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Monthly Archives: November 2008

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Weekly Mishmash: November 9-15

The Bigamist (1953). I had modest expectations for this melodrama, among the earliest of Ida Lupino’s directorial efforts. Ida also stars, alongside Joan Fontaine and a solid Edmund O’Brien as the title character. The bigamy situation is actually handled with a lot of sensitivity, with good and sympathetic performances all around. If only O’Brien’s bigamy wasn’t revealed so early (and the movie had a different title), the film would have had much more effective dramatic thrust. I wonder how the Production Code handled this — adultery is a no-no, but apparently bigamy is okay? Hmmm.
Blow-Up (1966). I think this is the second or third viewing for me; the first for Christopher. One of my favorite movies from the ’60s. Antonioni’s exuberant stylishness makes up for the fact that the film doesn’t really go anywhere for long stretches at a time. Furthermore, every scene involving mimes is so embarrassing that it makes me wince just writing about them (I don’t know if they’re true mimes, since true mimes don’t talk. Discuss this important topic at your own leisure.). Despite that, this is a quintessentially sixties experience that everyone should have at least once. Let’s give it up for the scene where David Hemmings bullies around a bunch of fashion models:

Cagney by John McCabe. A book that I’ve had for a good ten years or so, but never got around to reading until now. Why? This is a definitive bio of one of my faves. McCabe does a good job of both illuminating Cagney’s onscreen performances and explaining all the complexities of his personality (if only he didn’t rely so much on long, long quotes). Cagney was a street kid who aspired to be a song and dance man like Fred Astaire, a faithful and loving husband who sequestered his two children in their own separate living quarters, and a famous actor who found his deepest fulfillment in farming. A very interesting man, I’d say.
The End of Suburbia (2004). Although scattershot and cheaply produced, this was a pretty good documentary on how American’s addiction to fossil fuels and the outdated concept of suburban living is slowly destroying our society. Although I enjoyed it, at times the film verged into territory of stereotypically liberal hysteria — which damaged its credibility. Even so, I couldn’t shake the central message that Americans will have to make some hard lifestyle sacrifices to even survive another 50 or 100 years. Uplifting, eh?
Janet Jackson — Control. Like Thriller, another classic goodie that I snagged on Amazon for a song (sorry, couldn’t resist). This album sits right where R&B music sounded appealingly ’80s without getting too obnoxious and New Jack Swingy. To be honest, I’m more interested in further exploring Miss Jackson’s obscure first two albums (1982’s Janet Jackson and 1984’s Dream Street) than any of the slick and mega successful stuff that followed.
The Visitor (2008). Absorbing film about an economics professor (Richard Jenkins) whose dull life is turned around by a young couple who are unknowingly squatting in his NYC apartment. I wasn’t surprised to find that Thomas McCartney wrote the screenplay and directed, since it shares a lyrical quality with his previous film, The Station Agent. What drives this film is a fantastically compelling story (we watched it in one sitting, rare for us) in which even the smallest characters resonate vividly. Richard Jenkins deserves an Oscar nomination, and I loved the attractive Haaz Sleiman as the Syrian musician who teaches Jenkins to loosen up.

Sanka Very Much

Recently I was delighted to get an email from one of my illustration heroes, José Cruz. It turns out that he runs an excellent blog, X-FACTOR-E, and is still doing artwork in that uniquely geometric style that first wowed me back in the in the ’80s. Check out his flickr photostream for examples. And, oh yeah, I want this print!

Sonny Side Up

Here’s the 1972 Sanka coffee ad that Mr. Cruz inquired about. Thanks to him, I now know it’s the work of Charles E. White III. I just love this retro cartoony style.

Sanka Coffee Ad 1972

Baby Baby, Ooh Baby Baby

The December Vanity Fair contains a fascinating oral history of Motown records — a good read for casual fans. It’s a bit sketchy for someone like me, but I did enjoy Annie Leibovitz’s accompanying photos of various Motown greats looking happy and relaxed. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a fulfilling way to get into the pioneering label’s history would be to listen to everything they released chronologically on Hip-O Select’s Complete Motown Singles box sets. I just loaded up iTunes with all six discs from the 1965 volume, and hearing the big hits next to unfamiliar obscurities and weird forays into Country and Easy Listening really paints a vivid picture of where this one-of-a-kind company was at that particular time (Smokey Robinson was the man in ’65).

Soda Review: Kickapoo Joy Juice

Kickapoo Joy Juice bottle capManufactured by California-based Real Soda, Kickapoo Joy Juice is a citrusy concoction named after the potent brew from Al Capp’s classic Lil Abner comic strip. I was hoping that this would taste like a primitive version of Mountain Dew, a soda originally marketed with a similar hillbilly theme. In that respect, it didn’t disappoint. Although grapefruit juice numbers among this soda’s ingredients, the insanely sweet flavor ought to be classified more by color than by whatever food it resembles. Drinking it brought on a nostalgic memory of sipping acid green Mister Misty slushes at the local Dairy Queen. Yeah, they called the flavor “lime” but we all knew that the proper name for it was “green” and nothing else!

Kickapoo Joy Juice bottle label

Weekly Mishmash: November 2-8

All the President’s Men (1976). Great movie that I’d never seen before. This was a remarkable view of the Watergate scandal from the media coverage side — which doesn’t tell the definitive story, but it is an illuminating angle nonetheless. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford truly drive the film as Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Aspiring journalists should check this out right away, and people who dig the look of 1970s office furniture (possibly only myself) will have a field day.
House by the River (1950). Dull Fritz Lang film about an aspiring writer from the early 1900s, played by Louis Hayward, who kills a household servant in a fit of passion. Hayward and his brother (Lee Bowman) spend the rest of the film trying to cover up the crime with middling results. Despite Lang’s directing credit, there was really nothing interesting or unusual about this movie — it plods along like a glorified TV drama, and Hayward is too over-the-top to make any lasting impact.
Point Blank (1967). One wild ride. I can see why this John Boorman-directed crime thriller is a bit of a cult item. The dazzling visuals and editing are ahead of their time, and Lee Marvin delivers a meaty performance as a stone-faced hit man driven to get his share of an unpaid debt. One thing that really popped about this film is the striking use of color, especially scenes where the set is mostly variants on one color. The apartment of Marvin’s ex-wife is nothing but white and silver, Angie Dickinson’s place is awash in yellow, while the office of the evil boss is nearly all olive green. At its core, this is a stylish but incomprehensible b-movie — but I’d have to agree with the IMDb reviewer who headlined his piece “Kind of confusing but exciting.”
Rick and Steve – The Complete First Season. This show, described as a gay South Park, was a pleasant surprise. It combines appealing, lego-like stop motion animation with primary colors and a smutty sense of humor. Episodes vary, but the scripts all have the know-how for mocking the stereotypes of LGBT life without wallowing in them. The second season premiere airs this week on the Logo channel. I wish I had the Logo channel.
Rollercoaster (1977). Somewhat fun, somewhat overlong thriller notable for being one of the few films (besides Earthquake) to use the very of-its-time gimmick of Sensurround. This movie is decidedly more low-key than the other ’70s disaster flicks, at times gaining a nice intensity missing from its campier brethren. Early on, there’s one good set piece with a coaster accident sending bloody dummies flying everywhere — after that it settles into a tired cat-and-mouse game with George Segal pursuing psycho bomber Timothy Bottoms. Scenes with the two tramping through Virginia’s Kings Dominion theme park play like a kinky version of that one Brady Bunch episode. The one where Mike’s architectural drawings got mixed up with Jan’s Yogi Bear poster, remember? I kept hoping one of the Bradys would pop up in the background somewhere.

Goldie, Liza and Matt — Together Again!

Okay, now that the election is over we have to go back to the really important issue at hand — namely, sharing goofy old TV clips. Today’s offering is the intro from 1980’s Goldie and Liza Together. I have dim memories of watching this at my aunt and uncle’s house, while the adults were outside having a patio party (I’m sure the parents would have had a conniption if they found out). Re-viewing the entire thing on YouTube makes me realize how nicely produced this particular special was. Goldie Hawn has a surprisingly good singing voice, and Liza Minnelli is her own fabulous self — two things that are very evident in the opening number alone: