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Monthly Archives: January 2010

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Whitest People You Know

Nino Tempo, April Stevens and a bevy of go-go dancers perform “Land of 1,000 Dances” in a Scopitone clip. I wish the quality was better so we could better appreciate those pastel colors.

Those Are People Who Died, Died

I was in the middle of reading about the fascinating people profiled in the annual Lives They Lived issue of the New York Times Magazine when I heard shocking news about the passing of another fascinating person. One that I knew, actually: Brad Graham of Bradlands.com. It appears that he died in his sleep of natural causes on December 31st, at the young age of 41. Yeah, I don’t believe it, either.

Brad was one of the earliest bloggers I knew of, and pretty much the kingpin of the (small) community of gay bloggers around in the early ’00s. Back then it was such a thrill to be writing on the net, and having someone else noticing what you were doing was an even bigger thrill — especially when that someone was as friendly and witty as Brad. His August 3, 2001 post, using the first Scrubbles redesign to explore childhood fear of Dow Scrubbing Bubbles, was typical Brad. We weren’t close friends or anything, but his warmth and humor was something I treasured over the years (we even briefly bonded over the ’70s kiddie-com Big John, Little John on twitter last year). I’ll miss you, Brad.

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.

Retro Refreshing

soda_throwbacksStrolling the soda aisle at the local Safeway, I was delighted to find enticing stacks of Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback on display. You might remember that the Throwback sodas (with cane and beet sugar replacing corn syrup as sweetener) were introduced in a frustratingly short run last Spring. Now they’re back, and with more authentic looking packaging, too! BevReview.com has posted a review of the new Pepsi Throwback, along with somewhat disappointing news that this, too, is a limited run. I bought a 24 pack of the Mountain Dew and am looking forward to its citrussy sweet goodness.

Something else that will brighten up my 2010 — Dr. Pepper Heritage. I’m sure my dentist will love that one.

Films of the Decade

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Looking through the new films seen over the past decade, I’ve rounded up a dozen as my particular favorites. A great decade for those with the vision to go outside the norm. — with that thought I wish you all a great 2010. In alphabetical order, and with no emphasis on one over the other:
Amores Perros (Love’s A Bitch) (2000) and Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002). Besides actor Gael García Bernal, the emergence of great Latin filmmaking in the ’00s is what unites these two ambitious dramas. The gritty Amores Perros is one of the best examples of the “diverse characters thrown together” genre, and Y Tu Mama is an unforgettable story of two friends and the memorable road trip they shared. Muy bien to them both.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007). Speaking of unforgettable — who would’ve thunk that the country Romania would produce something this uniformly top-notch? Deliberately paced, beautifully made and with a fantastic performance from actress Anamaria Marinca.
In the Mood for Love (2001). Wong Kar Wai presents an achingly beautiful tale of unrequited love in ’60s Hong Kong. Probably the most gorgeously photographed movie of the decade, and Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung make a celluloid couple for the ages.
Mulholland Dr. (2001). A trip, in the best sense of the word. Like David Lynch took 20th century pop culture and mashed it up into a single long, dreamlike reverie.
Spirited Away (2001). Alice in Wonderland filtered through a distinctly Asian sensibility. Only Hayao Miyazaki could accomplish something this visually audacious.
28 Days Later (2002). The gold standard for zombie movies — Danny Boyle envelopes the viewer in a terror that only lets up at the (blessedly peaceful) ending.
United 93 (2006). From fictional terror to real terror. I wasn’t sure about a film examining the events of September 11th so soon, but as far as gripping docudramas go this one was without equal.
WALL•E (2008) and Up (2009). Make no mistake — the 2000s were Pixar’s decade. WALL•E and Up go to touching, warm places that I never dreamed computer animation could go, something almost unheard of in mainstream Hollywood.
Yi Yi (2000). Long, utterly absorbing drama about various generations in a contemporary Taiwanese family. The story is so simple and drama-free, which is probably what makes it one of the greats.
Zodiac (2007). David Fincher’s untraditional serial killer film. Mesmerizing.

My other favorite films of the aughts are classified below, with no further explanation.
Oscar Bait: Crash, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Flags of Our Fathers, Milk.
British: Shaun of the Dead, Iris, Gosford Park, Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Casino Royale.
German: The Lives of Others, The Princess and the Warrior.
Spanish/South American: Nine Queens, The Devil’s Backbone.
Asian: Infernal Affairs, Lust, Caution, Nobody Knows.
Retro: The Man Who Wasn’t There, Far from Heaven.
Musicals: Sweeney Todd, Dreamgirls, Chicago, Moulin Rouge.
More Pixar: The Incredibles, Ratatouille.
Documentaries: Capturing the Friedmans, In the Realms of the Unreal, The Bridge, Show Business: The Road To Broadway, Winged Migration.
Indie: Chuck & Buck.
Scary: Children of Men, Cloverfield, Monster, Dawn of the Dead.
Weird: Donnie Darko, Oldboy, Requiem for a Dream.