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Monthly Archives: August 2009

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Looney Placemats

This is a find — Looney Tunes placemats from the ’30s, one for each day of the week. The characters have a bit of an odd “off model” look, which makes the artwork even more charming in my opinion.


Weekly Mishmash: August 23-29

Devo — Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and Various — Grease Soundtrack. My continued exploration of albums from the ’70s brings me to these two releases, which have little in common besides being released in 1978. In April of that year, as Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction” bombed as a single, “You’re The One That I Want” was kicking off an impressive string of hits from Grease. It’s hard to imagine how jaw-droppingly bizarre Devo’s first album must have appeared when it first came out. At this stage, the band was still a basic guitar-based outfit that shared more in common with the Ramones than, say, Kraftwerk. Although the ingredients are traditional, Brian Eno’s production ensures this is a thoroughly avant garde listen, solid from start to finish. “Mongoloid” is my favorite, although “Uncontrollable Urge” comes a close second. The humorous “Shrivel-Up” sounds more like the synthesized novelty act the band would become later on. The deep fat fried nostalgia of Grease is a 180º turn from Devo (maybe not so much; Devo has a ’50s rock influence, too). This album is a bucketload of fun, although bizarrely programmed with the hits taking up the first third and a buttload of indistinguishable covers from Sha-Na-Na (anybody remember their variety show?) taking up the middle. I’d like to hear these songs in the order they were performed in the movie; luckily iTunes makes that easy enough. Songs added to the movie version — “Grease,” “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” “You’re The One That I Want” — were a perfect way to bring it into the ’70s without sounding obnoxious. On a personal note, I can remember Olivia Newton John and John Travolta’s “Summer Nights” being one of the few songs that the ten year-old me greeted with joy every time it came on the radio. Thirty years later, it still sounds fresh (to my ears).
Die Hard (1988). Call me weird, but I actually never saw this movie until this weekend. I thought it was great, one of the definitive action movies of the ’80s. The direction, editing and that gorgeous nighttime cinematography were all top notch. Bruce Willis is the perfect everyman hero, Bonnie Bedelia has just the right complexity as Willis’ wife, and Alan Rickman is a devious terrorist. Sure, there are a lot of clichés (the Euro-sleazy terrorists, for example), but it was perfect popcorn entertainment. I don’t know why I avoided it for so long — maybe I thought it was moronic, like the Lethal Weapon movies — but it was excellent.
Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953). Jennifer Jones is a proper lady waiting for a train while debating her affair with Italian lothario Montgomery Clift. This David O. Selznick production was a notorious affair in itself, marked with production troubles involving the Italian neorealist director Vittorio De Sica. Clift’s miscasting might be the main culprit, but mostly I blame the turgid, uninteresting script (I watched the notoriously butchered, shortened version; perhaps the full length version improves on things, but I doubt it). This is one dull film; even the swell midcentury modern train station and the presence of a young and bizarrely gorgeous Richard Beymer as Jones’ nephew can’t improve matters. Skip.
Queen of Outer SpaceQueen of Outer Space (1958). Ridiculous sci-fi with a deserved reputation as a Camp Classic, although that image is tainted with moments of boredom. Looking about a decade older than everyone else in the cast, Zsa Zsa Gabor stars as a Venusian beauty who helps a crew of stranded American astronauts off a planet ruled by a crazed, oatmeal-faced queen (Laurie Mitchell). My reaction to this opus is probably the same as grim leading man Dave Willock, who spends the entire film looking as if he just ate some nasty fish. Although the proceedings are pretty dull, the film is worth watching just to see the various reactions of the comely extras — supposedly made up of beauty contest winners, although I spotted plenty of horsey looking ladies amongst them. I was most impressed by the film’s wild color schemes, including some flirty primary-colored miniskirts that must have influenced Star Trek‘s costume designer.
Roustabout (1964). A surprisingly not so bad Elvis Presley movie that I recorded off Turner Classic Movies’ day-long salute to the singer (I hesitate to call him an actor). Presley plays Charlie Rogers, ne’er do well rebel who decides to temporarily settle on a job with a traveling carnival. Mostly I recorded this because of Barbara Stanwyck, who co-stars as Presley’s feisty boss. Dressed in sporty looking Edith Head ensembles, Stanwyck is quite the silver fox and could easily have been the romantic interest here. The rest of the movie is actually quite fun, with several silly but enjoyable numbers. These Elvis movies are always interesting just to check out what was considered top-notch mainstream filmmaking in the ’50s and ’60s. The singing and dancing might be iffy, but the widescreen Technicolor photography will always be reliably good.
Season of Passion (1959). Painful-to-watch melodrama, based on a play which is supposedly a beloved classic in Australia (where the story takes place). While Ernest Borgnine and Anne Baxter have been comfortably involved for 17 years, prim Angela Lansbury and drunken John Mills have only just met as the foursome gather during the summer holiday season in Sydney. This was a strange film, one so pointlessly banal and uncommercial it makes me wonder why it was produced in the first place. Casting-wise, Lansbury fares the best, while Borgnine and Baxter struggle with Aussie accents to agonizing effect. The shrill Baxter is particularly unbearable to watch. I might have read somewhere that this film is considered an overlooked gem somewhere — don’t you believe it.

Sickness Update

For those who didn’t know, I’ve been sick — on and off — for the past three months. Mostly mild, flu-like symptoms, but there was also my panic attack in July and the Weekend Of Horror earlier this month when I couldn’t eat or sleep and ran up a 104 degree fever. Needless to say, it hasn’t been the nicest of summers in this household.

