Friday, December 26, 2014


Abandoning self interest and coming together for the common good is what advances humanity,  So this message is wrapped up in the blockbuster Sondheim musical “Into The Woods” which director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) delivers with gusto, dramatic pacing and a star studded cast.
As the Wicked Witch, Meryl Streep’s character is self absorbed and makes the baker and his wife crazy getting her a magic potion to reverse the ravages of old age (and who doesn’t need that?).  Ms. Streep gets a couple of extreme makeovers in the movie.
Johnny Depp recycles some of the makeup left over from “Pirates” as the Big Bad Wolf who seduces Little Red Riding Hood.  So the “woods” are the real world after you leave fairy tale land.
If you go for the handsome prince hang onto your popcorn because you get a double dose in the campy duet “Agony” performed by Chris Pine and  Billy Magnussen.  As Prince Charming tells Cinderella, “Although I am charming, I am not faithful.”  That sums up the false promise of that fairy tale.

In a rare moment at the West End Theater, the audience applauded during the closing credits.  Although it’s a Disney release, it’s too scary for small children but then so are most fairy tales. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Horror Festival Is A Weird Universe

I could barely contain my excitement at getting a photo with the outstanding Zach Galigan, movie star known for “Gremlins” (1984) and “Waxwork.”  Zach is still stunning. What a life!  One day you’re making movies for Spielberg and 30 years later you’re getting a $5 bill from Dave Zarkin to have your photo taken by a stranger.

Felix Silla of “Return of the Jedi” was a featured celebrity at the Bloomington Crypticon.  The “exhibitors” and discussions were outstanding at my first spooky convention devoted to horror movies and related media.

Adams Family and Star Trek Next Generation actor Corel Struycken was kind enough to pose for a guy in a Spooky World t-shirt that Evon Minelli gave me in 2006.  I need to wash it.

Craig Muckler, producer of ”Microwave Massacre,”  is just one of the many crazy stories at Crypticon in Bloomington last night.  The movie is several years old and features the tag line:  “they came for dinner to find they were it!”  Comedian Jackie Vernon starred in this epic.

“Friday the 13th” star Betsy Palmer dismissed the script for this movie as a piece of bleep and did the movie because she needed $10,000 to buy a car, according to Adrienne King who played Alice in the movie.  King, who spoke at Bloomington’s Crypticon horror event Friday Oct. 24, 2014, said expectations for the movie were low, the script was written as the movie was being made and the production ran out of money twice during filming.  
King’s favorite scene in the movie involved a snake and a machete.  Palmer knocked King down in a scene where the Alice character is slapped.  Despite the rough stuff, King said that Palmer made her a better actress during the 10 days Palmer was on location in New York State with the 1979 movie.
King is a painter and operates Crystal Lake Wines (a homage to the movie) in Oregon.


Chris Costello of Forest Lake is dedicated to Halloween, classic Universal Pictures Gothic horror films and building a front yard fright scene.  He spoke with boyish enthusiasm Friday night at Bloomington’s Crypticon fright festival.  Costello is featured on YouTube in a Halloween documentary filmed by a teenage fan.  You can find him on Facebook’s Thursday Night Fright Night movies for kids.

Thursday, October 02, 2014


When I first saw the 1939 “Gone with the Wind” it was in 1967 at the historic Ada/Egyptian Theater in Boise so I hadn’t much of a clue about the story before I saw it again (in HD) for the second time yesterday in a nearby mall cineplex.  In GWTW’s four hours we see Scarlett O’Hara (played brilliantly by Vivien Leigh) go from flirty school girl to a money-grubbing capitalist.
Scarlett is the strong take charge mistress of Tara, the family estate and cotton plantation, as the men are slaughtered on the battle field and her father goes insane.  In the first two hours, we learn of the horrors of war and anti-hero and river boat gambler Rhett Butler points out the futility and stupidity of the Confederacy going against the industrialized north.  The Butler character is a free spirit beholding to no one but himself who states the obvious throughout the film:  Scarlett is a self-centered opportunist and engages in marriage as a profit-making venture.  
1930s heartthrob Clark Gable had to be Butler with his winning good looks and sex appeal, but Ms. Scarlett is not swayed but his charms and yearns for the gentile manners of aristocratic Ashley Wilkes (played by British actor Leslie Howard.)  Her obsession with Wilkes and then her realization that Butler loves her leads to her sorrow but comes too late in her story.  Butler walks out the door, proclaiming:  “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.”
A post-war melodrama is the focus of the second two hours and is somewhat of a let down given the heightened drama of the previous two hours with the burning of Atlanta.  

African American actress Hattie McDaniel received an Oscar for her performance as the slave maid “Mamie” but was not allowed to attend the premier in 1939 in an Atlanta, Ga., theater in less enlightened times.  GWTW portrays African Americans in racial stereotypes associated with the 1930s and 40s in this country.  The movie is being shown during its 75th anniversary in theaters nationwide.  A PBS documentary on the war describes in greater detail the horrors of the Civil War with corpses of dead soldiers rotting in the fields.  I found it amazing that after 75 years an audience exists for any movie, but this one is special. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Campy Gothic Horror Sendup is a Delight

I willingly drifted into Charles Ludlam’s ultra campy Gothic horror sendup “The Mystery of Irma Vep” last night at the Jungle Theater wherein Lady Enid and Lord Edgar attempt to learn more about the death of Edgar’s first wife, Irma.  A gander at the set for the British library drawing room country estate is worth the price of admission.  It’s like Roger Corman and Mario Bava on acid designed this nightmare.  I admit to being a willing captive of this subversive humor.  A garish portrait on the wall reminds us of Irma’s haunting presence as we are assaulted by a vampire, werewolf and mummy and are treated to that old standby, the wall that opens up to unspeakable horror.  No one slept while this three-ring zany circus was underway.
Bradley Greenwald and Stephen Cartmell are the incredible actors in this manic fast-paced tour de farce that has to be experienced up close to get the full measure of their insanity.  They play the roles of the butler, maid, werewolf, vampire, Egyptian guide and Lady and Lord Hillcrest.  We hold our breath as they do numerous costume and makeup changes in hopes that the maid will appear with Lord Edgar’s mustache, but to no avail. 

Of course the duo have to travel to ancient Egypt to converse with the mummy in hopes of learning how poor Irma met her untimely demise.  Having enjoyed Charles Busch’s “Die Mommy Die” I was a ripe candidate for this over the top nonsense.  It’s difficult to imagine how “Dracula the Musical” in October at the Howard Conn Theater will top this burlesque journey.  We shall see and then report to you faithful readers.  Stay tuned.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Yum Yum" Not a Tasty Treat in 1963

Didn’t we suffer through some rotten movies in the ‘60s?  Dean Jones doesn’t look like the dude who would agree to a chaste trial marriage with a sadistic professional virgin played by Carol Lynley in “Under the Yum Yum Tree.”  This movie got a lot of hype in LA in 1963 so I took a date to see it at Grauman’s Chinese Theater which was a big deal then. 

It’s being shown this month on GetTV so I revisited it and got a slice of the LA lifestyle circa 1963.  Horny bachelors of the day favored garish apartments with red walls and drove customized cardinal red Imperials.  Jack Lemmon played the lecherous bachelor landlord of the apartment building where the unwed couple cohabited while Walter Matthau or Don Rickles would be better.  The story dithers into a tit for tat Laurel and Hardy slapstick scene with Jones and Lemmon.  Reason to see this mess:  Paul Lynde as the gardener and Imogene Cocoa as the maid.  Lynley had an evil look that better suites her to “Dracula’s Daughter” than a romcom.  James Darren sings the title song and he could have handled the Jones role.  When it came to ‘60s comedies, AIP nailed it with the beach movies franchise.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


He was the most famous wrier of his generation and she was determined not to be “a footnote to  someone else’s life” which didn’t bode well for the merger of Ernest Hemingway and pioneer woman war correspondent Martha Gellhorn.  Their tumultuous relationship is brought to the screen in the compelling “Hemingway and Gellhorn” film directed by Philip Kaufman.  I noticed this DVD at library checkout while I was picking up “A Stricken Field,” Gellhorn’s novelized account of covering the human tragedies in World War II Central Europe.  
With Gellhorn, the macho Hemingway more than met his match.  Nicole Kidman is outstanding as Martha and Clive Owen is memorable as the Hemingway who was boozing and fishing while the “misses” was covering the war for Collier’s magazine.  (I previously read her Collier’s articles.)  Hemingway dismissed Gellhorn as a “journalist” writing human interest stories.  When Hemingway stole her Collier assignment to cover the Normandy Invasion, she found a way to scoop him on that story by going undercover as a nurse on a British hospital ship accompanying the troops.  In a memorable scene, Joan Chen plays Madame Chiang Kai-shek  at a dinner with the Hemingways with Gellhorn raising unpleasant references to Chinese poverty and hunger.  While Hemingway feared being branded a communist sympathizer, Gellhorn confronted social justice issues head-on.

In the scenes involving the Spanish Civil War, John DosPesos, photographer Robert Capa and movie director Joris Ivens (“The Spanish Earth”) are featured.  European war scenes are shown in grainy sepia tone or two color (Cinecolor) process.  It worked for me, particularly when  matched with Richard Attenborough’s “In Love and War,” which is the “Fairwell to Arms” story about Hemingway being rejected by the nurse Agnes who recounts the affair thusly:  “The hurt boy became an angry man.”  Now I need to find a decent DVD of “Farewell to Arms,” the original.

Friday, July 25, 2014

“Philo Vance Returns” (after 60 years)

Imagine my joy when advertised the long lost 1947 PRC Pathe thriller “Philo Vance Returns” which I last saw on KXLY’s Early Show in 1953 at the Barkers’ house on their Teleking TV set.  Vance solves the case of the killer lady with William Wright in the lead and directed by William Beaudine (one shot Willie) who is well known for his Monogram Charlie Chan mysteries.  Kudos to Films Around the World Video for making a viewable movie from both 35mm and 16mm prints.  I knew that the perpetrator was a woman but didn’t know her name.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Even Big Budgets Couldn’t Save Musicals

In 1969 with Kent State, the Vietnam War and the cultural revolution, TCF released the 1964 musical hit “Hello Dolly” with a miscast lead and an inept director.  Anyone surprised that it flopped?  Young movie audiences were still grooving on “The Graduate” and “Wild in the Streets.”  Matthew Kennedy provides a history of movie musicals from 1960 to present day in “Roadshow: the fall of film musicals in the 1960s.”  Roadshow movies were a big city 70mm phenomena with tickets $4.50 and a souvenir program for sale in the lobby.   “Around the World in 80 Days” was  the only roadshow I remember in Spokane and Boise certainly was not a roadshow venue. 
Kennedy argues that the big studios had numerous roadshow failures because of inattention to details of casting and production.  When I was a Idaho Statesman reporter, my office mate Ken Burrows covered filming of “Paint Your Wagon” in nearby Baker, Ore.  This was a very expensive stinker with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, but a big deal for the Treasure Valley of Idaho and Oregon.   
Kennedy credits “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Sound of Music” as being among the winners.  The loser list is too long but includes “Star!”, “Dr. Doolittle” and “Hello, Dolly,” all from TCF which had to sell properties to raise cash and stay afloat.  The British got it right with “Oliver!” although Kennedy dismisses this movie even though it was commercially successful.  American International Pictures, with its beach musicals and horror movies, made money while the big boys hemorrhaged cash.  

