Joe Sixpack's Film Blog: June, 2003
June, 2003


Hey, check it out: Some folks from the Milk Plus film blog / e-zine wrote me to suggest a links swap... Sounds good to me! Milk Plus is a really cool site, with articles and film reviews that range from informal and off-the-cuff to geekily thorough and authoritative... A nice range of material is reviewed, from B&W classics and moody art films to current Hong Kong & Hollywood potboilers. Cool graphics and nice layout, too... I know I've got 'em bookmarked!


"Heaven" (Buena Vista, 2002)
This is an odd romance, starring Giovanni Ribisi as a young Italian carabineiri who falls for Kate Blanchett, an arrested terrorist whose motives awaken his romantic soul. Directed by Run Lola Run's Tom Twyker, and written by Kristof Kyslowski, this is an ultra-artsy, distinctly European action film, which lapses into hazy symbolism and vivid, impressionistic visuals. I have to confess I didn;t quite get on this film's wavelength, but it was still a nice change of pace.


"Three Men On A Horse" (Warner Brothers, 1936)
A funny, fast-paced comedy about a nebbishy, stuttering greeting card writer (and would-be poet) who has a foolproof system for picking race horses, and his unlikely partnership with a gang of second-rate hoodlum gamblers. Frank McHugh is perfect in the role; this is probably his shining moment as a 'Thirties film lead. The tough-talking, blustering boss of the gang and his doofy henchmen are also riotously funny in their roles, and the changes in their relationships to McHugh is what makes this flick so endearing. Well written, well acted and genuinely hilarious, this is a oldie that's well worth checking out.


"Pursued" (Warner Brothers, 1947)
In this psychology-drenched western, Robert Mitchum stars as Jeb Rand, a perpetually unlucky orphan, haunted by a mysterious past and adopted by a widow whose two natural children have very different feelings for him... His sister Thorley (Teresa Wright) is of course in love with him, while his adoptive brother, Adam, seethes with jealousy. Directed by Raoul Walsh, this B&W thriller takes a while to unfold, but gallops to a tense finish as a long-running frontier vendetta is revealled. (Turns out I'd rented this before, but is was still OK on a second viewing...)

"The Princess Comes Across" (Universal, 1936)
Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray co-star in this swell screwball comedy in which Lombard, a down and out American actor posing as European royalty, comes up against MacMurray, a brash, wisecracking big band musician who casts a cynical eye on her masquerade. They, um, fall in love eventually, (duh!) but the hijinks and sharp quips in between are quite enjoyable. A classic! Plus, you get a chance to see MacMurray portray a tough guy, as well as sing and play the concertina! Lombard is a total dish, too.


"Punch Drunk Love" (Columbia Tri-Star, 2003)
An odd and thoroughly enjoyable offbeat comedy starring Adam Sandler as a socially awkward, emotionally repressed businessman who finds true love -- and a definitive way to beat unscrupulous telemarketer types. Think of it as the film that Anger management asprired to be.... I was really surprised by the depth of his character, and the riveting physicality of his performance... not the usual grimacing and contortions, but a legitimately nuanced, wholly original character. An odd plot, too -- sort of a throwback to early '80s arthouse comedies like Five Corners and Something Wild. A nice softening for director Paul Thomas Anderson as well... Surprisingly good!


