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Monthly Archives: December 2011

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Caroling, Caroling

Christopher and I want to wish everyone the merriest of Christmases, the happiest of New Years … usually I have a Flick Clique on a Sunday, but this photo of carolers in Disneyland will have to do. The pic comes from a 1957 issue of Disneyland Holiday magazine, one of C.’s gifts for me. I love it!

The cover of this Disneyland Holiday, featuring the marvy Monsanto House of the Future, can be seen further below.

Question Me an Answer

Lately we’ve been watching this Best of Password DVD that I recently ordered. It’s actually quite fun, with 30 episodes that give a glimpse of famous stars like Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke when they were young (early to mid ’60s).

It reminded me of a game show that didn’t make it, the one that David Letterman hosted in the ’70s. I remember Dave talking about this one rather disparagingly with guest Michael McKean on his NBC show. The show was called The Riddlers (1977), and it’s actually on YouTube. Part one is below. Letterman has a bit of snark, which makes it more watchable than most ’70s game shows.

Flick Clique: December 11-17

Asylum Seekers (2009). This fanciful/surreal indie was the one film that Christopher picked from the myriad discs on the DVD Talk reviewer pile. The debut feature of writer/director Rania Ajami takes place in a dreamlike insane asylum in which a single slot is jockeyed for by six candidates with various strange afflictions (a gender-bending rapper, a girl who is addicted to online life, etc.). The would-be inmates are put through various performing antics under the watchful eye of a forbidding nurse, and ultimately they receive judgement from a mysterious figure known as The Beard. Ajami does some nice things with the photography on a limited budget, and the basic story holds some promise as a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-like romp. Unfortunately, the characters are set up as cartoonish beings with little depth and the film drags on and on with subplots going off on their own tangents (it would have worked infinitely better as a live action short). What most undoes this frustrating little film is the fact that Ajami’s visual style more or less liberally borrows from Terry Gilliam, only with not nearly as much depth or emotional resonance.
Cell 211 (2009). Gripping Spanish drama is one of the better prison films I’ve ever seen, despite a few implausibilities. The film follows recently hired prison guard named Juan (played by Alberto Ammann) as he receives an orientation at the high security prison where he’s set to start work on the following day. He becomes injured by falling debris and is placed in a cell vacated by a prisoner who killed himself. Before help can arrive, however, one of the more heavily guarded inmates escapes and sparks a riot amongst all of the prisoners. The main proponent, a gravely voiced gent named Malamadre (Luis Tosar), takes Juan under his wing, mistaking the man for another inmate. The prisoners negotiate for better conditions with the guards, who are aware that Juan is their mole. Disregarding the far-fetched idea that Malamadre would immediately take on a guy he just met as his right hand man, this was an absorbing, well-made film that amps up the tension with each passing minute. Ammann was great, and I dug Tosar’s intense performance. I’ve read that this film is getting an American remake, which sort of fills me with dread. Stay with the original, it’s nearly always better than some cheap-o copy.
Hot Coffee (2011). Another excellent documentary. Hot Coffee takes a look at the notorious court case from the early ’90s in which a woman sued McDonalds when she spilled a cup of their coffee on herself. You may remember it being a punchline on talk shows and the like, but the case itself was quite a serious matter which McDonalds lawyers and PR spun into a campaign to decrease what they termed “frivolous” lawsuits by consumers. The film then delves into tort reform and the often nefarious ways that big companies use their money and influence to make it harder for individuals to seek litigation. One of the things it explores is how successful tort reform laws were in Texas under governor George W. Bush and Karl Rove (boo, hiss) and how Bush used it as a campaign point for his presidency. This led to more bargaining power for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which is not a government agency as I thought), right up to the Supreme Court’s disgusting “Citizens United” decision on campaign finance regulation from earlier this year. It’s totally fascinating and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Over Exposed (1956). The other not-so-noir film on the Bad Girls of Film Noir disc I rented from Netflix. Like Women’s Prison, this film comes from the cheapie side of Columbia Pictures in the mid ’50s. Shapely Prison co-star Cleo Moore stars here as a sleazy but ambitious young woman who works her way up the career ladder with her feminine wiles and a camera. It opens with her being arrested on a clip joint bust. She befriends an older, alcoholic photographer (Raymond Greenleaf) who agrees to house her in his apartment/studio and teaches her the tricks of the trade. She moves to the big city and attempts to set up her own studio. While attempting to get her photos published, she befriends a reporter (Richard Crenna) who helps her get a job as a photographer at a swanky nightclub. Eventually she builds up her own successful commercial photography studio, but it all gets threatened when someone steals the photos she accidentally took of a local dowager’s death scene. An altogether forgettable film, but there are some snappy lines in the script to recommend it. Women’s Prison is the clear winner of the two.
The Universe of Keith Haring (2008). Straightforward but enthralling doc on the artist whose graffiti-inspired lines made for one of the indelible visual hallmarks of the 1980s. Director Christina Clausen interviewed an impressive array of people for this, including most of Haring’s family, contemporaries like Kenny Scharf, art dealers, scenesters, even the straight guy with whom Haring fell in love during the final years before his untimely death in 1990. It also has a ton of examples of his work, from full-scale murals to prints to objects from his Pop Shop empourium (remember that?). The film adequately conveys how incredibly prolific the guy was during a relatively short time. Neat doc, definitely worth seeking out on Netflix streaming (where I found it).

