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Flick Clique: June 20-26

The American (2010). Meh. George Clooney as an American spy who is trying to elude a gang of Swedish interlopers in a small Italian villa. I rented this because I’ve been a long-time fan of the photography and music videos of Anton Corbijn, and was curious to see how he’d handle a feature-length film (this is his second, after 2007’s Ian Curtis biopic Control). The American doesn’t make any concessions to being a slam-jam action pic, and that’s a commendable idea, but Clooney’s character being so glum and one-dimensional makes it difficult to warm up to him or his situation. I also really couldn’t figure out why the local prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) was so attracted to him. The one positive thing I can say about this is that it has some beautiful photography, including a quietly compelling long shot of Clooney driving a car through a long tunnel under the opening credits.
The Celluloid Salesman: Classic Educational Shorts, Vol. 4 (DVD, 2011). Another campy collection of vintage industrial films from Kino and The A/V Geeks, an ephemeral films collection. I was delighted to find that this disc and another volume, Safe… Not Sorry got added to this series – unfortunately, Netflix didn’t have either for rental (Netflix is starting to suck, notice that?). Kino had a big sale recently, however, so I ended up getting the Salesman one for a good price. These 15 short films, mostly from the ’60s, attempted to sell everything from railroad cars to potato chips in films that were geared towards salespeople, classrooms, home ec groups, mens’ lodges or even a television audience (one short is even craftily disguised as a string of news segments). Many of them come across as a combo of a ’60s-style How It’s Made and the antique equivalent of an infomercial. Although their effectiveness as sales tools are decidedly hit-or-miss, you can find bits of atom-age beauty (like Hamilton Beach’s film extolling the wonders of their top-of-the-line blender) in the most lovingly crafted of these films.
The Net (1995). Sandra Bullock as a hacker in trouble! This was part of the little “early versions of the web” film fest I put on Netflix a few years back. Once you get past the clunky technology, it’s actually an effective thriller with a good performance from Bullock (the others in the cast, not so much). The Bullock character, Angela Bennett, plays a geeky computer analyst with no time for friends. The only family she has is her Alzheimers-afflicted mother (Diane Baker). When she comes across a floppy disc containing a portal into a top-secret government database, a cabal of spies comes after her, reassigning her identity as one Ruth Marx, attempting to kill her and the few people she has left (such as Dennis Miller’s psychotherapist) who could help her out. At first this was fun to watch for the dated technology (Castle Wolfenstein! After Dark’s Satori screen saver!), then I started getting into the story. It became ridiculous when Jeremy Northam’s love interest/secret killer showed up, however – Northam delivers an atrocious performance worthy of a cheesy stalker movie on the Lifetime channel. There’s also a lot of serious lapses in logic when Bullock breaks into the office where her doppelganger is working and takes back her original identity. And that’s before she runs into a computer convention and calmly plants a virus in the government database using a floppy disc and a common PC. At least Bullock makes her character’s plight believable and sympathetic.
Of Giants and Toys (1958). This was a film that I found out about through the book Japanese Cinema by my DVD Talk colleague Stuart Galbraith IV. In this wacked-out satire on commercialism and fame, a pair of office workers in a candy manufacturer’s advertising department transform a goofy young woman into the fabulous spokeswoman for their product. While Hitomi Nozoe as Kyoko enjoys her newfound fame and flirts shamelessly with her chaperone, Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi). Nishi attempts to find info about his employer’s competition through his girlfriend and his ex-college buddy, who both work at rival companies. This was such an interesting film, if only to check out how the Japanese took on the space craze and other Western trends in the atomic ’50s. It also serves as a biting commentary on win-at-all-costs Japanese society at the time. Shot in widescreen color, the film is a bit unruly and all over the place. It also has enough wild, memorable scenes to recommend it – the desperation of the characters trying to maintain their dignity while working themselves sick (literally) comes through loud and clear.

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