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Category Archives: Roundup

Flick Clique: June 10-16

Chronicle (2012). In this faux-documentary sci-fi, three teen boys stumble upon a mysterious crater in the forest containing a crystal-like structure which glows into a white-hot glare and knocks them unconscious. Over the next few weeks, they gradually find that they have telekinetic powers and can move not only other objects but themselves (maybe it should have been called Dude, I Can Fly!). This actually had a lot of promise in the beginning, but it’s undone by the characters being total doofus morons. They acquire extraordinary powers, yet they aren’t too freaked about it affecting their health or psychological well-being. Instead, they go out and film themselves doing Jackass-style stunts. Also, the sensitive kid with the dying mom and abusive dad (or stepdad?) was handled in a predictable, cliché-driven manner. They seemed too blasé about doing their powers out in the open where everyone could see them – or are American teenagers really that stupid? A few decent special effects in the end, but overall not that special.
If I Had My Way (1940). Pleasant but none-too-memorable Bing Crosby musical was the last thing from my Screen Legends DVD set that I haven’t seen. This one was made with Crosby on loan-out to Universal to co-star with that studio’s mini-Deanna Durbin, a pint-sized warbler named Gloria Jean. Crosby plays a construction worker who, along with co-worker El Bendel, decides to take care of Jean when her father dies in an accident. They go to New York to find the girl’s uncle (Allyn Joslyn), but when the man refuses to take care of her (he’s a snob who has something against entertainers) they go to the girl’s ex-vaudevillian great-uncle (Charles Winninger). Needing to give the girl a solid foundation to live on, Crosby and Bendel then decide to renovate an old restaurant into a Gay ’90s-themed eatery so that Winninger and his old showbiz pals will have a place to entertain. So sweet that you have to brush your teeth after reading this, eh? Luckily Glora Jean isn’t quite the diabetes-inducing little moppet that she appears to be on paper, or else this film would be tough sledding. She’s actually quite pert and cute, while Bing does his usual smoothness delivering a bunch of perky songs. I remember being utterly puzzled by Swedish comic El Bendel in Just Imagine (1930), but he’s much more tolerable here (but you’re still wondering, why was he of all people famous?). The climax of this film reportedly contains a lot of cameos from famous vaudeville stars of yore. I suppose one could do better on the corny, nostalgic musical front – this one was just fine, nothing more. The DVD set it comes in is an excellent deal, five vintage Bing musicals currently priced at $7.72 on
These Amazing Shadows (2011) and Something’s Gonna Live (2010). Two film-related documentaries we saw this week. Currently on Netflix streaming, Those Amazing Shadows details the efforts of the National Film Registry and their ongoing campaign to preserve America’s film heritage by inducting a diverse group of films into their collection every year. At times this film was a pompous puff-piece, coming across as something that might be seen at a stock holders’ meeting. Luckily the boastful aspects make up a minority of the film, since much of it goes into the actual effort of preserving fragile films (fascinating stuff) and the films themselves, the greatness of which are expounded upon by people both puzzling (Zooey Deschanel?) and smart (John Waters!). Sure, they talk about Citizen Kane and the other undisputed classics, but I really dug when the film delved into the shorts, art films, home movies, promotional and other ephemeral films that the N.F.R. periodically accepts. For those of us who dig The House in the Middle (1954) as much as To Kill A Mockingbird, those portions are pure gold. Something’s Gonna Live, by contrast, is a more subdued, contemplative effort. I’m reviewing this for DVD Talk, so a much more detailed writeup is coming soon. This film centers on the esteemed production designer Robert Boyle as, approaching the century mark in age, he looks back on his life and career. It could have been a great doc, but the actual film feels poky-paced and poorly put together. In the end, I was disappointed and more than a little bummed out.
Prometheus (2012). Our little outing to a real cinema, last Wednesday, was to see this modest obscurity which Christopher was all a-twitter over. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) was a solid slab of ’80s sci-fi action. I’m just not as enamored of the franchise as Hollywood apparently is (matter of fact, as soon as something is referred to as a “franchise,” my interest drops precipitously). Having said that, I thought the first 40 minutes or so of this film set up the premise effectively with an attractive cast, an intriguing story and great CGI effects. Once they travel to the alien planet and discover the sinister yet mysterious alien-hatching compound, however, it tailspins into one “dumb people doing dumb things” scene after another. There are a few effective moments, but for the most part it came across like a bloated, illogical mess that never came together. I enjoyed the performances of Noomi Rapace and Idris Elba, Charlize Theron was too one-note and I really don’t understand the appeal of Michael Fassbinder. Liked the supporting characters a lot, too. There is one awe-inspiring moment when Fassbinder’s robot character ventures into the alien control panel and hacks his way into a massive map of the various constellations these creatures planned to conquer (it reminded me of the Avatar scene set in the nighttime jungle, with the glowing creatures wafting around Sam Rockwell’s avatar). Perhaps the inevitable “director’s cut” release will unveil a more focused, entertaining effort, perhaps not.

Flick Clique: June 3-9

Boys of the City (1941). Silly, slight (60 minutes!) early vehicle for the East Side Kids, who were essentially the Dead End Kids with a few personnel changes – the whole saga of which is explained on their Wikipedia page. This one has the kids saddled with a delinquency charge and sent out to the country to keep them out of trouble. Their car breaks down and they end up staying in an old mansion belonging to a retired judge who is terrified that one of the ex-convicts who he sentenced to jail time is out to kill him. That would be enough to keep the boys on their toes, but the house also has a creepy housekeeper, a ghostly apparition and a secret, cobweb-strewn basement! It’s interesting to note the comparisons between this and Rebecca, including a scene in which the housekeeper (played by Minerva Urecal) compares the deceased lady of the house with the film’s pretty young heroine (Inna Guest). Another lightweight, dated/racist yet watchable offering from my Comedy Kings: 50 Movie Pack DVD set.
Tales That Witness Madness (1973). British horror-anthology film is one of the DVDs I’m reviewing for DVD Talk. This one has four stories of people who have gone mad under varied circumstances, with Donald Pleasence as a doctor who introduces each patient’s story in the film’s framing segments. The individual parts vary a lot in effectiveness, but that’s part of what makes movies like this cheesy and fun. The cast includes Joan Collins as a woman whose husband falls in lust with a dead tree, and Kim Novak as a horny literary agent whose latest client has devious plans for Novak’s ripe teenaged daughter. This film really reminded me of an old Night Gallery episode, complete with hideous fashions and cheeseball effects. My full review should be posted in a few days. Update: my review.
The Thirteenth Floor (1999). Ambitious, hugely flawed but fascinating time-travel sci-fi opus that we checked out on Netflix streaming. This one concerns a computer tycoon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who built a massive V.R. simulation of 1930s Los Angeles. When he is murdered, police detective Dennis Haysbert goes after the man’s protogé, Fuller (Craig Bierko) as suspect #1. Fuller knows, however, that the secrets surrounding his death might be revealed in a letter Mueller-Stahl wrote and left with someone in the ’30s L.A. world, the avatar of Fuller’s co-worker, Jason (Vincent D’Onofrio). Further wrinkles are added when a woman (Gretchen Mol) claiming to be the tycoon’s daughter shows up seeking an inheritance, a femme fatale type who physically resembles another woman in the ’30s world. Kind of muddled, kind of thought provoking … this one got unfairly compared with The Matrix upon its original release. I actually enjoyed it more than The Matrix, if only for the fact that the film’s nicely researched CGI version of 1937 Los Angeles is incredibly cool. The performers are a mixed bag and the ending felt like a cop-out, but overall I found it intriguing and well-done, a sleeper.