"Road To Nashville" (Crown International, 1967)
A treasure trove of late 'Sixties classic country! Although the film itself is lamentably rickety and shoddily produced, the wealth of talent, drawn from several major labels, is truly astounding: Webb Pierce, Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Dottie West, Norma Jean, The Osborne Brothers, Bill Anderson and Bill Phillips all appear, just to mention a few. Co-producer Marty Robbins bankrolled part of this film and sings a few tunes (as well as racing his stock car at the track!)... Several fading 'Fifties stars are also seen, including Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell, Faron Young, Kitty Wells, and the reconstituted folk-era edition of the Carter Family. Whew! Lemme catch my breath a minute and I'll tell you more... A clean-shaven, wolfish young Waylon Jennings has a great cameo; country cutie Connie Smith not only sings two numbers, she also has an extensive speaking role. There are also several noteworthy also-rans involved: Margie Singleton, Bobby Sykes, the Stoneman Family in full New Main Street Singers bluegrass-pop mode, and Don Winters as well -- one of the most underrated singers of the rock-to-countrypolitan era. Heck, radio DJ and full-time power broker Ralph Emery even makes an appearance... all that's lacking is a decent script. The flimsy plot involves the savagely unfunny Doodles Weaver as a bumbling idiot sent (inexplicably) by his grouchy Hollywood boss to organize a country music extravaganza; not only does Weaver appear in the between-song interludes, he also is frequently cut into the the performances themselves, doing unfunny things and staring in a vacant, unfunny way. The sound is poor; the video transfer cropped out a lot of the shots... but hey, this film ROCKS. Any devoted county fan will want to pick a copy as soon as they can. It's a doozy!


"Bloody Sunday" (Paramount, 2003)
An emotionally crushing recreation of the infamous January 30, 1972 clash between British troops and Irish protesters in the town of Derry, which led to the deaths of dozens of civilian marchers. "Clash" is perhaps too strong a word -- this film (as well as several abortive inquiries) makes a strong case that the testosterone-amped British "para" soldiers simply went berserk and shot people at random, in hopes of "teaching them a lesson they'd never forget." The distinction between IRA warmongers and the civilian civil rights movement was apparently lost of the embattled English, but their actions at Derry helped lock the Catholic-Protestant feud into place right up to the present day. Filmically, this is an impressive work: the documentary-style handheld camera work, which seems a bit mannered and distracting in the first part of the film, pays off handsomely when the violence starts -- the fear and chaos of the event is made palpable in a suprisingly visceral manner... it's like a punch to the gut when the shooting starts.... and when it worsens and keeps on going for what seems like an eternity. Regardless of what you think of the filmmaker's political slant, the skill with which they built this film's dramatic impact is undeniable. Highly recommended.


"The Whale Rider" (Columbia Tristar, 2003)
A nice, heartwarming fairytail-ish film about a young New Zealand Maori girl who struggles to fulfill her destiny, butting up against the sexism of her grandfather, who hold the keys to the spiritual knowledge of their people. In some ways the story is simplistic and one-sided, but the actors -- particularly young Keisha Castle-Hughes -- are quite captivating, and the glimpse inside modern Maori culture is fascinating. A great film for the adolescent set, but fun for us big folks, too.

"They Won't Believe Me" (Twentieth Century Fox, 1950)


"The Fifth Key" (1946)


"The Blue Angel/Die Blue Engel" (1932)
A German cinema classic from the late Weimar-era, and the film debut of super-sexy Marlene Dietrich, who is stunning in her role as a flirtatious, heartless cabaret singer whose carnal wiles bring an infatuated school teacher to ruin. But then, what is really responsible for his downfall? Dietrich as the temptress, his own repressed sexuality and concurrent fetishization of her beauty, or the close-mindedness of the society around them? As with much of the art of this era (in Germany and without), this film depicts the clash of the old world and the new -- the modern, open, crass, liberating and chaotic world of the individual against the older, stable, stifling, communal and "moral" world of the village and church. At any rate, the transformation of actor Emil Jannings from a fusty old humbug into a degraded shell of a man is a dramatic triumph, and the direction, by Josef von Sternberg, is flawless -- filled with darkness, closeness and brooding claustrophia. The new DVD version features both the German and English-language versions (the English version isn't dubbed, it was acted in English by the same German actors, and has a few interesting differences of moral tone...) and also includes, as an added bonus Marlene Dietrich's first screen test, which is hilarious, and a must-see for her fans.

06/01/03 - 06/15/03: earlier reviews here

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