Flick Clique: June 17-23
The Artist (2011). A film that we strangely avoided in the theaters; was fortunate enough to review it on disc for DVD Talk (I just filed it today, actually). I was expecting it to be a little cute and self-aware, which it is to some extent, but the sheer sincerity and craftsmanship on display is what ultimately won me over. Loved Jean Dejardin and Beatrice Bejo, and that little dog is quite a talent. My full review!
Brute Force (1947).This was actually quite a surprise – a gritty, unsparing noir prison drama with a great cast and an exciting story that’s kinda like the male counterpart to one of my personal faves, Caged (1950). A sullen Burt Lancaster stars as Joe Collins, a prisoner who, along with his cell-mates, plans not only to escape but to exact revenge on the sadistic assistant warden played by Hume Cronyn. This has an interesting structure with Lancaster and most of the other guys in his cell having flashbacks to what they did to get there. Lancaster was involved with the mob, another (John Hoyt) was done in by a double-crossing femme fatale, a third (Whit Bissell) embezzled $3,000 from his employers, etc. This is all done as a lead-in for Lancaster’s eventual break-out, which is nicely staged. An unexpectedly hard-edged film in which all of the participants (except a few of the women in the flashbacks) are reprehensible, weak-willed, or annoying (the calypso singer from I Walked With A Zombie, appearing here as a fellow inmate). That might make the film hard to get through, but I found it absorbing all the way. My favorite characters were Lancaster’s and Cronyn’s, but I also enjoyed Jeff Corey (who has one of the most expressive faces in all of cinemadom) as Lancaster’s ultimately disloyal cell-mate and Sam Levene (who was in the original cast of Guys and Dolls) as the salt-of-the-earth dude of the group. Fantastic film!
Circus of Horrors (1960). One of two vintage horror flicks that we checked out on Netflix streaming (now that the TV season is over, we’ve had lots more time for movies). Circus of Horrors is a wild colorfully photographed British yarn that plays something like Joan Crawford’s Berserk with better plotting and more beautiful gals. It concerns Anton Diffring as a twisted plastic surgeon who, coming across a disfigured little girl in post-WWII France, decides to help her family out by a) repairing her face, and b) buying up her family’s struggling traveling circus. As a circus proprietor, he takes it upon himself to beef up the circus by recruiting prostitutes and other undesirables, repairing their faces, training them on various circus activities, and making them stars of the ring – whew! Of course, since they eventually see opportunities to escape the circus life, Diffring devises different “accidents” to prevent them from escaping. Pure hokum, but the widescreen color photography is nice and there are several grisly/campy death scenes to recommend it. This film is also apparently known to be very influential on a generation of young boys’ libidos, with its cast-full of stacked, overly made-up ladies. This also contains the popular (in the U.K.) pop song “Look For A Star”, an early Tony Hatch composition which gets played ad nauseum throughout the movie.
Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965). The other ’60s Brit horror “masterpiece” we saw on Netflix is an anthology which revolves around a group of men who share a train compartment with a shady stranger (Peter Cushing). Tarot deck in hand, the man proceeds to tell each guy his sorry fate for the near-future, which involve a vampire, a werewolf, a voodoo cult and a killer creeping vine. More cheesy than scary, with some segments more successful than others. My favorite one had Christopher Lee as a snobby art critic who is undone by the disembodied hand of an artist that he dared to piss off. Wasn’t this one fodder for a Simpsons “Treehouse Of Terror” episode? Unlike Circus Of Horrors above, the streaming version of this one was merely okay with the widescreen film cut off into 4×3 proportions and a muddy picture.
Plan B (2009). Bland, modestly budgeted Argentinian gay flick about a guy who decides to take revenge on his ex-girlfriend by becoming friendly with her current boyfriend (who doesn’t know he’s the ex). He ends up falling for the guy, however, which is where this snail-paced film’s title comes from. Decent performances from the leads, with a nice, casual feel which verges on the snoozy at times. The story goes in strange, unexplained directions sometimes, however. Although this got some good reviews on Netflix, it’s not one of the better same-sex dramas I’ve seen.