Monthly Archives: August 2008

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Weekly Mishmash: August 24-30

Youth of the Beast (1963)

Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs (2008). It pains me to say it, but this second direct-to-DVD Futurama movie is a big fat bore. What may have been a semi decent TV episode has been stretched into a feature-length slog, padded out with stupid Family Guy-style gags. Sure, I laughed a few times, but at this point Matt Groening and company really need to give the franchise a rest.
The Hidden Fortress (1958). I hate to sound redundant, but uh … this was also kind of tedious. Which makes me feel guilty since it’s vintage Akira Kurosawa and a big influence on George Lucas’ Star Wars script (although even Lucas himself admits it’s not his favorite Kurosawa). Interesting story, and one can obviously tell that Kurosawa is having a field day with the widescreen format, but the characters seemed cardboard-thin and it plods along with little variety in the landscape or tone. On the plus side, I did enjoy Toshiro Mifune (what an intense actor) and the birdlike woman who played the princess. Still, I’d take Rashomon or High and Low over this any day.
Scaramouche (1952). Plush, swashbuckling classic with luscious color and a youthfully attractive cast (yep, even in horrid stage makeup Eleanor Parker looks so lovely). What really counted here was the famous climactic sword battle — director George Sidney executes the long, long scene beautifully. It moves fluidly from a theatre balcony, though the side hallway, out to the lobby, through the audience, then up on stage — boggling the mind as to how many rehearsal hours Stewart Granger and José Mel Ferrer needed to execute it flawlessly.
Winchell (1998). Somebody needs to make a good flick about the notorious gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Although this made-for-HBO effort is fun and breezy, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Stanley Tucci is appropriately smarmy in the title role, and Paul Giamatti is good as Winchell’s put-upon ghostwriter. Unfortunately director Paul Mazursky covers too much ground (some 60 years) and can’t resist using every cliché in the retro-biopic book, including the spinning newspaper headline. The spinning newspaper headline, people!
Youth of the Beast (1963). A dazzling, at times incomprehensible mob action flick from Japanese cult director Seijun Suzuki. Often I couldn’t keep track of what was going on, but the director’s lurid “film noir meets ’60s pulp” sensibility keeps things going at a breakneck pace. Very similar to Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter, although I think I slightly prefer this one due to the magnetic and oddly chubby-cheeked leading actor Jo Shishido. Oh, and I have to mention the wonderful sets in this movie — the nightclub, the movie theater, and the geometric establishment pictured above with separate operator booth, neat sculpture, and bi-colored phones at each table. Groovy!

Library Club President

I don’t think I’ve giggled so hard as while browsing through Flickr’s Yearbook Yourself photo pool. On another note, I’m impressed with how the mall marketing aspect of Yearbook Yourself is integrated with the site (meaning it’s not nearly as obnoxious as it could’ve been). You can swap genders, too! Here’s how I would look as a Class of ’54 girl with two-day stubble:

My Yearbook Photo as a Girl, 1954

International Man of Mystery

Dig the insanely detailed Illustrated Guide to a Life of Mystery poster from the insanely talented illustrator/letterer Ray Fenwick. It’s only twelve bucks, so I might get one for my bedroom.

Big Fat Link Log 3

Clown SketchWe’re nearing the end August. Do you know what that means? Sticky thighs and melting ice cream? Yeah, that — and it’s also time for an update to the annual list of the weblogs I’ve been reading. It just keeps growing and growing, which is another reason why I prefer to keep this thing on a single entry as opposed to taking up lots of room on a sidebar. The starred new additions are not exactly new (even for me), but they are some of the weblogs that have caught my eye over the past year or so. To them and all the other hard-working bloggers on this list, thank you.

