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Monthly Archives: October 2008

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Midcentury Metropolis

Having fun rummaging about Walt Lockley’s site all afternoon. This is the Phoenix equivalent of James Lileks’ Minneapolis site: quirky commentary on quirky local architecture. Of course, since Phoenix is a relatively young city, there’s a huge emphasis on Midcentury Modern (or at least our own weird, deserty approximation of it) — a style not yet old enough to be considered worth conservation by some old, stodgy Phoenicians. Nerts to them.

Lockley is also a funny and excellent writer. An observation on ASU’s fabulous Gammage Auditorium:

This Gammage either looks like a wedding cake with arms, or a smart little sombrero that George Cukor might have put on Rosalind Russell’s head as she clips in from stage left, yacking, a sombrero eight stories tall, a sombrero with welcoming arms. It’s pink. Officially the Gammage is ‘desert rose’ but it’s really pinker than hell and everybody knows it. The general opinion seems to be that it’s ugly — or as my friend Bisser blurted out, “hideous!” As if the ghost of George Cukor had pinched his ass.

Not only is that building a wonderfully loopy landmark, but I also have a lot of wonderful memories associated with Gammage. As a child/teen, I saw a lot of great theater productions there. It’s in the parking lot that I learned how to drive a stick shift. And inside, at around the eighth row center on a November night, I met my significant other.

Weekly Mishmash: October 12-18

Anne of Green Gables (1934). A wholesomely entertaining Cliff Notes version of L.M. Montgomery’s classic books. I see it as a very ’30s RKO literary adaptation, and a less satisfying companion to George Cukor’s Little Women from the previous year. Anne Shirley (she named herself after this role) plays the character a tad too obnoxiously, but she has an ingratiating charm that fits the curious Anne well.
The Devil’s Sword (1984). This one took me on a flashback to 1983: my dad, my two brothers and I were trying to decided what film to see. Most of us were leaning toward Airplane 2, but my older brother was absolutely hellbent on seeing a 3-D action adventure opus called Treasure of the Four Crowns. Majority ruled that day, but eventually we also saw Four Crowns as well — and it suuuucked. The Devil’s Sword, a cheesy Indonesian sword ‘n scorcery fest, is cut from the same mold. There’s a good guy and a bad guy, both trying to obtain a magical sword from the crocodile queen and her harem of Solid Gold dancers, along with several kung-fu fights, a badass old witch, and a boulder used as transportation device. In its defense, I was sufficiently intrigued by the wackiness to stay tuned to the film’s predictable conclusion. This would have been ten times better given a MST3K treatment, however.
Fallen Angel (1945). Good, not great, noir from many of the same personnel who worked on Laura. Dana Andrews is admirably sleazy as a chiseler who simultaneously pursues Alice Faye’s rich yet dim church organist and Linda Darnell’s hotsy-totsy waitress. The film is beautifully directed by Otto Preminger and filled with many sharp exchanges; I’d rate it higher if Dana wasn’t such a cad and the story wasn’t so familiar.
Hugo Montenegro - Moog PowerHugo Montenegro — Moog Power. One of those kitschy ’60s albums that I’ve always been curious about. This week, I came across a RapidShare download of the album (get it while it’s hot!) and finally got to hear why this was considered a crate digging gem for a time. About as ’60s as Sammy Davis Jr. in gold chains and a paisley nehru jacket, and just as inappropriately groovy. I love the white-bread male chorus on “More Today Than Yesterday” and “Traces,” and the dynamic “MacArthur Park” is tagged for definite inclusion on my next mix — which should be posted here next week. Keep yer ears peeled.
Targets (1968). Fascinating and intense film about a retiring horror film star (Boris Karloff, excellent) who decides to make one last public appearance — at a drive-in with a gun-toting maniac on the loose! Peter Bogdonavich directs and has a supporting role as actor. This movie has a distinctly modern take on violence in society, very detached and cool, and it results in a film that stays with you long after you viewed it. Scenes with the deceptively boyish looking killer on top of a water tower, dispatching highway motorists with chilling accuracy, have an uncomfortable resemblance to the Zapruder film (and this was only five years after the Kennedy assassination!). On a superficial note, I love the tacky blue-on-blue interior decoration on the sniper’s family home. My hat’s off to the set dresser who achieved that perfect Lawrence Welk Minimalist look.
Taxi to the Dark Side (2007). Compelling documentary from Alex Gibney, director of the equally hard-hitting Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. This time Gibney turns his lens on an innocent Afghan taxi driver who was interrogated and tortured to death in 2002. This man’s story serves as a springboard toward discussions about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the Bush administration’s underhanded attempts to redefine “torture” for its own means. While some methods might be more humane than others (forced Devil’s Sword viewings, perhaps?), torture is torture. The most refreshing aspect of this film is that it’s told in a straightforward manner with no obvious agenda. Having the people who were there speaking on what happened is its most effective narrative device. Oh, and Bush still sucks, pass it on.
Your Money Or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money And Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. This was recommended to me by J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly fame a few years back; it didn’t enter my mind again until recently when I spied it on a thrift store shelf and purchased it for, like, a dollar (something the authors would approve of, I’m sure). Although published in the early ’90s, much of the sensible advice proffered carries even more relevance in today’s credit-strapped economic climate. I’m surprised at how much of the authors’ regime Christopher and I already follow. Get out of debt. Pay off your entire credit card every month. Cut out anything that uses excessive energy (you’d be amazed at how easy it is to live without a dishwasher or clothes dryer). Buy only stuff you need. Prioritize your life and weed out expensive hobbies and/or cash-sucking activities (buying new work clothes, for instance). I’d agree with J.D. that this book’s tone gets a bit New-Agey at times, but reading it inspired me to take steps further and track all of my income/expenses. I really need to know if my paltry income as a freelance designer is covering more than half of our household expenses. This book frequently gets republished; the next paperback edition comes out in December.

