Monday, June 27, 2011

James, Alex and Max

I saw three movies over the weekend that couldn't be more different from each other.  To wit...


A long time ago I saw a movie compiled from footage of both the 1964 concert film classic, The T.A.M.I. Show and its sequel, the 1966 concert film,  The Big T.N.T Show, and I was completely blown away by all the vintage rock and soul acts.  Saturday I looked at the fully restored T.A.M.I. Show and was able to watch the movie through more mature eyes.  This time around I noticed that all of the acts actually sang live letting you appreciate the fact that Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Leslie Gore could really sing although poor Smokey Robinson sounded really hoarse.  Also the two lesser Merseybeat bands on the show, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, came off embarrassingly nerdy. The Pacemakers were lively but had the misfortune to be trading songs with the supercool Chuck Berry, a battle they'd still lose if playing with Chuck today.  Kramer came off like an out of place crooner and prevented the Beach Boys' Mike Love from being the single dorkiest performer in the show.   Speaking of the Beach Boys, their segment had been cut out of previous video releases of this movie but this time they were there present and correct including Brian Wilson playing rhythm guitar and singing high harmonies, taking over the lead vocal for "Little Surfer Girl".

    Everything else was pretty much as I remembered it.  All the Motown acts, Gaye, Smokey and the Supremes were slick and polished, go-go dancers were everywhere, and Jan And Dean were annoying MC's but sang a couple of their hits well.  The show-stopping peak of the show, though, was the same segment that killed me on my first viewing and the segment that has made this film legendary, the performance of James Brown at his jaw-dropping finest, earning the titles Mr. Dynamite, The Godfather Of Soul, The Minister of New New Super Heavy Funk, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, and every other nickname he ever had with his screaming, knee drops, capes, splits and wobbly legged, impossible dance moves.  The first time I saw this movie I was so amazed by all this I could have cared less about the act that followed him, a little band called The Rolling Stones.  This time around I had to give Mick and the boys their propers,  they were damned tight. Keith Richards chugged out the riffs, Charlie Watts was ferocious on the drums and an incredibly young Mick Jagger prowled around the stage like he was having the time of his life. Even Brian Jones was smiling.  All in all, this was a very cool time capsule of 1964 rock and roll. Now hopefully Shout Factory, the folks that put this DVD out, will do the same for The Big T.N.T. Show.


This 2003 Australian film is a sample of what can pop up in the Free Movies part of the On Demand cable channels.  The set up is that it's the birthday of Steve, an average suburban husband and father.  He gets presents from his kids upon waking up, gets a cake and a promotion at work and hurries home at the end of the day to further celebrate with his family. When he gets home, though, the house is deserted, all the light bulbs have been taken out of their sockets and the only sign of humanity is a chair and TV set up in the living room and a videotape marked "play me".  Steve pops the tape in and is treated to the sight of his wife, Alexandra, doing a striptease.  She stops when she gets down to her underwear and starts complaining about all the problems in their marriage.  Steve snorts at this and fast forwards through the tape but stops abruptly when he sees Alexandra pointing a gun at him...

This is an involving and well-constructed study of a marriage broken  beyond repair done as mainly a two person show with one watching the other on TV.  Alexandra leads Steve down a twisty path of deception and misdirection ending with brutal and humiliating truth in a calculated study of cold-blooded revenge. Gary Sweet is excellent as Steve going thourhg a gamut of emotions, joy, lust, fear, sorrow, rage and exhausted numbness, most of which he does without another living actor to react to. Helen Buday is also great as Alexandra. As she tells her story, she talks with a calm conviction that really conveys the anguishes that drove her to this point.  This isn't a movie I think a lot of guys would care for but it's very strong and engrossing work.


This is another film about a marriage with problems, but of a very different sort. The wife has taken a chimpanzee for a lover.  Yep, that's a problem all right.

The couple is a British diplomat stationed in Paris, played by Anthony Higgins, and his wife, played by Charlotte Rampling.  The diplomat starts getting suspicious that his wife is seeing someone on the side. He finds out about an apartment she goes to every day, follows her there and finds her in bed with a chimp named Max. After the expected shock and recrimination the diplomat does the only thing a sophisticated man of the world would, he lets Max move into their home. Complications inevitably ensue.

