Monthly Archives: November 2011

You are browsing the site archives by month.

Flick Clique: November 20-26

The selections in this week’s Flick Clique all date from Monday-Wednesday of last week. We were out of town most of the time since then, spending Thanksgiving at Redondo Beach, California with my parents. The folks, who live here locally in Arizona, have made turkey day a tradition at a cozy seafood market in Redondo for the past twenty years or so. Don’t ask me why they chose that particular place, but it was a funky experience cracking open freshly steamed crab with a bunch of Asian families sitting at tables around us. We were joined by my aunt and her husband and my cousin and her s.o. Friday was spent exploring nearby Hermosa beach (I bought some clothes at one of the local shops), while on Saturday we went down to San Diego to meet my longtime friend Ion, his wife, Yvette, and their young son Evan. After breakfast, we all went to the local swap meet out by San Diego’s old sports stadium. It was lots of fun, and I was so happy to finally meet Ion after emailing and trading lots of mixes with him over the years (hi guys!). What a nice finale to a jam-packed holiday weekend. Onward to the flicks:
Fail-Safe (1964). Dr. Strangelove is one of those classic movies whose appeal strangely eludes me. Despite all that, I put it on my Netflix queue, reshuffled to avoid it, then when it finally arrived Christopher says “You wanted to see that? Watch Fail-Safe instead.” I didn’t feel like giving up two-plus hours on Strangelove, so I returned it and added this celebrated Henry Fonda bomb-scare drama to the queue top instead. Having never seen that one, either, what did I have to lose? This intense, Sydney Lumet-directed drama probably lacked the social commentary of Strangelove but it was a fascinating film all the same. It effectively dramatizes the fears that Americans had of a nuclear invasion during those Bay of Pigs times. In the film, Fonda plays the president who, on a day when he’s set to do some routine U.N. talks, learns that a phalanx of American aircraft are (due to a complex misunderstanding) being sent to Russia, ready to strike. The film also has some great work by two unexpected actors: Walter Matthau as a nuclear weapons expert and Larry Hagman as the interpreter who works the tense negotiations between Fonda and the unseen Russian premier. The intensity builds into an unforgettable finale that threw me for a loop, honestly. Be like a heat-seeking missile and hunt for it.
Reckless (1934) and Riffraff (1935). The last two Jean Harlow films I watched for DVD Talk. Reckless was a bit of a mess, but I really enjoyed Riffraff. I remember seeing it years ago and thought it was flat and kind of dull, but this second viewing revealed the snappy dialogue and the nifty performances from Harlow and Spencer Tracy. My review of Warner Archive’s new box set is here. Hope you like!
Sarah’s Key (2010). This Holocaust drama is another DVD Talk project. I specifically asked for this one, since both of us love Kristen-Scott Thomas and the story looked intriguing. In another of her recent great French-language turns, Thomas plays a contemporary journalist who is doing a magazine story on the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in 1942 Paris, a notorious persecution of Jews by the French police which had faded into history. Eventually she uncovers a personal aspect to the tragedy when it is found that the apartment she’s occupying from her husband’s parents once belonged to a Jewish family that was relocated in the roundup. Beautifully filmed flashbacks illustrate the plight of the relocated family, the Starzynskis, as the daughter Sarah frantically tries to get back to the apartment to free her little brother who was locked in a secret compartment in the siblings’ bedroom. Good film, nicely performed with some very moving scenes involving the Sarah character (who ages into a guilt-ridden young woman). The film does have the Julie & Julia problem of the contemporary story not being as compelling as the historical story, but it does fare well due to the magnetic Thomas (yes, I believe I can watch her in just about anything). Warning: the ending is a mawkish Children Are Our Future sop that would be more at home in a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation.

