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Category Archives: Mishmash

Weekly Mishmash: March 2-8

Cafe Apres Midi Meets DisneyA very Asian week at Chez Scrubbles:
Various – Cafe Apres-midi Meets Disney. A surprise midweek package from Amazon.com contained this — a gift from the fabulous Julie, who shares my interest in pricey import CDs compiled by Toru Hashimoto. Created for a Japanese chain of coffee houses, Hashimoto cherry picks a blend of the mellow and obscure from the back catalogs of a variety of major labels. For this one he mines the Disney soundtrack library for gems both classic (who cannot love the Main Street Electrical Parade theme?) and obscure (I haven’t heard the Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon stuff in, oh, 29 years). The CD also contains some exquisite newer covers of Disney classics by Brazilian and Jazz artists. Sweet stuff — thanks, Julie!
Chan Is Missing (1982). A pioneering Asian-American indie film shot on location in San Francisco’s Chinatown got some airplay on the IFC channel this week. The budget’s low and the acting’s a bit iffy, but this mystery (actually something of an afterthought) did keep our attention all the way through. At times it plays like a documentary with all the overlapping conversations, and the black and white photography lends a gritty feel.
Mazes and Monsters (1982). A cautionary “role playing games are bad” made-for-TV movie notable for having a young and hammy Tom Hanks in a supporting role. I vaguely remember watching this when it was new, so eventually the shoddily produced DVD became a halfhearted Netflix rental. Too slow-moving to be great camp, the movie just kind of plods along like a preachy After School Special. Actually, Mazes and Monsters‘s chief value today may lie in the several scenes shot at the World Trade Center for the story’s climax. Detailed shots of the towers’ lobby, elevators, observation deck and roof lend a poignancy the filmmakers never intended.
Project Runway season finale (Bravo). All I can say is — Jillian, baby, you wuz robbed!
Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald (1997). A fascinating Japanese comedy that takes a while to get into, but eventually scores. Christopher and I loved it. The film follows the making of a live radio drama penned by a mousy woman who won a scriptwriting contest. As the broadcast unfolds at a deserted station in the middle of the night (why it takes place in the middle of the night is never explained), the egotistical lead actors decide to make changes to the script and various complications ensue. Although the frenetic dialogue can be hard to follow at times, the movie really pays off with several hilarious situations.
You and Me and Everyone We Know (2005). Miranda July’s indie hit is the very definition of “quirky,” and you have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it — which I did. The characters are stylized but identifiable in a way that, say, the people in a Wes Anderson film could never be. They seemed like people in my own neighborhood (we have plenty of outwardly normal yet weird denizens in our ‘hood, I guess!).

Weekly Mishmash: February 24-March 1

Art School Confidential (2006). I had high hopes for this one, since I enjoyed Terry Zwygoff and Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World and the setting might echo my own college art school experience. It was a shade below okay, having some good observations amid a bunch of frustrating elements. I’ve encountered many teachers like the one portrayed by John Malkovich, a guy who’s deluded himself into thinking his triangle paintings are a thing of greatness. It seems the filmmakers didn’t know if this should be a romantic comedy, a farce, or a fright flick, so they mashed it all together into a muddle that wastes the talents of several fine actors (Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Angelica Huston, Jim Broadbent). The one art school scene in Ghost World — in which a student submits a tampon in a teacup to sculpture class — was far more worthwhile and a lot shorter. Heck, even Claire’s storyline from Six Feet Under fared better.
Steven Bach — Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl. Leni Riefenstahl was a complicated woman. This bio gets a bit unnecessarily savage at times, but then again maybe she deserved this treatment. The main impression that I get is that she was an cunning opportunist who slept her way into the business, made two brilliant films, then (unconvincingly) played dumb when confronted on her involvement with the Nazis. Despite the author’s agenda, it was a lively read which makes me want to check out Olympia.
Company (Great Performances, PBS). Having never seen this on stage (despite the cast album being tattooed on my brain), I was looking forward to this presentation of the 2006 Broadway revival, a.k.a. “the one where the actors play their own instruments.” This is a strange and dark mounting, at times deeply affecting, and I’m glad I saw it. The stiff choreography and tiny set are really weird. Not to mention the fact that actors play their own instruments. Raúl Esparza’s portrays Bobby as a much bigger cynic than I ever imagined (I pictured him as a carefree playboy type), and he’s excellent despite having a nasally singing voice. Still, I wish I could see this show as it was staged in 1970 with Jonathan Tunick’s groovy musical arrangements and Boris Aronson’s innovative set design. Someday …
Lust, Caution (2007). Ang Lee is an amazing, thought provoking filmmaker. Lust, Caution is a long but rewarding film with two excellent lead performances from Tony Leung and Wei Tang. The explicit sex scenes were what had everyone talking, but in this context they make a lot of sense since the characters are so repressed in their lives outside their trysting room. The film also had a good storyline and some lovely costumes worn by Tang and the affluent Chinese women she played mah jongg with. In many ways this movie recalled In the Mood for Love.
On the Beach (1959). TiVo’d off TCM. Talky and boring, and having the Pavlovian effect of making me want to kill someone each time I hear the melody of “Waltzing Matilda.”
Paul Simon — Still Crazy After All These Years. One of those albums that I associate with childhood, since my mom used to listen to this (along with Simon’s Greatest Hits Etc.) all the time while doing housework. I was prompted to download it off iTunes after seeing the Simon-dominated second episode of Saturday Night Live where he performed many of these tunes. It’s held up much better than other past Album of the Year Grammy award winners. I love the majestic sweep of the title track, and “My Little Town” with Art Garfunkel was another one I remember well. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” counts as another highlight, although Simon’s “Huggy Bear in Starsky & Hutch” lyrics place it strictly in the year 1975. Mom’s gonna love it when I give her a CD-R of this.

Weekly Mishmash: February 17-23

Starting today, I’m going to do a little roundup of the movies, books, music and whatever else I’ve digested over the previous week. Here we go!
The African Queen (1951) Bogie and Kate, leeches and tsetse flies. This is one of those rare classic movies that I’d never seen before due to the fact that it’s always “there” and someday I’ll get around to it (the film equivalent of spring cleaning or flossing). What a wonderful film. In addition to having a lot of adventure and romance, John Huston and James Agee’s screenplay sparkles with the sort of smart and non-stylized dialogue rarely heard in films from that period.
Before the Music Dies (2006) A documentary that attacks the consolidation of America’s music and radio conglomerates and the focus group tested, mass audience pleasing pap they produce. This film made a lot of excellent points, but it honestly didn’t illuminate or tell me anything I didn’t already know. Despite the appearance of several heavy-wattage musicians (Erykah Badu was the best), it seemed cobbled together with a lot of cheap shots and unnecessary live footage. I’d even argue that the kind of earnest folk and blues that this film champions has never been commercially viable — so what’s the point?
The Chordettes — “They’re Riding High” Says Archie. An eMusic download of the female harmony-pop quartet best known for the fantastic “Mr. Sandman.” This LP is a Best-Of originally released in 1957 (the Archie of the title is Cadence Records head Archie Bleyer, who was married to one of the ladies). Although it’s missing the later hits “Lollipop” and “Never On Sunday,” I really enjoyed this plushly produced, sweet stuff — not nearly as cheesy or sleep-inducing as I thought.
The Lives of Others (2006). Fascinating film that offers a glimpse into a time and place that I previously had little knowledge of (Communist East Germany in the ’80s). It comes across a touch too talky at first, but after a while I was so absorbed in the characters that it didn’t matter.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Will Farrell hearing voices in his head. An excellent cast and a thought-provoking premise, and I loved the graphic treatment of Farrell’s various anal-retentive habits. The only thing that bothered me was when (spoiler alert!) Dustin Hoffman advised Farrell to sacrifice himself so that Emma Thompson could publish her novel as it was intended. Would any halfway decent person with a conscience really do that?
La Vie En Rose (2007). Edith Piaf was a phenomenal singer, a prickly personality, and a hardcore drug abuser. That’s about all I learned from this film, but it sure is a beautifully made biopic — and Marion Cottiard is unbelievably good. I’m pulling for her to nab that Oscar.

Wednesday Photo Spectacular!

It’s becoming apparent that this weblog has been suffering a bit of neglect lately, but hopefully I can put a Band Aid (similar to the one I got today for a tetanus shot) on that with these marvy photo-based links:

  • Most Important: Newsweek’s slide show Losing Our Lakes demonstrates how global warming is contributing to lowering water levels all over the world. Sobering but well worth a look.
  • Most Inspiring: Derrick Bostrom’s set of scans from an early ’60s book predicting what life in 1975 might be like. Apparently the future involved lots of industrial squared-off edges and gadgets we never thought we needed before. Bacon in a toaster? Hell yeah!
  • Most Nostalgia-Inducing: Glen Mullaly’s series of posts on the movie and TV tie-in t-shirts he wore as a child hit me like a tall glass of Strawberry Quik. Read part one, part two and part three for a journey into iron-on nirvana. I can remember having a black Darth Vader tee in the fifth grade, with my name spelled out in blood red all-caps Cooper Black on the back. It was the coolest.
  • Most Magical: I stumbled across this fascinating flickr photo set of early Walt Disney World snapshots and memorabilia last weekend. In planning my own WDW trip this spring, it’s kind of hitting me that I’d much, much rather vacation at the Magic Kingdom/Epcot as it existed sometime around 1983 (sigh).

Freshness & Quality

Talk about ephemera from the past… a recent eBay purchase arrived stored in this ancient looking plastic bag:

Vintage Grocery Bag

The cent sign and area for a handwritten price tells me it’s not recent, and based on the groovy flowers and lower case “fresh” lettering I’d say it’s from the ’70s. I vaguely remember bags like this (possibly the very same style, even?) during childhood trips to the grocery store. In the produce section, customers had to take their bagged fruits and veggies to an employee who’d weigh and price them before sending you on your merry way. Something about it makes me think about how ephemeral a lot of the stuff we take for granted is. This bag was just a common piece of everyday life back then, but now it seems more like a museum piece. I wonder if your average smiley faced Wal-Mart bag would have the same effect in thirty years?

Electile Disfunction

Jeff of Tin Man fame shares his thoughts on voting in the N.Y. Democratic presidential primary. Like Jeff, it’s also my first time voting in my state’s primary and I’m taking it very seriously. The ballot arrived in the mail this week and now it’s time to do some serious homework on the candidates (For some reason — Republican conspiracy? — I never received a ballot in 2004). Unfortunately I don’t feel like I have enough info on everyone just yet to confidently cast a vote. The news media is covering this stuff like the Belmont Stakes: who’s winning? Who fell behind? Just tell me where they stand on the issues, dammit! I think both Clinton and Obama would make fine nominees, but Hilary has a lot of past baggage to overcome and Barack still comes off like a cipher to me (probably because I’ve only seen him giving speeches in that passionate yet “preaching to the choir” manner). I also want to investigate John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich further. Yes, it’s a lot of hemming and hawing over a single vote, but (Pollyanna mode) I like to believe that my vote represents more people here in Arizona who can’t or won’t be voting. Just keep in mind that whoever it is will be infinitely better than what we currently have. January 2009 cannot come soon enough!