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Category Archives: Celluloid

Flick Clique: August 5-11

Cry of the Heart (1974). A French obscurity about an upper-class family who becomes fractured when the teen son gets into a debilitating accident. The plot sounds like pure corn, but the film is actually darker and more kinky than one would normally expect. It’s not terribly good, however, with inconsistent direction and a campy lead performance by actor Eric Damian. I picked it out of the DVD Talk screener pool; the full review can be read here.
The In Crowd (1988). A special gift from Netflix! Okay, this isn’t the greatest movie ever, but I was grateful to be able to catch it and compare/contrast with the inferior Shag (review here). This one follows gawky Philadelphia teen Donovan Leitch as he sneaks backstage into the local dance show he idolizes, nabs a spot as a dancer on the show, and falls for Vicky (Jennifer Runyon), a dancer who is romantically attached to one of the other guys on the show. Kinda silly and dumb, with two leading actors who have zero chemistry (Leitch pings my gaydar and Runyon is too ’80s-generic to pull off this role). However, I enjoyed the movie a whole lot. The dance scenes are well done, and the soundtrack is full of lesser-known goodies that better convey a feeling of the mid-’60s than most flicks of this ilk do. A big part of the fun here is Joe Pantoliano as the teen dance show host, Perry Parker. He has a lot of infectious energy and gives the Perry role more depth than perhaps the script dictated (manic, older, somewhat unhip and desperate to please). Not as snappy or indelible as Hairspray, perhaps, but worth a peek for students of ’80s-on-’60s pop culture like myself.
Octopussy (1983). Big Lots has had many of the James Bond DVDs in stock lately at low prices; I picked this one up mostly because it was the expanded edition with making-of docs and commentary. It was also one of the Bonds that I’d never seen. Although this later Roger Moore entry has been trashed for its silly, flippant qualities, I actually found it quite fun and squarely in line with the previous film in the series (and the first Bond I ever saw), For Your Eyes Only. Sure, it has a few cringeworthy scenes (Bond swinging on a vine and emitting a Tarzan yell is a low point), but I loved the lush Indian settings, the smoothly executed chase/action scenes, the many beautiful women (including terrific turns by Maud Adams and Swede Kristina Wayborn), and the overall mood of international intrigue combined with popcorn thrills. What might have hurt Octopussy in its original release was that it came along shortly after Raiders of the Lost Ark, which raised the action-adventure bar to such an extent that it made Moore & co. seem tired and passé. There are a few scenes (the circus climax, for instance) that indicate this one is a turkey, but time has been surprisingly kind to the movie. It’s fun.
A Separation (2011). Very good, intense drama involving a pregnant woman, an old guy with Alzheimer’s, and a fall down a staircase – all of which happens to a middle-class Iranian family as the elder man’s son (Peyman Moadi) and daughter-in-law (Leila Hatami) are negotiating a divorce. This really wasn’t what I was expecting, in a good way. The acclaimed Iranian drama was the most recent recipient of the Best Foreign Language Oscar, which on the one hand brought it a lot more attention. On the other hand, the recipients of that award have always been inconsistent, trending towards safe, sanitized dramas. This one was excellent, however, beautifully performed with a cast full of finely etched characters. The fact that it has a canny mystery at its center is a terrific bonus. This is another disc received from DVD Talk, so a more complete review will be coming along soon.
White Material (2009). A film about a selfish, stubborn French woman (Isabelle Huppert) who refuses to leave her African coffee plantation while a civil war is erupting about her. Pretty decent, a little slow moving at times. Director Claire Denis did a good job of conveying the main character’s steadfastness as she dips into madness by the film’s climax. Huppert delivers a good performance, although both of us thought the film would be way more effective with Kristin Scott Thomas.

12:04 to 12:07 p.m.

There’s not a lot of art pieces that have people buzzing like Christian Marclay’s The Clock. The 24-hour video installation is made up of seamlessly edited clips from hundreds of films depicting the exact time of day in which that particular clip is shown, an effect which comes across as both clever and profound. It encompasses scenes of characters looking at clocks and watches, and instances where the time is spoken by the actors (I wonder if Judy Garland in The Clock is included?). The filmed excerpt below, a three-minute stretch from just after high noon, might give you a taste of what it’s like — but I imagine one truly has to see a big chunk of it to get the full effect. Currently showing in bigger coastal cities, it’s in huge demand right now (a massive digital file, Marclay only did a few copies and it has to be exhibited under his strict provisions). The chances of this arriving in a podunk spot like Phoenix are practially nil, but big congrats to Marclay and his acheivement.

This New Yorker article details the creation of The Clock and Marclay’s background in thought-provoking audio-visual mashups.

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).

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.

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.