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Monthly Archives: June 2012

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Flick Clique: June 3-9

Boys of the City (1941). Silly, slight (60 minutes!) early vehicle for the East Side Kids, who were essentially the Dead End Kids with a few personnel changes – the whole saga of which is explained on their Wikipedia page. This one has the kids saddled with a delinquency charge and sent out to the country to keep them out of trouble. Their car breaks down and they end up staying in an old mansion belonging to a retired judge who is terrified that one of the ex-convicts who he sentenced to jail time is out to kill him. That would be enough to keep the boys on their toes, but the house also has a creepy housekeeper, a ghostly apparition and a secret, cobweb-strewn basement! It’s interesting to note the comparisons between this and Rebecca, including a scene in which the housekeeper (played by Minerva Urecal) compares the deceased lady of the house with the film’s pretty young heroine (Inna Guest). Another lightweight, dated/racist yet watchable offering from my Comedy Kings: 50 Movie Pack DVD set.
Tales That Witness Madness (1973). British horror-anthology film is one of the DVDs I’m reviewing for DVD Talk. This one has four stories of people who have gone mad under varied circumstances, with Donald Pleasence as a doctor who introduces each patient’s story in the film’s framing segments. The individual parts vary a lot in effectiveness, but that’s part of what makes movies like this cheesy and fun. The cast includes Joan Collins as a woman whose husband falls in lust with a dead tree, and Kim Novak as a horny literary agent whose latest client has devious plans for Novak’s ripe teenaged daughter. This film really reminded me of an old Night Gallery episode, complete with hideous fashions and cheeseball effects. My full review should be posted in a few days. Update: my review.
The Thirteenth Floor (1999). Ambitious, hugely flawed but fascinating time-travel sci-fi opus that we checked out on Netflix streaming. This one concerns a computer tycoon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who built a massive V.R. simulation of 1930s Los Angeles. When he is murdered, police detective Dennis Haysbert goes after the man’s protogé, Fuller (Craig Bierko) as suspect #1. Fuller knows, however, that the secrets surrounding his death might be revealed in a letter Mueller-Stahl wrote and left with someone in the ’30s L.A. world, the avatar of Fuller’s co-worker, Jason (Vincent D’Onofrio). Further wrinkles are added when a woman (Gretchen Mol) claiming to be the tycoon’s daughter shows up seeking an inheritance, a femme fatale type who physically resembles another woman in the ’30s world. Kind of muddled, kind of thought provoking … this one got unfairly compared with The Matrix upon its original release. I actually enjoyed it more than The Matrix, if only for the fact that the film’s nicely researched CGI version of 1937 Los Angeles is incredibly cool. The performers are a mixed bag and the ending felt like a cop-out, but overall I found it intriguing and well-done, a sleeper.
The Tillman Story (2010). One of the better documentaries I’ve seen recently is this one, which uncovers murky circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Tillman, exalted football star turned U.S. Army solder turned casualty to the jingoistic b.s. factory churned out by the military and the American news media. I’m grateful to director Amir Bar-Lev and the Tillman family for showing Pat as he really was and exposing the damaging lies/p.r. campaign that the military orchestrated following his tragic death by friendly fire. If only for the indignant speech that Pat’s mom delivered in the Congressional hearing looking into that military cover-up, this doc is gold. It just goes to show you that people are much, much more complex than the restrictive boxes that everyone wants to shove us into.
Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston (2010). Fast paced documentary on ’70s fashion icon Halston. I enjoyed parts of this (the many archival clips/interviews of Halston and his work are cool), but unfortunately the director, Whitney Sudler-Smith, decided to make it more about him than Halston. That idea would be problematic enough if the guy was likable, but throughout the film he comes across as uninformed, and the epitome of an arrogant hipster douche. See more in my DVD Talk review.
Vincent Wants To Sea (2010). This charming German comedy-drama was another DVD Talk disc, one of the offerings from their screener pool. I will reserve going into detail for my full-fledged review, but in short this was a funny, sweet film that is worth seeking out. It stars actor Florian David Fitz (who also wrote the screenplay) as a disaffected young man whose mother recently passed away. Afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, the man’s father (Heino Ferch) sends him to a clinic to be treated under the watchful eye of a chain-smoking doctor (Kathanrina Müller-Elmau). There he is roomed with a fastidious young man with OCD (Johannes Allmayer) and is captivated by another patient named Marie (Karoline Herfurth), a woman with an eating disorder. The bulk of the film’s drama comes when Fitz’s character decides that he needs to get to Italy to deposit his mom’s ashes in the ocean, and impulsively decides to steal the doctor’s car with Marie and his roommate coming along. The script is pretty smart and knowing, filled with heart-warming vignettes and real characters. I will have more in my DVD Talk review, of course, but in short you should seek this one out. Update: my review.

