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Monthly Archives: April 2009

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They Say That Cookie Is a Bad Mutha

Cookie Monster does an Isaac Hayes thang with “Cookie Disco.” I don’t recall seeing this one at all! Fun fact: the song was co-written by Christopher Cerf, son of Random House publisher and What’s My Line? panelist Bennett Cerf. We can dig it.

Many other vintage Sesame Street goodies can be seen on NantoVision’s channel.

Disney, Disney and More Disney

A few months after launch, the Disney company’s hoity toity club D23 has been getting mixed to bad reviews from the fans. Granted, charging seventy-five bucks a year for a glossy, shallow magazine and the honor of buying overpriced tchotckes online was a foolish move in this economic climate. I also detest how they’re casting too wide a net on this thing, attempting to rope in both classic Disney fans and the Hannah Montana/High School Musical tweens. Three words, Disney: ain’t gonna happen. Pity, because the website is actually pretty cool for what it’s worth. Nicely researched articles such as this profile of the late voice actress Robie Lester are luckily free to non-members. Disney is a huge corporate entity with no capability whatsoever of being self-critical, so I don’t expect much of D23 — but what they have so far is a pleasant little diversion.

More Disney goodness: Eight Great Moments of Design at Walt Disney World, a long but worthwhile entry from the astute blogger behind Passport to Dreams, Old and New. I actually missed most of these on my trip last year, so it gives me something to look forward to should I ever get back.

Coincidentally, James Lileks has been filing a Walt Disney World trip report — so far he’s got day one at Animal Kingdom and day two at Epcot, with more to come. I like his perspective on things, and the fact that he keeps comparing the place with what Unofficial Guide readers say is hilarious (I was doing the same thing on my visit a year ago).

Weekly Mishmash: April 5-11

All Through The Night (1942). Humphrey Bogart appears to be having a ball in this action packed thriller with comedy elements. Here he plays a Guys & Dolls-like gambler who gets mixed up with a murderous gang of undercover Nazis posing as New York City antique dealers. Starts off peppy and fun with the usual Warner Bros. zing and a peppery cast that includes a young and unknown Jackie Gleason. The comedy never jells, however, and after an hour the film surprisingly becomes a drag which never seems to end. Too bad. I loved Judith Anderson here as a Dragon Lady in a sequined black gown.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). Add another one to the “needless remakes” pile. Why did they bother? Keanu Reeves (typecast as a robot) and Jennifer Connelly are boring, the CGI is gratuitous, and the script succumbs to a lot of stupid lapses in logic (e.g., bugs that can destroy a stadium in seconds can’t touch a tiny bridge?). Worst of all is Jaden Smith as Connelly’s stepson. I don’t remember the part of the kid being that prominent in the original; here, the role balloons into that of a shrill brat who stops the film dead in its tracks whenever he’s onscreen. Not since The Phantom Menace has a movie been so sabotaged by an annoying, screen-hogging moppet.
I Married A Monster From Outer Space PosterThe H-Man (1958) and I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). The TiFauxed gatherings of a night of ’50s sci-fi broadcast by TCM on March 31st. Produced by Toho Studios of Godzilla fame, The H-Man concerns a bubbling blob of goo that attacks Tokyo denziens at night — leaving only their clothes behind. Campy fun tempered with effectively creepy scenes of people liquifying in their own clothes. I also loved the colorful ’50s atmosphere, including a nightclub where the dancers wear surprisingly skimpy outfits for 1958. TCM’s showing was the dubbed, pan and scan Americanized version, but I enjoyed it just the same. I Married a Monster from Outer Space was another dark gem — don’t let the kitschy title fool you. This story of a young bride (Gloria Talbott, who’d previously played Jane Wyman’s bratty daughter in All That Heaven Allows) who comes to realize that her new husband (Tom Tryon) is not the man he used to be reeks of ’50s paranoia. As the film unfolds, it is revealed that aliens are taking over the bodies of all the men in the town so that they can eventually impregnate the women and save their kind. This movie is very well-made and has that proper anti-Commie slant — but I could also detect an unspoken homophobia in there as well, which makes this doubly fascinating. A major premise of the movie is that all of the alienized men have a sudden kinship with each other that the women don’t understand; helping further is the fact that the lanky Tom Tryon actually was gay and gives off some serious gaydar in this role. Or am I reading too much here?
Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies by Jason Surrell. A nicely written history of the theme park attraction in all its incarnations, beautifully illustrated with tons of old concept renderings. For an official Disney-sanctioned book, the text surprisingly depends on many imagineer quotes taken from the fan-run vintage Disneyland magazine The E-Ticket. This book also chronicles the making of the first PotC movie, which had its moments but isn’t my cup of tea. I also liked reading the company’s namby-pamby rationalizations for giving the Pirates a P.C. makeover in the late ’90s, and more recently for adding an animatronic Jack Sparrow to the ride. For today’s Disney, it’s all about raking in the bucks.
Strangers with Candy (2005). I used to enjoy Strangers With Candy when it was on Comedy Central. Amy Sedaris was a riot as tough talking ex-druggie convict turned high schooler Jerri Blank. This big screen adaptation, however, was a disappointment. In opening the premise up to filmic proportions, the hilarious “after school special” flavor of the series was tossed aside for a dull plot in which Jeri and her nerdy classmates try to win the school’s science fair. The one saving grace is Sedaris’ complete lack of vanity as Jerri Blank, and in that respect she scores.
Secrets (1933). A well-mounted period production in which Mary Pickford and Leslie Howard play a couple whose loving relationship spans fifty years. At the age of forty, this was Pickford’s final film. The silent screen legend strains credibility as a teenager in early scenes, and her cutesy-poo mannerisms sometimes go too far (at times she reminded me of Georgette from The Mary Tyler Moore Show). The melodrama is also hobbled with being too episodic and old fashioned, but Frank Borzage directs smoothly and Pickford gets one fantastic scene when her ranch home gets attacked by vicious rustlers. Worth a look for the curious.

Lines Are Fun

Time for a vintage film that evokes memories of painstakingly laying strips of wet newspaper on a balloon in third grade art class. The virtually dialogue-free Art For Beginners: Fun With Lines ambles along like a mellow Sesame Street segment. It was produced by Coronet in 1973, with lots of cool shots in and around Chicago. Hands on your desks, students, and don’t eat the Play-Doh.

The Real One Hit Wonders of the ’80s

Just finished watching all five hours of VH1’s 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders Of The ’80s. Brainless fun, but they sure are running these things into the ground.

You might remember that VH1 already did a One Hit Wonder countdown a few years back, hosted by No Hit Wonder William Shatner. As with that show, I have issues with the network’s definition of “One Hit Wonder.” Apparently they’ve decided that, coming up on twenty years hindsight, only having one memorable hit in the ’80s is enough for an artist to qualify for the privilege of having d-list celebrities snarking on them. Therefore you have a-ha’s era defining “Take On Me” comfortably perched at #3, forgetting that the synthy Norwegians also had a decent sized follow-up hit (“The Sun Always Shines On TV”) and a pretty good Bond theme (“The Living Daylights”) to their credit. This is both revisionist and sloppy.

It all begs the question — what is a true One Hit Wonder? I use the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts as my yardstick. If a song peaks in the top 40 (or, better yet, the top 10), it’s a hit. If a particular artist has only one single that peaked in the Pop top 40 — one song and nothing else in the Hot 100 — that singer or group can claim the title of One Hit Wonder proudly. You might want to know how well VH1 did in this regard. Combing through Joel Whitburn’s book Top Pop Singles 1955-1999, I’ve logged below every single artist who had only one single peaking in the top 40 from 1980-1989 (the list also includes a few stragglers who entered the charts in late ’79, like the Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”). Songs that are bolded are also on VH1’s list. As you can see, there aren’t too many bolded tunes here. It doesn’t take a mediocre comedian to notice that reality and VH1 don’t quite jibe.

