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Weekly Mishmash: June 15-21

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.
The Free Design - Kites Are FunKites 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.

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