Kennedy omitted “Across the Universe” and “Xanadu” in his discussion of movie musicals and these are two of my favorites.  With multiplex movie theaters today hungry for patrons, apparently the 3-D novelty is over, which is reminiscent of what became of big budget musicals in the 1960s.  Art houses are an alternative but often are not centrally located and are in areas with few parking possibilities.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Amidst the regal splendor of Big Sur, beat novelist Jack Kerouac has an alcohol induced nervous breakdown in the 2013 movie “Big Sur” based on the Kerouac novel of the same name.  Kerouac is a conflicted tortured soul with feelings for Neal and Caroline Cassady.  Kate Bosworth plays Billie who is having affairs with both Jack and Neal.   Book store owner Lawrence Ferenghetti advises Jack that his problem is drinking red wine whereas he should stick with the white.  Jack is very much a pathetic mess here in his ‘40s and not enjoying the notoriety of “On the Road.”  If you are into the Beat Generation and all things Jack, this is for you (on DVD.)  The scenery is superb on the northern California coast.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


MINNEAPOLIS — What do I know about napkin etiquette lunching with ladies today at the turn of the century Woman’s Club (singular)?  Apparently, leave it on the chair when you excuse yourself to go to the buffet table.  We were guests of Margaret and Tom today for lunch at the club and a field trip to the Lakewood Cemetery on the shores of Lake Calhoun where Sen. Wellstone and Vice President Humphrey rest.  This was a choice marketing opportunity for Lakewood’s Mr. Joyboy who narrated an hour long slide show and conducted the bus tour of the grounds.  Most of us were long in tooth matrons contemplating the world beyond so we were prime prospects for Lakewood so we were treated to the grand mausoleum and the historic art deco chapel.  Joyboy nixed the notion that Uncle Charlie’s ashes go on the mantel but should rest in the mausoleum.  Lakewood is contemplating full service with a funeral home on the grounds.  Bowing to the technologically chic, they now have wifi on the grounds so there’s no need to show up for a funeral.  Get a friend to Skype the proceedings and watch it on your phone or computer without ever leaving home.  If any of this reminds you of Forest Lawn and “The Loved One,” we are on the same page.  

Wednesday, July 02, 2014


MINNEAPOLIS — It was SRO last night at the Guthrie and I was in the nose bleed section but what a night!  Tyler Michaels stole the show with “On the Street Where You Live” on a bicycle no less.  The ‘60s movie of the same name suffers by comparison to the Guthrie effort here which features leads who actually sing (unlike Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.)  And who didn’t have a MFL LP in 1956?  Here’s mine that I bought at Newberry’s in Spokane.  The movie is based on the 1938 RKO/Rank movie “Pygmalion” which is excellent.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bizarre "It's All Happening" Exploits Brit 60s Pop Scene

For a hilarious look at the pre-Beetle pop music scene in England, have a gander at the British 1963 film “It’s All Happening” with teen idol Tommy Steele.  The “Boy on the Beach” number is quite campy and the last half-hour features several bizarre musical acts that must have been popular in Great Britain at the time.  In the U.S., we had “Rock Around the Clock,” which was also a mashup of pop music acts and an annoying plot.  The rock/pop exploitation genre has produced some wonderfully bad stuff from the 50s and 60s.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


MINNEAPOLIS — A panel of experts today at the University of Minnesota agreed that the ruling related to First Amendment press freedom, New York Times v. Sullivan, should stand although a petition has been filed with the court to over rule it.
They spoke at an event at the Humphrey School honoring the legacy of the late Donald M. Gillmor, Silha professor emeritus of journalism law.  (He was my advisor in Graduate School where my emphasis was Mass Media as a Social Institution with emphasis on urban affairs.  My star papers were on urban renewal in St. Paul.)
The panel heard a timely query from a law school student:  “Everyone is a journalist with social media on the internet.  They share without thinking.  What can be done about it?" The moderator said it can’t be controlled.
Among those attending the event was Gary Gilson, who taught a UofM OLLI class on television and was a producer at public TV stations in Los Angeles and Minneapolis.
Lunch was in the Humphrey Forum which engulfs you in a huge all things Hubert H. Humphrey collage.  I got a chance to chat briefly with Carol Lacey, whose byline I recognized from years gone by at the Pioneer Press.  In the ‘70s and ’80s when reporters had interesting timely beats, Lacey was the emerging women’s movement reporter.  She covered the 1976 Year of the Women events and now is an associate professor in individualized studies at Metro State University, St. Paul.  Read more about Lacey at:  

Thursday, April 17, 2014


MINNEAPOLIS — About 350 people braved the cold and sleet to attend the annual Passover Sedar and feast at St. Joan of Arc Church in south Minneapolis last night.  The event combines many familiar elements of a traditional seder with some Christian ritual at the end.  Peace, brotherhood and let’s celebrate spring if it ever happens were the themes.  It’s definitely “sedar light” and somewhat raucous when held in this cavernous gymnasium.
I was introduced to the Rev. Fr. Jim Debracy as at the “Jewish” guy and after the event he wanted my evaluation which of course was positive.  Debracy impressed me with his 1980s stay in Jerusalem where he studied scripture and was recruited off the street to join a Saturday morning service at a local synagogue.  He was happy to do it.  Last night Debracy sported the embroidered yamicah that he bought in the Holy Land.
Joan of Arc is as progressive as the Catholics get in the Northland and those I met were a friendly lot.  Also attending was Lisa, who is Jewish and a student with me in the UofM OLLI classes.
Much traditional Jewish music added to the merriment which included the ritual folk dance that we all know accompanied by the accordion player from the Gashaus restaurant.   “Let My People Go,” which will be reprised Saturday for the Or Emet Jewish Humanist Sedar, was part of the group sing- along.  To recognize the inclusion of gays and lesbians at Joan of Arc, orange slices were on the tables and this will be part of Or Emet’s Sedar as well at First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis.
I would like to think that the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof” has sparked Christian awareness of Jewish traditions, particularly with anthems like “Tradition” and “To Life.”  So it was no coincidence that last week a conservative Christian congregation in suburban Seattle had a successful run with “Fiddler” and it was a hit here at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater and Edina High School in recent months.  It brings a message that we like to hear repeatedly.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bert Stern May Have Been Mad But He's Not Don Draper

If you remember the ads for the movie “Lolita” with Sue Lyons in heart shaped sunglasses then you need to see the documentary “Bert Stern, the Original Mad Man,” directed by Shannah  Laumeister.   Stern was the creative photographer genius behind other notable efforts including “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” the loving tribute to Anita O’Day and the ’59 Newport Jazz Festival.  With an eye for framing the shot and with Hollywood good looks, Stern was riding high in the swinging ‘60s.  Laumeister is brave for attempting a film about such an opinionated, critical genius, but Stern wasn’t an advertising agency executive and not the model for Don Draper.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"House of Wax" -- B Movie With 3-D Novelty Gimmicks

Smoldering timbers were falling on me last night at the Walker Art Center’s showing of the 1953 3-D classic “House of Wax” which is a remake of of ‘30s two color film, “Mystery of the Wax Museum.” I had seen “House” in 1963 at a revival in 2-D at a movie palace in downtown Los Angeles.  The beginning and climatic end of the movie are griping but it slows down whenever Frank Lovejoy, who plays the cop, is on the screen.  Phyllis Kirk is the obligatory damsel in distress.
There’s a bit where a vaudeville performer uses a paddle with a small ball attached by a rubber string to annoy the audience.

It was the first major studio 3-D movie.  Now we need to see “The French Line.”

Sunday, April 06, 2014

"Mission to Moscow" is Memorable WW2 Propoganda

It was easy to hate the enemy but difficult to love all our allies when we were teamed with the Soviet Union in World War II.  So in 1943 brave major studio Warner Bros. released “Mission to Moscow,” based on Amb. Joseph Davies book of the same name.  It’s fascinating war propaganda showing a train station in Germany where prisoners await transfer to the labor camps contrasted with Moscow where there’s plenty of caviar, fun and military hardware.  An actor portrays Stalin as a genteel soul.  The actual diplomat Davies makes a disclaimer at the start that he is pro capitalism but we can’t let Russia’s assets fall into Nazi hands.  At this time there was considerable anti-communist, anti-Stalin sentiment amongst the news media and politicians in the U.S.  Walter Huston portrays Davies and Michael Curtiz is the director.  A lobby poster from the film was part of the Rominov display at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis.

