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Monthly Archives: July 2012

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Flick Clique: July 22-28

Remorques (1941), Lumiere d’ete (1943) and Le Ciel Est La Vous (1944). We watched all three films from the Criterion set Eclipse Series 34: Jean Gremillon During the Occupation, which covers the work of an overlooked French director’s output during World War II. These three heated melodramas are all well played and thoughtfully crafted. Remorques, with Jean Gabin and Michele Morgan as world-weary would-be lovers who meet during a treacherous sea storm, was my personal fave of the three. The others have their good points, however, making this set well worth seeking out. My completed review has been posted at DVD Talk. Hopefully I will be getting more Criterions to review in the future (Lonesome looks like a gem!).
Sea Racketeers (1937). An odd seafaring action-adventure with musical sequences. I purchased this DVD, another cheapie from Alpha Home Video, off because my fave Joyce Compton is listed in the credits. She is indeed in this, playing the flirty girlfriend of one of the lead characters – alas it is only her voice heard on the soundtrack. It’s pretty strange for her to receive credit for voice work, but it doesn’t count as the strangest aspect of this film, which concerns an illegal fur distribution racket operated by shady J. Carroll Naish aboard a gambling ship. Doughy Weldon Heyburn is the earnest Coast Guard officer who aims to take Naish and his entire operation down. Pretty bland and forgettable, overall, but I enjoyed the aforementioned odd musical numbers, which are performed with panache by a pre-Blondie Penny Singleton and a bevy of chorines. My Joycie obviously should have been seen somewhere in there, too (perhaps her scenes were cut?). I’m still mulling whether or not to sell the disc. The film is a fun watch in a very low-rent way.
Strapped (2010). Surprisingly subtle and nicely made gay drama about a hustler (Ben Bonenfant) who finds that the apartment complex that he serviced a trick in apparently has no exit. During the ensuing night, the men that he comes across turn out to be gay/bisexual and in need of company. Despite the soft core-ish promise in the central premise, this is a more sober look at gay male identity and how men identify as certain types even as they regret the labels that accompany them. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. The film drags at times, but the interactions between the refreshingly natural Bonenfant and a closeted Russian emigré, a wise older man, and a lovestruck young writer seeking his muse make the film worthwhile.

Don’t Despair…

I’m currently busy working on a review that encompasses three of the films that would have been included in tonight’s Flick Clique. So, once that is published I will have the F.C. ready with the more comprehensive DVD review linked. Sit tight, kiddies, and enjoy this publicity still of Pete the Pup from the Our Gang comedies.

Stylish, Fashionable, Plastic

More vintage Bell Telephone ephemeral films — this 1979 tape trumpeting the products in their “Design Line” is probably the goofiest of them all. I actually remember these special phone designs being a really big deal at the time (and coveting the Snoopy and Mickey Mouse models!). Bell even had special stores in shopping malls set up to peddle this stuff, although I never personally saw one. The film is nine minutes long, but totally worth it for all the kitschy designs, fashions and set decor. The most puzzling phone would be the one that folds up into a discreet wood-paneled box. Disguising household technology as wooden furniture when not in use seems like a completely bizarre concept to wrap your brain around, and yet that was a huge thing in marketing radio and TV consoles going back to the ’20s. People who bought Bell’s Stowaway model could be secure in knowing that their phone could be mistaken for a Kleenex box when not in use. A very expensive Kleenex box — these specialty models retailed for anywhere from $39.95 (Exeter) to $109.95 (Antique Gold).

This and more at the fascinating AT&T Archives YouTube channel.

