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Monthly Archives: July 2010

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Pretty Sneaky, Sis

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It’s Like Quicksand, Quicksand (Yeah)

album_tcms3It’s that time of year again, when I splurge on one of Hip-O Select‘s “Complete Motown Singles” CD packages. I recently had a cartooning job that paid off, so some of the newfound booty went toward The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 3: 1963. Some background: I already own the peak volumes in this series, covering the years 1964-70. Now I’m in the process of hopscotching back and forth in time to get the last remaining sets, covering 1959-63 and 1971-72 (the final two volumes in the series covering 1972 haven’t yet been released, despite promises they’d be out in time for Motown’s 50th anniversary — in 2009).

Coming off the wild ‘n groovy 1970 volume, to be immersed in the comparatively quaint atmosphere of 1963 comes as something of a shock. Listening to the 119 single a- and b-sides included on these five discs, I get the impression that Motown was still your basic local R&B label at this point — albeit a label whose energy and ambition speak of being on the verge of greatness. Berry Gordy had his fingers in several pots at once, with subsidiary labels delving into Jazz (Workshop Jazz), Gospel (Divinity) and Country/Novelty music (Mel-o-dy). These off singles, while interesting, make the volume less essential than the others. On the plus side, having the songs presented in strict chronological order gives a clear picture of how Motown was developing, constantly releasing and reissuing stuff until the right formula translates into bona fide hits. A case in point is Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips.” Stevie’s exciting live performance, split in two on the vinyl single, originally had “Part 1” on the a-side for its May 1963 debut. Deejays quickly found, however, that the “Part 2” flip with its “what key, what key?” musician’s ad lib was the more memorable side, so weeks later the single was remixed and re-released to chart topping success.

For me, the biggest development of 1963 Motown was the arrival of the dynamic team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland. The first disc in this set contains the first two a-sides written and produced by the trio — The Marvelettes’ “Locking Up My Heart” and Martha & The Vandellas’ “Come And Get These Memories.” Right away, you get the feeling that with these two tunes they hit upon something special. Their tight rhythms and sing-songy melodies sound especially great surrounded by relatively dull sides from Mary Wells, Kim Weston and The Supremes. Indeed, the paucity of HDH sides seems to hurt the set’s misfire and obscurity (good and bad) heavy first half – until they struck gold again with Martha & The Vandellas’ tremendous “Heat Wave” in July. After that, the jumpy, gospel-inspired sound characteristic of early HDH gets the full treatment with hits from The Miracles (“Mickey’s Monkey”), Marvin Gaye (“Can I Get A Witness”), Mary Wells (“You Lost The Sweetest Boy”), The Supremes (“When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” the tune that broke the girls’ “no hit” curse), and – again – Martha & The Vandellas (“Quicksand”). This is early, exciting Motown at its best, and that alone makes me happy I got this.

