Thursday, June 26, 2008

Anyone for Cocktails?

I don't really have that much to say about cocktails - I learned a few new ones at a Hawaiian joint last night, but they were pretty bad. But cocktails are all the rage on the web. Just look at this spread in the NY Times:
These articles inspired political blogger Ezra Klein to ask for cocktails to be served at parties. He got a lot of interesting comments. Margaritas seem to be most popular, with Manhattans and mojitos in the running. An alarming number of people recommend a beer/vodka/pink lemonade concoction. I hope they are joking.

Blogger Matthew Yglesias is getting into cocktails too. But remember, I was doing it first.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Message to Love

There's a lot to love about Message to Love: Isle of Wight Festival, and a lot to hate. First, the performances: The 1970 Isle of Wight festival was 3 days and I don't know how many bands: Hendrix, the Who, the Doors, Donovan, Kristofferson, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Rory Gallagher, Free, Tull, ELP, the Moody Blues, Tiny Tim - off the top of my head. And since the movie is at least 2 hours long, each band gets ... a lot less time than you'd think, about 3/4ths of a song each, on average. So, love the lineup, love the songs, hate to see them cut short.

Then, there's the documentary side: 600,000 people came to see the concert. 60,000 bought tickets. It was war between the promoters and the scruffies on Desolation Row, the tent city outside the fence. It was a war of idealists, of earnest proclamations of love, non-violence and honesty, shown immediately to be hollow lies or evasions. It wasn't easy to like anyone, even the musicians - who mostly wanted to get paid, play and get out, in that order.

Joni Mitchell's set was interrupted by a hippie asking to make an announcement. While security is hustling him off-stage, she says a few words - like Grace Slick's "Brothers and sisters" rap at Altamont. Unfortunately, she uses her recent experience at a Hopi healing dance as her metaphor. Great voice, though, fantastic cheekbones.

The hippie explains himself coherently, and when that doesn't work, makes up a plausible story. When that doesn't work, he makes up an implausible one, and when that doesn't work, skips off with the guards.

So many 60's concert films are about the tension between the kids who want the music free and the guys who want to get paid. Message to Love handles this better than most. But I wish it had more music.

SPOILER: The kids break down the fence. The promoters surrender, lose all their money and go bankrupt. It starts to rain. The movie doesn't come out for 25 years because the promoters are broke.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bourne Free

I guess The Bourne Ultimatum is the last of the Jason Bourne movies. I mean, it practically says "ultimate" in the title. I'll miss them, but it's probably for the best. The franchise is getting a little tired.

Ultimatum has most of what we expect - especially tense scenes of Bourne walking through crowds, evading surveillance, contacting his contacts. I like the way Bourne looks around and picks out the watchers, and the director lets you feel it. In Ultimatum, Jason is guiding a scruffy journalist through the crowds, and you can see the journo trying to spot the bad guys, and failing. He panics when a janitor reaches for a mop. Later, young CIA agent Julia Stiles has to do the same. She is better, but makes a few mistakes, exposing herself where Bourne wouldn't have. Like I say, the movie lets you feel this.

But the action seems a little weaker than before - the foot chases through Tangiers, the car chases that don't really rev up, the confrontations that don't seem to have a payoff. Better than most, but not up to Bourne standards, I thought. Maybe I was just missing Franke Potente. Julia Stiles as romantic interest seems unlikely.

The casual acceptance that the CIA is full of corrupt programs of assassin - I hate that. But I can't argue with it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bad Touch

As host Mike Nelson says of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Touch of Satan, "They couldn't afford a lot of Satan, just a touch of Satan."

In this movie, a wimpy drifter in a no-muscle car drifts into an out-of-the-way walnut farm. He meets their hot daughter and nervous parents, but they manage to hide their homicidal maniac great-grandmother from him for a while. Then, a lot of nothing much happens, until we get to the flashback into the middle ages. In California. Or something.

The 'bots try to sell their souls to Satan, but accidentally sell them to Stan, who mostly deals in insurance, but wholesales souls as well. So that's OK.

