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Category Archives: Roundup

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 Oldies.com 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 Scrubbles.net. 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.

Flick Clique: July 1-7

The Big House (1930). Early talkie from MGM is famous for being the first “prison flick” with all the clichés that go with it (the naive newcomer con, the grizzled vet con, the suave player con). It actually holds up very well with fluid direction very unusual for an early sound film and good performances from the three leads, Chester Morris, Robert Montgomery and an unforgettable Wallace Beery. Frances Marion’s script details Morris and Beery’s attempts to break out of the prison life, and the weak-willed Montgomery’s trying to fit in. It’s gritty, bracing stuff – a lot of the material set up here was also explored in films like Brute Force (since we recently saw this, it was an interesting compare-and-contrast). I wonder if films like this and I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang were responsible for prison reform in the U.S.? This Warner Archive DVD was available for check-out at my local library; I will definitely get more W.A. discs from them just to give them my support.
The Makioka Sisters (1983). Idyllic, involving chronicle of four Japanese sisters in the ’30s who find themselves in a family crisis after their widower father dies. The man’s dying wish was for his second youngest daughter to have a husband so that she could acquire the dowry he set up. The sister in question, a sweet yet passive type, allows for her older, comfortably married sisters to find her a suitable mate – not easy, since there aren’t too many eligible bachelors of good social and financial standing available. Meanwhile, the more modern youngest sister sets her sights on starting a doll-making business while getting involved with the ne’er-do-well son of a department store magnate. Once I got past the initial confusion (at first I thought the two oldest sisters were the mother and aunt of the younger sisters), this was a fascinating drama that somewhat reminded me of the upper-class tribulations in Downton Abbey with the family fussing over the daughters’ marriageability while the coming world war will soon render those concerns quaint and obsolete. Both projects also have the more enlightened younger sibling who is sorta the rebel of the family. Although The Makioka Sisters is statically filmed and ponderous at times, it’s beautifully crafted and contains several notable performances (apparently all four of the actresses who play the sisters are legendary in Japan).
The Saphead (1920). This early Buster Keaton film (his first feature film role, as a matter of fact) has recently gotten a good re-release by Kino. I’m reviewing the DVD edition for DVD Talk. This one isn’t quite the same as other Keaton vehicles, since it was a stage success first – a florid family melodrama, no less – and Keaton was suggested for the film by Douglas Fairbanks, who originated Buster’s part of sad-sack rich boy Bertie on stage. The story revolves around Keaton’s character trying to prove himself with his uncle (William H. Crane), a successful industrialist, so that he can marry Agnes (Beulah Booker), the orphan girl whom the uncle raised from childhood. But wait! The man’s no-good son-in-law (Irving Cummings) receives news from his illegitimate daughter that his former flame, now dying, is threatening to expose their affair. Will he pin it on poor Bertie? Like many earlier silents, the film is pretty stagy and inert, and Keaton doesn’t have much opportunity to do the highly physical comedy he’s known for. Basically, it’s worth a peek for fans but not an especially noteworthy film for anyone else. I will have my full write-up posted this next week, hopefully in time for the DVD’s release this Tuesday.

Flick Clique: June 24-30

Céline: Through the Eyes of the World (2010). Watched out of morbid curiosity, this three-hour documentary/concert film chronicles Céline Dion’s 2008-09 Taking Chances tour through six continents, numerous costume changes, and one lost stuffed lamb belonging to her son. The film is overlong and probably would have been better served being split in two, with the behind-the-scenes stuff in one program and the music (much of which I skipped through) in another. Like most big-budget major stadium tours, it’s a tightly controlled affair with every bit of business from Céline’s onstage patter to the backup dancers’ steps pre-planned to a T (contrary to the title, she even states at one point that she doesn’t want to risk anything!). There’s also a lot of footage of Céline visiting dignitaries and celebs, shopping for high-end goods, and acting goofy with her elderly husband and young son (whose long, long hair must constitute as some sort of child abuse). The mega-production of the tour is pretty impressive, oddly, and Céline has the pipes to sell it. Her singing voice is getting more nasally as she gets older, however – during the tour’s stop in Ireland, the film briefly shows the clip of Céline from when she won the Eurovision Song Contest in the same city several years earlier. It surprised me how much purer her voice sounded in 1988. The film’s candid footage takes great pains to make Céline look like a normal person, which she isn’t. Despite all that, in the end she does come across as quite a down-to-earth, fun lady who doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Lawrence Of Arabia (1962). Spotted the two-disc DVD edition at Big Lots for a fiver, so I decided to check it out again. I first saw this on TV about 20 years ago, in a pan-and-scan edition which was probably edited to ribbons. I remember liking the photography and Peter O’Toole, but the film in general dragged and was difficult to understand. The current re-watching finds it still full of beautiful photography, and O’Toole’s star-making performance still holds up — and it’s still somewhat hard to understand, plot-wise, but Christopher (who read the autobiography of the real Lawrence) filled me in on what I couldn’t decipher. Knowing that T. E. Lawrence was gay also adds more shading to O’Toole’s interpretation, giving it more depth than the typical historic epic gets. Although the casting of non-Arabs like Anthony Quinn and Alec Guiness grates, the film is skillfully directed by David Lean with some still-impressive shots that use the abstract beauty of the Arabian desert well. I liked the selflessness and rebellious spirit of O’Toole’s character. The only part I didn’t agree with was starting the film off with Lawrence’s death in a motorcycle accident (the entire prologue could have been cut off, making a more concise/enjoyable film).
Lucy Gallant (1955). A soapy guilty pleasure which I have been wanting to watch for years (ever since it was regularly played on the AMC channel all those eons ago). I finally got to see it during some down time this week, courtesy of Netflix Instant. A mousy-looking Jane Wyman stars as the title character, an heiress on the run whose life gets handed a change in fate when the train she’s boarded conks out in a dusty Texas oil town. Meeting Charlton Heston’s randy oilman and seeing that the womenfolk in town need a style infusion, she decides to set up a local dress shop. Becoming a huge success alienates Heston, however, who goes off to Europe, fights in WWII, and marries/divorces a French model. When he returns to Texas, the now-tycoon Jane wants him back, but he won’t take her until she agrees to give up the business and pop out a few brats for him. Enjoyable but awfully sexist, and with a disappointing ending that attempts to have it both ways and fails miserably. Wyman, normally appealing in stuff like Magnificent Obsession, is so mousy and wan here, stretching credibility for the forward, fashionable gal she’s supposed to be. And Heston’s character is, simply put, a total douche. Things are enlivened considerably by Thelma Ritter as Wyman’s salty pal and a kitschy climactic fashion show hosted by Edith Head. It’s actually a well-made ’50s melodrama, as long as you take the regrettably sexist message with a grain of salt (or perhaps fine wool in a tasteful shade of grey). By the way, the Netflix version of this shot-in-Panavision film has it in 4:3 aspect ratio with a less than thrilling print.