Flick Clique: July 15-21

I’ve been so busy that I failed to notice that this month marked the 12th anniversary of Happy Birthday to us. I like sharing things…
Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction (1983). Ever notice that there’s a lot of campy made-for-TV movies on Netflix streaming? You have to wonder where they all came from. They must be the primary reason why Netflix-haters decide to cancel their subscriptions. Personally, I gravitate towards them like a cat craves a bowl of milk. The preachy anti-drug opus Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction came as a recommendation from my vintage cheese-loving friend Bryan a few years back, but I didn’t get to check it out until this week. In this flick, Dennis Weaver plays an aging San Diego real estate agent who has a stable roster of clients, a loving wife (Karen Grassle) and handsome son (James Spader) who is about to graduate high school. A nice life, and yet the pressure to be the best durn house flipper in S.D. prompts him to consult with a swingin’ young couple (David Ackroyd and Pamela Belwood) who tempt him into trying out the nose candy. Soon he’s on top of the world, but a few cliché-ridden scenes finds him tail spinning into a shattering crash. This had a lot of potential to be silly, and it is at times (any scene with Jeffrey Tambor as Weaver’s best pal is gold, for instance), but for the most part the film is a fairly realistic portrait of drug addiction. Thankfully the film doesn’t go into hysterics and have its hero fall through a window or spectacularly crash a car. It kinda plays like an early Knots Landing episode, only with McCloud and Ma Ingalls in the lead with Blaine as their kid – and that Dynasty woman who isn’t Alexis or Krystle as the temptress.
Columbo: Try and Catch Me (1977) and Banacek: Detour To Nowhere (1972). More made-for-TV goodness … one of my Twitter followers alerted me that the 1977 Columbo movie Try and Catch Me was being broadcast on MeTV, a pleasant surprise for which I’m eternally grateful. I actually am not too big on Columbo, having only seen a few episodes here and there, but this one was a treat with Peter Falk and guest star Ruth Gordon contributing vibrant performances. Gordon plays an Agatha Christie-like famous mystery novelist who arranges to seal up her son-in-law in her own walk-in vault, making it look like an accident. Not so much a whodunit as a how will Columbo figure out whodunit, this is considered one of the better episodes of that show by fans. I’d have to agree. Spurred on by that, Christopher decided to rent a disc of Banacek, one of his childhood faves. We watched the pilot episode, which was occasionally boring but fun all the same. In Detour To Nowhere, George Peppard’s prickly intellectual Banacek journeys to a tiny Texas town to uncover why an armored truck fully loaded with gold simply vanished in the desert. This one has that typical TV-movie feel with a bunch of stereotypical hick supporting characters and a lacquered leading lady (Christine Belford) who seems like a poor man’s Candice Bergen. I don’t think the whole enterprise induced me to want to watch more Banacek, but it was enjoyable enough in a low key way.
Remorques (1941). This past week, I was fortunate enough to receive Criterion‘s new Eclipse set, Jean Gremillon During The Occupation to review at DVD Talk. This 3-film set explores the work of the underrated Jean Gremillion, who did several intriguing melodramas in France while World War II was raging (it still astonishes me that art can be accomplished in times of intense combat). Remarques, a.k.a. Stormy Waters, is an atmospheric melodrama dealing with a sea captain (played by the magnetic Jean Gabin) whose dedication to his job retrieving ships stranded in turbulent seas places a strain on his otherwise solid marriage to a fragile beauty (Madeleine Renaud). One such retrieval trip yields a fetching female castaway (Michele Morgan) who bailed on both the ship and her marriage to the conniving man who runs the ailing vessel. Back on dry ground, Gabin and Morgan kindle a romance, a dalliance that prompts Gabin to question his very place in life. This intriguing effort was thoughtfully directed and beautifully shot, with nuanced performances all around (American actors from this time almost seem coarse in comparison) — and a heavy-handed finale. The plot is pretty standard stuff, but I enjoyed the ship scenes which combine gritty documentary footage of real tugboats with fake-looking but wonderfully crafted model work. Based on this one, I’m eagerly looking forward to the other two offerings on this set: Lumiere D’Ete (1943) and Le Ciel Est A Vous (1944). Like all my other DVD Talk stuff, a more detailed review will be coming soon at the site.

