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Tag Archives: Celine Dion

Weekly Mishmash: August 22-28

dvd_clashofthetitansClash of the Titans (2010) and Repo Men (2010). Two DVD rentals that my spouse picked. As you can see, my spouse likes the special effects flicks. I like ’em, too, as long as the special effects are supported by a good story and decent enough performances — two things that Clash of the Titans and Repo Men sadly lack. Repo Men is the more promising of the two, with Jude Law laying on the charm as a near-future bounty hunter type whose job entitles him to reclaim artificial organs from people who are unable to pay for them. This film plays on the current health care and financial crises in the same way the far superior Children of Men envisioned a future where George W. Bush-era foreign policy ran amok. On the plus side, the movie benefits from good work from Law, Forest Whitaker and Liev Schreiber. As the film played on, however, it devolves into Matrix-esque chases and fights, ultimately becoming an icky and pointless exercise. The Clash of the Titans remake doesn’t aspire to such bold statements, which can be a great thing if handled the right way. I remember going to see the 1981 original with a bunch of Junior High pals at the local mall-plex and having a blast. With whiz-bang CGI and action scenes galore, the remake appeals to the same popcorn mindset but I found this one strangely hollow and uninviting. Sam Worthington is a bland lead and his military buzzcut distracts to no end, the effects are overwhelming (and in 3D, no less), and the film’s many fight scenes seem to never end. Oh, and it gets worse: the brief appearance of 1981’s mechanical owl is probably the lamest celluloid sop to nostalgia since they brought back the original spaceship design in 1998’s Lost In Space (only to blow it up seconds later).
Celine Dion — The Colour of My Love. Found this for 50 cents in the markdown bin at the local Half Price Books store and it seemed to whisper “buy me” in a vaguely Franco-Canadian accent. The disc was actually well worth the two quarters it cost. On the whole, this 1993 effort is more diverse and likable than Dion’s self-titled 1991 album and not quite as dated/goofy as her English language debut, Unison. Lush ballads predominate, as epitomized by megahit “The Power Of Love,” but I found myself drawn to the lesser known tracks. The fluffy Tara Kemp-ish workout “Misled” hit the dance charts and even the top 40, odd considering I don’t remember it at all. Another beat-heavy track, “Refuse To Dance,” is notable for having Dion’s voice effectively blended in with the instrumentation, creating a moody and disarmingly experimental sojourn in the album’s second half. I also downloaded this album’s non-U.S. “Just Walk Away,” a florid Latin style ballad which fits squarely in Eurovision Song Contest territory. Most of these tracks have the same personnel she always works with. The prolific Diane Warren contributed two of the better tracks, both sweet if overlong, overproduced and vamped up like crazy. “Next Plane Out” is a typical big ballad, but the one I really dig is the Motownish “No Living Without You.” Perhaps I love it so for its similarity to another cheeseball neo-soul record from that period, Charles & Eddie’s “Would I Lie To You.” Hmmm, wonder if I could find a used Charles & Eddie CD at Half Price Books?
God’s Country (1986). Charming, thought provoking documentary on the American heartland by French director Louis Malle. It’s 1979 and Malle focuses his camera on the diverse residents of Glencoe, Minnesota, following farm families, law enforcement, bank employees and jus’ folk as they ramble about their lives and hopes for the future. In the most poignant scenes, he visits a nursing home and impartially films residents sitting glassy eyed in a room while a TV blares away. Things then turn celebratory as the film chronicles a tacky wedding ceremony in which the bride, groom and wedding party go bar hopping along the town’s main thoroughfare. In a bittersweet coda, Malle revisits the town in 1985 as residents come to grips with the disappearing ways of life caused by Reaganomics. This was completely fascinating in a personal way, having reminded this viewer of the times my family took trips to visit relatives in Nebraska. Malle not only knows how to allow his subjects to open up to the camera, he also trains his lens on interesting/quirky details such as an elaborately coiffed woman working at a slaughterhouse. In one scene, he visits a drugstore as the manager proudly shows off his establishment’s “Gay Nineties” decor theme. The place was a total trip, but it also had a personal resonance since my late grandfather once managed a very similar drugstore in a small midwestern town. It made me nostalgic, then somewhat sad as the realization hits that these places have been replaced by Wal-Marts (just as the quiet family farm has been largely co-opted by Monsanto). Sobering and well worth a look.
poster_merrywidowThe Merry Widow (1925). Erich von Stroheim’s lush, long epic got a rare broadcast on Turner Classic Movies’ recent day long salute to John Gilbert. Although there were many Gilbert films from that day that piqued my interest, I ended up with this because I’ve always been curious about his Gilbert’s co-star, Mae Murray, and the extravagance of von Stroheim productions are always worth a look. Gilbert plays the prince of a mythical, quasi-European kingdom who is smitten with visiting dancer named Sally O’Hara (Murray). Though the two are in love, his family forbids him to marry a commoner. Extenuating circumstances caused by the prince’s weaselly cousin (Roy D’Arcy) force Sally to end up wedding a creepy old guy with a foot fetish (!) instead. The man drops dead on the wedding night and she becomes… The Merry Widow. This was a suitably overstuffed affair that seemed pretty typical of 1920s cinema — it’s overlong and the acting was too affected (especially from Murray). Despite weird touches like foot fetish man and a couple of blindfolded musicians, the story was too trite to carry such an overstuffed production. As far as von Stroheim epics go, I much prefer Greed but this one has a few things going for it. Gilbert is rather staid and bland, but Murray’s showiness as a performer is a hoot. When she laughs, it’s a lusty toss back of the head and convulsive body shakes. When she cries, she transforms herself into a life-sized wet hankie with puppy dog eyes. It’s method acting squared for our Mae.
Rio Bravo (1959). While I normally wouldn’t be attracted to a late period Western starring John Wayne, this particular one directed by Howard Hawks has such a great critical reputation that I had to check it out. It didn’t disappoint. Wayne plays the sheriff of a small Texan town who is keeping criminal Claude Akins in lockup. Akins’ brother and a bunch of other meanies are terrorizing the town trying to free the man, so Wayne enlists the help of a drunk but talented gunfighter (Dean Martin), an old coot (Walter Brennan) and a cocky teen (Ricky Nelson). This was conceived as Hawks’ answer to High Noon — but instead of wimpy Gary Cooper grovelling for help from the townspeople, here we have four flawed yet commanding men taking on a challenge in an adult, responsible way. Like many Hawks films, there’s also a strong female presence with Angie Dickinson as a traveling performer who has her eye on the Duke. Dickinson seems a bit modern for the part, but she’s alluring as all get out. Martin’s nuanced performance was a big surprise, and I enjoyed his odd duet with Nelson. The film is long, but made in such a casual, appealing way that one doesn’t notice it. I actually think it’s perfectly paced, building up to the exciting climactic gunfight.
Separate Lies (2005). IFC Channel recording. This was an intriguing but strangely unsatisfying domestic drama, written and directed by Julian Fellowes. The film concerns a well-heeled contemporary British couple played by Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson. An accident in their plush neighborhood kills their housekeeper’s husband, which triggers the unraveling of the marriage when suspicion falls on Watson and her secret lover (Rupert Everett, looking weirdly gaunt). The first thing I noticed about this film is the wonderful acting, which is top-notch. I also enjoyed the precise, photogenic interiors, whether it’s a country estate or Wilkinson’s slick office. The story is serviceable enough at first, then it delves heavily into the leads’ shifting feelings towards each other until it becomes an implausible morass. Fellowes took on a similar tact for his Oscar winning Gosford Park screenplay, using a mystery as a springboard to explore the complex relationships of its characters. That film worked brilliantly, but for some reason this one doesn’t jell and it winds up a well-intentioned, beautifully acted but inert film.

Weekly Mishmash: November 8-14

Animotion — Obsession: The Best of Animotion. Having known Animotion for little more than being that ’80s “Obsession” group like everybody else, I ended up downloading this best-of this week for reasons that are too complicated to get into. It’s a decent enough collection, padded out with 12″ mixes and indistinct LP cuts. What’s most interesting about Animotion is that they had a late ’80s reforming with a new lead singer (Dirty Dancing actress Cynthia Rhodes), which resulted in the group having a second top 10 hit in “Room To Move.” The tune is one of those completely generic ’80s soundtrack tunes that you’d hear at the mall and forget 10 minutes later, but I find crap like that totally fascinating. Here’s “I Engineer,” from the better, earlier Animotion:

poster_dangcrossingDangerous Crossing (1950). Entertaining malarkey starring Jeanne Crain as a newlywed whose husband goes missing shortly after the two embark on an ocean voyage. The woman finds herself slowly going insane as no one on the cruise ship can recall seeing the husband in the first place, much less try to find him. Quite the old familiar tale, but the film is efficiently done (the production recycled sets from simultaneous 20th Century Fox productions Titanic and Gentemen Prefer Blondes) and fun in its own modest way. This movie reminded me of an expanded Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode. Crain’s performance is so campy and overwrought, the lady might as well have the word “Hormel” stamped on her forehead.
Celine Dion — Celine Dion. Is this Embarassing Music Week? I checked out Celine Dion’s English language debut album, Unison, after coming across it at our local library. Strangely enough, I absolutely love it. The album is perfectly produced Adult Contemporary Pop, diverse and beautifully sung with enough quirkiness and “only in 1990” touches to keep things captivating. I ended up getting Miss Dion’s 1992 second self-titled album on the strength of Unison. This album is a ballad-heavy collection, leaning towards the plush Housewife Pop that we know and loathe her for, but it does have its moments. Disney theme “Beauty and the Beast” with Peabo Bryson is still timeless and memorable, and the dancey “Little Bit Of Love” is a gem buried in the CD’s second half. I also like her rendition of Diane Warren’s “If You Asked Me To,” although if you compare it with Patti LaBelle’s declicate 1989 original you’ll find that Celine takes the song into bombastic, borderline schmaltz territory (that’s probably more the producer’s fault, actually). I think my Dion exploration stops here, unless somebody can give me a good reason to go further.

Dahmer (2002). IFC channel recording. An artistic, indie-centric interpretation of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer that ends up being too in over its own head to be effective. Jeremy Renner is effectively creepy as Dahmer, portrayed here as a shy closet case living in a shithole town with unspoken issues affecting everyone around him. The film could have worked, but mostly it ends up being bogged down with too much navel-gazing dialogue. According to this film, Dahmer did in his victims by talking them to death. Exciting, no?
Out of the Past (1947). Dense film noir that really shouldn’t work, but it does. The story is too hard to follow, Robert Mitchum’s laconic presence doesn’t add much, and Jane Greer is no Lauren Bacall in the femme fatale department — but the film is wonderfully photographed and director Jacques Tournier ushers the characters through a variety of intriguing settings. The film proceeds along so hypnotically that one can’t help but ride along. The only other movie I can think of that tops this in sheer atmosphere is coincidentally another Mitchum flick, The Night of the Hunter. p.s. On a superficial note, supporting actor Paul Valentine was one gorgeous hunk of a man in this movie. I wonder why he didn’t do more acting?
Ready, Willing and Able (1937). Fun and zippy Warner Bros. musical, the last film of its kind for star Ruby Keeler and her leading man, Ross Alexander (a closeted gay man, he killed himself before the film was released). This mistaken identity comedy was much more entertaining than I thought it would be, highlighted by Keeler’s charm (markedly improved since her equine hoofing in 42nd Street) and the Johnny Mercer standard “Too Marvelous For Words.” This clever tune is performed several times in the film, but the best moment comes when Keeler and co-star Lee Dixon tap out the song on a giant typewriter. Campy ‘n cute, I was so happy to finally see this during TCM’s monthlong Mercer tribute.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Awe inspiring, as always. I first saw this in the early ’80s, when my uncle invited our family to watch this on his newfangled VCR. This must have puzzled my folks, but it blew me away. Sure, it does have long, self-indulgent spots, but the film remains ahead of its time to a remarkable degree. Kubrick’s vision of the future never fails to be both retro-funky and stylish. For one, Christopher and I are delighted to have a decent screencap of this baby:

foodtray2001-1

Liquified vegetables, anyone?