"The Swindle" (1997)
A disappointing snoozer of a French art film, one of Claude Chabrol's later efforts... Isabelle Huppert stars as a con lady with an older accomplice, in what is (I assume) intended as a deconstruction of your typical caper flick, with the scams going awry and the plot details involving the ironic inclusion of modern European culture... But there's little momentum in the script and direction, or spark between any of the actors. This film just kind of sits there and does very little to surprise or amuse. Next!
"Treasure Of The Sierra Madre"
Ah, what a great film. They showed it commercial-free on public TV, and I stayed up 'til 1:00am, transfixed. Yay.
"Riding In Cars With Boys" (2001)
A lot of people really didn't like this downcast bummer of a chick flick, which actress Drew Barrymore produced and directed and starred in; I found it compelling. Maybe it's just because of the times that I grew up in, but this depictation of the 1970s as a freewheeling time when adults abandoned their expected roles and children grew up fast on the sidelines really reminded me of my childhood... it rang true. I can't think of any film, other than Richard Linklatter's similarly honest Dazed & Confused which captures the time so well. Three cheers for Drew: this obviously wasn't a film destined for bigtime commercial success, but it does have heart and significance, and was a project well worth taking on.
"Under The Yum Yum Tree" (1963)
Continuing along the path of weird early '60s films that skirt the collision between the pre- and post-sexual revolution cultures, comes this truly nauseating sex comedy. Jack Lemmon plays Hogan, a nightmarish, leering peeping tom of a landlord who stalks and sexually harasses a young couple that have moved into his apartment complex. His "comedic" personification of Hefneresque wolf-whistle culture is grotesque in the extreme. It's hard to imagine that people really found this funny as opposed to offensive. Leonard Maltin describes Lemmon's character as "love-hungry," I'd call him in need of a permanent restraining order. A weird social time capsule, yes, but also a deeply disturbing, yucky film. One mildly redeeming note: just tell me that the young girl's aunt doesn't look a lot like Sen. Hillary Clinton!
"Goodbye Charlie" (1964)
Woah! Call the Gender Studies class in to explain this one to me... Debbie Reynolds stars as the feminine reincarnation of a no-good philandering wolf named Charlie; Tony Curtis is the best (and perhaps only) friend who was dragooned into reading the eulogy at Charlie's funeral. Of course, when Debbie shows up on the beach naked and with amnesia, Curtis at first gets drawn into the mystery, and then falls in love with... his old best friend(!) Where to begin? This has Reynolds ogling other girls in the dressing room, Walter Matthau (who had shot Charlie at the beginning of the film) hitting on Reynolds, Charlie gold-digging with a hapless rich boy (played by Pat Boone) and finally, the romantic scenes between Curtis and Reynolds... the levels of homoeroticism in this film are so multifarious and bizarre, that it's truly, astoundingly mind-boggling. I really wish I could know more about the genesis of this project... How this project got green-lighted in the first place is a source of continual amazement... You really have to see it to believe it!
"Ask Any Girl" (MGM, 1959)
Well, whatever African-Americans feel watching the Bamboozled -style blackface in Holiday Inn, modern women are likely to feel while watching this 'Fifties relic. It's one of Shirley MacLaine's earliest films, and she is at her winsome best, absolutely magnetic and button-nose cute. It's the perfect look for this amazingly reactionary comedy about a small-town "career girl" who comes to New York City, mainly to bag herself a husband. Seeing the pre-feminist wolf-masher culture in blatant full swing, with its baroque distinctions between "good" and "bad" sexist behavior is like reading a book that was written in Dimension X. Having Sex Is Bad... well, kind of. You can make out with a well-behaved man (until you get really excited, and then you have to stop...) but a cad, a man who tries to "lure" you into having a fling, is Bad. Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad. Gig Young plays one of those geefy-looking frat boy-playboy types who were supposed to be dreamy back then; David Niven is his responsibly-minded older brother, who looks askance on Gig's good-natured carousing and happy-go-lucky ways. I guess I can't really encapsulate just how incredibly, jaw-droppingly sexist this film is, but if you want a window into our not-so-distant cultural past, check this one out. It's freaky.
"Holiday Inn" (1942, MGM)
A much-beloved Bing Crosby classic... By the way, if you thought the racial politics of Bing's Birth Of The Blues were suspect, wait'll you get a load of the big blackface routine staged in honor of Lincoln's birthday! Yeah, that's right -- Lincoln's birthday. The gimmick here is that Bing, weary of the hustle and bustle of showbiz, retires to rural Connecticut, where he starts up a lodge that specializes in big holidays-only bashes. Naturally, his former partner, Fred Astaire, horns in on the action, pitting his hoofing up against Der Bingle's moon-june croon. Oh, and did I mention there was a girl involved? It's not really a very good film, and Irving Berlin's holiday-themed anthems are mostly pretty forced, all except for "White Christmas," which of course became a classic. The 1954 remake, White Christmas, may have been a better film (in a bland kind of way), but I'll take Astaire over Danny Kaye any day. A few odd, clever cinematic flights of fancy and a smattering of witty scenes, but hardly a classic.
"Footsteps In The Dark" (Warner Brothers, 1941)
An awkward parody of the Thin Man movies, with Errol Flynn trying out screwball comedy for a change... The set-up is that Flynn is a rich playboy who, unbeknownst to family and friends, moonlights as a writer of detective fiction. This, of course, necessitates his staying out late to do research into crime, and telling all kinds of lame fibs to his wife and shrewish mother-in-law, in order to cover his tracks. Misunderstandings and wackiness ensue. William Frawley plays the dumb cop Flynn loves to torment; Ralph Bellamy and other great character actors pop up as well. Mysteriously, the actress playing "the other woman" is completely unattractive: couldn't they have gotten a real starlet for the part? Guess not. Anyway, this is a pretty weak film, and doesn't really even work as a curio.
"The Musketeer" (Universal, 2001)
A lamentable adaptation of the classic "Three Musketeers" saga. This film looks stylish, but is appallingly dreadful in its cliche-ridden script and clumsy execution... To begin with, trash all hope of seeing Alexandre Dumas's grand story in a millennial revamp -- the script takes such liberties with the original material that we should consider ourselves lucky they remembered to call the hero D'Artagnan. The big deal with this film is supposed to be the Hong Kong-style "wire works" action scenes, which were choregraphed by Xin-Xin Xiong, of Crouching Tiger fame... Well, there is no dragon hidden in these sequences -- they are both kinetically flat and a distracting anachronism: I don't think the French palace guard ran up the side of buildings, ninja style... so why pretend they did? This movie is full of failed attempts at wackiness and bonhomie... Pity poor Stephen Rea and Tim Roth who, as the bad guys, had to attempt to carry this film all on their own. Zzzzzzzzzz.
"Ghost World" (MGM, 2001)
I enjoyed this movie a lot, although I feel the ending was unnecessarily (and unconvincingly) bleak and gratuitously cruel to the characters. It felt a bit forced, as if they said, "we must make this an un-Hollywood, bummer of an ending!" and then just took the quickest, easiest path to make that so. That quibble aside, this is a great film.
"Pollock" (Sony Classics, 2000)
A pretty absorbing portrait of the famed abstract painter, Jackson Pollock, starring and directed by actor Ed Harris. He does a surprisingly good job withe the material; a little ham-fisted at times, but more restrained than I would have imagined. Plus, I had no idea Pollock was such a hard-living kinda guy!
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