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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.

2 Thoughts on “Flick Clique: November 6-12

  1. Cristiane on November 15, 2011 at 7:18 pm said:

    I love Bombshell! It’s one of my favorite pre-Codes. Harlow really needed the freedom of that era – her post-Code movies are so neutered. But pre-Code – wow. Bombshell, Red Headed Woman, Dinner at Eight, Red Dust – great stuff.

  2. I was thinking the same thing with Suzy and now Personal Property – MGM didn’t know what to do with her.

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