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Tag Archives: Shirley Temple

Weekly Mishmash: August 1-7

dvd_artofthestealThe Art of the Steal (2009). Clearly biased but nevertheless enthralling documentary tracking one of the most valuable art collections on earth. The film’s first half details Albert Barnes, a Pennsylvania doctor who made a fortune developing an infant eye drop solution, and his efforts to accumulate an impressive collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art. The class-averse, philanthropic Barnes set up his collection as an educational resource for art students, and it stayed that way until Barnes unexpectedly died in the ’50s. Barnes’ will specified that the collection stay intact and preserved in the same building with the paintings arranged in a quirky yet beautiful, Salon-style manner on the walls. In the years that follow, the struggle between good intentions and exploitation magnify as the art’s value balloons. By the time the collection falls into the hands of a small black college in 1988, the kind of people Barnes despised (society types and politicians) are circling like vultures; what follows is a power play that would do Gordon Gekko proud. An interesting if not too balanced watch, this proves with depressing finality that money and power trumps art and education every time. It was interesting, however, that I could see both sides of the coin and with all the kerfuffle nobody emerges as a true villain (except perhaps the conservative Philadelphia newspaper magnate who ironically specified in his will that his own art collection stay intact).
The Face of Another (1966). Talky, visually arresting Japanese thriller about a man (Tatsuya Nakadai) who is given a chance to wear a lifelike mask to disguise his horribly disfigured face. This plot device is a springboard for director Hiroshi Teshigahara to explore levels of psychological and personal control, somehow encompassing the subplot of a young woman who is similarly disfigured (as a result of an atom bomb blast, we infer). Although the film is slow paced and obtuse, the odd art direction and wild settings (including a somewhat tasteless German-themed watering hole) kept me intrigued. Teshigahara, who also helmed the better-regarded Woman in the Dunes, throws around every sort of cinematic trick here, making this a slapdash but agreeably weird and atmospheric affair. Actor Nakadai is perfectly chilling in a role that comes off as Dr. Frankenstein and his own monster rolled into one. Honestly, much of the film’s symbolism went past me, but the meaning of many of the images are nicely pointed out in the video essay included as an extra on Criterion’s DVD.

Heidi (1937). Beloved children’s classic rejiggered as high style Shirley Temple vehicle. Since I read Johanna Spyri’s Heidi earlier this year, it’s interesting to note how many liberties the filmmakers took. The book is a love letter to the Swiss countryside and the pious simplicity of its people, as epitomized by the cheery title character; Heidi the film is Hollywood adventure with what was a minor chapter in the book (in which Heidi stays with a rich family) taking up the bulk of the second half. The movie plays fast and loose as a literary adaptation, and Temple is a bit too cloying for this part, but it was entertaining nonetheless. I could even accept the oddly shoehorned musical number in which Temple plays a clog wearing Dutch girl and bewigged French royalty. Shirley and her dimples dominate here, but special mention should be made of actress Mary Nash, who plays Heidi’s evil governess. Temple and Nash were also memorably teamed in The Little Princess, a slightly better literary adaptation from a few years later.
album_moremonkeesThe Monkees — More of the Monkees. My second helping of Monkeemania from eMusic. This second album contains the group’s biggest hit, the utterly fabulous “I’m A Believer,” which ultimately made it the biggest selling LP of 1967. Musically it’s something of a grab bag, with a haphazard array of gritty garage rock, novelty numbers and Brill Building pop vying for attention. Although many Monkees fans don’t favor the more commercial, bubblegum sounding music heard here, I kinda dig it. It’s fascinating to hear what Neil Diamond, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Jeff Barry et al were coming up with at this point as the Girl Group and Doo Wop/R&B genres were falling to the wayside. Although I’ve read that Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork weren’t too happy with their lack of input on this album, it sure doesn’t show amongst the LP’s generally upbeat if scattered tracks. The album contains the rocking “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Mary, Mary,” the horrid “Your Auntie Grizelda,” and Jones’ “The Day We Fall In Love,” a piece of mush that only Marcia Brady could possibly love. An interesting snapshot of 1967 pop; I supplemented this album with “Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears,” a bubblegumeriffic track that the band recorded at the time but didn’t see fit to release until the ’80s.
Silent Running (1972). Crunchy granola sci-fi with a conservationist message! This is an intriguing bit of pre-Star Wars, post-2001 cerebral sci fi, a film that attempts the excitement of the former and the cerebral tone of the latter without quite accomplishing either. The tale of a transport ship full of rare plants and animals being hijacked from returning to a battle-scarred Earth by environmentalist Bruce Dern is still relevant today. This despite it being told in a completely dated way with quaint special effects and a few earnest Joan Baez songs on the soundtrack. The film ultimately rides on Dern’s thin shoulders; I found him his usually flaky self at the beginning, but he grew on me as the film progressed and in the end I was touched by his plight. Poor Dewey.
Unfaithfully Yours (1948). Personal experience with the films of Preston Sturges tells me his stuff is either brilliant or crappy; Unfaithfully Yours is one of the crappy ones. The film follows short-tempered, jealous conductor Rex Harrison as he becomes aware that a detective trailed his beautiful wife (Linda Darnell) who may be having an affair. Rehearsing with his orchestra, Harrison becomes consumed by several “what if” scenarios, each one more outlandish than the last. While some of the dialogue had the sparkle of earlier Sturges films, I absolutely hated the main character. The screechy Harrison (whom I never really enjoyed) does zero to make this man relatable or sympathetic. The film reaches an absolute low point with an interminable slapstick sequence in which Harrison tries (and fails) to execute one of his schemes. For a supposed light comedy, this film contains many uncomfortably bleak scenes — including one in which Harrison attempts to get Darnell and her alleged lover to join him in a round of Russian Roulette. Yuck. For peak Sturges, stick with Sullivan’s Travels or The Palm Beach Story.

