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Weekly Mishmash: December 27-January 2

The Beatles — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A Christmas gift from my brother — one of my favorite Fab Four albums, and one I especially wanted to check out again in the form of the much hyped 2009 remasters. This is an excellent album whose reputation seems to ebb and flow based on whether twee ’60s psychedelica is currently in vogue. The album itself is much deeper than that, of course. Love or hate him, Paul McCartney’s melodic cleverness dominates the proceedings, although John Lennon’s powerful “A Day In The Life” gives the project a gravity lacking in many of Paul’s sweeter efforts (“When I’m 64,” etc.). The whole thing hangs together wonderfully, a fanciful salute to Mod England, tangerine trees and looking glass ties. To my ears, George Harrison’s trippy “Within You Without You” strikes the one weak point, a fascinating but overlong Indian detour. This CD comes in a great package with informative liner notes. There’s even a diagram of the personalities pictured on that famous album cover. Amazingly, Capitol records didn’t release a single off this album until 1978!
Golden Boy (1939). Preachy, dated but worthwhile melodrama with excellent turns by Barbara Stanwyck and a young William Holden. Holden plays an idealistic young violinist who finds that he has a talent for boxing, one that agent Adolphe Menjou wants to milk for all it’s worth. As Menjou’s hard-bitten girlfriend, Stanwyck is a marvel to watch as she gradually falls for Holden. The acting makes up for the stagy script, which has lots of pontificating and little boxing. Columbia TriStar’s DVD edition of this film has a lot of cool extras in the mold of Warner Home Video releases — a vintage cartoon, fun newsreel and a 1956 Ford Television Theatre episode starring Barbara as a Western hausfrau.
No End In Sight (2004). Good documentary on how the U.S. government got in over its head in Afghanistan and Iraq. While it didn’t have much that wasn’t already news to me, it does present its case with a concise eye for detail. Campbell Scott’s narration has that appropriate schoolmarmish tone. What a monumental mess — one that is still raging more than five years on.
The Pixar Story (2007). This inspiring feature-length documentary was quite a pleasant surprise, tucked away as an extra on the DVD edition of WALL•E (a gift from the hubby). Leslie Iwerks’ film traces the origins of Pixar, going back to when the company’s founders were a bunch of scrappy, animation-mad CalArts students in the ’70s. Strangely enough, the Disney company doesn’t come across too well here. Whether it’s firing John Lasseter in the early ’80s or squashing Pixar’s plans after its initial Toy Story success a few years on, they seem (with the exception of Roy O. Disney, who always championed creativity) like a bunch of heartless bean counters. People like Lasseter and Apple’s Steve Jobs are visionaries who know that true innovation involves taking massive chances. In the end of the film, I felt exhilarated that real creativity still has a place in the movie biz.
Porco Rosso (1992). Our New Years Eve viewing was one of the few Hayao Miyazaki animated epics that we hadn’t yet seen. This one concerns a 1920s military pilot who fell victim to a spell that (for reasons that are never adequately explained) transformed him into a half-human, half-pig. During the film’s course he battles air pirates, hides out in a cool ocean cove, and pines for the actress who once loved him in human form. Kinda dull actually, but Miyazaki does amazing things with animating water and clouds here, and the oceanside scenery is wonderfully rendered in gorgeous pastel tints.

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