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Category Archives: Celluloid

Flick Clique: September 9-15

A Double Life (1947). Strangely enough, the only film we watched all the way through this past week was this George Cukor drama with Ronald Colman as a stage actor whose creeping madness prompts him to murder a trusting waitress (played by a young Shelley Winters). Since the film is being reissued by Olive Films, this was a DVD Talk review. I went on a Cukor kick in the ’90s after reading Patrick McGilligan’s biography (which is named after this film), yet even then I never caught this particular one. I thought it was a moderately good drama, well-scripted by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon with an knowingness about what really goes on with theater folk. Cukor’s direction is notable as well, with some scenes taking on an impressionistic, dreamlike quality as Colman descends further into the abyss. The thing that tips Colman’s Anthony John over the edge is playing the lead in Shakespeare’s Othello, which is dramatized by a long (too long, actually) montage which emphasizes both the repetition of stage acting and the audience’s slavish devotion to their favorite performers. It’s an interesting, demanding role and Colman plays it decently, but not spectacularly (I can see why his Best Actor Oscar win is one of the more contested ones). I was more impressed with Signe Hasso, who plays Colman’s ex-wife and fellow stage actor. After Colman offs Winters, the film becomes a more pedestrian investigative tale in which Colman’s publicity manager (played by Edmond O’Brien) pieces together bits of information which point to Colman as the culprit. If anything, this film demonstrates the pain and horror of swanky parties:

DVD Talk reviews:
Man-Trap (1961) – Recommended

Flick Clique: September 2-8

The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief (2006). Thought-provoking documentary that we caught on Netflix streaming follows a group of men in their 20s who work at the Rakkyo Café in Osaka, Japan. The café’s owner, Issei, is a well-dressed, cocky type who strings along his female clientele into thinking he’s in love with them. He also grooms the other café employees to do the same. The customers, mostly local prostitutes, keep coming back for more reaffirmation while Issei makes wads of cash on the bottles of champagne they buy. It’s an elaborate role-playing game, really (even the customers seem in on it), which makes this doc doubly fascinating. At times Issei and the men are so steeped in the ritual of primping themselves and flattering the customers that they wonder if real love is even a possibility for them. Certain elements of this doc are disturbing, such as the way the guys pressure female passers-by into coming into their club, and the pseudo-hazing rituals they perform to get the regulars to imbibe more alcohol. I wind up feeling sorry for the women – but on some levels, they’re playing the game, too.
The Grissom Gang (1971). A DVD that I picked up very quickly from the Big Lots $3 shelves, The Grissom Gang was the final film that director Robert Aldrich (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) made at his own studio before after a series of flops drove them under. It’s pretty much a sweatier, more violent Bonnie & Clyde cash-in with Depression-era heiress Kim Darby getting abducted by a twisted family with three lusty sons and an obnoxious, potty mouthed ma (Irene Dailey) who all have their eyes on a huge cash reward. Overly padded with draggy dialogue between Darby and Scott Wilson as the more fragile, brain-damaged son, this is mostly a sad and dull film. The most notable thing about it is how everybody sweats – a lot! This has to be the most sweat-drenched movie ever made.
Street Mobster (1972). Another violent early-’70s crime picture, but this one fares much better than Grissom since it is Japanese and has the stylistic stamp of its director Kinji Fukasaku (who years later did the faboo Battle Royale). This follows an excitable young punk, recently sprung from prison, as he and other cons start their own yakuza organization to take on the establishment. Sporting a kinetic, fragmentary style, the film is ahead of its time which makes up for the so-so story and drawn-out fighting sequences. The main character, Isamu, is supposed to be a likable cad, but they needed someone more charismatic than actor Bunta Sugawara to truly pull it off. Where was Jo Shishido when we needed him? At any rate, a fun, pulpy Japanese revenge flick to enjoy.
Man-Trap (1961). Another Olive Films disc which I am reviewing for DVD Talk, Man-Trap stars hunky Jeffrey Hunter as a Korean War vet whose routine existence changes when an old Army buddy (David Janssen) comes back into his life. A contractor stuck in a loveless marriage with a boozy, vindictive party gal (Stella Stevens), Hunter is approached by Janssen to help him abduct a suitcase full of stolen cash belonging to some Central American criminals. Since Hunter saved Janssen’s life, Janssen decides to return the favor by cutting his buddy in on the reward money. It can only work by executing a perfect heist at the San Francisco airport, however, and Stevens’ character is too hell-bent on destroying her husband to let him get away with it. An intriguing late-period film noir which counts as the only feature directed by actor Edmond O’Brien (D.O.A.), the film was interesting at times, absurd at other times with some decent work from Hunter and Janssen. Stella Stevens is pretty terrible, however (partially the fault of the script, granted, which makes her into a one-dimensional harpy). O’Brien’s direction is okay if flat and closely resembling TV dramas of the day. The most unique aspect of the movie is its depiction of Hunter’s suburban world, sunny on the outside, full of obnoxious, predatory moochers when examined closely. Mildly recommended.

DVD Talk reviews:
The Dark Mirror (1946) – Highly Recommended
2 Broke Girls: The Complete First Season (2011-12) – Highly Recommended

Harry Nilsson and Spotify

John Scheinfeld’s terrific 2010 documentary on Harry Nilsson, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?), counts as one of the films I watched last week (which would have been included in the m.i.a. Flick Clique; sorry). I got a ton of insight into Nilsson’s life and music from the film, since I’d only known him as an eccentric songwriter, John Lennon buddy and singer of “Without You” and the theme from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. I’m also surprised that nobody’s done a film on him until recently, given the dramatic arc of Nilsson’s life. He was a brilliant talent in the ’60s, becoming a go-to songwriter of the day (like Jimmy Webb, who speaks about him in the doc) – but also being vocally talented enough on his own to score huge hits like 1968’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” (which ironically wasn’t a Nilsson-penned song). He also did entire albums devoted to Randy Newman, the American Songbook, and a children’s cartoon soundtrack (1971’s The Point!). There was a rampant self-destructive streak in him, however, which led to ever-more eccentric albums in the ’70s and alarming drug and alcohol abuse. It was nice to see him finally get some stability later on in his life (he died in 1994) being a loving husband and stay-at-home dad.

The timing of this came right when I decided to sign up for the basic plan with Spotify, which allows me to check out his albums one by one. Of course, Spotify’s vast music library only derives from what is currently in print from most major and some indie labels, but even then the selection is impressive. For Harry, they had three or four compilations and most of his ’60s-’70s LPs (except 1969’s Harry, for some reason). It seems to me that something like Spotify is more conducive to listening to albums as opposed to buying a CD and copying to your hard drive (where Greatest Hits, singles and compilations are more welcome). Sure, Spotify’s program is clunky and a big memory hog (I have to remember to pause it when opening other programs), and their integration with Facebook is something I don’t particularly care for, but so far I’m enjoying it enough to scale back my eMusic subscription. Having zillions of albums on hand to dig through is quite a joy. I’m not even done with Harry yet.

What else have I been listening to there? Expanded reissues from Blur and Aretha Franklin. Soundtracks to obscure old Broadway musicals like Seventeen and New Faces of 1952. Vintage Brazilian music by Chico Buarque and Quarteto Em Cy. Live albums by The Supremes and Firehouse Five Plus Two. Daryl Hall and John Oates’ folksy sounding first album. A newer release by British indie pop group Allo Darlin’. And a lot of playlists set up by friends and other Spotify users.

Here’s a couple of Nilsson tunes, for your enjoyment:

Connie Bennett Shares Her Beauty Regime with You

I remember seeing this short on TCM years ago — ’30s movie queen Constance Bennett demonstrating her morning beauty ritual to the women of America. In Cine-Color, no less.

Flick Clique: August 19-25

Hey, do you think I should continue with the Flick Clique? It’s starting to feel redundant to me, since I’m repeating a lot of the stuff here that get a more in-depth analysis on DVD Talk. I dunno, I’m just getting into one of those moods where I feel that in general has run its course (nobody’s linked here in ages) and I need to take time off, regroup and start anew with something else.
Child’s Play (1972). Disappointing, draggy drama set at a boy’s Catholic school that stars Robert Preston, James Mason and Beau Bridges. This was a new release from Olive Films that I reviewed for DVD Talk; full review here.
For Pete’s Sake (1974). Fluffy, halfway entertaining Barbra Streisand comedy with Babs as a cash-strapped housewife who resorts to ever-more-drastic measures to secure money for the pork belly enterprise that her husband (the very ’70s Michael Sarrazin) has invested in. Although saddled with a ridiculous climax (shot on the Warner Bros. backlot!), I was surprised at how cute and entertaining this film was. Barbra was quite appealing, and (on a shallow note) I loved the funky brown-and-white decor in the living room of the couple’s apartment (the horrific lavender-walled bedroom was a different story). The animated title sequence in this film sets the scene nicely, with a bouncy song from Barbra that unfortunately isn’t on any of her music collections:

