Sunday, December 30, 2007

THE LAST EYE CANDY OF THE YEAR. I know I've been very remiss with the eye candy so I thought I'd squeeze one more lovely lady into the blog before the year was out. This time it's the phenomenal Aya Ueto: model, actress, singer. Yep . . . a sword-wielding samurai assassin: pretty much my idea of a dream date. Enjoy this New Year's gallery and see her in action right below this post.


A CANTERBURY TALE is a film by the legendary English writer/director team of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger (The Red Shoes) made in 1944. Until fairly recently I hadn't seen a Powell & Pressburger film (with the exception of Powell's solo effort "Peeping Tom") and this is only my second (after my English friend Weaverman graciously sent me this and "The Red Shoes" . . . and others I still have to watch. . .thank you, Weaverman). Much like "The Red Shoes" -- in fact, even more so -- the only thing I can say about "A CANTERBURY TALE" is that it is indescribable. It's excellent, yes. Very probably a masterpiece as well. But I can't for the life of me tell you what kind of film it is.
Obviously the title comes from the Geoffrey Chaucer book of six centuries ago. You might be forgiven for thinking that's what the film is about; especially since the film starts with the medieval pilgrim's of Chaucer's tale setting out on the road to Canterbury. However, things aren't what they seem as a man releases a falcon into the sky which suddenly changes into an airplane. With that beautiful, effortless cut we have bridged the river of time from the Middle Ages to World War II-era England. That plane is a fighter plane and England is at war. I deliberately used the metaphor of a river for time since that's one of the things the movie seems to be telling us: time flows ever onward and connects us with the past (and the future). Something else that rather chugs along is the train; and it is a train which deposits three strangers on a platform at night: "land girl" Alison Smith (Sheila Sim), British soldier Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price) and American soldier Bob Johnson (Sgt. John Sweet). The train platform (and many other scenes in the film) is practically in total darkness due to wartime blackouts. This filming in mostly blackness with tiny spots of illumination is fearless, in my opinion, of the directors and superb cinematographer William Hilliers. Well, as our newly-met trio begins to walk off in search of lodgings, an unseen assailant known locally as "The Glue Man" attacks Alison by pouring glue on her hair. That's right, you heard me. Many local women have been attacked at night by "The Glue Man" and Alison (accompanied by the two soldiers) vow to find out who this freakish assailant is and why he's doing (or is that "glueing") this to women. This is certainly a bizarre plot point to hang a movie on; and in fact it's not even the point of the movie -- although it takes us till the final reel before we realize that fully. "The Glue Man" is, in fact, what Hitchcock called a "macguffin" which sets the events of the movie in motion but really doesn't matter for what the film is trying to say.
"A Canterbury Tale" unfolds as leisurely as a sunny English afternoon in the country . . . and that's the whole point. The "Old" England is very much center stage as we see fields and farms, horse-drawn wagons and wheelrights and many shots of the endless English sky. While the film does in fact seem leisurely, it never flags. The film itself is travelling a road just as much as Chaucer's pilgrims did; both pilgrims and film are moving steadily but surely toward a deliberate destination. But I don't mean to suggest that this leisurely pace means the film is slow-moving; on the contrary, it's positively gripping in spots and totally engrossing for the viewer. This leads me back to why the film is engrossing and what exactly it's about. Well, even though the mystery of the "glue man" is important and fascinating, the film isn't a mystery. It's certainly not a romance; while any other movie would've had Alison (whose true love was killed in the war) and Bob (whose girlfriend back in America has stopped writing and ignored his letters) hook up, there's none of that here. The film's certainly not an action/adventure story and, while it takes place during the height of World War II, I wouldn't call it a "war film" either. Although it is. But not really. The war is indeed ever present (especially in one scene where an idyllic wide shot of an English field features actual zeppelins and anti-aircraft balloon thingies overhead -- the film WAS made during the war, after all).
Actually, while "A Canterbury Tale" is not a mystery film or a romance or a war film, it IS at the same time. I can't really describe it other than to say it is extremely well-made and perhaps it is and it isn't these things owes something to the fact that it isn't cliched or predictable. One more thing the film is and isn't is patriotic. Not in the flag-waving, chest-beating unpleasant way MOST patriotic films are but in a gentle, common-sense, clear-eyed way that simply "IS" without having to shout about it. The celebration of the English countryside shown in the film is in itself enough of a reason for the English to defend the land from all comers. "A Canterbury Tale" is also an extremely spiritual film but not in a "religious" way -- if that makes any sense. Above all, I'd have to say the film is very VERY human. None of the characters is saccharine or simplistic but economically multi-dimensional with very little effort on the part of the script. The lines spoken by the characters are so well-chosen that the viewer has a very good grasp on each character almost immediately. Talk about economical, precise writing!
The film itself is really greater than the sum of it's parts (although those parts are superb without exception) which is probably why it's so difficult to say why exactly the film is so good. The writing and direction by Powell & Pressburger are matchless, Hillier's B&W cinematography is magnificent (we're talking "Citizen Kane" territory here: from the near-blackout conditions of some scenes where figures are shown in silhouette to the wonderful, airy, sunlit outdoor shots of Kent and Canterbury), the art direction by Alfred Junge is unbelieveable (apparently the interior of Canterbury cathedral was a SET! I still don't believe it!) and the acting is without exception wonderful and moving. Sheila Sim as Alison Smith is the personification of the British spirit during the blitz: she is never maudlin or soppy despite losing her love but has a strength and determination to carry on no matter what -- while still remaining human and warm and inwardly vulnerable. Ms. Sim would later go on to become Lady Attenborough in real life. Dennis Price makes his feature film debut as Peter Gibbs and is quite fine in the role. Real-life U.S. soldier Sgt. John Sweet makes his one and only film appearance as Bob Johnson; Sweet was not a professional actor but is actually quite effective in the role -- his sincerity carries the part. Sweet's voice is also practically identical to Red Skelton's -- only pitched a little higher. Top early-40's box office draw Eric Portman is suitably complex and mysterious as Thomas Colpeper. It was also nice to see some other well-known British character actors (at an incredibly young age) such as Charles Hawtrey (of, among other things, "Carry On Screaming") and Freda Jackson (memorable in Hammer's "Brides of Dracula"). The whole film really is excellent and the ending is magnificent: surprising, uplifting and wholly satisfying. Just like Chaucer's pilgrims, our four main protagonists converge on Canterbury cathedral in four different but interconnecting paths. "A Canterbury Tale" gets high marks. . .if only I could better explain why.

Friday, December 28, 2007

AIN'T LIFE A KICK IN THE ASS? It's now time for me to pass on a little fact or two which you might just find interesting. . .and might just reinforce the concept of what a wacky world we live in. Ferinstance. . .
  1. For the most part, what you're eating that you THINK is cinnamon is in fact cassia. Also, for those cantalope lovers out there -- in this country, it is VERY unlikely you've ever had a cantalope since they aren't sold in this country. What they "call" cantalopes are in actuality musk melons.
  2. Do you have E-Z Pass? Well, get ready for a ticket. Because several states use the information about your E-Z Pass use to give out speeding tickets. Here's how it works: If you go through one toll and subsequently go through the next toll in a shorter time than is possible if you are observing the speed limit, the police will mail you a speeding ticket. Nice, huh?
  3. If you are being audited, NEVER bring copies of your previous years tax returns. Now, this might sound weird because they TELL you to bring 'em. However, the IRS rules state that you are only required to provide information that relates to the specific tax year listed in the audit notice. You are not required to bring any information other than that specific tax year (unless it relates to the year under audit i.e. carryover items). If the auditor asks you for a previous year's tax return, simply smile and say "I don't believe that this relates to the year or issues being examined." That will usually end things right there.
  4. Making a hotel reservation? Well, do it after 6 PM. Why? Because this is when the hotels wipe out all the no-show reservations that were unsecured by a credit card. This means that the rooms will be going for much cheaper.
  5. How to make your home less appetizing to burglars. First, don't hide valuables in your bedroom; this is the first place burglars look and the place where they spend the most time looking. Under the mattress. The underwear drawer. Please. You should keep REAL valuables in a safe deposit box. For those you must keep at home, try putting them in the freezer or above a drop ceiling. You can even put them in fake soup cans on your pantry shelf. Also don't hide ALL your valuables in one place. A crook is not likely to find everything if they're spread out all over the place. Also, if you've got one of those "This house if protected by so-and-so security system" signs on your house then you've just told the burglar how to disable your alarm. All they have to do is buy a diagram of how that particular alarm system works and you're out of luck. In addition, big dogs may LOOK scary but they're usually not barkers; get a small "yapping" dog that will make a lot of noise -- and frankly, smaller dogs are nastier. If you're going away on vacation, do not stop your mail and newspaper delivery; crooks can easily find out you're away when you do this. It's better to have a friend come over daily to pick up your mail. Ask them to come at different times of the day as well since activity at your home coupled with unpredicatibility is a deterrent to criminals. Leaving your lights on also clues a burglar in that you're not there. You can buy timers that turn lights on and off at irregular intervals as well as motion detectors which turn on the lights at any sign of movement; these cost about $20.
  6. Got one of those supermarket "loyalty cards"? You know, the ones you have on your keychain you swipe each time you buy groceries or stuff at the drug store. Well folks, the cards track every single purchase you make. Not a big deal, right? Until you find out that the stores SELL this information to life insurance and health insurance companies who use this info to determine whether you are a bad risk. In other words, if you buy a lot of junk food and chips they may decide you're a high health risk and deny you life insurance or at least gouge you with the rates. How sweet.
  7. Are you impotent? OK, don't answer. There are a lot of people around. But if so, don't buy Viagra when you can get an amino acid called arginine at any health food store. Arginine helps the body produce nitric oxide: a chemical needed to achieve the ole wood. This amino acid relaxes smooth muscle contractions which boosts arterial dilation and results in stronger erections. The typical dose is 1000 - 2000 mg twice daily. Make sure you take it between meals since a lot of foods contain lysine which is another amino acid that counteracts arginine. You're welcome.
  8. Your kitchen sponge is gross! Seriously, even if you wash it frequently, the thing has more germs and bacteria than your toilet seat. Here's how to detox that nasty thang: rinse it, wring it out and microwave it for 30-60 seconds. The microwave will kill those yucky bugs dead.
  9. E-mailing a resume? NEVER attach it to an email unless you're specifically instructed to do so. Why? Well, most companies don't really like downloading attachments that might carry computer viruses. You should cut and paste your resume and put it into the actual email itself rather than attaching it as a file.
  10. Got arthritis? Yeah, Arthur's a bitch! So, drink tea and eat grapes. Green tea contains polyphenols which suppress a gene that causes arthritis inflammation. Drink one or two cups of tea (hot or cold) a day. Also, grape skins contain resveratrol which also suppresses the gene which causes arthritis inflammation. Eat one cup of white or red grapes a day. Happily, purple grape juice and wine both contain resveratrol as well!

So, that's about it for this go 'round. I hope some of this stuff helps you out in the day to day struggle not to get eaten alive. With any luck, maybe I'll have some more choice information to pass along to you later. So until then, don't let the bastards grind you down.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

HERE COMES THE MAN WITH THE ORCHID IN HIS HAND. As it is the holiday season and the very end of the year, I thought it would be fun to remind everyone of death. As is my wont at this time of year, I would like to take a moe and remember all those who departed this vale of tears during this year. So here is THE BUTCHER'S BILL FOR 2007:
  • A. I. Bezzerides, screenwriter "Kiss Me Deadly"
  • Del Reeves, singer
  • Magnus Magnusson, TV host "Mastermind"
  • Yvonne DeCarlo, actress "The Munsters"
  • Iwao Takamoto, producer "Scooby-Doo", "Super Friends"
  • Carlo Ponti, producer "Dr. Zhivago", "Smashing Time"
  • Tudor Gates, screenwriter "The Vampire Lovers", "Twins of Evil", "Barbarella"
  • Ron Carey, actor "High Anxiety", "Fatso", "Barney Miller"
  • Peter Ronson, actor "Journey to the Center of the Earth"
  • Art Buchwald, humorist/author
  • Denny Doherty, singer "The Mamas & the Papas"
  • Liz Renay, actress "The Thrill Killers"
  • E. Howard Hunt, Watergate shenanigans-doer
  • Steve Mitchell, actor "The Killing", "Thriller - Late Date"
  • Tige Andrews, actor "Star Trek - Friday's Child"
  • Sidney Sheldon, producer "Charlie's Angels"
  • Molly Ivins, political journalist/author
  • Frankie Laine, singer
  • Anna Nicole Smith, blonde
  • Sir Ian Richardson, actor "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead","Gormenghast"
  • Janet Blair, actress "Night of the Eagle aka Burn, Witch, Burn"
  • Bruce Bennett, actor "Mildred Pierce"
  • Hideo Takamatsu, actor "The Last Emperor"
  • Arthur Schlesinger Jr., historian
  • Pompin Iglesias, actor
  • John Inman, actor "Are You Being Served?"
  • Richard Jeni, comedian "Platypus Man", "The Aristocrats"
  • Betty Hutton, actress "Annie Get Your Gun"
  • Arnold Drake, screenwriter "The Flesh Eaters", "Who Killed Teddy Bear"
  • Freddie Francis, director "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors", "Tales From the Crypt"
  • Calvert DeForest, comedian "Larry Bud Melman"
  • Luther Ingram, singer "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)"
  • Marshall Rogers, comic book artist "Batman", "Dr. Strange"
  • Calvin Lockhart, actor "The Beast Must Die", "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me"
  • Dave Martin, writer "Doctor Who", "co-creator of K-9"
  • Bob Clark, director "A Christmas Story", "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things", "Murder By Decree"
  • Dakota Staton, singer
  • Roscoe Lee Browne, actor "Soap"
  • Kurt Vonnegut Jr., author "Breakfast of Champions"
  • Don Ho, singer "Tiny Bubbles"
  • Tran Bach Dang, Vietnamese dude, patron saint of free soda
  • Kitty Carlisle, actress "What's My Line?", "A Night at the Opera"
  • Jean Pierre Cassel, actor "Murder on the Orient Express"
  • Boris Yeltsin, Russian leader
  • Bobby "Boris" Pickett, singer "Monster Mash"
  • Jack Valenti, former assistant to LBJ/chairman of Motion Picture Academy
  • Mstislav Rostropovich, musician
  • Dabbs Greer, actor "It! The Terror from Beyond Space", "The Vampire"
  • Tommy Newsom, band leader "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson"
  • Tom Poston, actor "Newhart", "Thriller - Masquerade"
  • Wally Schirra, astronaut
  • Curtis Harrington, director "What's the Matter with Helen", "Night Tide"
  • Jerry Falwell, hypocrit
  • Charles Nelson Reilly, actor "The Match Game", "Lidsville"
  • Nellie Lutcher, singer
  • Mala Powers, actress "Thriller - The Bride Who Died Twice"
  • Kurt Waldheim, UN secretary general/ Nazi guy
  • Ed Friendly, producer "Backstairs at the White House"
  • Chris Benoit, murderer
  • Fred Saberhagen, author "The Dracula Tape"
  • Joel Siegel, critic
  • Beverly Sills, opera singer
  • Boots Randolph, musician
  • Kerwin Matthews, actor "7th Voyage of Sinbad"
  • George Melly, singer/writer "Smashing Time"
  • Charles Lane, actor
  • Lady Bird Johnson, first lady
  • Kieron Moore, actor "Dr. Blood's Coffin", "Day of the Triffids"
  • Jerry Hadley, opera singer "Liverpool Oratorio"
  • Tammy Faye Bakker, makeup wearer
  • Mike Reid, actor "EastEnders"
  • Tom Snyder, TV host
  • Michelangelo Antonioni, director "Blow Up"
  • Ingmar Bergman, director "The Seventh Seal", "Autumn Sonata"
  • Bill Walsh, football coach
  • Tommy Makem, singer
  • Lee Hazlewood, songwriter
  • Merv Griffin, TV host/producer
  • Phil Rizzuto, baseball player
  • Michael Deaver, political consultant
  • Hilly Kristal, former owner of CBGB's
  • Miyoshi Umeki, actress "Sayonara", "Courtship of Eddie's Father"
  • Marcia Mae Jones, actress "The Gang's All Here", "Haunted House"
  • Madeleine L'Engle, author "A Wrinkle In Time"
  • Luciano Pavarotti, opera singer
  • Loretta King, actress "Bride of the Monster"
  • Jane Wyman, actress "The Lost Weekend"
  • Brett Somers, actress "The Match Game", "The Odd Couple"
  • Alice Ghostley, actress "Bewitched"
  • Karl Hardman, actor "Night of the Living Dead"
  • Marcel Marceau, mime
  • Charles B. Griffith, screenwriter "Little Shop of Horrors", "A Bucket of Blood"
  • Lois Maxwell, actress "The Haunting"
  • Ronnie Hazlehurst, composer "Yes, Minister", "The Two Ronnies", "Last of the Summer Wine"
  • George Grizzard, actor "Advise & Consent"
  • Deborah Kerr, actress "The Innocents"
  • Joey Bishop, comedian
  • Teresa Brewer, singer
  • Chef Tell, TV chef
  • Porter Wagoner, singer
  • Robert Goulet, singer
  • Linda Stein, manager "The Ramones"
  • Norman Mailer, author
  • Laraine Day, actress
  • Ira Levin, author "Rosemary's Baby"
  • Ronnie Burns, actor "The Burns & Allen Show", "The Honeymooners"
  • Dick Wilson, actor "Mr. Wilson on Charman ads"
  • Verity Lambert, producer "Doctor Who"
  • Reg Park, actor "Hercules in the Haunted World"
  • Robert Houghton Hepburn, brother of Katharine Hepburn
  • Mel Tolkin, writer "Your Show of Shows", "All in the Family"
  • Evel Knievel, daredevil
  • Ike Turner, musician
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen, composer
  • Dan Fogelberg, singer
  • Frank Morgan, saxophonist
  • Frank Capra Jr., producer
  • Jeanne Carmen, actress "The Monster of Piedras Blancas"
  • Michael Kidd, actor/choreographer "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
  • Oscar Peterson, pianist
  • Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister

Friday, December 21, 2007

PALEO-CINEMA is a blog about movies by someone who loves movies as much as I do. The link has been over there on the right for a while but I wanted to urge you to go over and take a look (and listen) if you haven't already. The site was brought to my attention by my good friend in England Weaverman (whose blogs FLEAPIT OF THE MIND and the FLEAPIT ANNEX are also about movies, highly recommended and over there on the right). PALEO-CINEMA is by a fellow in Australia named Terry Frost who focuses on movies of the past which formed his cinematic taste throughout the years; this archeological digging into his lifetime viewing habits led him to call it "Paleo-cinema".
The icing on the cake is that he also produces his own Paleo-cinema podcast every two or three weeks which is a great listen. Frost's conversational manner whilst discussing the films is infectious and absorbing and never dry or academic. He's extremely informative as well as fun to listen to. Paleo-cinema also discusses a wide range of films from the supposedly arty to the trashy. For example, his latest podcast (as of this writing) discusses the Italian-made "Viaggio In Italia" (starring Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders) as well as the grade-Z "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" and "Project Moonbase" while his first podcast featured the Oscar-winning "The Bad and the Beautiful" (starring Kirk Douglas & Lana Turner) as well as "The Creation of the Humanoids" and the 60's Robert Culp/Bill Cosby series "I Spy". Frost is equally at home (and equally enthusiastic) discussing spy movies, Vincent Price, the Australian 70's biker film "Stone" or the classic 1940 Alexander Korda film "The Thief of Bagdad". The next podcast is due any minute and I for one can't wait to hear it. If you are even remotely interested in movies, you should head right on over the PALEO-CINEMA and hear what Terry Frost has to say. These half-hour podcasts are addictive!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

TAKE A WALK ON THE STUPID SIDE. I just wanted to alert my slavering readers to a new link over there on the right hand side of this blog. It's called "STUPID COMICS" and yeah, it's about what you'd think: stupid comics. The site not only features silly comic book covers but also wacky comic panels which illustrates just how silly comics can get. I heartily recommend you click on it and take a look; some of them may actually turn your brain to mush!!! Just like Dr. Wertham said they would. And here, to whet your appetite for silliness, are some examples of what you'll find there. . .

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

SCAMP'S CHRISTMAS QUOTES: Now these don't have anything to do with Christmas -- in fact, they don't have anything to do with anything. They're just quotes. And that's the way I like it.
"I've had a Carrie's prom night with extra pig's blood kind of day."
-- Lisa Ann Walter
Life's Work
"There can be no greater danger to one laboring to reach a higher spiritual and moral plane than the feeling that he has achieved it."
-- Adin Steinsaltz
"She hath done wondrous naughty."
-- Francis I, King of France
on Katherine Howard c. 1541
"To be called 'deliciously demented' by people who really know their dementias is high praise indeed."
-- Bruce Kimmel
"Life is just a sucker's dream
and death is a disgrace,
So come on down you Saucer Men
and take me off to space."
-- Rev. Ivan Stang
"Freud was an unhealthy influence on America. I think people take themselves too seriously."
-- Katharine Hepburn
"He's turned his life around. He used to be depressed and miserable. Now he's miserable and depressed."
-- David Frost
"A man who limits his interests limits his life."
-- Vincent Price
"You're so ugly you hurt my feelings!"
-- Moms Mabley
"It is the happy heart that breaks."
-- Sara Teasdale
"If all the politicians in the world were laid end to end they would still be lying."
-- Fred Allen
"If all the girls in attendance (at the Yale prom) were laid end to end I wouldn't be surprised."
-- Dorothy Parker
"Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine."
-- Fran Lebowitz
"(Mathematics is) the last refuge of the feeble-minded."
-- John Dickson Carr
"Axiom: no matter how good looking she is, someone, somewhere, is sick of her shit."
-- Martin Wagner
"Why don't you get a toupee with some brains in it?"
-- Moe Howard
"If you have chicken at lunch and chicken at dinner, do you ever wonder if the two chickens knew each other?"
-- George Carlin
"(Music is my) consolation for living."
-- Clifford Curzon
"How many observe Christ's birthday! How few his precepts!"
--Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

CERPTS THAT LIVE EVEN FARTHER IN THE PAST -- SO FAR THAT THE DINOSAURS WERE WEARING HUGGIES. OK, direct from the Twilight Zone are some pictures of me -- jeez, talk about the ghost of Christmas Past -- the first picture is of me and my first little girlfriend. I was 6 and she was 5. And yes, we did live in Stepford. I briefly toyed with the idea of putting one of those black bars across our eyes (or at least hers since my face has been in every post office from here to Hoboken) but I figured screw it -- she went and married a plumber so the hell with 'er! Please note the 70's wood panelling and mustard-coloured drapes. Also note that practically every ornament you see on that tree can be seen this very moment on my Christmas tree. Hey, isn't that that strange billiard game Don Adams advertised???
The second picture is of me the same day (it appears) in the same shirt and I seem to be very excited to get a red bike. Actually, I don't remember getting this bike at all. I remember getting a blue bike when I was older but not this one. Perhaps I in fact stole it from another child. That would explain my obvious glee. Oh and yes, my mother was Jackie Kennedy. And please note it looks like I'm ALMOST wearing Chuckies! Probably some cheap knockoffs available in the shade of the maple. These pictures were obviously taken with non-digital cameras of the early 70's so the 3 sixes on my scalp aren't visible.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A YEAR IN MOVIES. I've watched a lot of movies in the past year. Many were old favourites but some were films I had never seen and watched for the first time. While some did not impress me that much, others have now joined the ranks of my faves. So here, at the end of the year, I thought I'd list the top 25 films I saw for the very first time this year -- and liked the most. I've listed them alphabetically (and you can click on each title to read more about them).
  1. BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945) - heartbreaking and quietly gut-wrenching
  2. DARK VICTORY (1939) - classic Bette Davis tearjerker
  3. DESTINATION MOON (1950) - very realistic riff on what space travel might be like circa 1950; some find it dry and slow but I found it surprisingly watchable
  4. DINNER AT EIGHT (1933) - one of the greatest ensemble casts
  5. DONOVAN'S REEF (1963) - simply an excuse for John Ford & John Wayne to have some fun; and I loved every minute of it
  6. FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965) - the trashiest of cult movies; unbelieveable, wacky and pure Russ Meyer
  7. GRAND HOTEL (1932) - another of the greatest ensemble casts ever assembled; but nothing ever happens at the Grand Hotel
  8. HELL DRIVERS (1957) - who ever thought a British B&W movie about truck drivers could be so gripping?!?
  9. INTIMACY (2001) - sexually explicit and gut-wrenchingly tragic
  10. THE KILLING (1956) - I'm not a Kubrick fan but this early EARLY Kubrick heist film was very enjoyable to me
  11. THE LETTER (1940) - Bette Davis at her ice-cold nastiest. What's not to love?
  12. LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE aka THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974) - outrageous color zombie film which pre-dates Romero's Dawn of the Dead; this one is stylish and very imaginative. An overlooked gem.
  13. THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND (1936) - John Ford's unhistorical but surprisingly gripping tale of Dr. Mudd and his imprisonment for mending the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth
  14. RAW DEAL (1948) - great, hard-hitting film noir; one of the best
  15. RED RIVER (1948) - Howard Hawks' classic western is one of the greatest
  16. THE RED SHOES (1948) - stylish, bizarre, haunting, tragic. I'm not ballet fan but the "Red Shoes ballet" sequence is breathtaking.
  17. SANTO & THE BLUE DEMON VS. THE MONSTERS (1970) - delirious entry in the "Mexican masked wrestlers fighting monsters" movie series
  18. THE SECRET GARDEN (1949) - I've been a big fan of the 90's remake but I like this one just as much; a classic children's tale brought to the screen
  19. SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960) - John Ford gives us the tale of an innocent black cavalry officer court-martialed for the rape and murder of a white woman
  20. SHANE (1953) - another classic (if odd) western
  21. STAGECOACH (1939) - I absolutely loved this classic John Ford western which features a dream cast interacting on a stagecoach journey west.
  22. THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933) - Fritz Lang's hallucinatory half horror/half police procedural film of the omnipotent criminal mastermind
  23. WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928) - this silent movie is chilling, shocking and brutal and surprisingly packs a wallop even after all these years. Wow!
  24. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957) - classic Agatha Christie courtroom drama which is a lot of fun besides.
  25. ZODIAC (2007) - surprisingly factual and low key filming of the story of real-life serial killer Zodiac; can't wait till 2008 when they release the 2 disc special edition jam packed with documentaries about the case. Absorbing.