The Tillman Story (2010). One of the better documentaries I’ve seen recently is this one, which uncovers murky circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Tillman, exalted football star turned U.S. Army solder turned casualty to the jingoistic b.s. factory churned out by the military and the American news media. I’m grateful to director Amir Bar-Lev and the Tillman family for showing Pat as he really was and exposing the damaging lies/p.r. campaign that the military orchestrated following his tragic death by friendly fire. If only for the indignant speech that Pat’s mom delivered in the Congressional hearing looking into that military cover-up, this doc is gold. It just goes to show you that people are much, much more complex than the restrictive boxes that everyone wants to shove us into.
Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston (2010). Fast paced documentary on ’70s fashion icon Halston. I enjoyed parts of this (the many archival clips/interviews of Halston and his work are cool), but unfortunately the director, Whitney Sudler-Smith, decided to make it more about him than Halston. That idea would be problematic enough if the guy was likable, but throughout the film he comes across as uninformed, and the epitome of an arrogant hipster douche. See more in my DVD Talk review.
Vincent Wants To Sea (2010). This charming German comedy-drama was another DVD Talk disc, one of the offerings from their screener pool. I will reserve going into detail for my full-fledged review, but in short this was a funny, sweet film that is worth seeking out. It stars actor Florian David Fitz (who also wrote the screenplay) as a disaffected young man whose mother recently passed away. Afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, the man’s father (Heino Ferch) sends him to a clinic to be treated under the watchful eye of a chain-smoking doctor (Kathanrina Müller-Elmau). There he is roomed with a fastidious young man with OCD (Johannes Allmayer) and is captivated by another patient named Marie (Karoline Herfurth), a woman with an eating disorder. The bulk of the film’s drama comes when Fitz’s character decides that he needs to get to Italy to deposit his mom’s ashes in the ocean, and impulsively decides to steal the doctor’s car with Marie and his roommate coming along. The script is pretty smart and knowing, filled with heart-warming vignettes and real characters. I will have more in my DVD Talk review, of course, but in short you should seek this one out. Update: my review.

Flick Clique: May 27 – June 2

Warning! This week’s selection of movies are shockingly bad. I haven’t had much time for anything else, blogging-wise, so I’m afraid that this space is starting to turn into another “bad movie” weblog. Ah well.
The Cat from Outer Space (1977). I thought I was finished with all of the live-action Disney flicks any human being needs to see, but this one popped up on the Netflix queue probably out of pure nostalgia. During its original release, I actually went to see this at Scottsdale’s Camelview, which remains one of my fave movie houses for the groovy giant-sized mushroom shades that it has out front. Were that the film was as memorable as the place I originally saw it in. Cat sports what was by then a well-worn plot about an alien being that lands in California. The alien, who calls himself Jake, looks exactly like a house cat with a glowing collar that allows it to telepathically speak to whomever it wants. It eventually befriends a goofy scientist played by Ken Berry, who helps Jake get the gold necessary for him to pilot his UFO back to his home planet. It’s silly, but the cat is cute and there’s a lot of fun to be had by the human cast (which also includes Sandy Duncan and M*A*S*H co-stars MacLean Stevenson and Harry Morgan). I will likely forget all about this flick next week, which is how ’70s Disney movies generally work, but except for the ultra-ridiculous climax this was an okay film.
Flatliners (1990). A group of young, pretty medical students find a way to visit the “other side,” but greed and terrible side effects curtail their revolutionary idea – I wonder if TV psychic John Edward saw this as a young man, planting the kernel for a brilliant if cheesy career? This was a decent, overacted horror-thriller whose best asset is the atmospheric if fakey production design and outlandish lighting – a showy visual style typical of the films from director Joel Schumacher (Batman & Robin; the underrated Veronica Guerin). Schumacher strikes me as the kind of guy who would automatically OK having a hospital set dressed with red neon around the door frames, and think nothing of it. “Screw the actors, let’s take another look at that fabulous wood molding in Nelson’s apartment” may have actually been spoken during the making of this one. The cast, headed by Kiefer Sutherland (as Nelson) and a young, willowy Julia Roberts, do their best with the silly dialogue. There’s more than a few creepy, effective scenes, but for the most part it comes across like a glossy TV commercial with paranormal undertones. This was another flick that I caught in its original release, at the less architecturally interesting Centerpoint theater in Tempe. Sutherland’s look here actually shares a vague similarity to what I had circa 1990, especially in the odd moments when he’s wearing glasses – believe it or not, I too could rock the tousled-hair-and-tortoiseshell-frames look (that was a long, long time ago).
The Honey Pot (1967). Another terrible, terrible film – joy! I recorded this off our local This TV outlet merely because Susan Hayward was in it and I was curious to see how she did in this (awfully, it turns out). This “comedy” sports a premise that would be hard to pull off even by an attractive, assured cast, the fact that it stars the unlikeable Rex Harrison makes it all the more hard to stomach. Rexy plays a smug rich guy who decides to play a trick on three of his former lovers by pretending to be dying and summoning them to his estate. Hayward’s Southern belle, Capucine’s French princess and Edie Adams’ Las Vegas showgirl all believe they’re in for an inheritance, but then a guest turns up dead and things get more sinister. Could Cliff Robertson as the actor Harrison hires to pose as his assistant be behind it? I really couldn’t bring myself to care. Hard to believe this was scripted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, since it has none of the subtlety or brilliance of his All About Eve. Since I recently read about Harrison’s douche-baggy behavior on the set of Doctor Doolittle (released the same year), I feel unfairly biased, but his performance is every bit as lazy as the script. The only positive aspect here would be Maggie Smith as Hayward’s nurse, but overall this film just stinks to high heaven.
If A Man Answers (1962). Another ’60s stinkeroo was this fakey, overly affected romantic comedy that involved much the same crew and producer (Ross Hunter) as the beloved Rock Hudson-Doris Day vehicles. This one has perky Sandra Dee as a part French, part American socialite who impulsively marries a slovenly photographer played by Dee’s then-hubby Bobby Darin. Fearing that her husband might stray into the arms of friend Stefanie Powers, she seeks advice from her mom (Micheline Presle). Mom hands her a doggie-training manual and tells her to follow it to the letter – after all, it worked with her husband, Sandra’s daddy (played by John Lund). A cringingly dated premise, and the lead actors lack the chops to pull it off. Dee had a certain sugary appeal in supporting roles; here she’s just flighty, muggy and unbelievable. Darin fares better, but one of the IMDb reviewers accurately summed him up as “what you would get if you took Dean Martin, sucked out most of his charm, talent and attractiveness and then shrunk him by about a foot.” Probably the best reason to watch this today lies in the purely visual: luxe color photography, pretty/odd set design (houseplants on the stairs?), and Dee’s darling Jean Louis-designed wardrobe. She really did look like a life-sized Campus Cutie!
Robotropolis (2011). A Netflix streaming watch, this cheaply produced sci-fi thriller concerns a utopian city served and policed entirely by robots. A TV reporter (cardboard Zoe Naylor) and her crew are granted exclusive access to the community and are able to file live reports interviewing the residents, who seem to be adjusting well with the setup. In one live report, however, the camera catches a robot killing a soccer player. This one incident leads to a robot revolt, with the city’s terrified inhabitants (including our plucky reporter) fleeing for their lives as the bots go on a murderous rampage. Not quite Birdemic terrible, but shoddily made and for the supposedly terrible things that go on, it’s bizarre how much the film lacks any edge or emotional involvement. The CGI effects on the robots are decently done, but the lighting is too flat and they lack gravity. The acting by the no-name cast turns out being almost as emotional as the robots, although there are some fascinatingly bad moments of over-the-top scenery chewing. The lamest part of the film is that first scene with the soccer player’s death, which is done in a way you’d expect from a grade-z student film cast with the director’s friends. The big revelation about the cause of the robots’ malfunctioning was no shining moment in indie filmmaking, either. I did like the architecture in the city (filmed in a gleaming Singapore multi-use complex) with its cool monorail, however.

Flick Clique: June 20-26

The American (2010). Meh. George Clooney as an American spy who is trying to elude a gang of Swedish interlopers in a small Italian villa. I rented this because I’ve been a long-time fan of the photography and music videos of Anton Corbijn, and was curious to see how he’d handle a feature-length film (this is his second, after 2007’s Ian Curtis biopic Control). The American doesn’t make any concessions to being a slam-jam action pic, and that’s a commendable idea, but Clooney’s character being so glum and one-dimensional makes it difficult to warm up to him or his situation. I also really couldn’t figure out why the local prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) was so attracted to him. The one positive thing I can say about this is that it has some beautiful photography, including a quietly compelling long shot of Clooney driving a car through a long tunnel under the opening credits.
The Celluloid Salesman: Classic Educational Shorts, Vol. 4 (DVD, 2011). Another campy collection of vintage industrial films from Kino and The A/V Geeks, an ephemeral films collection. I was delighted to find that this disc and another volume, Safe… Not Sorry got added to this series – unfortunately, Netflix didn’t have either for rental (Netflix is starting to suck, notice that?). Kino had a big sale recently, however, so I ended up getting the Salesman one for a good price. These 15 short films, mostly from the ’60s, attempted to sell everything from railroad cars to potato chips in films that were geared towards salespeople, classrooms, home ec groups, mens’ lodges or even a television audience (one short is even craftily disguised as a string of news segments). Many of them come across as a combo of a ’60s-style How It’s Made and the antique equivalent of an infomercial. Although their effectiveness as sales tools are decidedly hit-or-miss, you can find bits of atom-age beauty (like Hamilton Beach’s film extolling the wonders of their top-of-the-line blender) in the most lovingly crafted of these films.
The Net (1995). Sandra Bullock as a hacker in trouble! This was part of the little “early versions of the web” film fest I put on Netflix a few years back. Once you get past the clunky technology, it’s actually an effective thriller with a good performance from Bullock (the others in the cast, not so much). The Bullock character, Angela Bennett, plays a geeky computer analyst with no time for friends. The only family she has is her Alzheimers-afflicted mother (Diane Baker). When she comes across a floppy disc containing a portal into a top-secret government database, a cabal of spies comes after her, reassigning her identity as one Ruth Marx, attempting to kill her and the few people she has left (such as Dennis Miller’s psychotherapist) who could help her out. At first this was fun to watch for the dated technology (Castle Wolfenstein! After Dark’s Satori screen saver!), then I started getting into the story. It became ridiculous when Jeremy Northam’s love interest/secret killer showed up, however – Northam delivers an atrocious performance worthy of a cheesy stalker movie on the Lifetime channel. There’s also a lot of serious lapses in logic when Bullock breaks into the office where her doppelganger is working and takes back her original identity. And that’s before she runs into a computer convention and calmly plants a virus in the government database using a floppy disc and a common PC. At least Bullock makes her character’s plight believable and sympathetic.
Of Giants and Toys (1958). This was a film that I found out about through the book Japanese Cinema by my DVD Talk colleague Stuart Galbraith IV. In this wacked-out satire on commercialism and fame, a pair of office workers in a candy manufacturer’s advertising department transform a goofy young woman into the fabulous spokeswoman for their product. While Hitomi Nozoe as Kyoko enjoys her newfound fame and flirts shamelessly with her chaperone, Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi). Nishi attempts to find info about his employer’s competition through his girlfriend and his ex-college buddy, who both work at rival companies. This was such an interesting film, if only to check out how the Japanese took on the space craze and other Western trends in the atomic ’50s. It also serves as a biting commentary on win-at-all-costs Japanese society at the time. Shot in widescreen color, the film is a bit unruly and all over the place. It also has enough wild, memorable scenes to recommend it – the desperation of the characters trying to maintain their dignity while working themselves sick (literally) comes through loud and clear.

Flick Clique: May 13-19

Battle Royale (2000). The success of The Hunger Games has renewed interest in this controversial Japanese film with a storyline that closely parallels the adventures of Katniss and Peeta. Actually, lots of people must be interested in this – after months of sitting on top of my Netflix queue with the dreaded “Very Long Wait,” I finally decided to check with our local library (which stocks lots of foreign films) to see if they had a copy to check out. Turns out they had four copies in the stacks. Although they were all checked out at the time, I placed a hold and one of them became available within a day or two. Battle Royale takes place in a sensation-starved near-future Japan in which a class of 42 teens are randomly selected to engage in a three-day, nationally televised “battle royale” in which they are placed on a deserted island to kill each other until one survivor is crowned. The kids have a few rules to adhere to (danger zones and potentially lethal electronic collars keep them tracked and on their toes), but are generally set free to fend for themselves with backpacks containing a map and a few supplies. The film is somewhat overdone and its second half pales next to the exciting beginning, but I dug seeing how it played out among the students. Some die accidentally, some commit suicide, most are murdered by the few students who already had killer tendencies. A Japanese friend of ours recently saw Hunger Games and found it to be a convenient Battle Royale rip-off. The two films are different, but their similarities are too striking to ignore. Good performances here by Tatsuya Fujiwara (Death Note) and actor-Japanese TV host Takeshi Kitano (playing the kids’ coach/evil show orchestrator).
The Lawless (1950). Effective MacDonald Carey/Gail Russel b-melodrama of racial strife in a small California town. This was another underrated vintage Paramount production that’s getting the DVD reissue treatment from Olive Films. My complete review of the disc was just published at DVD Talk here – check it out, please and thank you!
The Lost World (1960). Last Christmas, I got Christopher a four-pack DVD set of 20th Century Fox special effects blockbusters as a gift. We watched two of them over this past week, both Irwin Allen widescreen extravaganzas from the early ’60s. His version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic humans-meet-dinosaurs opus The Lost World is the more definite turkey of the two. Granted, the story had a lot of potential in being updated to the campy, colorful ’60s. Allen, however, decided to stick it on the island the entire time (no dino rampaging through present-day London, darn it) with a host of annoying, shallowly drawn characters. Most disappointing of all are the dinosaurs themselves – kimodo dragons, iguanas and baby alligators outfitted with tiny prosthetics. Boring! The stop-motion dinosaurs from the silent version were much more terrifying, and that was thirty-plus years prior to this. Most of the cast (Claude Rains, Michael Rennie, Fernando Lamas) are annoying, although special mention must be made for the character of Jennifer Holmes as played by Jill St. John, a dipsy heiress who is poised as the combo Ginger Grant/Lovey Howell among these castaways. St. John always seemed like a pretty intelligent actress and she looks stunning here, but her character was beyond ridiculous. Happily, her career has recovered from this demeaning start.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961). Flick #2 in our Irwin Allen extravaganza is this submarine opus which was later adapted into a TV series lasting a few seasons. Like The Lost World, this one also sports a ridiculous and campy story (about Earth facing extinction by burning to death, with Walter Pidgeon and his crew racing to save humanity aboard his futuristic sub, the Seaview). Unlike The Lost World, however, it’s watchable and kind of fun at times, playing a bit like a melodramatic version of Disneyland’s old-school Submarine Voyage attraction (I only wish there were scenes where they encounter mermaids and a sea serpent). There’s still a lot of unanswered burning questions, like how does Barbara Eden function as the only woman on a ship full of horny men without getting assaulted on a daily basis? And why did Robert Sterling’s captain escape death with his hand dipped into the pool containing the ravenous shark that just devoured Joan Fontaine (spoiler, sorry!)? I think you just have to turn off your brain and enjoy escapist crap like this.

Flick Clique: May 6-12

We have six items on Flick Clique this week – not including the documentary (Kink Crusaders) which I’m hoping to post at DVD Talk tomorrow. I don’t really feel like going into detail on these, so I will supply a mini writeup along with the star ratings (out of five) that I gave the films.