So Wop On Your Feet

“Can’t Stop Moving” by Sonny J might be my new fave song/video — love the dancers, the wonky animation, and the overall infectious, Free to Be… You and Me vibe of the thing. For further research, view the Mirwais remix or the original 2007 viral video in which the tune is paired up with imagery from the old Jackson 5 Saturday morning cartoon. Funky.

Soda Review: Rat Bastard Root Beer

Rat Bastard Root BeerRat Bastard root beer is produced by an L.A. company who owns the dead url of Scared yet? I haven’t even gotten to how they put the slogan “Don’t be a dick. Drink it.” on the cap. Truth be told, sipping on this is a mighty odd experience — at first the soda comes off with a typical and pleasantly sweet taste similar to Barq’s. After a few seconds, however, a deep and lingering flavor more reminiscent of herbal tea kicks in. A look at the label reveals it contains a special herbal blend consisting of three varieties of ginseng, clove, dong quai, ginko biloba and a bunch of other weedy sounding things I’d never heard of. The herbs give it an appealing, sophisticated taste — unexpected, given the bottle’s “sk8tr boi” label design. The guy working at Pop The Soda Shop told us that this is their best selling root beer, and I can understand why.

Rat Bastard Root Beer

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Weekly Mishmash: October 5-11

The Dark Knight (2008). For my birthday weekend, I wanted to see a movie the old fashioned way, sitting in the theater. Despite being months old, this was the movie I chose. For a summer blockbuster, it was pretty good. I liked the concept of a “realistic” superhero movie where the principals are essentially normal people who are capable of doing extraordinary things. Christopher Nolan’s direction was daring, violent and dark, with several impressive set pieces and neat storyline twists. That said, the movie was also punishingly overlong and too ambitious for its own good. The script’s several competing plots would be better suited to two (or more) films, Christian Bale was kind of boring, and Heath Ledger’s Joker didn’t quite live up to the hype (at least he wasn’t all hammy like Nicholson).
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! (1966). “I got a rock.” In a strange coincidence, much of the birthday haul this year had a “vintage Peanuts” theme. One brother got me The Complete Peanuts 1965-1966, another got me a DVD set containing the classic Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas specials, and my pal Ion gave me some cool magnets and sticky notes. Guess some people know me well! On this remastered DVD, the Great Pumpkin stands up well with a nifty new making-of featurette. I love the watercolor-style backgrounds and Vince Guaraldi’s mellow jazz piano. Still classic, very evocative, but not as much of a downer as the Christmas special.
Performance (1970). I’ve always been curious about this cult movie, but once seen it’s a bit disjointed and frustratingly split into two distinct halves. The first half is a dazzling Brit mob movie, with kinetic directoral touches that are far ahead of their time. For the second half, however, the filmmakers decided to ignore the script and do a lot of long, draggy scenes with Mick Jagger and his two groupies in their dingy flat. How very 1970. Disorientation rules throughout, but James Fox has a commanding presence as the badass mobster. The movie essentially belongs to him, despite the Jagger-heavy marketing.
Shree 420 (1955). One of the better Bollywood musicals I’ve seen, with a beautiful b&w production that’s on par with Hollywood efforts from the same era. It’s as overlong and campy as other films of its ilk — but once you get past star Raj Kapoor’s schmaltzy and overbearing Chaplin imitation (it fades as the film proceeds), this is a sweet and uplifting movie with several terrific musical numbers. One such scene, with leading lady Nargis instructing her students on the finer points of vegetables, is the very definition of adorable: