see how they integrated sound here in certain scenes via pre-recorded Vitaphone discs, and the film’s complex use of tinting was a delight (why did that practice go away with sound, too?). That said, the film itself is weirdly paced with a dull middle and several scenes that drag to no appreciable effect (Del Rio mouthing an endless song with no sound, for example). The ending plays its melodramatic cards to an appropriately fevered pitch, however.
Hereafter (2010). Clint Eastwood’s sober examination of life after death got a mixed reception last year; we both enjoyed it a lot. The film deals with three disparate characters and the ways they question their own mortality. A French journalist (Cécile De France) barely escapes drowning in an Asian tsunami and decides to take a sabbatical to write a book on the afterlife; a lonely San Franciscan (Matt Damon) has a supernatural gift for communicating with the dead which rules out any meaningful personal relationships; and a British boy (Frankie and George McLaren) desperately yearns for closure after experiencing a tragic loss. How the three leads are brought together is rather too coinky-dinky for my tastes, but the individual stories themselves are quietly compelling and excellently acted (even the boys playing the twins were good, if somewhat glum). Special mention goes to Bryce Dallas Howard as a flighty girl who is enrolled in a cooking class with Damon. And the tsunami sequence? Awesome. That deserved a special effects Academy Award nomination.
The Man with the Screaming Brain (2005). This campy horror spoof was a giveaway with our Oldies.com DVD order. For free, what did we have to lose? Now I know that the precise answer is “90 minutes.” Bruce Campbell of the Evil Dead flicks brings his everyguy geniality to this spineless yarn of an industrialist who travels to Bulgaria and winds up getting killed by a predatory witch. He is then revived by mad scientist Stacy Keach, who combines his brain with that of the local taxi driver who had a dalliance with Campbell’s blonde wife. Kind of a grade-Z version of Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in All of Me, really, only boring and not all that funny. The film was actually filmed in several Bulgarian locales, which is instructive to know so you can avoid traveling there.
Music of the Heart (1999). Sappy Meryl Streep flick falls into the usual “inspirational teacher” film clichés, but is entertaining nonetheless due to its always appealing star. Streep plays Roberta Guaspari, a real violin teacher who re-enters the workforce after a painful divorce. Through the help of friend Aidan Quinn, she elbows her way into a teaching spot at the tough Harlem elementary school presided over by Angela Bassett. Facing resistance from kids, parents and budget-minded school admins alike, she nevertheless perseveres and makes the offbeat program a success. Totally predictable, but I have a soft spot for Meryl in anything she does and here she didn’t disappoint in creating a nuanced, sympathetic character. Odd seeing Wes Craven’s name attached to what otherwise plays like a treacly Lifetime, Television for Women® movie. This was produced by Miramax during the period when they started abandoning edgy indie productions for mainstream fare.
Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness (2007). Soon after getting Netflix instant offerings, I added this intriguing looking documentary to queue without knowing anything about it. We finally got to it after knowing the film will get deleted later this month. The subject matter here is urban exploring, the often risky passion of those who enjoy checking out abandoned factories, hospitals, churches, sewers, missile silos and any other cavernous spot that has gone forgotten by human progress. Certainly a worthwhile subject for a documentary, but the film is rather rambling and takes on its subject from a limited perspective. Mostly it consists of interviews with the enthusiastic but not very articulate explorers themselves — a young, mostly male crowd who approach their hobby with the same “extreme” passion that one would find with snowboarding, graffiti or any hobby with a slight anti-establishment edge. Some interesting sites are explored (including a Home of the Future turned crumbling hulk in Florida), but the talky posturing that dominates makes the film come off as little more than a glorified home movie.

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