Flick Clique: July 8-14

Body and Soul (1947). Great boxing melodrama-cum-film noir that I am currently reviewing for DVD Talk. I will have more details later, of course. Personal fave John Garfield contributed one of his grittiest performances to this one as Charley Davis, a scrappy boxer who is ultimately undone by people trying to exploit his success. The kind of characters in this story – earnest young guy turned corrupted cynic, level-headed ma, loving girlfriend, gee-whiz buddy – have since become cliché, but durn it I enjoyed it all the same. Garfield is terrific, as are Lilli Palmer, William Conrad, Hazel Brooks (as the sultry femme fatale), and ex-boxer Canada Lee, who contributes an amazing, dignified turn as Garfield’s one-time rival turned coach. It’s fun to watch this and spot all the elements that Martin Scorcese cribbed (stole?) for Raging Bull. Chief among them is the climactic fight scene itself, a flurry of hyper-real shots, documentary-like footage, astonished crowd shots and flashing photo bulbs. Another asset: James Wong Howe’s luminous photography.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969). I originally added this one on Netflix a long time ago out of morbid curiostiy, and maybe because I’m a big Pet Clark fan. The fact that it arrived last week is good timing, however, since Peter O’Toole recently announced his retirement from acting. Surprisingly, the big budget musicalized Mr. Chips isn’t nearly as deadly as I feared (C. hated it, however). Although O’Toole isn’t much of a singer, composer Leslie Bricusse tailors the tunes to his limited voice. The film overall is too long and bloated, saddled with one subplot too many, but I enjoyed the score and the two stars have a nice chemistry (this version emphasizes the Mr. and Mrs. Chipping relationship a lot more than the ’39 classic). Petula’s musical highlight is the song all about how wonderful London is – a not very memorable tune, but it’s fun and energetically performed. Most of the numbers are actually subtly done as inner monologues and such, which almost makes me feel that it could have been better served as straight-up drama. O’Toole’s performance is touching and quite wonderful; Clark matches him in sheer emotional heft. Sure, the film is no classic, but it definitely doesn’t deserve to be tossed in the “bloated musical misfire” trash heap with Star!, Lost Horizon and the like.

The Laramie Project (2002). Made-for-HBO dramatization of what happened when director Moises Kaufman and members of his New York Tectonic Theater Project ventured out to Laramie, Wyoming to interview townspeople and gauge their reactions shortly after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. I thought it was pretty good, well performed with a commitment to, if not end hatred, at least have an understanding of it. The film often gets bogged down in overly-earnest triteness, however – I kept thinking the property would have worked better on stage as a series of monologues (has anybody seen the stage version?). There were times when the dramatizations came across as preachy and Lifetime TV-movie-ish.
Shag (1988). A sorta teen female American Graffiti which follows four Southern girlfriends – demure Carson (Phoebe Cates), brash Melaina (Bridget Fonda), sweet Pudge (Annabeth Gish) and snippy Luanne (Page Hannah) – as they spend the last of their summer vacation in 1963 Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with dozens of other horny teens. I caught this flick on ThisTV, thinking it was the ’80s-’60s period piece with teens in a dance competition scored to a great “golden oldies” soundtrack (nope, that was 1988’s similar The In Crowd, which I’m now dying to see). This one was a little too frenetically performed from the cast (although Fonda and Gish have some good moments), seemingly to make up for the pallid script. They did do a good job on the period details, including some scenes with dozens of extras in boxy swimwear, crew cuts and poofy hairstyles. This definitely seems like one of those cable-TV staples that one would happen across, vaguely enjoy for a few minutes, then instantly forget. Fun fact: the script was co-written by openly gay ’80s Saturday Night Live cast member Terry Sweeney.

Flickr Friday: Snoopy Music Box, 1971

This older Peanuts music box was a recent Goodwill find for $2.99. Honestly, the first time I saw this I thought it was nicely made piece of fan-made handicrafts, but apparently it was a real United Features Syndicate-licensed product. When Snoopy’s tail is pushed down, a bar of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” plays and Woodstock eating from Snoopy’s bowl emerges from the doghouse’s door. The dog dish contains a slot for coins – yup, it’s a music box and bank in one! Christopher did a good job fixing the music box part.

This must have been among of the earliest Peanuts merchandise to feature Woodstock, who first appeared in 1967 as Snoopy’s bird pal and was given a name in 1970.