Now I have an answer as to why I’ve been so sick: I’ve been diagnosed with Coccidioidomycosis, which is the fungus that causes Valley Fever. Valley Fever is a mild, flu-like ailment caused by breathing in infected dust. It’s a pretty common sickness (Christopher had it about ten years ago) that affects people who live in desert areas. Typically the infection lasts three or four months, so it should be making its way out of my system soon. For now, I just have to make due with a dry cough and the small comfort that I know what’s been ailing me. More cough syrup, please.

The Doyenne of Doo Wah Diddy

I was saddened to hear of the death of songwriter Ellie Greenwich this week at age 68. Her songs were so upbeat, capturing the youthful optimism of the ’60s like few others did. This is evident in her tune “Another Boy Like Mine,” heard in the clip below.

Although Greenwich will be best remembered for Girl Group classics like “Leader of the Pack” and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” the obsessive collector in me loves her more obscure stuff such as Lesley Gore’s swell 1965 LP cut, “What’s A Girl Supposed To Do?” or her own dramatic single of the same year, “You Don’t Know.” She will be missed.

Mishmash Addendum

Two things I forgot to put in last Sunday’s Mishmash, probably because neither are all that memorable:
Letter from an Unknown Woman (2004). This was the result of an odd switcheroo from Netflix. Originally I put the 1948 version of Letter from an Unknown Woman starring Joan Fontaine on my queue. When it came time for it to be shipped, however, I noticed they switched the ’48 version with this newer Chinese remake (making matters worse, the ’48 version is no longer available at Netflix!). This was a strictly okay movie, slow-paced but absorbing, with a premise that hinges on the unbelievable probability that a man wouldn’t recognize the woman he’d slept with years earlier. This one takes place during the cultural revolution of the ’30s and ’40s, which makes it mildly interesting. What I really want to see is Max Ophuls’ 1948 original, however, which ranks among the hardest classic films to see. In twenty-plus years, I’ve never heard of it being shown on classic movie channels or on home video.
What Makes Sammy Run? (Sunday Showcase DVD). Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? is one of the great Hollywood novels, but the book is so bitter about the subject that it has rarely been adapted anywhere else. This 1959 live TV drama, which survives on DVD via a kinescope, is one of the few that made it to the screen. Larry Blyden is all intensity as Sammy Glick, world class suck-up who makes his way from newspaper copy boy to powerful Hollywood player. Although this version has all the hallmarks of early TV (clumsy pacing, technical glitches), it was a fun and interesting watch.

Weekly Mishmash: August 16-22

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Independent Film Channel recording. Incomprehensible film is proof positive that cult hits cannot be created, they have to evolve organically via the audience. I can see why this was a box office flop; it’s the kind of film where characters constantly do things for no real reason. As the title character, Peter Weller underplays to the point where you have to wonder why he was cast in the first place. Actually, the entire cast is muted to the point where someone like John Lithgow’s scenery-chewing baddie seems like a cartoon. About the only interest this film has today is the cast, filled with actors who seemingly appeared in every other ’80s movie (Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd). Too bad they had nothing to do.
Blonde Fever (1944). Speaking of awful — this b-comedy filled the early morning schedule on TCM’s Gloria Grahame day. Grahame saucily plays a waitress here, vying for the affections of her boyfriend (the perpetually annoying Marshall Thompson) and married restauranteur Phillip Dorn. Whoever had the idea that Dorn, who usually played Nazi officials, could carry a romantic comedy ought to have faced a firing squad. Although this film was barely an hour long, it seemed to drag on forever. As Dorn’s suffering wife, Mary Astor is completely wasted. There is a grand total of one interesting moment here, and that comes when Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy appear in a cameo as a bickering couple.
Princess Mononoke (1997). One of our favorite Miyazaki films got a re-viewing this week. I actually prefer Spirited Away slightly more (simply because the visuals are cooler in that film), but this one is easily a second place favorite. You can’t beat the old fashioned craftsmanship of hand-drawn animation on display here. It is truly awe inspiring.
Dusty Springfield - Stay Awhile/I Only Want To Be With YouDusty Springfield – Stay Awhile/I Only Want To Be With You and ABC – The Lexicon of Love. Picked up these two used CDs at the local indie record shop. The clerk seemed a bit jealous that I found Dusty Springfield’s 1964 gem Stay Awhile/I Only Want To Be With You. For good reason, it turned out; this is one cute LP, with hits (“Wishin’ and Hopin'”) balanced out with expertly chosen covers. I love Dusty’s take on Gene Pitney’s “24 Hours from Tulsa,” and even her cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” packs a punch. The Lexicon of Love is one of the great albums of the ’80s, thanks to Trevor Horn’s sparkling, ahead-of-its-time production. You might know the hits “The Look Of Love” and “Poison Arrow,” but this LP is so much more than that.
The Sword in the Stone (1963). Not one of the better Disney animated films, I’m afraid. This was appealing and entertaining in spots, but it doesn’t hold a candle to 101 Dalmatians or even The Jungle Book. The main problem is that the characters of Merlin and Arthur are so underdeveloped that one can’t find anything to identify with them. Merlin is a scatterbrain, and Arthur is a naive simpleton — that’s it. I wish the story delved more into Arthur’s childhood or how he became king (which is treated as an afterthought here). Instead, the filmmakers spend a lot of time turning the pair into fish and squirrels. Eh.