Flick Clique: June 17-23

The Artist (2011). A film that we strangely avoided in the theaters; was fortunate enough to review it on disc for DVD Talk (I just filed it today, actually). I was expecting it to be a little cute and self-aware, which it is to some extent, but the sheer sincerity and craftsmanship on display is what ultimately won me over. Loved Jean Dejardin and Beatrice Bejo, and that little dog is quite a talent. My full review!
Brute Force (1947).This was actually quite a surprise – a gritty, unsparing noir prison drama with a great cast and an exciting story that’s kinda like the male counterpart to one of my personal faves, Caged (1950). A sullen Burt Lancaster stars as Joe Collins, a prisoner who, along with his cell-mates, plans not only to escape but to exact revenge on the sadistic assistant warden played by Hume Cronyn. This has an interesting structure with Lancaster and most of the other guys in his cell having flashbacks to what they did to get there. Lancaster was involved with the mob, another (John Hoyt) was done in by a double-crossing femme fatale, a third (Whit Bissell) embezzled $3,000 from his employers, etc. This is all done as a lead-in for Lancaster’s eventual break-out, which is nicely staged. An unexpectedly hard-edged film in which all of the participants (except a few of the women in the flashbacks) are reprehensible, weak-willed, or annoying (the calypso singer from I Walked With A Zombie, appearing here as a fellow inmate). That might make the film hard to get through, but I found it absorbing all the way. My favorite characters were Lancaster’s and Cronyn’s, but I also enjoyed Jeff Corey (who has one of the most expressive faces in all of cinemadom) as Lancaster’s ultimately disloyal cell-mate and Sam Levene (who was in the original cast of Guys and Dolls) as the salt-of-the-earth dude of the group. Fantastic film!
Circus of Horrors (1960). One of two vintage horror flicks that we checked out on Netflix streaming (now that the TV season is over, we’ve had lots more time for movies). Circus of Horrors is a wild colorfully photographed British yarn that plays something like Joan Crawford’s Berserk with better plotting and more beautiful gals. It concerns Anton Diffring as a twisted plastic surgeon who, coming across a disfigured little girl in post-WWII France, decides to help her family out by a) repairing her face, and b) buying up her family’s struggling traveling circus. As a circus proprietor, he takes it upon himself to beef up the circus by recruiting prostitutes and other undesirables, repairing their faces, training them on various circus activities, and making them stars of the ring – whew! Of course, since they eventually see opportunities to escape the circus life, Diffring devises different “accidents” to prevent them from escaping. Pure hokum, but the widescreen color photography is nice and there are several grisly/campy death scenes to recommend it. This film is also apparently known to be very influential on a generation of young boys’ libidos, with its cast-full of stacked, overly made-up ladies. This also contains the popular (in the U.K.) pop song “Look For A Star”, an early Tony Hatch composition which gets played ad nauseum throughout the movie.
Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965). The other ’60s Brit horror “masterpiece” we saw on Netflix is an anthology which revolves around a group of men who share a train compartment with a shady stranger (Peter Cushing). Tarot deck in hand, the man proceeds to tell each guy his sorry fate for the near-future, which involve a vampire, a werewolf, a voodoo cult and a killer creeping vine. More cheesy than scary, with some segments more successful than others. My favorite one had Christopher Lee as a snobby art critic who is undone by the disembodied hand of an artist that he dared to piss off. Wasn’t this one fodder for a Simpsons “Treehouse Of Terror” episode? Unlike Circus Of Horrors above, the streaming version of this one was merely okay with the widescreen film cut off into 4×3 proportions and a muddy picture.
Plan B (2009). Bland, modestly budgeted Argentinian gay flick about a guy who decides to take revenge on his ex-girlfriend by becoming friendly with her current boyfriend (who doesn’t know he’s the ex). He ends up falling for the guy, however, which is where this snail-paced film’s title comes from. Decent performances from the leads, with a nice, casual feel which verges on the snoozy at times. The story goes in strange, unexplained directions sometimes, however. Although this got some good reviews on Netflix, it’s not one of the better same-sex dramas I’ve seen.