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Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Wrath of Kahn

Today’s video comes via The Obscurity Factor: a rare pilot for a 1986 sitcom starring Madeline Kahn. Chameleon has a lovely looking Kahn playing a wacky lady who can mimic her way out of any situation. It’s a talent which annoys her nagging mother (Nina Foch), but seems to impress a TV station manager (Henry Jones) into giving her a spot assisting a blowhard TV host (George Wyner). Fluffy as all get out, but Kahn is a joy to watch. She’s better cast here than in Oh Madeline, the 1983-84 sitcom which (from what I dimly recall) unsuccessfully tried to mold Kahn into Lucille Ball-like slapstick. Chameleon aired on ABC in the summer, as part of a series that burned off TV pilots which the network didn’t pick up. For lost ’80s sitcom fans, it’s a treat.

While we’re celebrating the fabboo Ms. Kahn, why not enjoy her performing “Getting Married Today” from Company? This was from a 1993 Sondheim tribute that aired on PBS.

This Mix Is a Good Thing

As the showers fall and the flowers bloom, only one thing comes to my mind — making a mix! I haven’t done an official seasonal mix since Winter 2009, too long. Good Thing assembles some of the music that yours truly has gotten into in the past 18 months. Much of it has a bright, Spring-y feel. There’s lots of synth pop, some ’80s-’90s faves, a few Japanese artists. As usual, it was put together with an ear for how well the songs flow together. It’s kind of amazing how similar something like Robyn’s “Hang With Me” can sound next to the Pet Shop Boys-produced Dusty Springfield gem “I Want to Stay Here” from 20 years earlier.

For the cover art, I used a detail from a Pollyanna LitKids print that was used to test paint colors. Very cute, and hopefully it will draw new customers to the store. Am I obnoxious, or what?

Anyhow, the mix is presented below as single mp3 file with the songs’ starts and endings segueing together. Additionally there is a track listing with links to YouTube videos of some tunes. Enjoy!

Download ‘Good Thing: Spring 2011 Mix’.



Track Listing:
1. Saint Etienne — “A Good Thing” (Tales from Turnpike House, 2005)
2. Amiel — “This Way, That Way” (Accidents by Design, 2004)
3. Erasure — “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” (Other People’s Songs, 2003)
4. Röyksopp — “Happy Up Here” (Junior, 2009)
5. Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark — “Save Me” (History of Modern, 2010)
6. Robyn — “Hang with Me” (Body Talk, 2010)
7. Dusty Springfield — “I Want to Stay Here” (Reputation, 1990)
8. Tina Turner — “Confidential” (Wildest Dreams, 1996)
9. Pet Shop Boys — “To Step Aside” (Bilingual, 1996)
10. The Buggles — “I Am a Camera (12″ Mix)” (remix of a track from Adventures in Modern Recording, 1981)
11. Nokko — “Call Me Nightlife” (Call Me Nightlife, 1993)
12. Masami Okui — “Round Dance Revolution” (La Fillette Revolutionnaire Utena soundtrack, 1997)
13. Mari Atsumi — “Suki Yo Ai Shite” (1970 Japanese single, compiled on Nippon Girls CD)
14. The Paris Sisters — “Long After Tonight Is All Over” (Sing Everything Under the Sun, 1967)
15. Eliza Doolittle — “Pack Up” (Eliza Doolittle, 2010)
16. Konishi Yashuharu & Pizzicato Five — “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” (Readymade Digs Disney, 2003)
17. Soulsister — “The Way to Your Heart” (It Takes Two, 1988)
18. Patti Austin — “Every Home Should Have One” (remix of a track from Every Home Should Have One, 1982)
19. George Benson — “Inside Love (So Personal)” (In Your Eyes, 1983)
20. Boy Meets Girl — “No Apologies” (Reel Life, 1988)
21. Duffy — “Keeping My Baby” (Endlessly, 2010)

