Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hot Stuff

We were on a Bloody Mary kick for a while - me mixing them and Mrs. Spenser drinking them (I can't stand tomato juice). I wanted to try some with Peppar vodka, but it appears that they aren't making it anymore. So I made some of my own.

Here's the recipe. Throw several spoonsful of cracked black pepper into an 8 oz. jar. Add a dried arbol chili, just for fun. Fill with vodka. Let steep for about a week. It will turn the color of weak tea. Strain and pop in the freezer.

My version came out spicy - as in "lips and tongue are numb after 1 or 2 sips". Before it was ready, Mrs. Spenser got tired of Bloody Marys, so now we have a half pint of pyrotechnic black pepper vodka to use somehow.

Maybe I got this idea because I was hungry, or maybe because I've been reading about bacon-infused bourbon. This cocktail is just a peppery Manhattan, and contains no meat, but I call it:

Pastrami on Rye

1 shot Rye whiskey
1/2 oz. red vermouth
1/2 oz. black pepper vodka

Shake over ice and serve up in a martini glass. Garnish with a pickle.

I'm joking about the pickle.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Three of a Kind

Here Comes Cookie/Love in Bloom/Six of a Kind is quite a triple bill. Three old comedies featuring George Burns and Gracie Allen on one DVD. I'll review in order of goodness:

Six of a Kind: Mild-mannered bank clerk Charlie Ruggles and his overbearing wife Mary Boland are going to drive to California for on a long-awaited vacation. Unbeknownst to Charlie, an embezzler sneaked $50,000 into his luggage. Also, his wife has advertised for another couple to come along to share expenses - and it turns out to be George Burns and Gracie Allen, and her great Dane.

Things are crazy enough, but when they reach Nuggetsville NV, they stay in a hotel run by Alison Skipworth and Sherrif W.C. Fields.

This is directed by Leo McCarey, who later directed Ruggles and Boland in Ruggles of Red Gap. I love Charlie Ruggles, from Charlie's Aunt on. He has great chemistry with the imposing Mary Boland.

Alison Skipworth worked with W.C. Fields twice before, in Tillie and Gus and Alice in Wonderland - big pictures, not a B movie like this one. She plays a Marie Dressler type, and very well. Fields does his pool table routine, made famous on stage (and including in some other films I'm not bothering to look up).

All these and Gracie Allen too. This is still a B movie, but well worth watching if you like this kind of thing.

Here Comes Cookie: Gracie Allen and Betty Furness are daughters of a millionaire. To keep a gigolo from marrying Furness, Papa gives all his money to daughter Gracie. When she finds out that actors are starving in the Depression, she fills the Park Avenue mansion with out-of-work vaudeville actors.

Gracie's form of insanity is strong here - nothing she says makes sense, except in her world, where it all makes sense. The supporting cast is good as well, particularly Andrew Tombes, as Botts the butler.

My major problem is - not enough vaudeville. We see a trained seal (in a bathtub), a guy on a unicycle and some dancing trumpeters. But we only get one full act: a guy who plays everything with drumsticks: drums, chairs, the set. I would have liked to see more juggling, acrobats, knife throwers and maybe a Zouave act. So? I like vaudeville.

Love in Bloom: This one is a little different. Dixie Lee (Mrs. Bing Crosby?) has run away from her abusive father's carnival to go starve in the Big City. She meets tenor Joe Morrison and they fall in love. Meanwhile, her sister, Gracie Allen, who does a hootchy-cootchy dance in the carnival and George Burns, who plays the Kally-Ope, are sent to look for her.

Really, this is 2 movies jammed together: a Depression love story about two starving kids, one from a good family, the other one carny. This movie is a melodrama with a few songs and no comedy at all. The other movie is a Burns and Allen act, with Gracie talking crazy and George getting exasperated.

They intersect when Papa shows up to get his daughter back to dance in the carnival. This guy is a real piece of work - he isn't a charming scoundrel, he's a true shitheel. It appears that he was prostituting Lee since she was 14, as well as teaching her to steal and cheat at cards. Usually, when a character has a disreputable history in burlesque or the carnival, it seems kind of quaint. In this movie, you can see how it would make a girl unfit for clean society.

The ending, while technically a happy one, is so egregious that it may put you off movies forever. I'm going to recommend this DVD, and recommend that you skip Love in Bloom.

In conclusion, just to confuse things, Gracie sings Lookie Lookie Lookie, Here Comes Cookie in Love in Bloom.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Feeling Seven Up

Mr. Schprock, the Man with One Vowel, recommended The Seven-Ups to us in a discussion of car chases. He advanced the theory that the car chase in The Seven-Ups beats the one in Bullit. He's wrong, but I enjoyed finding that out.