Friday, March 07, 2014

More Cactus Dave's Excellent Desert Adventure

THOUSAND PALMS OASIS PRESERVE (Feb. 27) — Here’s a challenging setting for shutterbugs with the desert peaking through the huge palm trees.  If you come from Minnesota, any kind of palm tree is a treat but these are unbelievably massive.
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK (March 4) —  Look familiar?  It’s the iconic cowboy movie setting where the battle of wits between the Road Runner and Wylie Coyote ensued.  We were wearing cutoffs here when when  it was about 60.  In the nearby town, a very young James Dean lived in 1951.

Thursday, March 06, 2014


DESERT HOT SPRINGS (Feb. 28) — “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name.  It felt good to be out of the rain.”  Torrential downpour best described DHS this day.  The sculpture here, “Two Faced White Man,” was done by Native American artist Semu and resides in the dungeon like Pueblo museum of desert eccentric Cabot Yerxa.  Semu makes a statement on the white man’s duplicity with treaty making.  This tourist attraction was built in the ‘40s by Yerxa, a whimsical former Minnesotan who entertained artistic aspirations and studied painting in Paris in the ‘20s when Picasso and Hemingway were on the scene.  

INDIO  (Feb. 27) — Be cool in the desert so we were in this retro iconic bad boy Dodge Challenger hybrid (it burns gas and rubber).  The Challenger is a commanding presence on the I-10 or at Joshua Tree National Park.  The Dodge Brothers knew their cars.

Greta Garbo's La Quinta Desert Retreat

“I vant to be alone,” moaned Greta Garbo so she repaired to this apartment at LaQuinta Resort where she no doubt made John Gilbert Swedish meat balls and lefske.  Pass the lingonberry jam.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Journalism's Future Changing Rapidly

MINNEAPOLIS — With revenues dwindling for TV newscasts and newspapers, who will fund journalism in the United States?  The evolving state of journalism here was the lecture given today to a group of senior lifelong students by Kathleen Hansen, director of graduate studies.  Unlike Sweden, the UK and Canada, there are no public subsidies for news reporting in the United States.  The massive technological shift is forcing journalism to change, Hansen said.  Newspapers remain the largest employers of reporters in most communities, but their future is dubious.  On the other hand, a study shows that civic engagement declined in Denver and Seattle when newspapers closed.  People stopped going to meetings.  Young people must be optimistic because the U of M School of Journalism and Mass Communications has 1,000 students, more than any other discipline in the College of Liberal Arts.  The Guardian promo gives a slant on the current dilemma.

Monday, February 24, 2014

"Pompeii" is Formula Tragic Love Story

We probably should have seen the new “Pompeii” movie in 3-D but didn’t.  The young actors are quite attractive and the special effects are great which bodes well for those with 3-D TV sets.  As Gary H. said, it’s much like “Titanic” in that an actual horrific event is sexed up with a love story.  Instead of the ship sinking, Mt. Vesuvius blows its top.
Much like the Republic horse operas, the handsome hero saves the damsel in distress from the forces of evil in this case portrayed by yesteryear’s heartthrob Kiefer Sutherland who is sporting a thick British accent.  I suspect his dialogue was dubbed.  The lead is played by Kit Harrington.  Besides the bad guys, the young lovers must deal with the impending horrific doom that buried Pompeii.  I could have seen the actual Pompeii ruins in 2010 on a cruise but chose not to do that nine-hour tour which was probably a mistake.  The theater was nearly empty yesterday so I suspect Sony hopes to make money on the DVDs and cable TV.  It’s not the worse movie I have seen in recent years because it deals with an actual event which was covered in a BBC miniseries that may be better.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Goddard Irony: From Pinup to Higher Education Icon

Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, was recently interviewed on NPR and I was struck by the irony that there is an academic position at a major university supported by an endowment from an actress who started her career in her teens scantily clad in the Ziegfield Follies.
Goddard was more than a World War II pinup.   She was a vivacious comedianne and is best known for the 1939 MGM comedy “The Women.”  She was also one of four finalists in the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.”  Paulette was the sexy girl next door whether she was seen in the costume drama “Kitty” or dancing with Fred Astaire in”Second Chorus.”   You can’t imagine her in film noir or Gothic horror.
How many students at NYU know about the Paulette behind the Goddard Chair?  Ms. Goddard was a star during the brief Hollywood Golden Era and her movies are available on DVD and cable TV.  But she has a permanent home at NYU.

