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Weekly Mishmash: May 31-June 6

Complete Peanuts 1965-66The Complete Peanuts 1965-66 by Charles M. Schulz. Another fun Complete Peanuts volume. The strips collected here coincide with the apex of Peanuts-mania in America, as highlighted with a Snoopy & co. Time magazine cover in April of ’65. The first year has a few interesting storylines involving Charlie Brown at summer camp, Sally being prescribed an eye patch, Linus having his blanket shipped away to his uncaring grandma, and the ever-present losing streaks in baseball. Amusing as always, but I’m getting the first inklings here that Schulz is settling into too familiar ground. This book also contains the earliest Snoopy vs. the Red Baron strips, a theme that I never particularly enjoyed. Luckily, the introduction of Peppermint Patty in late ’66 contributed a needed shot of energy to the Peanuts gang (and her earliest strips are hilarious). For the future, I’m looking forward to the addition of Woodstock and noticing when the girl characters start wearing pants instead of dresses.
Jesus Camp (2006). This documentary is as scary as I’ve heard, and totally riveting. Chronicling a summer camp for evangelical Christian children, this film doesn’t shy away from the fact that the organization really exists for adults to drill their extremist views on adult subjects (abortion, censorship, etc.) into kids who aren’t allowed the simple freedom to grow and figure things out for themselves. Scenes where children are induced into crying and confession their sins (really, what kind of deep dark sin does a child have?) are difficult to watch. Other scenes, such as when a church congregation is urged to pray over a cardboard George W. Bush cutout, are almost too bizarre to believe. This was an extremely well-made documentary that doesn’t hit one over the head with an agenda; it simply shows what it shows with a chilling straightforwardness. The camp uses a lot of warlike imagery and brainwashing techniques that mirror what extremist Muslims do to groom kids to become suicide bombers and such. I take comfort in how, since this film’s 2006 release, the camp in question has been discontinued. Now I’d love to see a sequel, if only to find out how screwed up these kids became as adolescents.
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus PhoenixPhoenix — Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. I went for something brand new with my third iTunes album. This is an invigorating indie rock set, along the same lines as Phoenix’s previous one (It’s Never Been Like That) — only more tuneful and diverse, a signpost of the band’s evolution. It seems inconceivable that this is the same group that I first heard ten years ago doing slick, Daft Punk-inspired disco instrumentals, but here’s to progress. “Lisztomania” and “1901” provide a bang-up opener, and they go into intriguing ambient territory with the two-parter “Love Like A Sunset.” I also loved the unusual stop-start structure of “Countdown.” The vocals and guitars are sharp as ever, even if they get into a few samey sounding tunes toward the end. Perhaps not the defining summer soundtrack that everyone says, but excellent nonetheless.
The Signal (2007). Unusual indie horror story told in three distinct segments by different directors. The first segment, detailing the first few hours after an unexplained radio/TV signal turns half of L.A. into homicidal maniacs, is potent and engrossing. Were it that the rest of the film was that creepy and cool, but it quickly turns into a rote effort in which characters do inexplicable things for no good reason. The second segment takes a whiplash-inducing turn from comedic to ulta-gory, and the third segment was just plain boring. Oh, well.
Stand and Deliver (1988). Part of TCM’s Latino Images in Film fest from last month. A pretty standard “inspirational teacher” tale elevated by Edward James Olmos’ commanding lead and an appealing supporting cast. The students too quickly transform from barrio brats to studious braniacs, but I appreciate how each kid gets sympathetic vignettes into their diverse home lives. Although I never saw this movie before, strangely enough I remember Mr. Mister’s theme song back when it first came out — and there it was, during the closing credits! My brain is incapable of holding anything like calculus equations, but it sure knows its share of cheesy ’80s movie themes.
The White Sister (1923). Beautiful but plodding Lillian Gish vehicle in which she plays an emotional woman who turns to the nunnery when her soldier love (Ronald Colman in his first film role) goes missing in Africa. The fact that this movie clocks in at almost two and a half hours in an era when most features were barely over an hour might tell you something. Gorgeous photography on location in Italy adds a sumptuous look to the proceedings, and Lillian looks absolutely luminous in several close-ups — but the story is so damned old fashioned and it goes on forever. I’m going to have to pick a better silent next time.

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