Saturday, February 25, 2012

Card Game

The value proposition for The Card is simple: Alec Guinness, Glynis Johns, light British comedy = you will enjoy.

It's based on a beloved Arnold Bennett story of the Five Towns, about life in a small industrial town in England at the end of the 19th century. Alec Guiness plays Edward Henry Machin, known to all as Denry. He's the son of a widowed washerwoman, bright, likable, ambitious and willing to cut corners. He wiggles his way into a job as a clerk, where he invites himself to the duchess' ball. Since he doesn't know how to dance, he visits Glynis Johns' studio.

Johns is most wonderful in her first scene. She still has the Voice, and looks lovely, but she is more than a bit of a snob and a hustler. She plays it a bit like Elsa Lanchester, all breeding and grasp. It would seem that she is Denry's perfect match, but his ambition is generous, where everyone wins (and he takes a cut), while she is only out for himself.

The movie isn't full of jokes and pratfalls. The humor is based on gentle observations of human nature. Although it's class-based humor, there is no class warfare. Guinness is loved by all from the butcher's boy to the bank owner. The old guard grumble, but they do admire his push.

Frankly, without Guiness' charm, this movie would probably be impossible.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Street Beat

OK, hip hop history time. The assignment this weekend: Beat Street and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

First Breakin' 2 (1984), more famous than the original Breakin', probably because of the awesome subtitle. It takes place in LA, where rich girl dancer Lucinda Dickey gets back together with her partner Adolfo Shabba Doo Quinones and his buddy Boogaloo Shrimp Chambers to put on a show and save the youth center from the evil developers. There is a lot of 1980s neon costumes, frizzy hair and Flashdance/Fame style music. There is also some really hot breakdancing. Ice-T raps in a sadly wack cameo. The whole thing is a Golan/Globus Cannon production and it shows.

There's a "dancing on the ceiling" number, and innumerable pop-and-lock style dance numbers, but this is mostly pretty lame.

Next, Beat Street (1984). This one stars rich girl (well, City College) Rae Dawn Chong and Guy Davis, who is into sound and wants to DJ. He lives in the Bronx with his long suffering mom and breakdancing kid brother, and hangs out with Puerto Rican graffiti bomber Jon Chardiet. This one was filmed totally on location and has a much grittier real feel - while staying pretty wholesome. The music is also considerably better - Cool Herc plays a solid role, Jazzy J, Doug E. Fresh, Wanda Dee, Melle Mel and Kool Mo Dee and the rest of the Treacherous Three all perform.

The dancing is hotter too, with lots of helicopter and head spins. Furious Five, Rock Steady Crew, Magnificent Force and the New York City Breakers all break it down, often dueling head to head.

Beat Street was produced by Harry Belafonte of all people. Not the first guy you think of for hip hop treet cred, but more than Golan and Globus, I guess. This reminded me a lot of Wild Style, another tale of the Bronx from 1983. The real deal.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Road to Morocco

Complaining about Netflix streaming again. When they recommended Maroc 7,  I was intrigued. Gene Barry, our pal from Burke's Law, as the lead. We first meet him burgling the home of fashionista Cyd Charisse. Stylish heist flick with Bondian pretensions? Lots of hot models in cool locations? Sign me up!

Big mistake. The movie has less style than an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The fashions are the worst of 60s fads, the Morocco locations are uncommonly drab, and the cute birds are just boring. Gene Barry, who is pretty dynamic in Burke's Law, sleep walks through this.

I like 1960s/70s spy spoofs, like OSS 117 and Austin Powers. But it turns out that I don't always like the real thing. Avoid.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The End

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 brings the 8-film series to an end. And what does that mean?

Other than that the actors are all getting too old to for school, I mean.

I never read any of the Potter books, but I loved the movies. They were brilliantly cast, from the iconic leads to the rogues' gallery of (mostly) British thespians in supporting roles. The several directors all had their own style, but with a unified feel combining wonder, warmth and darkness. Honestly, I didn't really follow the plot too closely. I think you need to read the books to do that properly. And I am not convinced that it even mostly makes sense. But the writing on a scene-by-scene basis was always first rate. These 2-hour-plus movies went by in a flash.

And now, all eight have gone by. I wonder if I'll ever want to watch them again. Trailers for the earlier films on this disc showed a shockingly young cast - Now that they are adults, what will happen to their careers? Harry - no, Daniel Radcliffe is in a new Hammer horror film, The Lady in Black. But will he be able to re-invent his image? I don't think he needs to do a Neil Patrick Harris, but he has to be careful about being typecast.