Flick Clique: April 17-23

poster_howtobeatHow To Beat the High Cost of Living (1980). I remember seeing this flawed but fun heist comedy on network TV shortly after it came out — Jane Curtin was my second favorite Saturday Night Live cast member, after all. Never issued on DVD, I was delighted to find it on the local ThisTV outlet’s schedule. Does it hold up? Well… In her film debut, Ms. Curtin is perfectly cast as a prickly housewife whose architect husband suddenly deserts her, leaving her broke. Teaming up with similarly strapped pals Susan St. James and Jessica Lange, the three decide to stage an elaborate scheme to siphon off cash from a giant plastic globe, plopped in the center court at the local mall. This is actually a pretty fun movie, reminiscent of Disney comedies of the time like The North Avenue Irregulars. Most of its appeal today comes from the very dated but oddly prescient humor about economizing, being treated like a tool by large corporations, etc. The film is also neat to watch for the many scenes filmed in and around ’70s Eugene, Oregon which now have a nostalgic, suburbia-gone-by quality. The mall they used (Valley River Center, which apparently still stands) reminds this viewer of Tri-City Mall in Mesa, where I spent many hours in J.C. Penney shopping for school clothes. There are a lot of in-store scenes in this movie, too, both retail and grocery (gotta love spying all those old products on the shelves!). As for the movie itself, Curtin makes for a great harried housewife, climaxing with a daring strip tease near film’s end (the only segment I remembered from childhood). Lange and St. James, who later teamed with Curtin in Kate & Allie, do the best they can with their flat, underwritten roles. There are also some fun turns by Fred Willard, Richard Benjamin and Dabney Coleman (not playing a smarmy exec for once) as the men in these daffy ladies’ lives.
The Shape of Things to Come (1979). Was compelled to watch this streaming offering on Netflix after a few Facebook friends talked about how dated/awful it was. An in-name-only adaptation of the H. G. Wells book, TSoTtC follows a diplomat (Barry Morse), a pair of blow-dried space cadets (Nicholas Campbell and Anna-Marie Martin), and a funky robot as they attempt to retrieve the anti-radiation drug mankind needs to survive. Problem is, the precious drug can only be found on a far-flung planet ruled by an eccentric dictator — played at maximum ham by Jack Palance. This film is one of many that attempted to cash in on Star Wars, but its aesthetic is closer to that of a threadbare, non-sweeps episode of TV’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The astronauts sport satiny jumpsuits perfect for the roller derby, and the requisite funny robot has quips aplenty, but this shoddy Canadian talkfest is disappointingly low on camp value. It’s actually downright boring, in fact, which leaves me shocked as to how the older actors in the cast (Palance, Morse, John Ireland, Carol Lynley) got attached. File under Space Junk. 1980’s UFO outing Hangar 18 is also on my Netflix Instant queue — watch, or pass?
