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Tag Archives: Joyce Compton

Weekly Mishmash: March 7-14

playbill_avenueqAvenue Q. A mishmash first — theat-ah! I’ve been longing to see Avenue Q ever since hearing an interview with the show’s two songwriters professing their love for Sesame Street and The Electric Company (one even sung the latter’s T-I-O-N tune, neat). The soundtrack has been a popular play in our house for years, but we haven’t seen the whole show in performance until last week. Although the cast in this touring production was a shade less polished than the Broadway cast, we totally enjoyed it. People claim the show is pretty racy, but in actuality the humor is on the same level as your average PG-13 rated comedy. The book and music are very hip and knowing, as exemplified by “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” below. And I loved the graphic shout-outs to Sesame and Electric shown via onstage monitors. It would have been cool to have seen this in a smaller theater when it was just starting out, since the cavernous Grady Gammage Auditorium in Tempe was a bit outsized for the show’s purpose, but nonetheless this was a great thing to experience with an enthusiastic cast and audience.

Citizen Ruth (1996). Laura Dern as a paint-huffing loser who finds herself pregnant for a fourth time while imprisoned. She is bailed out by a Christian family and becomes the center of a heated tug of war between pro-life and pro-choice forces who want to use her for their own means. Being a big fan of Alexander Payne’s Election and Sideways, I looked forward to his first feature and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. The film is filled to the brim with colorful characters who are only grounded enough to not look like human cartoons. Payne doesn’t firmly side with either group, and seems to take the position that having a myopic view on any issue regardless of one’s viewpoint is unhealthy. Generally I liked the casting, except that Laura Dern’s dim bulb character grated as the film progressed (for too long). Having the film revolve around someone so obviously stupid was an interesting change from the norm, however.
The Format — Dog Problems. Possessing an album’s worth of eMusic credits and a yen for something power poppy, I decided to give this acclaimed 2006 album from the now defunct Phoenix area duo The Format a try. Excellent album, tuneful throughout, with just enough quasi-psychedelic circuslike touches to not be annoying. The band sounds like a classic power pop outfit most reminiscent of ’90s faves Jellyfish. Unsurprisingly, the group did cover Jellyfish’s “Gluttony of Symphony” for the import version of this album. Best tracks: “Time Bomb,” “The Compromise.”
Ikiru (1952). Our first viewing from TCM‘s month long Akira Kurosawa tribute coincides with a bunch of Kurosawa Criterion DVDs arriving via Netflix. I fear we may be Kurosawaed out soon, but so far the viewing has been fascinating. Ikiru is one of his most acclaimed, a film at turns both touching and mind-meltingly dull. In it, a meek government worker (unblinking Kanji Watanabe) undergoes a crisis when informed that he only has a year to live. At first he decides to splurge on booze and women in his final months, but then he experiences an epiphany and works to build a playground on land that was previously held up in a mess of bureaucratic red tape. A great concept that many can identify with — what if I never leave my mark on the world? — explored sensitively by Kurosawa with several beautifully filmed slice-of-life vignettes. Unfortunately the film is too long by at least an hour, bogged down by lots of talky, pointless scenes that only point out Watanabe’s annoying passivity. Undoubtably there’s a lot to this film that resonates to Japanese postwar culture and social mores of the time. With much of it, however, we were bored silly. Next, please.
Oliver! (1968). A TCM 31 Days of Oscar remnant that I watched in bits and pieces over a weeklong period. Perhaps not the best viewing setup, but I took it better this way. This splashy Dickens adaptation is a huge, impressive production with several enjoyable musical sequences (“Consider Yourself” is a highlight) and a nail-biting climax. The film on the whole just seemed too big and impersonal. Though pleasing, I don’t understand why it won Best Picture for 1968. Never-nominated 2001: A Space Odyssey wound up being the true celluloid achievement for that year, but Oliver!‘s competitors Funny Girl and The Lion In Winter are more absorbing and better made.
box_roseRose of Washington Square (1939). Another musical in what wound up being an all-singing, all-dancing week. This is a typically nostalgic Fox production, a frothy and fake vehicle for Alice Faye as a fictionalized Fanny Brice type singer rising to fame in 1910s New York and being wooed by smooth cad Tyrone Power. This was a lighthearted and fun movie, one made momentarily uncomfortable by Al Jolson playing himself in blackface makeup. Mostly we got this due to the fact that Joyce Compton has a relatively meaty role as Faye’s sidekick. Joycie is her own perky self throughout; she even gets to share a dramatic scene with Jolson. Most of the film’s musical sequences are straightforward stage performances, nicely gimmick free. Alice Faye and a chorusful of dancers doing amazing things with cigarettes in the title number is one of those wonderful non-p.c. moments that one can only find in the world of black and white movies.

