Entertainment Weekly continues their hallowed tradition of opening multiple cans of worms with its New Classics issue, subtitled “The 1000 Best Movies, TV Shows, Albums, Books & More of the Last 25 Years.” Equal parts cool and infuriating, EW has taken the “list” concept to its logical conclusion and made up an issue consisting entirely of lists. The movies list is overall pretty good, only hitting the overrated and/or inexplicably popular movies at around #25 (Shrek). The TV list is overrun with lots of superpopular shows that I never “got,” but they’re forgiven since they put The Simpsons on top where it rightfully belongs. Several classic albums appear on the music list, although to be honest music is such a subjective thing that they could’ve had 100 different fans picking 10,000 different albums and they would all have some validity. So, EW, your shit still stinks. Don’t even get me started on the bizarre randomness that is the 50 Pop Culture Moments That Rocked Fashion.
What really got me inspired here is their books list, specifically the top 50. This one seemed a lot more thoughtful than the others, and it covers a wide range of stuff. I’m sure there are a few overrated choices there, too, but what struck me personally is that I’ve only read two books in the entire top 50! Those two (technically three) would be Art Spiegelman’s Maus/Maus 2 (#7) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (#16). If I had an endless bank of time, I’d love to read the other 48. Unlike the other lists, most of them actually appear worth looking into. Another time consuming project I’ve been investigating is to check out various novels that have appeared on the year-end best seller lists from throughout the 20th century. Further tempting is the fact that many of those earlier bestsellers are available as free downloads at Project Gutenberg. Unlike EW, apparently, I have a burning desire to know what rocked the average American reader in, say, the year 1902.
The Apple (1980). Welcome to the future, where society is controlled by one giant record company. Will the earnest lady folksinger and her Will Ferrell-lookalike boyfriend get lured into stardom by the evil Mr. Boogalow? This was as horrible as it sounds, a wannabe Rocky Horror crammed with lots of unmemorable songs and beyond tacky mylar fashions. One thing I can say is that it sure is, um, unique, and lovers of bad cinema would be advised to give it a once-over. Now I can’t wait to check out that Bibi’s Greatest Hits album.
Justice: Crimes, Trials and Punishments by Dominick Dunne. This was an unexpectedly fascinating book lent to me by the s.o. It’s made up of reprinted articles from Vanity Fair, with about a third of the pieces devoted to the unbelievable media circus surrounding the O.J. Simpson trial. Going in I thought I was all over O.J., but Dunne’s perspective is utterly riveting and he uncovered a lot of weird and unsettling details about that whole fiasco. It really was a page turner. Dominick Dunne isn’t so much a traditional journalist as a personal observer — a bit gossipy and name-dropping at times, but never lacking in depth. An uncomfortable highlight came from Dunne’s reflections on the tragic death of his own daughter Dominique, and the subsequent trial of her murderer.
Lady and the Tramp (1955). This was part of an ongoing re-evaluation of the classic Disney animated movies. For some reason, previously I lumped Lady and the Tramp in with plush yet boring efforts of the time such as Alice In Wonderland or Peter Pan. I was wrong. Although the predictability of the story is a handicap, this is a warm and beautifully made film. On the widescreen DVD edition, some of the lushly painted backgrounds left me agasp, and the animation teems with quality and craftsmanship. It’s a nice coincidence that I viewed this in the same week as Persepolis (see below), as both films are fine examples of the artistry that can be found in good hand drawn animation.
The Last Picture Show (1971). Checked out this DVD from the library after realizing that I hadn’t seen this in years (and that my earlier viewing was an edited-for-TV version). I believe it’s actually one of the best films of the ’70s, mostly due to the uniformly excellent cast. I also like the bone dry, straightforward tone that Peter Bogdonavich sets fort. You just know that, had a new young filmmaker tried to adapt this book, the film would take on a sarcastic or belittling tone — but Bogdonavich just tells it like it is with a brilliant cast to flesh it out.
Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921). Usually I’m not too hot on earlier silent films (they tend to be static and stodgy), but this Mary Pickford vehicle was nicely made and completely charming from beginning to end. Here Miss Pickford plays the duo roles of the titular street kid turned English Lord and his own mother. The film uses a lot of then-innovative camera trickery with Pickford playing against herself, in addition to making the already petite actress look even smaller as a young boy. Even if I could never fully accept her as a boy, Pickford is plucky and winning as usual. I could totally buy that she was the most famous and beloved woman on earth in the teens and ’20s.
