Nostalgia time: The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World was a 1977 episode of The Wonderful World of Disney starring the jump suited, semi-forgotten ’70s edition of the Mickey Mouse Club — you know, the one with Blair from The Facts of Life in the cast. As a tyke, I was obsessed with the mouseketeers and afternoons would find me a) watching the show, or b) reenacting skits from the show with the kids who lived across the street. We also owned the record album (which contained a white-bread rendition of “Walking the Dog,” I recall) and wore it out.
This Disney World outing was a special memory for me, since the Florida park seemed like such a mystical, faraway place. Disneyland was semi-accessible, but Disney World might as well have been Paris or London. Watching the show now, it looks like one long (and cheesy) commercial. Three years ago, I finally got to go. Didn’t see River Country, however.
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938). I remember seeing this, years back when I was first getting into the films of Mr. Edward G. Robinson, and enjoying it. My revisit finds it to be a fun but flawed artifact from the period when Robinson was making a smooth transition from heavies to lighter, comedic roles. Robinson plays the title character, a psychiatric doctor who takes his professional interest in criminals to the next level by becoming one. On a jewel heist, he meets the members of an underworld gang after the same booty. His expertise allows him to become a member of the gang, headed up by hard-bitten dame Claire Trevor and surly Humphrey Bogart, who wants to take Clitterhouse down a peg or two. This was a smoothly directed, very enjoyable movie. I loved the New York atmosphere and the vivid supporting characters (including Allen Jenkins, Max Rosenbloom and Ward Bond). The only off-note here is Robinson, who approaches the part in an effete way and seems somewhat miscast. According to this film’s IMDb page, the producers wanted to cast Ronald Colman — who seems like a much more logical choice as the elegant Clitterhouse. Still, a fun movie with that distinctive Warner Bros. flavor. Boy A (2007). Intense, beautifully photographed British drama with a fragile, nuanced performance by Andrew Garfield. Garfield plays a young man who as a boy participated in a horrific crime where (eventually revealed via flashbacks) a young girl was murdered. The story opens with Garfield rehabilitated and facing an uneasy transition to civilian life with an assumed name, under the tutelage of a social worker (Peter Mullan). He gets a job and stumbles into an awkward relationship with a co-worker (Katie Lyons), but a predatory British press threatens to blow his cover at any moment. Interesting, if talky and somewhat plodding, film. For some reason, we’ve been seeing several Garfield films lately. He fares much better here than in the pretentious Never Let Me Go or the muddled, showy 1974 edition of the Red Riding trilogy. I still can’t picture him as Spiderman, however. The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Bloated but fascinating MGM bio on showman Florenz Ziegfield, as played by the dapper William Powell. I found this DVD at Big Lots for three bucks and decided to check it out again. First off, this is one seriously overlong flick. It could even have the last hour chopped off with no apparent loss (okay, Powell’s death scene is so maudlin and morbidly watchable; it can stay). The production numbers, although impressively mounted, are plodding and deserving of a more kinetic touch (where was Busby Berkeley at the time?). Some of the performers — like fluttery Luise Rainer as Ziegfeld’s wife, entertainer Anna Held — are iffy at best. Still, it’s a wonderfully plush film anchored by Powell’s charisma and some fun, nostalgic bits (Fanny Brice’s appearance as herself is a highlight). Modern viewers may take issue with this film’s garnering the 1937 Best Picture Oscar, but I think it’s a great example of what Hollywood found important at the time. Ziegfeld himself seems like a bit of a cypher here, and one often wonders what the fuss was about (apparently Flo’s big thing was “glorifying the American girl,” a phrase that could just as easily apply to all those Girls Gone Wild DVDs). I could also split hairs with the way the film wafts through the early 1900s with little to no reference to specific dates and events. It’s an odd way to tell a story, but the superluxe production (especially Adrian’s eye-popping costumes) and wild musical numbers make it worthwhile. The enormous wedding cake centerpiece of “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” is a good example. Wowza!
Homicide (1991). A flawed but watchable crime thriller from the pen of David Mamet. Having great magnetism in a rare starring role, Joe Mantegna plays Bobby Gold, a Jewish cop who stumbles upon the murder of an elderly shopkeeper on the way to investigating a different crime with his jokey partner, played by William H. Macy. He eventually finds that the dead shopkeeper was part of a shadowy network of Jews who took to desperate, illegal measures to keep their social/economic standing in the city. It’s an interesting premise for a film, and Mantegna is as solid as he’s ever been. Mamet’s observational, profanity filled dialogue is whip-smart, although watching it now it seems awfully affected and stagey. Perhaps this is the kind of property that would work better as a play; I wonder if I’d be thinking the same thing about Aaron Sorkin’s writing in a few years time. The Milky Way (1936). Another offering from my well-worn copy of the Comedy Kings: 50 Movie Pack set! The Milky Way was one of the talking efforts from silent screen legend Harold Lloyd. Here he plays Burleigh Sullivan, a mild-mannered milkman who knocks out boxer William Gargan in a sidewalk brawl. Gargan’s handlers see this as the golden opportunity to set Lloyd up as the next great pugilistic champ. The only problem is that it’s all a big fraud, one that the oblivious Lloyd can’t see even as his sister (Helen Mack) and girlfriend (Dorothy Wilson) catch on. This is a bright, engaging comedy given efficient direction by Mervyn Le Roy. I liked the cast, especially Adolph Menjou and Veree Teasdale as the couple who set up Lloyd as a fake boxing champ. The two were married at the time, and their cheery rapport readily comes across on screen. Lloyd makes for a most affable sap, although his appeal is more ideally suited to silents. Whever he speaks, he sounds like a brain-damaged kid who never adjusted to adulthood, which is an odd thing to watch. It’s really a minor blemish on what is an otherwise sweet and charming film, however.
Spotted the animated video for Belle and Sebastian’s “I Didn’t See It Coming” on the Max‘s Facebook feed and instantly fell in love. The special remix of this Write About Love track is due out next month. It’s a sweet tune, but what really sings are the Alexander Girard influenced imagery — how wonderfully twee it is!
I finally have a new LitKids piece ready — Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer with fence and paintbrush. The first time I showed this design to Christopher, he remarked “That’s very mod.” I’d have to agree. Keeping past mistakes in mind, I made this one especially thick-lined and graphic. The drawing was even refined in Adobe Illustrator to get that super-sharp look.
My next LitKids project will be taking images of four of the more popular designs and professionally printing up some blank note cards. I’m hoping to put together boxes of eight and putting, say, ten dollars on them. This one makes me a bit leery, since I’m still in the red and it will cost me more $$$. Online, I’ve sold 69 prints in 2010 — which was wonderful — but 2011 is turning out sluggish. I’m gonna go ahead and print the cards anyhow, since it will be nice to diversify the product line a bit.
Animal Kingdom (2010). Acclaimed Australian indie draws a lot of parallels with Winter’s Bone, at least in terms of having an absorbing storyline despite the generally repellant characters onscreen. This one opens with an apathetic teen (James Frecheville) who finds his druggie mom dead of an overdose. He gets put under the care of his four uncles, all men in their 20s and 30s and criminals of varying psychotic disturbance, living under the roof of their manipulative, Dragon Lady-esque mom (Jacki Weaver). A cop murder case brings the family under the intense scrutiny of investigator Guy Pearce. Riveting film with an amazing performance by Jacki Weaver (no wonder she got a Supporting Actress Oscar nom). I just noticed that the imdb lists 2008′s Italian petty criminal drama Gomorra as a cousin to this; I do get similar, despairing vibes off both. The incestuous way that Weaver’s character deals with her sons would give even a corpse the willies. The Black Dahlia (2006). From boffo to p.u.: bought this one for Christopher when I spotted it at Big Lots for $3 (and it wasn’t until getting home that I realized the DVD was full screen. Yuck). I knew that Brian De Palma’s film was roundly panned, but it has enough unique elements (L.A. in the ’40s; the promise of tawdry gore/sex) to make it at least worth a peek. But oh, what a stinker! This thriller was based not on the real “Black Dahlia” murder case, but on James Ellroy’s impressionistic 1987 novel which used the lurid case as a backdrop (in its favor, the book did help expose people to the quintessentially Hollywood tragedy of Elizabeth Short). Although it has some nice photography and production design, the film is all over the place and ultimately comes across as a limp rehash of earlier, better films ranging from L.A. Confidential to Chinatown. That schizophrenia applies to the acting, as well, with performances ranging from overheated (Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank) to snoozy (Scarlett Johanssen, never more boring). Josh Hartnett has a strange lack of charisma as the leading detective investigating the case. The story takes on such ridiculous twists that one has to wonder how Ellroy’s book became a best-seller — bored airline travelers needing something to read? Dumb film, but C. did