Artists United Against Apartheid – Sun City (#38, 1985)
Autograph – Turn Up The Radio (#29, 1985)
Boys Club – I Remember Holding You (#8, 1988)
Boys Don’t Cry – I Wanna Be A Cowboy (#12, 1986)
Martin Briley – The Salt In My Tears (#36, 1983)
The Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star (#40, 1980)
Rocky Burnette – Tired Of Toein’ The Line (#8, 1980)
Roseanne Cash – Seven Year Ache (#22, 1981)
Felix Cavaliere – Only A Lonely Heart Sees (#36, 1980)
Gavin Christopher – One Step Closer To You (#22, 1986)
Stanley Clarke – Sweet Baby (#19, 1981)
Clarence Clemons – You’re A Friend Of Mine (#18, 1985)
Climie Fisher – Love Changes (Everything) (#23, 1988)
Cock Robin – When Your Heart Is Weak (#35, 1985)
Company B – Fascinated (#21, 1987)
Marshall Crenshaw – Someday, Someway (#36, 1982)
Rodney Crowell – Ashes By Now (#37, 1980)
Danny Wilson – Mary’s Prayer (#23, 1987)
Diesel – Saulsalito Summernight (#25, 1981)
Charlie Dore – Pilot Of The Airwaves (#13, 1980)
Double – The Captain Of Her Heart (#16, 1986)
Larry Elgart & His Manhattan Swing Orchestra – Hooked On Swing (#31, 1982)
E.U. – Da’Butt (#35, 1988)
Face To Face – 10-9-8 (#38, 1984)
Harold Faltermeyer – Axel F (#3, 1985)
Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On (#13, 1982)
Get Wet – Just So Lonely (#39, 1981)
Godley & Creme – Cry (#16, 1985)
Haircut One Hundred – Love Plus One (#37, 1982)
Jan Hammer – Miami Vice Theme (#1, 1985)
Hipsway – The Honeytheif (#19, 1987)
John Hunter – Tragedy (#39, 1985)
Rebbie Jackson – Centipede (#24, 1984)
JoBoxers – Just Got Lucky (#38, 1983)
Oran “Juice” Jones – The Rain (#9, 1986)
Jump In The Saddle – The Curly Shuffle (#15, 1984)
Junior – Mama Used To Say (#30, 1982)
Kix – Don’t Close Your Eyes (#11, 1989)
The Korgis – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime (#18, 1980)
Laid Back – White Horse (#26, 1984)
Larson-Feiten Band – Who’ll Be The Fool Tonight (#29, 1980)
David Lasley – If I Had My Wish Tonight (#36, 1982)
Jeff Lorber – Facts Of Love (#27, 1987)
Gloria Loring – Friends And Lovers (#2, 1986)
M/A/R/R/S – Pump Up The Volume (#13, 1988)
Nancy Martinez – For Tonight (#32, 1986)
Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy (#1, 1988)
Bob & Doug McKenzie – Take Off (#16, 1982)
Models – Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight (#37, 1986)
Shirley Murdock – As We Lay (#23, 1987)
Nena – 99 Luftballons (#2, 1984)
Gary Numan – Cars (#9, 1980)
John O’Banion – Love You Like I Never Loved Before (#24, 1981)
Ollie & Jerry – Breakin’… There’s No Stoppin’ Us (#9, 1984)
Opus – Live Is Life (#32, 1986)
Benjamin Orr – Stay The Night (#24, 1987)
Oxo – Whirly Girl (#28, 1983)
Partland Brothers – Soul City (#27, 1987)
Leslie Pearl – If The Love Fits Wear It (#28, 1982)
Point Blank – Nicole (#39, 1981)
Dan Reed Network – Ritual (#38, 1988)
Cheryl Pepsii Riley – Thanks For My Child (#32, 1988)
Roachford – Cuddly Toy (Feel For Me) (#25, 1989)
Romeo Void – A Girl In Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing) (#35, 1984)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Hooked On Classics (#10, 1981)
Scarlett & Black – You Don’t Know (#20, 1988)
Charlie Sexton – Beat’s So Lonely (#17, 1986)
Phil Seymour – Precious To Me (#22, 1981)
Silver Condor – You Could Take My Heart Away (#32, 1981)
Frankie Smith – Double Dutch Bus (#30, 1981)
Soft Cell – Tainted Love (#8, 1982)
Judson Spence – Yeah, Yeah, Yeah (#32, 1988)
Jim Steinman – Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through (#32, 1981)
Suave’ – My Girl (#20, 1988)
Patrick Swayze – She’s Like The Wind (#3, 1988)
Sylvia – Nobody (#15, 1982)
Taco – Puttin’ On The Ritz (#4, 1983)
Ta Mara & The Seen – Everybody Dance (#24, 1985)
John Taylor – I Do What I Do… (#23, 1986)
Timbuk 3 – The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades (#19, 1986)
Timex Social Club – Rumors (#8, 1986)
Tom Tom Club – Genius Of Love (#31, 1982)
T’Pau – Heart And Soul (#4, 1987)
USA For Africa – We Are The World (#1, 1985)
Vandenberg – Burning Heart (#39, 1983)
Vangelis – Chariots Of Fire (#1, 1982)
The Vapors – Turning Japanese (#36, 1980)
Don Williams – I Believe In You (#24, 1980)
World Party – Ship Of Fools (#27, 1987)

Weekly Mishmash: March 29-April 4

ABC — Up and Abracadabra. Two cheap-o old CDs that I bought out of curiosity. I somewhat liked ABC in the ’80s, especially their wonderful Lexicon of Love LP. These later efforts illustrate what happens when formerly popular musicians adapt to changing tastes. 1989’s Up was their stab at a “House” album, complete with cringingly dated synths and brain-dead, repetitive drum machine beats. The only halfway decent song (“The Real Thing”) is a “Look of Love” ripoff. The group fared a lot better with the overlooked Abracadabra, but by 1991 apparently nobody really cared enough to notice. This album also has its share of filler, but at least the duo carve out a pleasing neo-soul groove throughout. The production has a consistently jazzy, kinetic sound similar to what Lisa Stansfield and Soul II Soul were doing at the time. No Lexicon, but an enjoyable set nonetheless.
Double Indemnity (1944). Best film noir of all time? I think this is the third time I’ve seen this one, and it really stands out as a well made and suspenseful film on all levels. Were I to introduce someone to the magic of classic movies, I’d likely start here. Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, and director Billy Wilder have never been better. One thing that stood out for me is go-round is the crackin’ dialogue (“I wonder if you wonder.”). As further proof of its greatness, this movie has been rated by five of my Netflix friends — all of whom gave it the highest rating of five stars.
Paradise Now (2005). From IMdB’s plot description: “The story places two close friends, Palestinians Said and Khaled, recruited by an extremist group to perpetrate a terrorist attack in Tel-Aviv, blowing up themselves. However, things go wrong and both friends must separate in the border. One of them, maintaining in his purpose of carry the attack to the end, and the other will have his doubts about it.” Interesting premise with a somewhat flawed execution. The direction seems too feather-light and leisurely for the subject matter at hand, and we as viewers don’t get enough time to know the two men before they are thrust into the situation. The subject matter kept me intrigued, however, and the acting is uniformly good. I recognized the lady who played the mother from The Visitor, where she also played a mother in an equally affecting performance.
Supergirl (1984). This botched attempt at another franchise boot had potential as a campy thrill ride of a movie, but sloppy direction made this a footnote among ’80s superhero pics. On the plus side, Helen Slater was the perfect choice to play Supergirl. She approaches the role in a straightforward, utterly earnest way that is delightful to behold. It’s a tact that worked for Christopher Reeve, and it works for Slater as well (wonder why she didn’t become a bigger star?). On the minus side, um … everything else? It’s obviously apparent that the Superman movies were running on fumes by this time. The entire project feels like a halfhearted rehash, right down to Faye Dunaway’s lame-o villainess. An aspiring witch who bizarrely lives in a repurposed carnival attraction? C’mon.
What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971). Yet another Whatever Happened to Baby Jane ripoff, but this particular film is a lot more fascinating and smartly made than its kitschy title might suggest. Debbie Reynolds and Shelly Winters star in this 1930s period piece as the mothers of two convicted thrill killers. Ashamed, the duo decide to take on new identities and move out to Hollywood, where Reynolds gets a Jean Harlow-style makeover and opens her own dance studio. The plain Winters, meanwhile, is a religious neurotic who can’t leave the traumas of the past behind. The film is padded out with lots of unnecessary red herrings and silly, nostalgic musical numbers with the tap dancing Reynolds (who looks fabulous here, by the way). What is does have is a nifty amount of cynicism about the shallowness of fame, all in a nicely handled if backlot-reliant L.A. setting. Reynolds and Winters are both excellent; too bad the ending is a letdown.