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Monthly Archives: January 2009

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Weekly Mishmash: January 4-10

Jaws (1975). Back in the summer of ’75, I was too young to see Jaws. I distinctly remember my dad, older brother and uncle going to see it while my mom, aunt, younger brother and I had a fun filled dinner at the local Farrell’s ice cream parlour. I finally got to see it a few years later and was blown away. A recent re-viewing confirms that it’s an extremely well made suspense thriller that maybe has been tainted a bit by the “blockbuster” mentality it subsequently spawned in the industry. The movie actually boasts a flawless cast (even the nepotistic Lorraine Gary does a good job in the wifey role), and Spielberg perfectly evokes a ramshackle seaside town dependent on the summer tourist trade. It didn’t make us want to avoid swimming in the ocean, but we had a blast nonetheless.
The Last Mogul (2005). A blah documentary on a fascinating figure deeply entrenched in Hollywood history. Lew Wasserman was a powerful (and shady) agent turned mogul whose encyclopedic career peaked when he was appointed studio head at Universal in its ’70s and ’80s heyday (the film even touches on the making of Jaws). I suppose one could fashion an interesting documentary on this enigmatic fellow, a la Robert Evans with The Kid Stays In The Picture. If only it were half as slickly entertaining as Kid… Alas this one plays a bit like a static old A&E Biography episode, complete with stodgy narration and the same blurry photos used repeatedly. Although only produced four years ago, I noticed that most of the people who knew Wasserman best are now dead (coincidence?).
Looney Tunes New Years Day Marathon (Cartoon Network). With our Ti-Faux running overtime, we recorded 12 hours of this — and, as of yesterday, we’re only halfway through. Sure, these are the faded and “dubbed” mid-’90s prints, but I’ll take any Looney Tunes I can get. Why don’t they show this stuff more often? Better yet, wouldn’t it be cool if Warners, Disney and all the other studios got together and started an all retro cartoon network? I’d never leave the house if that happened.
The Love Bug (1968). This dated yet charming vehicle (there, I had to say it) closed out my Disney live action film viewing marathon. I saw this as a wee tyke and thought it was fun. Now it seems too talky and slow-going in the first half, but by the climactic race’s end I was won over by how the filmmakers endowed delightful personality on a mass of metal and rubber (the title VW, sillies). By this time I was so Disneyed out that the sequel, 1974’s Herbie Rides Again, went unwatched on the DVR.
Mommie Dearest (1981) and Disco Dancer (1983). Observations on re-watching Dearest: 1. In kabuki-ish makeup, Faye Dunaway doesn’t really look or act like Joan Crawford at all. She’s so over the top, in fact, I’m not surprised this was a career-crippling role for her. 2. Dunaway’s costumes by Irene Sharaff are absolutely stunning. 3. The many scenes with Dunaway abusing little Mara Hobel are admittedly difficult to watch. I know it’s acting, but they’re almost too effective. 4. Christina Crawford seems like a spoiled brat who deserved it all and more. This and Disco Dancer made for a very kitschy week. Both revolve around entertainers, and both are about as subtle as Paris Hilton in a thong. On the latter, I’ve already said what needs to be said — dorky to the extreme!
Paranoid Park (2007; added 1/12). After the greatness of Milk, director Gus Van Sant’s previous effort comes across as average and “been there, done that” to me. The thin plot follows a disaffected Portland teen in shifting time perspectives as he accidentally causes a death. Van Sant uses a lot of slow-mo or long takes of skating kids, or the back of someone’s head as they’re walking — but where those techniques were effectively used in 2003’s Elephant, here it just seems self-indulgent (and, given Van Sant’s fascination with high school boys, more than a bit pervy). The film does have its share of good scenes, but overall it suffered from too much padding and a familiar story not strong enough to hang a feature length film upon.

Manifesto for 2009

Manga Books

Although I’m not the New Years Resolution type, there are several things in my life that I want to give a kick start this year. To that end, the first thing I’ve done is having my Illustration/Design Portfolio undergo a much-needed redo. This isn’t a simple update — I’ve expanded the width from the previous 2000-era dimensions and completely replaced three quarters of the content. Now it contains only projects that I’ve done in the last five years. In 2008, most of my workload was manga, manga and more manga for Viz. Several cover design examples, some just coming out this month, are included in the portfolio (and, no, I didn’t draw any of the artwork). Back, front and spine — it’s all there.

My next mission is to get a postcard campaign going advertising my services to book publishers. Although I launched a vague postcard campaign in early 2006, it only landed me two small jobs (one of which was canceled when the client flaked out on me). Hopefully with more book publishing experience under my belt, this next one will go much better. Although I totally dig Viz and working with all their beautifully strange manga artwork, I would also love the opportunity to do many other kinds of books. A friend recently sent me a link to The Book Cover Archive — now that’s the kind of stuff I’d eventually like to do. I want to produce work like Chip Kidd’s or Penguin UK’s David Pearson (but for now I’m happy being Mr. Pearson’s Flickr contact).

One Night in Bangalor

And now something from the 1982 Bollywood camp classic Disco Dancer, which I’m currently wading through on DVD. In a scene that plays like an overlong Solid Gold number with way too much silvery fabric, dancers writhe to a blatant ripoff of the Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star.” No further explanation is needed. Bang bang!

Weekly Mishmash: December 28-January 3

Susan Orlean - The Bullfighter Checks Her MakeupThe Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean. As far as magazine journalists go, I’m a big fan of the witty and hyper-aware Susan Orlean. Her 1999 piece on famously awful girl group The Shaggs is one of my all time faves, a beautifully observed look at misplaced hopes and dreams. That and several other quirky profiles (most of which were originally published in The New Yorker throughout the ’90s) are assembled in Bullfighter. For the most part, the articles are fun and interesting and not too terribly dated. I could see all of them working perfectly as magazine pieces (well, maybe not so much the surprisingly boring one about the African king who moonlights as a taxi driver), but reading them all together makes Orlean’s self-awareness annoyingly apparent. Still, there are a few precious gems here. I remember reading the book’s sharp and offbeat profile of ’80s teen queen Tiffany in Rolling Stone way back when, and her description of Tiffany’s face alone has stayed with me for some odd reason — 20 years later! I also enjoyed her profiles of a young woman who works as the sole reporter at a small town newspaper, another woman who runs a store that only sells buttons, and Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers. And don’t forget that Shaggs piece — all of which make this book worth tracking down a cheap used copy for.
Force of Evil (1948). Every New Years Eve that we’ve been together, Christopher and I have a tradition of watching an old (preferably B&W) movie that neither of us has seen before. This year’s choice was the overlooked John Garfield noir Force of Evil. This one was independently produced and filmed on the streets of New York City, giving the tale of underground numbers rackets a gritty immediacy. In many respects, this film is perfectly adequate — even a bit dull at times. It is, however, bolstered by some fine performances. Garfield is as good as I’ve ever seen him, and portly Thomas Gomez oozes sympathy as Garfield’s conflicted racketeer brother. On the feminine side, we have the delicious Marie Windsor doing what she did best (was there ever a more quintessential femme fatale than she?) and the obscure actress Beatrice Pearson has an unusually smart and self-aware presence in the ingénue role.

Maltese Falcon - Humphrey Bogart and Lee Patrick

The Maltese Falcon (1941). Re-watched this in the past week. Still great, although at times I had a hard time following the convoluted plot. John Huston’s script is a wonder. I think what struck me the most this time was how even the smallest of characters have a depth that’s usually missing from films of this period (or ever, really). And even the smallest of those roles are perfectly cast. Take Lee Patrick (pictured above) as Effie Perine, shrewd secretary to Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. She’s fantastic, and the role is actually quite typical — but I could watch an entire movie that revolved around Effie alone. The chemistry between the two actors is mildly flirtatious (if I remember correctly, the pre-Code 1931 Falcon made it clearer that Effie and Sam had a thing going) and a joy to behold. Just one intriguing slice of a film that has many of ’em.
Milk (2008). This was one of the few new films I wanted to see before it leaves theaters, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. Although in many ways it is a typical bio-pic, I loved the way Gus Van Sant weaves actual documentary footage of Harvey Milk’s campaigning to be the first openly gay city official with dramatically re-created scenes. To be honest, the thought of city politics sounds boring as hell on paper, but this story is so unique it can’t help but be super compelling. Sean Penn literally disappears into this role — there were honestly times that I forgot I was watching an actor play a role. He makes Milk human, compassionate, flawed, and identifiably gay without seeming stereotypical or actor-y. The most obvious sign of this film’s success is that it stays compelling even though you know where the story will end up. Tough to pull off, but here it works.
Wanda (1970). Barbara Loden is unique in film history in that she still ranks as one of the few women who produced, directed and starred in her own film. Although ragged and low budget to the extreme, Wanda is still an interesting experience. Loden plays an aimless young woman living in an ugly-ass steel town. Escaping dull married life, she eventually takes up with a placid-looking but mentally unhinged criminal (played by Michael Higgins, probably the only other professional actor in the cast) as he prepares for one last bank heist. Loden punctuates her character’s fatalism by lingering on bland, ’60s mid-American landscapes — many of which reminded me footage in the documentary Salesman from the same time period. At times she lingers a bit too long, sure, but the film is never boring. I found it uniquely fascinating, and as an actor Loden is so low-key that it’s almost subliminal. It’s a shame that she didn’t live long enough to do much else, but I’m happy that we have this to remember her by.

Two Bunnies and a Duck, the Book

Now that the new year has begun, I can reveal a project that occupied a good chunk of my time last month — Two Bunnies & A Duck: The Book. This was my special Christmas gift for Christopher (who loved it). The book collects the first 22 Two Bunnies & A Duck comics, along with a few extra goodies. With Lulu.com and my trusty copy of Adobe InDesign, the production went as seamlessly as you can get. Honestly, I don’t expect anyone else to buy the $25.95 hardback edition, but there is a considerably cheaper download version at my Lulu storefront.

Two Bunnies & A Duck, The Book