Persepolis (2007). Like many, Persepolis first caught my eye after it garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film. In the end I actually enjoyed this slightly more than the eventual winner, Ratatouille, simply because it’s more ambitious and different. This was great exercise in exploring the human side of political upheaval, and I found myself identifying with the everyday struggles of central character Marjane more often than not. It’s also an impressively creative effort from a stylistic point of view. I loved how the filmmakers used various subtle shifts in visuals, like using color in the contemporary scenes or having the story of Iran’s past dictatorships told in shadow puppet style. It’s kind of sad that it takes a scrappy little French studio to make something so provocative and dazzling, but maybe it’ll serve as a signal for big time U.S. animation to get its collective butts in gear.
A new Two Bunnies and a Duck was posted today that deals somewhat with boredom. Although the comic is coming along nicely, I’m just not feeling terribly creative lately. I can’t even think of anything interesting to post about on Scrubbles. It’s probably a weather thing. I can’t think straight when it’s hot. It’ll probably subside soon.
I’m at awe of the intricate paper cutouts of British illustrator Rob Ryan. Via Drawn!, where it was posted last March. Yeah, I’m that far behind on my blog reading.
The Adventurers (1970). Sitting through three hours of this Harold Robbins adaptation give me the burning need to have an “I survived The Adventurers” t-shirt made up. I was expecting something of a campy romp, but in actuality this movie is a fairly straight-faced chronicle of a young man (played by the obscure and charmless Bekim Fehmiu) as he criss crosses between battle-scarred South America and the poshest enclaves of Europe. The filmmakers were going for a sense of serious epic storytelling, but the script is so hackneyed and dull that one just sits there waiting for something, anything to happen. Things do perk up a bit when Candice Bergen shows up as Fehmiu’s bride, and there are a couple of cringe-inducing fashion shows to gape at. Other than that, this movie is all battles, straight sex, and endless conversations. And Ernest Borgnine.
The Deadly Mantis (1957). As far as giant insect movies go, The Deadly Mantis falls right around the middle. It’s no Them!, but it sufficed for our Saturday night viewing. Competently produced by a big studio, the thrills build up nicely and the cast does a decent enough job. By the end, I was actually feeling sorry for the poor giant praying mantis getting firebombed in the Manhattan Tunnel. All it probably wanted were a few massive aphids to eat.
Kites Are Fun – The Free Design. I love the Free Design, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to download their signature album despite already owning the songs on various old compilations. Kites Are Fun was their first effort from 1967, and right away they have that super-sugary blend of lite pop, jazz and folk down pat. The title track and “My Brother Woody” are not recommended for the diabetic, and ballads like “Don’t Turn Away” are quietly compelling. The anti-materialist screen “The Proper Ornaments” is one of my very favorite tracks of theirs. They rock the harpsichords and quasi-medieval touches on that cut, and the fact that they use the same approach on their cover of the Beatles’ “Michelle” slays me. The album is oddly dated yet timeless at the same time, and listening to it makes me wonder how something as unique as the Free Design ever existed in the first place.
The Last Emperor (1987). This is one of the few Best Picture Oscar winners that I can remember seeing in a theater when it originally came out. Criterion’s recent DVD is a great way to revisit the movie. The sumptuousness of the Chinese court and the Forbidden City scenes look as breath-taking as ever, although if I have a tiny complaint it’s that the second, less sumptuous half doesn’t quite live up to the first. Great direction from Bernardo Bertolucci.
Number 1’s – Stevie Wonder. Amazon’s mp3 store has gotten more interesting since they’ve been running daily specials on certain albums, where customers can download something very cheaply but only for a short time. I nabbed this Stevie Wonder compilation for $2.99 before the price was jacked back up the next day. I have a small issue with the title — since it omits a couple of #1 R&B hits and substitutes other tunes which didn’t hit the top spot on any charts — but it’s classic Stevie and I couldn’t resist at that price.
The Oscar (1966). Oh my. This one really does live up to its camp classic reputation and plays sort of like a male-centric Valley of the Dolls. Where to begin? The balls-out hamminess of Stephen Boyd? The fact that slump-shouldered Tony Bennett flashes back to scenes that his character doesn’t even appear in? The headache-inducing interiors, heavy on gilt-framed French Impressionist prints? Or maybe it’s the odd assortment of celebrity cameos in which they’re placed in the background like props (look, it’s Edith Head!)? All that and Ernest Borgnine, too.
The Threepenny Opera (1931). One of those films that Christopher decided he didn’t want to watch (and he sat through The Adventurers with me!), so I had to view it in tiny chunks over the course of about 10 days. This was a pretty good film, beautifully restored, although in general it didn’t bowl me over. I guess it’s more interesting as a period piece for director G.W. Pabst and early sound German cinema than as an accurate version of the stage piece it’s based upon.
“Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You might remember me from such films as Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die and Gladys, the Groovy Mule.” Know the work of everyone’s favorite animated has-been actor? Mental Floss invites you to take the quiz — Troy McClure film or actual terrible movie? (thanks to Max). I ended up getting 14 out of 15 correct. Curse you, Catalina Caper.