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Flick Clique: December 4-10

Buffering (2011). A gay sex comedy from Britain that I’m reviewing for DVD Talk. Buffering follows a gay couple, Seb and Aaron (appealingly played by Alex Anthony and Conner McKenzy) as one partner decides to upload secret recordings of the couple having sex to the internet in order to make some extra cash on the side. The secret is eventually revealed to the other guy. Instead of stopping the enterprise dead in its tracks, they end up raking in more bucks as their popularity spreads. A female ex-roomie (Jessica Matthews) catches on and encourages the men to take on a new recruit, including the hunky guy (Oliver Park) who lives next door. Lots of promise here, but the already lightweight concept is stretched to its limit and the micro-budget lets it down. The guys are cute (especially Park), but I’ve seen better sexy gay comedies. A longer review will be posted at DVD Talk soon.
The Other Love (1947). I found this otherwise unavailable Barbara Stanwyck flick on Netflix streaming a few months ago and have been dying to see it ever since. This is a standard romantic melodrama about a concert pianist (Stanwyck) who goes to a sanitarium to overcome tuberculosis. David Niven as her doctor tries to keep her on the path to health, but she’s tempted by the outside world when meeting a fellow patient (the terrific Joan Lorring) who teaches her how to duck out of the place at night, when no one is watching. Niven finds himself falling for Stanwyck, but she’s lured away to Monaco by flashy race car driver Richard Conte. Will she come to her senses, or die a glamorous young high roller? A silly story is given depth by a luminous Stanwyck. I was pretty impressed by the glossy photography and production values (this was produced by James Whale’s longtime lover at an independent studio by the name of Anglo American Films). Stanwyck also looks great decked out in several glam outfits designed by Edith Head. Not an essential film, but enjoyable all the same.
Portrait in Black (1960). I have a strong weakness for campy ’60s melodrama, especially if it stars a fading glamour queen like Lana Turner and is produced by a kitschmeister like Ross Hunter. Portrait in Black is a veritable jackpot of overheated, so bad but soooo good theatrics — I can’t believe I haven’t seen this one before! Lana plays a San Francisco socialite married to abusive shipping magnate Lloyd Nolan. She and the husband’s doctor, Anthony Quinn, are secret lovers who arrange to off the poor guy in a discreet way. Although their plan is pulled off successfully, a whole host of suspicious supporting players threaten to blow their cover. Among them are Sandra Dee as Lana’s stepdaughter, Richard Basehart as Nolan’s greedy business associate (who’s also in love with Lana), Ray Walston as the family chauffer, and Anna May Wong as the imperious head maid (you can tell she’s evil because sinister “Asian” music plays whenever she’s onscreen). The ending is a riot, strangely abrupt and just dying for a sequel which never came to be, alas.
The Leopard (1963). This acclaimed Italian historical drama is directed by Luchino Visconti and features Burt Lancaster as a gruff prince who is desperately trying to preserve his family’s integrity amidst the political upheaval of 1860s Sicily. A lushly photographed, wonderful to look at, weirdly plodding and alienating film. I suppose I’d glean more on it if I knew more about Italian political history from that time, but I found it overlong and (regrettably) dull. Lancaster does well with acting outside his native tongue, however, and I found a lot to enjoy in Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale simply because they were two gorgeous people — and their characters are earthy and real in a welcome way. A lot of this film plays like a little historical documentary, and I dug how the background villagers and such are just seen going about their lives in a startlingly natural way. Overall, I just couldn’t get into it, however.
The Vampire’s Ghost (1945). Last weekend, I ended up catching a bug and getting sick. I was bored and had nothing else to watch, so I dialed up this 59 minute long b-thriller on Netflix instant. The film follows a group of American explorers as they settle in an African outpost. The sinister looking white guy who runs the outpost (John Abbott) is pleasant enough at first, but soon the explorers find that he’s a hundreds-year old vampire — and he wants to recruit the explorers into the bloodsucking life! The film is underwhelming for the most part, but there are some decent (for 1945) special effects shots and campy moments to keep it a watchable little horror flick.
WALL•E (2008). I’ve owned this on DVD for almost two years; finally we got to re-watch it this past week. It’s still a wonderful film (particularly the first half), although the second at-home viewing is not quite as magical as viewing it in the theater.
Women’s Prison (1955). This fun prison melodrama came out a few years ago as part of a Bad Girls of Film Noir DVD box set. It’s not really Noir, but the film stands on its own as an absorbing, often times over-the-top drama that comes off like a cousin to the superior Caged (1950). Set in a facility that houses female and male prisoners in separate quarters, the film begins with two new inmates getting booked — jaded but sympathetic Brenda (Jan Sterling) and shrinking violet Helene (Phyllis Thaxter). We then get introduced to several prisoners, including a phalanx of African-American women headed by kindly Juanita Moore, who reveal that they’re being abused daily by the staff overseen by hard-bitten Ida Lupino. Thaxter eventually goes nuts, and Audrey Totter as another inmate eventually finds she’s in a family way with her husband, an inmate in the men’s quarters. It isn’t top-notch drama, but I found it fast paced and quite enjoyable with a lot of vividly drawn characters. Strangely enough, the prison itself doesn’t seem too bad! Sterling was my favorite, followed by Lupino and Totter. Lupino’s real-life husband Howard Duff appears as the prison’s doctor, an ally for the inmates and harsh critic of the policies held by the ice-veined Lupino.

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