keep the DVD for the one shot of Hartnett’s butt. Frost/Nixon (2008). Ron Howard’s retelling of the contentious, hype-filled TV interview of journalist David Frost and a grouchy President Nixon. I tend to be iffy on Howard’s films, but I think he tends to be better when dealing with overlooked episodes in recent history, as with Apollo 13 and now this project. The first hour is pretty swell, with Michael Sheen’s Frost battling criticism that a puffball talk show host would take on such an endeavor (and the difficulty getting sponsors for an unprecedented syndicated TV special) and Frank Langella’s Nixon approaching the deal like a retired boxer ready to take one last swing. The characters are vividly portrayed and excellently played, which helps when the film gets more predictable and stagy in the second half when the interviews actually occur. Strangely, the film doesn’t have an overreaching political agenda and both sides are presented fairly (if anything, Frost seems shallow and over his head at times). Fascinating flick. Here Come the Nelsons (1952). I caught this light comedy on the ThisTV schedule and was surprised at how cute and appealing it was. Here Come the Nelsons was the first (and only) feature film for the wholesome Nelson family — Ozzie, Harriet and sons David and Ricky — coming after their radio show but preceding their long-running TV sitcom by a few years. When their town is fully booked for a centennial celebration, the family must house a pair of attractive boarders (Barbara Lawrence and a young Rock Hudson) who have a strained romantic history between them. There’s also a subplot in which David and Ricky get mixed up with gangsters at the town carnival. It’s interesting to see the two boys being so young here, and with excellent comic timing. Ozzie and Harriet was often maligned for being a symbol of bland ’50s American culture, but it was actually a sharply written show with Ozzie being a perfectly lovable doofus and Harriet the paragon of smart, sensible moms everywhere. David and Ricky come across as natural kids with a nice, gently mocking rapport. Smoothly directed by Frederick De Cordova, Here Come the Nelsons feels a bit pat and sitcom-like but at the same time I found it warmly appealing — mostly due to the Nelsons’ apparent enjoyment of working together. Not Quite Hollywood (2008). Freewheeling documentary covers the phenomenon of “Ozploitation” movies — sexy, violent, taboo-pushing drive-in fare that was a mainstay on Aussie screens in the ’70s and ’80s. The film is presented in a dizzying, hodgepodge manner with many speakers getting reduced to soundbites and clips hurled at you like ninja stars. Of course, Quentin Tarantino is on hand as well, doing his usual hyper-fanboy thing. The approach is a little too ADD for me, but I enjoyed it overall simply because it explores a side of the movies I never knew about. The genre started in the ’70s with jiggly sex comedies that bordered on softcore porn, then moved into Halloween-style slasher flicks, twisted Outback adventures and dated oddities like the stylish giant-pig-on-a-rampage opus Razorback (which I really, really want to see now!). These films (Mad Max excepted) generally look like utter crap, and even the participants acknowledge it — but their humorous outlook make the film a wild trip, even in its overproduced state. I had a similar reaction to Dog Town and Z-Boys, another doc which celebrates something that doesn’t seem all that different or revolutionary. If you like deliciously bad movies, this is like the $5.99 Golden Corral all-you-can-eat gorgeathon equivalent.
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936). This was my other Big Lots find, where I stocked up on cheap DVDs to watch over the summer. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was an oft-filmed property whose 1936 edition is historically significant for being the first Technicolor feature shot in an outdoor setting. The story is a typical “back country feudin’ families” affair with Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda as cousins whose more-than-familial bond is tested when engineer/city slicker Fred MacMurray comes through their picturesque mountain community for the coal mining opportunities. The plot unfurls in a routine way, but one can easily forget that and relish in how all that Northern California scenery was captured in muted, natural colors (much less showy than what we’d expect — but beautiful, as the shot of Sidney above proves). One of the more enjoyable aspects of this film is the colorful supporting cast, which includes Nigel Bruce as MacMurray’s stuffy co-worker, Beulah Bondi in one of her typical sufferin’ ma parts, Spanky McFarland as Sidney’s cute little bro, and Fuzzy Knight as the town’s singing yokel. A keeper in my collection, faults and all.
Today’s video is in honor of the viral video of the 9 year-old boy doing a fierce lip synch to Madonna’s “Vogue”. The year after that little opus was videotaped at New Hampshire’s Hampton Beach Casino, comedienne Julie Brown did a wicked parody of the Madonna: Truth Or Dare doc entitled Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful. The segment below is Brown’s “Vogue” parody — entitled “Vague” — which follows a “Like A Prayer” spoof, “Party In My Pants”. Where Madonna name-checks classic film stars in the original, Brown uses the tune to spoof boring current celebs who have no apparent talent — hilarious! Look for Kathy Griffin as one of Brown’s backup dancers, too: