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Flick Clique: January 22-28

Bonnie and Clyde (1967). I just finished reading Mark Harris’ terrific book Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood. The book examines the simultaneous productions of the five films nominated for 1967’s Best Picture Oscar — Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Graduate, and Doctor Doolittle — and how this particular slate of films challenged America’s film industry to become more edgy, small and youth-oriented after years of churning out bloated, creaky epics and musicals. It inspired me to check out those films again, starting with perhaps the most admired of the bunch, Bonnie and Clyde. I’ve liked this film ever since seeing it in college as part of a course on Warner Bros. movies; seeing it again after reading the Harris book revealed to me even more how different this film was in ’67 and the risks Warren Beatty and the other filmmakers were taking in doing it. The film does have a much more European outlook with its fatalistic lovers, straightforward violence, evocative, nontraditional music score, location filming, etc. I also seemed to take more notice of Faye Dunaway’s nervous energy as Bonnie. She wasn’t the first choice for that role, and was going through something of a rudderless period after having unpleasant experiences on her first two films. It really shows. That climactic shootout still blows me away, too.
Eames: The Architect and the Painter (2011). This one had been on my wish list at DVD Talk for some time, but we ended up watching it on Netflix instant instead. Narrated by James Franco, this documentary delves into the lives of legendary designers Charles and Ray Eames. Actually, “designers” is too limiting a term for them, since they worked across a wide swath of disciplines (industrial design, film, education, architecture). The film goes comprehensively into their marriage, their office in Venice, California, and that collective’s many projects (the Midcentury Modern chairs they’re so well-known for actually make up a tiny portion of the film). Although The Architect and the Painter rightfully reveres them as the Renaissance Couple of the 20th century, it also had the odd effect of changing my mind on them, individually. I always admired Ray, but the film reveals her as a brilliant but scatterbrained, eccentric pack rat. Charles comes through as a deep-thinking, endlessly curious fellow with charisma to spare — and I actually ended up liking him more than his wife. It’s not a completely glowing portrait, thankfully. The film goes into the strife that came with Charles and Ray taking credit for what people in the office did, and the filmmakers also interview the woman who was Charles’ mistress for a time. What most struck me is the sheer variety of stuff they worked on, and this film has the dizzying array of clips to prove it.
Final Destination 5 (2011). From the IMDb: “Survivors of a suspension-bridge collapse learn there’s no way you can cheat Death.” You know what that means — more beautiful people dying spectacular deaths!” These Final Destination flicks are pretty interchangeable, but this one has a few things in its favor (and it’s a huge improvement over the gimmicky, CGI-reliant part 4). The scene with the characters stranded on a suspension bridge while assorted flying construction debris, hot tar and strategically placed watercraft off them one by one is a wild ride, among the series’ most memorable set pieces. There’s also a neat twist, which reveals itself subtly (why are the cell phones so clunky?) over the film’s running time. The acting is still somewhat b-grade, but even that is part of the fun. I enjoyed seeing the guy who looked like the love child of Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller go progressively batty as the movie went on, for one.
Mildred Pierce (2011). Forget all those superhero blockbusters — this was the Film Event of 2011 that I was most eagerly anticipating. I was a bit leery of the idea of remaking Mildred Pierce for HBO, but as soon as I heard Todd Haynes was directing and Kate Winslet was starring, I was in. For the most part, it’s fantastic — subtly paced and performed, full of wonderful 1930s period detail, and completely faithful to James M. Cain’s original novel. That faithfulness, ironically, is what makes it somewhat less-than-perfect viewing. The 1945 Joan Crawford version took lots of liberties with the story and characters, but at least it was gritty and energetic (and a stunning example of high ’40s W.B. melodrama). Haynes’ rendition takes its own sweet time. For the most part it works beautifully, but it also makes the dated, soapy aspects of the story that much more apparent. Veda is a more cunning, evil child here, but also strangely sympathetic (both Morgan Turner and Rachel Evan Wood do great jobs playing her at different ages). Kate Winslet is a bit wimpy as Mildred, but I think that’s mostly because she’s written that way in the book. She does have two excellent scenes — when she’s tramping the streets of Depression era L.A. seeking a job (the lady does tired very well), and when she’s hearing Veda’s singing voice on the radio for the first time. I also enjoyed Guy Pierce, Brían F. O’Byrne, and James LeGros as the men in Mildred’s life. It was very evocative and absorbing. The contemplative pacing was totally appropriate — those 5-1/2 hours seemed to fly by.

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