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Monthly Archives: February 2012

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Flick Clique: February 19-25

Let ‘Em Have It (1936). Gritty little gangster pic made as the film industry was pressured to glorify the good, hard-working long arm of the law over the bad guys. The film follows three young FBI recruits, played by Richard Arlen, Henry Stephens and Gordon Jones, as they pursue an attempted extortion/kidnapping case involving the family of socialite Virginia Bruce. Produced by indie Edward Small Productions, this was a decent, faced-paced flick with more action and violence that what you’d normally expect from a ’30s-era picture. The story is very similar to the James Cagney vehicle G-Men, with all its straightforward and often unintentionally funny procedural scenes, although it lacks the nuance of that one. I bought the DVD since it appears on Joyce Compton‘s filmography. Despite getting seventh billing in the credits, Joyce’s part is a bit of nothing as the girlfriend of one of the FBI recruits; she really should have angled for the meaty roles of the gangster’s molls filled (nicely) by Barbara Pepper and Dorothy Appleby.
Murder with Pictures (1936). This was another Joyce film I got on DVD, as part of the Mystery Classics 50 Movie Pack we recently acquired. Cliché-ridden comedy/mystery stars a too-smirky Lew Ayres as a newspaper photographer who enjoys outpacing the police on various hot cases. He winds up becoming part of the story he’s covering when an alluring lady (Gail Patrick) who is a murder suspect enters his apartment seeking shelter from the pursuing authorities. Ayres winds up helping the woman AND coming up with the incriminating photograph that proves who the real killer is. A rather silly, slight film that (at the very least) moves along at a brisk pace and has a glossy production unusual for a b-picture. The plot gets needlessly complex, Ayres is more annoying than good, but Patrick is a knockout — and so is Joyce Compton! She’s got a fairly decent-sized role here as Ayres’ jealous fiancée, looking swanky in fur-lined ensembles designed by Edith Head. Warning: the version of this film on the cheap-o DVD looks as if it went through Photoshop’s blur filter.
Ossessione (1943). We rented this, a pioneering Italian Realist film from director Luchino Visconti, because it looked intriguing and it was frequently cited as an influence on the Story of a Love Affair DVD I recently reviewed. Ossessione was an unofficial adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice which predated the American MGM version by a few years — which led to it being withdrawn from distribution for several years. It’s fascinating to see this in comparison with the more faithfully done American version. This one is more of a “love story gone wrong” chronicle with committed performances from the cast and lots of passionate, soul-searching dialogue (which leads to it being over-extended at more than two hours length). Story‘s Massimo Girotti is the swarthy Italian drifter who happens upon the countryside eatery run by Clara Calamai and her corpulent husband (Juan de Landa). Girotti and Calami immediately spark an affair, fall in love and scheme to off the woman’s husband. You know where that’s going. Like most Neorealist cinema, this was filmed in actual locations with apparently real people (not actors) as extras, lending itself to the painfully real situation the main couple get themselves into. There’s also a few additional elements not in the Cain book, such as when Girotti breaks free from Calamai’s manipulations and cultivates a friendship with a drifting artist played by Elio Marcuzzi. I was getting unspoken homo vibes off that relationship, which was likely intentional on the filmmakers’ part. Although the film didn’t bowl me over, it is an intriguing look at how American culture influenced those in Europe (how they filmed this while WWII was raging, I couldn’t begin to decipher).
Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker (1970). Another offbeat disc I picked from the DVD Talk pool. Here’s my review.
Take Shelter (2011). Oscars are tonight! Christopher picked the indie Take Shelter since it garnered some buzz for leading actor Michael Shannon in one of those “not nominated, but shoulda been” cases. As a midwestern blue-collar worker whose psychotic delusions are slowly dissolving his family, Shannon does deliver a memorable performance that simmers with intensity without getting too showboat-y. I also enjoyed Jessica Chastain as Shannon’s wife. The film gets somewhat too moribund and talky for my personal tastes, but it is an effective film that does a lot with its meager budget to convey an unsettling, increasingly claustrophobic feel. Shannon’s character is completely sympathetic, since one can feel that he is trying to be a decent fellow despite certain things (mental illness in his family, stress at work) are working against him. Interestingly, Shannon and another of the film’s actors, Shea Wigham, are also featured in Boardwalk Empire (which we started watching this week).