Radiant Baby

Being right in the middle of The Universe of Keith Haring, I thought I’d look for something interesting on the late graffito to share here. This mid-’80s news clip is typical of the stuff I used to see on him as an art-crazy teen. Back around circa 1986, he even made a short visit to Phoenix to work on a public mural. At the time, I remember hearing of a classmate who got Haring to draw a picture on his or her shoe.

Flick Clique: December 4-10

Buffering (2011). A gay sex comedy from Britain that I’m reviewing for DVD Talk. Buffering follows a gay couple, Seb and Aaron (appealingly played by Alex Anthony and Conner McKenzy) as one partner decides to upload secret recordings of the couple having sex to the internet in order to make some extra cash on the side. The secret is eventually revealed to the other guy. Instead of stopping the enterprise dead in its tracks, they end up raking in more bucks as their popularity spreads. A female ex-roomie (Jessica Matthews) catches on and encourages the men to take on a new recruit, including the hunky guy (Oliver Park) who lives next door. Lots of promise here, but the already lightweight concept is stretched to its limit and the micro-budget lets it down. The guys are cute (especially Park), but I’ve seen better sexy gay comedies. A longer review will be posted at DVD Talk soon.
The Other Love (1947). I found this otherwise unavailable Barbara Stanwyck flick on Netflix streaming a few months ago and have been dying to see it ever since. This is a standard romantic melodrama about a concert pianist (Stanwyck) who goes to a sanitarium to overcome tuberculosis. David Niven as her doctor tries to keep her on the path to health, but she’s tempted by the outside world when meeting a fellow patient (the terrific Joan Lorring) who teaches her how to duck out of the place at night, when no one is watching. Niven finds himself falling for Stanwyck, but she’s lured away to Monaco by flashy race car driver Richard Conte. Will she come to her senses, or die a glamorous young high roller? A silly story is given depth by a luminous Stanwyck. I was pretty impressed by the glossy photography and production values (this was produced by James Whale’s longtime lover at an independent studio by the name of Anglo American Films). Stanwyck also looks great decked out in several glam outfits designed by Edith Head. Not an essential film, but enjoyable all the same.
Portrait in Black (1960). I have a strong weakness for campy ’60s melodrama, especially if it stars a fading glamour queen like Lana Turner and is produced by a kitschmeister like Ross Hunter. Portrait in Black is a veritable jackpot of overheated, so bad but soooo good theatrics — I can’t believe I haven’t seen this one before! Lana plays a San Francisco socialite married to abusive shipping magnate Lloyd Nolan. She and the husband’s doctor, Anthony Quinn, are secret lovers who arrange to off the poor guy in a discreet way. Although their plan is pulled off successfully, a whole host of suspicious supporting players threaten to blow their cover. Among them are Sandra Dee as Lana’s stepdaughter, Richard Basehart as Nolan’s greedy business associate (who’s also in love with Lana), Ray Walston as the family chauffer, and Anna May Wong as the imperious head maid (you can tell she’s evil because sinister “Asian” music plays whenever she’s onscreen). The ending is a riot, strangely abrupt and just dying for a sequel which never came to be, alas.
The Leopard (1963). This acclaimed Italian historical drama is directed by Luchino Visconti and features Burt Lancaster as a gruff prince who is desperately trying to preserve his family’s integrity amidst the political upheaval of 1860s Sicily. A lushly photographed, wonderful to look at, weirdly plodding and alienating film. I suppose I’d glean more on it if I knew more about Italian political history from that time, but I found it overlong and (regrettably) dull. Lancaster does well with acting outside his native tongue, however, and I found a lot to enjoy in Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale simply because they were two gorgeous people — and their characters are earthy and real in a welcome way. A lot of this film plays like a little historical documentary, and I dug how the background villagers and such are just seen going about their lives in a startlingly natural way. Overall, I just couldn’t get into it, however.
The Vampire’s Ghost (1945). Last weekend, I ended up catching a bug and getting sick. I was bored and had nothing else to watch, so I dialed up this 59 minute long b-thriller on Netflix instant. The film follows a group of American explorers as they settle in an African outpost. The sinister looking white guy who runs the outpost (John Abbott) is pleasant enough at first, but soon the explorers find that he’s a hundreds-year old vampire — and he wants to recruit the explorers into the bloodsucking life! The film is underwhelming for the most part, but there are some decent (for 1945) special effects shots and campy moments to keep it a watchable little horror flick.
WALL•E (2008). I’ve owned this on DVD for almost two years; finally we got to re-watch it this past week. It’s still a wonderful film (particularly the first half), although the second at-home viewing is not quite as magical as viewing it in the theater.
Women’s Prison (1955). This fun prison melodrama came out a few years ago as part of a Bad Girls of Film Noir DVD box set. It’s not really Noir, but the film stands on its own as an absorbing, often times over-the-top drama that comes off like a cousin to the superior Caged (1950). Set in a facility that houses female and male prisoners in separate quarters, the film begins with two new inmates getting booked — jaded but sympathetic Brenda (Jan Sterling) and shrinking violet Helene (Phyllis Thaxter). We then get introduced to several prisoners, including a phalanx of African-American women headed by kindly Juanita Moore, who reveal that they’re being abused daily by the staff overseen by hard-bitten Ida Lupino. Thaxter eventually goes nuts, and Audrey Totter as another inmate eventually finds she’s in a family way with her husband, an inmate in the men’s quarters. It isn’t top-notch drama, but I found it fast paced and quite enjoyable with a lot of vividly drawn characters. Strangely enough, the prison itself doesn’t seem too bad! Sterling was my favorite, followed by Lupino and Totter. Lupino’s real-life husband Howard Duff appears as the prison’s doctor, an ally for the inmates and harsh critic of the policies held by the ice-veined Lupino.

Book Review: Sketching and Drawing

Although Matt Pagett’s book Practice Makes Perfect: Sketching and Drawing has been in my possession for a couple of months now, posting about it now makes good sense. It would make a nice holiday gift for an aspiring artist — or even someone who just wants to hone their mad pencil skillz. The book is like a mini Drawing 101 course, with concisely written and illustrated examples that are easy to jump into.

Right away, what struck me about this book is its unusual format. The book actually contains its own blank sketchbook, bound on top and measuring about 9 inches tall by 6 inches wide, which is nestled in a sturdy hardback-style folder opposite the softcover instruction manual. The manual part is divided into chapters that explore Loosening Up, Composition, Line, Value, and Surface with an equal amount of written and visual info. Each subsection contains mini exercises such as drawing an object from memory, or sketching a piece of bunched-up fabric to get a feel for the line quality in rendering the object.

Practice Makes Perfect: Sketching and Drawing is published by Chronicle Books. Buy at here.