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Tag Archives: Irene Dunne

Flick Clique: January 1-7

Apollo 18 (2011). A “found footage” look at what may have happened to the final Apollo moon landing mission in the early ’70s (hint: it involves interstellar crustaceans). The film follows three astronauts as they explore the moon’s surface in what was supposed to be a routine NASA mission. Soon they find evidence of an aborted Russian lunar landing, and then the mens’ real troubles begin. Much too contrived for my taste, and the methods the filmmakers used to make the footage look old came off as too artsy and deliberate (more like a music video than any real ’70s footage I’ve ever seen). Boring.
Cimarron (1931). Another Best Picture Oscar winner that I haven’t seen, and one I jumped at getting when the DVD edition turned up at Big Lots for three bucks! This was an all right, awfully creaky but enthralling Western saga about a family who journeys West during the Oklahoma land grab of the 1880s to settle in a town that literally grows right before our eyes. The cast is headed by blustery Richard Dix as a combo newspaper editor/lawyer named Yancey Cravat, with Irene Dunne as his supportive wife. This was based on a humungous Edna Ferber novel; like Ferber’s Giant it follows the story of family’s triumphs and tragedies from a past that many in the 1931 audience would have remembered right up until the present day. The direction is at time wondrous and stagy, and Dix’s acting style dates it (Dunne is only moderately better and miles away from her peak as a light comedienne). Still, I found it enjoyable in a campy way. The supporting cast is pretty good, including personal fave Edna May Oliver as the town’s clucking gossip. The finale, in which the townspeople gather to honor the now-elderly Dunne, is quite unintentionally funny. Keep in mind, however, that back in ’31 it must have been thrilling to see the massive changes that America underwent in such a short time, dramatized in the then-new medium of talking pictures.
Following (1998). This early, low-budget film from director Christopher Nolan is one of those things that we stumbled across amongst Netflix’s instant offerings. Shot in black and white and on a miniscule budget, Following is about a young British guy (Jeremy Theobald) who feels compelled to follow strangers around London hoping to get a peek into their lives. One of the people he follows catches on to his “hobby” and confronts him about it. The followed man turns out to be an arrogant petty thief named Cobb (Alex Haw), who eventually teaches the man how to break into peoples’ apartments without getting caught. One of the apartments they burgle belongs to an enigmatic blonde woman (Lucy Russell) whom the following man gets to know. Little does he know that it’s all part of a devious plan that Cobb (who already knew the woman) has set in place. Intriguing, Memento-ish film does a lot of interesting things on a tiny budget. It’s basically a student film with indie-level acting, but very well done and worth seeking out on Netflix.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011). Since this is Christopher’s first week of freedom after quitting his job, we celebrated by trucking down to the local cinema and seeing this lastest M:I entry. Although I’m still not much of a Tom Cruise fan, I have to admit that these Mission: Impossible movies keep getting better and better. The first one was okay if convoluted and too long, the second was something of a high tech Scooby Doo episode, but I was totally caught off guard by how exciting and fresh the J.J. Abrams-directed third installment was. Abrams still has a hand in this fourth one, only now the directing has been turned over to Brad Bird, the whiz behind The Incredibles. Was this Cruise’s idea? Because, wow, this is one tightly plotted, intricately done film. Bird seems very interested in depicting high-tech gadgetry that comes off as amazing, yet still plausible within this I.M.F. secret agent world. Cruise is back, of course, joined by a funny and adorable Simon Pegg from the previous installment. Rounding out the quartet of I.M.F. agents is Jeremy Renner as an accountant who proves to be much more kick-ass than he initially lets on (it seemed as though they’re grooming Renner to take Cruise’s place) and Paula Patton, who is a real find as a gorgeous yet intelligent agent who has revenge on her mind — the baddies’ hired assassin (Léa Seydoux) killed her agent boyfriend (Josh Holloway of Lost). There are some fun set pieces in Dubai and India, along with some clever plot twists that set the action forward in an interesting way. This is probably the best action film I’ve seen since Casino Royale (2006), or perhaps MI:3 (also 2006).
The Phantom of Hollywood (1974). This mostly forgotten TV movie was a recent purchase of mine from Warner Archive, which seems to be digging even deeper to bring its back catalog to made-to-order DVD. The film, about a menacing masked killer (played by Jack Cassidy) who stalks a crumbling old movie studio backlot which is about to be demolished, isn’t really much on the surface. There’s isn’t much of note from the cast, headed by Cassidy, Peter Lawford, Broderick Crawford and a few other oldsters. The story is also pretty bland and predictable. What’s amazing about this film is that MGM made it as a document of their Backlot 2, which really was in the process of being sold off and destroyed. Characters walk around the lot and describe the rusty building false fronts and what films they were in, which is really neat. There’s also a bit of sadness (and interest, in a train wreck way) when these historical structures are shown getting bulldozed down. That’s Hollywood for ya! Christopher got a great book about the MGM lot as a holiday gift; this film (as cheesy as it is) is a wonderful companion for that. Buy The Phantom Of Hollywood at Amazon here, and help a starving artist.
The T.A.M.I. Show (1964). As a confirmed ’60s music nut, I have been waiting for years to see this legendary concert film, a project that I’ve seen clips of but never the entire thing until its overdue DVD issue. The T.A.M.I. Show was filmed on a single night at the Santa Monica Auditorium to an audience of screaming kids and teens. They had every right to scream, too, since this one concert attracted every big pop music name at the time (minus The Beatles and Elvis!) – The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones, Lesley Gore, Smokey & The Miracles, and James Brown (who delivers the most sweaty, feverish performance of the set). The film is loads of fun, if only to check out where music was at this transitional time. Squeaky clean acts like hosts Jan & Dean were the hottest things going at the moment, but their time was fading fast to the more complex Rolling Stones (who look utterly young here) and the Motown sound. Speaking of Motown, I particularly dug Marvin Gaye’s set backed by L.A. girl group The Blossoms, and the Supremes’s set is an early gem with the ladies performing from what was by then only their second album! Not everything in this film is a winner (stiff Billy J. Kramer, where did they find him?), but by and large it was a blast from the past worth waiting for.

Weekly Mishmash: October 24-30

Art & Copy (Independent Lens, PBS). Intriguing documentary on the advertising industry, exploring various successful campaigns from the “creativity first” revolution of the ’60s through the media saturated landscape of today. This was kind of neat to watch (especially the clips from memorable old commercials), but frustrating as well. It only proves what I’ve known from my limited dealings with ad agency types — they’re a bunch of douchebags with inflated opinions of themselves. Awkwardly using an average-Joe billboard erector as a framing device, the filmmakers interview an impressive array of ad directors as they tell stories of their best known campaigns (Just Do It, Got Milk?, etc.). The film also displays statistics about things like how much money is spent annually on ads, and how many ads the average American sees in a day. They are merely stats, however, and the main issues of why we live in such an ad-saturated society are never adequately discussed. Mostly we see famous ad people crowing about their own achievements, which has the unintended result of making them look like prima donnas whose mothers complimented them on their crayon scribbles one too many times. Interesting subject, frustrating film.
His Private Secretary (1933). Poverty row comedy about a cocky rich kid who charms a minister’s daughter. By all means this is a routine film, chintzy and statically directed with little room for creativity. Its only distinctiveness lies in a young and unknown John Wayne headlining as the playboy. Despite the strange casting, he is very appealing — as is actress Evelyn Knapp as his sweetheart. Might be worth a peek for Wayne fans; I started losing interest in the story about halfway through this already slight (60 minutes) movie.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Inspired a rental after re-seeing the South Park episode in which Kyle, Stan and the other kids are traumatized after witnessing the rape of Indiana Jones by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. We both have to agree. What a load of overproduced, ludicrous crap this is. From the CGI gophers to the positioning of geeky Shia LeBouf as an action hero, this is one monumentally stupid decision after another. Not since Peter Jackson’s King Kong have I seen so much money thrown at the screen — and to what end? At least Kong had a solid story to fall back on, not so much this mishmash of aliens, Russian spies, and monumentally fake CGI set pieces. In its (tiny) defense, at least the film presents Harrison Ford/Indiana as a doddery old guy with some of the charm and appeal that made him an icon. I can get the comedy, but it’s used so often and so unsubtly (LeBouf swinging on vines, really?) that it throws off the tone of the entire film. The hyped return of Karen Allen’s Marion was a disappointment, with the character’s grinning la-di-da hippie disposition sharing little in common with the fiery Marion of old. Normally I love Cate Blanchett, but her villain has little gravity with a voice seemingly copied off Rocky and Bullwinkle‘s Natasha. The criticized “nuke the fridge” scene wasn’t so bad, but man oh man. What a crock.
poster_magobss35Magnificent Obsession (1935). Another film that I saw eons ago on the old American Movie Classics channel. I gave it another look after Criterion released it on DVD alongside Douglas Sirk’s better ’50s version. As far as soapy soaps go, this story is awfully preachy and doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the class/race dramas explored in Imitation of Life. It concerns newlywed Irene Dunne who returns from a cruise to find that her beloved surgeon husband has died of a heart attack. The machine that could have saved his life was used on a reckless young playboy (Robert Taylor) who tries to woo the nonplussed Dunne, then inadvertently causes her to go blind in an accident. In a flash, he becomes a Nobel prize winning brain surgeon for the sole reason of curing Dunne — under strict anonymity, of course. Only the best actors could make that hokum somewhat plausible; this version, although entertaining, fails on that level. I tend to like Irene Dunne better in comedic roles; here she has an extreme degree of haughtiness that even Norma Shearer couldn’t dream of attaining. Taylor is affable enough in the role that made him a ’30s matinee idol, but mostly I was distracted by his ginormous head and eye makeup. The characters’ behavior is also quite annoying; you might need an extra shoe to throw at the judgmental supporting characters played by Sara Haden and Betty Furness. Not much was changed for the ’53 remake with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, but at least that film has director Douglas Sirk’s visual elan to recommend it. Not so for the original. Incidentally, actress Joyce Compton supposedly has a bit part as a nurse (according to her IMDb listing, anyhow). She is actually not in the film.
The Outside Man (1973). Gritty little ’70s actioner with an odd cast that includes Ann-Margret, Angie Dickinson, Roy Scheider and The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s lovable ditz, Georgia Engel. In a unique France-meets-U.S. scenario, Jean Louis Trintignant plays a contract assassin sent to kill a crime kingpin in sunny, decadent Los Angeles. Something goes awry, however, and instead Tintignant finds himself on the run from another killer (Scheider, quiet and menacing). He gets help from a blowsy friend of a friend (Ann-Margret), but when when the time comes to depart he can’t find himself leaving loose ends behind. This was a flawed but very interesting and watchable time capsule that reminded me in places of The Long Goodbye. As in Goodbye, we got a kick out of the varied ’70s L.A. locales and the sun-baked noir mood certainly comes into play in both. This film never quite jells, however, despite quirky touches like Engel’s daffy, publicity hungry housewife (with Jackie Earle Haley as her son, no less). Oddly enough, she’s the best thing in the movie!
The Thing Called Love (1993). Genial, somewhat routine romantic comedy about a group of young aspiring songwriters/performers trying to make sense of their careers and relationships in Nashville, Tennessee. This was directed by Peter Bogdonavitch, whose films tend to be either pretty good or horrible, with a cast that included River Phoenix in one of his final roles and Sandra Bullock shortly before she attained A-list status. Samantha Mathis is a decent enough lead, but she can’t sing (realistic at first, ludicrous for the finale) and doesn’t have the right “country” tone for the part. I could say the same for Phoenix, who comes across as sulky and not quite the magnetic, misunderstood soul the film makes him out to be. Ironically, it is Sandra Bullock who fares the best as a pretty wannabe country music star who, deep in her heart, knows she’s merely pageant contestant material. She has the sweet authenticity that the leads lack. Iffy casting aside, I found this a sweetly watchable film.