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Tag Archives: George Clooney

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.

Weekly Mishmash: April 11-17

Cradle Will Rock (1999). Tim Robbins’ chaotic yet timely film chronicles the staging of the most notorious play produced by the WPA in the 1930s, Marc Blitzstein’s union-friendly musical Cradle Will Rock. We saw this in the theater when it was originally released and it still holds up. It’s interesting to revisit it during this quasi-Depression time and note how familiar the anti-socialist hysteria portrayed here is. I don’t think this is a perfect film; it’s too wide-ranging in scope and Robbins succumbs all too often to the “keep the camera moving” bug that also afflicted Stephen Fry when he did Bright Young Things. Some scenes are excellently staged and acted, while others are done in an offhand, parodic manner which makes me wonder how historically accurate everything is. Among the huge cast, the only true villains are Bill Murray’s cracked vaudevillian and the uppity case worker played by Joan Cusack. Generally I liked the cast, except perhaps Susan Sarandon hamming it up as a flamboyant Italian diplomat. My favorite was Cherry Jones as Hallie Flanagan, the headstrong manager of the WPA’s theatre division. She completely rocks, and has a beautiful speaking voice to boot (I kept thinking she’d be so much better than Oprah at narrating the nature documentary series Life).
Hollywood and Vine (1945). Another offering in our “cheapie public domain comedies of yore” series! Hollywood and Vine was another cruddy yet genial and fast-paced production from P.R.C. In it, aspiring actress Wanda McKay meets screenwriter James Ellison on her way to Hollywood. She brushes the amorous gent off, but eventually relents when the two end up rooming in the same apartment complex. The pair also become parents to a talented mutt (Daisy, best known as the family pup from the Blondie movies) who becomes a canine movie star. Yep, this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense, and the best celebrity cameo they could come up with was the fake Russian prince who ran Hollywood eatery Romanoff’s. McKay and Ellison are both unbelievably bland actors with zero screen presence, but at least we have the reliable Franklin Pangborn on hand as a soda jerk. Typical of this film’s flights of fancy is the scene where Ellison persuades McKay’s character from dismissive to “I’m giving it all up to marry you and have lotsa babies” in thirty seconds flat.
poster_winnethepoohThe Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). I know I must have seen this movie when it originally came out, but even so this compilation of the first three Disney Winnie the Pooh shorts is so awash in lyrical, pastel-colored charm that one can’t help but feel a nostalgic pang with it. These films date from 1966-74, the last gasp of classic old guard Disney animation. The stories are silly, leisurely paced and Disneyfied to a fault, but I love the way they incorporated the A. A. Milne book itself into the action, such as when a rush of water washes the words off the page. This DVD included a bonus Pooh short from 1983, which was as plodding and charmless as the trio in this film were magical. It just goes to prove that when they had it, they really had it.
Michael Clayton (2007). I had to chuckle when I read the Netflix reviews on this complaining that it was too talky and boring. Fact is, this was an excellent legal thriller with an absorbing story played by a cast at the top of their game (including Tilda Swinton, somewhat Jodie Fosterish as a dangerously ambitious careerist). The hard to please Christopher actually ranks this and Departures as the two best movies we’ve seen this year.
game_wordjongWord Jong Party. We’re not huge gamers around here, unless you count the pre-Facebook edition of Scrabble. We do, however, enjoy some of the less threatening stuff on the Wii — such as the farming sim Harvest Moon: Tree Of Tranquility. In that game, the most harmful thing you can do is piss somebody off by gifting them with a stinky hunk of algae fished out of the ocean. Lately we’ve been enjoying Word Jong Party, which is basically maj-jongg played with lettered tiles. You advance through the game by making words, the longer the better. Completely harmless and fun, and a bit easy for us Scrabble vets, but the graphics are cute and each day brings a brand new puzzle to enjoy.