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Category Archives: Roundup

Weekly Mishmash: March 23-29

Cadbury Orange Creme Eggs. Amid a marked down candy buying spree at Walgreen’s, I spotted this variant on my favorite Easter treat for only a quarter each. Man, where have these babies been all my life? P.S. I miss the classic bunny commercials.
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937). On the 24th, TCM ran a 24-hour Joan Crawford tribute. Two films never seen before, including this jewel robbery comedy, ended up getting recorded. Slogging through this labored and overly-scripted affair, “What were they thinking?” was the only thing that came to my mind. As much as I love and admire Miss Crawford, she never was a very effective light comedienne (The Women was the great exception). The movie is actually well-cast and beautifully mounted with all the gloss that MGM could buy, but what came out of all that effort was a snail-paced antique that gets way too bogged down in its frou-frou fake Britishness. Joanie, ya let me down again.
Spring Fever posterSpring Fever (1927). My other Crawford viewing was this little-seen silent starring the gay and not hiding it well William Haines. Looking like a completely different person a decade earlier, the fresh and appealing Crawford made the best of a nondescript “girlfriend” role here. Silents are always interesting in a way because they’re a window on their time with a unique point of view not seen in sound films. This one is no exception — even though it also drags a bit, switching from fluffy golfing comedy to heavy relationship drama to whiplash-inducing effect. On the plus side, Crawford and Haines play wonderfully off each other. And isn’t this a lovely poster?
The Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection, Vol. 3. Tom & Jerry fan Christopher bought this for his DVD collection and we were enjoying it all week. Well, “enjoying” is a strong word. How about “watching”, instead? Volume one was packed with classic, award-winning T&J cartoons, while the second volume benefited from having most of the earlier (and therefore better) shorts co-starring the controversial Mammy character. The third and concluding volume of this series was meant to cover all the remaining classic-era MGM cartoons not covered in the first two sets, but Warner Home Video left off two cartoons with “objectionable” scenes in a bit of spineless corporate p.c. behavior. Most of the cartoons here aren’t even true Tom & Jerry vehicles anyway, with Spike and Tyke and that annoying little duckling taking up much of the screen time. The only mitigating thing on this set is a making-of documentary that includes several nightmare-inducing clips of the weird, weird Gene Deitch-directed Tom & Jerry shorts from the early ’60s.

Weekly Mishmash: March 16-22

Ace of Base – Singles of the 90s. When this imported Best-Of collection appeared a few months back as a surprise offering on the defiantly indie eMusic.com, I saw the sign and gave it a guilt-free download. Listening to it gives me a serious yen for good ’90s Europop — and makes me wonder why so much of this stuff never made it to the U.S. market. Their luscious Motown tribute “Always Have, Always Will” or the wonderfully retro “C’est La Vie Always 21” are both fantastically constructed pieces of pure pop, but they never got a chance on our soils. “The Sign” and “All That She Wants” are here, of course, along with the underrated goodness of “Beautiful Life” and “Lucky Love” (the superior original version, not the acoustic remix made for U.S. radio). Yes, after reading everything about Ace of Base on Wikipedia, I’m almost embarrassed about how much knowledge I’ve accrued!
Patrick Cleandenim – Baby Comes Home. My other eMusic download. I’d never heard of this guy before, but his debut album has an appealingly scrappy “retro” vibe which takes in swing, ’60s soft pop and Broadway as influences. It’s nice and all, but the only song that truly stuck was the moody “Days Without Rain” — sort of a lost Mamas & Papas song. Cleandenim has ambition to spare, but his melodies aren’t too memorable and the production came off as too sloppy (especially compared with Ace of Base!). But then again he’s only 22, so whatever he comes up with later on down the line should be worth the wait.
Into the Wild (2007). Beautiful performances and great cinematography add up to a film that resonated long after we saw it. If Sean Penn intended for us to see the main guy as a hero, I don’t know if he entirely succeeded. But I definitely understand the need to break free of the constraints society puts upon us.
Maybe It’s Love (1935) A b-level comedy from the ’30s that plays like a Busby Berkeley musical without the music. Gloria Stuart, 62 years before she went on the Titanic, is the center of attention here — but the main interest in this film lies with leading man Ross Alexander. Alexander had a short-lived career at Warner Bros., making due in various happy-go-lucky “best friend” roles before taking his own life at 29. Like Ramon Novarro, he came across as very likable and very gay onscreen — and watching him in this silly fluff makes me wonder what would have become of him had he lived in a more forgiving time.
13 Going On 30 (2004) Another piece of fluff, but Jennifer Garner was so appealing that I almost didn’t care about the movie’s numerous period inaccuracies (a twelve year-old girl in 1987 loving Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”? C’mon!). Many are still waiting for the vehicle that will make Garner an A-list star.

Weekly Mishmash: March 9-15

You know, it’s been four weeks since the Weekly Mishmash has started, and there hasn’t been a single comment on anything in them. Do you like these? Are they lame? I’m getting lonely!
An Affair to Remember (1957). A so-called romantic classic that has eluded me until now. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are great together, and the early shipboard scenes have an undeniable sparkle. Then it gets awfully treacly with a simpering old biddy, a multiracial kiddie choir and Kerr flaunting her “nobody could love a cripple so I’ll sit here and be a perfect lady” schtick. Barf.
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). This, on the other hand, was excellent. I loved the cast from David Strathairn on down and the ’50s settings appeared nicely authentic considering the film’s low budget. George Clooney builds a sense of mounting tensions as it goes along, and it seemed somewhat obvious to me that he was drawing parallels between McCarthy-era hysteria and today’s political climate.
Michael Largo — Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die. A compendium of bite-sized examples of how people died throughout history. Entertaining enough to forgive the book’s slapdash design (heavy on the clip art) and several mistakes. For example, it states that the woman with the famous “I Told You I Was Sick” tombstone was buried in Littleton, Colorado — when she’s really located in Key West, Florida. I know this because I saw it last October!
Mama Steps Out (1937). How happy am I that Turner Classic Movies is back in the groove? Last week I was excited to find a half-day of Guy Kibbee movies on the schedule (apparently I wasn’t the only one), and so this B-level comedy which pairs Kibbee with the wonderful Alice Brady got added to the TiVo playlist. This was produced by MGM, scripted by Anita Loos, and has a strangely gorgeous and young Dennis Morgan in the supporting cast, so how bad can it be? Well, as much as I dug Guy and Alice doing their thing, the director forgot to tell the cast to dial this stagey romp down for film. The plot (mostly about an “ugly American” family adjusting to European culture) is fun and very screwball, but it plays much too shrill for my comfort level. I’ll have to check out a good ‘n gritty old Warner Bros. feature for my next Guy fix.
Twilight Samurai (2002). A Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nominee, this is less a typical samurai film than a probing family drama which deals with distinctively Japanese themes that might seem alienating to an English-speaking audience. The film unfolds slowly with a dialogue-heavy script at first, but eventually it wound up being a semi-rewarding experience. Well acted.

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.