This movie, contrasting civilized behavior with the most absurd situation imaginable, would have been right up Luis Bunuel's alley and several of his collaborators were involved in it. Unfortunately the old master was dead by the time this was made.  Instead the film was directed by Nagisa Oshima, a Japanese director known for his own shocking and provocative works like In The Realm Of The Senses.  He doesn't mesh with this material though. The movie rarely feels as sharp or attacking as it should. Drawing room comedy, even when it involved bestiality, was obovulidly not Oshima's thing.

It's not a total loss though. Higgins and Rampling are very good in the leads. Rampling, who's done more than her share of sexually provocative roles, really convinces you that she is in love with a chimp (actually a man in a realistic chimp suit, if that's more presentable).  The movie comes off then as a failed but watchable experiment.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Boogie Woogie" String Along For Real

It's always fun when you run across a review or mention of a film you've never previously heard of and it sounds so intriguing you end up watching it. Sometimes that approach can put you in for an endurance test, but other times you discover something really entertaining.  I stumbled onto the film Boogie Woogie just browsing through Netflix one day. The cast (Christopher Lee, Heather Graham and a host of others) and premise sounded interesting so I put it in my queue and I finally watched it yesterday. It turned out to be a fun black comedy that slipped through the cracks big time.

It's set in the London art world with a cast of characters who are almost uniformly despicable, art dealers, art collectors and artists who are constantly trying to screw each other both figuratively and literally.  The main thrust of the plot is supposedly an original Piet Mondrian painting, one of his geometric "Boogie Woogie" series, hence the film's title,  owned by an aging collector, played by Lee, who refuses to sell no matter how much his wife, played by Joanna Lumley, and an oily art dealer, played by Danny Huston, beg him to.  That's really just part of the snaky goings-on which also include, Huston's top assistant, played by Graham sleeping with a rich collector (Stellan Skarsgard) to get him to finance her own gallery, the collector's wife (Gillian Anderson) sleeping with an ambitious artist (Jack Huston, Danny's nephew) just because, and a lesbian artist (Jamie Winstone) keeping a video diary of her entire life including her betrayal of her agent and her numerous infidelities against her girlfriend.

90 minutes in the company of this crew could be hard to take but this movie is as light and subversively funny as an updated Evelyn Waugh novel.  The characters play out varying degrees of greed, ambition and callousness so that it's not just shrill, one level humor.  Most of the acting is fine expect for Gillian Anderson who does not do a convincing upper class London accent and whose role could have better been played by the great Joanna Lumley who is wasted in a small part. On the other hand, Huston as the slimy, insincere dealer and Skarsgard as the bluff, happily lecherous collector are great and Alan Cumming and Amanda Seyfried are good as the two innocents among all these sharks. Heather Graham is nicely calculating in her role as well plus she has a topless scene, which is never a bad thing. 

I don't know what if any American release this film had, probably just a week or two in some New York theater if that, but this is a prime example of the kind of solid, smart movie you can still uncover if you keep your eyes open.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Girl Friend of the Whirling Dervish"

I didn't know it at the time but my appreciation for Jazz and musical arranging started when I was a little kid from watching television.  Back then the soundtracks for many shows were Jazz based and that included the old cartoons from the 30's and 40's I saw, particularly the Warner Brothers ones.  From the beginning the soundtracks of the old Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons used songs owned by Warners music publishing company, including many that were used in their musicals.  As a result I knew tunes like "42nd Street",  "Deep In A Dream",  "Lullaby Of Broadway" and "Jeepers Creepers" long before I ever heard them in features.

One of my favorite songs from those cartoons was "Girl Friend Of The Whirling Dervish" which was written by Harry Warren, Al Dubin, and Johnny Mercer original for the 1938 musical Garden Of The Moon. That film happened to be the last musical Busby Berkeley made at Warner Brothers and you could guess he was near the end of his run by watching the production number for this song.  It's set bound, taking place entirely on a bandstand, in a way few Berkeley numbers ever were. Still I've always liked this scene for the way he uses camera movement and staging even when confined to a small space. The song itself is a lot of fun as well.

I was very surprised to find the entire number posted on YouTube.  I couldn't embed it here but I have put a link to it below.  The bandleader-singer here is John Payne, who like Alan Ladd and Fred MacMurray, started out as a big band singer before moving on to tough guy roles in the movies and Jerry Colonna is the "girl friend".

NOTE: Jeffrey Spivaki, the author of a biography, sent me an email correcting me about "Garden" being Berkeley's last Warners film.  It was his last Warners musical. He made the John Garfield drama, They Made Me A Criminal after that, then left and made a couple more films for the studio some time later. I've corrected my original post.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

To Jazz Or Not To To Jazz

One of the things that slightly bothers me about the internet is that on some message boards, you find people who take their love of a certain area so seriously that they get very upset when they feel that something else is taking time or attention away from their precious object of affection (and I'm not even talking about Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin fans).

Fro example I was reading the Turner Classic Movies message board today and saw that someone had started a topic "What movies was Dave Brubeck in??".   It so happens that TCM showed a group of jazz documentaries and features last night produced or directed by Clint Eastwood, including documentaries on Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk, and Eastwood's Charlie Parker biopic, Bird

I missed the Brubeck film last night but I'd seen the Monk one, Straight No Chaser, several years ago in a theatre and it's excellent.  Still these message board folks were all spun up that TCM took a few hours away from what they consider "classic movies"  and made some unholy alliance with Clint Eastwood to show pictures about a couple of weirdo jazz musicians.

I've only been able to get Turner Classic sporadically over the last few years due to all the moving I've done but when I do have it like now, I'm amazed by the variety of their programming.  Yes, there are a few movies like Lawrence Of Arabia and Gigi that somehow manage to get on at least once every month but they also have a big enough range to include silents, foreign films, Tarzan movies and old serials. Any movie channel that has the nerve to program Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and feature singing cowboy movies for a month, as TCM will do in July, is okay with me.  The last time I checked documentaries could be considered classic films and it would be fine by me if TCM threw in more jazz films once in a while like Sun Ra's Space Is The Place or Shirley Clarke's film about Ornette Coleman, Ornette: Made In America but I know there's fat chance of that happening so I'll take what I can get.

And incidentally the gentleman on that message board might be surprised to know that Dave Brubeck has been in a regular movie,  All Night Long,  a British film that updated the Othello story to the 60's London jazz scene. He was part of a sort of Greek chorus of musicians that also included Charles Mingus, Tubby Hayes and John Dankworth who played throughout the film. See below...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Taking the Quiz, SLIFR Style

Okay, so it was just a couple of days ago that I was bemoaning my lack of posting but here I am doing a long-ass one.  I ran across the Summer Quiz on the blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule which is actually a survey of your moviegoing likes and dislikes, not a right and wrong answer quiz.  I wasn't going to do anything with it at first, feeling too spotty in my movie knowledge to give an opinion on most of the questions.  Then I read what some other bloggers had written and I saw that others had no problem skipping questions they had no answers for,  so I decided to stop worrying about the fact that I couldn't tell one Eugene Pallette performance from another and try the thing out.  Here are my answers:

1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliché

The policeman or soldier who talks fondly about getting out/retiring in a few days and then is killed by the main villain five minutes later.

2) Regardless of whether or not you eventually caught up with it, which film classic have you lied about seeing in the past?

Jaws, and I still haven't seen it.

3) Roland Young or Edward Everett Horton?

I saw and enjoyedThe Man Who Could Work Miracles recently so I'll say Roland Young.

4) Second favorite Frank Tashlin movie

His cartoons don't seem to be getting much love from people, so I'll say Swooner Crooner, his "Crosby vs. Sinatra in the barnyard" throwdown. The Girl Can't Help It would be Number One.

5) Clockwork Orange-- yes or no?

Since I haven't seen it in a long time, a provisional "yes".

6) Best/favorite use of gender dysphoria in a horror film (Ariel Schudson)

The old standby - Norman Bates and his mother

7) Melanie Laurent or Blake Lively?

I haven't seen either one in anything but I guess Laurent because she was in Inglorious Bastards  and Quentin Tarantino has a knack for hiring good actors.

8) Best movie of 2011 (so far…)

The Illusionist

9) Favorite screen performer with a noticeable facial deformity (Peg Aloi)

The unfortunate "Creeper", Rondo Hatton

10) Lars von Trier: shithead or misunderstood comic savant? (Dean Treadway)

More like socially awkward dweeb.  I'll cut the man a lot of slack for blowing my mind with Breaking The Waves and Dogville.

