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Tag Archives: Jean Harlow

Flick Clique: November 20-26

The selections in this week’s Flick Clique all date from Monday-Wednesday of last week. We were out of town most of the time since then, spending Thanksgiving at Redondo Beach, California with my parents. The folks, who live here locally in Arizona, have made turkey day a tradition at a cozy seafood market in Redondo for the past twenty years or so. Don’t ask me why they chose that particular place, but it was a funky experience cracking open freshly steamed crab with a bunch of Asian families sitting at tables around us. We were joined by my aunt and her husband and my cousin and her s.o. Friday was spent exploring nearby Hermosa beach (I bought some clothes at one of the local shops), while on Saturday we went down to San Diego to meet my longtime friend Ion, his wife, Yvette, and their young son Evan. After breakfast, we all went to the local swap meet out by San Diego’s old sports stadium. It was lots of fun, and I was so happy to finally meet Ion after emailing and trading lots of mixes with him over the years (hi guys!). What a nice finale to a jam-packed holiday weekend. Onward to the flicks:
Fail-Safe (1964). Dr. Strangelove is one of those classic movies whose appeal strangely eludes me. Despite all that, I put it on my Netflix queue, reshuffled to avoid it, then when it finally arrived Christopher says “You wanted to see that? Watch Fail-Safe instead.” I didn’t feel like giving up two-plus hours on Strangelove, so I returned it and added this celebrated Henry Fonda bomb-scare drama to the queue top instead. Having never seen that one, either, what did I have to lose? This intense, Sydney Lumet-directed drama probably lacked the social commentary of Strangelove but it was a fascinating film all the same. It effectively dramatizes the fears that Americans had of a nuclear invasion during those Bay of Pigs times. In the film, Fonda plays the president who, on a day when he’s set to do some routine U.N. talks, learns that a phalanx of American aircraft are (due to a complex misunderstanding) being sent to Russia, ready to strike. The film also has some great work by two unexpected actors: Walter Matthau as a nuclear weapons expert and Larry Hagman as the interpreter who works the tense negotiations between Fonda and the unseen Russian premier. The intensity builds into an unforgettable finale that threw me for a loop, honestly. Be like a heat-seeking missile and hunt for it.
Reckless (1934) and Riffraff (1935). The last two Jean Harlow films I watched for DVD Talk. Reckless was a bit of a mess, but I really enjoyed Riffraff. I remember seeing it years ago and thought it was flat and kind of dull, but this second viewing revealed the snappy dialogue and the nifty performances from Harlow and Spencer Tracy. My review of Warner Archive’s new box set is here. Hope you like!
Sarah’s Key (2010). This Holocaust drama is another DVD Talk project. I specifically asked for this one, since both of us love Kristen-Scott Thomas and the story looked intriguing. In another of her recent great French-language turns, Thomas plays a contemporary journalist who is doing a magazine story on the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in 1942 Paris, a notorious persecution of Jews by the French police which had faded into history. Eventually she uncovers a personal aspect to the tragedy when it is found that the apartment she’s occupying from her husband’s parents once belonged to a Jewish family that was relocated in the roundup. Beautifully filmed flashbacks illustrate the plight of the relocated family, the Starzynskis, as the daughter Sarah frantically tries to get back to the apartment to free her little brother who was locked in a secret compartment in the siblings’ bedroom. Good film, nicely performed with some very moving scenes involving the Sarah character (who ages into a guilt-ridden young woman). The film does have the Julie & Julia problem of the contemporary story not being as compelling as the historical story, but it does fare well due to the magnetic Thomas (yes, I believe I can watch her in just about anything). Warning: the ending is a mawkish Children Are Our Future sop that would be more at home in a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation.

Flick Clique: November 13-19

Bill Cunningham New York (2010). This recent documentary is one of the films whose DVD I am reviewing for DVD Talk. Bill Cunningham is a New York City photographer who has been doing the “On The Street” column in the New York Times for about 30 years now. The film follows Cunningham as the still energetic octogenarian bikes around Manhattan, furiously seeking out residents whose clothing catches his eye — be it socialite or some poor homeless woman. The energy and spontaneity of the photos is captured in the tight editing, aided by tons of samples and interviews with his often eccentric subjects. The filmmakers also spent a lot of time in Cunningham’s rent-controlled apartment in Carnegie Hall, and in the offices of the Times as the man fusses over one of his layouts with an exasperated (in a humorous way) page designer. This film had me grinning from ear to ear, mostly due to the ebullient personality of Cunningham himself. He seems like a pleasant fellow to be around, beloved by many. Eventually we learn that he’s also an enigma, choosing to live a modest existence with no significant other or family close by. The film briefly dips into Grey Gardens territory, when the director point blank asks him if he’s gay. It really isn’t relevant, however. By and large, the film hits its goal in getting the audience acquainted with a fabulous person whom most of us didn’t know about.
The Girl from Missouri (1934) and Personal Property (1937). More viewing from the Warner Archive Jean Harlow box set, with two films from very different periods in Miss Harlow’s short career. The Girl from Missouri is pre-Code fizz all the way, with Jean a delight as a gold-digging Midwestern girl whose dreams of finding a sugar daddy are thwarted by an unexpected death that implicated her and her best pal (equally delightful Patsy Kelly). This starts out as bubbly comedy, but then strangely u-turns into heavy, dramatic territory. Harlow proves to be good at both — hard to believe she was playing cheap hussies only a few years earlier. I can take or leave Franchot Tone as her ardent suitor, however. Personal Property was another glossy attempt on MGM’s part to shoehorn Harlow into more ladylike roles. In this one, she plays wealthy widow Crystal Wetherby, a woman who assists Robert Taylor’s Raymond Dabney, who has just gotten out of jail. Through a convoluted set of doings, Taylor ends up living at Harlow’s place and posing as her butler. The film is stagy and somewhat claustrophobic, but there are some bright moments. There’s a surprisingly free and easy chemistry between Harlow and Taylor (one of the few actors who started out loose and appealing, then grew stiff as the years went on). Mostly it was a big snooze, though.
Green Lantern (2011). Bloated, ridiculous superhero film (which is all that Hollywood can do anymore, apparently) is actually kinda fun once you peel away the hype. The film opens with a convoluted setup that would have all but the most devout comic nerds scratching their heads. From there it switches to trite earthbound storytelling with Ryan Reynolds as the hotshot pilot with daddy issues sparring against Blake Lively as his co-worker/semi-love interest. Like Thor, the film has a weird way of switching between the superhero world and the dramatic goings-on with the humans and never finds a comfortable groove. Reynolds is actually quite fresh and funny as the Lantern, striking the right goofy tone that this material needed. Too bad the script was so awful. There’s also the obligatory Birth of the Villain subplot with Peter Sarsgaard as a nerdy college professor who gets some meanie mojo in his blood stream and turns into Green Lantern’s oversized craniumed nemesis. Those scenes are broadly played to a laughable degree, and it gets worse when Sarsgaard deals with Angela Bassett as a scientist and Tim Robbins as a politician. All three actors are well-respected; I wonder what possessed them to agree to this tripe. My advice for the inevitable sequel is to hold on to Ryan Reynolds, ditch most of the CGI and the terrible, done-by-committee screenwriting.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009). We watched this on Netflix Instant, mostly to see what the hype was about with the source material. The Swedish filming of Stieg Larsson’s best seller comes on a bit poky paced and impenetrable at first, but overall I found it enjoyable. The plot revolves around a journalist (Michael Nyqvist), convicted and prison-bound, who is contacted by a powerful man (Sven-Bertil Taube) to help locate the man’s niece, a woman who mysteriously disappeared forty plus years earlier (around the same time she looked after the journalist as a boy). The journalist is also being followed by a pierced bisexual woman (Noomi Rapace), who has been hired by the journalist’s enemies to hack into his computer and track his every movement. She becomes drawn to the man and eventually works with him to solve the mystery. I enjoyed this film mostly because it never tried to shed its essential Swedish-ness. The stream was kinda disappointing (the picture was dark and semi-blurry), but aside from the poky intro I can see why the Larsson books became such a huge hit. I have little interest in the upcoming American version, but this film left me intrigued enough to check out the other Swedish Larsson adaptations.