Roy Scheider plays a member of the NYPD's elite Seven-Ups. Anyone they catch goes away for seven years and up. A gang posing as police is kidnapping gangsters for ransom, and the Seven-Ups have to catch them, or they may take the blame.

Before I get to the car chase, a few points:
  • Filmed in winter in NY in 1973, this movie looks beautiful. Bare trees, grey row houses, Italian neighborhoods - none of it is pretty but all beautiful. Or am I just nostalgic?
  • To me, this movie looks very French. Maybe because we just saw Le Professionel, and Schneider's nose reminds me of Belmondo. But it was filmed in a slightly paranoid, surveillance, verite style that struck me as continental.
  • The score, by Don Ellis, is mostly stabbing atonal strings. He may have listened to the Psycho soundtrack a little too much.
As for the car chase, it is very good, with marks for wrong-way driving, suspension bottoming, schoolchildren menacing and use of a Greyhound bus as a shield. However, I have to deduct points for the bad guy riding shotgun, throwing his hands up in front of his face and going "Aaah!" The first time looked phony, the second time looked funny.

A great car chase, just not quite as good as Bullit. I'd have to watch French Connection again to compare it against that one.

But a great movie, tense, involving, and full of New York color (mostly grey, but still). Thanks, Schprockie!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Dawn

Does everybody remember the Aviation cocktail? Gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and creme de violette? Popular in the 1930s and later 2000s? Anyway, it's a delicious drink - it owes it's flavor mainly to the maraschino and it's color to the violet liqueur.

I recently made some blueberry infusion (1/8 cup of dried blueberries soaked in 8 oz. vodka for ~1 week), which I didn't actually like much. The blueberry flavor isn't that pronounced, and there is a woody overtone, like I'd left some of the twigs attached. Nice color though.

So I tried substituting my infusion for the creme de violette in an Aviation. You see the result at left. The blueberry infusion is a very dark purple or crimson - unfortunately not blue. It dilutes to the red or pink of a dawn sky. Thus:

Dawn of Aviation
1 shot gin
1 oz maraschino
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz blueberry infusion

Look for the Onion Label

You might expect The Onion Movie to be just an extension of the website: The Onion. Lots of Area Man and Local Sports Team news in more or less disconnected sketches. Good guess. If you guessed movie with a plot, you get only partial credit.

The movie resembles Kentucky Fried Movie, and other sketch type comedies. It kind of uses a news show as a framework - there is subplot about an anchor disgruntled with the network pandering to its entertainment corp. parent. But this is more of an excuse to hang a silly kung fu movie and some poptart music videos on the framework.

It's pretty funny, although I don't think Area Man shows up at all.

And David Zucker (Airplane, etc) is included as executive producer, probably because he owns the genre.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Have a Ball

I guess we rented Rollerball (1975) because we had watched the remake Death Race, which got me wanting to see the original and also that other 1970s science-fiction bloodsport movie. Made sense at the time, especially because the original Death Race 2000 (1975 also) isn't on Netflix yet.

The movie stars James Caan as rollerball star Jonathan E. Rollerball is kind of like roller derby on a banked track, with cannonballs and motorcycles. It is a full-contact sport, played in studded leather. Minor penalties are called for extreme violence.

This game is played in a future world dominated by executives, who control everything. Athletes like Jonathan and his buddy Moonpie (John Beck in the Burt Reynolds role) have certain privileges, like medical treatment, but no real autonomy. For example, an executive took Jonathan's wife. Oh sure, they gave him plenty of other women, so he can't complain, but still.

It's funny how all of the women in this movie look the same - Kind of Fade Unaway. This may have been to emphasize that they were considered interchangeable, or it might have just been the 70s.

As well as women and privileges, the athletes and the executives take a lot of pills, which lets the filmmakers give the non-action scenes a woozy, druggy feeling, as well as explain the passivity of the players.

But really, the movie comes down to the action scenes. Rollerball, the sport, doesn't disappoint. The movie shows 3 games, each more desperate than the last. There's a legend that the extras who played the audience at these games were so excited that they tried to form real-life rollerball leagues. I can easily understand why.

On the other hand, nobody cares about the 2002 remake of Rollerball. Including me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Professional Spies

We watched Le Professionnel after seeing French spy spoof OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. The parody got us in the mood for the real thing.

The real thing being Jean-Paul Belmondo playing secret agent Josselin Beaumont, sent to Africa to assassinate a dictator. Unfortunately for him, the dictator makes terms with France, and the agency sell him out, leading to his arrest and trial. Unfortunately for the agency, he escapes Africa, and turns up in Paris, looking for revenge.

The cat-and-mouse game consists of Joss trying to kill the dictator, who is visiting France, before his old team at the agency can catch him. The action includes fist fights, gun fights, a fairly awesome carchase and quite a bit of lovemaking - Joss has to drop in on his wife, his lover, and the African dictator's French callgirl.

All in all, a fine action film, but not outstanding. What makes it worth watching are:
  • Belmondo being totally cool. That's what he does. He also punches people out with wild abandon and looks great with his shirt off.
  • The rest of the cast. The acting seemed to be a cut above the usual.
The other characters were so good, I got to re-casting them. Joss's ex-boss: decent but weak, he almost resigned when they sold out Joss. I see him played by Michael Caine. The thin, steely-eyed agent who is just a little too eager to take Joss down: a role for Roy Schieder (too late). And so on.

But nobody could replace Belmondo - I guess they'd have to use Mark Wahlberg, and that wouldn't be the same at all.

In conclusion, the soundtrack is by Ennio Morricone. Unfortunately, it is rather slight and slow for an action picture.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rosalind's Sister Eileen

Here we go again: Does My Sister Eileen sound familiar? That's because we saw the 1955 version with Betty Garrett last summer. This is the 1942 version with Rosalind Russell as Ruth, and Janet Blair as her sister Eileen.

It's the same story, two sisters move from Columbus Ohio to a basement flat in Greenwich Village. Eileen, the pretty airhead sister, wants to be a actress. Ruth, the older, wiser sister wants to be a writer, who finally finds her niche writing about the exploits of her sister and the men she attracts.

It starts out like one of those misfortune comedies, where everything goes wrong, but it quickly gets a lot sillier than that. Mrs. Spenser was literally ROTFL - of course, we watch TV on a floor cushion, so we were already on the floor. But she was amazed at the surreal zaniness, and called it a live-action Loony Tunes. I was a little more temperate, since I remembered the previous version and I also knew how this one came out (advance spoiler warning).

But my question is, how does the Rosalind Russell version compare to the later Betty Garrett version? Let's see:
  • Janet Leigh (1955) made a better Eileen. She had a nice Monroe-type voice, breathy and sweet. Janet Blair(1942) had the figure, but wasn't so obviously a bubble-brain.
  • Ruth's editor is played by Brian Aherne in the 1942 version. He's a solid businessman, a little beefy, mature, with a mustache - kind of a Brian Donlevy type. This role was played by Jack Lemmon in the 1955 version, making the character less solid, more neurotic, more modern. It doesn't work for me.
  • Muscle-bound neighbor Wreck Loomis is played by Dick York in the 1955 version, and not in 1942. Advantage: 1942.
  • Eileen's primary suitors in 1955 are played by Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall (it's technically a musical). They made no impression on me at all - I don't remember any songs or dancing. So that doesn't tip the balance much one way or the other.
So it should come down to Rosalind Russell v. Betty Garrett. Although Russell is a major star, she's a little too glamorous and assertive to pass for the mousy, wry Ruth. Garrett has this role nailed. So it might seem that the Betty Garrett version has the edge.

But - for general zaniness and madcappery, this 1942 Rosalind Russell version actually wins out. Plus - SPOILER - it has a secret weapon: A last minute appearance by the Three Stooges: Moe, Larry and Curly.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Instant Gratification

One of my New Year's resolutions was to watch more Netflix Watch Instantly movies (isn't there a better name for this?). Coincidentally, while checking out podcasts for my new iPod, I discovered Film Sack - a movie podcast devoted solely to Netflix Watch Instantly (which they call "streaming").

It features 4 or five guys talking about a different film every week. They take a pretty snarky tone, concentrating on the bottom, or at least lower-third of the barrel films. This is fine with me - these so-bad-they-are-good films are usually more fun to hear about than good films. They are also more fun to hear about than watch - the first podcast convinced me to take Krull off of my queue.

So I guess this isn't going to help with my resolution...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 2010!

It is the first day of the second decade of the third millenium (depending on how you count). Welcome to the Future!

I guess it isn't too soon to do my "Best of 2010" lists:
  • Best Movie: 10 seconds of the floor and my fingers that I took with my new Xmas iPod Nano, trying to film Mrs. Spenser wrapping presents for late-arriving relatives. Stylistically influenced by Cloverfield, which we scared ourselves watching last night
  • Best Cocktail: Coffee with a splash of B&B and the last of the cream, first thing New Year's morning.
  • Best News: It's supposed to snow all weekend.
Now, on to breakfast and the new year, already in progress.