Amer (2009). A lot of raves have been filed on this recent, stylized take on Italian Gallo horror films of the ’70s from filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. The film is divided into three impressionistic segments featuring the same character as a young girl, an adolescent and an adult woman. I don’t want to get into too much detail here (my DVDTalk take should be filed soon), but it’s certainly a unique film. Actually, the lack of dialogue and overly stylized photography (lots of closeups, especially of eyes, lips and other body parts) makes it more reminiscent of abstract, experimental filmmakers like Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger than anything else. There are a few frightening/bizarre moments, but the film is mostly a hollow exercise in style over substance. I wasn’t too impressed, and I will be articulating my feelings more in the actual review (which will hopefully be done by Friday).
The Asphalt Jungle (1950). A film noir classic that, surprisingly, I haven’t caught until this past week. A complex story, hard to get into at first, becomes absorbing over a tense 90 minutes thanks to vivid characters and John Huston’s crackling dialogue. The story concerns a brilliant, recently sprung criminal mastermind (Sam Jaffee) who wants to pull of one last heist before retiring. He employs a colorful array of men to abscond with some valuable jewels in a vault — burly tough guy Sterling Hayden, safe cracker Anthony Caruso and lookout James Whitmore. The heist is generally a success, but complications arise when Jaffe and crew take the jewels to Louis Calhern as the wealthy lawyer who agreed to buy them. Calhern is short on cash, and the men are left scrambling to basically fend for themselves. Most of what people know of The Asphalt Jungle is that it’s one of Marilyn Monroe’s earliest roles, and she’s pretty good as Calhern’s opportunistic mistress. The other performers are just as good if not better, however — Sterling Hayden rocks, and Jean Hagen contributes a vulnerable turn as Hayden’s boozy girlfriend. Jaffee, Calhern and Whitmore are also excellent. The story unfolds in a great way to a terrific ending, too.
Eating Out: Drama Camp (2011). This was among the first batch of DVDs I selected from DVDTalk. The Eating Out films, of which Drama Camp is #4, are bawdy gay comedies which tend to show up on the Logo channel. I’d previously seen the first one (which sucked), but none of the sequels. Surprisingly the film turned out enjoyable in its own cheesy way. The full review is here.
The Egg and I (1947). As an introduction to the Ma & Pa Kettle Complete Comedy Collection, one can’t get any better than the Kettle’s first outing as supporting players in this breezy laugh getter. The film has a typical “city slickers go country” theme with Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray as newlyweds who get more than they bargained for when MacMurray impulsively decides to start an egg farm in the woods of Washington state. Most of the humor revolves around fetching Colbert attempting to adjust to farm animals, primitive kitchen appliances and loopy neighbors. Awfully cute, but not too cute. Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as Ma & Pa Kettle are a delight. I’m going to be seeing a lot more of them as I run through the nine (!) films they starred in (actually, Kilbride bowed out for the final two, which are making their DVD debut on this set). My full, Kettle-riffic writeup will be appearing soon.
Howl (2010). Netflix streaming view (Christopher’s choice). Howl details Allen Ginsberg in the fifties, how he came to write his gritty, poetic tour-de-force Howl and the subsequent obscenity trial for the book, in which Ginsberg was not involved. The film shifts between James Franco as Ginsberg, emoting in a fake beard, colorful and visually striking sequences in which Franco narrates Howl to animation, and the trial itself with Jon Hamm as the defense attorney and David Strathairn representing the prosecution. This film was a mess, really. Franco is too stylized and actor-y as Ginsberg and his readings are unbelievably pretentious. Ginsberg’s language is unsparingly tough and ahead of its time, spitting in the face of ’50s conformity, so there’s definitely a movie to be had in that. Although the Franco scenes fail, I somewhat enjoyed the trial section and found the animation interesting (I’m a sucker for good, weird animation). All in all, a well-intentioned, ponderous bore.
Lost Empires (1986). This miniseries follows the goings-on in a British music hall performing troupe in the years prior to World War I, with a young/dashing Colin Firth as the protagonist. I will have a detailed review of this up shortly at DVDTalk, but in a nutshell I really enjoyed this. The series is in seven parts, with the longer first part being the least satisfying. It is necessary, however, in detailing the evocative characters and stage milieu that Firth enters. After his last surviving parent dies, Firth as regular bloke Richard comes under the employ of his Uncle Nick (a wonderful, menacing turn by John Castle), who does an exotic magic act under the stage name Ganga Dun. The cynical Nick introduces Richard to the world of jugglers, comedians, singers and dancers — performers who are at the lower strata of English society and yet have a social hierarchy of their own. The concept shares some similarity with the recent Downton Abbey, which even takes place in the same time period. The reissued DVD edition is coming out Tuesday; hopefully I will have my more comprehensive review ready by then!
One Night in the Tropics (1940). The film that introduced Abbott & Costello to moviedom was shown one recent afternoon on ThisTV, so I recorded it and watched it in bits and pieces over a week or two. Not the best way to take in a movie, I’m sure, which might explain why I found it so disjointed and horrible. A&C pop in at inopportune moments, doing their stage bits (including the “Who’s On First” routine). They have little to do with the main plot of the film, a trifle about buddies Allan Jones and Robert Cummings, who hatch a plan to take out an insurance policy on Cummings’ upcoming marriage to socialite Nancy Kelly. The policy is financed by nightclub owner William Frawley, who hires Bud Abbott and Lou Costello to make sure the couple marries and he doesn’t have to pay up. A herky-jerky comedy with forgettable musical interludes and a dumb script. I always found Cummings an unappealing, ultra-smarmy character and he’s no different here. Allen Jones was an interesting figure from this era, an appealing opera singer with a jazzy, current image; his character is almost as bad as Cummings’. Blecch.