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Monthly Archives: September 2009

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Weekly Mishmash: September 13-19

American Dreamz (2006). A slow week of pop culture consumption began with this well-intentioned but iffy comedy, recorded off the Oxygen channel. This was the recent but already dated American Idol satire with Hugh Grant and Dennis Quaid as characters which in no way resemble Simon Cowell and George W. Bush, no sir. Mandy Moore also stars, showing her chops as a surprisingly good actor. The concept of a popular A.I.-like talent show being infiltrated by a terrorist while the president is making a guest appearance is a solid one. The filmmakers never quite shed the fact that this is a mainstream Hollywood movie, however. Too many concessions were made and (despite a few effective bits) the satire ultimately comes across as toothless. The presence of Jennifer Coolidge as Moore’s earthy ma makes me wish Christopher Guest got his hands on the script first.
poster_manwho56The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Way, way back when I was first getting into “old movies,” I can remember watching this one as part of a personal Alfred Hitchcock cram course and not being very impressed. Something about James Stewart and Doris Day just bugged me, and the candy-colored photography didn’t jibe with the film’s dark plot. Watching it again, I found it to be a nicely cast and effective thriller — perhaps not one of Hitch’s best, but a good deal better than most films of that era. Stewart and Day play a prototypical American couple vacationing with their young son in Africa. A series of initially harmless events cause Stewart to cross paths with a man who is involved with an underground plot to assassinate a British ambassador, leading to their kid getting abducted. Doris somehow finds the time to sing “Que Sera Sera” twice during all this, too. As an adult, I found myself empathizing with Stewart and Day’s agonizing over their son’s disappearance. Both actors fret convincingly. Although she gets a bit histrionic at times, Day was excellent in the film’s climactic scene where she witnesses the assassination about to take place (during a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall) — unable to do anything to stop it. The segment is Hitchcock at his best, manipulating the viewers’ thoughts to create a building, agonizing tension. Although I haven’t seen the 1934 version recently enough to compare, I believe that Hitchcock would have to perform the directorial equivalent of a triple axel to top the remake.

A Redesigned

Hey there — notice something different? I’ve redesigned This is the first true sitewide retooling in five years. Although I still have some kinks to work out, I’m happy with the swanky retro-computer look we’ve got going here.

This redesigning process began about a year ago, actually, in search of a good WordPress theme. I’ve noticed that many of the popular and nicer looking WP themes have one element that works, and a whole bunch of other elements that don’t work. Either the typography is fabulous and the layout is lousy, or the sidebar is beautifully designed but the rest of it uses terrible colors. It’s always something. I was about at the end of my rope before coming across a gorgeous and subtle theme called Vanilla Cart. Top to bottom, I love it. For the logo fonts, I went with Eurostile condensed and Gala (which cost a lot, but it’s absolutely perfect — sometimes one has to spend money for perfection). I also brought back this weblog’s original tagline, which hasn’t been seen here since about 2002. There’s even a new cartoon portrait of yours truly on the sidebar.

Although I currently have about 80% of the redesign in place, there are a couple of issues with the CSS that I’m sending out a plea for help on. Specifically:

  • I have a kickass repeating background for the redesign, similar to the one on my Twitter profile — but I can’t get it to work. I’ve tried everything on this theme’s CSS stylesheet, but the only changes result in a pure white background. Any CSS experts out there who can help?
  • This theme also has an option for you to use your own logo — but when I tried it, the logo was positioned down at the white space above the blog entries. I want it positioned above the “Home” and “About Me” tabs (which is where the blog name and description are normally positioned if one does not use a graphic logo). How can I move it up to its proper place without screwing everything up?

All Apologies

Sorry. I’m trying to give a long overdue design facelift, and it’s taking too long. I finally have a new WordPress theme I like, but the changes I made to the theme’s CSS style sheet are not taking effect. And that’s annoying me SO MUCH. Meantime, here’s the super nifty video for They Might Be Giants’ “Meet The Elements,” found at Otherstream:

Weekly Mishmash: September 6-12

Big Bad Mama (1974). Trashy, sloppily made but endearing seventiesploitation flick made better by star Angie Dickinson (who seems to be having a ball). As Depression-era ma Wilma McClatchie, Dickinson only wants the best for her two teen daughters. So she turns to a life of crime, picking up Tom Skerritt and William Shatner along the way. It’s Bonnie and Her Two Boyfriends, basically. All told, this is a stupid movie filled with a bevy of cliché dumb hicks, but it does have a few interesting elements. One is the quasi-Democratic tilt of the screenplay, with bad guys bellyaching about taxes on the rich and encroaching Socialism (gee, that sounds familiar). Another is the amount of playful sex and nudity on display. Not only does Dickinson expose lots of flesh, looking great for a gal in her forties, but Skerritt and Shatner drop trou as well. A definite time capsule of its era, worth a peek for those who enjoy campy trash.
book_damatoThe Last Good Time: Skinny D’Amato, the Notorious 500 Club & the Rise and Fall of Atlantic City by Jonathan Van Meter. A fascinating book that Christopher bought earlier this year, then passed on to me. This chronicles the rise and fall of Atlantic City in the mid-twentieth century through the person of Skinny D’Amato — who ran the city’s most popular hot spot, the 500 Club. D’Amato’s hard rolling career included teaming Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin for the first time, befriending Frank Sinatra, and being involved with the Mob. An interesting book — more a bio of the city itself than of D’Amato, who survived long enough to witness legalized gambling and megacasinos in his town. I had no idea there was so much corruption going on back then, with surreptitious police and politician payoffs, secret gambling rooms, prostitutes, etc.
No Questions Asked (1951). Bland Barry Sullivan stars as an insurance agent who becomes a go-between in some shady dealings with big city thugs. He also gets caught in a love triangle with sweet co-worker Jean Hagen and fiery Arlene Dahl. Despite having the novelty of a pair of cross-dressing jewel thieves, this was a thoroughly okay noir with very little to distinguish it. Hagen’s performance as Sullivan’s world-weary onetime flame is the best thing going here. Aside from her, the film desperately needed to be better cast. Sullivan is a genial but bland lead, and having the white bread George Murphy as his cop adversary doesn’t help matters at all (Edward G. Robinson would’ve been perfect in that part!). I liked the atmosphere and a few of the smaller players were great, but as a whole this film didn’t jell. Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear also saw this movie recently; his review is here.
book_comptonThe Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image by Joyce Compton and Michael Ankerich. A brief but fascinating read on one of my personal fave classic movie actresses. Author Michael Ankerich befriended Joyce Compton later on in her life and encouraged her to write her memories down. Although he couldn’t find a publisher at the time for her memoirs, luckily he persisted and The Real Joyce Compton is the satisfying result. Although Compton doesn’t go into a lot of detail with individual films, she writes extensively on the workaday existence of being a supporting player in ’30s and ’40s Hollywood. This non-glamorous side of the movie business isn’t covered often in books, and it’s fascinating to read. Throughout the book, she has a straightforward, non-sugarcoating attitude toward her career that is refreshing to behold. This carries over to her reflections on her personal life. For me, it was most insteresting to find out about the close ties she had with her parents and how they affected her many failed attempts at finding romance (including one short-lived marriage in the early ’50s). Most of all, she comes across like a fun person who lives life to the fullest. Ankerich used a lot of images from The Joyce Compton Shrine here (with my permission) — it’s pretty neat to see my name in print within these pages.
Sleep Dealer (2008). Mexican indie with a sci-fi bent asks a thought-provoking question: namely, what effect will future advances in telecommuting and robotic technology have on the current Mexican-U.S. labor problem? In a not too distant future, water shortages force a young laborer (Luis Fernando Peña) to a Tijuana firm that employs specially equipped people to virtually control robots in menial U.S. jobs. While searching for the implanted nodes that will enable him to work this way, he befriends a woman (Leonor Varela) who sells their visualized memories (unbeknownst to him) on a computer network. Although suffering from one subplot too many and borderline cheesy CGI effects, it’s the human element that drives this film. I liked the way it blends a current issue into a science fiction framework. Nicely acted and directed, too — seek this out.

Somewhere, An Eagle Is Crying

A museum of tacky 9/11 memorabilia from curator April Winchell. All those sparkly animated GIFs that people use to post on their MySpace pages … words fail me.

The White Bread Hour

While watching PBS this morning, I caught a promo for an upcoming Lawrence Welk Show special. It contained a “wunnerful” clip of Lawrence and orchestra performing “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” with ladies in white dresses whoa, whoa, whoa-ing on the side. I tried to find it on YouTube. No dice, but here’s Lawrence performing his signature hit “Calcutta” on the last network show before he and his entourage packed up their bubbles and went into syndication (1971):

Sweet, eh? Despite his doddering image, Welk excelled at spotting and developing talent, especially singers and dancers. I just can’t get past the fact that his music is so damn sleepy. I keep wishing the band would pump up the arrangements and make them swing a little more. A show like like this seems like a non-stop campfest on paper — but once you get past the bouffant hair and polyester fashions, the show is kinda bland and boring. Of course, one does find the occasional oddity like “One Toke Over The Line” performed by an oblivious boy-girl duo.