11) Timothy Carey or Henry Silva?

Silva could act. Carey just seemed to yell.

12) Low-profile writer who deserves more attention from critics and /or audiences

If you mean a writer about movies, Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas. If you're talking about screenwriters, I can't think of one.

13) Movie most recently viewed theatrically, and on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming
Theatrically: Everything Must Go.   On DVD:  Wild Grass

14) Favorite film noir villain

Everett Sloane's Arthur Bannister in The Lady From Shanghai

15) Best thing about streaming movies?
They are right there with no freezing or skipping.

16) Fay Spain or France Nuyen? (Peter Nellhaus)

France Nuyen just because she was married to Robert Culp.

17) Favorite Kirk Douglas movie that isn’t called Spartacus (Peter Nellhaus)

Ace In The Hole

18) Favorite movie about cars

Two Lane Blacktop

19) Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor?

Windsor for being in The Killing and Roger Corman's Swamp Women

20) Existing Stephen King movie adaptation that could use an remake/reboot/overhaul

Aren't they all getting remade eventually?

21) Low-profile director who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences

Can't think of one.

22) What actor that you previously enjoyed has become distracting or a self-parody? (Adam Ross)

Samuel L. Jackson (easy choice, huh?)

23) Best place in the world to see a movie

No idea.

24) Charles McGraw or Sterling Hayden?

For The Asphalt Jungle and Dr. Strangelove, Hayden

25) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu film

I Was Born, But..., the silent film about two boys who grow disappointed in their father for kowtowing to his boss.

26) Most memorable horror movie father figure

Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather

27) Name a non-action-oriented movie that would be fun to see in Sensurround

Can't think of one

28) Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds?

Ryan Reynolds because he looks a lot more like Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan than Chris Evans does Steve (Captain America) Rogers.

29) Favorite relatively unknown supporting player, from either or both the classic and the modern era

Would Hans Conreid qualify here? 

30) Real-life movie location you most recently visited or saw

The Capitol.  I live in the Washington DC area so I'm surrounded by movie locations.

31) Second favorite Budd Boetticher movie

Ride Lonesome, second only to The Tall T

32) Mara Corday or Julie Adams?

Julie Adams and her white bathing suit in Creature From The Black Lagoon? We have a winner.

33) Favorite Universal-International western

Winchester '73

34) What's the biggest "gimmick" that's drawn you out to see a movie? (Sal Gomez)

Can't think of one.

35) Favorite actress of the silent era

Louise Brooks even if it is really just because of a couple of films.

36) Best Eugene Pallette performance (Larry Aydlette)

Have to pass here.

37) Best/worst remake of the 21st century so far? (Dan Aloi)
I've avoided as many of these mistakes as possible but the worst I've seen has been The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

38) What could multiplex owners do right now to improve the theatrical viewing experience for moviegoers? What could moviegoers do?  Multiplex owners could ban cellphones, pagers and talking during the movie but good luck getting that to happen.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Well I was going pretty good for a while, putting an entry onto this blog at least every one or two weeks but since mid-April I've been afflicted with the condition depicted above. The words just haven't come.  It didn't help that for a while every DVD I put into my player was either skipping, freezing or not playing at all.  Finally it dawned on me that my player was ten years old. So I went out and bought a new one and solved that problem.  I've gotten back to seeing movies more regularly the last couple of weeks. I've been returning to my various box sets of Charlie Chase, cartoons, and Thriller and I've seen a couple of feature films that really impressed me, A Marine Story and, just today, The High And The Mighty, but nothing has inspired me to write yet.

Then too I'm probably a little down because I just received my final package of review CDs from Cadence and I know that once I write these up, that will be my last work for the magazine.  They're ending things in style though. They sent me 32 CDs in just about every Jazz-related genre imaginable:  free improv, piano, blues, large ensemble, vocal and God knows what else.  There are a few names I know in the pile like Archie Shepp and Marc Charig but most are by people I never heard of before, which I love.  Discovering new musicians has always been one of the most fun parts of reviewing for me. 

Hopefully I'll pull out of this mental tailspin soon. Something I see or hear will start the creative synapses firing and I'll be back here writing about it. When that will be though, I can't say for sure.