Flickr Saturday: The Beaver Pond

It’s time for another book rescued from my childhood library. The Beaver Pond, written by Alvin Tresselt with illustrations by Roger Duvoisin, was published in 1970. Like I’m Alvin, this book on woodland creatures not native to the Arizona where I grew up was something of a puzzlement to the kid me. I enjoyed it all the same, however, for the lush full-page illustrations showing beavers building a dam. A few samples:

Voyage to La-La Land, Pt. 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here is the conclusion of our four-day trip to Los Angeles, Burbank, Sherman Oaks and Palm Springs. Since our Getty museum trip turned out to be a single day, we spent Thursday morning looking through the shops on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. Although getting around and parking is a problem around there, we eventually got settled behind a store called “Aunt Teek’s” and looked around. One of the neater things we came across was a building that was a converted motor court from the ’30s or ’40s that had various small businesses. We dropped in on a jewelry shop nestled in the back and had our rings resized while chatting with the ladies who worked there. It was a fun bit of local color. We also went through the main antique mall. I ended up buying a vintage ’50s brochure for Disneyland’s Aluminum Hall of Fame – which wasn’t cheap, but it’s a good addition to my paper ephemera collection.

We had an appointment in downtown L.A. that afternoon, so we got back to the hotel room and checked out before navigating the freeways. Obama was in town at that time, but strangely the traffic was okay (despite all the helicopters hovering around). Having a couple of hours to kill, we went back to the Japanese district which is just down the street from the historic City Hall building. This is one of my favorite parts of L.A. The shops are a riot of fantastic imagery and nifty packaging. Although I was tempted to buy everything I saw, I wound up settling on some cute toys (including a blind-boxed plastic “cute animal inside a household object” toy which turned out to be a cockatiel in a rice bowl), a book on Japanese cinema, and several bags of gummi candies, cookies and shrimp-flavored chips.

After Japan Town, we drove up to the Fashion Institute to meet with our friend Shirley and see the new exhibit they’ve got of costumes from many of the major films released in 2011 – including all the films nominated for this year’s Oscar awards. We drove through the “skid row” area and the fabric merchandising districts to get there, both of which were really something to see (from the safety of a locked car!). The exhibit was wonderful. Christopher wrote about it here. One of the genuine surprises of the exhibit was that it had a handful of classic-era costumes, including two (Jean Harlow’s shorts from Reckless and a hat from Pride and Prejudice) designed by MGM’s Adrian. After meeting with our friend, we went on a little walking tour of downtown which included L.A. Live, Staples Center and that area of downtown. L.A. Live was too chaotic and overcommercialized for my tastes, but it was still interesting to walk around and people watch. Most of it is chain restaurants. The Grammy Hall of Fame Museum was also there, but the admission was too expensive for us. I got a kick out of the sidewalk pieces with each year’s Grammy award winners inscribed in a metal record, however. There was some hubbub with the police going on there — a large group of local Tibetians were there to protest China’s treatment of their country while the Chinese Vice President was staying at the nearby Ritz-Carlton hotel. That was pretty cool to watch. We also stumbled across the historic Figueroa Hotel and took mucho pictures. It looked especially pretty as the sun was setting.

Thursday was a long day — and we still had to drive out of town to get to our hotel, in San Bernadino! I was really hungry by the time we got there, devouring my bean and cheese burrito dinner. The next morning, we enjoyed the free Best Western breakfast buffet and headed out to Palm Springs to visit with Christopher’s plastic collecting friend, Robin. We arrived pretty early, so we checked out the little exhibit of ’50s-’60s items at the visitors center (perfect timing; it was “Modernism Week”) and gaped at the overpriced furniture and decor in the Midcentury Modern shops along Palm Canyon Drive. We also looked at a few of the thrift shops in the area (I picked up a few kitschy, unused ’60s greeting cards at one). The weather was a bit dry and hot, but otherwise it was a relaxed, fun time. After a long time spent looking for it, we finally found Robin’s place and he regaled us with a bunch of neat vintage plastic pieces from his collection (tiny creamers for airline use, demitasse cups, etc.). After a satisfying lunch at one of the older Mexican places in town, we shipped off for Phoenix. Did you know that Palm Springs is one of the hardest places to get out of? It was frustrating to drive down the same road, sitting through 100 red lights, but once we were out on that highway back home it was a total relief. At about 8:30 that night, we were finally home — safe in the knowledge that we had another memorable trip!

Voyage to La-La Land, Pt. 1

Since there was only one movie watched this week (Miller’s Crossing, excellent), I won’t be doing a Flick Clique. Instead, I will be doing a little writeup of what occupied most of our time this week, a road trip!

We left on Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, to take a four-day trip to Los Angeles, Burbank, Sherman Oaks and Palm Springs. Much of that first day was spent driving in the dark (we got up at four a.m.). At around 11:00, we needed some gas and I was getting hungry for some sustenance, so we stopped in Azusa and drove around a bit. It was a lovely town, and the affordable eats at T-Burgers got us rearin’ to move along. Arriving towards L.A., we made a second stop in Pasadena to look around. The bungalows are beautiful there, and they have a nice (if too chain-store heavy) downtown. We got out and shot a few pics of Christopher with the Colorado Boulevard sign:

It was a nice, sunny day and the traffic was strangely not congested. We ended up at our destination, the Best Western in Sherman Oaks, ahead of schedule. I ended up picking this particular place since it was at a perfect right angle to our two main destinations, the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank and the J. Paul Getty Museum high in the L.A. hills.
After checking in and having a light lunch in the Denny’s at the hotel, we were all set for the TV sitcom taping that we’d reserved tickets for a month earlier. In 2009, we attended a Big Bang Theory recording. This time, we decided on 2 Broke Girls (which happens to be one of our faves). As we got shepherded onto the studio grounds, it struck me (again) how gorgeous the grounds at W.B. are. Everything is so well-manicured and beautifully maintained there — and it’s one of the few places around L.A. that still has that aura of the classic Hollywood 1930s-40s period. As we waited in line, we both marveled at the studio and expressed wishes that we could work there someday, somehow. The afternoon we were there, The Big Bang Theory was also taping an episode and we saw the cast members discreetly going about their business — Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco passed by our line walking to the studio Starbucks (named after Friends‘ hangout, The Central Perk) and we spied Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayaar going to get some grub at the W.B. commissary. The taping itself was a ton of fun. Long, but fun — this one required multiple retakes for every scene. Luckily the script was funny enough to survive three, four, and (in one butt-numbing example) eleven takes. The warmup comedian was the same one we saw at a Rules of Engagement taping in 2009 and he surprisingly recognized Christopher when we went to chat with him after the taping was done (four plus hours later!). We hung around, got autographs and a chocolate cupcake. Christopher wrote about it here.

The following day, Wednesday, was our daylong trip to the Getty. I personally picked this over Disneyland for this trip for the simple fact that I’ve never been there and always wanted to go. The Getty complex is located atop a mountain overlooking the ocean and the rest of the city. Patrons visit by parking in a lot at the base of the mountain and going by tram to the top. That day was really cold and windy, but we enjoyed it — and the crisp air offered some really outstanding views. The museum is divided into about five pavilions. Each pavilion deals with a certain historical period with changing exhibits and decorative art on the ground floors and painting/art on the upper floors. In the morning, the place was swarming with school groups, but those thinned out as the day went on and we were able to enjoy most of the exhibits in solitude (many of the guards can get touchy, however – be warned!). We got to see paintings by Sergeant, Titian, Rembrandt, Cezanne and Van Gogh (Irises in the flesh!). The decorative stuff was even more interesting and enlightening. Those Getty folks run a nice, state-of-the-art museum. Although many insist that two or three days is optimal, we saw everything we wanted to in a single day. Probably the funnest part of that day was goofing around in the outdoor sculpture garden by where the tram deposits visitors to their vehicles (see photo below).

After our whirlwind Getty day, we ended up checking out the sights around Sherman Oaks. Although we passed by the famous Galleria (like, totally, fer sure) a few times, most of our exploring centered around Ventura boulevard and its funky shops and restaurants. There’s a fair share of bland chain businesses along that stretch, but it’s good to know that the city’s bread-and-butter comes from locally owned places with unique charm and character. That night, I wanted to eat at a Thai place called Anajak. It took a while to find it (we forgot to write down the address), but once found it was a wonderful experience. The dining room was tiny and romantically lit, and Christopher chatted up some of the other customers. Service was excellent; the chef even brought us a free appetizer dish.

This portion of the trip ended up taking so much space that I will resume writing about it later. The part of our trip where we explored downtown Los Angeles and Palm Springs will come tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Flick Clique: February 5-11

He Walked By Night (1949). This past week, I stumbled across a display with those Mill Creek 50 movie-packs of DVDs at Wal-Mart for $10 each. I ended up buying the Mystery Classics pack, since it was on my Amazon wish list anyhow. I know that most of the movies on these sets are b-movies of iffy quality, but that’s part of what makes them fun (and for 20 cents each – whatta deal!). The proto-Dragnet L.A. crime drama He Walked By Night was one of the better-received films on this particular set, so I decided to check that one out first. Based on a true story, this one follows a criminal and petty thief played by Richard Basehart as he hides from the authorities after shooting an off-duty officer in cold blood. The film is shot mostly from the police department’s perspective as they use the latest technology to track down the man. They interrogate several witnesses as Basehart goes on a one-man crime spree, climaxing in an exciting film noir shootout in the subterranean drainage system below the L.A. streets. This was campy and dated at times, but enjoyable all the same. I’m glad I sprung for this set — one down, 49 to go!
The Informant! (2009). An uneasy mix of comedy, drama and bad facial hair from director Steven Soderbergh, The Informant! is a fancifully told version of a real scandal that rocked Archer Daniels Midland, a producer of animal feed additive lysine, in the 1990s. The film follows Matt Damon’s pompous Mark Whitacre as he alerts the FBI to illegal price-fixing activities (which he set up) at his employer, digging himself in a deeper hole as his lies grow to bigger and bigger proportions. The film was interesting, even though many of the elements aren’t totally successful. Damon’s performance is the best part. He gets at his character’s dimwitted myopia without going into an easy, overly jokey path. I also enjoyed the production design recreating a clunky, business-y version of Illinois in 1991-95 (how much fun would that be?). The overall feel is a weird jumbling of ’70s cop show music (via an overbearing score by Marvin Hamlisch), ’60s Austin Powers fonts and straightforward, serious dramatic scenes. The story was strong enough to overcome its shortcomings, however, and it was appealingly cast enough for me to enjoy it overall.
Mr. North (1988). A pleasant trifle set in 1920s Newport, Rhode Island, Mr. North is based on a Thorton Wilder story about a man whose ability to generate electric sparks from his fingers leads those around him to believe he has healing powers. I remember hearing a few good things about this when it came out, that it was a sleeper hit, etc. I found it kind of dull and pointless, however. Anthony Edwards has a curious lack of charisma in the title role (no wonder he never became a movie star), and the supporting players go all over the place, from somewhat decent (Mary Stuart Masterson as a sensitive deb), to noncommittal (Robert Mitchum and Lauren Bacall) to scenery-chewing (Twisted Sister video guy as Masterson’s father). The film itself is not very involving and ingratiating in its efforts to be heartwarming and cute. I blame director Danny Huston.
The Mysterious Lady (1928). Like Flesh and the Devil, another luxe Greta Garbo silent from the set that I bought in December 2010. This one has Garbo as a slinky Russian spy sent to World War I-era Vienna to get sensitive information from an Army captain, played by dashing Conrad Nagel. Nagel is immediately smitten by the alluring Garbo, even when he learns her true identity just before getting arrested and imprisoned. This one was done at the peak of the Silent era, and it shows. The spy story itself is rather typical, but MGM’s gloss is in full force and Garbo delivers more emotion in a sideways glance than many actresses do in their entire bodies.
Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinaire (2004). Impressively mounted Korean bio-pic chronicles the career and life of Rikidozan, a Korean-born wrestler who became a star in the nascent Japanese pro wrestling scene in the ’50s. A samurai school reject, Rikidozan eventually prevailed over a culture desperately in need of a powerful, virile hero in the post-WWII era (despite never revealing his true birthplace, since the Japanese had a prejudice against Koreans). A very intriguing film that delves into Rikidozan’s inner demons and slow, gradual decline. It definitely doesn’t indulge in the usual sports movie clichés, that’s for sure. I will have a more detailed review at DVDTalk soon.

New at LitKids: Nancy Drew

I’ve been wanting to do a Nancy Drew LitKids print for a while — the teen sleuth is a little more modern than the other characters I’ve got, but she does fit in with the iconic Kids Lit canon. Although we constantly come across the Nancy books during our thrift store jaunts, they’re always reprints from the ’60s and later. Eventually I found an original 1946 printing of The Mystery of the Tolling Bell at a used book store. Once that was in place, doing a design with silhouette Nancy and her famous flashlight was easy. I chose to replace her trench coat with a smart ’40s frock, too. This one was a long time coming (the holidays, work, work, work), but it’s finally ready for sale at LitKids.

Christopher decided to shoot a video of me demonstrating the different stages of making the Nancy print. The first part (of four) is below. Though the screen I did in this video turned out to be underexposed and not usable, the videos hopefully have a lot of info for would-be screen printers. Enjoy!