Friday, February 21, 2014

"Secret of the Blue Room" Lost Now Found by YouTube

Along with the late Gore Vidal, I have been looking for years for the 1933 thriller “Secret of the Blue Room” from Universal with Lionel Atwill (shown here), Gloria Stuart and William Janney.  I had seen it on local TV in about 1953 and then it disappeared.  Lucky me; it turned up today on YouTube and is a decent spooky castle murder mystery with Edward Arnold as the detective.  Unfortunately, the resolution is very poor on YouTube.  It’s folly to assume that Comcast, which owns Universal, would restore the movie from the original 35mm negative and reissue it on DVD.  I am sure they are too busy getting a monopoly on cable TV to bother with classic movies.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Xanadu" is Worth a Look

The 1980 movie “Xanadu” is the prescription for the winter blues with fanciful production numbers that rival the grand studio musicals of the 30s, 40s and 50s.  Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly headline the cast and are featured in a ballroom song and dance reminiscent of Fred and Ginger.  Swing music of Gene Kelly's era mashes up with the disco of the Electric Light Orchestra.  John Beck portrays a cartoonist who has a dream of converting an abandoned auditorium into a roller disco emporium and Kelly helps him realize that dream.  The reviews were negative for “Xanadu” but I like it.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Monuments Men" Movie Leaves Me Wanting More

To do justice to the confiscation and distraction of precious and sacred works or art during Word War II you would need a mini-series, preferably co-produced by the French, Italians and British.
George Clooney was hoping to shrink this huge topic down to less than two hours in the movie “Monuments Men” which may explain why the reviews have been negative.  Although the movie was episodic and slightly confusing, it was also suspenseful in part and the sets and acting were top rate.
Why should we care about European monuments and fine art when millions of people died in the Nazi gas ovens or were killed in combat?  To answer that you need Sir Kenneth Clarke, who explained the relevance of art and architecture to civilization in the BBC TV series “Civilisation.”
“Monuments Men” opens with Clooney showing a slide of the Cassino (Italy) monastery leveled by the Allied bombers, but he doesn’t say that precious frescos were lost.  So why should we care and that is the difficulty in making “Monuments Men,” based on actual events?  Viewing the 2006 documentary “The Rape of Europa” is useful before seeing the Clooney movie.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Paris Wife" Explores Hemingway Enigma

My eyes welled up at the conclusion of Paula McClain’s wonderful novel “The Paris Wife” which deals with the lives of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson in Paris after World War I.
Most of the novel is in the voice of Hadley, but the italicized chapters are Hemingway’s perspective.  What I found most interesting was Hemingway’s observation that “Hadley killed something in him” and Pauline (his second wife) was his future but he didn’t trust her.  This is all quite puzzling, but that’s for the good.  Hemingway, in the novel, had a “flawed keystone at the center of him,”  Hadley observed.  Although she found Hemingway to be an enigma, the five years they spent in Paris were the best in their lives.  Given that this is a novel and not a memoir, you have to assume it’s a combination of fact and fiction, but I accept it and kudos to Ms. McClain for writing a compelling novel about the century’s greatest writer.

Slavery's Home Was Good Hope Jamaican Plantation

FALMOUTH, Jamaica (Jan. 30) — In the steamy hot jungle of Jamaica lies the Good Hope Great House Plantation, built in 1750.  For the 3,000 slaves on the plantation it was hopeless.  Master John was a “womanizer,” according to our tour guide.  Crops are still grown on the plantation.  The plantation's birthing house for slave women still stands and is quite chilling.
We finished the morning with lunch in the jungle.  The Canadian couple I was with ordered Red Stripe beer, the same that 007 drinks in “Dr. No,” a book I was reading that week.  The movie of the same name was a disappointment, although filmed in Jamaica.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Sordid Movie Features Princess Di

