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Tag Archives: George Raft

Flick Clique: July 17-23

The Adjustment Bureau (2011). Fair, muddled film is something of a romance with sci-fi backdrop. Matt Damon plays a senate candidate whose meet-cute run in with dancer Emily Blunt upsets the natural order of control as monitored by teams of mysterious, grey-suited men who are set up by a Supreme Being to keep humans from doing anything spontaneous — like, you know, creating the Renaissance or something. This was an interesting movie from a conceptual standpoint, but you have to wonder why the screenwriter picked water as the grey-suited mens’ Achilles Heel (a random weakness, no?). Damon and Blunt have a nice rapport together, but their flirting dialogue is so cutesy you could be forgiven for thinking this is a Chick Flick. I enjoyed John Slattery and Anthony Mackie as the main bureau members. The many cameos by politicians and newscasters seemed unnecessary and random, however, and the filmmakers’ apparent determination to show every single glamorous corner of Manhattan didn’t work in the film’s favor. (there’s location shooting, setting up a local flavor, and then there’s pure travelogue). Topping it off is a climactic chase sequence that winds up being the opposite of suspenseful. It has the parts of being an interesting flick and (at the very least) pleasing time-waster. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t get too excited about most recent Hollywood flicks — this is no exception. Sorry.
Barcelona (1994). Last, and least, of my little Whit Stillman viewing party. For Barcelona, Stillman recruited Metropolitan actors Taylor Nichols and Chris Eigeman to enact his script of two Americans in (yep) Barcelona, Spain. Stuffy Ted (Nichols) is a salesman who decides to settle on dating only homely women, while his cousin Fred (Eigeman) is a Navy officer whose snobbish personality aggravates the corruptive, Anti-American sentiment amongst the locals. The film mostly consists of the two sparring against each other while walking the picturesque streets (admittedly, the scenery is gorgeous) and comparing notes on the two women who entered their circle, played by Tushka Bergen and Mira Sorvino. Stillman’s dialogue is smart and fascinating, but the film never really gelled for me. The story is rather ho-hum, even when it takes a dramatic turn. The biggest disappointment are the two lead actors, both of whose lack of skill and charisma make their characters into insufferable boors. Better performers might have made the men seem more sympathetic, but these two weren’t up to the challenge. They seemed so dull and stiff (I guess the fact that they were part of an ensemble in Metropolitain worked better in their favor). Strangely enough, I prefer the derided Last Days of Disco to this one.
Farewell My Concubine (1993). Caught this long, intense yet worthwhile Chinese epic on Netflix streaming. Farewell My Concubine opens in what appears to be an orphanage in 1920s China where dozens of boys are put through rigorous training. The boys are being readied to play parts in elaborate productions by the Beijing Opera, with the best of them having the opportunity to escape the drudgery and become local celebrities. The film focuses on two kids in particular as they gain skills and grow up into adults played by Leslie Cheung and Chun Li. This has a wonderful turn by Hong Kong fave Cheung, playing a delicate man who excels in the role of the opera’s herione. Actually, the entire cast is good, including Gong Li as the headstrong prostitute whom Chun Li takes as his bride. The film covers fifty years in Chinese history, rather smoothly and with the kind of lush photography you’d expect from a production of this magnitude. I was captivated by the many scenes with the opera, a flowery tale of a young girl and a warrior, playing onstage. It seemed like a completely different world, and yet it was only a few decades ago. The arrival of the Communists as the film progresses is bittersweet, since one senses a way of life disappearing.
Invisible Stripes (1939). The fate of ex-convicts and the temptation of crime drives this otherwise unexceptional Warner Bros. flick starring the stone-faced but strangely hypnotic George Raft. Raft plays Cliff Taylor, an earnest ex-con who wants to set a good example for his younger brother, William Holden. Fellow con Humphrey Bogart wants Raft to join his underworld gang, a lure to which Raft succumbs despite his better judgment. Holden is tempted, too, but Raft and their ma (good but miscast Flora Robson) strive to keep him clean and eventually attain his dream of running his own auto garage. Typical WB fare of the era, although Raft’s many speeches delivered with only the mouth/jaw muscles moving make this at least somewhat novel. I watched this and the DVD commentary for Kid Galahad (1937) at about the same time and was struck by the similarities, including Bogart as the gangster and Jane Bryan in the ingenue role. Although I prefer the latter by far (you can’t go wrong with Eddie Robinson and Bette Davis!), Invisible Stripes was a lot of fast-paced fun.
The Stepfather (1986). I first heard about this flick in Danny Peary’s Alternate Oscars book from the early ’90s. In assessing the best male lead performances of 1986, Peary went out on a limb and picked the then-obscure Terry O’Quinn as giving an Oscar nominee-worthy turn in this low budget thriller about an otherwise regular guy with a hidden, killer instinct. That really intrigued me. O’Quinn has since gone on to play the devious John Locke on Lost, of course. Although dated in certain ways, The Stepfather really is worth checking out — if only for O’Quinn’s intense work. He plays a guy who murders his entire family, then takes refuge under a different identity in a small Washington town. He is ready to start fresh with new wife Shelly Hack, but teen stepdaughter Jill Schoelen’s suspicions have him worried. She starts her own investigation into the man’s past as a relative of the earlier victims (Stephen Shellen) goes on a separate one-man crusade to track down the killer. Surprisingly well-done, intense without being too gory, scary in all the right spots. Oh, and O’Quinn is amazing. This was filmed in Canada, substituting for Washington, with an calm, autumnal palette that effectively conveys the calm façade covering O’Quinn’s terrifying inner beast.
Unknown (2011). Another Recent Hollywood Flick that I couldn’t bring myself to get too excited about, although Unknown fared better than Adjustment Bureau. This is the film with Liam Neeson as a scientist who travels to Berlin with wife January Jones to attend a high-profile conference. He leaves an important briefcase at the airport, however, and in retrieving it ends up in an auto accident that leaves him in a coma for several days. Upon awakening, he finds his identity erased and another man (Aidan Quinn) taking his place with Jones going along with the charade. A retired German investigator (Bruno Ganz) and the cab driver (Diane Kruger) who saved his life are needed to help Neeson uncover the conspiracy. This was pretty okay, if padded out with an unnecessary car chase and several fistfights that drag. The performances and behind-the-scenes work pass muster, with Kruger’s comely Slavic cab driver faring most positively. Neeson seemed tired, however, and it’s odd seeing his otherwise placid doctor turn into a he-man action hero. I like January Jones on Mad Men, but here she seemed plain. On the Recent Hollywood Krep-O-Meter, I’d give it a 5 (out of 10).

Weekly Mishmash: May 2-8

Enchanted (2007). Disney’s self-mocking princess story was pretty much what I expected — entertaining and clever in spots, but too toothless to be truly effective satire. Amy Adams is perfectly cast as Giselle, a princess from a mythical animated kingdom who is banished by her jealous queen (Susan Sarandon) to the unforgivable streets of a live action New York City. Adams’ guileless performance, seemingly influenced by Snow White, is delightful and totally spot-on. I also enjoyed the meticulously crafted animated segments early on, but as the movie progressed the letdowns accumulated. For one, I thought there were too many characters. Having Giselle meet cute with McDreamy widower Patrick Dempsey was the first of many pat and predictable twists to come. By the arrival of a chaotic climax underscored with a friggin’ Carrie Underwood tune, I tuned out. Final verdict: too Disney, too Rom Com, too mainstream. The film would have been so much more effective had it stuck with a simple “princess in another world” theme.
poster_houseacrossThe House Across the Bay (1940). Turner Classic Movies recently did a night full of films starring the impenetrable George Raft, including this San Francisco-set drama co-starring Joan Bennett. Raft plays a gangster (of course) who falls for and marries nightclub singer Bennett. He is shipped to Alcatraz and Bennett plays the faithful wife until Walter Pidgeon enters the picture. Decent stuff, nothing spectacular. This was an independent production by Bennett’s then-husband Walter Wanger, a fact that becomes evident once the impeccably lit, made up and gowned Bennett walks into the camera frame (the lady even looks elegant while serenading a chihuahua!). The film unravels somewhat predictably until the always watchable Gladys George comes in as a peppery prison wife.
Tokyo Sonata (2008). Interesting at times, mostly preposterous Japanese family drama about a man who deals with his sudden unemployment by pretending he was never laid off. To keep up appearances with his unsuspecting family, he spends his days at a downtown Tokyo park amongst the homeless and other men in the same situation. This has some effective scenes (mostly involving the family’s youngest son and his fascination with a pretty piano teacher), but as it slowly moves along it becomes progressively more strange. I know the Japanese are well known for emotional restraint and preserving honor amongst blood relatives, but this movie takes that concept to such extremes I almost wonder if it’s supposed to be a parody.
The Unknown Woman (2006). Fun, over-the-top foreign suspenser about a Ukranian woman (Xenia Rappoport) who moves to Italy to escape her sordid past as a prostitute. She worms her way into the lives of an affluent family by becoming the nanny to a young girl with whom she has vague ties, a setup that starts working in her favor until her nasty-ass pimp shows up. This movie was so overproduced and unsubtle (in an entertaining way) that it’s hard to believe it comes from the same guy who directed Cinema Paradiso. It plays like a Euro-centric spin on all those Brian De Palma guilty pleasure thrillers from the ’80s, complete with overly dramatic acting, camerawork and score (from Ennio Morricone, of all people). Recommended if you like that sort of thing.