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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.

2 Thoughts on “Flick Clique: July 10-16

  1. Cristiane on July 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm said:

    I love, love, LOVE It’s Always Fair Weather. For some reason, when I was a kid, one of the local stations used to show it a lot, and I really fell in love with it. That Dolores Gray number is incredible, isn’t it? In fact, all the numbers are great. I’m particularly fond of Dan Dailey’s “Saturation-Wise” number. It’s too bad that the movie bombed, and he’s mostly remembered (if at all) for his Fox technicolor mediocrities (and being a cross-dresser in real life, apparently).

    Ooh, Purple Rain – I saw that in Bloomington, IN, when I was in graduate school. My goodness, I am OLD. As you said, great music, horrific acting. But I still harbor great good will for Morris Day and Jerome Benton.

  2. Rick on July 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm said:

    Yes. “It’s Always Fair Weather ” is a remarkable film. Gray’s number is very hot! I agree. All the numbers are great. It bombed out when first released but I think it has had some increasing appeal as time moves on.

    I have always liked “Purple Rain”. The music is fantastic of course but the acting has never really bothered me.

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