Monthly Archives: January 2011

You are browsing the site archives by month.

New at LitKids: Mole from Wind in the Willows

book_windinwillowsWhen it came time to create a new LitKids design late last year, I was a bit stymied until coming across a battered copy of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows at the local Salvation Army. I knew the book was well-loved and was familiar with the Disney animated version, and the opportunity to do an animal character was too irresistible. I read the book pretty quickly and found it utterly charming. The main characters are Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad. Although the conceited Toad winds up getting the most storyline, I most loved the sweet Mole and wanted to make him the subject of this print.

Unlike some of the earlier prints, this one was a breeze to do. The background is some Victorian era clip art of a flower, screen printed in bright yellow. I then used some sage green spray paint on the mole shape, making a nice speckled texture. A spray of gold paint and the dark green mole image was complete. Here it is, listed on Etsy.

mole1_3

mole1_4

mole1_2

As a bonus, here’s a photo Christopher shot of me sitting at the table we had set up last weekend at (excellent) local bookseller Changing Hands. We were there for five six hours peddling prints, and at the end of the day we wound up selling ten prints — including more copies of the Mole print than anything else!

sellertable

Flick Clique: January 23-29

poster_dontbotherDon’t Bother To Knock (1952). Another film I quickly watched before it got unceremoniously yanked off Netflix streaming. This gritty Fox b-movie is best remembered as the first evidence that Marilyn Monroe could act and carry a vehicle of her own. She plays Nell Forbes, a fragile beauty who is employed for one night to babysit a young girl in the hotel where her friend Elisha Cook, Jr. works. As the girl’s parents (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle) party downstairs, Marilyn attracts the attention of caddish Richard Widmark just as he’s stewing from a breakup with nightclub singer Anne Bancroft. This was an interesting little film, mostly due to the hotel setting (with radios wired into the walls!) and not the routine plot/cast. Monroe did a nice enough job, even if she merely plays a mentally challenged variant on the breathy child-women she normally does. Actually, the most impressive cast member was Bancroft. She’s terrific in her scenes with Widmark. Not only that, but she has a nice singing voice previously unknown to this fan.
poster_mrbugMr. Bug Goes To Town (1941). Our second Max and Dave Fleischer animated feature film of the month was also the brothers’ last, before Paramount pictures took over their Florida-based studio and renamed it Famous Pictures. This was considered a failure in 1941 and has since fallen into public domain disrepute, but I found it fun, beautifully rendered, and refreshingly original in ways that the Fleischer’s first feature Gulliver’s Travels couldn’t begin to touch. Like that earlier effort, this film deals with a tiny world trying to adjust to forces beyond their control. This time, it’s a community of bugs who are in danger of getting trampled into oblivion by the faceless urbanites who tramp through the yard where they live. Enterprising grasshopper Hoppity comes along to help, all the while romancing lovely bee Honey and keeping her from the clutches of the dastardly C. Bagley Beetle. An episodic plot and unmemorable songs hobble the proceedings and make this comparable to lesser Disney efforts of the era, but overall I found this one quite enjoyable. The character development and animation is appreciably better than what was found in Gulliver’s, and some of the backgrounds and scenes contrasting the tiny bugs with ominous, oblivious humans are truly jaw-dropping. This was also the first animated feature film with a completely original story, enough to make it worthy of a look by animation and classic film fans alike.
poster_queenofbloodQueen of Blood (1966). Another cinematic goodie that we saw on Netflix instant streaming. Well, “goodie” might be a strong way of putting it, but it certainly was an interesting and colorful example of ’60s sci-fi/horrorploitation. In the year 1990, scientist Basil Rathbone sends a group of astronauts headed by square-jawed John Saxon to a corner of Mars where some alien communiques originated. The astronauts find some impressive set pieces, and a lone alien survivor. They excitedly bring the shapely, green-skinned female martian on board. On route back to Earth, however, they find that she is a predator who uses hypnotism to get nourishment — from human blood! This AIP quickie is a rather sloppy and threadbare production, especially when the cardboard sets are contrasted with spliced-in footage from a wild Russian sci-fi epic containing huge, beautifully rendered spacecraft and telescopes. Those details are enough to elevate it from the humdrum, however, along with the alien herself. As played by Florence Marly, she is an intense creature with glowing eyes and a hairdo worthy of Eero Saarinen’s most fanciful structures. She also appears to be a big influence on Tim Burton’s curvy alien-in-disguise from Mars Attacks!.
The Seventh Veil (1945). Another film I hastily decided to check out on our local This TV affiliate. This British suspenser was a cool surprise with some great, Hitchcock-like touches. The story deals with Ann Todd’s beautiful yet mentally unbalanced concert pianist. After attempting to kill herself, she is hypnotized and via flashbacks tells of being under the spell of her controlling guardian (played with intensity by James Mason) and the battles that ensue when she falls in love with an American bandleader and a portrait painter. The film feels a bit like a Brit version of Spellbound, mingled with a bit of the melodramatic musical hokum reminiscent of Bette Davis and Claude Rains in Deception. Like the latter film, it is an overstuffed treat. Solid performances from Mason and Todd (who mimes the piano very well). I’ve never seen an Ann Todd film before, but based upon her enigmatic, Garbo-esque presence here, I will be seeking out more of her soon.
Tootsie (1982). Decided to finally give this one another peek after getting the 25th Anniversary DVD edition for my birthday. I remember watching this with my family in a packed cinema, where we could only find spots in the front row. Even from that weird angle with all the actors’ hips twice as wide as their heads, it was hilarious. I was afraid it would come across as too sitcommy for this recent viewing, but in all honesty the film still holds up fabulously well, mostly due to the casting and the energy director Sidney Pollack brings througout. Dustin Hoffman is excellent, of course, but I also enjoyed the lovely Jessica Lange, Teri Garr and Charles Durning. Best of all is Bill Murray, absolutely deapdan and probably more appealing here than in any of his leading roles. Interesting that Pollack helmed both this and Out Of Africa within a short time, and he’s also great as Hoffman’s agent. Their scenes together really crackle. As for Dustin as Dorothy Michaels, it seemed glaringly obvious to me now that it was a man in drag and I’m surprised none of the characters caught on to the charade. Then again, she does look a lot like typical middle-aged women of that time with the helmet hair, demure working lady blouses and weird plastic eyewear camouflaging their femininity. It could happen!

