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Flick Clique: May 29-June 4

Good Hair (2009). Fun, if somewhat frustrating, Chris Rock-directed documentary on black women’s hair and the lengths they go to straighten and style it. Rock interviews a not-too-diverse group of subjects (mostly models and actresses) who opine on why the caucasian ideal of straight, “perfect” hair has such a pull on the African-American community. He also examines the phenomenon of women getting costly weave treatments and having disgusting, goopy chemicals slathered on their heads, all in the name of beauty. His message doesn’t go any deeper than “Can you believe what these crazy bitches are doing to themselves?” but it’s an okay doc with a few funny moments. Most of the absurdity comes from an annual hair care convention and a competition in which some stylists compete to see who could mount the most flashy ‘do cutting production number.
The Last Days of Disco (1999). An oddity of a film which forms the final chapter in writer-director Whit Stillman’s trilogy on witty Manhattanites (Metropolitan and Barcelona were the first two). Period piece Last Days takes place mostly in the confines of a chic disco as sexy assistant book editors Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny deal with men and the search for fulfillment as their favorite music genre and lifestyle fades into the yuppie ’80s. The film is beautifully scripted but all over the place, story-wise, and suffering from a crucial lack of fidelity to the period it takes place in (Beckinsale’s ’90s bob being the main offender). I actually enjoyed this a lot more than the often dry Metropolitan, however, and I think it’s due to the appealing leads, that fabulous soundtrack, and above all the witty script. I also thought the club itself was a wonderful setting, even if as veteran clubgoer Christopher notes, no real disco would have had plush conversation pits — much less a place where people could actually hear each other talk. One has to wonder if Stillman already had his script prepared before the studio imposed a nostalgic, glittering disco theme over it. The disco/club setting is almost incidental to the characters’ musings, some of which are gold (the conversation on Lady and the Tramp and what it symbolizes is a highlight). Strange, like I said, but worthwhile all the same. Now I’m really curious about Barcelona — and Stillman’s forthcoming Damsels in Distress.
poster_purchasepriceThe Purchase Price (1932). Another hard-hitting William Wellman melodrama from the Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 3 DVD set. This one stars Barbara Stanwyck, doing one of her usual hard-bitten dames. She’s a torch singer who, fleeing some New York baddies, decides to take another woman’s place as the mail-order bride of a lonely farmer (miscast George Brent). Most of the film consists of Stanwyck trying her best to ingratiate herself with befuddled Brent and his rowdy, uncouth neighbors. I remember not being too impressed with this when I first saw it, but now I find it enjoyable, if far from prime Pre-Code Stanwyck. The stars are attractive together and Wellman keeps things moving with several offbeat supporting characters (the shy farm girl played by pre-fame Anne Shirley, for instance). This set was a great gift that helps satisfy the lack of TCM in my life!
The Sandpiper (1965). Another Elizabeth Taylor movie I put on my queue. This time Taylor plays a free-spirited Big Sur artist and proto-home schooler whose son is forced to attend a parochial school overseen by Richard Burton. Faster than you can say “Liz and Dick,” the two embark on a torrid affair in between heavy conversations on the nature of love and ownership. I knew this Vincente Minnelli romp was pretty bad going in, but I was hoping it would be campier than the plodding end result proved to be. Most of the film’s misguidedness comes from its treatment of Taylor and her quasi-hippie friends, which are about as wild and threatening as a bunch of Hulaballoo dancers. Taylor and Burton get a lot of meaty dialogue to chew on, but it’s ponderous stuff. What little I dug here came from Taylor’s wardrobe (it couldn’t have been easy costuming the lady, entering her blowsy stage at this point) and the fabulous from the outside, stagy from the inside “shack” that her character resides in. Many IMDb reviewers praised Johnny Mandel’s score (which includes the inescapable EZ-listening classic “Shadow of Your Smile”), but I found it as dull and TV movie-ish as the rest of the film.
Sitting on the Moon (1936). Brief, airy musical that has found its way onto many a public domain DVD set (viewable online here, as well). Sitting served as a vehicle for pretty actress Grace Bradley, who married Western star William Boyd shortly after this film came to be. Bradley plays a singer whose career is on the outs when her songwriter boyfriend pens a jaunty melody for her (the title tune, repeated ad nauseam) which lands the woman a featured singer gig on a top radio hour. She becomes a star while he lands in obscurity, until another song and complications involving a gold-digging hussy (Joyce Compton!) change things around for the hapless guy. Pretty forgettable fluff — this is a musical built around two songs, remember — but it does have a cute lead and the title tune is quite a charmer. See for yourself:

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