Sunday, June 30, 2013

Comic Strip

I guess Netflix recommended Doll Face (1945) because I had watched Brewster's Millions: Dennis O'Keefe is male lead in both. I would have gotten to it sooner or later - It was based on a play written by Gypsy Rose Lee! Just like Lady of Burlesque, except with Vivian Blaine instead of Barbara Stanwyck.

So, Blaine is a top dancer in the burly-Q but she wants to go legit. When she is turned down by the hottest producer in town, her manager and boyfriend O'Keefe gets the idea that she should write a literary biography - and get a snooty author to ghost write it. The snooty author, Stephen Dune, isn't interested until he gets a look at Doll Face.

Bet you can figure it out from there - Blaine enjoys having someone smart, rich and smooth pay attention to her. O'Keefe gets jealous, they fight and split up. The sweet thing is that they are really for each other the whole time. This isn't Born Yesterday where the smooth guy gets the girl.

A less sweet thing is the misogyny and symbolic violence against women. Blaine always forgets their little good-luck routine before she goes on stage - a kick in the butt from O'Keefe - and he always reminds her. It's a gentle kick, but she never looks like she enjoys the gag. O'Keefe also recommends that his songwriter should beat the girl he is interested in. Well, I guess burly-Q isn't as feminist as I always figured.

By the way, that songwriter is played by Perry Como. I've heard about his laid-back performance style, but  he literally curls on a bench and falls asleep in the middle of his song.

The other musical star in the movie is Carmen Miranda. She has one weak song but several good lines. Maybe the best thing in the movie.

Or possibly the best part is that Gypsy Rose Lee really did have a ghost writer for this play (probably), so it kind of swallows it's own tail.

In conclusion: No stripping at all.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hold That Trayne

Welcome back to Cheepnis Theater - Tonight a double-bill directed by One-Shot Beaudine. First, The Living Ghost (1942) "starring" James Dunn as Nick Trayne, eccentric detective. Wise-cracking Trayne seems kind of familiar - could he be "inspired" by Mike Shayne, private detective? Fits the bill for me. Dunn is no Lloyd Nolan - more of a B-level juvenile lead - but he handles the patter pretty well.

The plot is the usual nonsense, with corpses falling out of every closet, a creepy butler, and a pretty girl, Joan Woodbury, for Trayne to fall for. Actually, a little more nonsensical than usual, since it involves a banker turned into a zombie. The jokes are fun and breezy, and it romps right along for 61 minutes.

You know, we kid William Beaudine. Sure, he got slotted into the role of cheapie B-movie director, but he had a deft touch when given anything at all to work with. This was much better than it had to be.

In Fashion Model (1945), he had a bit less to work with. The premise is promising enough: A fashion model and her stockboy boyfriend are suspected of murdering another model. They go on the lam in an variety of outrageous disguises - particularly the southern planter gentleman and his hoop-skirted belle. But the slapstick is a bit desperate, and I didn't think it really went over, any better than the disguises, which didn't fool the doorman for a second. Well, at least it had Tim Ryan (Granny Irene Ryan's husband) as the flummoxed police chief.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Legend of the Tsunami Warrior (2008) has got a little something for everyone - Thai martial arts for the fight fans, and pirates for everyone else.

The story takes place in a long-ago Thai kingdom by the sea. There's are sea gypsies, sea pirates, and a whole underwater kung fu science taught by manta rays, one wise and good, and the other evil and mad! The queen and princesses live behind an enormous CGI wall at the beach. This is the spot of a great CGI batle. You know, I like these CGI sea-battles, like you see in Red Cliff, or Pirates of the Caribbean. They were my favorite part of Troy. But especially, I love these Asian fantasies in general, the more far-out, the better - Like Zu Warriors.

Case in point: I just watched The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011), (hat-tip to Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee) and it really hit the spot.

It stars Jet Li, but it doesn't really star Jet Li. He plays the demon-hunting monk Fahai. With his bumbling sidekick Neng Ren, he travels the land, imprisoning demons in his temple (= fun CGI!). He meets up with Xu Xian, an herbalist, who is about to drown when the White Snake demon saves his life with a kiss. (Note the common underwater theme between this and Tsunami Warrior. Not that it means anything, just makes a better double bill.)

It seems that the story of White Snake, her human lover, her sister Green Snake and the monk who won't let the demons be is a Chinese classic. I've seen one other version, Green Snake, with Maggie Cheung as Green Snake. I think there's a ballet on the theme playing in San Francisco now.

In this version, the beautiful, devoted White Snake is Eva Huang, and her slightly more evil sister Green Snake is Charlene Choi. Both are lovely, either as human women or women with long CGI snake bodies. But I think sister  Green gets to have a little more fun with the role.

I should mention the little cartoon pets the sisters have, including a very nice little mouse.

But my favorite part was how Buddhist the movie is. Jet Li does battle against demons with deep stillness, meditation and truth. Demons, after all, are creatures of illusion and error, and can be dispelled by insight. Oh, sure, he kicks butt when he has to, but it is never as effective as stillness. As a Buddhist, I don't mind Christian imagery, but it doesn't thrill me the way seeing Jet Li (looking fabulous) polishing the mirror to dispel ignorance.

The theme of love conquering all is very sweet as well. If I may add a SPOILER, Neng Ren gets bitten by a demon, and turns into one himself. But he still can love. And White Snake is very true to her poor human lover, to the point where she is willing to die for him - but not to give him up.

On a sidenote: Rod Heath at Ferdy on Film writes about Chinese Ghost Story I and II. They look right up my alley.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hold That Ghost!

So, now that I've seen the last M:I movie, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, I've got a bunch of questions. Like:

  • What's your favorite M:I? I guess my favorite is either the first or this one. The first one set up the series, plus had some amazing set pieces. Ghost Protocol follows the formula perfectly, including a Burj Khalifa BASE jump (I'm not sure about the traditional dangle-Tom-Cruise scene), without introducing any false notes.
  • Who's your favorite M:I director? Again, De Palma or Brad Bird. De Palma brought a lot of style to the franchise, and maybe the whole idea of using the series as a way to showcase the styles of different directors. John Woo and J.J. Abrams all made their marks, but I feel like they both slipped up here and there - Woo with occasional low-budget feel (due to his roots?) and Abrams with excessive emotional manipulation. Bird hit the sweet spot.
  • Do you even like M:I? I have grown to like it. I resisted for a long time because:
    1. Tom Cruise is a no- or low-talent pretty boy with a weird personal life. BUT: I don't care about his personal life when I'm watching his movies. His lack of talent isn't an issue in these action movies, and it may be just in my imagination. Maybe he was just cast in too many lousy movies, like Hot Gun, or whatever that fighter pilot movie was called.
      In Ghost Protocol, I finally came to terms with his prettiness. In one scene he looks at Simon Pegg, and the audience, with such an air of self-confidence that I got it - he is just that good-looking, and just that good. It made the role of Ethan Hunt really come together.
    2. It wasn't true to the original premise. I didn't like the way they sort of did away with the whole IMF premise in the first movie. But they've come back, plus they have developed some of their own continuity. So I'm cool with that.
  • Are there going to be any more M:I movies? I kind of hope not, but I suppose there will be. I just hope they keep using Simon Pegg.
So, anything else? Yes - Pegg, who was introduced in M:I III gets a much bigger role here, and it's great. I also liked Jeremy Renner, although he did have to munch through a big ration of scenery towards the end. He's pretty much made for it. 

In conclusion, fun. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Phantom Movie

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) has "Star Wars" in the title, but that doesn't make sense. The Star Wars trilogy petered out in 1983. So this movie is clearly non-canonical.

