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Weekly Mishmash: November 1-7

American Experience: The Civilian Conservation Corps (PBS). I’m a bit of an American Experience junkie, seeking it out despite our local PBS affiliate running the documentary series on a strange, sporadic schedule. Lately, they’ve been having seasons based on one central theme — last year the subject was presidents (yawn), and this year focuses on the 1930s. The program on the Civilian Conservation Corps was a typically fascinating outing, giving context to what was an overlooked facet of Roosevelt’s New Deal program. The only problem I had was with my local PBS station running this widescreen program on their analog feed with the right and left edges cut off. Having it this way results in a lot of screen text being lopped off and a generally sloppy, unprofessional look. I have no idea why they don’t run the show letterboxed — are they afraid of grumpy old viewers complaining about the black bars? Our station does this with American Experience, Frontline and several other shows, making the issue just annoying enough for me to skip giving them money during all their never-ending pledge breaks.
The Crash (1931). This obscure melodrama made up part of Turner Classic Movie’s monthlong Great Depression film festival. I recorded it mostly for star Ruth Chatterton. “Fussy” would be the best word to describe the stage-trained Miss Chatterton’s acting style, and in that respect she pulls out all the stops in this domestic drama in which she plays a pampered socialite reacting to the devastating 1929 stock market crash. The way the film deals with the consequences of greed is interesting, but it’s hampered by stagey direction and lots of talky scenes that don’t add anything noteworthy to the proceedings. The only positive things I gleaned from the film is that TCM’s print was gorgeously preserved, and Chatterton has a nice rapport with her leading man, dull George Brent (they were married at the time).
Sinéad O’Connor — I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. $1.50 thrift store buy. Who doesn’t remember when Sinéad O’Connor unexpectedly topped the pop charts with “Nothing Compares 2 U”? The very idea of a feisty Irish chick with a chip on her shoulder and nothing on her scalp having a #1 hit is mind boggling, but it did happen in the Spring of 1990. I hadn’t heard I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got since the CD got stolen from my collection around 1993, so hearing it again was a special treat. Aside from “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Jump in the River,” the album is made up of introspective songs that hold up surprisingly well (maybe not so much the overlong a cappella title track, but that’s easily skipped in the end). O’Connor still seems like a bundle of contradictions (how can a feminist folkie also worship misogynistic rappers?), but her voice was startlingly fresh for someone so young. If only she lived up to the promise of her first two albums.
Ordinary People (1980). It had been a few decades since I’d last seen this one. Still good, and Mary Tyler Moore makes for a potent Ice Queen of a mother (it’s hard to remember how different that casting was in 1980). Although it didn’t deserve stealing the Best Picture Oscar away from Raging Bull, I was taken aback by how raw and emotional a movie this still is.
Tokyo Zombie (2005). Titling a movie with something awesome like Tokyo Zombie creates unrealistic expectations in me. I was expecting a trashy good time, but this one fell short in all areas. In near future Tokyo, on working-class misfit is training the other to be a judo fighter. The two are just fooling around when it is revealed that the giant mountain of trash that people have been dumping human corpses on is creating standard-issue zombies. Just when the “fleeing from zombies” theme is established, the film takes a bizarre turn five years into the future with the richest surviving humans living in a huge apartment complex/sanctuary — with the remaining non-zombies serving as slaves and entertainment. I think the filmmakers were trying for a crazy, uninhibited feel similar to Kung Fu Hustle here, but they bit off more undead flesh than they could chew. Mostly it was overlong and shockingly chintzy — homophobic, too.

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