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Tag Archives: Elizabeth Taylor

Flick Clique: May 29-June 4

Good Hair (2009). Fun, if somewhat frustrating, Chris Rock-directed documentary on black women’s hair and the lengths they go to straighten and style it. Rock interviews a not-too-diverse group of subjects (mostly models and actresses) who opine on why the caucasian ideal of straight, “perfect” hair has such a pull on the African-American community. He also examines the phenomenon of women getting costly weave treatments and having disgusting, goopy chemicals slathered on their heads, all in the name of beauty. His message doesn’t go any deeper than “Can you believe what these crazy bitches are doing to themselves?” but it’s an okay doc with a few funny moments. Most of the absurdity comes from an annual hair care convention and a competition in which some stylists compete to see who could mount the most flashy ‘do cutting production number.
The Last Days of Disco (1999). An oddity of a film which forms the final chapter in writer-director Whit Stillman’s trilogy on witty Manhattanites (Metropolitan and Barcelona were the first two). Period piece Last Days takes place mostly in the confines of a chic disco as sexy assistant book editors Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny deal with men and the search for fulfillment as their favorite music genre and lifestyle fades into the yuppie ’80s. The film is beautifully scripted but all over the place, story-wise, and suffering from a crucial lack of fidelity to the period it takes place in (Beckinsale’s ’90s bob being the main offender). I actually enjoyed this a lot more than the often dry Metropolitan, however, and I think it’s due to the appealing leads, that fabulous soundtrack, and above all the witty script. I also thought the club itself was a wonderful setting, even if as veteran clubgoer Christopher notes, no real disco would have had plush conversation pits — much less a place where people could actually hear each other talk. One has to wonder if Stillman already had his script prepared before the studio imposed a nostalgic, glittering disco theme over it. The disco/club setting is almost incidental to the characters’ musings, some of which are gold (the conversation on Lady and the Tramp and what it symbolizes is a highlight). Strange, like I said, but worthwhile all the same. Now I’m really curious about Barcelona — and Stillman’s forthcoming Damsels in Distress.
poster_purchasepriceThe Purchase Price (1932). Another hard-hitting William Wellman melodrama from the Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 3 DVD set. This one stars Barbara Stanwyck, doing one of her usual hard-bitten dames. She’s a torch singer who, fleeing some New York baddies, decides to take another woman’s place as the mail-order bride of a lonely farmer (miscast George Brent). Most of the film consists of Stanwyck trying her best to ingratiate herself with befuddled Brent and his rowdy, uncouth neighbors. I remember not being too impressed with this when I first saw it, but now I find it enjoyable, if far from prime Pre-Code Stanwyck. The stars are attractive together and Wellman keeps things moving with several offbeat supporting characters (the shy farm girl played by pre-fame Anne Shirley, for instance). This set was a great gift that helps satisfy the lack of TCM in my life!
The Sandpiper (1965). Another Elizabeth Taylor movie I put on my queue. This time Taylor plays a free-spirited Big Sur artist and proto-home schooler whose son is forced to attend a parochial school overseen by Richard Burton. Faster than you can say “Liz and Dick,” the two embark on a torrid affair in between heavy conversations on the nature of love and ownership. I knew this Vincente Minnelli romp was pretty bad going in, but I was hoping it would be campier than the plodding end result proved to be. Most of the film’s misguidedness comes from its treatment of Taylor and her quasi-hippie friends, which are about as wild and threatening as a bunch of Hulaballoo dancers. Taylor and Burton get a lot of meaty dialogue to chew on, but it’s ponderous stuff. What little I dug here came from Taylor’s wardrobe (it couldn’t have been easy costuming the lady, entering her blowsy stage at this point) and the fabulous from the outside, stagy from the inside “shack” that her character resides in. Many IMDb reviewers praised Johnny Mandel’s score (which includes the inescapable EZ-listening classic “Shadow of Your Smile”), but I found it as dull and TV movie-ish as the rest of the film.
Sitting on the Moon (1936). Brief, airy musical that has found its way onto many a public domain DVD set (viewable online here, as well). Sitting served as a vehicle for pretty actress Grace Bradley, who married Western star William Boyd shortly after this film came to be. Bradley plays a singer whose career is on the outs when her songwriter boyfriend pens a jaunty melody for her (the title tune, repeated ad nauseam) which lands the woman a featured singer gig on a top radio hour. She becomes a star while he lands in obscurity, until another song and complications involving a gold-digging hussy (Joyce Compton!) change things around for the hapless guy. Pretty forgettable fluff — this is a musical built around two songs, remember — but it does have a cute lead and the title tune is quite a charmer. See for yourself:

Flick Clique: May 1-7

poster_behindthemaskBehind the Mask (1947). One of a series of films that b-movie studio Monogram made to showcase popular radio detective The Shadow — I also queued this up on Netflix Instant because it contains one of Joyce Compton‘s later film appearances. This is a strange, grimy little film that awkwardly injects comedy into an otherwise unremarkable whodunit. The story concerns the murder of a blackmailing newspaper reporter. Witnesses believe it was the Shadow who committed the deed; the Shadow’s alter ego Lamont Cranston (Kane Richmond, sort of a poor guy’s Phillip Terry) must prove otherwise with the help of his daffy girlfriend Margo Lane (Barbara Read). Having never heard a radio ep of The Shadow, I can’t tell how much fidelity this film has to the source material (Christopher assured me that it was never this goofy or superficial). This is an OK time waster whose one (tiny) distinction is Read’s chucking of all demure femininity in a proto-Lucille Ball turn. Joyce appears briefly as a flirty nightclub employee attempting to rope Cranston into a sting operation.
Black Orpheus (1958). Another Netflix Instant offering on my “want to see” list (although the pixelated picture left lots to be desired), Black Orpheus was the lilting Brazilian hit that introduced the sounds of Bossa Nova to the world. It’s actually quite a lovely picture, despite not a lot happening within its 100 minutes. The film cast the myth of Orpheus and Eurypides into current-day Rio de Janero during their festive carnaval. The film has a casual vibe more in tune with the ’60s. The acting, done by a local theatrical troupe and a host of charming villagers as extras, is surprisingly good overall. Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn are both very good as the leads, but I also enjoyed the women who played Mira (Orpheus’ feisty fiancee) and Serafina (Eurypides’ cousin). Of course, the music and scenery is wonderful. The film drags in certain spots, but otherwise it’s a summery delight. Perhaps I should check out the Criterion DVD.
poster_catonahottinroofCat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). After reading J. Randy Taraborelli’s bio on Elizabeth Taylor, I put a bunch of her movies on my Netflix queue. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof finds Liz and co-star Paul Newman at the peak of their beauty, good enough, but it’s also an excellently staged and acted adaptation of the Tennessee Williams stage hit. Taylor plays Maggie, sultry, no-nonsense lady who married into the rich and stereotypically Southern family of Brick (Newman). They’re gathered at the mansion of “Big Daddy” (Burl Ives) after the man finds he hasn’t long to live. Tensions erupt as Maggie and Brick deal with Big Daddy as his oblivious wife (Judith Anderson) as they contrast their childless marriage with that of Brick’s milquetoast brother (Jack Carson) and his gossipy wife (Madeleine Sherwood). Very well played, and an oddly nice fit for the glossy MGM production style of 1958 — all that harsh lighting seems to underscore the harshness of the people onscreen. Taylor and Newman are both dreamy to look at, but they also seem to relish doing something that requires sharp acting teeth to pull off. On a superficial note, I love the cream and white gothic decor in Brick and Maggie’s bedroom set (swoon).
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards (1963). Another wild and wooly Seijun Suzuki/Jo Shishido collaboration from the ’60s — yeah! Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards follows a similar pattern to the others, including a somewhat incomprehensible story about policemen and the gangsters who love to stalk them outside their place of work, baseball bats at the ready. The main difference here is that Detective Bureau was beautifully filmed in color using a widescreen process known as NikkatsuScope (similar to the TohoScope used in Godzilla flicks of yore). Suzuki really seems to go to town with the photography, especially evident in a couple of musical numbers set in Westernized nightclubs. One even has the charismatic, chipmunk cheeked Shishido dancing along. Fizzy and fun.
Gable and Lombard (1976). I purchased this for three bucks on Oldies.com, mostly out of morbid curiosity to find out how awful it is. I wish I could say that James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh reenacting (as the DVD box says) “the wildest, wackiest love affair Hollywood ever knew” was some kind of misunderstood diamond in the rough, but it is not. Even by trashy ’70s Hollywood biopic standards, it’s pretty noxious, taking liberty upon liberty with basic facts (including moving their first meeting up a few years — and having mischievous Lombard play a prank on the Gone with the Wind set!). The worst aspect of the movie is the casting: Clayburgh’s trash-talking Lombard is way too contemporary (I know the real Lombard was a “just one of the guys” type, but her performance is ridiculous), and Brolin settles into a laconic groove that is more impersonation than characterization. I also have to mention that this film has the de regeur “leads chatting on a backlot while extras dressed as cowboys and indians walk around” scene. Several of them, in fact!
Let Me In (2010). American remake of the Swedish creeper Let the Right One In (see Flick Clique: February 13-19 for my appraisal). This one is slightly more honed than the original, eliminating a few outside characters and strengthening the human bonding theme. The only marked difference I saw here is that the child leads in the U.S. production seem a bit more poised and “Hollywood” (but effective all the same); even the kids playing the bullies seem less menacing. Richard Jenkins, great as always, plays the one prominent adult. I’m glad they kept it an early ’80s period piece, which only seems to up the creepiness of the material. Despite being marketed as a typical scary flick, this is really a story about the human need for companionship, even when one of the characters is something less than human.
A Man for All Seasons (1966). The sixties were an odd time for the Oscars, as exemplified by the beautifully produced but stodgy A Man for All Seasons taking the Best Picture statuette over Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (to be fair, the other three nominees were pretty iffy). A historical drama about Thomas More’s persecution under Henry VIII’s fickle kingdom, this handsome production came off as similar to the contemporary The Lion in Winter but not nearly as soapy (or interesting). Paul Scofield gives a committed performance, alongside a cream of British talent that includes Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Susannah York and a young John Hurt. Orson Welles’ corpulent Cardinal Wolsey is probably the best character, however, and he’s gone in the first 30 minutes. The rest is a lot of inert, high-minded speechifying about staying true to one’s values, etc., best appreciated in high school history class. A shame, since I really wanted to like this.