Nonetheless, as a non-Star Wars space-opera adventure film, this was pretty fun. It had a great cast, mostly delivering the worst perfomances of their lives. Only 2 characters were, in my opinion, completely insufferable, Jar-Jar Binks and little Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker.

Lots of chases, fight, and battles. Beautiful art direction - I love the future Baroque look, with all the marble columns and doo-dads. Lots of planets, lots of villains. Lots of set-up for the next two movies, so I guess I'll be watching them.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Millions to One

If you feel like you've heard of Brewster's Millions, you'e probably thinking of Richard Pryor's 1985 version. But there are 5 or 6 versions of this story, and I'm talking about the 1945 version, starring Dennis O'Keefe, directed by Alan Dwan (Escape to Burma).

The story is always the same: a poor schmo, Brewster, inherits a fortune with a stipulation: He has to spend an enormous amount, say $1 million, in a short time and wind up with nothing. If he succeeds, he inherits even more money, in this case, $8 million. The explanation for this odd codicil is that it would give him a distaste for spending money, but whatever. It's frankly a bald comic setup.

O'Keefe gets a good deal of comedy out of it. He is not allowed to tell anyone why he is doing this or to get married, so his girlfriend, Helen Walker, is pretty confused by the way he acts. He gets mixed up with party girls (Gail Patrick), crooked bankers (Thurston Hall) and show biz people (June Havok and Mischa Auer, one of our faves), who he figures will burn through his fortune pretty fast.

His old friends, of course, try to stop him from losing all his money. They try to convince him not to bet on slow racehorses (who, of course, win him big money) and so forth. His crooked pals react to his spendthrift ways by reforming and repaying him. And so on.

The "so on" is a bit of a problem, though. I don't think they ever quite settle on a theme, beyond the basic gag. Is the idea that, when you win by losing money, you can't manage to lose money? Is the idea that exposing crooks to generosity reforms them, or is it that when you want them to rob you, they just won't?

Mostly things move too fast to bother with themes or consistency. But I think it makes the difference between a fun movie and a great one. This is definitely fun.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Half Fast

Fast and Loose (1954) is, I suppose, a typical English comedy of a certain type - I'm not sure what type.

It stars Brian Reece as a loving but slightly dotty husband, who is supposed to be travelling up to a country house party with his wife, but he misses the train. He meets an old friend, Kay Kendall (Genevieve), who is also going to the same party. So they decide to travel together, which is perfectly innocent, but gets progressively more dicey as they get lost, stuck, wet, and have to pretend to be married to get the only room at an inn.

The humor (or humour) is in Kendall's brazen teasing and Reece's flummoxed naiveté. There are are number of regional types to help out, in particular a motorcycling vicar, but this isn't really a comedy of manners. It isn't a sex comedy, because there really isn't any - far too prim. It is far too gentle to be a screwball, even though the situations are similar.

In mysteries, there is a genre called "cozies" - where the murder takes place in a picturesque cottage, and it is investigated by a spinster or vicar, with much taking of tea. I'm going to designate this as a cozy comedy, unless anyone can give me a better suggestion.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Screw Ball

The Crystal Ball (1943) stars Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard, so how could I resist? Goddard is a Texas girl, down on her luck in New York. A fortune teller takes her in and helps her get work at the shooting gallery next door. There, she runs into Ray Milland, being squired around by a rich lady. And so it becomes her goal to break up their romance and get Milland for herself.

The set up is pretty much can't miss, as are the stars, plus a supporting cast including some of our favorites, like William Bendix and Sig Arno. The problem is the haphazard script. It's not just that it has pacing problems and plot holes all over. The characters just don't seem that lovable. So instead of a screwball comedy, you just get a mess.

Still, I've watched worse, and happily. And just getting Paulette Goddard on the scene gets points from me.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

W.C. Fields Forever

You're Telling Me (1934) is my new favorite W.C. Fields movie - it isn't so much better than the others I've seen, but it's one I hadn't seen, so it was fresh.

Fields is a drunk, awkward inventor (what else?) whose wife is ashamed of him and whose daughter is in love with a rich man's son (Buster Crabbe!). He loses his greatest invention, bullet proof tires, just when he's about to make his fortune. On his way home on the train he decides to drink iodine and die. At this low point in his life, he meets a real-life princess and thinks he talks her out of killing herself.

So of course, she shows up at his house and exerts her social influence. He thinks she's just a con artist, and takes it all in stride. But what a fairy princess. Think of it, if you are an old drunk failure ("if", hah!) and a beautiful rich woman takes you under her wing. It's a sweet thought - maybe what I liked most, the touch of a feminine sweetness to counteract all of Fields' misfortune.

It all ends up with the golf routine that he's done in so many other movies. So maybe not all that fresh, but wonderful for all of that.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

By Popular Quest

I watched The Quest because of Film Sack podcast. I'm not trying to shift the blame or anything. If anything, I have to admit that I was warned.

Basically, Jean Claude van Damme plays a white-face mime and stilt walker in 1920s Paris. Wait, what? Don't worry, it is all made clear. No, wait again, it isn't. Anyway, his old pal Roger Moore (yes, that one) takes him to go to Thailand, where he is sold into slavery in a Muay Thai village (possibly a village called Muay Thai, the dubbing wasn't that clear). From there, he decides to enter the worldwide martial arts Tenka Ichi Budo Kai (wait, that's Dragonball...) and win the golden dragon so that he can save the orphanage (no, that's Blues Brothers. Wait, I checked the podcast, it's this movie too).

This is where it really gets good. We get a variety of opponents in their national styles: bare knuckle American, flamenco fighting Spaniards, sumo style Japanese, capoeira dancing Brazilians, and a kung fu Chinese. Did I miss the high-kicking Frenchman, or did they? I forget.

Really, I forget a lot of this movie. Aside from the WTF-ness and the forgetableness, this is a pretty well-made silly action movie. Since JCvD wrote and directed as well as starred, kudos to him.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Evil Dead Cabin

Ms. Spenser popped over from Florida for a weekend in Tahoe, like any gad-about socialite. While she was home, we watched one of the girly movies she likes:  The Cabin in the Woods (2011). I was pretty hesitant - what if I got scared? Would it give me nightmares? But she really wanted to see it (again - she has seen it in FL), so I gave it a shot.

Basically, it is the story of 5 teens who go to a spooky cabin in the woods out beyond civilization and cellphone reception. If they get into trouble, no one will ever know - except the shadowy, sarcastic government bureaucrats who are spying on their every move.

Not only is this a tribute to scary cabin movies, it is also a parody, and it is also damn scary. I don't watch a lot of horror, but this reminds me a lot of The Evil Dead. About the same amount (and type) of humor, of self-awareness and, of course, scariness.

And... about here I'm going to stop writing because I don't want to be too spoilery, even though everyone who is going to watch this probably already has. Also, the "secret" isn't really that important to the film (I'm not even sure it's a very good secret). But still, there's not much more I can say without giving stuff away, so I'll just fade out here.

I'm not the best audience for this, I suppose, since I haven't watched enough horror to get all the meta stuff. But I thought it was great.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Raw Hyde

Hyde Park Corner (1935) is a funny sort of movie, a British time-travel romance mystery comedy. Once you realize that it is built around it's two stars, it makes a little more sense.

One star is Gordon Harker, who plays two comic policemen. The first is a "peeler", one of John Peel's Bow Street Runner's in Victorian London. He is staking out a gambling house by Hyde Park when the owner loses the deed to his house over a crooked deck. The other star is Binnie Hale, playing a popular singer visiting the house.

After the raid, we jump to the modern (1930s) day, where Binnie is a shoplifter and Harker is the copper who nabs her. Somehow (there's a lot of "somehow" in this movie), they wind up back at the same London house in Hyde Park. There's another crooked card game, etc, etc.

Once you stop paying attention to what's going on and just accept that it's a framework to allow Harker to be a cop and Binnie Hale to be a cockney, it all works out fine. Harker is pretty standard as a "What's all this then?" comic copper, but I enjoyed him. Hale is interesting as a comedian, not as pretty as you might expect, a little older and coarser. She makes a fun shoplifter.

I can't believe it, but I've queued up another film they made together, Phantom Light. I'll probably never get around to watching it, though.

Lavender Skies

In another in a series of twee drinks based on the Aviation  First, this recipe calls for Tincture of Lavender:

  • Steep lavender blossoms, mostly petals, in vodka to cover for 1-2 days and strain
The tincture is usually brown with only a hint of lavender color. I have been able to get a pale lavender using lime juice to extract, but not reliably. You know how vinegar turns red cabbage blue? I thought I could use that principle. The lavender taste should be quite pronounced.

Proceed to mix an Aviation, using half tincture, half gin.
Lavender Aviation
  • 1 oz Gin (Junipero for ex)
  • 1 oz Tincture of Lavender
  • 1/2 oz Marascino
  • 1/2 oz Creme de Violette
  • Juice 1/2 lime
Strain into a cocktail glass, or have it on the rocks, in front of the TV.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I, Ronsky!

If I told you that Iron Sky was a tribute to and parody of sci-fi war movies, featuring Nazis on the Moon, you'd form one picture in your head. Now, if I say that it is also about the re-election of President Palin, does that change the image you have at all?

It did for me. I had heard of it as a fan-backed, fan-sourced low budget parody tribute with great respect for the B-Movie that it is trashing. Adding in Palin, which inevitably leads to the first African American on the moon (Christopher Kirby) being a model chosen because he looked good on President Palin's re-election poster. They seemed to emphasize the re-, just to make the image more revolting. And insulting, since this is Europeans, for the most part, making fun of America. Well, I can't say we don't deserve it.

In some ways, it was a lot sillier than I was expecting, like when the mad scientist Tilo Prueckner Aryanizes Kirby, turning him pale and blonde. The mad scientist has a beautiful daughter, of course, Julia Dietze. That puts us on pretty familiar ground, as does her handsome but evil Nazi boyfriend Goetz Otto.

But what about the space battles? The ridiculous miniatures, the fx shots looped over and over to pad the scene, the space rays? Don't you, you'll get a some of that too.

So, in the end it was mostly made by Finns, which explains the extent to which a cell phone (brand is not mentioned) is key to the plans.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Touched by an Angel

Luc Besson's Angel-A (2005) is a strange duck. It's all in black and white, and has a plot that Frank Capra could have written, but it does't come across as old-fashioned.

It's about American in Paris, but he isn't an artist or dancer. He's a small-time criminal of Moroccan descent, played by Jamel Debbouze, who owes money to everyone, and is probably going to die over it. As he is getting ready to jump off a quaint Parisian bridge into the Seine, he meets a girl who is jumping too, and saves her life - and forgets to kill himself.

The girl is Rie Rassmussen, an unbelievably leggy blonde in a tiny minidress, who is so grateful to be saved, she promises to do anything for Debbouze. So what does a funny looking little North African want from a blonde about a foot taller than him? Money, of course, but he didn't expect her to turn tricks to get it!

Debbouze has a great face for comedy, a little Cantinflas, but always worried, always serious. He's a fast talking loser, and nothing ever works out for him. Rasmussen, his angel, tells him that it is because he is always lying. She never has that kind of problem, possibly because she is a tall, cool chick with serious martial arts skills and no qualms.

Ok, except for the hooking in the club toilets, this actually is pretty old-fashioned, especially the ending. And Paris looks beautiful, even the dumps - Thierry Arbogast at the camera. I kept expecting them to pop into color when they got to Oz, but I guess it isn't that kind of old-fashioned movie.