Archive for October, 2011

Flick Clique: October 23-29

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Blues in the Night (1941). Bought this DVD because it has Joyce Compton in a small part (as “blonde dancing with drunk,” as the IMDb puts it), but it’s actually one of the more enjoyable Warner Brothers melodramas of that time. Silly and overblown at times, but engrossing nonetheless. Richard Whorf heads a mid-level cast as jazz pianist Jigger Pine, a regular guy with a quartet that includes wormlike Elia Kazan, hulking Peter Whitney and young pup Billy Halop. The trio are at a crossroads. A scuffle with a belligerent customer at the dive where they’re playing lands them in jail, prompting them to stick with the noncommercial blues-influenced style they love. They travel to New Orleans to meet with trumpeter Jack Carson, who is married to lovely singer Priscilla Lane. The group form a swell combo, riding the rails and playing wherever they can to get a decent meal. Eventually they befriend a gangster (Lloyd Nolan), who leads them to a New Jersey dive where sad sack Wallace Ford and hard-bitten singer Betty Field (who is amazing in this) work. The story gets very complex from there, helped along by some eye-popping montages from the uncredited Don Siegel. I love the “traveling across America” montage and the “I hate these singing lessons” montage. The “I’m going crazy” montage (seen below at 1:40) is a pip, as well.

Body Slam (1986). This stupid yet watchable wrestling comedy has been shown on ThisTV a few times, curiosity prompted me to stick it on the DVR. Dirk Benedict stars as a washed-up rock promoter who winds up unknowingly representing a pro wrestler (Rowdy Roddy Piper). He dreams up a scheme to combine the energy of live rock music with the excitement of wrestling, a wild idea that catches on so quickly that he has a rival promoter (Captain Lou Albano!) on his tail. This film was directed by Hal Needham, whose main prior achievement was the Cannonball Run movies. That oughta tell you where this movie is coming from, although the very ’80s atmosphere and an odd supporting cast (Tanya Roberts, Charles Nelson Reilly, Billy Barty) keeps this one diverting, at the very least.
A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929). This British thriller is a good example of how stylized silent films got before sound came in and changed everything. The story concerns an escaped convict who, fleeing through the countryside, finds refuge in a farm house. The woman who is tending to the house is startled to see the man, but we soon learn (via flashback) that they know each other and once worked together. The film switches locales to the barber shop, where he was a shaver and she was a manicurist. They have a friendly rapport which borders on a relationship, but that’s changed when a regular shop customer becomes engaged to the woman. He becomes obsessed with winning the woman’s love. The man’s increasingly psychotic nature is captured by some daring camerawork, highlighted by a scene where the couple go to see a “talkie” in the local theatre. Interesting film. Kino’s DVD for this film includes an absorbing documentary, Silent Britain, which chronicles the UK’s often overlooked contribution to silent cinema with plenty of cool clips.
Going Places (1974). Easygoing buddy comedy stars a magnetic Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere as a pair of charming wastrels who roam the French countryside in search of men to piss off and women to bang. On a car thieving jaunt, they meet a passive hairdresser named Marie-Jange (Miou Miou), who eventually becomes the third corner in their traveling sex ‘n crime spree. I’m reviewing this DVD for DVD Talk, so I won’t go into too much detail. Generally, I found it entertaining for the first hour, including a wonderful bit with Jeanne Moreau as a jaded ex-con whom the two men take on as their latest conquest. Her character is intelligent enough to know that she’s being played, but she goes along with it and ultimately it emerges that it’s she doing the playing. The film kinda falls apart after her scenes, but it’s still interesting to watch as Depardieu and Dewaere are initially presented as stupid young punks who gradually become more human as the film progresses.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). We’re two thirds of the way through this iconic Western, directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood and with Ennio Morricone’s cool and strange score. It does have some great scenes and lots of weirdly beautiful close-ups of actors’ weather-beaten faces, but overall I’m finding Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West the better film in almost every respect. Eastwood is too laconic and I’m not buying Eli Wallach as a Mexican, but I’m enjoying their banter and comradery. Morricone’s theme, once so cool, now seems so campy that I can’t help but giggle whenever it comes on. His OUATITW score is much more subtle and mood-enhancing. TGTBATU falls into more typical Spaghetti Western territory, bad dubbing and all, but the film holds my attention enough to keep me wondering what may happen in the last hour (which we’re seeing tonight).
Sh! The Octopus (1937). Preposterous yet enjoyable little b-movie is one of the earliest examples of that ’40s and ’50s staple, the horror-comedy. This one has Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins as a pair of police detectives who happen upon a mysterious lighthouse which appears to be terrorized by both a giant octopus and a human killer named after the octopus. This was offered as a free online stream by the Warner Archive on October 27th and 28th. It was a dumb little time waster, less than an hour long but made interminable by the stream’s constant rebuffering. The octopus was fake and unintentionally funny, but at least the special effect with one of the cast members transforming into a hideous ogre was nifty.

Nine Nations, Animated

Friday, October 28th, 2011

My review of the shorts collection Nine Nation Animation has been posted at DVD Talk. This package of animated shorts from Europe includes the cute (and weird) German short Please Say Something, excerpted below.

The clip has French text, which is in English on the DVD.

Magoo, You’ve Done It Again

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Here’s the first half of the Count of Monte Cristo episode of the animated series The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, which ran on NBC (in prime time!) in the 1964-65 season. I’m getting acquainted with this show since reviewing the upcoming Mr. Magoo on TV Collection DVD set from Shout! Factory. The box also includes the other two Magoo series, The Mr. Magoo Show (1960-61) and What’s New, Mr. Magoo? (1977), along with the 1970 special Uncle Sam Magoo. That’s a lotta Magoo!

The Famous Adventures show, which puts Magoo in various well-known historical events and pieces of literature, might be the most interesting one. Unlike the others, I’d never heard of this show and don’t remember it at all from my childhood. There aren’t a lot of gags relating to Magoo’s blindness, but it’s a lot of fun with a kicky, ’60s feel.

Flick Clique: October 16-22

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Dumbstruck (2010). A sunny, appealing documentary about ventriloquism and how it affects five different people. I reviewed this for DVD Talk.
Haywire (1980). This two-part TV movie immediately grabbed me when I saw it listed on the Warner Archive website. First off, I had no idea that there was a movie version of Brooke Hayward’s best selling ’70s memoir on her childhood with famous parents Margaret Sullavan and superagent Leland Hayward. Secondly, I love Lee Remick and was eager to see how she interpreted Ms. Sullavan, one of the more diverting, underrated classic film actresses. The film opens in 1960 with Brooke, played by Deborah Raffin, learning of her mother’s pill overdose suicide. As Raffin plans funeral arrangements with her father Leland (Jason Robards), she flashes back to the ’40s and Sullavan’s gradual unraveling, which has an effect on the high profile couple’s three kids — Brooke, Bridget and Bill. As the years go by, Brooke finds that Sullavan’s high strung insecurity and fragile mental state has been passed on to herself and especially her siblings. This is a pretty typical TV production of the day, with a laughably weak grasp on period detail, long scenes of exposition, and performances that range from affected (Raffin, who sometimes adopts a quasi-British accent) to workmanlike (Robards). The film takes on a strange, flashback-heavy format, likely to give equal screen time to Remick over the two halves. Remick is okay if somewhat histrionic. Overall, I enjoyed it, although the story would have been better served with a single, straightforward two hour treatment.
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959). I watched this in bits and pieces via Netflix over the last two, three weeks (having already seen it on the old, pre-commercial Bravo channel eons ago). It’s a film that actually holds up well in that fragmentary manner. Jazz on a Summer’s Day is a chronicle of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival by photographer Bert Stern. Stern films the various acts in an impressionistic manner, giving as much time to the audience and the quirky, often lovely surroundings in and around Newport, Rhode Island. One can definitely see the advertising influence in Stern’s photography, which has that whiff of ’50s cool. Musically it’s a treat, with memorable performances from Anita O’Day, Louis Armstrong, George Shearing, Dinah Washington, and an out-of-place but stunning Chuck Berry. I think I most enjoyed the clothes, weirdly enough – on both the performers and the audience! I also loved looking at the audience and spotting the genuine music lovers who were there to groove and the hipsters, poseurs and families who just came to relax. Fun film, look for it!
Pale Flower (1964). More vintage Japanese goodness from Netflix. Actually, Pale Flower is too pokey and inconsistent to earn a full recommendation, but there are certain elements that stand out. Certainly the story, of a Yakuza gangster (Ryô Ikebe) who meets a thrill-seeking young woman (Mariko Kaga), isn’t anything too special. Much of the action centers around an inscrutable Japanese card game, while Ikebe and Kaga indulge in long conversations and speedy jaunts in his convertible, things which only amplify their nihilistic point of view. The main characters are unlikable, the gambling scenes are repetitive, but the final fifteen minutes are utterly absorbing and filmed in an audacious way that was at least two decades ahead of its time. Nice cinematography, too, but I wouldn’t put it anywhere near the top of my ’60s Japanese gangster movie list.
The Perfect Host (2010). A Netflix streaming offering that came at the recommendation of C.’s former co-worker. The Perfect Host kicks off with Ray Liotta-ish actor Clayne Crawford as a thief who is frantically evading the police after an attempted bank heist. After attempting to contact his girlfriend, he hides out in an affluent L.A. neighborhood. Posing as a stranded tourist, he goes to the door of one house, but the lady (Helen Reddy!) tells him to move on. Luckily the neighbor, a fastidious man planning a dinner party (Hyde Pierce), welcomes the guy into his home. Crawford intends to rob Hyde Pierce and move on, but the tables are turned when Hyde Pierce turns out to be a lunatic, with all of his dinner party friends being figments of his imagination (or are they people he once knew? The film doesn’t adequately explain that.). Crawford becomes a prisoner and spends much of the film trying to escape as Hyde Pierce immobilizes, drugs and mutilates him. Kind of a blah movie, really, one which becomes even more ridiculous when another twist is revealed regarding Hyde Pierce’s character. Disappointing ending, too. This resourcefully made indie thriller might be worth a peek for Hyde Pierce fans; mostly I was bored.

Checking Out Criterion

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

I guess it’s not a good time to be Netflix. The company’s recent DVD/streaming fracas has us scrambling for alternative ways to get entertainment. I’m still sticking with them (and, despite the price increase, it’s still a heckuva deal), both with disc and streaming. Currently we have the two discs/unlimited streaming, but the constant flow of discs from DVD Talk will probably prompt me to take it down to one disc at a time with the occasional Red Box visit in case we need a recent flick for the night. Another alternate possibility I’ve been exploring is our local public library. I was astonished to find that they had tons of newer Criterion discs available for checking out, one week at a time. What’s more, the library Criterions have the booklets — cool! A few weeks ago, I checked out a batch:

The first film we partook of, Make Way for Tomorrow, is something I’ve been wanting to see for several years. Leo McCarey’s highly regarded tearjerker used to get some airplay on American Movie Classics, but despite being a huge Beulah Bondi fan I never caught it. The film just looked too depressing — who wants to cuddle up with a movie about an elderly couple whose children treat them like dirt? The film really is a treasure, however, touching on human issues in a manner that’s very rare for films of that vintage (1937). Bondi and Victor Moore play a long-married couple who gather their adult children to announce that they must sell the family home. The financial situation makes it impossible for the couple to stay together, so they wind up in the households of two different offspring while being treated in an equally callous way. Moore is great; so are Thomas Mitchell and Fay Bainter as the couple who take Bondi in. Bondi is remarkable — her character behaves at first in a stereotypical “martyred old lady” fashion that would grate on anyone’s nerves — but as the film unfolds, her humanity is gradually revealed. It’s a relief when the couple is reunited and finally get treated with some dignity when they visit the hotel where they once honeymooned. This Criterion edition particularly jazzed me because it has designs by Seth, the cartoonist who also designed the Complete Peanuts volumes from Fantagraphics.

The next DVD we saw, oddly enough, has a similar theme to Make Way for Tomorrow — Hirokazu Koreeda’s 2008 drama Still Walking. This film has an elderly couple dealing with the after effects when one of their children has died. It takes place mostly during the annual gathering the couple holds in remembrance of their son. The couple’s other offspring seem to live happy lives, but as the film unfolds one starts to notice the tension between the parents and the other son, who didn’t follow the dad’s career path and is now involved with a widow raising a young boy. The daughter is also grappling with how to handle the aging parents. Like Koreeda’s Nobody Knows, this film takes its time establishing character and mood to the point where you’d ask “when is this thing starting, already?” Stick around, however, for a rewarding experience. At the very least, I loved the ambiance of the seaside town where it took place. The booklet contains recipes (!) for the delectable Asian dishes prepared in the film.

I’ve already seen My Man Godfrey, but for the commentary I gave the Criterion disc a rental (and why not? The library had, like, ten copies in the bins). The commentary was pretty dry and scholarly, but it had a few nice tidbits about the making of the film. Mostly it made me appreciate what a beautifully put together film it remains, the apex of ’30s screwball. I loved William Powell in this, but a huge surprise came with Gail Patrick as the bitchy sister. What a gorgeous lady. Carole Lombard was also quite funny, but I noticed how she played similar (annoying) characters in this, Twentieth Century and Nothing Sacred. Her “beautiful lady gone wacky” schtick was good, in small doses. I really prefer her in more “normal” parts like Mr. and Mrs. Smith or the nursing drama Vigil in the Night.

It was fun checking these out, and I’m looking forward to trucking down to the library for more. P.S. Don’t ask about going back to cable or satellite — I’m totally finished treading down that money-sucking route!

New at LitKids: Alice in Silver, Black

Monday, October 17th, 2011

At LitKids, I came up with something to make up for the dwindling supply of Alice In Wonderland prints on hand. These new prints use the same design and book pages, but they are printed in silver and black inks. These came out really nice, even better than the original red-on-pink design. The black-on-silver ones are gorgeous, and the reverse silver-on-black gives the image a striking “goth” feel (although they didn’t come out as nice). I feel especially proud of these since they were done from a brand new silk screen — Alice is the most complex image, and to get a good screen exposure in the sunlight, it has to be timed especially right.

The silver prints cost $15 and the black ones are $12. Check them out!