Monday, May 27, 2013

The Lady in Chartreuse

It's been a long while since I've posted about cocktails - well, I haven't had much variety in my diet. In fact, after margaritas with tropical liqueurs, or with tequila infused with hot chilies, tangerine peel and pineapple, I had come to the conclusion that the perfect margarita was just perfect, and there was no need to experiment any longer.

Than I had a Pisco Sour with my brother and sister-in-law. It convinced me to try making a drink I'd never tasted.

The White Lady was popularized after the First World War. The recipe is something like:

2 oz. gin
Juice of 1 small lime (1 oz)
1 oz  triple sec (technically Cointreau)
1/4 white part of a raw egg

Shake without ice to froth the egg white. Then shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass.

I believe that the White Lady represents death, although the cocktail is quite sweet and toothsome: the eggwhite froth gives it a silky mouthfeel.

It also makes a great palette to adapt in various ways. Here's one I just thought up: The Elderly Lady - use Elderflower liqueur like St. Germain instead of the triple sec.

What got me started on this was a drink I may have mentioned before, the pride of the finest airport bar anywhere, One Flew South. It's called Treuse or Dare, and  it is basically a White Lady with about an oz. of Chartreuse.

The Charteuse taste of this cocktail haunted me - but the only place I could order it was the bar in The Altanta airport international terminal. And lately, I haven't been travelling as much. So now I have learned to make it myself, but not as well as Tiffany at One Flew South.
Cocktail Artist Tiffany

File under: Schprock

Harper (1966) just seems like a movie that Mr. Schprock would like. Paul Newman plays private eye Lew Harper as a tough slob who has a lot of problems, but doesn't mind taking on yours as well. His wife has thrown him out and he just doesn't care anymore. He zooms around the cruel streets and canyon roads of LA in a Porsche and doesn't give a flip for anyone.

The story is taken from one of Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer stories, that great neo-hardboiled detective. Ross is my second favorite mystery writer in the MacDonald section of the used bookstore: John D. is my favorite, and Gregory (Fletch) is my least. However, I'll give you a tip: The twist ending to his stories is always that the mother did it, and it's all to cover up a family secret, usually incest.

The mother in this story is Lauren Bacall, paralyzed yet beautiful. She wants to find her husband, who is missing, and has requested that $500,000 be made ready for him, because he is in trouble. The characters Harper meets trying to track him down are a colorful collection of mid-60s LA types, swingers, gurus, bikini babes and junkies.

This reminded me a lot of The Long Goodbye, with Elliot Gould. The same look at the lifestyles of the LA crazies by someone who wants to be a standup guy, even if his life is falling apart. Except Gould was clearly a throwback in TLG. Newman is kind of old-fashioned but the world hasn't finished changing under him yet, and heck, he kind of likes some of this new stuff.

Also, a very funny movie - like The Long Goodbye.

In conclusion, I put off watching this because I am attached to the name Lew Archer. Changing it is like changing Victor Frankenstein's name to Henry, and Igor to Fritz. Turns out that Newman or his producers thought he had luck with movie titles where the title is the main character, and it starts with H: Hud, Hustler and later, Hombre. So, OK, I guess.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Comedy at Midnight

I picked A Tragedy at Midnight (1942) pretty much at random. It was a streaming suggestion, one of the many Poverty Row pictures that Netflix is convinced that I love. And, well, they are right, I guess.

A Republic picture, it stars John Howard as a radio star who embarrasses the police by solving their unsolved murders on the air. He wakes up one morning with a hangover and a corpse in his wife's bed.

His wife, by the way, is Margaret Lindsay, no one in particular, but a very good looker. She had a sweet and fresh but clued-in kind of look, sort of like Diana Lynn. Looking her up in IMDB, I discover that she was a lesbian, but more importantly, perpetually a lead in second-rate movies or the second lead in first-rate ones. Howard had a similar career, although as far as I can tell, he was not gay.

Anyway, this is a comedy mystery, very much in the Thin Man mold. If the similarity eludes you, note that Howard calls wife Lindsay "Mommy", just like William Powell called Myrna Loy. Of course, it is nowhere near as well-made or sophisticated. I don't suppose it's trying to be.

