Monthly Archives: April 2010

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Remember Kids, Users Are Losers

Remember this 1987 anti-drug PSA with crazy-haired pop singer Regina and McGruff the Crime Dog? Staying on the straight and narrow never looked so totally awesome.

Related: Download Regina’s 1986 LP Curiosity featuring the wonderfully Madonnaesque hit “Baby Love.”

LitKids Is Now Open!

Today is the day – LitKids on Etsy is finally open! There are two 12″x9″ prints available — Anne of Green Gables and Jo of Little Women — listed at $12 each.

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Weekly Mishmash: April 18-24

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Caprice (1967). I can definitely see why Doris Day and Richard Harris’ mod ’60s spy spoof was a flop in ’67; it’s unfocused — swerving violently from comedy hijinks to romantic drama — frustrating to follow, badly edited, and suffering from serious lack of chemistry between the leads. As broadly directed by Frank Tashlin, the comedy pushes beyond pointlessness. Doris is game, but she’s miscast as an international spy investigating a cosmetics empire. In a way, this film played like a less bloated, lower wattage Casino Royale. There are a couple of elements that make this worth a peek for those into high ’60s visuals. Day is outfitted in a dated yet stunning wardrobe of Op Art minis and checkerboard sunglasses thanks to designer Ray Aghayan, and Leon Shamroy’s widescreen photography has a breathtaking lushness, even when the set designs are not (I’d describe the interiors as Rococo Puke). The climactic scene, filmed in L.A.’s classic Bradbury Building, gave us a little thrill — as it did when the historic site showed up in a recent FlashForward episode. That elevator, those tiles — we were there!
album_crenshawMarshall Crenshaw – The Best Of Marshall Crenshaw: This Is Easy. Could “Someday Someway” be the coolest pop hit from the ’80s? My first eMusic download of the month was a byproduct of the site’s recent acquisition of the huge Rhino/Warner Bros. catalog. The official download edition of this 2000 CD, unfortunately, is missing a few songs — a fact that Rhino conveniently neglects to mention on the site (gee, and they wonder why illegal downloading is so popular?). That quibble aside, this was an excellent power pop compilation which drives much of its affable energy from a good dosage of Crenshaw’s first two albums (1982′s Marshall Crenshaw and 1983′s Field Day). With ’85′s Downtown, Crenshaw went for a more rootsy sound and kicked off a less accessible but equally worthwhile period. What strikes me about his later stuff is that it sounds nearly identical to mainstream Country music as it became more pop-oriented in the ’00s. “Someplace Where Love Can’t Find Me” would be perfectly at home between Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney on any current C&W radio station.
Divorce, Italian Style (1961). Shrill but entertaining Italian sex comedy with mustachioed Marcello Mastroianni as a beleaguered man given to fantasizing about ways to off his pinhead wife so he can take up with his flirty cousin. Briskly paced, creatively made, and Mastroianni is an excellent heel, but did I mention it’s shrill? Everybody talks loudly, the soundtrack is annoying, and after a while it gets to be too much. The first half contains some great comedy, however.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). This one took me by surprise — mostly because it came from Wes Anderson, whose films I absolutely loathe (okay, I’ve only seen The Royal Tennenbaums — but that was such a turd of a movie that I’m too scared to see any of his other efforts). This is an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story about a cunning fox (voiced by a somewhat too recognizable George Clooney) who has to give up his foxy ways to raise a family. When the brood moves back to his old stomping grounds, he can’t resist going back to performing elaborate heists on the three food factories nearby. This was such a sweet, adorable movie with a stunning visual design heavy on the gold tones. I loved the variety used in the character designs, from the elongated foxes to the corpulent factory owner. The animation, which I originally thought looked too jerky in the previews, flows beautifully throughout. I even loved the film’s snarky but not too contemporary sense of humor. Actually, everything about this movie was pitch-perfect; I even enjoyed it more than 2009′s other animated critical darling Up. Wes Anderson outdoing Pixar, who’da thunk it.
It’s a Wonderful World (1939). A movie that I’ve always been curious about; I finally got to catch it on TCM one recent morning. A big budget MGM production starring Claudette Colbert and James Stewart, it’s surprising that this “on the lam” comedy rarely registers with fans of either star. Having seen it, however, I can see why. This is your basic It Happened One Night rehash, only the sparks Colbert had with Clark Gable settles into a mere flicker with Stewart. Both actors give it a valiant try, and they certainly are charming here individually with a script that plays up their respective strengths (befuddlement for Jimmy, determination for Claudette). The plot, about police investigator Stewart trying to nab a criminal while being unlawfully pursued with daffy poetess Colbert in tow, is too lightweight — and the characters spend too much time pointlessly arguing — for me to care.
book_griffinOfficial Book Club Selection: A Memoir by Kathy Griffin. An anniversary gift, Christopher enjoyed this one so much he lent it to me with his endorsement — sure enough, it is a dishy and surprisingly candid treat. We’re huge Kathy fans going back before her My Life on the D-List success, and seeing her live (sitting in front of her then-hubby Matt!) was such a blast. This book is pretty much what I expected, with Kathy breezing through her boisterous childhood, her early, lean years in Hollywood, her short-lived marriage, the struggle of being imperfect in a business that only accepts perfect bodies and faces, and finally success on her own fabulous terms. What I like best about her is that she’s a straight talker and totally self-deprecating in an endearing way. This book reads exactly as if Kathy were right there dishing with you, and in that respect she (and/or her ghost-writer?) deserves the celeb memoir A-list award.
Three Husbands (1951). This was a nice gem hidden in our “50 cheap old comedies” DVD set — a sex-inversed Letter to Three Wives tribute with a bit of All About Eve sophistication thrown in. Though it doesn’t approach the artistry of either, it’s still an intriguing look at the mores of 1950s marriage with a decent cast including the marvelous Eve Arden, Howard da Silva, Emlyn Williams and Ruth Warrick. Like Letter, this is told mostly in flashback with Williams posthumously informing his three best friends that he cheated with all of their wives. Interesting film, mostly for the way it treats male/female roles in the context of the early ’50s, but entertaining as well.

Ladies and Gents, Miss March

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My first run of Jo March Lit Kids screen prints was completed this week. The pages come from an lovely old edition of Little Women. I did a lot of preliminary drawings for Jo, and I’m still not sure if this one captures her spunky spirit, but they came out pretty nice all the same. And the color palette of mauve, purple and gold on yellowing paper looks absolutely gorgeous.

I was so busy with printing that I forgot about our Wednesday video. How about a scene from the historically inaccurate 1978 TV movie version of Little Women? I mean how “1978 TV movie” is the casting of Susan Dey as Jo and Meredith Baxter Birney as Jo’s sister Meg? Eve Plumb was in this as well (being a Brady Bunch fan, that was the only thing about this production I remember).

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Just finished doing another round of Lit Kids prints featuring a different character. These came out even better than the Anne of Green Gables one. Slowly, I’m learning this screen printing stuff.

One of the characters I have coming up is Heidi from Johanna Spyri’s novel of the same name. I designed the character first, then read the book. Interesting … more religious than I anticipated, but Spryri nicely conveys the atmosphere of a quaint, rustic Swiss village and its humble inhabitants (mostly kids and old people, oddly enough). I do think I aptly captured the impish, nature loving quality of Heidi herself in my design.

The copy of Heidi I just read is a nice “Rainbow Edition” from the 1940s with illustrations by Leonard Weisgard, much admired in artist circles for his modern approach to kid’s books. This edition also has some great binding with a pine and acorn pattern. Yeah, I can’t wait to rip this thing up for printing! That’ll have to wait for a later print run, however, since the first book I’m using is a different vintage edition published by Grossett & Dunlap. Its binding looks like it’s from about 1950, but the inside pages appear to be designed 20-30 years earlier with beautiful typography and ornaments of flowers, butterflies and the like (see the bottom three photos). Those pages laid underneath my modern-looking illustration should be a neat combination.

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Weekly Mishmash: April 11-17

Cradle Will Rock (1999). Tim Robbins’ chaotic yet timely film chronicles the staging of the most notorious play produced by the WPA in the 1930s, Marc Blitzstein’s union-friendly musical Cradle Will Rock. We saw this in the theater when it was originally released and it still holds up. It’s interesting to revisit it during this quasi-Depression time and note how familiar the anti-socialist hysteria portrayed here is. I don’t think this is a perfect film; it’s too wide-ranging in scope and Robbins succumbs all too often to the “keep the camera moving” bug that also afflicted Stephen Fry when he did Bright Young Things. Some scenes are excellently staged and acted, while others are done in an offhand, parodic manner which makes me wonder how historically accurate everything is. Among the huge cast, the only true villains are Bill Murray’s cracked vaudevillian and the uppity case worker played by Joan Cusack. Generally I liked the cast, except perhaps Susan Sarandon hamming it up as a flamboyant Italian diplomat. My favorite was Cherry Jones as Hallie Flanagan, the headstrong manager of the WPA’s theatre division. She completely rocks, and has a beautiful speaking voice to boot (I kept thinking she’d be so much better than Oprah at narrating the nature documentary series Life).
Hollywood and Vine (1945). Another offering in our “cheapie public domain comedies of yore” series! Hollywood and Vine was another cruddy yet genial and fast-paced production from P.R.C. In it, aspiring actress Wanda McKay meets screenwriter James Ellison on her way to Hollywood. She brushes the amorous gent off, but eventually relents when the two end up rooming in the same apartment complex. The pair also become parents to a talented mutt (Daisy, best known as the family pup from the Blondie movies) who becomes a canine movie star. Yep, this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense, and the best celebrity cameo they could come up with was the fake Russian prince who ran Hollywood eatery Romanoff’s. McKay and Ellison are both unbelievably bland actors with zero screen presence, but at least we have the reliable Franklin Pangborn on hand as a soda jerk. Typical of this film’s flights of fancy is the scene where Ellison persuades McKay’s character from dismissive to “I’m giving it all up to marry you and have lotsa babies” in thirty seconds flat.
poster_winnethepoohThe Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). I know I must have seen this movie when it originally came out, but even so this compilation of the first three Disney Winnie the Pooh shorts is so awash in lyrical, pastel-colored charm that one can’t help but feel a nostalgic pang with it. These films date from 1966-74, the last gasp of classic old guard Disney animation. The stories are silly, leisurely paced and Disneyfied to a fault, but I love the way they incorporated the A. A. Milne book itself into the action, such as when a rush of water washes the words off the page. This DVD included a bonus Pooh short from 1983, which was as plodding and charmless as the trio in this film were magical. It just goes to prove that when they had it, they really had it.
Michael Clayton (2007). I had to chuckle when I read the Netflix reviews on this complaining that it was too talky and boring. Fact is, this was an excellent legal thriller with an absorbing story played by a cast at the top of their game (including Tilda Swinton, somewhat Jodie Fosterish as a dangerously ambitious careerist). The hard to please Christopher actually ranks this and Departures as the two best movies we’ve seen this year.
game_wordjongWord Jong Party. We’re not huge gamers around here, unless you count the pre-Facebook edition of Scrabble. We do, however, enjoy some of the less threatening stuff on the Wii — such as the farming sim Harvest Moon: Tree Of Tranquility. In that game, the most harmful thing you can do is piss somebody off by gifting them with a stinky hunk of algae fished out of the ocean. Lately we’ve been enjoying Word Jong Party, which is basically maj-jongg played with lettered tiles. You advance through the game by making words, the longer the better. Completely harmless and fun, and a bit easy for us Scrabble vets, but the graphics are cute and each day brings a brand new puzzle to enjoy.