Weekly Mishmash: July 4-10

Belle Epoque (1992). An enjoyable if very slight comedy from Spain: on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, an AWOL soldier (Jorge Sanz) takes refuge in the home of a man with four beautiful daughters. As the film progresses, each daughter experiences a brief infatuation with the nonplussed man. This is a breezy, wistful film with an attractive cast and some gorgeous scenery. Although there are some deep scenes involving religion and war, mostly it serves as a nostalgic travelogue. The characters exist in a turbulent time and place, but one never fears for their safety or well being. Not bad, but I can’t believe it won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet was also nominated that year, and it’s a superior film in every way. Penelope Cruz plays the family’s youngest daughter here, winsome if not yet a fully developed actor at this point.
Brainstorm (1983). As an avid watcher of Entertainment Tonight during its early years, I remember being glued to the TV set whenever Mary Hart or whoever reported on Brainstorm‘s troubled production after the death of its star, Natalie Wood. Since then I always wanted to catch that movie (out of curiosity more than anything else), and so it got recorded during Turner Classic Movies’ Wood tribute last month. This is quite an interesting movie, but I can see why it flopped after finally getting released two years after cameras stopped rolling. Douglas Trumbull’s film has an intriguing sci-fi-cum-domestic drama angle, but in the end it’s too dreary and heavy handed. Wood plays the estranged wife of scientist Christopher Walken, who is developing a machine that can record and play back human thoughts and experiences. The helmet-like computer is hastily rushed into production, causing myriad problems. The government intervenes when they see its value as a torture device — which is strange since when I saw the gaudy gold tape they used, I saw its value as Christmas gift wrapping. I loved the outdated technology on display here, which must have looked out of place even in 1983 (really — things changed so much, one can tell the film was made circa 1980-81). Another neat angle lies in the photography trick Trumbull uses: the film takes on squarish and TV-like proportions most of the time, going into dazzling widescreen whenever the rapturous device is being used. As for the acting, Walken and Louise Fletcher as a fellow scientist are both very good; Wood is somewhat wasted in a nothing role (although she does play a product designer; how often does one see product designers on film?).
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008). Period comedy of Britain in the ’30s, fizzy and nicely designed but in the end not very absorbing. Based on a novel of the era, the film follows a plain, recently unemployed woman (Frances McDormand) who takes an uncharacteristic leap of faith when she wrangles herself into the household of a dizzy American actress (Amy Adams) — and in a single day, her life is transformed. This had the makings of a cute, inoffensive comedy, but mostly I didn’t understand why this film came to be. The source material seems too slight to resonate with a modern audience (adding the spectre of WWII approaching doesn’t help), and I never once cared for Adams’ plight with three different men vying for her attention. And what is Adams’ ditsy and moderately talented character doing living in a huge, fabulously furnished apartment, anyhow? I loved Adams here, but McDormand seems largely miscast (I could never buy her as a reserved British lady). The project tries so awfully hard to entertain, only to ultimately get buried by its own forcefulness.
A Single Man (2009). Tom Ford’s lusciously photographed meditation on love and loss was a critical hit last year; I can understand the heaps of praise. Although Ford’s almost fetishistic love of early ’60s design seems to get in the way of the story, he does manage to get some terrific performances from Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. It’s actually quite an accomplishment for a first time filmmaker (not to mention first time screenwriter, as well). Firth is flawless as a British academic transplanted to a circa 1961 Los Angeles, dealing with the shattering loss of his lover while attempting to move on with his life as a literary professor. My favorite scenes are the ones with Firth and Julianne Moore as an old friend, a fellow Brit who is having abandonment issues of her own. They’re great together, easily making up for the somewhat affected, TV commercial-like techniques Ford uses throughout the film. Presenting Firth in his orderly Midcentury Modern home with oh-so-perfect minimalistic decor, it’s as if Ford wants the character so hemmed in that suicide is the only solution to his plight. The film also takes on an interesting element with the color changing saturation whenever Firth feels happy, nostalgic or lustful, especially noticeable whenever a curious student played by Nicholas Hoult enters the scene. Good film, and as a designer I can appreciate Ford’s object lust — even a common pencil sharpener becomes an item of beauty here. (p.s. with his squinty eyes and haughty demeanor, I can only surmise that Ford’s next project will somehow involve Renee Zelwegger).

Ten Years a Scrubbling Fool


A milestone: this week marks the tenth anniversary that I’ve been doing this weblog. It’s hard to believe a whole decade has passed since setting up a Blogger account so I could have a more dynamic element on my little site — complete with impenetrable web address containing a tilde (the domain name would come a few months later). Although as of summer 2000 I had already been doing a monthly music review site (coded by hand!), this new venture opened up a completely new world. Before, the web felt one dimensional; after, it was a veritable lovefest of sharing, discussing, giving and receiving. All these years later, it still astonishes me that anyone would be interested in my ramblings on whatever crappy movie/book/album comes my way.

So, here’s to ten years of the bl*g! To celebrate, here are some links to other bloggers’ tenth birthday posts:

Related: Eight Years of (highlights reel); Seven Years of Unpigeonholable Tomfoolery (a look at the Scrubbles logos from 2000-07).

California Déjà Vu

From this video of TV show opening credits of 1979, a long forgotten one — California Fever. I used to watch this every week, but I honestly don’t remember a thing about it except the theme song (sung by actor Jimmy MacNichol) and that pulsating red circle in the opening. The montage also includes Real People, a show I watched zealously week after week. I had a little boy crush on Sarah Purcell.

Alice in Wonderland, and at LitKids

I’ve been working on getting a swell Alice In Wonderland print up at LitKids. This is a tough one — out of the 30 prints I’ve tried so far, only about eight are good quality and sellable. The combination of a complex illustration and our dry weather means that my silk screen is getting clogged earlier and the images are coming out faint. I might have to put LitKids on hold until our weather gets moister.

The ones that did come out are really nice, however. I love the interplay between my design and the tinted John Tenniel illustrations from the 1946 edition of Through the Looking Glass I used. Next step: getting it on the Etsy front page!