Monthly Archives: July 2011

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Flick Clique: July 24-30

A Bride for Henry (1937). Pleasant (and brief) screwball b-comedy stars Anne Nagel as a woman who, jilted at the altar by fiancee Henry Mollison, makes a rash decision to marry her handsome lawyer, played by Warren Hull. They intend to divorce immediately, but the secretly-smitten Hull has other plans. Another cheapie from my 50 Comedies DVD set, of course. This one was nice enough, although just as forgettable as the other poverty row quickies on the set. Mostly it’s notable for the sad fates that awaited Nagel and Mollison in the following years. Nagel went through a short-lived marriage to gay actor Ross Alexander, slipped into b-movies, then died a lonely alcoholic in the ’60s. Mollison became a British p.o.w. in World War II, then died similarly forgotten in the ’60s. At least Warren Hull had a long life, albeit one filled with divorces. This film is viewable online at Archive.org.
Calamity Jane (1953). Colorful Doris Day vehicle was a fun and frothy answer to Annie Get Your Gun with not quite as memorable songs (“Secret Love” notwithstanding), but with a fizz of its own thanks to the charismatic star. Doris Day often gets saddled with a white-bread, wifey image, but watching something like Calamity Jane I was struck by how fearless and gutsy an actress she was in her prime. Here she plays the title character, a rip-roarin’ Indian scout who tussles with Wild Bill Hickock (Howard Keel) in their tiny Dakota town. She is enlisted to bring sexy Chicago entertainer Adelaid Adams back to the town, but unknowingly winds up getting the woman’s stage-struck maid (played by the obscure but talented Allyn Ann McLerie) instead. The women become fast friends and, in a quasi-lesbian moment, even set up house together. They both pine for handsome Calvalry officer Philip Carey, a situation that is resolved after the newly feminized Jane finds that Wild Bill has deep feelings for her. Quite fun and tuneful musical whose assets overcome its iffy message (a lady has to be ladylike to snag a man, eh?). Doris Day is fantastic, keeping a tomboyish spark even after her character transforms. Annie had better source material, but as for comparing Day with Betty Hutton there is no contest.
Potiche (2010). Goofy French comedy revolves around legendary Catherine Deneuve as the title character, a potiche (trophy wife) comfortably married to the owner of an umbrella factory in the 1970s. Despite the protests of liberated daughter Judith Godrèche, she enjoys being a hausfrau and even tolerates the affairs of her husband, played by Fabrice Luchini. Her life turns around, however, when a labor dispute at the factory forces her to assume stewardship of the operation. To settle the fracas, she gets in contact with local politico Gérard Depardieu, a man with whom she shared a secret tryst several years earlier. It’s great to see Deneuve and Depardieu in action, but this film is directed in a self consciously campy style that takes some getting used to (picture something along the lines of That ’70s French Comedy). Somewhere along the middle third, though, it settles into that of a good domestic drama of changing mores. The ending is a puzzler, however. Deneuve is great, well matched with Karin Vigard as the husband’s secretary/mistress. Depardieu also does a good job, although I was surprised and distracted at how enormously fat the man is getting. François Ozon, who directed, also worked with Denueve in the similarly campy 8 Women. I’d say the earlier film worked better overall, but Potiche has a gawky charm of its own.
The Room (2003). A notoriously bad film that might put an end to my curious exploration of “so bad it’s good” cinema. This one was not so much awful as boring and weird. Cut-rate auteur Tommy Wiseau produced, directed and starred in this opus about “stylish” San Francisco businessman Johnny (Wiseau), who only wants to please his “hot” fiancee Lisa (Juliette Danielle). He brings her roses, buys her expensive gifts, and makes sweet love to her. Despite the cautions of her sensible mother, manipulative Lisa only wants to take off with her secret lover (and Johnny’s friend) Mark (Greg Sestero). Cheap and rather plodding movie that plays like porn minus the eroticism. I think what made this a cult hit is Wiseau’s weird onscreen presence. The other cast members are rather generic (although Stockard Channing-like Danielle is bizarrely miscast as a sexy lady), but it’s heavy-lidded, stringy-haired, bizarrely accented Wiseau himself that puts this into the stinkeroo Hall of Fame category. Of course, he seems the opposite of the sterling moral compass type he’s supposedly playing, which makes his own stilted dialogue doubly funny (the only role I could picture him excelling at would be a Eurotrash zombie — maybe). Generally, the film is more boring than awful, with repetitive dialogue (take a shot whenever Danielle says “I don’t want to talk about it.”) and some of the un-sexiest sex scenes ever committed to videotape. Add to that the 1992-ish vibe of the sets and the 1972-ish vibe of the script and you have one seriously strange movie. As far as cheap ‘n lousy auteurist epics go, Birdemic was a lot more inept, and side-splitting.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). This was actually the first Trek film I saw in the cinema when first released; we got to catch up with it again on Netflix streaming this past week. The Undiscovered Country is one of the better remembered films with the original cast. Mostly it plays like a big-budget, extended episode of the Next Generation TV show. This time around, the Klingons are nearly extinct after an explosion on their moon depletes their ozone layer. After mysterious intruders break into their ship and open fire, they are left confronting the Enterprise and Captain Kirk’s long-simmering hatred of the Klingon race. Will they negotiate for their survival? I found this an enjoyable entry, one that makes more sense now that I’ve seen Treks I-V. If the plotting seemed somewhat lackluster, it was redeemed by the great chemistry of a bunch of old pros getting together one last time. The ending was a fittingly elegant send-off and a good entree to Patrick Stewart and the Next Generation era of Trek films.
Tales from the Script (2009). A straightforward yet insightful documentary that looks at the painful world of modern Hollywood screenwriting. Director Peter Hanson simply points his camera at various participants, who tell war stories of scripts that were mishandled by producers, actors and other behind the scenes types. It’s interesting to hear people like Paul Shrader and John Carpenter being so candid about what they do in a field where a writer’s vision constantly gets picked over and compromised. Apparently a lot of screenwriters love what they do; this film, however, has the strange effect of making me want to run from anything vaguely Hollywood. It says a lot about this doc that most of the participants are people I’ve never heard of who consider themselves lucky to have one script produced. That’s the biz, I guess. The interviews are pretty plainly presented, but the clips from movies ranging from Adaptation to In A Lonely Place really help illuminate what it’s like to toil away in this under appreciated field.

’70s-Something

Time for another ’70s toy commercial from Hasbro and the Duke archive. Like Leggy Fashion Dolls, I don’t believe that the Great Moves party game had a long shelf life. It looks like a Twister with something of a proto-Win, Lose Or Draw spin, only more logistically complex than either. For maximum 70s-ishness, the partygoers include Fred “Rerun” Berry and Roz “Pinky Tuscadero” Kelly!

Flick Clique: July 17-23

The Adjustment Bureau (2011). Fair, muddled film is something of a romance with sci-fi backdrop. Matt Damon plays a senate candidate whose meet-cute run in with dancer Emily Blunt upsets the natural order of control as monitored by teams of mysterious, grey-suited men who are set up by a Supreme Being to keep humans from doing anything spontaneous — like, you know, creating the Renaissance or something. This was an interesting movie from a conceptual standpoint, but you have to wonder why the screenwriter picked water as the grey-suited mens’ Achilles Heel (a random weakness, no?). Damon and Blunt have a nice rapport together, but their flirting dialogue is so cutesy you could be forgiven for thinking this is a Chick Flick. I enjoyed John Slattery and Anthony Mackie as the main bureau members. The many cameos by politicians and newscasters seemed unnecessary and random, however, and the filmmakers’ apparent determination to show every single glamorous corner of Manhattan didn’t work in the film’s favor. (there’s location shooting, setting up a local flavor, and then there’s pure travelogue). Topping it off is a climactic chase sequence that winds up being the opposite of suspenseful. It has the parts of being an interesting flick and (at the very least) pleasing time-waster. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t get too excited about most recent Hollywood flicks — this is no exception. Sorry.
Barcelona (1994). Last, and least, of my little Whit Stillman viewing party. For Barcelona, Stillman recruited Metropolitan actors Taylor Nichols and Chris Eigeman to enact his script of two Americans in (yep) Barcelona, Spain. Stuffy Ted (Nichols) is a salesman who decides to settle on dating only homely women, while his cousin Fred (Eigeman) is a Navy officer whose snobbish personality aggravates the corruptive, Anti-American sentiment amongst the locals. The film mostly consists of the two sparring against each other while walking the picturesque streets (admittedly, the scenery is gorgeous) and comparing notes on the two women who entered their circle, played by Tushka Bergen and Mira Sorvino. Stillman’s dialogue is smart and fascinating, but the film never really gelled for me. The story is rather ho-hum, even when it takes a dramatic turn. The biggest disappointment are the two lead actors, both of whose lack of skill and charisma make their characters into insufferable boors. Better performers might have made the men seem more sympathetic, but these two weren’t up to the challenge. They seemed so dull and stiff (I guess the fact that they were part of an ensemble in Metropolitain worked better in their favor). Strangely enough, I prefer the derided Last Days of Disco to this one.
Farewell My Concubine (1993). Caught this long, intense yet worthwhile Chinese epic on Netflix streaming. Farewell My Concubine opens in what appears to be an orphanage in 1920s China where dozens of boys are put through rigorous training. The boys are being readied to play parts in elaborate productions by the Beijing Opera, with the best of them having the opportunity to escape the drudgery and become local celebrities. The film focuses on two kids in particular as they gain skills and grow up into adults played by Leslie Cheung and Chun Li. This has a wonderful turn by Hong Kong fave Cheung, playing a delicate man who excels in the role of the opera’s herione. Actually, the entire cast is good, including Gong Li as the headstrong prostitute whom Chun Li takes as his bride. The film covers fifty years in Chinese history, rather smoothly and with the kind of lush photography you’d expect from a production of this magnitude. I was captivated by the many scenes with the opera, a flowery tale of a young girl and a warrior, playing onstage. It seemed like a completely different world, and yet it was only a few decades ago. The arrival of the Communists as the film progresses is bittersweet, since one senses a way of life disappearing.
Invisible Stripes (1939). The fate of ex-convicts and the temptation of crime drives this otherwise unexceptional Warner Bros. flick starring the stone-faced but strangely hypnotic George Raft. Raft plays Cliff Taylor, an earnest ex-con who wants to set a good example for his younger brother, William Holden. Fellow con Humphrey Bogart wants Raft to join his underworld gang, a lure to which Raft succumbs despite his better judgment. Holden is tempted, too, but Raft and their ma (good but miscast Flora Robson) strive to keep him clean and eventually attain his dream of running his own auto garage. Typical WB fare of the era, although Raft’s many speeches delivered with only the mouth/jaw muscles moving make this at least somewhat novel. I watched this and the DVD commentary for Kid Galahad (1937) at about the same time and was struck by the similarities, including Bogart as the gangster and Jane Bryan in the ingenue role. Although I prefer the latter by far (you can’t go wrong with Eddie Robinson and Bette Davis!), Invisible Stripes was a lot of fast-paced fun.
The Stepfather (1986). I first heard about this flick in Danny Peary’s Alternate Oscars book from the early ’90s. In assessing the best male lead performances of 1986, Peary went out on a limb and picked the then-obscure Terry O’Quinn as giving an Oscar nominee-worthy turn in this low budget thriller about an otherwise regular guy with a hidden, killer instinct. That really intrigued me. O’Quinn has since gone on to play the devious John Locke on Lost, of course. Although dated in certain ways, The Stepfather really is worth checking out — if only for O’Quinn’s intense work. He plays a guy who murders his entire family, then takes refuge under a different identity in a small Washington town. He is ready to start fresh with new wife Shelly Hack, but teen stepdaughter Jill Schoelen’s suspicions have him worried. She starts her own investigation into the man’s past as a relative of the earlier victims (Stephen Shellen) goes on a separate one-man crusade to track down the killer. Surprisingly well-done, intense without being too gory, scary in all the right spots. Oh, and O’Quinn is amazing. This was filmed in Canada, substituting for Washington, with an calm, autumnal palette that effectively conveys the calm façade covering O’Quinn’s terrifying inner beast.
Unknown (2011). Another Recent Hollywood Flick that I couldn’t bring myself to get too excited about, although Unknown fared better than Adjustment Bureau. This is the film with Liam Neeson as a scientist who travels to Berlin with wife January Jones to attend a high-profile conference. He leaves an important briefcase at the airport, however, and in retrieving it ends up in an auto accident that leaves him in a coma for several days. Upon awakening, he finds his identity erased and another man (Aidan Quinn) taking his place with Jones going along with the charade. A retired German investigator (Bruno Ganz) and the cab driver (Diane Kruger) who saved his life are needed to help Neeson uncover the conspiracy. This was pretty okay, if padded out with an unnecessary car chase and several fistfights that drag. The performances and behind-the-scenes work pass muster, with Kruger’s comely Slavic cab driver faring most positively. Neeson seemed tired, however, and it’s odd seeing his otherwise placid doctor turn into a he-man action hero. I like January Jones on Mad Men, but here she seemed plain. On the Recent Hollywood Krep-O-Meter, I’d give it a 5 (out of 10).

A Summer Mix: Plastic Fantastic

Hot and sticky nights require the perfect soundtrack. How about Plastic Fantastic, the Scrubbles.net Summer 2011 Mix?

I originally intended this mix to center around synth-based New Wave and contemporary songs with a similar, programmed-by-robots feel. It did end up that way for the first half, but the rest is more of the retro-lounge and soul that typifies my other mixes. Regarding the pleasantly purple cover design, the main image of Mr. and Mrs. Plastic comes from a manilla folder full of photocopied old magazine ads that I’ve had sitting in my files for 20-odd years. As the tenth anniversary Scrubbles.net mix, Plastic Fantastic is also something of a milestone. When I did the Is There A Stain On Mai Tai? mix in Summer 2001, I had no idea they’d still be going a decade later. Time flies!

As with our Spring Good Thing mix, Plastic Fantastic is presented as a continuous hour-plus mix. Track listing is below, with YouTube links where I could find them. Enjoy!

Download ‘Plastic Fantastic: Scrubbles.net Summer 2011 Mix’.


Track Listing:
1. Chic – “Le Freak” (Z-Trip Golden Mix) (The Disco Breaks Mega Mix, 2010)
2. Oú Est Le Swimming Pool – “Dance The Way I Feel” (single, 2009)
3. Daft Punk – “Derezzed” (Tron: Legacy soundtrack, 2010)
4. Plastics – “Top Secret Man” (Welcome Plastics, 1979)
5. The B-52′s – “52 Girls” (The B-52′s, 1979)
6. Devo – “Come Back Jonee” (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, 1978)
7. The Buggles – “Clean, Clean” (The Age Of Plastic, 1980)
8. Talking Heads – “Air” (Fear Of Music, 1979)
9. Lipps, Inc. – “Rock It” (7″ edit of a track from Mouth To Mouth, 1980)
10. Janelle Monáe ft. Of Montreal – “Make The Bus” (The ArchAndroid, 2010)
11. Lío – “Suite Sixtine” (Suite Sixtine, 1982)
12. De-Phazz – “Something Special” (Death By Chocolate, 2001)
13. Tipsy – “Big Business” (Buzzz, 2008)
14. Arling & Cameron & Swarte – “Jealousie” (Sound Shopping, 2001)
15. Fitz & The Tantrums – “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” (Songs For A Break Up: Vol. 1 EP, 2009)
16. Noisettes – “So Complicated” (Wild Young Hearts, 2009)
17. Sheryl Crow – “Summer Day” (100 Miles From Memphis, 2010)
18. Adele – “He Won’t Go” (21, 2011)
19. Sade – “When Am I Going To Make A Living” (Diamond Life, 1984)
20. Peter White ft. Basia – “Just Another Day” (Caravan Of Dreams, 1996)
21. Marshall Crenshaw – “Starless Summer Sky” (Miracle Of Science, 1996)

She Was Framed

Greetings from busyville. I have a great Summer mix ready to go, but our internet connection is getting dodgy (we’re getting a new modem soon) so it will have to wait. In the meantime, here’s a shot of my unique Pollyanna LitKids print framed and hung in my bedroom! I got a nice yellow wooden frame on eBay, along with a dark grey mat from our local art supply store. I’m not usually one for hanging my own art around the house, but this one is a special exception.

Flick Clique: July 10-16

The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2010). Repellant film about a sick German doctor (Dieter Laser, typecast) who abducts two ditsy American tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) and an unwitting Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura) to form a human centipede with mouths surgically attached to anuses. Why? Because he can, by gum! The film mostly centers on the two women — seemingly taking glee in their escalating degradation and despair — and therein lies the main problem. It’s also rather low-budget and shoddily made, more of a one-joke gross-out indie than the intriguing, slick terror the original campaign promised. Even assuming such an experiment is possible, how are we to believe that a human can survive on eating poop (or, in the case of the back segment, pooped poop?)? The ending is an unsatisfying bummer in which every character makes baffling, head-scratching decisions. South Park did it better.
It’s Always Fair Weather (1955). One of the more underrated classic MGM musicals was this contemporary tale of war buddies Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd. Returning from Europe, the three pledge to meet at their favorite NYC bar in ten years time. Instead of being joyous, the reunion ends up a bittersweet affair in which all three men ruminate on how the others have changed. A bummer of a plotline (which helps explain why the film failed in its initial release), but the Betty Comden and Adolphe Green numbers are dazzling and beautifully directed by Stanley Donen and Kelly (who apparently clashed mightily during production). There are also some gutsy jabs at television and mass media, as seen in the clip below with the faboo Dolores Gray playing a smarmy TV hostess. Gray’s sequences are a highlight, along with the ebullient and underused Michael Kidd. Both actors should have been bigger stars, although I award Kidd bonus points for playing the jaded choreographer to a bunch of teen beauty pageant contestants in Smile, some 20 years later. Gene Kelly’s roller skating number is another high point, although when he’s not singing/dancing the actor looks strangely dour and preoccupied. Cyd Charisse as Kelly’s gal also delivers (especially opposite a bunch of dancing pugilists in the “Baby You Knock Me Out” number), although a harsh makeup job does her no favors. Despite my quibbles, it’s actually a fun flick — something I’d gladly turn to over the pretentious likes of Brigadoon or An American In Paris, anytime.

Nick of Time (1995). I rented this because the film was almost completely shot at downtown L.A.’s Westin Bonnaventure Hotel (and Union Station! See below). Despite having lots of implausible and/or dated elements, it’s a surprisingly involving little thriller. Johnny Depp plays a clean-cut accountant who is bizarrely roped into a plot to assassinate politico Marsha Mason. Ringleader Christopher Walken is determined to see it through by kidnapping Depp’s daughter, while the armed and non-dangerous Depp tramps through the groovy mezzanines and glass elevators at the Bonaventure trying to stop it. The plot, borrowing from noir classic D.O.A., is somewhat silly if you think too hard about it. Nice performances and direction swept us into it, however. Personally, I much prefer this period of Depp’s career over the stylized, Tim Burtonified track he’d later get into.
Purple Rain (1984). Purple Rain, the album, was a cherished soundtrack to my adolescence. I’ve never caught the film, however, until now. Prince is a musical genius, and the best thing about Purple Rain (film edition) is that the dynamic live performances serve a record of the Purple One at the peak of his powers. The story, however, is a patchouli-scented mess with horrible actors emoting their way through a cardboard script. Prince plays The Kid, a gifted musician attempting to wrangle a top spot for his group, The Revolution, at Minneapolis’ top nightclub. His main competition is arrogant Morris Day and his band, The Time, who is also chasing after the pretty singer (Appolonia Kotero) who attached herself as The Kid’s girlfriend seemingly minutes after arriving in town. The Kid also attempts to write songs at home as his parents (Clarence Williams III and Olga Karlatos) constantly fight — what’s a genius to do? Pretty bad, but watchable in a way. Morris Day and sidekick Jerome Benton deliver the only decent performances, likely since they add some needed lightness and levity to this otherwise dour flick. I will add that the cinematography and lighting are fantastic — crisp, atmospheric, very evocative of the ’80s.
Rusty Knife (1958). Another tasty B&W thriller from Criterion’s Nikkatsu Noir set (thought I’d seen them all; apparently this is the last one for me). Rusty Knife is slightly more convoluted plotwise than the others, following the fortunes of an earnest young man (Yûjirô Ishihara) who was one of three witnesses to the supposed suicide of a crime boss. The suicide turns out to be a murder, however. The witnesses become embroiled in both the local Yakuza and the police’s attempts to squash or reveal the killer’s identity. Competently made and interesting to watch (as with the other Nikkatsu Noirs) just to see how slick and Americanized these films could get. Future star and personal fave Jo Shishido appears as a poor sap who meets an early end. Not my first choice in this particular set, but enjoyable all the same.
Union Station (1950). In the same year they appeared in Sunset Boulevard, Paramount teamed actors William Holden and Nancy Olson in a much lesser-known film — the gritty, low budget noir Union Station. We got to check it out on Netflix streaming this week. This one’s a standard affair with Olson’s character witnessing some shady behavior aboard a train trip. She convinces Manhattan train station dick Holden to shadow the men, who it turns out are embarking on a scheme to kidnap the blind daughter of Olson’s boss. A pretty solid, efficiently made film that spools out in predictable fashion. Probably the most interesting aspect of the film is that much of it was filmed on location in L.A.’s iconic Union Station, its Spanish tile-accented interiors making a not-very-convincing setting for its New York City counterpart. Robby Kress has a swell post on the Union Station filming locales, then and now, on his Dear Old Hollywood weblog.