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Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Flick Clique: April 3-9

poster_bluewaterBlue Water, White Death (1971). Laid-back documentary on one crew’s hunt for the elusive Great White shark is a precursor to Jaws and Shark Week on The Discovery Channel. The film documents department store heir Peter Gimbel as he embarks on a quest to find a Great White off the coasts of Africa and Australia over a nine-month period in the early ’70s. The most interesting aspect of this film is the contrasting attitude the explorers had towards nature back then (it’s important to note that these are explorers, not scientists or researchers). The crew seemed like a pleasant enough bunch, but they foolishly attempt to lure a shark by harpooning a whale (an agonizing sequence to watch) and dragging its hulking carcass through the ocean. Later on, they are shown rudely poking and prodding a bunch of smaller sharks. In a sojourn on land, one of the men is shown yelling at a sleeping baby seal, who then waddles away frightened. This movie probably gave Jacques Cousteau a heart attack. Don’t these people know how to be discreet? Thankfully those scenes are the exceptions in what is otherwise a somewhat mellow doc sporting some nice widescreen underwater photography. Spoiler alert: the Great White is finally uncovered near film’s end, attempting to munch on some divers in cages. For anyone interested, this DVD was on sale for $2.98 at Oldies.com.
Listen Up: The Lives Of Quincy Jones (1990). Picked this DVD up at Big Lots for less than three dollars. I like Quincy Jones’ considerable work as a film composer and music producer and was curious about this kinetic documentary, filmed at the same time he recorded his Grammy-winning Back on the Block album. The film corralled a lot of impressive stars (Sinatra, Streisand, Winfrey, Al B. Sure!) to speak on Jones and his influence, but it’s also told in a fragmentary way which gets irritating after awhile. The speakers are not usually identified, and usually don’t even utter complete sentences before the MTV-esque film moves on to something else. Jones is presented as a consummate professional, very driven and focused, but also something of a cad who cheated on his three ex-wives. This is a maddening film, jumping all over the place with little rhyme or reason, but where else can you hear Ella Fitzgerald scat-singing the Sanford & Son theme? Snippets of great music help, but then again the Back on the Block tunes make an already dated film have a virtual “expires 12/31/90” stamp. Interesting flick that those with no interest in Jones can safely avoid.
No Regret (2006). American gay films are a dime a dozen, but how often do you get to see a South Korean gay film? No Regret has the distinction of coming from one of that region’s few openly gay filmmakers, Hee-il Leesong — but it’s also a compelling, human drama regardless of the lead characters’ sexual orientation. In it, a poor young man named Sumin balances school with an evening job and a daytime factory job. It is at the latter that he ends up getting fired, and finds that the head boss’ son Jaemin is the same person who propositioned him the night before. He reluctantly takes on working at a bar/brothel where many other orphaned males must work. Eventually, Jaemin finds Sumin at the brothel and the two have a stormy relationship which intensifies when Jaemin’s parents arrange for him to marry a woman. The film takes on a much darker tone near the end, but for the most part the acting/drama has a subtlety that calls to mind the similar couple played by Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung in Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together. If you enjoyed that one, think of No Regret as its less artsy but no less compelling cousin.
TRON: Legacy (2010). Such a disappointment. I won’t rehash the plot here, but TRON: Legacy is an update/sequel to Disney’s cult hit TRON. The original TRON was something of a flop in 1982, but has since gained an appreciative audience for its geeky retro-cool visuals. The same fate might befall TRON: Legacy, since it also has a seriously flawed script but a tasty visual palette that replaces the original’s black-light/neon computer graphics with a sleek interface that is one part fluorescent lighting and one part current Apple product line. The engaging way the film updates the light cycle and disc throwing games and Daft Punk’s atmospheric score were also plus points. Those were the good parts. The bad parts were — everything else. The film’s main fault lies in a muddled, hard to follow script that suffers from the “too many cooks” syndrome that afflicts every other Disney film the studio cranks out. Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner make welcome returns reprising their TRON characters, but bland Garrett Hedlund is a letdown as Bridges’ pouty son, and it doesn’t help that the actor engages in a hackneyed “my dad abandoned me” theme. Many scenes play out their welcome long after they’re supposed to, including the segments with Bridges, Hedlund and Olivia Wilde (as another computer creation, Quorra) confabbing in a 2001-ripoff hideout. And the mannequin-like CGI Jeff Bridges? Huge mistake. Abort! Abort!
Waltz With Bashir (2008). Edgy, visually arresting animated memory piece from Israeli writer/director Ari Folman. The film follows a middle-aged man who is plagued with surreal dreams relating to his time as a soldier in the 1982 Lebanon insurrection. Attempting to sort his own faulty memories from reality, he interviews fellow veterans as they recall various aspects of that badly planned, bloody conflict. This film explores the futility of war with both tragedy and humor, using (what I think is) documentary audio of real veterans. The animation ranges from cheesy, limited Flash to completely immersive — especially on the more surreal segments involving dying horses, porn tapes and Amazonian nude women. The film likely would have been more illuminating for those who already have background knowledge of the Israel/Lebanese conflict, but we enjoyed it all the same.
Under 18 (1931). An overlooked pre-Code melodrama that I got from Warner Archive. I will be doing a more in-depth piece on this at the Joyce Compton News & Notes weblog (Joyce has a small part as a model).

Think Different

Earlier today I watched the 1970 Syd and Marty Krofft opus Pufnstuf, the theatrical feature based on their psychedelic Saturday morning show. I vaguely remember seeing this movie a long, long time ago. The story revolves around a boy named Jimmy (Jack Wild) as he journeys to Living Island, a land of talking animals, trees, clocks and other objects presided over by the Southern-accented dragon named H.R. Pufnstuf. The characters spend most of the time evading the evil Witchiepoo (wonderfully hyper Billie Hayes) as she attempts to steal Jimmy’s talking flute, Freddy. This is about as weird as you’d expect, shrill and directed in a jumpy, disjointed manner that doesn’t hold up too well. It is worth a look for the wild production and costume design, however. Probably the most impressive part of the film is Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel’s groovy music, a highlight of which comes when Cass Elliot (as a witch) lends her soaring alto to an ode to individuality called “Different.” It’s a strangely touching moment in a film that otherwise goes down like two dozen boxes of Lucky Charms.

Another thing I noticed — Trey Parker and Matt Stone totally based South Park‘s Towlie on Freddy the Flute. Even the voices are the same! Onward to our musical entertainment:

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?