The Passing Parade

So sad to hear about the death of Gladys Horton of The Marvelettes at the age of 66 … Gladys’ irrepressible rasp can be heard on earlier Marvelettes hits such as “Please Mr. Postman” and “Beechwood 4-5789.” Although she was phased out as the group’s front woman in favor of the more honeyed sounding Wanda Young, she continued to record frequent leads right up until her departure in 1967. The energetic “Keep Off, No Trespassing” from 1966′s The Marvelettes LP is one of my favorite tunes of theirs, thanks in part of Gladys’ appealing voice. She will be missed!

Phyllis, with Syphilis

One of the benefits to Netflix‘s growing instant streaming library is the addition of rare and hard to find stuff, a veritable avalanche of new movies popping up seemingly without much fanfare. Among the latest batch was the 1975 TV movie Someone I Touched starring Cloris Leachman. C’mon, a movie in which the lead is a 40-ish, comfortably married woman who gets an STD? Count me in! This soapy drama is a bit of a forerunner to the kind of material Lindsay Wagner, Jacklyn Smith, Meredith Baxter Birney et al suffered through in the ’80s and ’90s — campy as all get out but also with moments of surprising depth and emotion. Leachman plays Laura Hyatt, a writer who enjoys a luxe California home and stable marriage with construction foreman James Olson. Their world goes into turmoil, however, when public health official Andrew Robinson informs Olson that he has contracted syphilis — just in time for the wife to announce that she’s pregnant! Will the baby be born diseased and (gasp) armless?

The film is somewhat leaden paced with moments of utter ridiculousness (tiny waisted, 48 year-old Leachman is supposed to be four months preggers?), but both of us actually enjoyed it tremendously. It sorta reminded me of those ABC Afterschool Specials from back in the day, only with a decidedly adult subject matter. Leachman looks fab with a great wardrobe and a huge mane of blonde hair, and she works in an office with a freaky mechanical doll hovering over her (and a drawing of said doll hung on the wall!). In addition to starring, she also sings the sappy title song by “The Morning After” composers Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. There’s also a nice scene with Olson wandering through a very ’70s supermarket. Although I’ve had issues with the picture quality on many Netflix streaming movies, this one looked visually pristine. If you’re seeking a serious/kitschy look at how ’70s-era adults dealt with infidelity and STDs, look no further.

Related: Movieline.com review of Someone I Touched.

