Monthly Archives: July 2010

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Lulu’s Back in Town

album_lulutosirI’m going for an all-’60s month on eMusic, with Lulu’s To Sir With Love the latest acquisition. This brief (32 minutes) album was given punchy production and arrangements by, respectively, Mickie Most and future Led Zepplener John Paul Jones. Lulu has a throaty voice with the kind of carefully enunciated phrasing that seems better suited to musical theater than peppy ’60s music (witness the LP’s goofy closer, “You And I”). Despite that, she’s adorable and the album is a good showcase for her versatility. Everybody knows the beautiful title cut, of course, but there are a few other tracks worth noting, including the jumpy Neil Diamond-penned “The Boat That I Row” and “Best Of Both Worlds,” a plush ballad in the Dusty Springfield mold. Honestly, the thought of somebody else covering stuff like “Day Tripper” and “To Love Somebody” fills me with dread, but Lulu (along with those brassy arrangements) manages to make them her own. This album also contains the oft-sampled “Love Loves To Love Love” and “Take Me In Your Arms and Love Me,” a cover of a somewhat obscure Gladys Knight & The Pips tune. Merely a notch better than the typical album of 1967, perhaps, but real cute all the same — Lulu knows how to bring the groovy.

Child Life, 1959 Style

Here are a few scans of the May 1959 issue of an obscure ’50s kiddie magazine called Child Life. All three are nice examples of stylish child-oriented book illustration of the era, but the magazine didn’t credit any of the artists — so any help on the IDs would be appreciated! This mag was a birthday gift for Christopher, my 1959 baby.

