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Category Archives: Roundup

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

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.

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.

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).