Weekly Mishmash: February 28-March 6

My Kid Could Paint That (2007). Good yet haphazard documentary on child prodigy painter Marla Olmstead, who became a mid-2000s media sensation with a series of abstract canvases far too sophisticated to be the work of a six-year-old. Director Amir Bar-Lev intended for this to be a straightforward look at Olmstead and her doting parents, until a 60 Minutes profile captured during filming revealed that Marla may have gotten help from her dad, Mark Olmstead. Personally, I smelled b.s. on the smarmy dad from the start. Despite the scandal, Bar-Lev doesn’t take a firm position either way — which actually hurts more than helps the film. There are many uncomfortable yet compelling scenes of the family members behaving weirdly. Marla is often shown painting, or more accurately smearing paint around into a mass of brown goo the way an average kid would. She seems more interested in the tactile experience of moving goop around on a surface, rather than the art itself. Meanwhile, the dad and art dealer play their p.r. games and a tacky, rich couple are seen dropping $20K on a painting before speeding away in a Hummer. The ’00s, wasn’t it a time?
No Country For Old Men (2007). Stuck this on my Netflix queue when it was new and forgot about it until the DVD arrived here last week. This is an excellent, potent film, although I could sense two conflicting p.o.v.s at work here. For the first two thirds, it’s a gripping tale of Josh Brolin coming across stolen drug money and creepy Javier Bardem’s attempts to get it back. Joel and Ethan Coen do a great job of evoking dusty, morally bankrupt doings in rural Texas of 1980. The film’s tone then shifts in its final third to weathered sheriff Tommy Lee Jones and his puzzlement over the changing times he lives in. Very Cormac McCarthy, in other words, right up to the vague ending. Many viewers apparently didn’t favor this turn, but I found it effective and thought provoking. Bardem’s chilling, dead-eyed character is not so easy to forget.
2012 (2009). Stupid disaster flick, even by Roland Emmerich standards. Special effects of a disintegrating Los Angeles are impressive if on a scale too large to be truly believable.
dvd_unholyloveUnholy Love (1932). This interesting Pre-Code telling of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was among the handful of cheapie DVDs from Alpha Video that Christopher recently purchased. Unholy Love was a special request from me since, as you can see from the box art, Joyce Compton takes center stage in it. Although she is third billed behind silent-era actors H. B. Warner and Lila Lee, Compton actually has the most screen time as a flirty gardener’s daughter who slinks her way into high society. It’s a fun role and Joyce has a field day with it, even if at this early point in her career she doesn’t quite have the acting chops to effectively pull it off. Generally this film is a leaden-paced, typical melodrama. Probably its biggest value is of historical interest, since this independent production counts as one of the few earlier appearances of Compton’s currently available on DVD. It was a pleasure watching her in a dramatic turn (and a lead!) very atypical of the comic relief she was eventually best known for; your mileage may vary.
Various — Journey to Paradise: The Larry Levan Story. A 2006 two disc compilation from Rhino Records saluting legendary disco deejay Larry Levan, heavy on the Warner Bros.-owned dance music. I never noticed this one before, but when it popped up on eMusic as a download for the same price that single albums usually go for, I grabbed it. It’s an uplifting and laid-back set, emphasizing earthy, R&B-based dance music from roughly 1979-82 over the cheesy polyester disco we all know and loathe. When it comes to dance, I’m a bit of a non-purist who prefers radio-friendly edited songs over endless 12″ mixes. This set is heavy on the latter, but luckily many of the mixes are enjoyable and the songs themselves are far from overexposed. The inclusion of white groups Yazoo and Talking Heads serve as a nifty reminder of when the R&B world briefly flirted with New Wave. If you could download only one tune, pick Change’s “Paradise” — a tune that sums up Levan’s life-affirming m.o. better than anything else.