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Category Archives: Cathode Rays

Strike A Pose, There’s Nothing To It

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:

Flick Clique: June 5-11

poster_attackpuppetAttack of the Puppet People (1958). Cheap-o, typical AIP scare flick in which the most passionate effort appears to have gone into the poster artwork — need I say more? This film revolves around a demented doll maker (John Hoyt), who has perfected a way to shrink humans down to doll size. He keeps these special dolls in glass containers where they remain in suspended animation, only being released for special “parties” for his own enjoyment. Pretty cruddy flick, and strangely not very eventful — the “attack” promised in the title turns out to be a rather limp attempt at self-defense. Hoyt is a creepy, effective villain, but the script is a bore, especially when it involves bland June Kenney and John Agar as the lead dolls. The special effects are the usual giant prop stuff used in countless bad movies. On the plus side, there is a hilariously awful rock ‘n roll dance sequence.
I Am Waiting (1957). Another offering from Criterion’s Nikkatsu Noir Eclipse box, I Am Waiting is earlier and more leisurely paced than the other films in the set. It is interesting to watch, however, just to check out how Japanese filmmakers covered the Western crime thriller genre. This one deals with an ex-boxer turned restaurant owner who comes across a beautiful yet despondent young woman who is about to kill herself. He gives her a job in the eatery, finding that she is a former nightclub singer who still owes her mobster boss time on her contract, a situation that intensifies once the boss and his fellow henchmen track the woman down. Pretty fun, low on camp but high on tense action (when they eventually come around, that is). The incredible coincidence revealed at film’s climax is a bit far fetched, but the film is tightly directed with a capable, attractive cast. All of the Nikkatsu Noir Criterion flicks are worth checking out, in their own goofy way.
dvd_mogulsMoguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood (2011 DVD). I was excited about this epic documentary series upon its first broadcast on TCM in late 2010, and now that it’s gotten a home video release I can finally see what the fuss was about. The seven-hour Moguls & Movie Stars covers a wide swath of film history, from the age of nickelodeons up through the turbulent late ’60s, with a special emphases on the Hollywood studio system and the brilliant, coarse, often contradictory men who ran them. You can’t fault the filmmakers for being ambitious, and the end result is very well crafted for what it is. Film clips are well-chosen, the narration is sturdy and informative, if given voice by the strangely pompous choice of Christopher Plummer. Unfortunately, the “one size fits all” approach makes for a vaguely unsatisfying watch. A lot of the material covered was already familiar to me and Christopher; I imagine it would go over better with the Hollywood history neophyte (speaking of which, is it me or does this series seem better pitched to a PBS audience, or perhaps the pre-ice trucker History Channel?). Most of the interviewees are film authors, generally an insightful bunch but lacking the eyewitness punch of those who were there in person. Interestingly, some of the better commentary comes from actress Marsha Hunt, one of the few remaining survivors of the classic Hollywood studio system. One of the other speakers I enjoyed was author Thomas Schatz, whose book The Genius of the System is perhaps the definitive chronicle on the subject.
Rhythm in the Clouds (1937). And now, the other cheapie musical! I bought this and the similarly threadbare Sitting on the Moon on a double-bill DVD recently, since they both contain appearances by my fave dumb blonde Joyce Compton. With Rhythm in the Clouds getting more prominent billing on the DVD’s package, I found it surprisingly the weaker film of the two (although Joyce has a bigger part in this one, as a ditsy secretary). The story concerns pretty blonde songwriter Patricia Ellis, who makes an impulsive decision to crash a well-known songwriter’s apartment, submitting her own compositions as collaborations with the better-known but oblivious man. Meanwhile, neighbor William Hull is annoyed with his noisy gal next door, but faster than you can say “unbelievable coincidence” he is selected to be the lyricist on her next would-be hit song to be premiered on the hit local radio show. Rather tedious, actually, with a drought of memorable tunes (at least Sitting on the Moon had one good song). This was an early production for b-movie powerhouse Republic Pictures, and from a historical perspective it is at least somewhat interesting to see what (lame) stuff they came up with to compete with the big guys.
The Secret in Their Eyes (2010) and True Grit (2010). Two acclaimed films that have little in common except that both were well represented at this year’s Oscars (Secret took home the Best Foreign Language trophy, while Grit garnered multiple nominations and failed to net a single award). I enjoyed both, a lot. The Argentinian Secret in Their Eyes concerns a retired police detective played by Ricardo Darín, the grizzled actor who made Four Queens and The Aura so compelling. Darín comes back to his former workplace for a friendly meeting with Soledad Villamil, a colleague whom he secretly loved from years back. The meeting inspires him to write a story based on a grisly murder that he worked on in the ’70s, rekindling his feelings for Villamil in the process. Via flashbacks, the case is compellingly told with vivid characters, and the Darín/Villamil relationship is given a real, nuanced treatment. There are also a lot of exciting, tense scenes, such as when the accused killer shares an elevator ride with the leads. True Grit also served as satisfying, if a little safe, entertainment. I never saw the John Wayne version, but I did read the Charles Portis novel years ago. Joel and Ethan Coen’s exacting, naturalistic touch is a good fit for the material. In the film, headstrong 14-year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld, excellent) sets out to capture the man who killed her father, enlisting the help of aging yet still tenacious “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and transplanted Texas ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). This is the kind of film that hinges on the likeability of the lead actors, and in this aspect we weren’t let down. Steinfeld is something of a revelation, actually, conveying a smart, no-nonsense quality that never delves into the precocious. Christopher found the postscript at the end somewhat pointless, but I enjoyed seeing how the characters turned out. What I liked most about this film was that it had that indefinable, classic quality that made it feel like it harkened from a different era (whether that time is circa 1952 or the 1800s, I can’t yet tell).

Mad About Clifton’s

While catching up with Mad Men, we noticed a locale that looked strangely familiar in the season 3 opener, Out of Town. It was the quasi-Victorian restaurant where Don and Sal have dinner with two stewardesses and a pilot from the airline flight they just took. I couldn’t pinpoint the place until I heard one of the show’s actors on the commentary describing the perfectly preserved, Disneyland-like ambiance of the eatery. Right then I knew it as the third floor of Clifton’s Brookdale in downtown Los Angeles. How fun!

Contrast the publicity still below with the photos we took during our October ’09 visit. It looks like the Mad Men set dressers replaced the Clifton’s memorabilia on the walls with various old-style paintings, but they kept the lighting fixtures and the flocked wallpaper the same — not to mention the arches and the dark wood stair banisters (click the images for a closer view).





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.

Byrrh and Fluffo

Yesterday I came across AdViews, an archive of high quality digitized vintage TV commercials, on Boing Boing and seemingly have never left. They have a ton of ads dating from the ’50s up through the ’80s. Although one has to go through iTunes to view them, it’s easy enough to download a huge batch and burn ’em onto a DVD. That’s exactly what I did with their 100 or so Grape Nuts ads (why I started with Grape Nuts, who knows).

The cereal commercials alone are fascinating. This one shills a Post product called Size 8, a cereal packaged in a uniquely mod swirl festooned cylinder. How very ’60s!

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: review of Someone I Touched.