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Tag Archives: Prince

Flick Clique: July 10-16

The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2010). Repellant film about a sick German doctor (Dieter Laser, typecast) who abducts two ditsy American tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) and an unwitting Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura) to form a human centipede with mouths surgically attached to anuses. Why? Because he can, by gum! The film mostly centers on the two women — seemingly taking glee in their escalating degradation and despair — and therein lies the main problem. It’s also rather low-budget and shoddily made, more of a one-joke gross-out indie than the intriguing, slick terror the original campaign promised. Even assuming such an experiment is possible, how are we to believe that a human can survive on eating poop (or, in the case of the back segment, pooped poop?)? The ending is an unsatisfying bummer in which every character makes baffling, head-scratching decisions. South Park did it better.
It’s Always Fair Weather (1955). One of the more underrated classic MGM musicals was this contemporary tale of war buddies Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd. Returning from Europe, the three pledge to meet at their favorite NYC bar in ten years time. Instead of being joyous, the reunion ends up a bittersweet affair in which all three men ruminate on how the others have changed. A bummer of a plotline (which helps explain why the film failed in its initial release), but the Betty Comden and Adolphe Green numbers are dazzling and beautifully directed by Stanley Donen and Kelly (who apparently clashed mightily during production). There are also some gutsy jabs at television and mass media, as seen in the clip below with the faboo Dolores Gray playing a smarmy TV hostess. Gray’s sequences are a highlight, along with the ebullient and underused Michael Kidd. Both actors should have been bigger stars, although I award Kidd bonus points for playing the jaded choreographer to a bunch of teen beauty pageant contestants in Smile, some 20 years later. Gene Kelly’s roller skating number is another high point, although when he’s not singing/dancing the actor looks strangely dour and preoccupied. Cyd Charisse as Kelly’s gal also delivers (especially opposite a bunch of dancing pugilists in the “Baby You Knock Me Out” number), although a harsh makeup job does her no favors. Despite my quibbles, it’s actually a fun flick — something I’d gladly turn to over the pretentious likes of Brigadoon or An American In Paris, anytime.

Nick of Time (1995). I rented this because the film was almost completely shot at downtown L.A.’s Westin Bonnaventure Hotel (and Union Station! See below). Despite having lots of implausible and/or dated elements, it’s a surprisingly involving little thriller. Johnny Depp plays a clean-cut accountant who is bizarrely roped into a plot to assassinate politico Marsha Mason. Ringleader Christopher Walken is determined to see it through by kidnapping Depp’s daughter, while the armed and non-dangerous Depp tramps through the groovy mezzanines and glass elevators at the Bonaventure trying to stop it. The plot, borrowing from noir classic D.O.A., is somewhat silly if you think too hard about it. Nice performances and direction swept us into it, however. Personally, I much prefer this period of Depp’s career over the stylized, Tim Burtonified track he’d later get into.
Purple Rain (1984). Purple Rain, the album, was a cherished soundtrack to my adolescence. I’ve never caught the film, however, until now. Prince is a musical genius, and the best thing about Purple Rain (film edition) is that the dynamic live performances serve a record of the Purple One at the peak of his powers. The story, however, is a patchouli-scented mess with horrible actors emoting their way through a cardboard script. Prince plays The Kid, a gifted musician attempting to wrangle a top spot for his group, The Revolution, at Minneapolis’ top nightclub. His main competition is arrogant Morris Day and his band, The Time, who is also chasing after the pretty singer (Appolonia Kotero) who attached herself as The Kid’s girlfriend seemingly minutes after arriving in town. The Kid also attempts to write songs at home as his parents (Clarence Williams III and Olga Karlatos) constantly fight — what’s a genius to do? Pretty bad, but watchable in a way. Morris Day and sidekick Jerome Benton deliver the only decent performances, likely since they add some needed lightness and levity to this otherwise dour flick. I will add that the cinematography and lighting are fantastic — crisp, atmospheric, very evocative of the ’80s.
Rusty Knife (1958). Another tasty B&W thriller from Criterion’s Nikkatsu Noir set (thought I’d seen them all; apparently this is the last one for me). Rusty Knife is slightly more convoluted plotwise than the others, following the fortunes of an earnest young man (Yûjirô Ishihara) who was one of three witnesses to the supposed suicide of a crime boss. The suicide turns out to be a murder, however. The witnesses become embroiled in both the local Yakuza and the police’s attempts to squash or reveal the killer’s identity. Competently made and interesting to watch (as with the other Nikkatsu Noirs) just to see how slick and Americanized these films could get. Future star and personal fave Jo Shishido appears as a poor sap who meets an early end. Not my first choice in this particular set, but enjoyable all the same.
Union Station (1950). In the same year they appeared in Sunset Boulevard, Paramount teamed actors William Holden and Nancy Olson in a much lesser-known film — the gritty, low budget noir Union Station. We got to check it out on Netflix streaming this week. This one’s a standard affair with Olson’s character witnessing some shady behavior aboard a train trip. She convinces Manhattan train station dick Holden to shadow the men, who it turns out are embarking on a scheme to kidnap the blind daughter of Olson’s boss. A pretty solid, efficiently made film that spools out in predictable fashion. Probably the most interesting aspect of the film is that much of it was filmed on location in L.A.’s iconic Union Station, its Spanish tile-accented interiors making a not-very-convincing setting for its New York City counterpart. Robby Kress has a swell post on the Union Station filming locales, then and now, on his Dear Old Hollywood weblog.

Weekly Mishmash: May 30-June 5

poster_hauntedHaunted Gold (1932). Haunted Gold is a lively little early b-movie Western starring a lean and green John Wayne. Actually it’s about three parts Western to one part Haunted House Movie, which is enough to make me enjoy it despite the silly plot and stilted acting. Wayne plays a man coming back to his childhood town to stake his claim on an abandoned gold mine, a spot that a gang of meanies and a lovely young woman (Sheila Terry) are vying for as well. Somehow the story also involves a creaky old house filled with assorted creeps and the regrettable stereotypical scared black guy (Blue Washington) who serves as the hero’s right hand man. At film’s climax, Wayne’s white horse “Duke” comes to the rescue doing something impressive even by celluloid animal prodigy standards. This was lots of fun, efficiently covering a lot of ground in just under an hour. Wayne was at an interesting stage where one can tell he’s not the greatest actor, but he has that indefinable “it” factor that the biggest movie stars possess. This was also an odd live action production by Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies producer Leon Schlesinger (check out the animated owls over the opening credits!).
Prince & The Revolution — Purple Rain. Since eMusic is adding Prince’s back catalog in stages, I decided to toss a spare nine credits their way for Purple Rain, arguably his most enduring work. I used to own this on vinyl as a teen. The album still sounds good with a excellent flow that doesn’t make the hit singles stick out, unlike other megahit albums of the day. The only tune I didn’t originally remember was “Computer Love,” a funky semi-instrumental. Several of the other non-hits are so good they could have been released as singles; the salacious “Darling Nikki” is Hendryx brought into the ’80s, and “The Beautiful Ones” is one of his best-ever ballads. Now I’m itching to get into the Purple One’s other stuff dating from his self-titled ’79 album up through the 1992 “unpronounceable symbol” album.
Swing It, Sailor! (1938). When I think of actor Wallace Ford, I don’t think comedian. I might think “only normal person in Freaks” or “hearty noir supporting character.” Nevertheless, the 50 comedy movie DVD pack we have contains no less than three comedies starring the doughy Ford. This forgettable maritime yuckfest is one of ’em. With Ford and Ray Mayer as two gobs tussling over a hard-edged blonde (Isabel Jewel), this film isn’t very distinctive but it’s a breezy enough way to kill an hour. What interested me the most was Mary Treen as the leading lady’s plain roommate. The versatile Ms. Treen was one of those “hey, I know that lady” comic actresses who seemingly appeared in everything produced by Hollywood from the ’30s to the ’70s. I remember her best as Kay, the dull woman who briefly replaced Alice as the family housekeeper in one Brady Bunch episode. It’s true, everything in my existence ultimately relates to The Brady Bunch.
The River (1951). Late period Jean Renoir film is pretty to look at, but ultimately undone with stock characters and situations. The film concerns a British family in colonial India, particularly the brood’s two blossoming daughters who become entranced by a dashing Army captain visiting their neighbor. This film is rightly considered one of the best examples of Technicolor photography, and in that respect it particularly shines in opening segments depicting India as a mystical rural paradise. When it comes to the plot and acting, however, this was a total misfire. I didn’t find anything compelling about the two girls and their petty arguments (granted, the narration was nice) and the way the drama plays out. Even the subject of death is treated with a disarming callousness in Renoir’s hands. The best thing I can say about this is that it’s not flat out horrible like Renoir’s follow-up, The Golden Coach, my vote for the worst film the otherwise peerless Criterion ever put out. As long as I’m on the subject, what’s your least favorite Criterion DVD?
The Thief of Bagdad (1940). Colorful and fun kiddie adventure from producer Alexander Korda. This is the Arabian Nights told with plushness and visual flair in stunning Technicolor. The special effects might seem cheesy to our jaded CGI overloaded eyes, but I think the cheesiness has its own appeal. The most laudable thing about this film is that it leaves the impression of having spared no expense, yet it never seems like it’s trying too hard. I enjoyed all the characters, especially Conrad Veidt’s menacing Jaffar and Sabu’s industrious thief Abu. Some scenes take on a heady, psychedelic quality, such as when Abu ventures into a massive Hindu temple to retrieve a magic crystal. As with The River, the Technicolor photography has that strange muted quality unique to British productions — dreamy, a little tacky but lovely all the same.