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Weekly Mishmash: July 18-24

The Circus Queen Murder (1933). I gave this Columbia ‘B’ a shot when it received an unusual prime time showing on a recent Turner Classic Movies night devoted to circus movies. Dapper Adolphe Menjou stars as Thatcher Colt, big city detective who takes a vacation in upstate New York. He and his secretary (the strangely alluring Ruthelma Stevens) are there to relax, but instead they find themselves involved in the shady dealings of a traveling circus with quarreling lovers, and a mysterious tribe of cannibals, and (you guessed it) murder. This is an efficiently made, very watchable little flick somewhat spoiled by the lack of mystery throughout. The murder happens too late in the film, and since the killer’s identity is plainly telegraphed early on there isn’t much suspense, either. Despite that, I enjoyed watching this not only for the cast (apparently this was one of two Thatcher Colt/Adolphe Menjou flicks), but for the many similarities between this and Freaks. Although this film is lighthearted mystery and Freaks is terrifying horror, it appears as if Greta Nissen’s trapeze artist is patterned after Olga Baclanova’s character in the earlier film. The filmmakers also included a group of vaguely creepy cannibals which call to mind the assorted Freaks freaks. Coincidence or not, the circus backdrop is vividly portrayed and adds some much needed depth to the film.
poster_castawaysIn Search of the Castaways (1962). Another week, another live action Disney adventure! In Search of the Castaways stars winsome Hayley Mills as a pre-teen who comes across a bottled message sent by her father, a shipping merchant previously thought to be killed at sea. Teaming with her brother, a ship’s captain and his son, and the French fisherman (Maurice Chevalier) who found the bottle, she goes on a journey that takes the troupe through snowy mountains, flash floods, volcanoes and a menacing band of cannibals (two cannibal movies in one week!). Fun in its own way but it does rank as one of the lesser Disney live action flicks, with scenes that stretch the notions of credibility and provoke the image of Jules Verne spinning in his grave. If the idea of watching people maneuver a giant boulder down a snowy canyon like some sort of king-sized toboggan strikes your fancy, this is the flick for you.
Inception (2010). Christopher and I took a day off on Friday to do a double feature at the local cracker box cinema; the trippy Inception was one of them. You oughta know by now it’s about Leo DiCaprio and pals invading another man’s dreams in an Oceans 11 meets Mission: Impossible type scenario. I thought it was a fun way to spend two and a half hours. I found myself lost in the film and admiring (if not exactly being wowed by) Christopher Nolan’s knack for audience-friendly yet cerebral entertainment; a very similar reaction that befell Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The story gets very dense at times, introducing characters whose function I couldn’t figure out (Ken Watanabe?). Although the four dream states never tripped me up, I have to admit to being disappointed that they all have a similar “action movie set piece” look that doesn’t bear any semblance to any dream I’ve ever had. The special effects are very cool, however. Just be prepared for many scenes of people drinking, rain-soaked, underwater, etc. — this is a film that seems specifically engineered for strategically placed bathroom breaks.
album_parissistersThe Paris Sisters — Sing Everything Under the Sun!!!. The Paris Sisters were a girl trio best known for the moony 1961 hit “I Love How You Love Me.” Despite its having four flop singles, their 1967 LP Sing Everything Under the Sun!!! was considered a sought-after cult item for Girl Group collectors until it finally got a CD reissue in the mid-2000s; I got to check it out on eMusic. This short, sweet gem of an album is a good showcase for the sultry voice of Priscilla Paris (who also wrote four of its ten tracks). Producers Jack Nitzsche and Jimmy Bowen built a consistent sound for the album that lies halfway between Phil Spector and easygoing mid-’60s “beach” music, a mood that sometimes detours in a nicely atmospheric direction (a dirge-like take on “It’s My Party,” for example) which likely influenced David Lynch and Julee Cruise some 20 years later. Priscilla Paris has an interesting, somewhat sleepy sounding voice, but the true highlight of this album comes when she pulls out an unexpectedly emotional performance on “See That Boy.” In just under 2-1/2 minutes, here is the epitome of why I dig obscure ’60s music. I’m positive that in an alternate universe somewhere it’s a huge, huge hit.
They Drive By Night (1940). Re-watched this after adding the DVD to my efforts to collect the films of Joyce Compton. Joyce appears briefly in the film’s second half as the ditsy girlfriend of one of the film’s supporting characters; in my totally biased opinion she holds her own opposite George Raft, Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart. Actually, the first (non-Joyce) half of this film is the kind of cracklin’ working class drama that Warner Bros. did impeccably during this time. It follows truckers Raft and Bogart as they deal with punishing hours and low pay hauling produce on all-night drives, with Sheridan adding a salty cynicism as a waitress whom Raft takes a shine to. It’s such a cool, supremely exciting movie (even the normally cardboard Raft does a great job), that it’s a bit of a disappointment when the film shifts gears to shrill murder melodrama with a hysterically overacting Ida Lupino. That plot development is still interesting in a campy way, but it detracts from what would have otherwise been a perfect, gritty film. Although I normally adore Ida Lupino (see The Hard Way or The Man I Love), she’s too much here; it’s hard to believe that critics of the day heaped praise on her performance.
A Town Called Panic (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Animated films which both deal, directly or not, with our relationship with toys and play objects. A Town Called Panic is an inventive, generally successful French-Belgian stop motion film that weaves a wacky story out of cheap plastic playthings a la army men, farm sets, and cowboys and indians. The cowboy and indian in this instance are two boys who live in a house under the parentage of a stern horse. Although I won’t go into the plot details, it involves an underwater city, a giant mechanical penguin, and lots of weirdly mismatched farm animals. The absurdist humor throughout actually reflects the way real children play with toys, independent of what they were made for (I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t use army men to do army battles). This film is too long by a good half hour, but I found it totally charming and bizarre in ways that market-tested Hollywood flicks could never touch. Hollywood flicks excepting those from the mighty Pixar, which brings me to Toy Story 3. What a fabulous way to close out the tale of Andy, Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang! This film was much more emotionally resonant — and darker — than I ever expected. I appreciated the level of detail that they put in every scene, and the additional characters were so wonderful it almost made me forget the regrettable absence of Bo Peep and that penguin squeaky toy. Probably the most poignant addition is the creep inducing lazy-eyed baby, a character that is set up as a villain but somehow ends up being more sympathetic than the nominal leads. I think it’s because the baby is presented as a realistic child with adorable cooing sounds and infantile reactions, giving the viewer the uncomfortable notion that abandoned baby doll = real abandoned baby. Speaking of which, the film’s climax goes to intense, emotional places even previous Pixar efforts like Up didn’t venture. The much spoken-of final scene was a beautifully done and affecting bit of closure, even though it failed to bring a single tear in me (just raised a lump in my throat) — probably since it went on too long. Yeah, I’m a scrooge. Despite that minor disappointment, this gets a solid ‘A’.

Forest for the Trees

This drawing was made while looking out the window at my parents’ cabin in Northern Arizona, using Autodesk SketchbookPro for the iPad. It’s a fun program to use; they just need to make it easier to save files while you’re working on them. I’ve had a couple of times (including on this drawing) where the drawing was almost finished, then somehow I got out of SketchbookPro and all the latest work was never saved. I also have an annoying habit of getting into the section where you can rotate or move the drawing, then it ends up getting saved that way. Cool program, needs some fine tuning.

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Where Have You Been Hiding Out Lately, Honey

I barely remember watching this clip from Marie Osmond’s short lived solo variety series, Marie, when it was originally on circa 1981. This is Marie performing Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll to Me” as a campy duet with herself — what a hoot! Two things I notice now: the costumes have all the hallmarks of the legendary Bob Mackie, and Marie was a talented performer for being only about 21 years old. Enjoy.

Weekly Mishmash: July 11-17

poster_coltisA Colt Is My Passport (1967). Part of Criterion Eclipse’s acclaimed “Nikkatsu Noir,” a DVD set exploring director Takashi Nomura’s low budget action thrillers from the ’60s. A Colt Is My Passport stars the reliable, chipmunk cheeked actor Jo Shishido as a hit man who kills a mob boss. With his partner, the man hides out in a sleepy shipping port in order to make a hasty escape. Stung by the tragedy, the son of the victim comes to Shishido’s boss and makes a cash offer to have the man killed. With men coming after him, Shishido then plots an elaborate revenge. All told, not the greatest or most original story, but there are enough interesting elements to recommend it. First off is the strange score, seemingly inspired by spaghetti Westerns and Herb Alpert-ish American pop music. In the beginning there are a lot of cool camera angles involving the modern architecture’s boxy, harsh lines — then the film moves to the seedy hotel locale and gets somewhat dull. The film’s exciting climax, staged in a dusty field, redeems things somewhat. Worth a peek if you like unconventional ’60s Japanese movies (and really, who doesn’t?).
Criss Cross (1949). Another noir, closer to home but no less odd. The virile Burt Lancaster heads up Criss Cross as a man harboring an obsession with ex-wife Yvonne De Carlo, now linked with sleazeball gangster Dan Duryea. Told mostly in flashback, the film details Lancaster’s and De Carlo’s attempts to rekindle their flame on the sly as Duryea executes a tricky bank truck heist. A rather standard story gets illuminated by great casting (especially Duryea, doing the kind of reprehensible men he does best) and some excellently photographed shots of 1949 Los Angeles (Angels Flight! Bunker Hill! Union Station!). Yvonne De Carlo was really fascinating to watch — I don’t think she’s the greatest actress, but there’s something watchable about her here and apparently the director agrees, lavishing long takes on her while the actress is dancing in a seedy joint with an uncredited Tony Curtis. She’s one hot tomato, that Yvonne De Carlo.
Eurythmics — Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). I originally signed up on eMusic to get the 2005 reissues of the (personal fave band of the ’80s) Eurythmics’ catalog. The CD editions of these albums are so neatly packaged, however, that I decided to go with the tried and true plastic disc format. The liner notes for Sweet Dreams reveals an interesting story — by the time the LP came out in January 1983, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox already released a flop album (In the Garden) and two underperforming singles (“This Is The House” and “The Walk”) to an indifferent world. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this album has an overall tone of resignation and icy reserve. In the Garden was a muddled, vaguely psychedelic mess with Lennox’s vocals buried too deep in the mix; with Sweet Dreams one could sense that they hit upon the simple equation of Soulful Diva Vocals + Chilly Electronics as the definitive Eurythmics sound. It’s a beautifully produced, hypnotic record, a bit repetitive at times, but sustaining a wonderful Euro-sleazy mood. The bonus tracks, mostly b-sides of the era, are lots of fun. I especially liked the 1991 remixes of “Sweet Dreams” and “Love Is A Stranger” and a brilliant cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” which sounds more like a Be Yourself Tonight-era outtake.
Four Jacks and a Jill (1943). Wartime musical trifle was the last viewing from my personal Anne Shirley film fest. Honestly, I saw this five days ago and barely remember it; the plot revolves around Shirley as a waif who is somehow adopted by a quartet of musicians led by rubber-limbed Ray Bolger. I vaguely recall gangsters and a prince disguised as a taxi driver (played by a young Desi Arnaz) running around, too. Your enjoyment of this film probably depends on how much you can accept forgettable tunes and the goofy Bolger as a leading man. Shirley is cute as always, and seeing Arnaz as a capable comic actor so early in his career was a nice surprise.
dvd_thirty1stthirtysomething: The Complete First Season. I was excited to see thirtysomething finally arrive on DVD. Although I was eighteen-something and working a night job when it premiered in 1987, I would try and watch the show whenever possible (especially the later seasons with Miles Drentell, Melissa’s gay friend, Nancy’s cancer, etc). Something about the way the characters naturally interacted with each other struck a chord; the characters tended towards the whiny and self-centered, sure, but aren’t we all somewhat like that? Watching this first season was an interesting experience. I don’t remember the show being so strongly centered on its “perfect” couple Michael (Ken Olin) and Hope (Mel Harris) at the beginning. These early episodes epitomize what the haters disliked about the show, with the characters less developed and at their most ’80s yuppie-ish. It quickly hits a stride by the time Elliot (Timothy Busfield) and Nancy (Patricia Wettig) separate at mid-season, however. It’s a hoot revisiting characters and episodes I barely remember. One of my favorite scenes here is the one in the pilot episode where Hope and Polly Draper’s Ellyn meet for lunch in a restaurant, only to have it cut short by Hope’s screaming baby. The two women have this implicit realization that a part of their friendship was severed because one married and had a kid, something that happens with every thirtysomething. I also identified with terminally single Melissa (Melanie Mayron) and her status as the group’s artsy pal; in one of the later seasons she said something to the effect of “being single means learning how to go to the movies alone and not feeling like a leper.” Totally, Melissa, totally. Going back to seasons 2-4 oughta be a blast.
This Above All (1942). Stirring romance with a WWII British backdrop plays like 20th Century Fox’s own Mrs. Miniver. Christopher found it hokey and stupid, I enjoyed it. Lovely Joan Fontaine plays a British blue-blood who upsets her family by joining the UK version of the WACs; she meets cute with Tyrone Power as a morose soldier on the run for desertion. The two take refuge in various inns while discussing their lives and the war in florid, important sounding language that could only have come from a best selling novel of the era. Excellent performances from both leads, as well as Thomas Mitchell as Power’s affable best bud. As an actor Fontaine tends to be either touching and meek or annoyingly prissy; here she’s a little bit of both (one can safely take a bathroom break during her “we must preserve England” speech). Power is surprisingly good despite having no trace of a British accent. Both work splendidly together and I completely believed in the couple’s starry-eyed sincerity amongst the bomb blasts.