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88 Minutes and Speed Racer among DVD reviews

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951) / GIGI (1958). The film industry has produced a substantial number of truly transcendent musical masterpieces – Singin' in the Rain, Top Hat and A Hard Day's Night are but three examples – yet rarely have these films won Best Picture Oscars. Instead, the Academy's taste in musicals tends to run toward lavish, overproduced extravaganzas that often lumber rather than waltz across the screen. MGM's two Best Picture musical winners in the 1950s are entertaining enough – and certainly superior to such victors as Oliver! and The Great Ziegfeld – but they represent neither the finest of their respective years nor the movie musical genre itself.

An American in Paris is the better of the pair, with Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan, a struggling Yankee artist living in the title city. Jerry agrees to allow his work to be promoted by society woman Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), who clearly has an interest in more than just his paintings. Unfortunately for her, he's smitten by a lithe Parisian girl named Lise (Leslie Caron) who, unfortunately for him, happens to be engaged to a popular singer (Georges Guetary). Oscar Levant adds the comic relief as Kelly's sad-sack best friend, while George & Ira Gershwin provide the classic tunes – the climactic "An American in Paris Ballet" sequence is the film's most famous, though I've always had a soft spot for Kelly singing "I Got Rhythm" with the assistance of a group of children. Still, the story is thin even by musical-flick standards, Jerry's treatment of Milo leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and Kelly and Caron don't exactly set off fireworks as a couple (Kelly would find a much better match the following year with Debbie Reynolds in Singin' in the Rain). Nominated for eight Academy Awards, this won six; Kelly also won a special award that year for his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer. Incidentally, this film's Best Picture victory came at the expense of A Streetcar Named Desire, a masterpiece that retains all of its merits.

Gigi reunited much of the principal talent from An American in Paris, including director Vincente Minnelli, producer Arthur Freed, scripter Alan Jay Lerner and leading lady Leslie Caron. This finds Colette's novel about a young woman trained to become a courtesan sanitized into a story about a young woman trained to become a society lady. Caron is delightful as Gigi, and the score by Lerner and Frederick Loewe contains numerous familiar standards – while it's a tad unsettling seeing 69-year-old Maurice Chevalier singing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" while surrounded by playground children, he's at his best accompanying romantic lead Louis Jourdan on "It's a Bore" and matching memories with Hermione Gingold in the wonderful "I Remember It Well." But after an enchanting two-thirds of a movie, Gigi not only loses its fizzle but also ceases making narrative sense, as a movie about individuality in the face of conformity oddly turns into a movie about embracing conformity with both arms. This wowed 'em at the Oscars, going nine-for-nine (also the same year, Chevalier was given an honorary award for his longtime contribution to cinema). Completely ignored by the Academy were the year's two best pictures, Orson Welles' Touch of Evil and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Each movies arrives in a two-disc edition packed with bonus features. Paris extras include an audio commentary incorporating rare vintage interviews with Kelly, Minnelli and others as well as new comments by Caron and Foch; a 42-minute making-of documentary; the American Masters episode Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer; and a vintage cartoon and short. Gigi extras include audio commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger, with additional comments by Caron; a 36-minute making-of documentary; the first screen version of Gigi, a 1949 nonmusical from France; and a vintage cartoon and short.

An American in Paris: ***

Gigi: **1/2

Extras: ***1/2

88 MINUTES (2008). 88 Minutes actually runs 108 minutes, a cruel trick to play on moviegoers who check their watches at the 80-minute mark and erroneously believe they're on the verge of being set free. A film so moldy that it was released on DVD in some countries as far back as February 2007, this risible thriller stars Al Pacino as Dr. Jack Gramm, a college professor and forensic psychiatrist whose expertise has helped the FBI in nailing down serial killers. One such murderer is Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), whose claim of innocence is taken seriously once a new rash of similarly styled killings begins. But are these murders the work of a copycat? Is Forster innocent, and the real killer has never been caught? Is he masterminding the proceedings from his front-row seat on Death Row, with an accomplice doing his dirty deeds? Or is the killer Gramm himself? Director Jon Avnet tries to ratchet up the suspense by presenting every character, right down to bit players, as the possible assassin, but it's an approach that only garners laughs. It's usually fun when a murder-mystery offers several suspects, but this goes beyond serving up some red herrings; here, we get trout, tilapia and mahi mahi as well. Scripter Gary Scott Thompson wrote The Fast and the Furious, so that probably explains why Gramm spends a good amount of time driving a taxi (don't ask). But Thompson also wrote the straight-to-DVD sequels to K-9K-911 and K-9: P.I. – so he's also quite familiar with dogs. Rest assured, this joins the pack of movie mongrels.

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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