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Tag Archives: Bing Crosby

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 Amazon.com.
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: January 7-14

Since my server has been having connecting issues, I’m publishing the Flick Clique today. It’s been a crazy week — Two Bunnies & A Duck has published its 100th, and final comic. I enjoyed drawing the bunnies and coming up with gags, but I’ve also realized that I’m not a gag cartoonist and never will be. It was too much work, and there wasn’t much incentive to keep going on (but I am thankful for Christopher’s cheerleading). With Bunnies, there were times when I was disappointed with the drawing but had a good gag, and other times when the drawing/coloring went well on a cartoon where the gag didn’t work. The entire run of Bunnies will be collected in a book, and that will be the end of that.
East Side of Heaven (1939). Fluffy Bing Crosby musical teams him up with pert Joan Blondell as a pair of romantically involved city dwellers who wind up involved in a wealthy family’s spat when he becomes the unwilling guardian of a kidnapped baby. Crosby is a singing taxi driver, Blondell his switchboard operator girlfriend, and Mischa Auer plays the goofy amateur astronomer who rooms with Crosby. The film has a bit of jazzy verve with some tasty production design (dig the Deco café below!) and tuneful if slight songs. The plot swings into action when C. Aubrey Smith’s millionaire wants to take possession of the baby grandchild belonging to his irresponsible son Robert Kent and his daughter-in-law Irene Hervey. Hervey, not wanting to lose her son, decides to abduct the baby and place him in the care of the most trustworthy person she knows, Crosby (who had just been fired for speaking out of turn on her behalf). Quite a cute film, but be warned that it ends up being All About The Baby in the second half! Personally, I have a strong aversion to babies in movies. The baby in question here is quite a happy ‘lil guy, but the filmmakers milk his cuteness to an annoying degree. Universal loved this one enough to star it in several “Baby Sandy” comedies, apparently. Go figure.

Harvest (2011). This understated German indie drama was a film I selected from the reviewers’ pool at DVD Talk. My review was just completed and can be seen here.
In Time (2011). Another disc that arrived from DVD Talk, surprisingly enough (I’ve requested a few mainstream films with them, but haven’t gotten too many as yet). You may recall that In Time was the Justin Timberlake “people with stopwatches on their forearms” sci-fi opus that came and went in theaters last Fall. We kept our expectations dialed a bit low for this one, but actually it’s a thoughtful and well-made film whose interesting premise only gets derailed a few times. In near-future L.A., time is a commodity. Upon their 25th birthday, people are given a certain amount of time for the remainder of their lives until the green stopwatch implanted in their wrists runs out. These stopwatches also have the ability to stop physical aging, so most of the population looks 25. These advances have created a quasi-police state in which the rich are sequestered in safe zones where they live out lives of leisure, while the less fortunate are forced into hard labor, crime and desperation to cling on to their remaining time. Timberlake’s character is part of the latter scene, eking out a living with his mom in a dingy apartment. When he comes across a suicidal rich man who gives him 100 years before offing himself, however, he winds up getting into the forbidden wealthy district with the cops in hot pursuit. He eventually meets bored rich girl Amanda Seyfried and the two go on a crime spree, hoping to unleash the time banks that are controlled by Seyfried’s powerful father (Vincent Kartheiser of Mad Men). Will they bring equilibrium back to society? This was an interesting film, casting-wise, with similarly aged Timberlake (b.1979) and actress Olivia Wilde (b.1981) playing a child and parent, for instance. It doesn’t have a lot of showy CGI like other sci-fi outings, but I think the central concept is strong enough to stand on its own. The only weak link I found was Timberlake, who doesn’t bring a lot of depth to his character. This was written and directed by the un-prolific Andrew Niccol, whose earlier Gattaca shares a lot of similarities with In Time. There are a few flaws with the execution (like, why isn’t there more murder in this place where time is so easily exchanged?), but overall I found it intriguing and not nearly as bad as the reviews suggested.
Stonewall (1996). One of those ’90s gay films that has its adherents, I put this on my Netflix queue mainly because Guillermo Diaz (whom I enjoyed in Weeds) is in it. Diaz plays La Miranda, a fiery drag queen in 1969 New York. He meets Matty Dean (Frederick Weller), an out-and-proud midwesterner on his first foray in the city. The two become boyfriends amidst the turmoil of the emerging gay rights movement. Despite the title, the Stonewall Inn figures primarily as the setting for La Miranda and his drag friends to put on lip-synch shows set to campy girl group records by The Shangri-Las (these scenes, although pretty fun, aren’t too relevant to the story). The riot itself is confined to the final 10 minutes or so, which is disappointing. The film, on the whole, is an okay if disjointed effort with a distinct British feel (it kinda reminded me of gritty UK films from that period like Let Him Have It or Prick Up Your Ears). Most of the cast was all right. For a historical recreation of the Stonewall riots and what led up to them, I’d go for the recent PBS American Experience program on the subject. It’s much more illuminating and a whole lot less drag queeny.

Flick Clique: August 28 – September 3

Affairs of Cappy Ricks (1937) and Double Or Nothing (1937). A double feature of Depression-era escapism, separated only by what must have been several thousand dollars of budget. Affairs of Cappy Ricks is yet another modest yet entertaining b-flick from my Comedy Kings DVD set. An early effort by Republic Pictures, Cappy stars Walter Brennan as a crusty sea captain/entrepreneur who returns from a long voyage to find that his chiseling family has overtaken his business to the point of attempting a merger with a rival company. He decides to take them on a sea voyage and fake-crashes the boat near a deserted island, hoping the experience will teach them some humility. The plans go awry when the boat really crashes, however, and a screwball Gilligan’s Island situation ensues. Suprisingly appealing in a low-rent My Man Godfrey way — Brennan and low-wattage co-stars Mary Brian and Lyle Talbot deliver cute, un-showy performances. The film is also interesting in its anti-progress attitude, especially in the scene where Brennan is befuddled to find that his ship’s kitchen is equipped with push button technology. Double Or Nothing is another bit of musical fluff found on the Bing Crosby Screen Legend Collection DVD set. Like Waikiki Wedding, it co-stars brassy Martha Raye in a story that seems to evaporate off the celluloid. This time, Bing is a regular guy whose chance encounter with some found money puts him in an unusual inheritance scheme in which he has a chance at taking over a dying millionaire’s estate — but only if he can double his $1,000 bill within thirty days. Crosby teams up with fellow investors Raye, Andy Devine and William Frawley to open a luxe nightclub, an effort that continually gets stymied by the rich man’s greedy relatives. Rather endearing and unoffensive froth with Bing crooning a couple of pleasant if unmemorable tunes. Most of the appeal is in the great photography, costumes and production designs and definitely not in the goofy specialty acts that pad out the film’s second half. There is a certain weirdness to the segment with the guy who can make evening gowns in a few seconds flat, viewable here in a later TV appearance. (By the way, Affairs of Cappy Ricks is viewable online at Archive.org — cute movie if you have an hour to spare.)
(500) Days of Summer (2009). (500) Days of Summer is the kind of “quirky” romantic comedy that one would either find incredibly cloying or charming — although I can see both sides of the argument, I tend towards the latter. The film follows twentysomething greeting card writer Tom (a winning performance by Joseph Gordon Levitt) as he recalls being charmed by an alluring new co-worker, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The two begin a friendly flirtation, then start dating despite her warnings that she’s a commitment-phobe. The relationship ebbs and flows, but eventually they find that they’re not right for each other (not really a spoiler, I suppose). The film flashes back and forward in time at various points during the 500 days they were involved (hence the title). This was a nice, funny film with some great comic timing from Gordon-Levitt. Deschanel, whom I normally find way too cutesy, does a nuanced job as an appealing yet flawed woman who realizes soon that she can’t live up to Gordon-Levitt’s idealized version of her. This was the first feature for director Marc Webb after a background in music videos, and it shows in the choppy, multi-textured way he approaches these vignettes. It’s at its most awkward in the Glee-ish segment with Gordon-Levitt enacting a sunny musical number to the tune of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True,” but for the most part the film is slick and non-intrusive. Thanks to the lead performers, the couple seems real and the script thankfully avoids the usual romantic comedy clichés.
Peyton Place (1957). Plush, impressively mounted soap about a New England town whose residents are less idyllic than they appear on the surface. I’ve been watching a lot of guilty pleasure soapy melodramas lately (From the Terrace being the latest), which serve as great camp at the least, and at the most tell us profound stuff about how people saw themselves in the past. Peyton Place fits more into the latter area. It’s long, overwrought, hokey at times but totally absorbing — exactly what a good soap ought to be! Though I can’t go into details about the complicated plot, the film contains several noteworthy performances, including Hope Lange as a dirt poor girl and Russ Tamblyn as the misunderstood neighbor boy with an overly attached mother. I also enjoyed Lana Turner as the town Ice Queen, even though she fared much better in the superior Imitation of Life from a few years later. Unlike that tear jerker, this one pretty much sticks to normal small town life although the widescreen photography is just as sumptuous. There are some odd touches (the director’s focusing on a hungry kid at a picnic, for instance), but for the most part Peyton Place is a load of soapy fun.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). Saw this one in the theater this week — pretty fun. Like Captain America, I wound up being modestly impressed even if the film doesn’t break any new ground. This is a prequel to the Planet of the Apes saga set in contemporary times, although the strangely inconclusive conclusion might make this more of a Rise of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Affable James Franco plays a Big Pharma researcher who is especially attached to a brilliant test monkey, a subject for an anti-Alzheimer’s drug that sharpens the mind. After the monkey dies, he takes the creature’s baby home to live with him and his ailing father (John Lithgow). The monkey grows up, turns out to be a genius, causes a disturbance, and ends up in a cruel primate house. Eventually the miracle drug gets exposed to all the repressed monkeys who express their monkey rage by taking over the Golden Gate Bridge (a lot of other stuff happens, including several lovey-dovey bits with Franco and girlfriend Freida Pinto, but that’s the basic gist). The monkey is a CGI creation with motion capture enacted by actor Andy Serkis, and the most noteworthy aspect is the emotion that Serkis manages to breathe into this otherwise digital creature. As with a lot of other CGI, I find myself looking closely at what they got wrong — how the movements are a little too smooth, for instance — but the facial expressions were magic and surprisingly touching at times. I especially loved the scene where Cesar, separated from Marsden, draws the outline of the window in his bedroom on the wall of his cell. The ending seemed rushed and suffers from franchise-itis, but otherwise I was entertained.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). This was pretty much what I expected — bloated, overlong, overproduced drivel made by morons, for morons. This apparently continues the story laid out in the first Transformers, with Shia LeBeouf moving on to college and the evil Decepticons in pursuit of an ancient robotic artifact hidden in an Egyptian pyramid (one whose precise location can only be divined from deep within LeBouf’s brain). LeBeouf continues to be the slack-jawed doofus, Megan Fox as his girlfriend juts her chest out impressively, and the parents are actually even more idiotic than in the first Transformers (really, their scenes are so embarrassing, I felt for poor Julie White and Kevin Dunn). The only new additions were several tiny Transformers, and a pair of jive-talking robots that I immediately wanted made into scap metal. Somebody please stop Michael Bay from making any more movies, please?

Weekly Mishmash I: December 12-18

dvd_earthiiEarth II (1971). Our first sampling of the made-to-order DVDs from Warner Archive (we bought a bundle in the site’s 5-for-$50 Black Friday sale). This quasi-2001 TV movie was Christopher’s choice, since he fondly remembered viewing it as a kid. In the film, Earthlings have set up a utopian space colony in which wars/conflicts don’t exist and every issue is voted on amongst its citizens via interactive televised discussions. When a Chinese satellite containing a nuclear bomb drifts into their orbit, the people of Earth II risk everything – including the onset of World War III – to diffuse it. This film was interesting, if poky paced and talky. I enjoyed watching it if only to see how the filmmakers adapted the style of 2001: A Space Odyssey (its obvious influence) within a made-for-TV milieu. For criminy’s sake, the cast is even headed by 2001 star Gary Lockwood! Other players include Mariette Hartley in her pre-Kodak commercial phase, Lew Ayres, Gary Merrill (sporting a bad comb-over) and even Benson‘s lovable housekeeper, Inga Swensen. Too plodding to be a complete success, but the production design is nice and Lalo Schifrin’s grand scoring gives the film some needed gravity, so to speak. Warner’s DVD edition has a crisp, nicely presented picture.
Going My Way (1943). Another notch in my effort to watch all the Best Picture Oscar Winners, this Bing Crosby/Barry Fitzgerald feel-good opus pushed all the right buttons for a war-weary public in ’43, but does it hold up today? I’d say no. The picture meanders and contains a few too many subplots, but Crosby and Fitzgerald are both charming and they are matched by an attractive supporting cast which includes Warner Bros. fave Frank McHugh, pretty opera star Risë Stevens (who is apparently still with us, bless her heart) and Our Gang‘s Alfalfa, Carl Switzer. I know, hating on something like Going My Way is like spitting on your mother, but I’ll say it — this was far from being a worthy Best Picture Oscar winner. Overwhelming mawkishness aside, part of my resistance to this film lies in how Crosby’s very type (the earnest Man of the Cloth who can also hang with the homeboys) has become such a boring cliché. The casting is good and there are several sweet musical numbers, but overall I found it very blah and non-compelling (not to mention long, long, long). Double Indemnity so should have won that year!
Happy-Go-Lucky (2008). Actress Sally Hawkins got good notices (even a Golden Globe nomination, for what it’s worth) for this Mike Leigh film a few years back. Good enough reasons for me to check it out, but the film was a disappointment. The slight plot concerns Hawkins’ guileless schoolteacher as her cheery disposition either enlightens or infuriates those around her. A British Pollyanna, or perhaps the female Forrest Gump? Hawkins is at first very engaging, with a casual manner that is very unusual to behold. As the film goes along and we witness her character giggling through driving lessons, a tango class, and otherwise serious repartee with her siblings, however, the woman becomes simply annoying. Having not watched many Mike Leigh films (I vaguely remember seeing 1991’s Life Is Sweet and being similarly underwhelmed), this trifle does absolutely nothing to arouse my curiosity.
The Medicine Man (1930). Shoddily made comedy-drama produced by the z-grade Tiffany studio is notable for being the first starring vehicle for Jack Benny. Previously known as the funnyman emcee of stuff like Hollywood Revue of 1929 (another Warner Archive offering!), Benny takes on a more subtle turn here as a medicine man with a small time traveling carnival. His character becomes the savior of poor Betty Bronson and Billy Butts, children of an abusive shopkeeper played by E. Alyn Warren. Benny and Bronson fall for each other, but can they marry before the show leaves town? Story is pure hokum befitting of a D.W. Griffith melodrama, and the comedy doesn’t work in this poorly paced story. Even worse, Warren’s nasty character is so cruel it throws everything else off. This is a cruddy movie all the way; even Bronson’s somewhat nuanced performance can’t save it.
Smoke Signals (1998). A brooding Native American (Adam Beach) needs to travel to another state to retrieve the body of his recently deceased father. In order to do so, he must take a long road trip with the nerdy young man (Evan Adams) who was saved from a burning building as a baby. Laid back indie is noted for its all Native cast. The acting is actually very good all around, even if the so-so story fails to accomplish much. I liked how the director presents an unvarnished view of Native life in which even the smaller characters have a depth and humor. The film’s latter half gets seriously derailed by Beach’s horrible wig, however. This was recommended by Leonard Maltin and my mom, both of whom have strikingly similar tastes in (rather facile) feel-good entertainment.
I’ve watched so many movies this week, I’m splitting them in two (again). More tomorrow, folks!