What possessed them to make a movie about Princess Di?  The 2013 UK effort “Diana” staring Naomi Watts is a stinker but it has it’s moments like when she is cleaning the pig stye apartment of her boyfriend Dr, Hasnat Khan.
So we learn that Di was handy with the Pinesol and rubber gloves but she and Hasnat were a train wreck from the get-go.  The boyfriend Hasnat is a mess of contradictions — a heart surgeon who loves his booze, smokes and greasy fast food burgers.  Hello, British Heart Association: send this guy a pamphlet on healthy eating and physical fitness.  But then Diana is not without her faults, arranging a job for Khan in Boston without his consent.  Life with Di looked like a nightmare to Khan at this point, no doubt.
And what about Dodi, the son of the owner of Harrod’s Department store with whom she spent her final hours?  Well, apparently he was a stooge Diana enticed to stir Khan into a jealous rage.  A lot of good it did because he was probably engrossed in a White Castle slider at the time.
I visited Harrod’s in 1998 wherein I saw an incredibly tasteless shrine to Dodi and Di on the top floor.  What an unfortunate mess that was.
The story of Diana’s attempts to ban land mines that were killing and maiming children in Angola is covered in the movie amidst the romantic melodrama surrounding her madcap life.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Spelling Bee Exploits Nerdy Teen Theme

When you combine nerdy teens and simpleton teachers in a 2.5 hour musical play, it’s a thin premise for many theater goers.  Such is the complaint with the  “Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the Schneider Theater in Bloomington.
I was recruited to be in the audience for a dress rehearsal last night and I left after the first act.  The young performers are spirited and professional, the sets and costumes are great but it’s not enough to sustain two acts.  Unless one or all of the teens turn vampire I can’t see how this got better.  If the second act was better than the first then they should have just skipped the first.
Several non actors from the audience were recruited to be spellers.
The opera singer who was a standout in ‘Les Miz” is a highlight in the close of the first act ensemble song and dance big number.  This Afro American actor at about seven feet  tall is an enormous talent, but he is cast in the stereotypical street hood role as a “hall monitor.”  “Magic Foot” is a big first act number that might have been inspired by Busby Berkeley.  “Spelling Bee” seeks to profit from the success of “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Grease” and would be promising for several local high schools here.
A professional “laugher,” reminiscent of the laugh track from 1950s sitcoms, cackled and screeched like a banshee for most of the first act and into the intermission.  She must have been sitting on a bowl of feathers, because the gags built around the students spelling aren’t that hilarious.

Obviously the Bloomington Civic Theater is tempting 20 and 30 somethings to drop their I Pads and see “Spelling Bee,” but that may be a risky strategy.  The civic theater had a good run with “Singing in the Rain” and “Les Miz”.  But think of the people who paid big bucks to see “Spelling Bee” on Broadway.  — Dave Zarkin

Saturday, January 04, 2014

CW Affiliate Stumbling With HD Technology

“We’re doing the best we can,” Gwen, the CW TV affiliate general manager said in reply to my complaint that the video resolution of syndicated programming is “soupy” and unwatchable.  I think I touched a sensitive nerve  because Gwen and the chief engineer said they are broadcasting the syndicated shows in “standard definition.”  
But in truth even “standard definition” would be a dramatic step up from the gauzy resolution on WUCW-23.  It is as bad as the 100 resolution on some YouTube videos and I suspect that there is a lot of processing of the media that happens to account for this mess before it goes on the air.  I would love to get a tour of their master control room.  Could they be videotaping on an old RCA VHS recorder from the thrift store?  
Apparently they didn’t get the memo that the Twin Cities TV stations switched to HD about six years ago. I tried watching reruns of the comedy hit “Community” and that prompted my mid-winter outrage.
Gwen claims that they will have HD in March.  We’ll see.  Presently the two hours of CW programs and the Arsenio show are the only HD entries on that channel.

The WUCW (owned by Sinclair) is reminiscent of the Al Yankovich movie “UHF,” about a dysfunctional low budget TV operation.  Yet WUCW is a quasi-network affiliate in a major market so they need to step up and spend some money on new Japanese equipment.