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Monthly Archives: October 2010

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Brownie Points


It’s my 42nd birthday today. I’ve had a nifty neat-o day. The festivities started last night, when Christopher bestowed me with several gifties off my Amazon wish list. He also had the day off today, so we went to the lunch eatery of my choosing. I chose Chili’s, a mainstream chain but I hadn’t been there in years and was salivating for a peppercorn burger, and chips with hot queso dip. We got all that and a free brownie with ice cream on top, accompanied by our server’s enthusiastic “Happy Birthday To You.” I guess he was new and didn’t know about copyright laws.

We are actually going to be away from computers and keyboards for the next few days, so there will be no Weekly Mishmash. Instead, I present an early Mini Mishmash for October 3-7:

  • Bottle Rocket (1996). Typical ’90s indie comedy. Normally I hate Wes Anderson’s cutesy, fussy films (the overlapping dialogue heard in this one is one reason why), but this one was unexpectedly sweet. Owen and Luke Wilson were both very appealing.
  • Garbo Talks (1984). Going satellite free has allowed us to check out the oddness of our local channels, like the independent station that seems to show nothing but Patty Duke Show repeats and a buttload of never-on-DVD vintage movies. Such as Sidney Lumet’s Garbo Talks. This was a rather glum drama chronicling repressed accountant Ron Silver’s efforts to fulfill the dying wish of his colorful ma (Anne Bancroft) to meet her idol, Greta Garbo. Bancroft’s soliloquy to Garbo was certainly award-worthy; the Manhattan locations and a variety of stage actors in support add a lot to its quirky appeal.
  • A Letter To Elia (American Masters, PBS). Should have more accurately been called Martin Scorsese’s Fawning Homage To The Elia Kazan Films Of His Childhood. Luckily the half hour of interviews at the end almost redeems the barfy obsequiousness that came before.
  • That’s Entertainment, Part 2 (1976). A sentimental favorite, and I must be the only person on earth who enjoyed the new bridging sequences in this film with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire on a candy-colored set (not to mention Saul Bass’ still delightful opening credits). The clips maddeningly lack context, but years of TCM viewing has deepened my appreciation of certain segments such as the James FitzPatrick TravelTalks montage or the parade of scenes involving songwriters implausibly writing classic tunes in no time flat. Above all, what these clips teach is that Gene Kelly had the finest ass in classic moviedom.
  • Troubled Water (2008). Compelling Norwegian drama about a youth, released from prison for murdering a child, who attempts to redeem himself by becoming a church organist. The child’s grieving mother happens to come across the man, then things get twisted. Well made, with nuanced performances and lovely photography. The film turns standard and thriller-like near the end, but otherwise a moving experience.

TV About Movies, 1980 Style

I was having a personal matinee of That’s Entertainment Part 2 at lunch yesterday (the DVD was another Big Lots bargain, sandwiched with the Easter Parade two disc Special Edition), when the thought of another long-gone TV program entered my mind. On PBS in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a That’s Entertainment-style half hour of vintage film clips narrated by Mr. C himself, Tom Bosley. Further research indicates the show was called That’s Hollywood, produced by 20th Century Fox. While I do remember it as being very Fox-centric, including stuff from Star Wars, the opening was totally forgotten until I saw this clip on YouTube:

Cool beans! I used to watch that all the time on our local PBS affiliate. Another PBS movie show I remember from that era was Matinee at the Bijou, which presented a feature film, cartoon, newsreel and trailer the way an authentic theater from the ’30s/’40s did. Unlike our current media-saturated consumable landscape, anything covering film on TV was a special treat. Of course, I can’t go any further without mentioning Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on Sneak Previews. The clip below from their “Women In Danger” theme show is a bit more preachy than they usually were, but that opening credits sequence is a total deja vu trip (dig those Marathon candy bars!). It’s interesting to note how low key and intelligent the men are here, traits that gradually receded once they and their thumbs moved out of the PBS ghetto and into syndication land.

Weekly Mishmash: September 26 – October 2

City for Conquest (1940). Hokey but enjoyable vintage Warner Bros. melodrama with the cracklin’ combo of James Cagney and Ann Sheridan. Viewed (again) this week, I posted a more thorough writeup of the film at the Joyce Compton News & Notes weblog.
It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). Another week trawling the DVD bins at Big Lots (more precisely, Big Lots!), resulted in netting the special edition of this archetypal Giant Monster Flick for only five bucks. For the uninitiated, this is the film in which a gigantic octopus terrorizes San Francisco, one tentacle at a time. Leads Kenneth Tobey and Faith Domergue attempt to quell the oncoming horror (which builds up nicely in the film’s first half), all the while attempting to convince viewers that they are not the bargain basement version of Van Johnson and Hedy Lamarr. Once the creature finally arrives to wreak havoc, it’s impressively rendered via Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion animation.
Soundtrack – Revolutionary Girl Utena. I made another trip to the local Salvation Army this week and was surprised to find a decent amount of used Japanese anime soundtracks in the CD racks. Many of the CDs were swiped (what is it with thrift store shoppers refusing to pay a dollar for a dang CD?), but one intriguing selection with disc intact was this musical adaptation of the popular Revolutionary Girl Utena manga. Going by the “if the cover depicts someone with pink hair, buy it” rule, I plunked down two bucks. It’s actually a nice sounding disc, filled with lushly arranged instrumentals with a classical bent. For all I can divine, this might be the soundtrack for a TV series, feature film or stage show (or all three). The CD is bookended with two cool vocal numbers, Luca Yumi’s “Truth” and Masami Okui’s “Round Dance – Revolution” (video below), both stellar examples of fizzy ’90s J-pop.

poster_streetangelStreet Angel (1928). Late silent was one of three films that helped Janet Gaynor win the first Best Actress Academy Award (from back when they awarded for multiple performances by the same individual in a given year). Gaynor’s sensitive, nuanced performance as an Italian street waif is actually one of the few strong points in this otherwise flawed melodrama. The All-American Gaynor and frequent co-star Charles Farrell are oddly cast as simple Italian folk in a story that goes through a lot of effort to communicate the simple truism that Love Conquers All. Faced with an ailing mother, a desperate Gaynor takes to the streets of Napoli to prostitute herself (in these scenes, Gaynor is somehow both painful and hilarious to watch). Before she can get herself a john, the police take her into custody. She eventually escapes and befriends earnest painter Farrell in a traveling performing troupe. It doesn’t take long before her sordid past catches up with the duo, however. Although the film is sensitively directed by Frank Borzage, this routine romance is easily the lesser of the three award winning Gaynor vehicles (Seventh Heaven and the tremendous Sunrise were the other two). In addition to Gaynor’s performance, I loved the photography and the lavish street set. Farrell is a dull lead, however, and his one dimensionality is matched by the story.
Take Aim at the Police Van (1960). Part of Criterion’s “Nikkatsu Noir” Eclipse box set, this Seijun Suzuki whodunit is a stylish if very confusing venture. Opens impressively with a scene in which two men pull off an intricate heist of a bus transporting prisoners. That even spurs prison guard Michitaro Mizushima to investigate, pulling him into a mess of underworld double-crossers and shady ladies. To be honest, I got lost after the first half hour and didn’t know what the hell was going on. Mizushima and the rest of the cast are rather straightforward actors, so that left me to admire the wide screen photography, jazzy score, and little else.
White Dog (1982). Until Criterion recently released it on DVD, Sam Fuller’s final film was something that was more talked about than actually seen. Like Song of the South, its unsavory reputation tends to overwhelm what is basically a rather benign film. The movie concerns the title creature, a german shepherd adopted by a young woman (Kristy MacNichol) after she accidentally runs it over. After finding the dog is prone to sudden attacks on black people, she takes it to an animal sanctuary run by Burl Ives. There, trainer Paul Scofield Winfield makes an extraordinary effort to make the dog un-learn its horrible affliction. This film has a lot of good things going for it. Fuller creates a nice sense of dread as the film progresses and gets some notable work out of MacNichol and Winfield (not to mention the five or six well-trained white dogs). Ennio Morricone’s subtle and atmospheric score also goes a long way towards setting the mood. Despite all that, the movie on the whole came across like a dour if well-made TV drama. You have to wonder what the fuss was about – as explained in the very informative interviews included on the DVD, the film’s production was hobbled by NAACP protests, then the studio decided to dump it into only one U.S. theater before releasing it overseas (where it was a well regarded success, in France at least). At the very least, the unusual story and the dog itself makes the film worth a peek.

Laura Ingalls, Prairie Girl, at LitKids

I’ve added a new print at my LitKids etsy store — Laura Ingalls from the Little House on the Prairie books. This is the first time I’ve done a relatively recent character, and by “recent” I mean published in the 1930s. That means it’s not in the public domain, so hopefully the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate won’t sue. You never know with them prairie people, however. These prints have a lot of spray painted layers, with a final screen printed layer that came out a bit more blobby than usual. I’m slapping ten bucks on them and hoping for the best.

In other LitKids news, I’m happy to report that some of my prints will be available locally in a brick-and-mortar retail setting! Changing Hands, the legendary indie bookseller in the Phoenix area, will be selling matted and poly bagged versions of a few of my prints in a special display starting on October 20. They only took five prints (our Laura was among the rejected ones), but they look excellent packaged like this. Hopefully they’ll sell out those five and want more. Later on this month, I’m going to be shopping the prints around to other local retailers. Wish me luck.