Weekly Mishmash: July 25-31

book_americanmadeAmerican-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work by Nick Taylor. The Works Progress Administration program (1933-43) was such a unique endeavor and a fantastic example of American government pulling together to help its citizens. Finishing up Nick Taylor’s exhaustive history, I was sadly struck by how something so big and comprehensive could never be attempted again; the Obama administration has accomplished a few infrastructure building projects that are vaguely WPAish, but they’re nothing compared with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sweeping reforms to get all unemployed Americans working towards recovery. Taylor’s history tracks the development of the WPA all the way back to the 1929 stock market crash, its introduction and setbacks (particularly with the arts and theater programs), criticisms, success stories, and finally the program’s quiet dissolving amidst World War II home front efforts in 1943. It’s a dense and somewhat dry read, a newspaper-like chronicle populated with a constantly shifting cast of characters (only FDR, his longtime WPA director Harry Hopkins, and fiery theater program head Hallie Flanagan stood out). I enjoyed reading it, however, mostly because it contained lots of details about the program that I never knew. One aspect about the WPA that Taylor brings to light is the fact that it was constantly challenged by Republicans. The opposition even went to such hysterical extremes that many believed the program was hatched by Communists, intending to turn the country into the United States of Russia. The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?
A Cry in the Dark (1988). a.k.a the “dingo ate my baby!” movie. This was actually a potently arresting film about how gossip, innuendo and media imagery can royally screw up the facts. Meryl Streep and Sam Neill play a real-life Australian couple whose baby goes missing on a camping trip. The child’s body is never recovered, and the way the quirky, deeply religious couple deals with the tragedy is put under such public scrutiny that Streep eventually goes on trial for murder. This was such a stunningly well-made movie, not just for Streep’s chameleon-like performance but for Sam Neill as well. The film puts the viewer in another time and place (dig Meryl’s muumuus!), all the while addressing still relevant issues about media coerciveness and human gullibility. For all I know Streep’s abrasive but sympathetic Lindy Chamberlain might have no bearing on the real woman she played, but I was blown away by her and the film’s message.
Lions for Lambs (2007). A DVD that Christopher bought in a local retailer’s “3 for $10” sale (this was the “full screen” version, so basically a quarter of the picture was chopped off). I vaguely remember this as part of the wave of series Gulf War films that flopped at the box office. It’s actually a very well made movie, expertly crafted by Robert Redford, who also stars along with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. I liked the angle of telling three stories that are happening simultaneously in California, Washington D.C. and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Redford’s message is flamingly liberal and delivered in a heavy-handed “preaching to the choir” way. Redford’s performance as a jaded professor ironically fares the worst amongst a cast that seems disappointingly flat. On the plus side, Michael Peña and Derek Luke deliver some good acting as a pair of students turned soldiers.
Moving Midway (2007) and Young@Heart (2007). A good week for documentaries. We caught Moving Midway on the Netflix “Watch Instantly” function via our Nintendo Wii. It’s a moderately interesting, somewhat blandly produced look at Southern imagery and tradition as a palatial North Carolina estate (belonging to the director’s family) is painstakingly moved to escape encroaching suburbia. It’s thought provoking the way it’s gradually revealed that the family’s lineage contains white and African-American blood. Although the execution leaves something to be desired, the film certainly assembles an affable (and talkative) group of people to be around. I hate to sound stereotypical, but those Southern folk sure are nice. Young@Heart is another charmer, about a group of singing retirees who perform offbeat renditions of tunes by the likes of Radiohead and Sonic Youth. Mostly the film takes its leisurely time getting to know the various participants (all as sweet as pie and about as grandparentlike as people could possibly get) as they deal with punishing rehearsals and the loss of fellow choir members. I admire the patience of choir director Bob Cilman, seen in a constant state of worry and/or exhaustion. The film has the strange effect of emphasizing the performers’ lack of skill (lots of strange atonal singing going on here), made worse with a few goofy music videos. Despite that, I was enthralled by the main message here of living life for all its worth. Bravo to the Young@Heart performers, wherever they are.
Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010). A tween Clash of the Titans, this muddled, CGI-heavy extravaganza seems to have “wannabe franchise” written all over it. A put-upon teen (Logan Lerman in Justin Beiber-style haircut) discovers that he’s half-God, descended from watery Poseidon, and his best friend (Brandon T. Jackson) is actually a satyr entrusted to protect him. The two journey to an X-Men style secret training camp for “special” kids, where they and another half-God (Alexandra Daddario) embark on a quest to find magic pearls and rescue the boy’s mortal ma (Catherine Keener, who shoulda known better). This movie actually had some potential, but much of it is squandered in the film’s rushed opening. Apparently this is based on a series of popular books. Having never heard of them, I can only divine that something went wrong during the production. The fact that it was overproduced was bad enough, but in the end the movie derails by never deciding if it wants to be a gee-whiz kiddie flick or a smutty and violent teen comedy. Chris Columbus also directed the first Harry Potter movie, coincidence or not?
Poor Little Rich Girl (1936). When it comes down to it, Shirley Temple’s saccharine vehicles were the first real “old movies” I ever saw. Our local independent TV station broadcast a Temple flick every weekend; I would make sure to watch (sometimes my mom joined in). Even the bad ones were fun; I suppose little Shirley was my gateway drug for everything you see here! Anyhow, I got reacquainted with Poor Little Rich Girl when it got a recent prime time spotlight on Turner Classic Movies. I can see why this is considered one of the quintessential Shirley flicks; she’s adorable and the direction and storyline are of such quality that even a Shirley-hater would enjoy it. Here she plays the title character, a pampered yet friendly and curious tyke who takes it upon herself to make her own “vacation” in the big, mean city. Instead of being raped and killed, little Shirley is adopted by a down on their luck song-and-dance duo (Jack Haley and Alice Faye). The couple absorb the creepily talented tyke into their act and eventually wind up on a radio show, one which happens to be sponsored by the soap company rivaling the one owned by — Shirley’s dad! Pure Depression-era hokum, for sure, but I loved it. Keep an eye out for the tap dance number at film’s climax, a thing so long and complex I can’t fathom Faye and Haley mastering it, much less the 7 year-old Temple.
The Truth About Youth (1930). Typically creaky early talkie melodrama which takes some unusual turns. Dewy fresh Loretta Young stars as a housekeeper’s daughter who is engaged to the master of the house’s loaded son, David Manners. Manners, however, has a thing for hosty-totsy singer Myrna Loy — a situation that becomes more complicated when the guy’s dad (Conway Tearle) attempts to hide the relationship from the innocent Young. Interesting film, not especially good with some wooden performances by Young and Manners (although his deer in the headlights look is perfect for this role). Conway Tearle was a big matinee idol of the silent era and it’s interesting to see him here as an older man, one who is still potent as we find out. Mostly the film’s appeal lies with Myrna Loy in one of her earlier, sexier roles. Her vitality enlivens this otherwise standard fare.

