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Flick Clique: October 16-22

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.

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