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Tag Archives: Joe E. Brown

Flick Clique: March 4-10

Bits ‘n pieces on the films I watched the week before: Anastasia (1956; *** of five), seen just before Netflix streaming dropped it, plushly produced, moribund, talky, liked Ingrid, loved Helen Hayes. Classe Tous Risques (1960; ****), absorbing French film noir, gritty, realistic. Bag It (2010; ****), good documentary with a smug protagonist, my DVD Talk review goes into it a whole lot more.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). For our new blu-ray player, I wanted to get something special to try it out. I ended up buying Criterion’s The Curious Case of Bemjamin Button for several reasons: I like David Fincher’s films, and this particular one I haven’t yet seen; it was the only used Criterion blu at our local used CD/DVD/everything else store; it had a ton of interesting-looking extras; what better way to break in the blu than a recent, gorgeously photographed (but somewhat flawed) film? Even though it was long and overproduced, I ended up being absorbed by this unwieldy beast of a film. I think what makes it work is Fincher’s attention to detail, and he does wring out some excellent work from Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson. The aging effects makeup varies wildly from obvious to subtle, and the CGI with an elderly-looking Pitt’s face plastered on small, hobbled bodies is still pretty amazing. Overall, the film is more a series of vignettes than a cohesive whole, with some parts working beautifully although not quite fitting in (the backwards clock saga) and others seeming stagy and overwrought – like the framing scenes with a dying Cate dealing with adult daughter Julia Ormond in a hospital as a hurricane approaches. These scenes came across like little more than a classy version of The Notebook, but where The Notebook is a trashy little paperback whose cover sports raised gold lettering, Benjamin is a two-ton coffee table book chockablock full of visually resplendent images. I’m glad I got this, and the making-of stuff is even more fascinating than the final product.
Fresh (2009). Workmanlike documentary is something of an adjunct to the better-made Food, Inc. Whereas Food, Inc. explores the commodification of America’s agriculture and the shocking ways our food is processed, packaged, subsidized and consumed, Fresh turns a more optimistic eye towards organic farming and the ways in which the enterprising few are bucking the system. I though it was pretty good, with some rather sad footage of industrial farms contrasted with more bucolic chickens, cows, etc. enjoying themselves. Although it’s a noble enterprise, certain parts feel second-hand (re-employing several of Food, Inc.‘s talking heads) and despite its short length it feels padded out. I will have a more comprehensive review posted at DVD Talk this week.
Invictus (2009). Put this on my Netflix queue eons ago because — we saw the giant-sized poster in Burbank? Or perhaps I wanted to see Matt Damon bulked-up and wearing short shorts? Whatever the reason, we sat through this cliché-ridden living history/inspirational sports story this weekend. I tend to run hot and cold with the Clint Eastwood films. Some of the stuff he’s directed has been absorbing although strangely clinical (Changeling), or beautifully mounted and kinda ponderous (Letters from Iwo Jima). Invictus is probably the worst Clint flick I’ve seen. In telling the story of Nelson Mandela’s efforts to boost South Africa’s national morale by gently guiding the country’s rugby team (coached by a befuddled-looking Damon) to victory, it labors to be both a historic narrative and a rousing sports flick and fails on both counts. He gets some decent performances from Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon; the main problem is a dull script filled with shallowly defined characters (racist bodyguards, petulant rugby players, etc.) and interminable game scenes that are a cipher to anyone who doesn’t know rugby. As far as I can tell, rugby is a sexy, manly sport — certainly someone could make a good movie out of that (including locker room/shower footage).
Riding on Air (1937). Immediately after finishing Benjamin Button, I was yearning for something light, fun and old – so I dug out this hoary RKO b-flick from my cheapo public domain comedies DVD set. Riding on Air was one of the first films the athletic, cavern-mouthed Joe E. Brown did after concluding his stretch as a top Warner Bros. comedy star. Here, Brown plays Elmer Lane, a small town newspaper editor/amateur aviator whose (somewhat obnoxious) pursuit of the latest scoop lands him in trouble with bootlegging criminals. Rather dumb, forgettable film with an inscrutable plot. In his Warner comedies, I always found Brown enjoyable in a goofy way (Alibi Ike is perhaps the best); this film demonstrates what a difference good scripts and a competent production make. Leading lady Florence Rice is pleasant, otherwise this is recommended only for Joe E. Brown fanatics (are there any?).
Summer Hours (2008). Gently paced slice-of-life familial drama of an aged French woman (Edith Scob) who regularly invites her grown children and their offspring for gatherings at the country estate owned by her late uncle, a famous artist. Having just celebrated her 75th birthday, she gets together with her eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling) to talk about how to deal with her estate and the valuable art/furniture it holds after she passes on. Frédéric begs off the discussion. When the woman subsequently dies, Frédéric is committed to keeping the collection and estate in the family. His decidedly less sentimental siblings Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) have a more realistic outlook, however, which ultimately prevails. Subtle, nicely acted film. This isn’t a film where a lot of exciting stuff happens (Frédéric’s daughter getting busted for pot possession is probably the most drama-filled moment), but it does deal sensitively and realistically with what likely happens in a lot of families. It’s also a great film about the beauty of objects and the perceptions that they hold – this is nicely illustrated in the scene where the old woman’s longtime housekeeper decides to keep one humble memento of her employer – a hand-blown glass vase which, unbeknownst to her, is a valuable antique.