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Monthly Archives: June 2010

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A Pinch of Basil

Today’s video is another forgotten ’80s tune I just discovered this week — Toni Basil’s “Over My Head.” I think this song actually betters “Mickey;” too bad it barely made it onto the Billboard Hot 100. The video has a terrific concept with multi-talented Toni dancing in and out of vintage pulp book covers with various “outrageous” looks. She’s a helluva dancer, of course, and the theatricality she used on her image is very prescient. The Lady GaGa of 1983?

Living with the iPad


About a month ago, Christopher came to me with a surprise announcement: he was ordering a new Apple iPad. He was thinking about getting something similar to replace our old Dell laptop computer as a simple internet connection for us while going on long trips. As the Apple person in the family, I was delighted with this development — it certainly was going to get more use from me than that crappy Dell.

Now, I’m no early adopter when it comes to new technology, but the iPad really epitomizes what I’d want from a techno-gadget. When the iPhone first came out, I thought “this would be nice without the phone.” Then Apple released the iPod Touch, and I thought “this would be great if it was bigger, so you could read e-books and browse the internet.” Voilà, the iPad! The first generation iPad isn’t perfect; it’s still a bit bulky and the screen could use a few more square inches. However, even after a few weeks I can tell it will be a useful part of our household. We’ve already had a few times while watching a movie when C. will whip out the thing to check on an actor in the Internet Movie Database, a move that would have been not worth the extra work using the laptop.

The first thing I noticed on the iPad is how intuitive the interface is. You move around with the brush of a finger, like on the iPhone but more natural. Typing is accomplished with a small pop-up keyboard. Sure, typing with one hand takes getting used to, but I was able to adapt to it startlingly fast.

The first thing we did was to synched it up to my Mac’s iTunes. I downloaded several free apps, including some news feeds from NPR, the BBC and USA Today. While one could access all three via Safari, I kind of enjoy having them in their own uncluttered state. Browsing on Safari is nice, but the type is a bit too small and I had more than one instance of accidentally tapping the wrong link. As for the controversial lack of Flash, I’ve barely noticed it. Strangely enough, the best app I’ve seen has been MultiPong, a beautifully rendered simple pong game. Speaking of simplicity, there’s also a virtual koi pond app that Christopher immediately gravitated to. I bought SketchBook Pro, which packs an impressive array of features into a measly $7.99 app. At this point I’m just fooling around with it, somewhat frustrated at how I keep accidentally using my fingers to resize my sketches (hmm).

I’ve also explored e-books a little bit with Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle app. First off, I think it’s totally cool that Amazon even has a Kindle iPad app. With it, you can see books in color and set the type at a comfortable size, even having pages displayed in brown on sepia (my favorite). I downloaded a cheap copy of Treasure Island with nice color illustrations by N.C. Wyeth; hopefully it’s a sign of things to come that more illustrated ebooks will come along. Although I haven’t explored Apple’s reader, I can already tell that the Kindle has an edge for being able to bookmark pages (if iBooks have bookmarks, I haven’t seen it (note: iBooks does have a bookmark, I now see)). One enormous downside of both is that the type is completely forced justified and not ragged right like in most paper books (remember those?). The font choices aren’t too thrilling, either. Hopefully future updates will remedy that.

Perhaps the most ringing endorsement I have for the iPad is that writing about it here makes me want to fire the thing up and explore more — off I go!

Weekly Mishmash: June 20-26

poster_animalkingThe Animal Kingdom (1932). I caught this early talkie on my Comedy Kings 50 Movie Pack DVD set, which is odd since it’s more a melodrama with comedic elements than anything else. I remember seeing this about fifteen years ago while exchanging VHS tapes with a fellow vintage movie fan. At the time I found it dull and talky. The film still seems dull and talky, a straightforward adaptation of Philip Barry’s stage hit, but now I can better appreciate the unusually frank themes and understated performances from the leads. Leslie Howard plays Tom Collier, an aspiring writer who chooses duty over happiness when he decides to wed a stuffy society gal (Myrna Loy) over his true love, a bohemian artist (Ann Harding). A rather typical plot of its time, in other words, but three leads are all great (I especially enjoyed seeing the underrated Harding being her radiant self in another great role) with staging refreshingly naturalistic and not at all the hokum you often see in early ’30s melodramas. Loy, who hadn’t yet settled into wifey domestic roles at this point, is so alluring and fantastically begowned that I don’t blame Howard for his dilemma. Actually, I was struck by how nicely un-stereotypical the characters were. As Barry adaptations go, this isn’t nearly as fun as Holiday or The Philadelphia Story, but it’s worth a peek if only for the sophisticated dialogue and acting.
The Furies (1950). This wild ‘n wooly Anthony Mann Western/Melodrama is considered in some circles to be an overlooked masterpiece. I found it too hokey and overdone to be really worth more than one viewing, but the strong presence of Barbara Stanwyck as one of her usual fiery, headstrong gals put this into the (slight) winner category for me. In 1870s New Mexico, Stanwyck’s Vance Jeffords tries to wrest away control of the sprawling Furies cattle ranch from her equally headstrong father (Walter Huston in his final screen role). Adding to the boiling cauldron are Mexican squatters, a manipulative saloon keeper (Wendell Corey), and dad’s chiseling new bride (Judith Anderson). This is one weird, overheated movie, an odd combo of Western, film noir, and melodrama amped up to a Shakespearean degree. Stanwyck seems to be playing an exaggerated version of the kind of hard bitten dames she’s known for (even sporting bangs a la Double Indemnity‘s Phyllis Dietrichson). Huston is even more overbearing; at times his loudmouthed character got so obnoxious I was idly thinking of creative ways to off him. Everything about this film is bombastic, even the score. I was expecting this to be subversive and fun like Johnny Guitar, but mostly it’s hokey and overworked. There are some unusual elements to recommend it, however, such as Stanwyck’s romance with a handsome Mexican played by Gilbert Roland. That was certainly an eye-opener; the film’s snappy dialogue and interesting cast helps.
poster_truestoryThe True Story of Lynn Stuart (1959). I DVR’d this off the Turner Classic Movies simply because I’d never heard of it and out of curiosity to see likable actress Betsy Palmer in something besides old episodes of I’ve Got A Secret. The True Story of Lynn Stuart is the tawdry tale of Palmer’s average California housewife who, incensed by drug activity in her neighborhood, becomes an undercover police agent attempting to break up the drug ring led by oily Jack Lord. Did I mention, it’s a true story? This low budget effort veers into somewhat campy territory when Palmer makes herself over into a tough ex-con to win Lord’s affections, an unconvincing ploy for both character and actress. The rest of the film is pretty standard true crime stuff. Palmer is awfully cute, however. It’s a shame that her lasting cinematic impression came as Jason’s loopy ma in the original Friday the 13th. At least she’s still with us — rock on, Betsy.
Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (2008). This recent documentary was the first movie we saw streamed on our Nintendo Wii via Netflix — a good watch for lovers of Midcentury Modern architecture and 20th century California style. The film follows the life and career of Julius Shulman, who made a name of himself photographing the iconic works of Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler, Albert Frey and others. His look was clean, casual and angular, as epitomized by his famous photo of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House jutting out over the L.A. landscape. The film opens with Shulman in his nineties, admiring the random, overgrown beauty of his backyard garden. We then follow the still spry and talkative Shulman as he revisits some of the homes he photographed (including that Case Study House, still magnificent). If only for the fantastic photos and architecture, this is a worthwhile film. Shulman, who died in 2009, became an environmentalist and advocate for smart city planning later in his life. Which is odd, since the aesthetic of his best known photos extol the kind of personal paradise that suburban sprawl eventually helped to destroy. The film falls apart in its rambling last half hour, with Shulman and assistants attempting to organize the voluminous files in his office. Until then, however, the film is like a luxe architecture book come to life — all shiny planes and dreamy designer furniture.
Word Is Out (1977). This gay documentary was an intriguing addition to the TCM schedule. I’ve actually never heard of this supposedly important film before this month, and found it a very low key and enjoyable window into ’70s gay life (despite Christopher’s grumblings that we were somehow “ghettoizing” ourselves by watching it). This film is simply a string of interviews with several gays and lesbians, regular folk of varying races and economic strata speaking candidly about growing up, falling in love, and grappling with how the world perceives them. There’s a lot of fascinating talk about living underground in the ’40s and ’50s, being excommunicated from their families, etc. Some were even institutionalized and given horrific shock treatments, but despite all that most of the participants have an inner comfort that is inspirational to watch. The film is very ’70s granola, coming across like a wobbly, ultra-earnest PBS production (and musical segments of a serious womyn folkie and a male a cappella group doing “campy” oldies would make anyone cringe). Despite its flaws, the film should be required viewing for all LGBTs just to see where we came from — and straights could use the history lesson, as well. I wonder what the participants are doing now?

The Fabric of Our Hip, Happenin’ Lives

Hey people, it’s been over two weeks since we’ve gotten a comment at I’m not going to get too sad about it, but… where is everybody? Please come out from that sun scorched rock you’re under and tell me what’s going on.

Onward to the latest semi-forgotten industrial film of the past. 1969’s R.F.D. Greenwich Village is a tranquil ode to the bohemian youth of NYC and their seemingly endless supply of wide wale corduroy fashions. This sort of cinema vérité documentary-cum-advertisement shares a lot of similarities with Every Girl’s Dream, another short produced by the Cotton Producers Association a few years earlier. In that film, a young woman (Nancy Bernard, 1966’s Maid of Cotton) tours a run-down, deserted MGM studio lot while wearing an assortment of fresh cotton daytime wear. The short also contains some great wardrobe tests of Doris Day modeling costumes from The Glass Bottom Boat. This priceless short isn’t viewable online, but whoever programs Turner Classic Movies seems to enjoy playing it in the gaps between features.

Weekly Mishmash: June 13-19

Anita Baker — Rapture. Anita Baker’s “Quiet Storm” breakthrough Rapture is one of those albums that was critically acclaimed in its time (1986) but seems to have unjustly fallen under the radar in recent years. Which is a shame, since the album is a lushly produced charmer; seductive and consistent without sounding samey, and never falling into the bathetic realm of a “smooth jazz” radio station. Like Patti Austin, Baker approaches the material with a jazz singer’s finesse that many of her followers never picked up on. She’s a great singer, and the fact that she wrote much of this album is all the more impressive. For only eight tracks there sure are a lot of hits to enjoy. “Sweet Love” was the biggest, joined by “Caught Up in the Rapture,” “Same Old Love” and the mellowlicious “No One in the World” (a fourth track, “Watch Your Step,” also made waves on the R&B chart). This is an album for my inner Claire Huxtable to groove on.

Come Drink with Me (1966). An early Hong Kong action flick whose influence can be seen in many subsequent films, chief among them Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film is beautifully photographed, lushly produced, but rather blah in the storytelling department. Probably the biggest appeal it has to modern audiences lies in spotting the elements that Crouching Tiger paid homage to, including a kick-butt heroine (effectively played by Pei-Pei Cheng) that serves as a prototype for the Michelle Yeohs that came along afterward. I enjoyed the many fight scenes, too, even if they have hoards of men stupidly standing idle just waiting to get a kung fu sock in the gut. The film is actually very well made; director King Hu deliberately frames the scenes like an artist carefully composing a canvas. For that element alone, I bestow this film a (very slight) recommendation.
Flashdance (1983). One of many ’80s blockbusters that I hadn’t previously seen, even though I find the soundtrack album one of the best of its time (really!). This was, in all honesty, a pretty stupid movie. But I found it utterly fascinating as a relic of that period, and I love the ingenious way director Adrian Lyne got around the obviously cheap production by shooting the film like an ultra glossy, seductive TV commercial (similar to Foxes. And 9-1/2 Weeks. And that Jovan musk “what is sexy” ad). A good example is the scene set in a gym with Jennifer Beals and pals working out in front of harsh white back lighting (scored to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” no less). Have you ever seen a gym that looks like that? And yet it fits into this film’s weird alternate universe in which Beals’ winsome welder by day, stripper by night seems to passively waft through. Adding to the inanity is a Joe Eszterhas penned script which drops f-bombs to signify character development. Jennifer Beals with all her poise and inner serenity is probably the best thing about this flick — next to the still kickin’ soundtrack, of course. Corny as it seems, I often think about Irene Cara’s “take your passion and make it happen” line while making screen prints. It might sound silly, but it’s true!
poster_judgementJudgement at Nuremberg (1961). Whoa, I heard this was an effective film but I didn’t expect something this powerful. Somehow I got into my mind that this was a pretentious snoozer (who wants to watch three hours of courtroom testimony?), but luckily the film turned out better and filled with considerably more depth than that. It really examines the depths of humanity’s responsibility to itself, using the famed Nuremberg trials of surviving Nazi war criminals as a backdrop. Spencer Tracy is the presiding American judge, presented as the wise voice of reason while also allowing him to have his own quirky personality. It’s a terrific role and Tracy is great. I also enjoyed Maxmillian Schell as the German attorney, but some of the best performances went to actors in smaller roles. Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland are both amazing, and Marlene Dietrich surprises as a German officer’s wife who not so convincingly pleads ignorance to Tracy’s character on the horrors her spouse is accused of committing. I was also surprised that director Stanley Cramer used actual footage of WWII concentration camp victims in the film. The images still pack a wallop; I can’t imagine what it must have been like in 1961 when the horrors were still fresh in moviegoers’ minds.
Shutter Island (2010). In their fourth collaboration, Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in this ’50s period thriller. As a police detective investigating a murder case in an insane asylum, DiCaprio essays an okay if somewhat hammy performance. To his credit, Scorsese does deliver some effectively creepy scenes at the asylum, a place filled with the stock forbidding doctors and spasmodic patients. This could have been a fun little throwback to the pulpy thrillers of yesteryear, but in the end the film is as bloated and overproduced as The Aviator. It takes to long to get from here to there — and once we arrive at a major plot point (the supposedly shocking “twist” scene, for example), it comes with a whimper instead of a shout. I suggest Scorsese needs to watch more old movies, since even the hackiest of ’40s/’50s directors knew how to be concise and to the point.

My First Modem

I recently came across a true artifact of its time while cleaning out the garage. This Hayes Accura 1140 modem was purchased after I moved into my first apartment in 1994. Armed with it, a Macintosh IIci, and a new America Online membership, I was ready to blaze the Information Superhighway — at 56K per second! Listen, I even had my place equipped with a separate phone line to enable websurfing and talking on the phone simultaneously (considering my pathetic social life at the time, not really necessary). I’m also not afraid to admit that the AOL membership was mostly used to find dates and look at porn. This was back when it took 15-20 minutes to download one photo, mind you. Thank our lucky stars that the internet has grown up since then, and so have I.


Dig this early AOL commercial from 1995. “A friend of mine told me ‘Try America Online.’ I said ‘Why? I’ve got a computer.'” That line always seemed so bizarre to me, even back then. What, were they selling to complete idiots?