Mimic (1997). I used to get this “insects gone horribly wrong” opus confused with the “revitalized ancient lizard god run amok” opus The Relic, since they both came out around the same time. We actually saw The Relic when it was originally released, but I didn’t get to catch Mimic until casually perusing the Netflix instant offerings last weekend. Mimic has director Guillermo del Toro’s atmospheric, slimy visual stamp all over, which makes it the clear winner of the two. When a virus carried by cockroaches ravages New York City, sexy etymologist Mira Sorvino and hunky fellow scientist boyfriend Jeremy Northam develop a mutated roach that was bred to kill the offending roaches then die off. A few years later, they are shocked to find that the new roaches adapted themselves into giant-sized roaches with a taste for human blood – and they’re breeding! Silly but a whole lot of fun, although I can see why del Toro has (sort of) disowned it. Some of the characters are too cut-‘n-dry and the ending smacks of studio interference, sure, but for an hour of so I was totally drawn into this world and its terrifying creatures.
The Music Room (1958). I picked this blu-ray out to buy at a local chain store which thankfully stocks the Criterion Collection discs. Since I’ve never seen a film from the acclaimed Indian director Satyajit Ray, this was a good place to dive in – the blu includes both the feature film and a long documentary about Ray’s life and career. The Music Room concerns a prideful landlord named Biswambhar Roy (played with poignancy by actor Chhabi Biswas) who flaunts his wealth and status via concerts in his beloved music room. He gets too complacent, however, and when a neighbor seizes the rights to the river that flows near Roy’s home, Roy is eventually forced to sell off jewelry and furniture to keep his lifestyle going. Despite tragedy and dwindling assets, he summons up his remaining staff to prepare one last gala concert. This was excellent, beautifully acted, and it has some unique musical segments which are notable in that they don’t look like stylized Bollywood numbers. I can’t wait to check out they Satyajit Ray documentary as well.
The Suffragette (1913) and The Eskimo Baby (1918). These two German silents were part of Four Films with Asta Nielsen, a DVD set that I’m currently reviewing for DVD Talk. They actually give a good indication of the versatility of this tall, intense looking but naturalistic actress who was one of the biggest film stars of her day. In The Suffragette, she plays a crusading feminist who has a crisis of conscience after placing a bomb in a despised politician’s home. After discovering that the politician is the man she once loved, can she stop the ticking bomb and save the man’s life in time? The Eskimo Baby is a complete turnaround with Nielsen as a simple native girl from Greenland who is brought to Germany as the “souvenir” of a scientist-explorer. The man’s family is rather perplexed by this new visitor, but what becomes truly upsetting to them is when she starts showing romantic feelings towards the guy. The story might be a little too condescending for modern viewers, but Nielsen is fascinating to watch. She approaches the character like a curious child, completely uninhibited with Western modes of behavior. It’s quite a remarkable and funny performance. Although her work in The Suffragette is more typical of melodramas from that era, I enjoyed her work in that film as well.

Flick Clique: August 12-18

Easy Virtue (2008). Strange, choppy period comedy about a 1920s race car driver named Larita (Jessica Biel), a freewheeling young lady who lives for the moment. Her arrival at a staid British family’s mansion is a shocker, since she impulsively married the rebellious son (Ben Barnes) and ruined plans for the estate to stay in the family through the young man marrying the daughter in the family at a neighboring property. While the couple uncomfortably stays at the estate for a few weeks, Larita’s mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) and two sisters-in-law (Kimberley Nixon and Katherine Parkinson from The I.T. Crowd) endeavor to make things as difficult as possible for the young couple. The estate’s patriarch (Colin Firth), a laid-back vet and ex-junkie, takes it all in stride. Overproduced and not terribly funny. Firth is great; Biel seems out of her depth; the rest of the cast is all right. The film was jazzed up with unnecessary CGI and terrible music, which tells me that it was originally meant to be something like a dark satire but ultimately ended up as a frothy, unmemorable comedy.
Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010). Finally got to watch this one, after sitting on our Netflix instant queue forever. It was pretty interesting to watch, spoiled by central conceit that its main subject, a hyper Frenchman who goes by the handle Mr. Brainwatch, ended up being a fraud set up by the filmmakers to expose the art scene as a bunch of fickle, trend-seeking poseurs. Disappointingly, the art of enigmatic Banksy isn’t explored very much at all. The film left me kinda nonplussed about street art in general. Banksy’s stuff is different – at least it’s provocative and has a cheeky point of view. The other artists profiled in the film range from too-slick (Shepard Fairey) to simple and vague (the French guy who secretly installs Space Invaders-inspired mosaics here and there). The work of Mr. Brainwatch, whose ambitiously scaled L.A. installation forms the bulk of the film, seemed totally derivative and dumb. Of course, it was a huge hit.
Heidi’s Song (1982). This sugary Hanna-Barbera animated feature film is one of the latest offerings from the Warner Archive; my full review at DVD Talk is here. Below, a screen shot which didn’t make it into the final piece:

My Son John (1952). Strange, hysterical anti-Communist film that got recently reissued on home video from Olive Films. This was the film with Robert Walker (in his final performance) as a Washington diplomat who returns to the small town he grew up in a changed man. His religious parents (Dean Jagger and Helen Hayes) are baffled by his strange behavior. Eventually, the truth comes out – he’s a red! This was, frankly, a wretched melodrama, but it’s a fascinating curio of another age. My DVD Talk review. Here’s a screen shot of Helen Hayes and Van Heflin that didn’t make it into the review:

Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie (1995). Fascinating documentary which we stumbled upon on Netflix. William Shatner narrates this penetrating look into the world of post-WWII atomic bomb testing, using loads of recently (as of 1995) declassified footage showing various atomic testing projects in chronological order. The footage generally looks great, with some powerful imagery that astonishes to this day. The use of portentous music wasn’t so thrilling, but otherwise this was a concise and absorbing peek into the circa 1945-65 horrible things the government did for the cause of keeping up with the arms race. It’s still hard to believe they did all that.