In supporting roles, we have Roscoe Karns as the police detective on the trail, and Tim Ryan (of Tim and Irene Ryan) as Police Commissioner. Key Luke plays the houseboy, and is as embarrassing a "rittle china boy" as you can imagine. However -- SPOILER -- his jiu-jitsu is what saves the day.

In short, it was pretty good. Also, pretty short - the streaming Netflix version is about 53 minutes. I was wondering at some of the snappy storytelling. For instance, we only find out half way through that the couple was staying in the neighbors apartment while theirs was being painted, so the bed the murdered girl was found in wasn't even theirs. I was kind of impressed by the way they just slid that in.

Until I discovered that this was the TV version, with ~15 minutes hacked out. You know, I think I like it better this way.

In conclusion, John Howard and Margaret Lindsay are no Powell and Loy, but this is a fun little mystery comedy. It made a nice counterpoint to Manhattan Melodrama.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Prelude to a Ghost

See, the only reason I watched Mission: Impossible III (2006) is to get to M:I Ghost Protocol. Maybe I wasn't in the best mood - when I started watching it the first time, my wife went on a tirade about manipulative movies that use violence and emotional anguish for entertainment. And she liked Ninja Assassin.

But she's right. The movie starts with the bad guys holding Tom Cruise and threatening to shoot a woman unless he handed over the McGuffin. Just as they shoot her, we flashback to their engagement party: She is his fiancee! Yep, they introduce her just to put her in jeopardy. So, I was not pre-disposed to love this movie.

That said, this is a pretty neat action movie. The schemes don't always make much sense - like the elaborate method Cruise uses to break into the Vatican, to meet ... his team who pretty much waltzed in through the sewers or something. But we get the old dangle-from-a-cable trick several times, whether it's needed or not, and some high-flying skyscraper action, so I can't complain.

Also, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the bad guy, Ving Rames as a hard-ass and Simon Pegg as comic relief. Maggie Q as eye-candy, in a sweet orange Lamborghini. And - semiSPOILER - Curise's fiancee, Michelle Monaghan, gets to kick some ass after being the girl-in-peril for the whole movie.

That little bit of feminism means a lot to me. Thank you, J.J. Abrams, and thanks for keeping the lens flare to a minimum. Now hand it over to Brad Bird for Ghost Protocol.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Meet Cute

As promised, Manhattan Melodrama (1934). To some, it is famous as the movie Dillinger was watching at the Biograph Theater before he was gunned down. To me, it is the first pairing of the delightful Myrna Loy with the debonair William Powell, soon to become famous in The Thin Man.

It's a story about two kids, orphaned in a boating disaster. One is a tough prankster, the other a bookworm. The prankster grows up to be a gangster, Clark Gable. The bookworm becomes D.A William Powell. Gable's mistake was asking his girl Myrna Loy to entertain friend Powell while Gable did some debt collecting. Soon, she leaves the gangster for the lawman. Is Gable mad? No, he's proud of his friend, and allows as how Loy has probably made the right choice.

So it's pretty much the standard melodrama, two kids growing up on the mean streets of Manhattan, ending up on different sides of the law, and the woman that comes between them. But in this case, she doesn't come between them. And Gable is always proud of what his friend is doing, and hopes he makes it to President some day - even if Powell has to put him away.

I came for the romance between Powell and Loy, and it was worth it. She looks more than lovely, but somehow intelligent as well as noble and true. There's some real chemistry between her and Powell. But Gable is even better, an irrepressible gambler, honorable in his crooked way. Expects to be paid when he wins and pays when he loses, without complaining. It's quite a role, and he really pulls it off.

Character actor alert: Leo Carillo plays the slum/prison pastor Father Joe. And Gable's sidekick Spud is lovable lug Nat Pendleton, who also shows up in The Thin Man.

A classy production with a B-movie heart, glad I watched it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Housekeeping Notes

1. Speaking of remakes, I think I forgot to review the 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man. I guess we liked it pretty well - more than the Sam Raimi version, although I have a sneaking admiration for his Spider-Man 3. But I guess I'm just not a big fan of Spidey. Too angsty. I did like Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker as James Dean - wearing the heavy glasses Dean used to look intellectual.

2. Our most recent movie was From Dusk Till Dawn, and I guess I'll skip the review for that one too. We liked it a lot, especially the second part, which I guess is where Rodriquez takes over from Tarantino? Anyway, I don't feel like I have much intelligent to add to the discussion.

Not that that stopped me before, but still.

3. Ms. Spenser has gone to Florida for the summer, to be a teaching assistant at FSU and work on her dissertation. As a result, I will be watching fewer of her type of movies (like From Dusk Till Dawn) and more guy flicks - black&white musical comedies, gangster movies, maybe some French New Wave. I've got William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama at the top of the queue now.

Wish me luck, I guess.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pirate Cinema

Against All Flags/Buccaneer's Girl is the second pirate double bill from the Pirates of the Golden Age  collection that I've watched. Maybe the better disc of the two.

Against All Flags stars Errol Flynn as a naval officer going underground into a pirate island on Madagascar. He is welcomed by captain Maureen "Spitfire" O'Hara, but captain Anthony Quinn is more suspicious - since he is saddled with the name Roc Brasiliano, he has reason to be bitter. On a raiding voyage, they capture an Indian princess (Alice Kelley) who gets all kissy with Flynn, which doesn't sit will with O'Hara.

O'Hara should be the best thing in this, with her flaming hair, her thigh-high boots and her arms akimbo bravura postures - but actually, she's quite stiff. Flynn isn't bad, but maybe not great, and Quinn really does seem P.O'ed to be stuck with such a weak role. This one is just fair.

Buccaneer's Girl is a bit better - party girl Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster) is a stow-away on a ship taken by pirate Philip Friend. Put ashore in New Orleans, she joins Elsa Lanchester's "girls' school" and hires out to entertain the quality at their parties. There she discovers that her pirate is also the head pirate hunter of New Orleans, working for Robert Douglas, the richest man in town - whose ships are always the ones taken.

De Carlo is much more successful in this role than O'Hara. She is just as spunky and much less restrained. Perhaps she's just more comfortable in tossed-off genre films. Maybe I just wanted to see Maureen O'Hara take her fists of her hips and slap her thigh, but she never did, darn it!

So, the other two movies in the set were Yankee Buccaneer and Double Crossbones - one a B-movie made on the sets for Against All Flags while Flynn was recovering from an on-set injury, the other a Donald O'Conner comedy. Certainly these movies have the prestige, but the others are maybe more fun. As far as the cheese factor goes, I'd call it a draw.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Total Reboot

I watched the 2012 Total Recall having almost totally forgotten the original 1990 Schwarzenegger version. I was given to understand that this was more a version of the original P.K. Dick story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". Well, not so much.

This version is set in a dystopian future, where all Earth is uninhabitable except United Federated Britain (England) and the Colony (Australia), with a tunnel straight through the Earth's core between them. Other than switching Mars for Australia, it follows the 1990 movie pretty closely.

The main difference, it seems to me, is in the art direction. I remember the older movie as pretty cartoonish - the goofy robot Johnny Cab, the bad CGI X-Ray, the mutants, heck, Schwarzenegger is a cartoon himself. Here we have a much more Bladerunner feel: concrete, rain and neon. There's also a big dose of video game, running and jumping over concrete block, and through 3-D elevator shafts. Also, hover car chases.

Colin Farrell is definitely a different presence from Schwarzenegger - I think his kind of hurt, puzzled seriousness is cute. The women, Kate Beckinsale (SPOILER - evil) and Jessica Biel (good), are great. They look suspiciously similar, but that's a neat plot point that no one has to point out.

So, all in all, we enjoyed this - in fact, I wanted to revisit a bunch of similar movies: the original, some of the minor Dick movies, like Paycheck and Adjustment Bureau, even Johnny Mnemonic. But in the end, it was pretty much a remake of the movie, not the story.

If any of you have read the story, you probably remember the twist ending punchline. I was really hoping they would use that - what a great set up for a sequel.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Unchained Melody

Another queue management issue: I had a bunch of movies with long waits at the top of the queue, and two of them came! Both were good, but too thematically similar, leading to a slight imbalance in the weeks entertainment. I'm sure you all know how annoying a slight imbalance in tone of your weekend's DVD selection can be. Or is it just me? Never mind.

First up - The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA's (2012) kung fu movie. The RZA directs, co-writes (with Eli Roth) and stars, but there's a touch of Tarantino - he gets "Presented by" credit.

In a lot of ways, this is your average modern martial arts movie. RZA plays a blacksmith in a corrupt village. A shipment of gold becomes the MacGuffin that all the various bad guys are after. There are more or less no good guys, just less evil rascals, including Russell Crowe as Jack Knife and Rick Yune (Ninja Assassin). Also, Lucy Liu as the madame of the brothel that is the center of most of the action.

The action is pretty solid, possibly due to fight choreography by Corey Yuen, one of our faves. The plot and dialog is no more (or less) ridiculous then most of these movies, and I would say RZA did a decent job of this. My only complaint is that the music was a bit on the generic side. I guess RZA was too busy with the rest of the movie to bring the sick beats.

Next up, Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's 2012 meditation on antebellum race relations. Jamie Fox is Django, a slave freed by bounty hunter Christoph Waltz because he can identify an outlaw. Soon Django takes to the bounty hunter lifestyle - killing white folks for money.  But what he really wants is to be reunited with his wife, held slave by cruel master Leonardo DiCaprio.

So, this is a Tarantino movie so:

  • The music is awesome or weird, from the original Django theme to Jim Croce's "I've Got a Name"
  • The blood flows, spruts and sprays - there's a gruesome joke about people getting shot over and over again by their own side in a crossfire.
  • Realism isn't in it
Waltz in particular plays a great role, an upstanding man of German extraction who doesn't appreciate the racial politics of America, and treats Django like any other human. But he does it with a stilted German accent, with a very mannered style. So, not a documentary.

I guess you can see the connections between this and The Man with the Iron Fists: Genre tributes, black protagonists, modern take on period subjects, blood and violence. We usually try for a little more variety - a modern action and a classic comedy is our favorite mix. So, both good movies, just maybe too much of a good thing.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Time and Again

Looper is that rare bird - a time travel movie that makes sense. You know how I was talking about the plot holes in Skyfall or Man on a Ledge? No complaints here.

It takes place in a near future dystopian Kansas where the only careers are prostitute and looper. Our "hero", Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a looper. Their job is to kill people from the future, sent back in time by the crime syndicates because it has become too difficult to hide bodies in the future. That little detail justifies the whole silly enterprise - you mean they have time travel and they use it for nothing but body disposal? Yes, and I buy it, and everything after.

I'll try to avoid spoilers, but I guess we all know that Gordon-Levitt eventually is tasked to kill his future self, and that he does not. To get a little more spoilerish, I liked the way that neither younger nor older version is admirable much at all - stupid, vicious, impulsive. It even says so in the narration.

Willis is an old hand at time travel - there is a bit of Twelve Monkeys to this, mostly in the dystopian feel. There is more than a touch of Bladerunner to the city as well, with the hover cars and neon signs. But aside from a few tributes, it has its own feel, a future that looks familiar and lived in, although sucky, with the, you know, dystopianism.

Nice note: They grow sugar cane in Kansas in the future, due to global warming, I guess. They used Louisiana for the locations. Nobody discussed this. They just put it out there, letting you fill in the blanks.

Good stuff.

A Wild Ride

I don't have too much to say about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, except that I liked it an awful lot. This is no surprise. While not a Tolkien scholar, I read the Hobbit and the trilogy several times in my youth, and have watched the Ring movies several times in my current decrepitude. This is what we like and plenty of it.

The tone is a little different from the Lord of the Rings movies. It is mainly dwarves, who are pretty silly. But there is also a more mythic tone, it seems to me, with more history, spirits and mystery.

However, I'm not really qualified to discuss this critically. Basically, I just wallowed in it.

I do have one minor complaint that I only mention because I don't think I've heard anyone else discuss it. It is the overdone trope of the wild cavern ride. You know the scene where the heroes are careening through an underground mine or cavern, maybe in a cart, like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? When I saw that, I thought, "This was put in the movie as an excuse to put a roller coaster in the eventual theme park." I mean, it was thrilling, but it seemed sort of stuck on.

I remember thinking the same thing during a similar scene in the Brendan Fraser Journey to the Center of the Earth.

We get one of these in the Fellowship of the Ring, with the Balrog scene, and it is certainly appropriate to the material. But there are like 3 of them in An Unexpected Journey. Enough is enough.

Still, liked this a lot.