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Monthly Archives: November 2009

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Weekly Mishmash: November 8-14

Animotion — Obsession: The Best of Animotion. Having known Animotion for little more than being that ’80s “Obsession” group like everybody else, I ended up downloading this best-of this week for reasons that are too complicated to get into. It’s a decent enough collection, padded out with 12″ mixes and indistinct LP cuts. What’s most interesting about Animotion is that they had a late ’80s reforming with a new lead singer (Dirty Dancing actress Cynthia Rhodes), which resulted in the group having a second top 10 hit in “Room To Move.” The tune is one of those completely generic ’80s soundtrack tunes that you’d hear at the mall and forget 10 minutes later, but I find crap like that totally fascinating. Here’s “I Engineer,” from the better, earlier Animotion:

poster_dangcrossingDangerous Crossing (1950). Entertaining malarkey starring Jeanne Crain as a newlywed whose husband goes missing shortly after the two embark on an ocean voyage. The woman finds herself slowly going insane as no one on the cruise ship can recall seeing the husband in the first place, much less try to find him. Quite the old familiar tale, but the film is efficiently done (the production recycled sets from simultaneous 20th Century Fox productions Titanic and Gentemen Prefer Blondes) and fun in its own modest way. This movie reminded me of an expanded Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode. Crain’s performance is so campy and overwrought, the lady might as well have the word “Hormel” stamped on her forehead.
Celine Dion — Celine Dion. Is this Embarassing Music Week? I checked out Celine Dion’s English language debut album, Unison, after coming across it at our local library. Strangely enough, I absolutely love it. The album is perfectly produced Adult Contemporary Pop, diverse and beautifully sung with enough quirkiness and “only in 1990” touches to keep things captivating. I ended up getting Miss Dion’s 1992 second self-titled album on the strength of Unison. This album is a ballad-heavy collection, leaning towards the plush Housewife Pop that we know and loathe her for, but it does have its moments. Disney theme “Beauty and the Beast” with Peabo Bryson is still timeless and memorable, and the dancey “Little Bit Of Love” is a gem buried in the CD’s second half. I also like her rendition of Diane Warren’s “If You Asked Me To,” although if you compare it with Patti LaBelle’s declicate 1989 original you’ll find that Celine takes the song into bombastic, borderline schmaltz territory (that’s probably more the producer’s fault, actually). I think my Dion exploration stops here, unless somebody can give me a good reason to go further.

Dahmer (2002). IFC channel recording. An artistic, indie-centric interpretation of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer that ends up being too in over its own head to be effective. Jeremy Renner is effectively creepy as Dahmer, portrayed here as a shy closet case living in a shithole town with unspoken issues affecting everyone around him. The film could have worked, but mostly it ends up being bogged down with too much navel-gazing dialogue. According to this film, Dahmer did in his victims by talking them to death. Exciting, no?
Out of the Past (1947). Dense film noir that really shouldn’t work, but it does. The story is too hard to follow, Robert Mitchum’s laconic presence doesn’t add much, and Jane Greer is no Lauren Bacall in the femme fatale department — but the film is wonderfully photographed and director Jacques Tournier ushers the characters through a variety of intriguing settings. The film proceeds along so hypnotically that one can’t help but ride along. The only other movie I can think of that tops this in sheer atmosphere is coincidentally another Mitchum flick, The Night of the Hunter. p.s. On a superficial note, supporting actor Paul Valentine was one gorgeous hunk of a man in this movie. I wonder why he didn’t do more acting?
Ready, Willing and Able (1937). Fun and zippy Warner Bros. musical, the last film of its kind for star Ruby Keeler and her leading man, Ross Alexander (a closeted gay man, he killed himself before the film was released). This mistaken identity comedy was much more entertaining than I thought it would be, highlighted by Keeler’s charm (markedly improved since her equine hoofing in 42nd Street) and the Johnny Mercer standard “Too Marvelous For Words.” This clever tune is performed several times in the film, but the best moment comes when Keeler and co-star Lee Dixon tap out the song on a giant typewriter. Campy ‘n cute, I was so happy to finally see this during TCM’s monthlong Mercer tribute.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Awe inspiring, as always. I first saw this in the early ’80s, when my uncle invited our family to watch this on his newfangled VCR. This must have puzzled my folks, but it blew me away. Sure, it does have long, self-indulgent spots, but the film remains ahead of its time to a remarkable degree. Kubrick’s vision of the future never fails to be both retro-funky and stylish. For one, Christopher and I are delighted to have a decent screencap of this baby:

foodtray2001-1

Liquified vegetables, anyone?

Think About Your Safety in the Morn-ning

If you ever wanted to see something with Mother Goose characters using Streamline Moderne transportation, Once Upon a Time might be the cartoon for you. We caught this strange yet charming short on a budget DVD set called 150 Cartoon Classics. It was commissioned as a driving safety awareness campaign by Metropolitan Life Insurance in 1936, long before the company had Snoopy as their spokesdog.

Attack of the Japanese Leathervixens

Cinebeats highlighted this non-subtitled trailer for the 1966 actioner Black Tight Killers. I don’t know Japanese, but I know I love it!

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.

That’s MISS Diana to You

I’m so happy that this week’s edition of Bottom Feeders: The Ass End of the ’80s has gotten up to Diana Ross and her scattershot RCA Records period. It includes the Bee Gees collaboration “Chain Reaction,” a bouncy, retro sounding soufflé that hit the British top spot in 1986. Despite that success, the single couldn’t get any higher than #66 in the U.S. I actually remember hearing this song on the radio and watching the video on stuff like Night Flight back then. Wonder why it wasn’t a bigger hit?

Mama Cat v.2

book_mamacatGood news — a revised and updated version of our 2003 children’s book, Mama Cat, is now available at lulu.com. This was the book that Christopher wrote and I illustrated based on our beloved cat Eames. For this new edition, I went back and re-scanned all of the original artwork, touched them up, and saved them as high quality 1200 dpi bitmap files. The new art is a huge improvement over the old. Although the paper quality in this Lulu edition is slightly thinner and less textured, the higher quality printing makes the text and graphics really pop and look sharp. We’ve had a lot of compliments on this book from cat lovers and those who have undergone the loss of a pet; they are very appreciative of something that addresses their unique situation in an intimate and caring way.

By the way, the original self-published edition is still for sale at Amazon.com.