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Tag Archives: Joan Fontaine

Flick Clique: May 13-19

Battle Royale (2000). The success of The Hunger Games has renewed interest in this controversial Japanese film with a storyline that closely parallels the adventures of Katniss and Peeta. Actually, lots of people must be interested in this – after months of sitting on top of my Netflix queue with the dreaded “Very Long Wait,” I finally decided to check with our local library (which stocks lots of foreign films) to see if they had a copy to check out. Turns out they had four copies in the stacks. Although they were all checked out at the time, I placed a hold and one of them became available within a day or two. Battle Royale takes place in a sensation-starved near-future Japan in which a class of 42 teens are randomly selected to engage in a three-day, nationally televised “battle royale” in which they are placed on a deserted island to kill each other until one survivor is crowned. The kids have a few rules to adhere to (danger zones and potentially lethal electronic collars keep them tracked and on their toes), but are generally set free to fend for themselves with backpacks containing a map and a few supplies. The film is somewhat overdone and its second half pales next to the exciting beginning, but I dug seeing how it played out among the students. Some die accidentally, some commit suicide, most are murdered by the few students who already had killer tendencies. A Japanese friend of ours recently saw Hunger Games and found it to be a convenient Battle Royale rip-off. The two films are different, but their similarities are too striking to ignore. Good performances here by Tatsuya Fujiwara (Death Note) and actor-Japanese TV host Takeshi Kitano (playing the kids’ coach/evil show orchestrator).
The Lawless (1950). Effective MacDonald Carey/Gail Russel b-melodrama of racial strife in a small California town. This was another underrated vintage Paramount production that’s getting the DVD reissue treatment from Olive Films. My complete review of the disc was just published at DVD Talk here – check it out, please and thank you!
The Lost World (1960). Last Christmas, I got Christopher a four-pack DVD set of 20th Century Fox special effects blockbusters as a gift. We watched two of them over this past week, both Irwin Allen widescreen extravaganzas from the early ’60s. His version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic humans-meet-dinosaurs opus The Lost World is the more definite turkey of the two. Granted, the story had a lot of potential in being updated to the campy, colorful ’60s. Allen, however, decided to stick it on the island the entire time (no dino rampaging through present-day London, darn it) with a host of annoying, shallowly drawn characters. Most disappointing of all are the dinosaurs themselves – kimodo dragons, iguanas and baby alligators outfitted with tiny prosthetics. Boring! The stop-motion dinosaurs from the silent version were much more terrifying, and that was thirty-plus years prior to this. Most of the cast (Claude Rains, Michael Rennie, Fernando Lamas) are annoying, although special mention must be made for the character of Jennifer Holmes as played by Jill St. John, a dipsy heiress who is poised as the combo Ginger Grant/Lovey Howell among these castaways. St. John always seemed like a pretty intelligent actress and she looks stunning here, but her character was beyond ridiculous. Happily, her career has recovered from this demeaning start.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961). Flick #2 in our Irwin Allen extravaganza is this submarine opus which was later adapted into a TV series lasting a few seasons. Like The Lost World, this one also sports a ridiculous and campy story (about Earth facing extinction by burning to death, with Walter Pidgeon and his crew racing to save humanity aboard his futuristic sub, the Seaview). Unlike The Lost World, however, it’s watchable and kind of fun at times, playing a bit like a melodramatic version of Disneyland’s old-school Submarine Voyage attraction (I only wish there were scenes where they encounter mermaids and a sea serpent). There’s still a lot of unanswered burning questions, like how does Barbara Eden function as the only woman on a ship full of horny men without getting assaulted on a daily basis? And why did Robert Sterling’s captain escape death with his hand dipped into the pool containing the ravenous shark that just devoured Joan Fontaine (spoiler, sorry!)? I think you just have to turn off your brain and enjoy escapist crap like this.

Weekly Mishmash: July 11-17

poster_coltisA Colt Is My Passport (1967). Part of Criterion Eclipse’s acclaimed “Nikkatsu Noir,” a DVD set exploring director Takashi Nomura’s low budget action thrillers from the ’60s. A Colt Is My Passport stars the reliable, chipmunk cheeked actor Jo Shishido as a hit man who kills a mob boss. With his partner, the man hides out in a sleepy shipping port in order to make a hasty escape. Stung by the tragedy, the son of the victim comes to Shishido’s boss and makes a cash offer to have the man killed. With men coming after him, Shishido then plots an elaborate revenge. All told, not the greatest or most original story, but there are enough interesting elements to recommend it. First off is the strange score, seemingly inspired by spaghetti Westerns and Herb Alpert-ish American pop music. In the beginning there are a lot of cool camera angles involving the modern architecture’s boxy, harsh lines — then the film moves to the seedy hotel locale and gets somewhat dull. The film’s exciting climax, staged in a dusty field, redeems things somewhat. Worth a peek if you like unconventional ’60s Japanese movies (and really, who doesn’t?).
Criss Cross (1949). Another noir, closer to home but no less odd. The virile Burt Lancaster heads up Criss Cross as a man harboring an obsession with ex-wife Yvonne De Carlo, now linked with sleazeball gangster Dan Duryea. Told mostly in flashback, the film details Lancaster’s and De Carlo’s attempts to rekindle their flame on the sly as Duryea executes a tricky bank truck heist. A rather standard story gets illuminated by great casting (especially Duryea, doing the kind of reprehensible men he does best) and some excellently photographed shots of 1949 Los Angeles (Angels Flight! Bunker Hill! Union Station!). Yvonne De Carlo was really fascinating to watch — I don’t think she’s the greatest actress, but there’s something watchable about her here and apparently the director agrees, lavishing long takes on her while the actress is dancing in a seedy joint with an uncredited Tony Curtis. She’s one hot tomato, that Yvonne De Carlo.
Eurythmics — Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). I originally signed up on eMusic to get the 2005 reissues of the (personal fave band of the ’80s) Eurythmics’ catalog. The CD editions of these albums are so neatly packaged, however, that I decided to go with the tried and true plastic disc format. The liner notes for Sweet Dreams reveals an interesting story — by the time the LP came out in January 1983, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox already released a flop album (In the Garden) and two underperforming singles (“This Is The House” and “The Walk”) to an indifferent world. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this album has an overall tone of resignation and icy reserve. In the Garden was a muddled, vaguely psychedelic mess with Lennox’s vocals buried too deep in the mix; with Sweet Dreams one could sense that they hit upon the simple equation of Soulful Diva Vocals + Chilly Electronics as the definitive Eurythmics sound. It’s a beautifully produced, hypnotic record, a bit repetitive at times, but sustaining a wonderful Euro-sleazy mood. The bonus tracks, mostly b-sides of the era, are lots of fun. I especially liked the 1991 remixes of “Sweet Dreams” and “Love Is A Stranger” and a brilliant cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” which sounds more like a Be Yourself Tonight-era outtake.
Four Jacks and a Jill (1943). Wartime musical trifle was the last viewing from my personal Anne Shirley film fest. Honestly, I saw this five days ago and barely remember it; the plot revolves around Shirley as a waif who is somehow adopted by a quartet of musicians led by rubber-limbed Ray Bolger. I vaguely recall gangsters and a prince disguised as a taxi driver (played by a young Desi Arnaz) running around, too. Your enjoyment of this film probably depends on how much you can accept forgettable tunes and the goofy Bolger as a leading man. Shirley is cute as always, and seeing Arnaz as a capable comic actor so early in his career was a nice surprise.
dvd_thirty1stthirtysomething: The Complete First Season. I was excited to see thirtysomething finally arrive on DVD. Although I was eighteen-something and working a night job when it premiered in 1987, I would try and watch the show whenever possible (especially the later seasons with Miles Drentell, Melissa’s gay friend, Nancy’s cancer, etc). Something about the way the characters naturally interacted with each other struck a chord; the characters tended towards the whiny and self-centered, sure, but aren’t we all somewhat like that? Watching this first season was an interesting experience. I don’t remember the show being so strongly centered on its “perfect” couple Michael (Ken Olin) and Hope (Mel Harris) at the beginning. These early episodes epitomize what the haters disliked about the show, with the characters less developed and at their most ’80s yuppie-ish. It quickly hits a stride by the time Elliot (Timothy Busfield) and Nancy (Patricia Wettig) separate at mid-season, however. It’s a hoot revisiting characters and episodes I barely remember. One of my favorite scenes here is the one in the pilot episode where Hope and Polly Draper’s Ellyn meet for lunch in a restaurant, only to have it cut short by Hope’s screaming baby. The two women have this implicit realization that a part of their friendship was severed because one married and had a kid, something that happens with every thirtysomething. I also identified with terminally single Melissa (Melanie Mayron) and her status as the group’s artsy pal; in one of the later seasons she said something to the effect of “being single means learning how to go to the movies alone and not feeling like a leper.” Totally, Melissa, totally. Going back to seasons 2-4 oughta be a blast.
This Above All (1942). Stirring romance with a WWII British backdrop plays like 20th Century Fox’s own Mrs. Miniver. Christopher found it hokey and stupid, I enjoyed it. Lovely Joan Fontaine plays a British blue-blood who upsets her family by joining the UK version of the WACs; she meets cute with Tyrone Power as a morose soldier on the run for desertion. The two take refuge in various inns while discussing their lives and the war in florid, important sounding language that could only have come from a best selling novel of the era. Excellent performances from both leads, as well as Thomas Mitchell as Power’s affable best bud. As an actor Fontaine tends to be either touching and meek or annoyingly prissy; here she’s a little bit of both (one can safely take a bathroom break during her “we must preserve England” speech). Power is surprisingly good despite having no trace of a British accent. Both work splendidly together and I completely believed in the couple’s starry-eyed sincerity amongst the bomb blasts.

Weekly Mishmash: April 4-10

Breakin’ (1984). This breakdance opus, a product of the über-’80s cheese factory Cannon Films, was the other netting of our free Showtime weekend. Strangely enough, this and Superhero Movie both star Christopher McDonald, seen here twenty-plus years younger and several pounds thinner as a Hollywood agent with a special interest in a comely dancer (Lucinda Dickey) and her two streetwise, popping and locking buddies (Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones and Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers). OK, this is one crappily made movie bubbling over with scenes that stretch the credibility of even the showbiz la-la land it’s presenting, but as a period piece it’s fascinating stuff. The great soundtrack of high ’80s electro-funk almost made me forget how stilted the acting was. Almost. Seeing this sorta makes me wish that Turner Classic Movies would do a Cannon/Golan & Globus retrospective. Yeah, dream on.

An Education (2009). The first of what turned out to be two films centering around foolish women blinded by love. In An Education, Carey Mulligan’s preternaturally smart London teenager falls for an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) who introduces her to a world of sophistication she’d previously only dreamed of. More than anything else, this film triumphs in recreating the society and atmosphere of 1961 London. Nick Hornby’s sharp screenplay really underscores that the only options for young women back then were to either marry young or study laboriously for a career and spinsterhood. Mulligan was very good, Sarsgaard couldn’t quite get a Brit accent right, and the gorgeous duo of Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike couldn’t be more perfectly cast as (respectively) the business partner of the Sarsgaard character and his dim but glamorous girlfriend.
poster_letterwomanLetter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Here it is, one of those lost classics I’ve been wanting to see for twenty years. I was so excited to see it on the TCM schedule this month, and I must have not been alone since Robert Osborn noted in his intro that it was the most requested film from TCM viewers. Despite having a plotline that looks annoyingly quaint and un-p.c. on paper, this is one of the great romantic films of all time. In her best performance, Joan Fontaine plays a meek woman who falls for a composer (Louis Jordan) in circa 1900 Vienna. As the years go by, what was a forgotten fling for him becomes a consuming passion for her. Fontaine’s weird passivity and stalkerish behavior might be worthy of a good slap if the film didn’t treat the character with utmost nobility. Indeed, the woman has courage in her convictions and she winds up more admirable than the shallow Jordan. Mostly what I loved about this movie was the dreamy and gorgeously photographed atmosphere conjured up by director Max Ophuls (whose acclaimed European films La Ronde and Lola Montes I found insufferably twee) working on one of his few U.S. studio projects. Some scenes, such as when Fontaine and Jordan discuss their most cherished memories on a fake train, are so impeccably staged that one could get lost in them.
album_lauranyroLaura Nyro & LaBelle — Gonna Take A Miracle. My last eMusic album of the month was this 1971 collaboration that’s like an organic melding of soul and singer-songwriting. Laura Nyro’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but this set of covers with funky girl trio LaBelle and Philly soul producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff is an ingratiating listen. Hearing the album is like sitting in on a casual afternoon jam session with lots of finger popping and harmonizing voices. Nyro approaches the material nostalgically, even if the songs aren’t that old (one, “The Bells” by the Originals, hadn’t even been out a year by the time Nyro got to it). With the exception of a shrill and repetitive “Nowhere To Run,” this is an excellent listen.
The Savages (2007). Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as pseudo-intellectual siblings attempting to cope with their ailing father. This film takes on a weird, cartoony tone in its first few scenes, portraying Sun City, Arizona as an oblivious suburb straight out of Edward Scissorhands (it isn’t really that way, although the streets full of pebbled lawns are really something to see). When the scenery shifts to a wintery upstate New York, however, the film takes off with quality performances by the two leads. Elder care isn’t addressed very often in movies, and here it’s addressed with realism and biting humor. Good film.