Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Of Serial Killers and Tap Dancers

Tony Manero. 2008

Dank dark Chilean film directed by Pablo Larraín that takes place in his home country during the repressive and murderous regime of General Pinochet. The film is about a petty psychopath low life criminal who also happens to be serial killer and is obsessed with the movie Saturday Night Fever and the character of Tony Manero that was played by John Travolta. The lead in this film played to a burnt crisp is Alfredo Castro whose one big goal in his miserable life is to appear on a grim tv show in which desperate people impersonate real life low rung celebrities (Chuck Norris for one) and win cheap prizes like blenders and blankets. This monster murders anyone who gets in his way of reaching his goal of winning this dumb ass contest but he is way too old with his dead eyes and dyed black hair to impersonate Travolta plus he’s a lousy dancer. He has a job performing in a sad and tacky cabaret dance act which includes a mother and daughter who he take turns bedding even though he’s probably impotent and a young man who on the side passes out flyers condemning the regime putting his life and the members of the act in danger. As I mentioned this John Travolta wannabe is a real psycho case who sits in a run down empty movie theatre and watches Saturday Night Fever over and over and over, and scurries through the empty streets of his run down neighborhood like some hungry rat mirroring the atrocities that are happening all around him. He knows full well that like the killers who do the dirty work for Pinochet he too will get away with his immoral deeds. Not for the squeamish (a hot shower might be needed after viewing this one). This is an odd flaky disturbing film, which brings to mind “The Honeymoon Killers or some kind of chamber of horrors sideshow.

Born To Dance. 1936

This clumsy but harmless depression era musical stars an impossibly young James Stewart on the cusp of everlasting movie fame who sings to a bouncy Eleanor Powell the great Cole Porter standard ‘ Easy To Love” in a Central Park that could never exist. Eleanor Powell who was pleasant enough could really tap dance up a storm but she didn’t have the stuff to become a major star. Set in an unreal art deco Manhattan there isn’t much to this musical and what there is there we’ve all seen before and generally with better results. But it does have songs by Cole Porter written especially for this film and includes a now forgotten but lovely Virginia Bruce singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin“. Also in the cast is a jumpy Una Merkel, the wonderful character actor Raymond Walburn playing Navy Captain Dingby (with a name like that you know he has to be good), the big band singer Frances Langford & Buddy Ebson who was a terrific dancer and moves like a double jointed string bean. Stewart, who is in the Navy but getting out soon, sets out for a night on the town with two of his buddies. He meets Eleanor Powell in a stream lined art deco club for lonely hearts that is managed by Una Merkel who just so happens to be married to one of his sailor pals. This pal was played by the unknown to me Sid Silvers who also co-wrote the screenplay and was not very good, which is why he probably remains unknown, at least to me. Merkel who has a little girl by Silvers of which he has no knowledge of since they haven’t seen each other for four years and is played by Juanita Quigley who has to be one of the most annoying child stars in the history of Hollywood. And so its love at first second and third sight for Stewart and Powell whose big dream is to star in some Broadway hit musical but she winds up understudying for Bruce who plays a temperamental Broadway musical diva (are there any other kind) and who has a big hissy fit right before the show is to open because she is jealous of Powell‘s talent and quits the show, thus allowing Powell to go into her dance and wow everyone in Manhattan. There is the big obligatory musical number at the end, and all is right with the world at least in 1936 Hollywood


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