Well that's thems: the movies that I watched for the very first time this year and enjoyed the most. There were, of course, other great movies I saw for the first time this year which didn't quite make the cut of top 25: Action in the North Atlantic, Anatomy of a Murder, Broken Arrow, Casino, Cheyenne Autumn, Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, The Informer, Jezebel, Thomas In Love, Vampira the Movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Witchcraft and Once Upon a Time in China II. Here's to next year and another passle of great movies to watch and discover!

CERPTS THAT LIVE SO FAR IN THE PAST THAT THE DINOSAURS WERE STILL USING CLEARASIL. That's right ladies and gentlemen. . .I've found something so old that it makes the ark of the covenant look like a post-it note! Here apparently is an authentic list I made to Santa when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Obviously, the opening line on top is pure me -- but the rest of the list looks like it was dictated by my father. Unless, of course, I really DID want a blonde. . .and a shorter work week. And remember -- be careful what you wish for -- because, as it turns out in my life, the only blonde I got was Cheekies!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"He said I want to grow up
And look like Robert Mitchum
And I hope that when I'm gone
There'll be some say that I miss him.
He must have been romantic
He must have sensed adventure
And I feel the steel of his strong will
In the frame around his picture.
And then one more arrow flying through the air
One more arrow landing in a shady spot somewhere
Where the days and nights blend into one
And he can always feel the sun
Through the soft brown earth that holds him
Forever always young.
He could have been a boxer
But the fight game seemed so dirty.
We argued once; he knocked me down
And he cried when he thought he'd hurt me.
Strictly from the old school
He was quiet about his pain
And if one in ten could be that brave
I would never hate again.
And he's one more arrow flying through the air
one more arrow lying in a shady spot somewhere
where the days and nights blend into one
and he can always feel the sun
through the soft brown earth that holds him
forever always young.
One more arrow
One more arrow
One more arrow
Forever always young."
-- Bernie Taupin
© 1983 Big Pig Music Limited

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"I USED TO BE A DOCTOR." THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND is a 1936 film directed by the legendary John Ford; it concerns the true story of Dr. Samuel Mudd who was found guilty of conspiring in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. While the story naturally plays fast and loose with the historical facts, the film itself is quite a good one. I found myself being pleasantly surprised at how "un-antique" a mid-30's film can be when helmed by a masterful director. I hear Ford didn't think much of this film, however, and apparently producer Darryl F. Zanuck stuck his hand in quite a lot. But still the film works very well and holds up even today. One of the first things I noticed which helped the film immensely is the almost total absense of incidental music. Scenes of heartbreak and pathos are thankfully lacking in syrupy violins while action scenes are mercifully free of typical 30's style chase music which is almost always inappropriate. In fact, the use of silence in this film (as well as natural sounds) is fairly bold and the picture gains greatly from it. The film opens with celebratory crowds setting bonfires and dancing because the Civil War is over and the North has won. President Lincoln (played by frequent Lincoln portrayer Frank McGlynn Sr. -- who played Honest Abe in several films including Shirley Temple's "The Littlest Rebel") comes out on the balcony of the White House as the crowd urges him to give a victory speech. Nobly, Lincoln refuses to speechify but asks the band to play "Dixie". This scene immediately casts Lincoln in a saintly light as the first reel has barely begun to unspool and it would seem totally over the top Hollywood twaddle if it weren't in fact true; Lincoln actually did that and this is one of several (not many) instances when the film is factual. Next we go to Ford's Theater (no relation to John Ford, I hope) and the inevitable re-enactment of the assassination. The scene is well-composed and owes something to D.W. Griffith's earlier portrayal of the assassination in "Birth of a Nation". Actual lines from the play "Our American Cousin" are used although the line which got a big laugh and Booth waited for to fire his shot occurs too soon in Ford's film: "You sockdologizing old mantrap!". Also the angle of Booth to the President is also incorrect: the real Booth came up behind Lincoln while the film shows him almost completely to one side of the President when he shoots. Mere quibbles but I thought I'd mention it. Booth's leap onto the stage below is rather well-done and he correctly brandishes his knife and bellows "Sic Semper Tyrannus!"
Booth (minor actor Francis McDonald) and David Herold (Paul Fix) ride into the night but the assassin's busted-up leg forces them to look for a doctor. They find one at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd (Warner Baxter). Now, Ford's film depicts Mudd as totally innocent and unknowing as to Booth's identity. This, of course, isn't strictly the truth since Mudd had met Booth on at least 3 earlier occassions. However, the film's object (spelled out in the opening introduction which fills the screen) is to show Mudd as a completely innocent man unjustly imprisoned. While Mudd was probably MOSTLY innocent and wouldn't have been convicted by a non-military court, he wasn't exactly the "saint in surgical garb" (to paraphrase an episode of M*A*S*H*) that this film makes him out to be. Mudd cuts Booth's boot off his injured foot and disgards it; the boot conveniently has John Wilkes Booth stamped on the inside of it. Booth slips the doctor a $50 dollar bill for a $2 dollar job (also incorrect -- the actual amount was $25) and takes off leaving Mudd and his wife Peggy (Gloria Holden: star of "The Old Dark House", "The Invisible Man" and James Cameron's "Titanic") none the wiser. Naturally, the Union soldiers come the next day, find Booth's boot and arrest the doctor for conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. Mudd and the seven other conspirators are tried by military court (many say "kangaroo court") and found guilty. Four are hanged (including Mary Surratt: the first woman to be hanged U.S. history) and the other four are transported to prison for life. Mudd is sent to Dry Tortugas: a "Devil's Island"-type island prison off the coast of Florida surrounded by sharks (hence the name of the film). Once he arrives on the "burning white hell" of a prison island, Mudd encounters Sgt. Rankin (magnificently played by John Carradine) who promises to make Mudd's life a living hell because he believes Mudd killed Lincoln. The first scene with Carradine is a stunner. Rankin is "checking in" the prisoners at a table; when Mudd announces his name Carradine stands up into the camera for a fiery-eyed close-up filled with zealous hatred. While the film is filled with several fine performances, Carradine steals the picture. The only time he falters is due to the script and no fault of the actor's. Rankin harasses Mudd, shoots him during an escape attempt, tries to get him eaten by sharks, orders his men to kill Mudd instead of bringing him back alive . . . and after all this suddenly becomes all sweetness and light after Mudd doctors him (and the rest of the prison) for Yellow Fever. The scene rings completely false but that's not Carradine's fault. No one could sell an abrupt, sudden transformation like that -- no matter how good an actor. At least one scene should've been shot depicting at least the slight melting of Carradine's icy hatred as the sergeant sees Mudd's tireless efforts to cure the prison of Yellow Jack. As for the previously mentioned escape attempt and Yellow Fever epidemic, the former is a made up incident while the latter actually happened. Mudd's exciting and complicated escape attempt is thrilling and wonderfully shot (also without any musical score at all which adds to the realism). The real Dr. Mudd merely wore civilian clothes and boarded a ship before being discovered. The filmic Mudd (aided by his wife) takes part in an intricate escape plot which involves his transport by ship to nearby Key West so he can be arrested in a civilian jurisdiction and gain a re-trial under civilian law. So, Mudd isn't trying to flee but merely wants to hop over to Key West and get a fair trial. Naturally, he is recaptured and thrown into solitary. However, an outbreak of Yellow Fever sweeps the prison. The prison doctor (played by O.P. Heggie -- who is probably most famous for playing the blind hermit in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN as well as Robert Donat's prison cell companion in THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO) soon dies and the prison warden (old Ford stalwart Harry Carey) seeks Mudd's help in checking the epidemic. This recruiting of Mudd to fight Yellow Fever actually did happen and, as in the film, led to his early pardon. However, quite a bit of poetic license is used (particularly when Mudd practically takes over the prison and has the gun crew fire a cannon at an offshore medical supply ship that refuses to deliver medicine to the prison for fear of catching Yellow Fever). The warden and everyone left in the prison (including the aforementioned about-facing John Carradine -- who insists on being the FIRST name) signs a petition recommending Mudd's pardon for his heroic efforts. President Andrew Johnson does so and Mudd finally returns home, much the worse for wear, to a heartwarming reunion with his wife and daughter. While PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND probably would've been a pretty good picture done by another director, John Ford elevates it to an extremely good one. This is one of those movies which holds your attention for every second of it's running time. Each event logically and satisfactorily follows event and the viewer literally isn't sure moment to moment what's going to happen next. Warner Baxter (whom I've never seen in any other movie) gives a fine performance as Dr. Mudd: usually understated but occasionally (but justifiably) over the top. Baxter never overplays the martyr aspects of his endlessly put-upon character and, in fact, is not written as a saint; Mudd is in fact a southerner and a Confederate sympathizer who in fact owns slaves and Baxter plays his scenes with recently-freed slaves just as a white slaveowning southerner would behave. Baxter is alternatively affectionate with his former slaves and then imperiously shouts orders at the black soldiers in the prison camp. Many modern-day PC critics are made uncomfortable by these scenes and label them racist. But that was sadly how freed blacks and white Southerners behaved toward each other in the aftermath of the Civil War (and, indeed, long years after). To have the Southern whites suddenly treating the freed slaves with respect as equals would be ridiculous in the context of the times. And John Ford, throughout his many films, has demonstrated time and time again that he is not racist. Ford, in fact, demonstrates this fairly early in the film when a Northern man addresses a crowd of freed slaves telling them they are now free and equal to the whites and now have the right to vote. Dr. Mudd admonishes the Northerner for keeping his workers from their work and tells his former slaves to throw him off his land. When the workers, who still don't buy the whole "now you're free" argument, go to escort the fellow away, the Northerner angrily tells the nearest man he can't lay hands on a white man. The freedman quips, "But weren't you the one who just told us we're your equals". There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in this scene: Southerner Mudd still behaving as if the South hadn't lost the war, the former slaves disbelieving (rightly, it turned out) the North's promises of their newly-minted equality and the hypocritical Northerner who trumpets the former slaves as his equal . . . UNTIL they lay a hand upon him. In addition to the excellent acting job provided by John Carradine and Warner Baxter, the rest of the cast is (mostly) fine as well. Gloria Stuart is more effective than I've ever seen her in a 30's film; while she does once or twice resort to hysterics they are totally in character with the events tearing her family apart. Harry Carey is also quite excellent as the prison warden; in addition to a long career in the movies he's probably most well-known as the President of the Senate in Frank Capra's "MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON" -- amused at Mr. Smith's constant outwitting of the Senate politicians. As Carey descends into Mudd's sweatbox cell to basically beg Mudd to battle the Yellow Fever epidemic, the actor gives his lines a truthfulness and weight which practically steals the scene. Also in the cast are a passle of familiar character actors. Crotchedy old Claude Gillingwater plays Mrs. Mudd's elderly Confederate colonel father who cobbles together a group to rescue Dr. Mudd from the prison. Gillingwater sadly suffered an accident on the Paramount Studio lot in February 1936 from which he never recovered; the actor committed suicide in 1939 due to failing health and a wish not to become a burden on anyone. Other familiar faces in the cast are Arthur Byron as Erickson (who appeared as Sir Joseph Whemple in the Universal classic "THE MUMMY" from 1932), Frank Shannon as Judge Advocate General Holt (most well-known for playing Dr. Zarkov in the Buster Crabbe "FLASH GORDON" serials) and John McGuire as Lt. Lovett (who played the lead in arguably the first film noir: 1940's "STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR" with Peter Lorre). And of course this wouldn't be a John Ford film without his brother Francis Ford as prison Cpl. O'Toole. Francis Ford, who was an earlier movie star years back, appeared in many John Ford pictures including THE QUIET MAN, WAGON MASTER, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, STAGECOACH, FORT APACHE, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN and more. THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND is endlessly interesting and holds up very well even today. It's the cinematic equivalent of a page-tuner. As true history it's not so accurate. . .but this is a movie we're talking about. . .and as cinema it's eminently watchable.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

HAPPY 2nd BIRTHDAY, LAND OF CERPTS & HONEY. Just popping in to wish myself (or at least my blog) a happy birthday since THE LAND OF CERPTS AND HONEY began two years ago. Oh, you lucky, lucky people. . .

Sunday, December 09, 2007

THE PENGUIN AWARDS FOR 1989?!?!? The Penguin Awards didn't exist in 1989. But just for fun I was wondering what would've been nominated . . . and what would've won. Nowadays, with a handy dandy ipod, one can ask to see all the songs from 1989 -- and that's just what I did. This gave me what I think I would've nominated way back in 1989. And notice there's no "Batdance". So here they are. . .what do you think would win for song of the year???
Baby Don't Apologize - Big Audio Dynamite
Closer To Fine - Indigo Girls
Everybody Needs A Holiday - Big Audio Dynamite
Healing Hands - Elton John
Home - Stephanie Mills
Kid Fears - Indigo Girls
Lonely - Janet Jackson
Lovesong - The Cure
Prince of Darkness - Indigo Girls
Run Through the Fields - Nuclear Valdez
Sacrifice - Elton John
Samain Night - Loreena McKennitt
The Sensual World - Kate Bush
Speaking of Dreams - Joan Baez
This Woman's Work - Kate Bush
What It Takes - Aerosmith
EXPLICIT PENGUIN. Traditionally the winners of the Penguin Awards are announced in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. However, since I've done so much work whittling down the nominees to a winner (and since I have a moment to take a breath and post 'em) -- I'm gonna announce them now. Congratulations to all the winners.
SONG OF THE YEAR: Back To Black - Amy Winehouse
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Back To Black - Amy Winehouse
COVER SONG OF THE YEAR: Bitches Ain't Shit - Ben Folds
DUET OF THE YEAR: Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
BEST COVER ART: Awkward Annie - Kate Rusby
Oh, and why the title "Explicit Penguin"? Well, simply because the winners for song, album and cover song are all chock full of explicit lyrics. Naughty, naughty penguins!
The race for the Penguin Awards was particularly tight this year with album, song and cover song battling it out back and forth with a few really strong contenders in each category. Just for the record: the strongest sluggers for cover song were Ben Folds' "Bitches Ain't Shit" (and congratulations to Ben Folds for FINALLY winning a Penguin Award after so many years of almost winning), Deadsy's "Wicked Game" and Amy Winehouse's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" being the top 3. The two strongest contenders for album of the year were Back To Black by Amy Winehouse and Time On Earth by Crowded House; but the Amy Winepowerhouse won through. And the top 3 contenders for song of the year (and this was the toughest category) was extremely close between Amy Winehouse's "Back To Black", Rufus Wainwright's "Going To A Town" and Fountains of Wayne's "Someone To Love".