Weekly Mishmash: January 3-9

If I Had A Million (1932). When this Depression-era anthology showed up on the TCM schedule, I was so delighted. For one, it’s one of Joyce Compton‘s earlier films that I’d never seen. For another, I’ve always heard that this was one of the better films of its kind (different directors contributing short bits on a central theme) ever made. I wasn’t disappointed. The film opens with an eccentric dying multi-millionaire (Richard Bennett), fed up with his greedy family, deciding to leave his fortune to a bunch of randomly picked New Yorkers. Several vignettes then explore how a sudden flush of money affects everyone from a henpecked store clerk to a criminal on the lam. While it’s true that some segments were more successfully pulled off than others, overall I felt the film captures the tone of that time better than almost anything else. The segment with W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth as a pair of crusty vaudevillians who take revenge on “road hogs” gets the most attention; mostly I enjoyed that part for the priceless street views of 1932 L.A. The segment with Wynne Gibson as a prostitute with a simple desire to sleep in a plush bed by herself was a marvel of economy. The very best part, however, was the closing segment with May Robson delivering a wonderful performance as a feisty resident in a stifling home for elderly women. It’s a revenge tale like the Fields/Skipworth segment, only twice as sweet.
Jennifer’s Body (2009). Pretty awful teen horror comedy with Megan Fox as a stuck-up girl who gets transformed into a flesh-hungry demon by a touring emo band, much to the dismay of her nerdy best friend (not-bad Amanda Seyfried). This is notable for being Diablo Cody’s first produced screenplay after Juno rocketed her into the a-list. I’ve never seen that film, but based on this one Cody’s slangy, painfully straining-for-hipness screenwriting style is not for me. At one point Megan Fox even says “MoveOn.org, girl!” — something that might look cute in a twitter post, but plays like an incredibly lame joke onscreen. It doesn’t help that her story makes little sense, and Fox further proves that she’s a smokin’ hot chick with little else in the talent department.
The Namesake (2006). Mira Nair’s ambitious feature on cultural clashes within an Indian-American family is earnest and well acted, but ultimately the film winds up an overlong example of biting off more than one can chew. The early scenes, depicting the arranged marriage and awkward early years of a young couple (Irrfan Khan and Tabu, both fine), are nicely done and poignant. I also enjoyed the appealing Kal Penn as the couple’s Americanized son, whose differing views on life from his own father’s form the backbone of the film. As soon as the story detours into soap opera-ish territory in the film’s second half, however, things get dicey. There were a few points at which the movie could have satisfyingly concluded, but then another wrinkle develops and the story continues — and this happens several times! Somewhat worthy if you’re into Indian cuture; otherwise beware.
The Stranger (1946). TCM included this suspenser on a morning-long salute to actress Loretta Young this week. Although Young frets nicely as a small town newlywed who slowly discovers her new hubby is a Nazi, this film really belongs to Orson Welles (in the title role) and Edward G. Robinson (as a government inspector tracking Welles down). Wells also directs, and this film does have a stylistic similarity to Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, albeit in a watered-down fashion. The flourishes are enough to make it stand out over the somewhat routine script, and the three main actors are a joy to watch. Fun viewing that reminds me of how great black and white movies can be (even the silly ones) — and you can’t beat that clock tower climax.
album_tipsybuzzzTipsy — Buzzz. eMusic download. Tipsy is known for seductive instrumental mashups that incorporate tasty samples from weird old easy listening records (or at least that’s what it sounds like to these ears). 2008’s Buzzz was his first album in a few years, a subtle departure from the more overtly kitschy sound he’s known for. Some fans don’t favor this “chillout” approach as much, but as far as swanky background music goes this album is tops. It sets a relaxed mood overall, but there is enough variety in individual tracks to keep things interesting. Some tracks even live up to the very descriptive titles they’ve been given — “Kitty’s Daydream” is a highlight. The only thing missing here is a cocktail festooned with a tiny umbrella.
Wee Willie Winkie (1937). Shirley Temple plays a girl named Priscilla who is sent with her mother to live in a British army outpost in early 1900s India. Unlike many of her other flicks, this film comes with a pedigree — it was based on a Rudyard Kipling story, John Ford directed (I can’t really picture the macho Ford growling “Play this scene cuter, will ya Shirley,” can you?), and co-heading with Shirley was recent Oscar winner Victor McLaglen. All those ingredients make this kiddie adventure a little less grating than usual, even somewhat touching at times. Sure, Shirley seems to be laying on the adorableness a bit thickly here, but that girl had such incredible poise and presence for someone so young. She is really kind of fascinating to watch, and the quality on display throughout makes Winkie one of her better starring efforts (1939’s The Little Princess will always be my fave Temple movie, however).