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Flick Clique: September 4-10

Good, somewhat unexpected, news: I am now one of the reviewers at the great online home video resource DVDTalk.com. Although I’ve been reading that site for years, it was only recently that I found the main editor’s solicitation for reviewers posted on the reader forums. Using some of my 2005-06 reviews from Mindjack Film as samples, I submitted an application — and was accepted! I’ve always liked the concise, totally thorough (yet fun) reviews at DVDTalk and can’t wait to contribute my own. On to this week’s Flick Clique:
By the People: The Election of Barack Obama (2009). Amy Rice and Alicia Sams’ acclaimed documentary follows Obama on his historic campaign from its first conception in 2006 up through election day, two long and exhausting years later. Somewhat absorbing (due to the amazing access Rice and Sams had) if not exactly mind-blowing. What struck me the most is how contrived most political campaigns are, and despite all attempts to market Obama as the “different” choice, his route to the White House basically mirrored the ones who went before him. Obama himself seems like a decent, down-to-earth fellow, and I appreciated the scenes capturing him, Michelle, Sasha and Malia relaxing at home. It would be interesting if the filmmakers did a follow-up with the youthful, optimistic campaign volunteers who propelled Obama to victory — what would they think of him now? Personally, I think he’s doing the best he can, despite the disappointment of his being way too conciliatory toward certain congressional Republicans who deserve a severe bitch slap. But back to the campaign scenes — my heart sank when the filmmakers visited the Iowa State Fair. Whether it was Hillary Clinton flipping burgers or Michelle Bachmann awkwardly chewing on a corn dog, the entire sequence stank of deja vu.
Final Destination 3 (2006). When it comes down to it, the Final Destination flicks are really about seeing ever more creative ways for teenagers to kick the bucket onscreen. FD3 is no different, and on its own terms I got a gleeful kick out of the crafty death scenes. Whether it’s snooty social queens fatally fried on a tanning bed or an arrogant jock who succumbs to some workout equipment gone horribly wrong, the characters are painted in such broad, evil stereotypes it’s not so bad when they’re offed. Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes an appealing lead as the one teen that senses the doom of her classmates from the start, although she’s let down by a dopey script that doesn’t leave room for any character depth. Wouldn’t anybody get suspicious when the girl just happens to witness all these gruesome deaths?
It’s in the Bag (1946). This loose, wacky comedy starring radio personality Fred Allen counts as yet another curio that showed up unceremoniously on Netflix streaming. Allen plays a flea circus proprietor who finds himself the unlikely heir to a fortune when a rich relative drops dead. Allen and wife Binnie Barnes immediately spend the fortune on a new wardrobe and swanky apartment, only to find that the deceased millionaire actually hid the fortune in one of five antique chairs, which Allen foolishly dispatched to an antique store. With the aid of precocious son Dickie Tyler, Allen goes on a wild goose chase to get the sold chairs back from their scattered owners, which include Jack Benny (a funny bit with Benny playing himself in full-tilt Jack Benny mode), a scatterbrained old woman, a Gay ’90s nightclub proprietor, and a bunch of hoods. Quite cute, moderately funny time waster. The film opens with Allen as himself, addressing the audience and deconstructing the opening credits in a forward thinking way. What follows is not nearly as ballsy, but the film benefits from enjoyably loopy appearances from guest actors including Benny, Robert Benchley, William Bendix, Sidney Toler, Don Ameche, Rudy Vallee, and Victor Moore (the final three are a hoot as three quarters of a singing barbershop quartet).
Julie & Julia (2009). While Julia Child endeavors to master the art of French cookery in the ’40s and ’50s, contemporary office worker Julie Powell writes a weblog on attempting every recipe in Child’s magnum opus. I enjoyed this, mostly for the sumptuously filmed food shots and amazing performances by Meryl Street and Stanley Tucci, who are warm, engaging and surprisingly sexy as Child and her adoring husband, Paul. Nora Ephron directs the Child scenes as a romanticized fantasy, filtered through the impressions of the contemporary character, a stark contrast from the workaday life in Queens and Manhattan for Amy Adams’ struggling writer Powell. There was a lot of criticism for the mundanity of the “Julie” segments, but as a fellow blogger I got a kick out of the scenes with her setting up a blog and the anticipation of whether people could relate to her writing (is this the first mainstream movie about blogging?). Unfortunately, as our appreciation for Julia Child and her effervescent joie de vivre grows, the more Powell comes off as a big, narcissistic whiner… even the normally wonderful Adams can’t make her appealing! At their cores, cooking and blogging are both mundane activities that can be extraordinary if you approach them with the right mindset. From that standpoint, the film is a success.
Playhouse 90: The Comedian (1957). I rented the Criterion Golden Age Of Television set recently just for this production, a Rod Serling scripted saga of an egotistical TV star (played by a manic Mickey Rooney) and his downfall. This was a pretty typical production of the era, preserved on clunky kinescope that doesn’t adequately convey the technical accomplishment that went with live dramas of this ilk. For a project that left no room for error, John Frankenheimer’s direction is incredibly smooth and even daring, with pans and cuts that relied on split second timing from the actors. This was also worth watching for another wild, uninhibited turn by Rooney (see also: The Last Mile). What a dynamo that man was!

2 Thoughts on “Flick Clique: September 4-10

  1. Cristiane on September 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm said:

    Congrats on the new gig!

  2. Jim Kosmicki on September 14, 2011 at 9:24 am said:

    congrats – I look forward to your film reviews – they are my treat to myself when I get done with tasks that i’ve avoided.

    The best thing that could have happened to Julie Powell was having Amy Adams play her. She comes across as whiny and self-centered in the original book too, and the followup book that shows how she completely mistreated her spouse once she got some fame just reinforces that. But Amy Adams is so endearing that the audience ignores the negatives. I think I would have enjoyed the movie much, much more had it just been about Julia and Paul Child, especially if it had gone more into their war activities. Julia Child was a fascinating woman with an incredible life.

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