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Flick Clique: May 6-12

We have six items on Flick Clique this week – not including the documentary (Kink Crusaders) which I’m hoping to post at DVD Talk tomorrow. I don’t really feel like going into detail on these, so I will supply a mini writeup along with the star ratings (out of five) that I gave the films.
Despicable Me (2010). **** I was surprisingly charmed by this, considering it’s a CGI animated film not from Pixar. Steve Carrell voices an evil genius who wants to shrink the moon and steal it from the sky, but three adorable orphans get in the way. OK, the “children are the answer to everything” message gets laid on too thickly, but otherwise this was an inventively done, nicely scripted and completely charming kiddie flick. This was animated by French studio Mac Guff, with made-for-3D sequences that are actually fun and not calling attention to themselves (see: How To Train Your Dragon). A lot of it reminded me of The Incredibles with more of a goth edge. Wonder what the sequel that’s due next year will be like?
Eyes in the Night (1941). *** Enjoyable little time-waster about blind detective (!) Edward Arnold, who investigates some suspicious doings in the domicile of his old friend, Ann Harding. Harding’s husband is a scientist who perfected a top-secret formula that is wanted by a cabal of spies. The baddies have wormed their way into the household staff – and the local theatrical company that Harding’s petulant stepdaughter Donna Reed is involved with. Pretty well-made, involving noir thriller from MGM – I wonder if they were trying to make this into a series a la the Thin Man films? Bar none, the best thing about this movie is Edward Arnold’s amazing seeing eye dog, Friday. That pooch does some daring jumps here of the kind not seen since the glory days of Rin Tin Tin.
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). ***** The original “how much crap can one guy take?” movie. This was made to bring to light the deplorable prison conditions in Georgia, and to expose the plight of the “forgotten man” (WWI vets caught up in the misery of the Great Depression). It works as both social commentary and compelling drama. Paul Muni is less hammy than usual as the fugitive in question – as a matter of fact, he should have won the Best Actor Oscar that year. I also liked Glenda Farrell as the trashy blonde who marries the reformed fugitive Muni, then tries to blackmail him. Not so funny, Glenda.
Larceny Inc. (1942). *** I first saw this Edward G. Robinson comedy about 20 years ago, didn’t remember much about it except that somehow it involved a luggage store and a young Jackie Gleason playing an overly attentive soda jerk. It’s a fun, fast-paced little romp with Robinson as an ex-con who hatches a plan with two other cons (Broderick Crawford and Edward Brophy, one of those “hey, I know that guy” actors) to buy up said failing luggage store in order to dig a tunnel into the bank vault conveniently located next door. Also starring Jane Wyman and Jack Carson, this film brims with that Warner Bros. city feel. I especially enjoyed seeing the section of the W.B. backlot which now looks totally familiar to me, used here as the streetscape where a massive subway expansion is creating havoc with Robinson’s fellow business owners. I can see why this movie didn’t retain in my memory, but I enjoyed it (again).
Oceans 11 (2001). **** Avoided this one until now because I initially thought it might be just another mainstream, Hollywood-ized and completely unnecessary remake. I was wrong. It’s actually quite fun, with a story that’s like a jacked-up, more fascinating iteration of the 1960 original. Steven Soderberg has so much flair as a director that I’m willing to overlook the many implausible moments (Brad Pitt lifts his helmet visor in a crowded casino??) and go along for the ride. The cast is generally good with the strong exception of sour-pussed Julia Roberts. Oh, and the little Chinese acrobat dude (Shaobo Qin)? So adorable.
Sneakers (1992). **** I remember adding Sneakers to my Netflix queue as part of a “90s movies featuring dated technology” spree. The film is actually quite an intelligently written and absorbing yarn with Robert Redford as the ringleader of a group of security system experts/hackers who find themselves in the possession of a top-secret decoding box. The box, which can magically break into every computerized security system, is highly sought after by both the government and Redford’s ex-college buddy Ben Kingsley – now the head of a computer firm whose nefarious m.o. is adequately conveyed via its minimalist-chic office decor. There are a few weird scenes (like the usual “blow up a tiny detail on a photo until it’s crystal clear” malarkey), but for the most part the script is impeccably researched and believable. The bright cast (including one of my faves, Mary McDonnell) seems to be having a ball with this elaborate heist caper – which dovetailed nicely from the previous film we saw, Oceans 11. Redford seems too old, but that’s okay. Sadly, if this film were produced today, the Redford character would be closer to 30 in age and the other cast members would be all be the same age as River Phoenix (who was 21 when this was made).

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