Archive for March, 2009

Tuesday Miscellany

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Different things on the last Tuesday in March … swellorama design blog Grain Edit has an interview with Andy Cruz of House Industries on their Alexander Girard products. They’re also having a giveaway on the same stuff. At least Cruz did a good job of explaining why it’s so pricey!

Have you seen the vintage photography at Life.com? I don’t think everything within originally came from the magazine’s archives (I know they’re missing at least one famous photo of ’40s starlet Chili Williams in an early bikini that appeared within their pages), but it is a neat place to explore. I found this fascinating behind-the-scenes pic from Love on a Budget, a 1938 b-picture starring Russell Gleason and … Joyce Compton.

Love On A Budget

Finally, my pal Patrick has compiled some mixes of mellow ’70s/’80s soft rock and is sharing it with the world at large. Among the 45 songs on Soft Rock for Soft Cocks (creative title, no?) is songwriter Carole Bayer Sager‘s “It’s the Falling in Love.” I have a bit of a fixation on that song right now. Michael Jackson’s rendition from Off the Wall is the best known, of course, but the tune was also recorded by Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Bridgewater. There’s even footage of Marie Osmond performing it on YouTube. Who knew?

Weekly Mishmash: March 22-28

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Al Green — Let’s Stay Together. Downloaded from Amazon for $1.99. Although I’m a huge ’70s soul fan, strangely enough I’ve never owned anything by Al Green — not even a greatest hits collection. This LP was a good introduction. Everybody knows the title track, of course, and the rest of the LP follows in the same mellow (though not as memorable) groove. Another highlight on this album is Green’s anguished, 6-1/2 minute take on the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” I always believed (incorrectly) that this tune was a hit single; apparently it’s survived this long on being merely a killer album track.
Lives and Loves of Daisy & Violet HiltonThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins by Dean Jensen. Excellent bio, touching on a lot of broader subjects — the fickleness of fame, the search for love and companionship — all through the story of conjoined twins who led an eventful life through just about every sphere of the mid-20th century entertainment world. As a biographer, Dean Jensen is a bit fanciful. He fills this book with conversations that obviously weren’t documented, along with iffy details that nevertheless give a terrifically evocative sense of place and time. Usually I hate this style of writing, but I actually found it absorbing here and totally befitting its subject. From the beginning all the way to the twins’ humble final years, dutifully working as produce weighers in a North Carolina grocery store, this was a “page turner” that kept me captivated.
Match Point (2005). Although I’m a fan of Woody Allen’s movies, until Match Point I hadn’t seen anything of his since 1994′s Bullets Over Broadway. Maybe I just thought his best films were behind him as it were. This was a surprisingly good thriller, playing somewhat like the “serious” half of Crimes and Misdemeanors. Woody Allen’s version of upper class London life is just as hermetically sealed and squeaky clean as his New York-set stuff from the ’80s. Aside from the odd soundtrack featuring early opera recordings, however, there aren’t a lot of Allen-like touches here — which is a relief. The script is pretty good, enlivened with some great locations (like that to-die-for apartment on the Thames). Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson sure are pretty to look at — too bad they’re no great shakes in the acting department.
Pandora’s Box (1929). It’s been about ten years since we last saw this — and it’s as potent as ever. G.W. Pabst made the perfect choice of Louise Brooks to play Lulu, in an iconic performance. Lulu is a frivolous, complex woman given depth by the gorgeous, helmet-haired actress. Even the scene with her staring at a lit candle is mesmerizing. Still one of my favorite silent movies. Criterion’s DVD is surprising; I kept thinking it had deleted scenes, but in actuality the film’s speed got slowed down to a more naturalistic pace. As with the cleaned up image, it’s a huge improvement. The DVD also has a choice of four different scores, which I didn’t know at the time. The one we heard, composed by Gillian Anderson (not the X-Files star), was terrible — bombastic, stereotypically “German” music that never attempted to match the mood of the scenes it underscored. That was a huge disappointment, but on the other hand there’s a cool bonus disc with documentaries and interviews with the enigmatic Miss Brooks. It’s frustrating that Brooks grew tired of the movies and retired early on; had she stuck it out and not been so feisty, she could’ve been an even bigger celluloid legend.
Shack Out on 101 (1955). This tawdry little melodrama got onto the TiFaux after reading enthusiastic comments about it from both Ivan and Vince. Well, I can say that it is different. Lee Marvin displays unimaginable amounts of uninhibitedness as a cook at a seaside hash house where shady goings-on are happening. I also enjoyed Keenan Wynn as the dive’s proprietor and Terry Moore as a slutty yet patriotic waitress. Most of the action on this bargain basement potboiler takes place on a set that looks like a Red Lobster outlet gone to seed. Honestly, it’s kind of a dull, grimy little affair, but the curious amongst you might want to check it out.
They Might Be Giants — Flood. I went to the record store last week wanting to get a new CD. How very 1990s, eh? Anyhow, after spending close to an hour looking through all the racks, I only wound up with an extremely safe choice in They Might Be Giants’ Flood. I already knew it was pretty good, having owned the gatefold sleeved vinyl edition since the album’s 1990 release (I remember this well, since that was the very last year the major record labels were still producing LPs in large numbers). Revisiting these 19 tracks reveals an album that has actually held up admiringly well. TMBG’s nerdy chic ethos has proven to be prescient these days, and Flood catches them brimming over with creativity. “Birdhouse In Your Soul” is the kick-assiest, of course, but I also dig the cajun-like “We Want A Rock” and the danceable “Twisting.” The first half gets a solid A+; the more routine second half grades more of a B-.

Vinyl Toy? Yes, Sir.

Friday, March 27th, 2009
Kid Robot Simpsons Smithers

Earlier this week, I went to my fave local indie record store. At the check out register, they had a tempting display of boxed Simpsons figurines made by Kid Robot. Of course, I had to get one; this isn’t the first time I’ve been captivated by collector vinyl toys. Like the Kubrick series, these Simpsons figurines are “blind boxed” and have all the series’ characters pictured on the packaging, alongside your odds of getting them. This particular series has 24 different characters, including three mystery characters (Googling reveals them to be Devil Flanders, Snake and Krusty’s monkey assistant). Most common are the Simpson family not counting Maggie; least common are Funzo and the Channel Ocho Bee. There was a lot of anticipation when I opened my box and found… Smithers! Although these Kid Robot toys aren’t as well-made as the Kubricks or the Todd McFarlane figurines, they are pretty cool with adorable, baby-like proportions. I love how mini Smithers has his own little Malibu Stacy doll. A doll holding a doll … how wonderfully meta.

P.S. A new Two Bunnies & A Duck has been unleashed today.

Artists Only

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Today’s video serves as a reminder that, a long time ago, PBS used to show something besides Britcom repeats and Doo Wop concerts. During its 1984-87 run, Alive From Off Center served as a venue for a variety of experimental short films, dance pieces and performance art. This clip is the opening from earlier in the show’s run (setting the edgy yet mainstream, very ’80s tone of the show), and a sequence with photographer William Wegman and a very patient Weimaraner.

Margaret Sullavan in Your Hands

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Warner Home Video has finally gotten with the program and made many films from their chin-deep classic film library available on made-to-order DVDs. At WarnerArchive.com, they already have a good quantity of obscure goodies with the promise of more to come, along with (a nice feature) previews of the good-to-great picture quality each title holds. The bad news is that the DVDs are $19.99 a pop and extras-wise contain little more than a theatrical trailer. Warner also hints that the prices may go down depending on how popular this venture turns out.

P.S. — I titled this post after the fact that no less than three of the scintillating Ms. Sullavan‘s films — The Shopworn Angel, Three Comrades and The Shining Hour — are available through the site.

