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Weekly Mishmash: December 19-25

book_bobbedhairBobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the 1920s by Marian Meade. Brisk read examines four female writers — Dorothy Parker, Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edna Ferber — as they came to find their voices over the course of the 1920s. The book takes on a novel structure, with chapters organized by year detailing what each woman was up to from 1920 through the close of 1930. It throws the reader right into the action, dispensing with the usual (boring) background details in the subjects’ lives. It’s a rather superficial approach to take, but I enjoyed it and Meade’s breezy writing style sweeps you right along. Although the ladies all had their unique voices as writers, it’s interesting to note how many scenes and people (mostly Manhattan-based) overlapped with each person’s narrative. They all dealt with being writerly and intelligent in an era when women were grappling with having careers vs. more traditional roles. After reading this book, I’d say Edna Ferber is the one I’d most want to sit down for a chat with coffee. Dorothy Parker is a towering figure, quite modern and ahead of her time. Edna St. Vincent Millay was a bundle of contradictions and quirks (who knew of her obsession with bowel movements?), and poor Zelda Fitzgerald seemed like a fragile if shallow soul. Bland title aside, this was a thrilling read. I could easily enjoy something similar on writers in the ’30s, ’40s and beyond.
Fog Island (1945). Junky b-movie about eccentric millionaire George Zucco, who gathers all the people he believed helped kill his wife for a rendezvous at his island castle (built by pirates, no less!). Soggy revenge tale with a confusing mystery and tacked-on “young love” subplot. This film seems awfully familiar to anyone who has seen the contemporary version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The only spark in the cast came from character actress Jacqueline deWit, playing a clairvoyant. She was a lot more memorable opposite Joan Crawford in The Damned Don’t Cry and Jane Wyman in All That Heaven Allows, however.
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Frogs (1972). Another timeless classic recorded on our local This TV affiliate. I came to this one believing it was about a bunch of giant frogs taking revenge on people. I must have had it confused with the giant rabbit opus Night of the Lepus, however, since this film shows a horde of normally proportioned frogs wreaking havoc on a Southern mansion — along with lizards, spiders, alligators and other creepy things. No, the only grossly proportioned thing here is Ray Milland’s mugging as a plantation owner whose decision to pollute the local waters is what triggers this whole mess. A tight-pantsed Sam Elliott and Joan Van Ark are the main protagonists in a cast that includes every Southern sterotype known to humankind, including the Sexy Black Chick. The animal attacks themselves are laughably lame, of course, but you might want to give this a peek just to witness how common lizards actually know which chemicals combine to form lethal gasses. Lesson learned — don’t piss off a lizard.
Miami Blues (1990). Slipped this on my Netflix queue after having a yen to explore some early ’90s thrillers I missed out on. This particular one is a sleeper of the genre since it was made by ailing Orion Films and dumped into release in early 1990 with little notice. Alec Baldwin is well-known as a comedic performer, but I was surprised at how funny, charming and sexy he is this early on as an ex-con who goes on a one man crime wave, wooing a naive prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and even stealing the identity of the cop (Fred Ward) who is pursuing him throughout sun-baked Miami. Filled with tons of quirky touches, this film heaps up the comedy and jarring violence in equal measure. The script is very smart, but mostly what makes it sing are Baldwin and Leigh (who oughta have gotten an Oscar nom for this role).
Sleep, My Love (1948). This one was a bit of a surprise when it showed up on Netflix’s Watch Instantly offerings, since it stars Claudette Colbert and I’d never heard of it. An independent production from a company headed by Mary Pickford and Charles “Buddy” Rogers, this shadowy thriller opens coolly with a disoriented Colbert on a passenger train wondering how she got there. Reunited with husband Don Ameche, she’s informed that she accidentally shot the man in his arm and needs to be under constant surveillance by the protective husband. It’s only through the efforts of sympathetic friend Robert Cummings that we find out what’s really going on. Since the contrived Gaslight-style plot is nothing special, one can see why director Douglas Sirk disdained this effort — but it is enjoyable in its own hokey “woman in danger” way. Colbert plays the melodrama to the hilt, and I enjoyed voluptuous Hazel Brooks in the classic femme fatale role of Ameche’s secret lover. There’s also a young Raymond Burr and Keye Luke, who participates in the film’s most unusual scene depicting a traditional Chinese wedding. No great shakes, but worthwhile watching for the ’40s film junkie with a Netflix account.
The Social Network (2010). We decided to make this our Christmas Eve special viewing before the film left the theaters. No need to go into detail about the plot or anything, but this was an excellent film. How could it go wrong with David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin involved? Not to diminish Fincher’s contributions, but it is Sorkin’s literary, intelligent (if weirdly mannered and not very true-to-life) dialogue that makes this film. And the casting is fantastic, starting with Jesse Eisenberg’s note-perfect blend of genius and misfit as Mark Zuckerberg, a man who (according to this film) co-founded a website that thrives on personal interaction based on an appalling lack of basic face-to-face people skills. The film has a lot of atmosphere, and the storytelling is so strong that, as C. put it, the film could go on for another hour or two and still remain enthralling.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). Another in my endeavor to watch all the Trek films in the order they came out. In the words of Comic Book Guy, “Worst Star Trek movie ever.” But it’s not due to William Shatner (who directed and co-scripted), as many believe. This lazy effort begins with Spock’s half-brother Sylock as he goes to a dusty, Mad Maxesque planet and takes three ambassadors hostage in an effort to meet the Supreme Being. The paunchy, aging Captain Kirk and crew must save the besieged planet, all the while dealing with Klingons who are completely in awe of Kirk’s fighting ability and all-around awesomeness. The film moves pretty quickly and the old Enterprise gang has a wonderful camaraderie that goes well beyond the roles the actors are playing. Those are about the only good things in a film which stumbles through one implausibility after another in a series of bad calls. Probably the low point came when 50ish actress Nichelle Nichols did an undignified “sexy” fan dance — no, Uhura, no! Next in line will be Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which I actually remember seeing in the movie theater with my parents.

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