Flick Clique: January 16-22

poster_howgreenHow Green Was My Valley (1941). Another in my effort to see previously unseen Best Picture Oscar winners, this sentimental John Ford directed opus of the goings-on in a large Welsh mining family has lost a bit of its street cred over the years, but it’s still a magnificent achievement. This one beat out Citizen Kane that year — comparing the two is a basic apples and oranges proposition. Orson Welles’ game-changing pseudo-bio certainly holds up better today, but How Green‘s comfortable pro-family, pro-union fable fits better as a reflection of the time it was made. The film is narrated by the now adult character of the youngest son in said mining family, and as embodied by Roddy McDowall he is the stand-in for us as the primary observer. What follows is a rather episodic tale as the family deals with harsh conditions in the mines, big sis Maureen O’Hara falls for preacher Walter Pidgeon, McDowall starts school and joins the mine’s workforce, and parents Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood keep a stern eye over the whole flock. Though it has some corny elements (the townsfolk’s perfectly angelic singing voices, for example), this was quite a heartwarming and wonderful film. The fact that they built an entire village nestled in a Malibu canyon is impressive enough, but what sticks with me is the performances. Crisp and Allgood as the parents both deserved Oscars (only Crisp won); best of all is Roddy McDowall, one of the more outstanding kid performers ever on screen. The sheer expressiveness on his face from scene to scene is great. I suppose he didn’t become hammy until adulthood (having just tuned in a scenery-chewing guest bit he did on TV’s Buck Rogers, I can heartily concur that one).
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000) and Lebanon (2009). The horrors of war, addressed in two different films we caught this week. 2000′s Best Documentary Oscar winner Into the Arms of Strangers sat comfortably on our Netflix streaming queue until we noticed that they were getting ready to remove it (really, I love watching films this way, but what’s with Netflix adding and deleting stuff in seemingly willy nilly fashion?). Elegantly narrated by Judi Dench, the film tells of the extraordinarily coordinated efforts to transport Jewish children from dangerous, Nazi-occupated areas to the relatively safe Great Britain. The children go through a variety of experiences in the U.K., being accepted into loving families, sometimes getting treated like domestics, feeling homesickness or being oddly displaced once they’re returned to their home countries. Woven throughout the film are wonderfully evocative remembrances from the children themselves. At the time the film was made, the participants were of retirement age, having an inner serenity and grateful that they survived such tumult. I’m glad I saw this. Moving forward, recent Venice Film Festival honoree Lebanon tells of how the 1982 Israeli/Lebanese conflict affects a platoon as they try to escape the war-torn city, focusing on a group of frightened young men piloting a claustrophobic army tank (seemingly constructed with duct tape and lotsa hope). This was a very affecting and well-done film, somewhat poky near the end but compelling all the same. The battle scenes seemed a bit stagy to me, but I thought the cast was uniformly good and the tank setting (where 80% of the scenes take place) had a wonderfully grimy feel. P.S. The film’s poster design is a giant spoiler reveal.
Next Stop Wonderland (1998). Scrappy indie comedy is pleasant enough whenever it isn’t wallowing in ’90s indie clichés. The film opens with Bostonian Hope Davis discovering that her hippie radical boyfriend (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is moving out. Still trying to cope with being single, she becomes the subject of an alluring personal ad placed by her mother (Holland Taylor in a great bit). The ad attracts a variety of odd men, including a group of friends playing a mean-spirited prank. The one guy who seems perfect for Davis, Alan Gelfant’s plumber and aspiring oceanographer, seems to elude her until … I rented this one mostly for Hope Davis, and she’s pretty good in this otherwise uninspired film. With her baggy eyes, stringy hair and blasé attitude, she embodies the image of the anti-romantic heroine she’s playing. I also thought the supporting cast was very appealing, even when the story goes into ludicrous Nora Ephronlike territory near the conclusion. The vintage Bossa Nova soundtrack was also a gem. Strictly okay, but it sure beats anything with the names “Aniston” or “Heigl” attached.
Tropic Thunder (2008). Another film that C. rented based on a co-worker’s recommendation. This one opens terrifically with fake trailers starring the actor characters we later on get better acquainted with: past-his-prime action megastar Ben Stiller, chameleonlike Aussie thespian Robert Downey Jr., and gross-out comedian Jack Black (his parody of Eddie Murphy’s Krank flicks is probably the most biting, satirical moment here). The trio are joined by an egotistal rapper (Brandon T. Jackson) and an eager young dude (Jay Baruchel) to make a serious action-war movie in Vietnam. Things get ugly, however, when they are dropped in the jungle with mercenaries who apparently forgot it’s no longer 1972. The film springs to a fast-paced, bitingly hilarious start in the first half hour or so, but once the principals get lost the project loses its footing. There were certain things I enjoyed a lot, such as Baruchel’s geeky idealist (the only somewhat human character) and Matthew McConaughey as Stiller’s smarmy agent. Mostly, though, the film demonstrates how dispiriting and desperate-to-please current comedies are. Stop trying so hard, fellas!

StoryCorps Story Posted

The local TV news story about me and Christopher participating in StoryCorps aired on channel 3 last night. It was very nicely produced! Watch it here, if only to see what we look and sound like in motion.