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Flick Clique: July 3-9

Go West, Young Man (1936) and My Little Chickadee (1940). A double dose of Mae West at Chez Scrubbles this week, courtesy of the DVD set of West flicks that I picked up at Big Lots for a fiver. It’s interesting (and kind of deflating) to see her in these two later efforts that mold the iconic, sashaying West image into a safer, Production Code-friendly image. Go West, Young Man is a agreeable trifle with West as a movie star who takes a secret trip to meet her politician beau, Lyle Talbot. Her scheming press agent Warren William sabotages the ride, however, when a stalled limo prompts the lady to stay in a small town boarding house with an oddball assortment of locals. Those locals include Alice Brady as the landlady, Elizabeth Patterson (I Love Lucy‘s Mrs. Trumbull) as a busybody, Margaret Perry as a flighty fan, and Randolph Scott as the hunky farmer who catches Mae’s eye. Cute, but rather pointless and possessing a story that, like Mae’s limo, stays firmly in one spot. Western romp My Little Chickadee hold more promise due to the teaming of Mae with her equally cartoonish co-star W. C. Fields. West plays a dishonorable lady in the old West who, fleeing her disapproving home town, agrees to a shotgun wedding to shyster Fields. The two arrive in a town terrorized by a masked bandit (who also happens to be Mae’s secret lover), wherein Fields is promptly made a stooge sheriff. This film was made at Universal after Mae’s long run at Paramount. It’s smoothly directed, colorfully cast and nicely photographed, but strangely inert and not very funny. The script was a collaboration between the two stars, although something tells me that Mae wrote the bulk and Fields improvised his own stuff as the filming went along. I was also struck by how old and haggard Mae appears here. She also looked kinda old in Go West; not surprising since she was pushing forty by the time she first appeared onscreen, in Night After Night (1932). Even in these halfhearted flicks, though, I can sense the lusty joie de vivre that made her a star.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010). Enjoyable CGI adventure, not quite up to Pixar standards. I’d say this is a cute, Bug’s Life-level film. I was impressed by the textures and the scale of the island it takes place on, along with the designs of the dragons themselves (which range from cute and puppy sized to imposing, dinosaur-like behemoths). Not so thrilling are the rote characters and the been there, done that theme of a wimpy boy trying to appease his widowed, he-man father (yawn). I will also note with rueful cynicism that this is a 3-D movie which involves lots of objects flying at the viewer, something that doesn’t translate too well to the living room.
Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). I have fond memories of catching this on pay cable TV long, long ago, when the sight of bare boobies onscreen gave me a little thrill. The patchwork parody Kentucky Fried Movie is notable for being the first screen effort of David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and David Abrahams — the trio who went on to wacky heights with the Airplane! movies, Police Squad, Top Secret and so on. This is a scattershot array of TV/movie parodies, some of which (the “Appeal for the Dead” commercial with a stone-faced Henry Gibson, for example) still have a surprising bite. The chop socky Enter the Dragon ripoff “A Fistful of Yen” is a highlight, brimming with absurd sight gags and weird, clumsy performers. Another favorite segment was the parody of 1950s courtroom dramas, which includes a campy What’s My Line? gag (something I missed when I was 11). Rather crass and awfully dated, but fun all the same. This was another Big Lots cheap-o DVD find, by the way — hooray for Big Lots!
Queens (2005). Gay-themed Spanish comedy promises to be a colorful romp, winds up being merely colorful. This film stars many of the middle aged, sexy ladies from Pedro Almodovar’s films playing the middle aged, sexy mothers of six gay men who are preparing for Spain’s first legal same-sex marriage ceremony. Complications ensue when one mom (Mercedes Sampietro) is drafted to be the ceremony’s judge despite her ambivalent feelings towards her son and gayness in general. Another mom (Carmen Maura) is a high end hotel manager dealing with the labor grumblings of her staff, all the while having personality conflicts with the earthy ma (Betiana Blum) of her son’s lover. A fourth mom (Verónica Forqué, who resembles Mary McDonnell) is a nymphomaniac, while the fifth mother (Marisa Paredes of How I Met My Mother) is a famous actress with a lust for her gardener, who is also the dad of her son’s lover. It’s appealingly cast and directed with a light touch, but the sitcom-like script is too pat, and reliant on the unbelievable coincidence gambit way too often to be credible. This is to Almodovar’s stuff what Velveeta is to fine brie — skip!
Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) and Legendary Sin Cities (2005). A couple of documentaries, coincidentally viewable on Netflix Instant. Valentino: The Last Emperor tracks legendary Italian fashion designer Valentino (Garavani) as he readies his 2006 couture collection amidst rumors that he will step down at the company that bears his name. We see him fussing over gowns, chatting up seamstresses, attending meetings, shepherding his pug dogs onto private planes, and discussing matters both huge and trivial with his business/life partner Giancarlo Giammetti. The film ends on a bittersweet note with Valentino stepping down as a lavish retrospective celebrating his 45-year career is mounted. Good doc, filled with eye-popping fashions. The September Issue is a more thorough peek into the fashion industry, however. Valentino is something of a petulant diva throughout; ironically, his partner Giammetti strikes me as the more interesting and articulate half of this influential pair. Legendary Sin Cities is an absorbing made-for-Canadian-TV doc that tells the story of three daring, sexually sophisticated cities of the 1920s — Paris, Berlin and Shanghai — giving an hour to each metropolis. Eye-opening stuff, and not just for the scratchy footage of topless women strutting their stuff. All the progress these places made (acceptance of homosexuality, kink, free love, etc.) came at the expense of rampant criminal activity, corruption, and horrible living conditions. I didn’t know that life in Weimar-era Germany was so economically dire that entire families took to prostitution, did you?

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