Archive for December, 2009

Monika, Oh My Darling

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Today’s video is a Bollywood treasure — “Piya Tu Ab To Aaja” from the 1971 opus Caravan. Sung by Asha Bhosle and R.D. Burman, danced by the incomparable Helen (no last name). Campy as all get out, but energetic and fun:

Weekly Mishmash: December 20-26

Monday, December 28th, 2009

ew_alien3Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien: Resurrection (1997). Housesitting for a neighbor, we discovered that he owned a copy of the 2004 Alien Quadrilogy DVD set. Since I had only seen the first Alien (odd, no?), we decided to gorge on the sequels for our Christmas holiday. Aliens was awesome, a textbook example of where to take a story to satisfying new horizons. I loved the casting, the very ’80s militaristic atmosphere, and the maternal theme that draws parallels between both Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and stowaway Newt and the fearsome Alien queen’s need to procreate. Good special effects, too. Alien 3, overall, was more of an interesting failure. It had lots of potential with David Fincher directing and an appropriately grungy atmosphere on a planet full of prisoners. Killing off many of the survivors from Aliens right away was an awful idea, however, and the film never lets up from that bungle. In the first two films, the aliens were interesting characters that operated like insects needing to propagate (it wasn’t their fault that those pesky humans just got in their way). With Alien 3, the threat comes from a single not very menacing alien who bites its victims’ heads off willy-nilly and a rogue egg that mysteriously appears out of nowhere. Woo hoo. Also, Fincher fills the climax with too many shots of winding corridors from the alien’s p.o.v. Bad as Alien 3 was, it was a bouquet of roses compared with Alien: Resurrection. This was a completely cynical and joyless studio-imposed sequel, despite having another interesting director on board in French Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who had previously helmed the wild Delicatessen and City of Lost Children). Jeunet’s trippy vision for the film bizarrely contrasts with Joss Whedon’s snarky, catch phrase heavy script — one of dozens of problems with this movie (don’t even get me started on Winona Ryder). Sigourney Weaver is always good, but in these last two sequels she seemed to be phoning it in. Apparently it wasn’t just Ripley who was getting tired of the aliens.
poster_bigshotThe Big Shot (1942). Along with One Fatal Hour (see Dec. 6-12), this was one of the films from TCM’s Humphrey Bogart film fest that I’d never heard of before. Bogie plays an affable crook who wants to complete one last armored car robbery despite the possibility of facing a lifelong jail sentence for the crime. He gets caught and goes to the slammer, then schemes with some fellow cons and his ex (thoroughly bland Irene Manning) to escape. Leading man aside, this is a thoroughly indistinguishable b-movie — which surprised me. I didn’t think Bogart was doing rote b-movies this late at Warner Bros. The script and direction are listless, and even the casting lacks the salty supporting players one usually associates with Warners (what I wouldn’t give to have Frank McHugh or Alan Hale goofing around here). On the plus side, the French poster for this film is simply gorgeous.
The Silver Seas — High Society. Boy howdy, these “best albums of the decade” lists popping up lately are making me feel old. Most of them contain the same few albums by artists that are either overrated or unlistenable. It’s not that I’m oblivious to new kinds of music, only that I prefer melodic pop and apparently the ’00s were a terrible decade for that particular genre. Luckily I did find one list, from David Medsker of esdmusic.com, that had better than average overlap with my own musical tastes. I downloaded the Silver Seas’ High Society at eMusic based on Medsker’s #9 ranking of this album, a decision that turned out to be a wise one. Although the album doesn’t break ground in any way, it’s a gem that sounds a bit like a lost country-pop LP from the ’70s (the fact that the singer sounds bizarrely like Jackson Browne doesn’t hurt). I’ve read that the main songwriter in this group used old TV show themes as his inspiration here. That makes a lot of sense, but the final product mostly sounds like the kind of expertly crafted, intelligent indie pop that ought to be the norm rather than the exception.
Talk To Me (2007). A recent biopic that had a lot of potential, but turned out kind of disappointing. Don Cheadle stars as Petey Greene, former criminal turned radio personality whose straight-talking style is just the thing for mobilizing Washington D.C.’s African American community in the late ’60s. Cheadle is excellent, and his dynamic presence is the main reason to watch. The film itself, however, is strangely structured with a needless third act. Taraji P. Henson is too overbearing as Geene’s girlfriend, and there were a lot of anachronistic touches here that bugged me. For example, not only do the filmmakers wrongly use the elegant “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Temptations as an example of the kind of “square” music Greene was rebelling against, they also play it in a scene that takes place at a time well before the record came out in November 1968. A little more research was in order, guys.

Foxy and Brassy

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

bosse_fox

Now that Christmas is over, I can reveal the main gift I gave to Christopher. Design Within Reach sells these Bosse brass animal figurines, reproduced from Viennese designs originally sold in the ’40s. Knowing how he loves animals and midcentury mod design, this was perfect for him. I got the fox pictured above — so cute (and tiny)!

Fine Feathered Friends

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

I’m pleased as punch with the illustration for our holiday card for this year. Best wishes for the season, everyone.

xmas2009card_sm

Have a Happy Pappy

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Merry Christmas 1930s style, courtesy of the Max Fleischer Color Classic Christmas Comes But Once a Year. This one stars Betty Boop’s gadget makin’ pal Pappy. The cartoon’s climax sports a 3D background that must’ve looked great in 1936:

And look at the very end — the 1936 Christmas seal!

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

album_tcms10Various — The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 10: 1970. Something I forgot to mention on last weekend’s mishmash was this box set, a holiday gift to myself. You know the drill by now: contained within these six discs are every single a- and b-side Motown (and its subsidiary labels) released during 1970 — 144 songs in all! It took me three weeks, but I’ve finally gotten through the whole thing. My blanket judgement is that overall the company’s output in ’70 wasn’t as good as ’66-69, but there are still a lot of highlights as they adjusted to a rapidly changing musical landscape. Starting the previous year Berry Gordy was on a mission to diversify his company’s output, and here you get the full picture of those efforts with singles that cover not only sweet soul but heavier funk, mainstream rock, jazz, and even reggae (Bob & Marcia’s charming “Young Gifted and Black”). Things also got much more slickly produced this year as epitomized by early efforts of the newly solo Diana Ross and the Jackson 5′s chart-topping bubblegum soul. Lots of hits got notched this year, but the set also contains several fascinating nuggets by Ivy Jo, Kiki Dee, Buzzie and Michael Denton which failed to chart. It wasn’t just the one-off artists having trouble, either — this might be the first year in a while where just about every major artist on the label had a dud single. Despite that, there are a lot of treasures to be had here. This was the best year for the post-Ross Supremes, the Temptations were rolling along with more hot Norman Whitfield-produced funk, Gladys Knight and her Pips were moving in a more adult direction with “If I Were Your Woman,” and Stevie Wonder was becoming a force to be reckoned with both on his own (“Signed Sealed Delivered”) and with others (The Spinners’ “It’s A Shame”). Oh, and I almost forgot Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s towering production on Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a diva-tastic moment for the ages. So, yes, I suppose this was a very good set.