Skyline (2010). Given the awful reviews this alien invasion flick got — and the multiple comparisons it got to the jingoistic Battle: Los Angeles — I was somewhat leery about Skyline. It’s no classic, but this sprightly popcorn flick kicks Battle: L.A.‘s butt in terms of sheer, action packed fun. The movie follows a young couple, played by the strangely Basil Rathbone-looking Eric Balfour and Scottie Thompson, as they travel to visit the L.A. penthouse of Balfour’s old pal turned successful rapper Donald Faison. The friends have a party on the first night, but the celebration is short-lived as overnight Earth is invaded by aggressive, tentacled aliens whose blue glow gives off a vaguely seductive power. A dwindling group becomes ensconced in the penthouse as the aliens wreak havoc on the city. Yes, the acting is about what you’d expect and the script follows a predictable path (until the head-scratching ending, that is). The CGI effects are excellent, however, and for once they are used not obnoxiously but in service of some crackerjack action sequences. That’s the best I can hope for on this seriously dumb, but enjoyable, flick.
Underworld Beauty (1958). Fast-paced Japanese crime flick has several of the quirky hallmarks of director Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill, Tokyo Drifter). The main thrust of the plot deals with a cache of diamonds belonging to a yazuka criminal gang. When a departing member swallows the diamonds before killing himself, the victim’s sister and her boyfriend become embroiled in the criminals’ greed. Slick, gorgeous b&w cinematography is the star here. The story is somewhat routine, but it does allow the filmmaker to employ interesting set pieces such as the studio of a mannequin sculptor. I would actually think of Underworld Beauty as a good entry point for vintage film noir who want to dip into the Japanese side of that genre. Fun movie.
Waste Land (2010). Independent Lens showing. This Oscar-nominated documentary focuses on New York-based artist Vik Muniz, who took on a project to address the cost of globalization and consumer culture on the poor in his native Brazil. The film documents Muniz’s efforts to construct huge, awe-inspiring portraits of garbage pickers made out of the very refuse the people deal with every day, selecting recyclable plastic from a giant landfill for a meager salary. The artist becomes friendly with several of the pickers, involving them in the entire process leading up to a gala opening at an art museum in Rio de Janero. The pickers themselves are a fascinating, eclectic bunch, even more so than the artist himself. Watching this I experienced shock (that a country as large as Brazil lacks a real recycling program), heartbreak (at the pickers’ stories) and finally admiration. The film is very PBS-y and somewhat overlong, but worthwhile all the same for a sobering look at how our “buy” culture affects everyone.
Xin Nü Xing (1935). Typical “women’s picture” of the ’30s, only Chinese and serving as a vehicle for the luminous, tragically fated actress Ruan Lingyu (whose life was later given biopic treatment in the 1990 Maggie Cheung vehicle Centre Stage). Xin Nü Xing (English title: New Woman) was Lingu’s final film before the actress took her own life. In it, she plays a young aspiring writer who is working as a music teacher. She meets an old friend and becomes involved with the friend’s husband, a lecherous doctor who had a past history with her. Eventually we find that the woman’s daughter from a previous failed marriage is very sick, and the doctor’s actions force her to get fired from the teaching job and take up prostitution. This silent drama was never released on DVD in the U.S.; we actually watched a later issue of the film (overdubbed with music and weirdly synchronized Chinese dialogue) on CD which we found at the local Goodwill. Even without the benefit of subtitles, it was still an interesting experience mostly due to the intriguing Ruan Lingyu. She is tender in the scenes with her child, then emotional (and overwrought) in the climactic scenes. Even within a single scene, the subtle changes in expression on her face are cool to watch.

New at LitKids: Laura Ingalls, Edition No. 2 Print

I have a new Laura Ingalls, Edition 2 print available for sale at LitKids. This is a variant on the earlier Laura Ingalls printed on pages from Little House on the Prairie that was added to the store in October. That print was a real bear to make, but it unexpectedly became the first sold-out print I did. For this go-round, I attempted to remake the same design in different colors (with warm reds and oranges replacing the original blues), but the results were not satisfying to me. The brushy quality in the drawing never adequately translated to silk screen in either edition, so halfway through the project I scrapped everything and came up with a new, cleaner drawing that looks more like a silhouette. The design was printed on the remaining papers that were prepared — and now I’m happy to have Laura Ingalls, prairie girl, back at LitKids!


Flick Clique: April 10-16


Evangeline (1929). Lush, romantic late silent is a good vehicle for the beautiful Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio. Based on a Longfellow poem chronicling real historic events, the story revolves around Del Rio as she is set to wed her beloved (Roland Drew) in the bucolic Canadian village they share. British troops storm in on their wedding day, however, and the lovers are separated in the fiery conflict. As Del Rio and several other villagers escape to Louisiana, she spends years trying to locate Drew, who is also in pursuit of her. This is, first and foremost, a beautifully photographed film. Not only does it make great use of Northern Californian locales (standing in for Canada), but Del Rio receives some of the most angelic, luminous close-ups ever committed to celluloid. For a viewer mostly familiar with the more exotic, less challenging roles she did at Warner Bros. in the ’30s, this particular film was an eye-opener in terms of the complex emotions Del Rio goes through. I also thought it was interesting to see how they integrated sound here in certain scenes via pre-recorded Vitaphone discs, and the film’s complex use of tinting was a delight (why did that practice go away with sound, too?). That said, the film itself is weirdly paced with a dull middle and several scenes that drag to no appreciable effect (Del Rio mouthing an endless song with no sound, for example). The ending plays its melodramatic cards to an appropriately fevered pitch, however.
Hereafter (2010). Clint Eastwood’s sober examination of life after death got a mixed reception last year; we both enjoyed it a lot. The film deals with three disparate characters and the ways they question their own mortality. A French journalist (Cécile De France) barely escapes drowning in an Asian tsunami and decides to take a sabbatical to write a book on the afterlife; a lonely San Franciscan (Matt Damon) has a supernatural gift for communicating with the dead which rules out any meaningful personal relationships; and a British boy (Frankie and George McLaren) desperately yearns for closure after experiencing a tragic loss. How the three leads are brought together is rather too coinky-dinky for my tastes, but the individual stories themselves are quietly compelling and excellently acted (even the boys playing the twins were good, if somewhat glum). Special mention goes to Bryce Dallas Howard as a flighty girl who is enrolled in a cooking class with Damon. And the tsunami sequence? Awesome. That deserved a special effects Academy Award nomination.
The Man with the Screaming Brain (2005). This campy horror spoof was a giveaway with our DVD order. For free, what did we have to lose? Now I know that the precise answer is “90 minutes.” Bruce Campbell of the Evil Dead flicks brings his everyguy geniality to this spineless yarn of an industrialist who travels to Bulgaria and winds up getting killed by a predatory witch. He is then revived by mad scientist Stacy Keach, who combines his brain with that of the local taxi driver who had a dalliance with Campbell’s blonde wife. Kind of a grade-Z version of Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in All of Me, really, only boring and not all that funny. The film was actually filmed in several Bulgarian locales, which is instructive to know so you can avoid traveling there.
Music of the Heart (1999). Sappy Meryl Streep flick falls into the usual “inspirational teacher” film clichés, but is entertaining nonetheless due to its always appealing star. Streep plays Roberta Guaspari, a real violin teacher who re-enters the workforce after a painful divorce. Through the help of friend Aidan Quinn, she elbows her way into a teaching spot at the tough Harlem elementary school presided over by Angela Bassett. Facing resistance from kids, parents and budget-minded school admins alike, she nevertheless perseveres and makes the offbeat program a success. Totally predictable, but I have a soft spot for Meryl in anything she does and here she didn’t disappoint in creating a nuanced, sympathetic character. Odd seeing Wes Craven’s name attached to what otherwise plays like a treacly Lifetime, Television for Women® movie. This was produced by Miramax during the period when they started abandoning edgy indie productions for mainstream fare.
Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness (2007). Soon after getting Netflix instant offerings, I added this intriguing looking documentary to queue without knowing anything about it. We finally got to it after knowing the film will get deleted later this month. The subject matter here is urban exploring, the often risky passion of those who enjoy checking out abandoned factories, hospitals, churches, sewers, missile silos and any other cavernous spot that has gone forgotten by human progress. Certainly a worthwhile subject for a documentary, but the film is rather rambling and takes on its subject from a limited perspective. Mostly it consists of interviews with the enthusiastic but not very articulate explorers themselves — a young, mostly male crowd who approach their hobby with the same “extreme” passion that one would find with snowboarding, graffiti or any hobby with a slight anti-establishment edge. Some interesting sites are explored (including a Home of the Future turned crumbling hulk in Florida), but the talky posturing that dominates makes the film come off as little more than a glorified home movie.

It’s a Mod, Mod World

Just a note to say that I’ve posted my little piece at Joyce Compton News & Notes about the Marian Marsh/Warren William Pre-Code flick Under 18 and Joyce’s brief appearance in it. Please check it out!

Today’s video comes via The Video Beat, an online retailer of offbeat ’50s and ’60s video. This is French Ye-Ye singer Sylvie Vartan in a Japanese commercial for a mod clothing purveyor called Renown. Dig that groovy Op Art: