Archive for May, 2009

Weekly Mishmash: May 24-30

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Babel (2006). Well-made, admirable and pretentious multi-continent epic from Mexico’s Alejandro González Iñárritu. This was the director who also helmed the brilliant Amores Perros (Love’s A Bitch) in 2000, an infinitely more modest film with which this venture pales a bit in comparison. I really enjoyed this, however. Despite some overlong and self-indulgent sequences (such as the Japanese nightclub scene), the ambitious multi-country scope is handled well with several noteworthy performances. Several questions linger in my mind about the plot, however. Such as — what was Cate Blanchett doing in Morocco if she hated it so much? Why was the nympho deaf girl featured so prominently? And, where was the ending for the Mexico storyline?
Crime Wave (1954) and Decoy (1946). Two films that could loosely be called noirs, although the only thing they really share is a single Warner Home Video DVD. Scenes from the gritty Crime Wave were included in the making-ofs on the expanded L.A. Confidential DVD. With its unadorned scenes of the workaday dealings of L.A. cops, I could see the influence on the latter. Gruff Sterling Hayden stars as a detective trailing an ex-con (Gene Nelson) who has been unwillingly roped into another crime by his unsavory former cellmates. Fun location footage in and around Glendale, California adds to the realism. If Crime Wave is the treat, the unimpressive ‘B’ Decoy must be the trick. A cheap melodrama produced by z-grade studio Monogram, this film follows a ruthless woman (played by the obscure but oddly compelling Jean Gillie) as she plots with an unsuspecting doctor (bland Edward Norris) to grab a box of loot buried by her jailbird beau (Robert Armstrong, looking a lot older than in King Kong). Ludicrous story is given a painfully dull treatment. Strangely enough, this film was championed by DVD Savant‘s Glenn Erickson, whose opinions I normally agree with.
Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). Colorful Disney hokum about leprechauns, most notable for having a young and toothy Sean Connery (who even sings!) in one of his earliest film roles. Predictable as all get out, but I loved the special effects creating the illusion of a secret enclave of wee men (the DVD included a fun featurette explaining how it was done). Very impressive, even by today’s standards.
End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003). Movie Channel recording. Pretty good, somewhat blandly made documentary on the seminal punk band. I didn’t know about the band members’ infighting, which makes the fact that they kept the band going for 20 plus years a remarkable feat. I think Dee Dee (who died of a drug o.d. in 2004) was the most fascinating character in the Ramones. His bizarre sideline as a rapper in the late ’80s, with a look that strangely prefigured Kid Rock’s, was one of the most interesting parts of the doc. It was also cool to hear about the opposing political viewpoints of Joey and Johnny Ramone. For a band that epitomized the opposite of slickness, this film could have used a tighter approach with considerably less rambling interviews, but it was compelling enough.
Edu Lobo - Sergio Mendes PresentsEdu Lobo – Sergio Mendes Presents Lobo. My second iTunes album download was this ’69 gem from that bastion of grooviness, A&M Records. This was an attempt to break Brazilian songwriter Edu Lobo in America, under the tutelage of Brasil ’66 hitmaker Sergio Mendes. While I’m not sure if it was successful saleswise (to my knowledge, Lobo never recorded another LP here), the album is a warm and wonderful delight. It sounds like a more authentic Brasil ’66 record, only without the loungey female vocals. It actually goes into a lot of daring territory rhythmically. Lobo has a pleasant voice and he acquaints himself well with the English language, especially with the six minute “Crystal Illusions” (also recorded by Mendes and the Brasil ’66). He also wrote all the songs here, with the exceptions of arranger Ermeto Pascoal’s tropical instrumental “Sharp Tongue” and an understated cover of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” Great album.
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006). Sundance Channel recording. Fun ’60s spy spoof from France, a more loving and good-natured tribute than the vulgar Austin Powers movies could ever muster. Jean Dujardin manages to be both suave and silly as secret agent OSS 177, ’50s soldier turned spy investigating some kind of international brouhaha having to do with chicken farms in exotic Egypt. Although this didn’t elicit a lot of laughs from us — it was more goofy than funny — we enjoyed the film’s chi chi look and fidelity to the period. Even the filming techniques were on the money (lots of back screen projection). A sequel set in Brazil just came out in France. Whenever that comes over to our shores, I’ll be on it.

We Are Married, Too

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

From Christopher: “I want to let you know about a new blog I have started called We Are Married Too over on blogspot. It is intended to be a showcase for lesbian and gay couples around the world who have been legally married.”

The first entry is on our July 3, 2008 union. Awww. Wanna contribute? Contact Christopher at wearemarriedtoo (at) yahoo.com.

And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

This strange segment from the 1934 Janet Gaynor comedy Servants’ Entrance represents one of the few projects Walt Disney’s animators did for an outside studio (20th Century Fox). It’s cute, and baffling. Read more about it at 2719 Hyperion.

Okay, I Love This

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

A muppet parody of R. Crumb’s famous Cheap Thrills album cover — brilliant! (via Drawn!)

Weekly Mishmash II: May 17-23

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (2005) and John Waters: This Filthy World (2006). Showtime recordings of live performances. I’ve occasionally enjoyed Sarah Silverman on talk shows and such; Jesus Is Magic reveals that the woman is best digested in very small doses. There were a few good jokes here, but her “cute chick with a filthy mouth” shtick doesn’t hold up on a feature that is mercilessly padded out with stupid musical numbers and backstage banter. John Waters fares much better with this filmed lecture (I hasten to call it a stand-up act), talking about every single film he’s done with engaging honesty. Despite already hearing much of this stuff, I enjoyed it. Waters may look like a pencil-mustached cadaver, but he has the most elegant sounding voice. Even when discussing bizarre sexual fetishes, the man sounds like buttah.
Boz Scaggs - Silk DegreesBoz Scaggs — Silk Degrees. As I was compiling my 40 Years, 40 Albums post last year, I noticed the severe lack of mid- to late-’70s albums in my collection. This was remedied a bit with a download of this smasheroonie from 1976. I can see why this was a huge seller, since it captures a peculiar merging of pop, rock, soul, disco, blues, and even a bit of reggae (“Love Me Tomorrow”) — all smoothly produced enough not to alienate anyone. A good vehicle for Scaggs’ smooth and charismatic voice, which buoys the album’s weaker first half well. I always dug “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” but the two lesser-known hits “It’s Over” and “What Can I Say” are nice surprises. Especially the latter tune, which encapsulates that super-slick L.A. summery pop sound as well as anything from that particular Qiana-and-margaritas era. p.s. Since my sweetie gifted me with 50 free iTunes downloads, I will be doing five different albums over the next five weeks. Something else to look forward to, kiddies.
Star Trek (2009). Could it be — we actually saw a movie in the theater? Last Friday, we made a fun day of seeing this along with a trip on our light rail system to lunch and dessert downtown. This was a good one. As far as movies go, J.J. Abrams never disappoints. That is possibly because he prizes compelling storytelling over all else. This one wasn’t as much of a radical reboot of the Trek universe as I feared; it fleshes out the characters’ backstories nicely with cool special effects and great action sequences. The only scenes I felt weren’t necessary were those of Kirk and Spock’s childhoods. The casting and direction seemed spot-on to me, with Uhura being the only character that didn’t have as much continuity with the TV show and previous films (without spoiling, there’s something going on with her here that seemed out of left field). Most importantly, this was a fun, fun movie — something that’s been lacking in every Trek venture from Next Generation onward. Is Abrams working on a sequel? I hope so.
tallulah! by joel lobenthalTallulah! The Life and Times of a Leading Lady by Joel Lobenthal. Tallulah Bankhead was one of the most lively, outsized personalities of the 20th century. Although one sees a bit of the real Tallulah in Joel Lobenthal’s impeccably researched bio, the book was a huge slog to get through. If there was ever a book that can’t see the forest for the trees, this is it. Every single project in Bankhead’s voluminous stage career gets a comprehensive going-through here. A good idea in concept, maybe, but one must read through long and detailed descriptions of forgotten drawing room comedies and melodramas before getting into any insights on what made the woman tick. I was looking forward to a well-rounded portrait within these pages, something that counters her campy image — but this project feels like a magnificent opportunity squandered. One also gets the sense that, although he has an admirable passion for the stage, Lobenthal is mortified by Bankhead’s promiscuity and ribald outspokenness. Interesting, but not successful.

Weekly Mishmash I: May 17-23

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Once again, the Mishmash has gotten so unwieldy it must be split in two. Look for Weekly Mishmash II: The Sequel in tomorrow’s scrubbles.net.
Bordertown (1935). I vaguely recall watching this one a long time ago, when I was delving into Bette Davis’ lesser-known vehicles. A second viewing, courtesy of TCM’s great Latino Images In Film fest, confirms why it didn’t linger in the memory. It’s a pretty lousy melodrama with ugly racist overtones. Paul Muni hams it up as an earnest Mexican lawyer who turns to saloon keeping after losing his one big case. Davis enters the picture when she commits a crime of passion to get her share of Muni’s cojones. She then has little to do but grow progressively more insane as the film goes along. I enjoyed the pretty and understated Margaret Lindsay as Muni’s other romantic interest, but her character does a jarring 180 degree turn at the end. Ridiculous as it was, this story got an equally ludicrous but more entertaining re-do as They Drive By Night (1940).
Il Conformista PosterThe Conformist (1970). I actually first heard about this Bernardo Bertolucci film via the 1992 cinematography doc Visions of Light. Gotta tell you, this is one gorgeous looking movie. Widescreen vistas of shiny marble, blowing leaves, pastel colored oriental lanterns, and light streaming through horizontal blinds are lovingly captured by Vittorio Storaro’s camera. The storyline, about a restless man who is assigned to rub out his one-time college mentor in Mussolini-era Italy, also delivers the goods. Somewhat oblique at times, but very chic and beautiful. This film doesn’t have any recognizable actors in the cast (not to me, anyhow), which aids tremendously in its spell.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006). An escapist fantasy in the mold of a Sex and the City episode, albeit one redeemed by fun performances from Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt. This was pretty much what I expected — nothing more, nothing less. The drama is diluted by the fact that Anne Hathaway’s character appears never to be in much danger, a central theme in Chick Lit (how I hate that term!). Mostly I came for La Streep and the fabulous wardrobe, neither of which disappointed.
L.A. Confidential (1997). Watched this for the third time, after purchasing the super duper deluxe-o DVD edition. Still amazing. Wonderfully cast, dense and satisfying plot, perfect eye for ’50s Los Angeles. It still slays me that the treacly blockbuster Titanic stole the Best Picture Oscar award from this. There is truly no justice in this world.
Party Girl (1995). Flix recording. A half-baked indie comedy that floats by on the considerable charm of its star, Parker Posey. As a party girl turned serious librarian, Posey strikes all the right brittle yet appealing notes. This film’s plot, what little there was, had a strange message (live it up now, or you’ll end up a bitter, fat old busybody?). Ms. Posey was all right, but what little enjoyment I got from this film came from its tres ’90s urban settings, wild fashions, and phat music. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.