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Flick Clique: July 29 – August 4

Ellis Island (1936). Another cruddy 1930s b-movie which would have otherwise gone past my radar, had Joyce Compton not co-starred. This had something to do with gangsters and a dopey pair of Ellis Island employees who uncover their dirty deeds, but it didn’t hold my interest whenever Joyce (tiny role as the nurse girlfriend of one of the dopes) wasn’t on screen – which wasn’t too often!
Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 4 (2012 DVD set, Warner Archive). We gorged on pre-Code Warner Bros. this week thanks to this set that I reviewed for DVD Talk. Yes, we managed to watch all four flicks over four nights (they’re all less than 70 minutes long) AND I managed to turn the review around, though not as quickly as promised. The set includes Jewel Robbery with Kay Francis and William Powell, Lawyer Man with Powell and Joan Blondell, Man Wanted with Francis and David Manners, and They Call It Sin with Manners and Loretta Young. Although Man Wanted was my favorite (great interplay with Francis and Manners, with some gorgeous cinematography and luxe sets), all four films in the set have something to offer for Pre-Code fans.
Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2011). This was a lovely, appetite-inducing and surprisingly poignant documentary on Japan’s most esteemed sushi chef, 85 year-old Jiro Ono. The tiny sushi restaurant Ono runs is one of the most exclusive eateries in Tokyo, with one multi-course meal that customers are willing to pay a premium and sit on a months-long waiting list to enjoy. All this attention actually makes the good-natured Ono more humble and devoted to his craft of making the most perfect sushi – a decades-long pursuit that he’s honed to perfection. Still, it’s Ono’s belief that there still is room for improvement that makes this film so inspirational. There’s a lot of scenes of food preparation with Ono, his oldest son and the small stable of employees who have worked their way through the ranks, often for years. This may look like a boring film, but we both thought it was wonderful. It really ought to be required viewing for any youngster of the “instant gratification” generation. At the very least, it made me hungry for a plate of sushi, even for the Americanized stuff that most of us know. California Roll? Phhft.
Joffrey: Mavericks Of American Dance (2011). This was a good documentary on the Joffrey Ballet, a bit dry and bland in the presentation but filled with lots of great anecdotes and vintage footage from the company’s earlier years. I reviewed this one for DVD Talk and my review is here.
John Carter (2012). Yeeks, what a stinker! I actually came into this one with an open mind, and even on those lowered standards it still disappointed. The film just seemed like yet another bloated Hollywood project that spent too much effort on the CGI and not enough on, you know, story. But it had so much potential with the Edgar Rice Burroughs pre-World War I concept of life on Mars – with a lot of imaginative CGI and thoughtful planning, it could have been a winner. I can imagine the source material being adapted into something darkly compelling that ties in the Victorian-era U.S. scenes with the Mars scenes, with multi-layered characters that hold our attention despite being simple archetypes at heart. Instead, we get scowling, weirdly unsexy Taylor Kitsch as a title character with no personality, humanoid-form aliens, and a completely incomprehensible story with a prologue that might as well have been “this blah blah blah happened, then this blah blah blah happened…” And a dog-creature.
Wings (1927). The first and only silent Best Picture Oscar winner is also one of Christopher’s favorites (he likes Charles “Buddy” Rogers), but we’ve never owned it. So I ended up buying the blu-ray and getting it for C’s birthday recently. The film is pretty wonderful, with its aerial fight sequences still having the power to impress, 85 years later. I wasn’t so much impressed with the plot, which follows Buddy and his friend Richard Arlen as they enlist as WWI fliers, go through intense pilot training, fight off the Kaiser, then become bitter, cynical war veterans as the horrors of war sink in (Clara Bow, unexpectedly poignant as the girl-next-door who drives a Red Cross truck, also figures in the action). I thought the blu-ray was pretty well done, with a new adaptation of the film’s original score that incorporates sound effects in a subtle way. And yes, the film is still worth watching for all the ho yay going on between Rogers and Arlen (and Gary Cooper, in his brief cameo as a hunky fellow pilot).

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