Flick Clique: November 13-19

Bill Cunningham New York (2010). This recent documentary is one of the films whose DVD I am reviewing for DVD Talk. Bill Cunningham is a New York City photographer who has been doing the “On The Street” column in the New York Times for about 30 years now. The film follows Cunningham as the still energetic octogenarian bikes around Manhattan, furiously seeking out residents whose clothing catches his eye — be it socialite or some poor homeless woman. The energy and spontaneity of the photos is captured in the tight editing, aided by tons of samples and interviews with his often eccentric subjects. The filmmakers also spent a lot of time in Cunningham’s rent-controlled apartment in Carnegie Hall, and in the offices of the Times as the man fusses over one of his layouts with an exasperated (in a humorous way) page designer. This film had me grinning from ear to ear, mostly due to the ebullient personality of Cunningham himself. He seems like a pleasant fellow to be around, beloved by many. Eventually we learn that he’s also an enigma, choosing to live a modest existence with no significant other or family close by. The film briefly dips into Grey Gardens territory, when the director point blank asks him if he’s gay. It really isn’t relevant, however. By and large, the film hits its goal in getting the audience acquainted with a fabulous person whom most of us didn’t know about.
The Girl from Missouri (1934) and Personal Property (1937). More viewing from the Warner Archive Jean Harlow box set, with two films from very different periods in Miss Harlow’s short career. The Girl from Missouri is pre-Code fizz all the way, with Jean a delight as a gold-digging Midwestern girl whose dreams of finding a sugar daddy are thwarted by an unexpected death that implicated her and her best pal (equally delightful Patsy Kelly). This starts out as bubbly comedy, but then strangely u-turns into heavy, dramatic territory. Harlow proves to be good at both — hard to believe she was playing cheap hussies only a few years earlier. I can take or leave Franchot Tone as her ardent suitor, however. Personal Property was another glossy attempt on MGM’s part to shoehorn Harlow into more ladylike roles. In this one, she plays wealthy widow Crystal Wetherby, a woman who assists Robert Taylor’s Raymond Dabney, who has just gotten out of jail. Through a convoluted set of doings, Taylor ends up living at Harlow’s place and posing as her butler. The film is stagy and somewhat claustrophobic, but there are some bright moments. There’s a surprisingly free and easy chemistry between Harlow and Taylor (one of the few actors who started out loose and appealing, then grew stiff as the years went on). Mostly it was a big snooze, though.
Green Lantern (2011). Bloated, ridiculous superhero film (which is all that Hollywood can do anymore, apparently) is actually kinda fun once you peel away the hype. The film opens with a convoluted setup that would have all but the most devout comic nerds scratching their heads. From there it switches to trite earthbound storytelling with Ryan Reynolds as the hotshot pilot with daddy issues sparring against Blake Lively as his co-worker/semi-love interest. Like Thor, the film has a weird way of switching between the superhero world and the dramatic goings-on with the humans and never finds a comfortable groove. Reynolds is actually quite fresh and funny as the Lantern, striking the right goofy tone that this material needed. Too bad the script was so awful. There’s also the obligatory Birth of the Villain subplot with Peter Sarsgaard as a nerdy college professor who gets some meanie mojo in his blood stream and turns into Green Lantern’s oversized craniumed nemesis. Those scenes are broadly played to a laughable degree, and it gets worse when Sarsgaard deals with Angela Bassett as a scientist and Tim Robbins as a politician. All three actors are well-respected; I wonder what possessed them to agree to this tripe. My advice for the inevitable sequel is to hold on to Ryan Reynolds, ditch most of the CGI and the terrible, done-by-committee screenwriting.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009). We watched this on Netflix Instant, mostly to see what the hype was about with the source material. The Swedish filming of Stieg Larsson’s best seller comes on a bit poky paced and impenetrable at first, but overall I found it enjoyable. The plot revolves around a journalist (Michael Nyqvist), convicted and prison-bound, who is contacted by a powerful man (Sven-Bertil Taube) to help locate the man’s niece, a woman who mysteriously disappeared forty plus years earlier (around the same time she looked after the journalist as a boy). The journalist is also being followed by a pierced bisexual woman (Noomi Rapace), who has been hired by the journalist’s enemies to hack into his computer and track his every movement. She becomes drawn to the man and eventually works with him to solve the mystery. I enjoyed this film mostly because it never tried to shed its essential Swedish-ness. The stream was kinda disappointing (the picture was dark and semi-blurry), but aside from the poky intro I can see why the Larsson books became such a huge hit. I have little interest in the upcoming American version, but this film left me intrigued enough to check out the other Swedish Larsson adaptations.

A Lulu of a Toon

Jeez, I let nearly a week go by without posting something here. What better way to say “I’m sorry” than by showing two cartoons from the Little Lulu canon? Here’s Miss Lulu at her bratty best in the 1945 Paramount production Snap Happy:

Lulu was voiced by Mae Questel, who also voiced Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. 1947′s Musica-Lulu is highlighted with a surreal dream sequence involving anthropomorphic musical instruments. It’s a lulu, all right.

Flick Clique: November 6-12

Bombshell (1933) and Suzy (1936). Two flicks from Warner Archive‘s deluxe Jean Harlow box set of made to order DVDs. I’m so happy that I have the opportunity to review this for DVD Talk. Bombshell is my personal favorite of all her films, so I tore into that one first. Still snappy and fun, one of the best Hollywood sendups ever produced, with Harlow a delight as a beleaguered movie star whose chief bane of existence is publicity agent Lee Tracy. I loved Harlow’s character in this, especially when she gets to rant against the people who bug her (check out the scene where she tells off her no-good dad and brother, played by Frank Morgan and Ted Healy). Good as Harlow is, Lee Tracy is even better as the kind of modern, snappy dude who flourished in the pre-Code era. The romantic melodrama Suzy is Harlow in a more conventional vein as a café singer in World War I era Europe who catches the eye of a dynamic French flyer played by suave Cary Grant. The story is pretty far-fetched, but Harlow is engaging as always despite the silly things her character does. This was only three years after Bombshell, but it’s interesting to note that MGM modified her image to become less overtly sexual, more perky. It will be neat to check out the other films in the box, which spans the years 1933-37 in Harlow’s tragically short-lived career.
Galaxy of Terror (1981). Roger Corman’s bald faced Alien rip-off stars a galaxy of d-list talent, including Edward Albert (Eddie’s son), Erin Moran (Joanie from Happy Days), Sid Haig, Ray Walston, Robert Englund, Grace Zabriske, and a giant rubber maggot. This was such an awful film, in a way that is so fascinating. Despite borrowing so heavily from Alien, the production is actually semi-good. The acting and often incomprehensible script is not-so-good, however. The story concerns an eclectic spaceship crew who land their craft on a remote planet with an imposing, H.R. Geiger-esque pyramid. The crew decides to explore the planet in small groups, with tensions mounting as they each succumb to the aliens in ways that supposedly reflect their subconscious (at least that’s how the still elegant Corman explained it on the DVD). It wouldn’t be a Corman flick without the pretty blonde crew member getting stripped down before meeting her maker (with the giant maggot), would it? The cast keeps it interesting, however. Erin Moran contributes a lot with her bug eyes and one-note line readings expressing constant alarm over the situation. She has a point, you know. Who are these people and what are they doing on that planet? The movie fails to come up with an adequate explanation.
The Green (2011). A recent acclaimed indie whose DVD I’m reviewing for DVD Talk. Actor Jason Butler Harmer plays a teacher and sometime writer who relocates to Connecticut with longtime partner Cheyenne Jackson to teach high school history. Life seems pretty good at “the green” until he notices that a bright student (Chris Bert) has become moody and withdrawn. Harmer’s attempt to connect with the student results in a tense altercation that is witnessed by the boy’s family and several of the man’s colleagues. The next day, he’s placed on probation and the kid’s family files a lawsuit against the school. Harmer literally becomes a social outcast in the town, which places a strain on his relationship with Jackson. The film has a fine setup with the New England atmosphere and realistic domestic scenes between Harmer and Jackson. I also enjoyed the addition of Illeana Douglas as Harmer’s witty, cancer-stricken friend. Julia Ormond as the lesbian attorney who takes on Harmer’s case is also very good despite her character’s too-saintly behavior. The film’s second half plays out in an unexpected, somewhat weak way with stock characters behaving in bizarre ways. I had mixed feelings about this film, overall, which I will get into with more detail with my final review.
Léon: The Professional (1994). About French hit man Léon (Jean Reno) who befriends a streetwise girl named Mathilda (Natalie Portman) who lives next door in his grimy New York apartment. When the girl’s family is massacred by corrupt cop Gary Oldman and his goons, she is “adopted” by Léon and learns his tricks to avenge her little brother’s death. I added this one to our queue after noticing it in the IMDb users’ top 250 — what an amazing film. Luc Besson’s direction is tight, and Portman delivers a knowing performance as a girl who desperately wants to leave childhood behind (it reminded me of Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver). Oldman is too hammy, but I enjoyed Jean Reno as a man who is world-weary but still has the capacity to care for and shelter the Portman character (not in a sexual way). It has a lot of great action scenes to recommend it, too, but mostly it’s the unique Reno/Portman relationship that drives the film.
Paris, Texas (1984). Wim Wenders is one of those love-it or hate-it directors, isn’t he? I remember going to see his Wings of Desire (1987) in the theater, with my parents. I found the film slow-paced and incredibly dull, and I felt so embarrassed for dragging my foreign-phobic folks to this dirge of a flick. Despite all that, I added the Criterion Paris, Texas to my Netflix queue because I remember that it got glowing reviews. I’m glad I did. This is an excellent film; the pacing is deliberate, perhaps too much so (especially during the home movie watching scene), but it’s infinitely rewarding and emotionally resonant in a way that few films ever attempt. This one has a heartbreaking Harry Dean Stanton as a guy who is found wandering the deserts of Texas in search of his wife. He is picked up by his brother Dean Stockwell and is relocated to the suburban California home where Stockwell and his wife (Aurore Clément) are raising Stanton’s young son (Hunter Carson). Stanton attempts to reconnect with his son and eventually gets through to him. The two impulsively travel back to Texas, where Stanton finally tracks down his wife, played by a luminous Nastassja Kinski. Great cast, intriguing story line, but what I liked most about the film was the photography — Wenders has a keen eye for Americana and wide open spaces, one that isn’t the least bit patronizing. Wenders probably didn’t intend this, but the film serves as an excellent visual record of ’50s-’80s roadside and suburban spaces.