Despicable Me (2010). **** I was surprisingly charmed by this, considering it’s a CGI animated film not from Pixar. Steve Carrell voices an evil genius who wants to shrink the moon and steal it from the sky, but three adorable orphans get in the way. OK, the “children are the answer to everything” message gets laid on too thickly, but otherwise this was an inventively done, nicely scripted and completely charming kiddie flick. This was animated by French studio Mac Guff, with made-for-3D sequences that are actually fun and not calling attention to themselves (see: How To Train Your Dragon). A lot of it reminded me of The Incredibles with more of a goth edge. Wonder what the sequel that’s due next year will be like?
Eyes in the Night (1941). *** Enjoyable little time-waster about blind detective (!) Edward Arnold, who investigates some suspicious doings in the domicile of his old friend, Ann Harding. Harding’s husband is a scientist who perfected a top-secret formula that is wanted by a cabal of spies. The baddies have wormed their way into the household staff – and the local theatrical company that Harding’s petulant stepdaughter Donna Reed is involved with. Pretty well-made, involving noir thriller from MGM – I wonder if they were trying to make this into a series a la the Thin Man films? Bar none, the best thing about this movie is Edward Arnold’s amazing seeing eye dog, Friday. That pooch does some daring jumps here of the kind not seen since the glory days of Rin Tin Tin.
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). ***** The original “how much crap can one guy take?” movie. This was made to bring to light the deplorable prison conditions in Georgia, and to expose the plight of the “forgotten man” (WWI vets caught up in the misery of the Great Depression). It works as both social commentary and compelling drama. Paul Muni is less hammy than usual as the fugitive in question – as a matter of fact, he should have won the Best Actor Oscar that year. I also liked Glenda Farrell as the trashy blonde who marries the reformed fugitive Muni, then tries to blackmail him. Not so funny, Glenda.
Larceny Inc. (1942). *** I first saw this Edward G. Robinson comedy about 20 years ago, didn’t remember much about it except that somehow it involved a luggage store and a young Jackie Gleason playing an overly attentive soda jerk. It’s a fun, fast-paced little romp with Robinson as an ex-con who hatches a plan with two other cons (Broderick Crawford and Edward Brophy, one of those “hey, I know that guy” actors) to buy up said failing luggage store in order to dig a tunnel into the bank vault conveniently located next door. Also starring Jane Wyman and Jack Carson, this film brims with that Warner Bros. city feel. I especially enjoyed seeing the section of the W.B. backlot which now looks totally familiar to me, used here as the streetscape where a massive subway expansion is creating havoc with Robinson’s fellow business owners. I can see why this movie didn’t retain in my memory, but I enjoyed it (again).
Oceans 11 (2001). **** Avoided this one until now because I initially thought it might be just another mainstream, Hollywood-ized and completely unnecessary remake. I was wrong. It’s actually quite fun, with a story that’s like a jacked-up, more fascinating iteration of the 1960 original. Steven Soderberg has so much flair as a director that I’m willing to overlook the many implausible moments (Brad Pitt lifts his helmet visor in a crowded casino??) and go along for the ride. The cast is generally good with the strong exception of sour-pussed Julia Roberts. Oh, and the little Chinese acrobat dude (Shaobo Qin)? So adorable.
Sneakers (1992). **** I remember adding Sneakers to my Netflix queue as part of a “90s movies featuring dated technology” spree. The film is actually quite an intelligently written and absorbing yarn with Robert Redford as the ringleader of a group of security system experts/hackers who find themselves in the possession of a top-secret decoding box. The box, which can magically break into every computerized security system, is highly sought after by both the government and Redford’s ex-college buddy Ben Kingsley – now the head of a computer firm whose nefarious m.o. is adequately conveyed via its minimalist-chic office decor. There are a few weird scenes (like the usual “blow up a tiny detail on a photo until it’s crystal clear” malarkey), but for the most part the script is impeccably researched and believable. The bright cast (including one of my faves, Mary McDonnell) seems to be having a ball with this elaborate heist caper – which dovetailed nicely from the previous film we saw, Oceans 11. Redford seems too old, but that’s okay. Sadly, if this film were produced today, the Redford character would be closer to 30 in age and the other cast members would be all be the same age as River Phoenix (who was 21 when this was made).