The Lost Garden of Forgotten ’80s Hits

“Kiss You (When It’s Dangerous)” by Canadian group Eight Seconds is the latest in my efforts to catch up with all of the tunes that charted in the Hot 100 but didn’t make it into Billboard‘s Top 40 in the 1980s (I’m working my way through alphabetically and have thus reached the “E” artists – having just completed an avalanche of non-hits from Earth, Wind & Fire and Sheena Easton). I chose to spotlight it here because it’s typical of the kind of mid-level, vaguely enjoyable but generally forgettable stuff that has come as part of this project. This particular tune, a knock-off of the mellower side of The Fixx, peaked at #72 in early 1987. Considering that I was all over pop music both famous and obscure in 1985-87, it came as something of a shock that I don’t remember this one (that’s happened often, actually).

Collecting these songs has become quite the learning experience. Generally speaking, about 80% of ’80s pop music is still in print and easily obtainable either through iTunes, Amazon, eMusic or – for the cheapskates among us – via bittorrent/illegal downloading. Another 15% is rare and out of print, but decent quality mp3s of those can be obtained through sites like mp3skull or 4shared. If the song by itself can’t be found, I can usually uncover the album it came from with keen detective work. The remaining 5% are the real buggers – usually one-hit-wonders or last charting songs by older artists from the ’60s and ’70s. One godsend that I came across last year in this regard was a massive bittorrent file containing the top 500 singles from the year 1980, which contains many of these extreme rarities (The Doolittle Band’s “Who Were You Thinkin’ Of”, anyone?). The weblog Grumpy’s Golden Oldies also contains a lot of obscurities from 1980-83, although the sound quality varies. Strangely enough, the tunes that are the hardest to find (for free, that is) belong to soft-rockers like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Neil Diamond – guess the kiddies aren’t trading up on the old fogey music these days! In very rare instances (maybe 8 or 9 songs out of hundreds), I’ve recorded the song off YouTube with yucky sound.

In a nutshell, that’s part of what I’ve been up to – unearthing sometimes cool, sometimes embarrassing but never uninteresting lost tunes from the ’80s.

Flick Clique: May 27 – June 2

Warning! This week’s selection of movies are shockingly bad. I haven’t had much time for anything else, blogging-wise, so I’m afraid that this space is starting to turn into another “bad movie” weblog. Ah well.
The Cat from Outer Space (1977). I thought I was finished with all of the live-action Disney flicks any human being needs to see, but this one popped up on the Netflix queue probably out of pure nostalgia. During its original release, I actually went to see this at Scottsdale’s Camelview, which remains one of my fave movie houses for the groovy giant-sized mushroom shades that it has out front. Were that the film was as memorable as the place I originally saw it in. Cat sports what was by then a well-worn plot about an alien being that lands in California. The alien, who calls himself Jake, looks exactly like a house cat with a glowing collar that allows it to telepathically speak to whomever it wants. It eventually befriends a goofy scientist played by Ken Berry, who helps Jake get the gold necessary for him to pilot his UFO back to his home planet. It’s silly, but the cat is cute and there’s a lot of fun to be had by the human cast (which also includes Sandy Duncan and M*A*S*H co-stars MacLean Stevenson and Harry Morgan). I will likely forget all about this flick next week, which is how ’70s Disney movies generally work, but except for the ultra-ridiculous climax this was an okay film.
Flatliners (1990). A group of young, pretty medical students find a way to visit the “other side,” but greed and terrible side effects curtail their revolutionary idea – I wonder if TV psychic John Edward saw this as a young man, planting the kernel for a brilliant if cheesy career? This was a decent, overacted horror-thriller whose best asset is the atmospheric if fakey production design and outlandish lighting – a showy visual style typical of the films from director Joel Schumacher (Batman & Robin; the underrated Veronica Guerin). Schumacher strikes me as the kind of guy who would automatically OK having a hospital set dressed with red neon around the door frames, and think nothing of it. “Screw the actors, let’s take another look at that fabulous wood molding in Nelson’s apartment” may have actually been spoken during the making of this one. The cast, headed by Kiefer Sutherland (as Nelson) and a young, willowy Julia Roberts, do their best with the silly dialogue. There’s more than a few creepy, effective scenes, but for the most part it comes across like a glossy TV commercial with paranormal undertones. This was another flick that I caught in its original release, at the less architecturally interesting Centerpoint theater in Tempe. Sutherland’s look here actually shares a vague similarity to what I had circa 1990, especially in the odd moments when he’s wearing glasses – believe it or not, I too could rock the tousled-hair-and-tortoiseshell-frames look (that was a long, long time ago).
The Honey Pot (1967). Another terrible, terrible film – joy! I recorded this off our local This TV outlet merely because Susan Hayward was in it and I was curious to see how she did in this (awfully, it turns out). This “comedy” sports a premise that would be hard to pull off even by an attractive, assured cast, the fact that it stars the unlikeable Rex Harrison makes it all the more hard to stomach. Rexy plays a smug rich guy who decides to play a trick on three of his former lovers by pretending to be dying and summoning them to his estate. Hayward’s Southern belle, Capucine’s French princess and Edie Adams’ Las Vegas showgirl all believe they’re in for an inheritance, but then a guest turns up dead and things get more sinister. Could Cliff Robertson as the actor Harrison hires to pose as his assistant be behind it? I really couldn’t bring myself to care. Hard to believe this was scripted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, since it has none of the subtlety or brilliance of his All About Eve. Since I recently read about Harrison’s douche-baggy behavior on the set of Doctor Doolittle (released the same year), I feel unfairly biased, but his performance is every bit as lazy as the script. The only positive aspect here would be Maggie Smith as Hayward’s nurse, but overall this film just stinks to high heaven.
If A Man Answers (1962). Another ’60s stinkeroo was this fakey, overly affected romantic comedy that involved much the same crew and producer (Ross Hunter) as the beloved Rock Hudson-Doris Day vehicles. This one has perky Sandra Dee as a part French, part American socialite who impulsively marries a slovenly photographer played by Dee’s then-hubby Bobby Darin. Fearing that her husband might stray into the arms of friend Stefanie Powers, she seeks advice from her mom (Micheline Presle). Mom hands her a doggie-training manual and tells her to follow it to the letter – after all, it worked with her husband, Sandra’s daddy (played by John Lund). A cringingly dated premise, and the lead actors lack the chops to pull it off. Dee had a certain sugary appeal in supporting roles; here she’s just flighty, muggy and unbelievable. Darin fares better, but one of the IMDb reviewers accurately summed him up as “what you would get if you took Dean Martin, sucked out most of his charm, talent and attractiveness and then shrunk him by about a foot.” Probably the best reason to watch this today lies in the purely visual: luxe color photography, pretty/odd set design (houseplants on the stairs?), and Dee’s darling Jean Louis-designed wardrobe. She really did look like a life-sized Campus Cutie!
Robotropolis (2011). A Netflix streaming watch, this cheaply produced sci-fi thriller concerns a utopian city served and policed entirely by robots. A TV reporter (cardboard Zoe Naylor) and her crew are granted exclusive access to the community and are able to file live reports interviewing the residents, who seem to be adjusting well with the setup. In one live report, however, the camera catches a robot killing a soccer player. This one incident leads to a robot revolt, with the city’s terrified inhabitants (including our plucky reporter) fleeing for their lives as the bots go on a murderous rampage. Not quite Birdemic terrible, but shoddily made and for the supposedly terrible things that go on, it’s bizarre how much the film lacks any edge or emotional involvement. The CGI effects on the robots are decently done, but the lighting is too flat and they lack gravity. The acting by the no-name cast turns out being almost as emotional as the robots, although there are some fascinatingly bad moments of over-the-top scenery chewing. The lamest part of the film is that first scene with the soccer player’s death, which is done in a way you’d expect from a grade-z student film cast with the director’s friends. The big revelation about the cause of the robots’ malfunctioning was no shining moment in indie filmmaking, either. I did like the architecture in the city (filmed in a gleaming Singapore multi-use complex) with its cool monorail, however.