Or who knows? Maybe they all go into real estate or politics, or just life off of the residuals. Good for them, and thanks for all the fun.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Daddy Issues

OK, so we watched Green Lantern. Not really as bad as everyone says, its just that recent superhero movies have really raised the bar.

Ryan Reynolds plays hotshot pilot Hal Jordan. He is headstrong, cocky, irresponsible and reckless. His job for DefenseCo is to be the human fighter pilot that DefenseCo drones can beat in test flights. But he defeats them by outclimbing their ceiling, even though it results in his fighter going into a stall and flat spin. He chooses this moment to flash back to his father, another fighter pilot, dying in a fiery crash. And so he freezes up, just barely able to eject.

This brings down the wrath of DefenseCo, including his ex-girlfriend (Blake Lively) and her father, the CEO. But things pick up for him when he founds a crashed UFO, and the alien being within bequeaths upon him a strange green ring and lantern.

But while he is learning to use the ring, sad-sack biologist Peter Sarsgaard is recruited by government agent Angela Bassett to autopsy the dead alien. Unfortunately, he is infected by the deadly yellow energy that killed the alien, and starts to go evil crazy.

By the way, it turns out that Sarsgaard's dad, Tim Robbins, is a senator who used his influence to get Sarsaard the autopsy gig. Notice the theme yet? Reynolds traumatized by his father's death, Lively dominated by her corporate dad, Sarsgaard unable to win the respect of his father? What is it with the daddy issues in these movies? I couldn't buy Ang Lee's interjection of a paternal backstory in the Hulk. I was surprised to see so much of Tony Stark's dad in Captain America. What next, Bruce Wayne's dad's ghost? Don't scriptwriters have mothers? Don't any of them have happy families, or can't they think up any other source of conflict?

Fathers aside, the action part of the movie is kind of mixed. The CGI is assured, but can be a bit dark. The cosmic scenery is good-looking without, perhaps, being memorable. The underlyng philosophy of Will conquering Fear is a bit silly reflections of the cult of Self-Esteem (unless you prefer to interpret them as quasi-fascistic).

But a perfectly servicable popcorn movie. I'll watch the next one, too, even if it's about Aquaman.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fishy Tale

Miranda and Mad About Men are mermaid tales. Like Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid and The Incredible Mr. Limpet, they are based on the assumption that aquatic creatures are sexually voracious. I still don't get it.

Miranda starts with wealthy doctor Griffith Jones leaving his pretty wife Googie Winters to go fishing in Cornwall. His big catch is mermaid Miranda, played by lovely Glynis Johns. She charms and extorts him into taking her to London to see the sights - disguised as an invalid, without the use of her legs

In the Big Smoke, Miranda divides her time between vamping the doctor, his jug-eared chauffeur, and an artist friend. Now, the doctor's wife, the maid who has been going out with the chauffeur and the artist's modiste girlfriend are charmed by this sweet invalid, but don't like the way their men are acting.

That is about the size of it, except for nurse who is hired to take care of Miranda. She is played by Margaret Rutherford, and she is an absolute joy. I won't spoil the scene where she first meets Miranda for you - it is worth the whole movie.

If I were in a spoiling mood, I'd tell you how it ends, but all I'll tell you is, prepare for a shock!

The sequel features Glynis Johns in two roles. She plays a "games mistress" (gym teacher) with a stuffy engineer fiance. At her the ancestral home in Cornwall, she meets her distant relative and doppelganger, the mermaid Miranda. They pull the old switcheroo, with Miranda hanging out in Cornwall (with a mysterious leg injury) while her human counterpart takes a biking holiday with a dyke friend (don't ask).

Miranda is up to her old tricks, of course, sampling the local man-talent. She tries out the local laird (to his skinny sweetheart's consternation) and a rough-hewn fishing millionaire. Her supposed fiance tries to bring her to her senses, but that doesn't work out well. There is also a silly mermaid cousin for pure comic relief.

And, yes, nurse Margaret Rutherford is back!

The charm of this series is almost entirely due to Ms. Johns' winsome personality. Yes, I said winsome. She has a beautiful voice, breathy and intimate, and Miranda's personality is innocent, guileless, and carnal. She has a pixie-like girlishness, belied by her grownup body. Of course, as a mermaid, she is every man's ideal.

But wait, why are mermaids and fishes supposed to be ideal lovers? I just don't get the point. They are notoriously cold, and from the waist down - nothing! Oh well, I guess I'll have to watch Splash to figure it all out.