2719 Hyperion | * A Child Of Atom | A Joshua Tree In Every Pot | A List Of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago | A Sampler of Things | ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive Project Blog | A.V. Club Blogs | * The Avant Garde Retard | Awful Plastic Surgery | Back of the Cereal Box | Bibi’s Box | The Blackwing Diaries | Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine | Boing Boing | Bob Sassone | Book Covers Blog | * The Book Design Review | Booksteve’s Library | * Boom Pop! | Bostworld | Bradlands Must See HTTP:// | Brand New | Branded in the ’80s | Cardhouse | Cartoon Brew | * Cartoon Curio | * Cinebeats | * clydefro | Coudal Partners | Crack Skull Bob | Davelandblog | Design Observer | Designing Magazines | * Discover A World Of Sounds | The Disney Blog | Disney History | Drawn! | Dynagirl | * e=mcbrennan | Ephemera | * Evan Dorkin | Eye of the Goof | Fanboy.com | * Fawny.org | Fimoculous | Folded Space | Friday Fishwrap | Gatotchy’s Blog | Ghost In The Machine | GlenMullaly.com – The BLOG!!! | gmtPlus9 | * Grain Edit | greg.org | Hacking NetFlix | Hit or Miss | The Hits Just Keep on Comin’ | i like | In Black And White | * Ironic Sans | Irregular Orbit | Jinjur | Just Ask Christopher | * Kevin Kidney | Kottke.org | Lady Bunny Blog | Lileks The Bleat | Little Yellow Different | Lots of Co. | Malls of America | * Mark Simonson | Martin Klasch | Mimi Smartypants | mod*mom | * My So-Called Strife | Neato Coolville | News From Me | * Nintendo Wii Fanboy | The Other Andrew | Other Stream | Passport to Dreams Old & New | Patrick’s Journal | PCL LinkDump | Pop Culture Gadabout | Pop Culture Junk Mail | * Pop Culture Petri Dish | Posterwire | Push. Click. Touch. | Quiddity | * Randomopolis | RaShOmoN | Re-Imagineering | Robot Action Boy | Robot Johnny | * Secret Fun Blog | Self-Styled Siren | Snarky Malarkey | Something Old, Nothing New | Sore Eyes | Swapatorium | * swissmiss | * tikiranch | things magazine | This Justin | Thrilling Days of Yesteryear | Tim Lucas Video WatchBlog | The Tin Man | Tiny Pineapple | Today’s Inspiration | Tom the Dog’s You Know What I Like? | Turbanhead.com | TV Guidance | * Ultra Swank | Ultrasparky | UnBeige | Veer: The Skinny | Vince Keenan | Ward-O-Matic | waxy.org | Web Goddess | WFMU’s Beware of the Blog | Wiley Wiggins | * The World Of Kane | x-entertainment.com | * Your Souvenir Guide

Weekly Mishmash: August 17-23

Crime of Passion (1957). This late-period Barbara Stanwyck melodrama looked like a tawdry treat when it popped up on her TCM Summer Under The Stars day. The only thing it taught me, however, was that even the great Miss Stanwyck can act awful in an awful movie. In the film’s first half hour, her character goes through enough transformations to make Sybil envious: first, she’s a plucky reporter, then she meets L.A. cop Sterling Hayden and becomes his subservient wife. As the movie progresses, she morphs again into a conniving and heartless woman in a series of actions that sets the plot in motion. As it is, the story is not very compelling and the fact that Stanwyck is screechy and unappealing throughout doesn’t add much to the film’s enjoyment. With junk like this, no wonder she would leave movies behind shortly thereafter.
I Was Stalin’s Bodyguard (1989). A dull and artsy documentary intersperses 1930s Russia footage with new interviews of Josef Stalin’s last living bodyguard. The kind of thing your local PBS outlet might have as a time killer at three a.m. One of Christopher’s rentals — and although he’s made some good choices (like Nightfall from last week), this alas was not one of them.
My Favorite Things — John Coltrane. I like my jazz sweet, melodic and not too noodly, so when this classic popped up on Amazon’s download service for only a dollar it was a perfect choice. I was only familiar with the title track before, but the other three selections are in the same vein; good background music for the next time I’m busy doing a manga book design project.
1939 and the Lost World of the Fair1939: The Lost World of the Fair by David Gelertner. I actually bought the hardcover edition of this book as a gift for C. when it first came out in 1995. Yes, it’s taken me thirteen years but I finally got around to reading it. Now that I’m done, I can see why it took so long since Christopher warned me that the book wasn’t very good. Gelertner’s central idea is solid — presenting the 1939 New York Worlds Fair as both a straightforward history and an impressionistic, novelized view from a “typical” visitor — but unfortunately it fails to succeed on either point. Gelertner’s main problem is that he digresses too much, and as a result the book often gets bogged down with his Grampa Simpson-like diatribes over how much more favorably he perceives the America of 1939 versus contemporary times. The diary portions, detailing the memories of a woman who got engaged to her boyfriend at the Fair, go so far afield that at times I wanted to scream “I don’t care!” This lady goes on and on about her conflicted inner feelings with nothing of substance about the Fair itself. It’s very symbolic of this frustrating book — guess I’ll have to keep waiting until this fascinating subject gets the comprehensive book it deserves.
The Raw and the Cooked — Fine Young Cannibals and The ABBA Generation — The A*Teens. Speaking of the ’30s, wasn’t it Noel Coward who wrote something about the power of cheap music? I got these two CDs for a buck fifty each at a thrift store where the proceeds benefit local animal shelters. That princely sum was about how much I’d pay for them, but both are enjoyable nonetheless. I remember digging The Raw and the Cooked in college before the damn CD got stolen just a few years later. This one was big stuff in 1989, producing two #1 hits and an Album of the Year Grammy nom, but in the years since it’s somewhat fallen out of favor. A shame, really, because the album mixes various styles stunningly well and doesn’t have a single bad track. The only thing about FYC I didn’t like was Roland Gift’s limited voice, but he has a quirky charm that elevates the material. The A*Teens was one of a gazillion turn of the Millennium Teen Pop acts which currently clog thrift bins, but I love ABBA’s music and the Eurodisco Hi-NRG treatment they get on this CD is too cheesily irresistible. Plus, the version I got was the limited Target edition with an extra megamix and two videos. Yeah, I know you’re jealous.
Red Garters (1954). An unusual musical parody of Westerns starring Rosemary Clooney and some super stylized indoor sets. This was fun at times, slow going at others, buoyed by Jack Carson and a bunch of bouncy yet forgettable songs. Clooney is fetching when she breaks the fourth wall during her vocal numbers, but she’s not a good enough actress to carry a film (even with a better than average supporting cast). In the end, I’d recommend this only for hardcore fans of weird, genre-bending ’50s flicks.
Thank God It’s Friday (1978). My expectations for this mirrorballed bomb were at a basement level, so it came as a pleasant surprise that I enjoyed this comedy for what it was (a modest, Car Wash-y period piece, basically). The film follows a diverse group of people as they convene for one evening at L.A.’s hottest disco. It’s Robert Altman in polyester and gold chains, only with a groan-inducing script and acting that ranges from decent to abysmal. Donna Summer’s meek wannabe singer takes the stage with “The Last Dance” at the film’s climax, but the scene is actually kinda blah. It’s cool seeing then-unknown actors like Debra Winger and Jeff Goldblum working beneath their talents, but probably the best thing about the movie is its delirious soundtrack (a unique collaboration between the Casablanca and Motown labels). I really gotta find that album somewhere.

To All the Call Letters I’ve Loved Before

Radio Illustration by Matt HinrichsThis is a post about cool local radio stations that I grew up loving in the ’80s and ’90s. Back then the industry was run by real people who loved music and not some crappy demographic chart cranked out by a computer. In hindsight, we can now see that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 pretty much ruined everything.

Writing about these stations makes me think about how much more passive the act of listening to the radio is these days. Local radio now? Sucks. Having a deep aversion to commercials and stupidity, my car’s dial never strays away from the local NPR affiliate. But there is an upside — the internet is where true, passionate radio lives on. Ironically, I don’t find myself listening to much online radio either. Sure, I’ll occasionally tune into Pandora, Luxuria Music, or somebody’s Last.fm station for a radio fix. But it’s not the same. I don’t get the same excitement of wondering what song will come up next (except maybe Luxuria or WFMU on a good day). Let the wistful nostalgia begin:

Station: KSTM
Years of Operation: 1981-87
Typical Songs: Echo & The Bunnymen — “Bring On The Dancing Horses”; The Police — “Synchronicity”
KSTM or “The Storm” is fondly remembered by Phoenix-area listeners as much for its “anything goes” format as for its weak signal emanating from the dusty faraway hamlet of Apache Junction. Back in my high school days I used to tune in sometimes and hear wonderful and completely unfamiliar new stuff from England. Although the station was very DJ-centric and often succumbed to its own quirkiness, the music planted a seed in my young mind to be more adventurous and not fear the unknown. The best thing I remember about The Storm is that they’d play an entire album from beginning to end every night at 10:00. That was unheard of, even back then, but it allowed me to listen to things like Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time. (Many former KSTM staffers are now at the internet station Radio Free Phoenix.)

Station: KUKQ
Years of Operation (Alternative format): 1989-c.92; 1994-95
Typical Songs: Love & Rockets — “So Alive”; Michelle Shocked — “Anchorage”
The station that all the cool kids listened to. Originally a straight-up contemporary R&B station, as of 1989 KUKQ became the first place in the Valley (indeed, the entire U.S.) where one could hear all Alternative Rock, all the time. Prior to this fans had to wait for the occasional KSTM song or strain to hear the faint signal of KEYX, a short-lived but adventurous station that specialized in Alternative and R&B (and likely the only place where one could hear Ministry and Aretha Franklin played back-to-back). The KQ atmosphere was a wild and loosey goosey place with a casual crew headed by the affable Jonathan L. During the station’s height (just before Alternative got commercialized to death), it was an eclectic place that wasn’t hemmed in by any agenda or preconceived notions of what it should be. The euphoria was pretty short-lived, however. KQ was revived in the early ’90s with a harder-edged sound, but by that time I moved on to the next eight call letters listed below. (Jonathan L’s KEYX and KQ memories; a fan’s KUKQ memorial site.)

Station: KYOT
Years of Operation (Eclectic format): c.1992-94
Typical Songs: Tina Turner — “Nutbush City Limits”; Lee Michaels — “Do You Know What I Mean”
I would describe the early, coolest years of “The Coyote” as Oldies With Attitude. The playlist was a little bit of everything, new and old, rock and R&B, interspersed with DJ patter and soundbites from campy movies. This was the only time I heard nuggets like Shorty Long’s 1966 gem “Function at the Junction” on the air. It was a fantastic station, which only made it harder when after a few short years the owners converted it to a lobotomized “Smooth Jazz” format. To this day, I can’t overhear KYOT in restaurants or shops without throwing up a little.

Station: KTWC
Years of Operation: c.1993-95
Typical Songs: Al Martino — “Volare”; Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 — “Going Out Of My Head”
The most obscure station listed here was also the most influential on my own musical tastes today. KTWC was a mysterious Easy Listening station with no deejays and very few commercials — just lots of music interrupted by news breaks every 15 minutes. The playlist was a bizarre bunch of pop songs from the previous 40 years thrown into a blender, foreshadowing the “iPod Shuffle” format of so many internet stations. On a typical day you’d hear Robin Ward’s orgasmic “Wonderful Summer” followed by a schmaltzy instrumental like “Theme From A Summer Place” followed by Brenda Lee’s rockin’ obscurity “Is It True” followed by Olivia Newton-John’s roller boogie masterpiece “Xanadu”. It was here that I can remember being bewitched by a weirdly atmospheric tune with fake bird calls, only to find out years later that it was Martin Denny’s Exotica classic “Quiet Village”. Honestly, hearing that station was like being let in on some cataclysmic and wonderful secret.

Station: KZON
Years of Operations (Adult Alternative format): c.1994-99
Typical Songs: Big Head Todd & The Monsters — “Bittersweet”; The Barenaked Ladies — “If I Had A Million Dollars”
In the mid ’90s, I worked at a suburban satellite office of the local newspaper. Me and my co-workers, all young professionals in their mid to late twenties, loved KZON. Of all the stations listed here, this one was probably the most tightly formatted — in this case, Adult Alternative. Remember AA? Very flavor of the month. Although it often verged on the too-mellow, this was the last local station I can think of which was guided by what the deejays wanted to play. A big chunk of the playlist was popular stuff, sure, but occasionally you’d hear a lesser-known single or an interesting older album cut from an established artist. Little did we know that it was the beginning of the end for truly creative local radio in the Phoenix area.