In conclusion, can somebody check to see if I've used "Bad Touch" as a title already?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Double Double Dynamite

Sometimes, a couple of the films you chose at random turn out to have similar themes, plots or characters, and - Ta Da! - you have an impromptu film festival. This week, we had a Schnooks Who Won't Marry Their Girlfriends Because They Don't Have Enough Money and When They Get a Lot of Money, Comedy Ensues film festival.

First up, Double Dynamite (1950), starring, get ready, Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx, with Jane Russell. Sinatra is a humble schnook who works in a bank and doesn't earn enough to marry Russell. When he saves a bookie from a beating, the bookie sets him up with a good thing, and he wins $60,000. But when he gets back to the bank, he finds that $75,000 has been embezzled. So he takes the problem to Groucho, a waiter friend and general momzer, who takes the whole thing off his hands.

Groucho is great in this, in my opinion, just having fun. Sinatra isn't bad either. A lot of people don't see him in the schnook role (see On the Town or Anchors Aweigh), but I think it's kind of cute. He may be more convincing as a heel, but I don't have to like it.

Jane Russell isn't too bad either. She isn't very glamorous looking, with a heavy jaw and somewhat prominent eyes. Her other prominent assets, the double dynamite of the title, she keeps well covered. Her voice has a kind of Midwest whine - it's easy to see her as a smalltown girl in the big city. Fortunately, she only sings half a song.

Sinatra sings the other half, and has a duet with Groucho. Both are completely forgettable - even Sammy Kahn has off days.

The other movie I picked up at the local library, just because it was an old movie that I hadn't seen: Preston Sturges' Christmas in July (1940). In this one, Dick Powell plays the poor but honest clerk who won't marry until he wins a $25,000 coffee slogan contest and can afford it. His co-workers trick him into thinking that he has won, and merriment ensues. The main idea here is that Powell just needs the affirmation that winning gives him. As a contest winner, he gets open credit, a better job, a raise, anything. But sooner or later, he has to find out.

Because this is Preston Sturges, we get a lot of great character actors, doing capitalists and executives or Irish or Jewish tenement dwellers. We also get some speeches about giving the common man a chance - some gooey, some pretty wise. The humor is refreshingly off-kilter too. For example, Powell's prize-winning slogan is "If you can't sleep at night/It's not the coffee/It's the bunk". People just don't know how to take this.

The humor in Double Dynamite is a bit more predictable, even Groucho's. But both movies have the girlfriends give the same speech about two living as cheaply as one, and how much did our parents earn when they got married.

Two random movies about a couple who can't get married until they have enough money and what happens when they get a lot. What are the odds?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Verrrrry Interrresting TV

In our busy day to day lives, we don't always get a chance to watch a whole feature film. That's when we turn to classic TV on DVD, like The Best of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Ms. Bev and I both watched these as kids, and hadn't seen them since. Would they match our memories?

Sure, they are hilarious. The comedy is as fresh as it was when it first aired. Since a lot of the material predates vaudeville, that means something. One episode pays a brief tribute to Ernie Kovaks, then just deceased. Another featured "Pigmeat" Markham, the original Here Come De Judge man. Except I expect the routine goes back to 1868.

And mixed in with these classic blackouts, slapstick, double dutch, double talk and double entendres, they include startlingly new and original flashes. The comments on the war, race relations and sex are sadly up to date.

Sure, there are embarrassingly bad acts and flopped jokes (but I like Tiny Tim!), but the problem isn't age. "You bet your bippy" doesn't sound radical today, but it sounded pretty stupid then, too.

In conclusion, we got out Disk 2.

Baaaad Assss!

I mainly wanted to see Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song because I wanted to see Mario Van Peebles' Baadasssss!, about how his father made Sweetback. OK, so that goes on my queue.

What can I say about the first blaxploitation film? Melvin Van Peebles plays Sweet Sweetback, a laconic sex performer whose got a sex machine ... wait, start again. Sex god Sweetback takes on the Man when the cops start to beat up a young black radical. He's on the run with only his legs and his superpower to see him safe. His superpower, like his legs, is in his pants. It gets him in with the white chick motorcycle gangleader, Prez, for ex.

The film is shot in a totally verite style - it looked a lot like a home movie. Tons of LA locations, random people on the street. The camera goes in and out of focus, and scenes are solarized or shown in negative for artistic/psychedelic effect. But in general, Van Peebles (who wrote, directed, produced, edited, and everything else, I guess) makes Coleman Francis look like Orson Wells. The motorcycle gang scenes are particularly reminiscent of the Russ Hagen trilogy.

But the film is so full of soul, I wouldn't have it any other way.

In conclusion: For everyone who is tired of the Man.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Abbott and Costello Meet the Boxed Set, Vol. 4 Disc 1

One beef I have with Netflix is the way that they handle boxed sets. Specifically, they rent the disks to you one at a time, but they only describe them to you as a whole. They won't tell you what is on each disk. You can try to go to other websites to figure out what is on each disk, but sometimes Netflix doesn't have the standard set.

Case in point: The Best of Abbott and Costello: Vol. 4: Disc 1, 1953. Try to guess what is on this disk. The Best of collection has any number of volumes, each with any number of disks, each with one or more sides. I took a stab at choosing this one. It had Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops, and claimed to have Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy on the flipside - but it was a one sided disk.

The problem is pretty much moot, because, hey, it's Abbott and Costello. What difference does it make? Jekyll and Hyde is set in London, with Bud and Lou as American police training with the London force. There's a cute suffragette subplot, and Karloff plays Jekyll/Hyde. In Keystone Kops, we get a Mack Sennett cameo, some real Keystone Kops and old-timer Roscoe Ates (Soapy Jones).

I guess these aren't really the best of Abbott and Costello - more like the rest of Abbott and Costello, but we cracked up anyway. I've read that Jerry Garcia loved Abbott and Costello, because Lou was always seeing things that nobody else believed in. We all know how that feels (don't we?).

In conclusion, no complaints.


Mike and the Bots have their work cut out for them in MST3K: The Giant Spider Invasion (ep 810). It seems that a meteorite has brought an invasion of spiders (mostly random tarantulas) to Northern Wisconsin. It's up to dopey sheriff Alan Hale Jr. (Skipper!) and an unattractive mating pair of middle-aged scientists to save the world. There's also a tent revival, a sleazy lowlife farmer in a union suit and truss, some half-eaten cows, and finally, some giant spiders. Apparently, real car-sized spider models were used, instead of blue-screened tiny ones.

The MST3k crew do there best, and get some good lines in, but this movie is really bad. Probably worse than Earth vs. the Spider. Watch it at your own risk.

On the other hand, if you like spiders, there are a few real ones here, including cute Mexican redknee. So there's that...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jungle Love

The Asphalt Jungle (1950) is a big budget A movie that looks like a B-movie noir. It is directed by John Huston with style and panache as a classic heist film. We see the team assembled, the heist pulled off, and then ... everything going wrong.

The whole cast is great, but Sterling Hayden really stands out as Dix Handley (a manly name). He is violent, not very smart, and touchy. Jean Hagen has a great turn as his girlfriend, twitchy as a dope fiend, but steadfastly in love.

Marilyn Monroe has a small role as the crooked lawyer Louis Calhern's chippy.

Shoot 'Em Up

No need for a clever blog title, Shoot 'Em Up says it all. There is, indeed, plenty of shooting in this movie. But the message is: "Guns are bad".

Clive Owen (who I somehow associate with Daniel Craig - hard-ass Brit?) is sitting at a bus stop, eating a carrot. A very pregnant woman runs by, pursued by a thug. Does he get involved? Indeed he does, delivering the baby in the midst of a running gun battle. He loses the mom, but escapes with the child, who we can call "MacGuffin". Yes, this is another "hardcase saddled with kid" movie, like Ultraviolet or Cassavetes' Gloria.

He enlists the help of "lactating whore" Monica Belluci to care for baby Mac and spends the rest of the movie tracking down or running from villain Paul Giametti. His line "Fuck me sideways" acknowledges that he is known for a very different type of character. He is a great villain and basically makes the movie.

So - action movie, lots of shooting, negligible plot - what about the tone? I don't want to give too much away, but here's a hint: Owen shoves his carrot into a bad guy's mouth, then slams it through his brain! That's right, kills him with a carrot. That wascally wabbit.

He also dives horizontally through the air, firing a pistol, while holding onto the newborn baby.

I think that pretty much sums it up. But actually, I could have stopped at the title.