Remember the Name — Irene

I was looking up Irene Cara on Wikipedia. It mentioned that she did a sitcom pilot in 1981, shortly after appearing on Fame. Irene Cara, a sitcom star? Somebody uploaded this pilot to YouTube in three parts (the first part is below). It’s a cute if dated show, with young actors Julia Duffy and Keenan Ivory Wayans in the cast. To bad the pert and pretty Ms. Cara turned to coke and flushed her career down the toilet.

Flick Clique: October 30 – November 5

Cronos (1997). Seeking a scary movie for Halloween night, we ended up with this creepy Spanish thriller. One of the earlier efforts from director Guillermo del Toro, this film might as well be called The Steampunk Egg of Dorian Gray. The story concerns a grandfatherly antique dealer named Jesus (Federico Luppi) who comes across said mysterious brass object in his shop. While his granddaughter watches, the man ponders the object in his hand while discovering how it works — it grows legs and attaches itself to his hand, delivering a painful sting! Jesus recovers, but he finds himself rejuvenated. He also finds that the brass egg is a 16th century artifact that is sought after by a wealthy, dying industrialist (Claudio Brook) and his henchman (Ron Perlman), who is willing to kill (and does, or at least he thinks so) to get the precious item for his boss. More creepy than chilling, actually, and not nearly as absorbing as Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone and even the semi-overrated Pan’s Labyrinth. The DVD does contain a nifty tour of Del Toro’s guest house, filled with his fantastic collection of curiosities, books and movie memorabilia. Apparently the man has a serious jones for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion!
Freeway Killer (2010). In our continuing efforts to find a scary movie, I scrolled through the horror section on Netflix streaming and came across this taut serial killer indie. This one tells the real story of William Bonin, a Californian who slayed a couple dozen young men in a relatively short time (1979-80) before being imprisoned and eventually being the first man to die of lethal injection in that state. In the film, we see Bonin (chillingly played by Scott Anthony Leet) as he scopes out victims from the safety of his van. He uses the help of a local guy (Susty Sorg) to snag them, but the guy eventually gets replaced by another easily taken in trainee (Cole Williams). This was a modestly budgeted film which reminded me often of the Jeremy Renner-as-Jeffrey Dahmer film (both share the same screenwriter). The movie’s micro budget and many anachronisms are off-putting at first, but I found it gripping and better done than other projects of this sort (the snoozy Dahmer included). It doesn’t really break any ground and Bonin’s actions are strangely sanitized here, but Leet’s intense performance kept it watchable to the end.
Giorgio Moroder Presents: Metropolis (1984). Kino has recently reissued this MTV-influenced version of the Fritz Lang silent classic on home video; my DVD Talk review is posted here. I remember watching it on VHS eons ago (it was the first silent film I ever saw, actually), and was jazzed to check it out again to see if it holds up. I ended up giving it a Highly Recommended rating. Fantastic film and an intriguing ’80s relic, even if this particular version is no longer the best one available.
A Stolen Face (1952) and Blackout (1954). This “Hammer Film Noir” DVD double feature was Christopher’s second choice for scary Halloween viewing, even though neither film is particularly scary (or even film noir, for that matter). Like many, I had no idea that England’s Hammer studio, so famous for its horror flicks from the ’50s and ’60s, did anxious melodramas as well. Both of these films have American stars (Lizbeth Scott and Paul Henried in Stolen Face, Dane Clark in Blackout), but what’s most notable about them is their very British locales and sensibility. A Stolen Face has Henried as a plastic surgeon who falls so intensely in love with pianist Scott, and is so painfully rejected by her, that he re-creates Scott’s face on that of a badly scarred ex-con. Totally ridiculous, and with a let-down of an ending, but Scott is a lot of fun in the two separate parts (she affects a cockney accent as the luckless dame who finds out that her new face isn’t original). A half-hearted stab at noir, but hysterically campy at times (and Scott looks great in a wardrobe designed by Edith Head). Blackout is a more typical, serviceable drama which is undone by a convoluted plot. Dane Clark, reedy faced star of many a Warner Bros. melodrama, headlines here as a regular guy who emerges from a drunken bender in London to find that he married a beautiful yet manipulative blonde (Belinda Lee). Waking up the next morning in the flat of a lady artist, he learns that his “wife” is a debutante whose father has just been murdered — he then spends the rest of the film attempting to locate the real murderer before that blood-stained trenchcoat he’s wearing leads to the wrong conclusions. Rather dull, but I always liked the attractive-in-an-offbeat-way Clark. Belinda Lee is quite gorgeous, and very good. I was wondering why I hadn’t seen her, before learning she tragically died in her ’20s in an auto accident.