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Tag Archives: Humphrey Bogart

Weekly Mishmash: December 20-26

ew_alien3Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien: Resurrection (1997). Housesitting for a neighbor, we discovered that he owned a copy of the 2004 Alien Quadrilogy DVD set. Since I had only seen the first Alien (odd, no?), we decided to gorge on the sequels for our Christmas holiday. Aliens was awesome, a textbook example of where to take a story to satisfying new horizons. I loved the casting, the very ’80s militaristic atmosphere, and the maternal theme that draws parallels between both Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and stowaway Newt and the fearsome Alien queen’s need to procreate. Good special effects, too. Alien 3, overall, was more of an interesting failure. It had lots of potential with David Fincher directing and an appropriately grungy atmosphere on a planet full of prisoners. Killing off many of the survivors from Aliens right away was an awful idea, however, and the film never lets up from that bungle. In the first two films, the aliens were interesting characters that operated like insects needing to propagate (it wasn’t their fault that those pesky humans just got in their way). With Alien 3, the threat comes from a single not very menacing alien who bites its victims’ heads off willy-nilly and a rogue egg that mysteriously appears out of nowhere. Woo hoo. Also, Fincher fills the climax with too many shots of winding corridors from the alien’s p.o.v. Bad as Alien 3 was, it was a bouquet of roses compared with Alien: Resurrection. This was a completely cynical and joyless studio-imposed sequel, despite having another interesting director on board in French Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who had previously helmed the wild Delicatessen and City of Lost Children). Jeunet’s trippy vision for the film bizarrely contrasts with Joss Whedon’s snarky, catch phrase heavy script — one of dozens of problems with this movie (don’t even get me started on Winona Ryder). Sigourney Weaver is always good, but in these last two sequels she seemed to be phoning it in. Apparently it wasn’t just Ripley who was getting tired of the aliens.
poster_bigshotThe Big Shot (1942). Along with One Fatal Hour (see Dec. 6-12), this was one of the films from TCM’s Humphrey Bogart film fest that I’d never heard of before. Bogie plays an affable crook who wants to complete one last armored car robbery despite the possibility of facing a lifelong jail sentence for the crime. He gets caught and goes to the slammer, then schemes with some fellow cons and his ex (thoroughly bland Irene Manning) to escape. Leading man aside, this is a thoroughly indistinguishable b-movie — which surprised me. I didn’t think Bogart was doing rote b-movies this late at Warner Bros. The script and direction are listless, and even the casting lacks the salty supporting players one usually associates with Warners (what I wouldn’t give to have Frank McHugh or Alan Hale goofing around here). On the plus side, the French poster for this film is simply gorgeous.
The Silver Seas — High Society. Boy howdy, these “best albums of the decade” lists popping up lately are making me feel old. Most of them contain the same few albums by artists that are either overrated or unlistenable. It’s not that I’m oblivious to new kinds of music, only that I prefer melodic pop and apparently the ’00s were a terrible decade for that particular genre. Luckily I did find one list, from David Medsker of esdmusic.com, that had better than average overlap with my own musical tastes. I downloaded the Silver Seas’ High Society at eMusic based on Medsker’s #9 ranking of this album, a decision that turned out to be a wise one. Although the album doesn’t break ground in any way, it’s a gem that sounds a bit like a lost country-pop LP from the ’70s (the fact that the singer sounds bizarrely like Jackson Browne doesn’t hurt). I’ve read that the main songwriter in this group used old TV show themes as his inspiration here. That makes a lot of sense, but the final product mostly sounds like the kind of expertly crafted, intelligent indie pop that ought to be the norm rather than the exception.
Talk To Me (2007). A recent biopic that had a lot of potential, but turned out kind of disappointing. Don Cheadle stars as Petey Greene, former criminal turned radio personality whose straight-talking style is just the thing for mobilizing Washington D.C.’s African American community in the late ’60s. Cheadle is excellent, and his dynamic presence is the main reason to watch. The film itself, however, is strangely structured with a needless third act. Taraji P. Henson is too overbearing as Geene’s girlfriend, and there were a lot of anachronistic touches here that bugged me. For example, not only do the filmmakers wrongly use the elegant “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Temptations as an example of the kind of “square” music Greene was rebelling against, they also play it in a scene that takes place at a time well before the record came out in November 1968. A little more research was in order, guys.

Weekly Mishmash: December 6-12

Black Book (2006). Super slick and engrossing German Dutch WWII drama directed by Paul Verhoeven. It concerns a woman (Carice Van Houten, great), living in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, who decides to join the Dutch resistance. Eventually she infiltrates a Nazi office posing as a secretary and kept woman for a high ranking official (Sebastian Koch, who was also in The Lives Of Others). This was a speedily paced and well-mounted flick, occasionally sexy and violent in ways that European films rarely are (obviously the years working in Hollywood were a big plus for Verhoeven with this one). Mostly it reminded me of an updated version of classic wartime melodramas from that period. In that sense, this accomplishes what Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German tried and failed to do. If you like stirring wartime entertainment, definitely seek this one out.
One Fatal Hour (1936). This melodrama came on during TCM‘s month-long Humphrey Bogart salute; I recorded it simply because it’s one of the few Bogie films that I’d never heard of before. As I was watching, it looked vaguely familiar. As it turned out, One Fatal Hour is a remake of 1931’s Five Star Final with a setting switch from newsroom to radio station. Despite Bogart’s solid presence in the role previously played by Edward G. Robinson, however, this one falls way short of the original. The film manages to turn an interesting plot (about a matronly ex-con desparately trying to prevent an exploitative broadcaster from revealing her past) into an overbearing and preachy bore.
album_dollyDolly Parton — Dolly. Four disc, encyclopedic compilation proves once and for all that Miss Parton talents encompass more than just a big smile and a bigger chest. This set isn’t quite career-spanning, but it does start with her earliest single (1959’s “Puppy Love” on the tiny Gold Band label) and goes comprehensively through the years all the way up to her 1993 hit “Romeo.” At first I thought this might be too much Dolly for me, but I found myself really enjoying every facet of this set. Unlike many smaller hits collections that focus on the #1s (many of which she didn’t write), this box really does a good job of showing her development as one of the best songwriters in Country music — not to mention her savvy way of embracing passing trends while retaining her own distinctly rural point of view. One example is the fantastic Shangri-Las inspired teen drama of 1966’s “Don’t Drop Out,” which is joined here by “I’ve Known You All My Life” a previously unreleased Goffin-King gem that proves she had pop instincts several years before “9 to 5” topped the charts. The set also contains many of the duets with Porter Wagoner which cemented her early fame. These songs are quaint and old fashioned compared to her own simultaneous output like “Just Because I’m a Woman,” but they do provide a framework for what would come later and they’re entertaining in their own cheesy way. Dolly standards like “Jolene” sound even better surrounded by worthy album cuts, and even the material coming out of her pop crossover period beginning with 1977’s perky “Here You Come Again” sounds fresh. I even enjoyed totally ’80s synthesized productions like “Think About Love” (I do wish there was at least one cut from her notorious 1987 pop-oriented flop Rainbow, however). Nowadays the lady is starting to look more and more like a drag queen version of herself, but with this set my admiration for the woman has hit a new high.