Weekly Mishmash: March 15-21

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Jeez, I saw a lot of movies in the past week.
Blindness (2008). Considering its pedigree, something of a disappointment. Julianne Moore (great as always) leads the cast as the sole sighted woman after an unnamed metropolis is gripped in a mysterious blindness epidemic. Had a lot of potential going in, but the story gets tripped up with one implausibility after another. The direction came across as too “artsy fartsy,” especially considering that the film veers into predictable Lord of the Flies-style territory. It’s a shame, since there are many good, small performances in this one.
Chained for Life (1951). Fascinating, at times downright awful vehicle for conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton. The Hiltons were minor celebrities in the ’20s and ’30s — famous for being charismatic and beautiful entertainers who just happened to be permanently joined in their rear quarters. They even netted small roles in the notorious Freaks (1932); the poverty row production Chained for Life was their one attempt at leading ladydom. By this time they were in their forties and looking a bit haggard; although stilted actresses (Violet was pretty decent, Daisy awful), the ladies are charming nonetheless in this rote story of unrequited love gone bad on the vaudeville circuit. The twins sing a few cute numbers; strangely, I never noticed their condition until they started walking around. This film has a strange ending and the DVD’s blurry print is a pain to sit through, but it’s worth a watch for the morbidly curious.
Coraline (2009). We finally caught this last Thursday — at a showing in which we were the only patrons in the entire theater! What can I say, it’s excellent — although I did find Dakota Fanning’s voice shrill at times. Christopher found it underwhelming, but I was captivated by the creepy atmosphere and the fantastic attention to detail (e.g., bug-themed wallpaper in the bug room). I hope whoever already saw this stuck it out through the very end — the post-credits bit was an extra special treat.

The Doll Squad (poster detail)

The Doll Squad (1973). Was Ted V. Mikels the Ed Wood of the ’70s? After seeing this kitsch classic, I’d have to say hell yeah. The Doll Squad is best known for having so many similarities to Charlie’s Angels that the filmmakers sued. Where Aaron Spelling’s TV hit was all jiggle and fluff, though, this movie is violent, sleazy and tackier than a roomful of olive green shag carpeting. This movie is about a team of beautiful undercover female agents, with a surprisingly competent Francine York as the head Doll who knows how to kick a baddie’s ass without mussing up a single auburn hair. The first half is frenetically paced and campy, filled with weird moments like the scene where two Dolls off a pair of guards with poisoned vodka and cookies (?). However, the film’s dull second act is proof positive that Mikels was a big hack. Actually, my favorite thing about this movie is Nicholas Carras’ “cop show” style soundtrack, energetic and hilariously inappropriate in some spots (really, ’70s wacka wacka guitars for shots of people walking across the room?).
Harakiri (1962). This well-acted, beautifully told samurai film has danced in and out of the IMDb Top 250 for some time now. While overlong and talky, the film does explore an angle not usually covered in films of this ilk. Namely, what happens to an old samurai warrior after he’s outlived his usefulness? Most of the action takes place in the austere but huge home of a 17th century feudal lord in Edo, Japan. A flashback-filled tale unfolds in beautiful black and white. The wide screen cinematography, neatly presented on Criterion’s DVD, is some of the most beautiful I’ve seen.
They All Laughed (1981). Peter Bogdanovich loves this movie. I do not. The plot was thin, the women were vacuous, and — except for some fabulous street footage of New York in 1980 — I was bored.
Wife, Husband and Friend (1939). Plodding fluff about a socialite who desperately wants to be an opera singer, despite having no singing talent. She is further vexed when her husband actually becomes a famous opera singer without even trying. This was, oddly, based on a James M. Cain story, which kinda made me wish the characters plotted to murder each other. It would have been a lot more interesting that way. Loretta Young is miscast in the lead; she’s too young and lovely and her singing voice is obviously dubbed (and not incompetent enough to be believable). Obviously the part should have been played by a saucy Verree Teasdale type, an actress who would have been infinitely better matched with Warner Baxter as the husband.