Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You Can't Log Onto Home Again

Should I not find it sad that whenever I log onto Facebook to correspond with my cousins, I find myself wanting to save anything major for private E-mail? And that more often than not, I end up sharing more of my thoughts with the strangers on other sites than with the relatives I've known since childhood?

Then again it has generally taken me years to find out some personal stuff about people I meet face-to-face every day. Not just casual acquaintances but good friends and co-workers.

It's gotten to the point where I don't really trust anyone who spills that much of their guts on Facebook because I'm so used to having to get to know someone slowly. But then the best relationships don't develop overnight and aren't necessarily enhanced by a computer.

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Damn It, Cesca!

And the award for Link Tonio Kruger is Least Likely to Share with His Sister goes to...

Seriously, who knew there were so many examples of that theme to be found in pop culture?

And that's without mentioning Wuthering Heights.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Trailer of the Week: "Forrest Gump" (1949)

Why bother paying good money to see a movie that actually exists when you could be watching something like this?

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Movie Song of the Week: “There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This”

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, it's the great Chita Rivera and her friends Shirley MacLaine and Paula Kelly in a number from 1969's Sweet Charity.

I'm not sure whether the West Side Story references in this song were intentional but given the fact that Ms. Rivera played Anita in the original Broadway version of WSS, it wouldn't surprise me if they were.

I hope you all enjoy it. Even if its lyrics seem even more poignant in these times than usual.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Listen, Little Boy, in this business there's only one law you gotta follow to keep out of trouble: Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it.
--Paul Muni, Scarface (1932)

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TV Quote of the Week

So, do we have to speak Spanish when we see him? 'Cause I don't know anything much besides “Doritos” and “Chihuahua”.
--Nicholas Brendon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Inca Mummy Girl”

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hades Can Wait

Wow! Apparently I’m in the mood for a Paul Muni film festival this week. How else to explain the way I went from one movie in which Muni played a gangster (1932’s Scarface) to yet another movie in which he plays a gangster (1946’s Angel on My Shoulder).

The premise of Angel on My Shoulder seems at first glance so silly I am surprised it worked. Paul Muni plays a Scarface-like gangster -- surprise, surprise -- named Eddie Kagle who gets out of prison only to be murdered by his own henchman. He immediately goes to Hell where he proves remarkably short on the uptake for such a streetsmart guy. Although he is in a region full of fire and brimstone, it does not occur to him where he might be until after he talks to just not one but two fellow inmates -- a brash young woman who was run over by a car and a talkative old man who admits to having poisoned his young wife.

Kagle prides himself on being an expert on prison breaks and he immediately plots to break out of Hell despite facing formidable odds. Fortunately, he catches the eye of the Devil (played by Claude Rains in a bit of diabolically inspired casting). The Devil has a grudge against an American judge who is steadily reducing the number of potential candidates for Hell, and since Kagle is a physical match for said judge and since the Devil hates judicial do-gooders almost as much as he hates cold temperatures, he plots to use Kagle against the judge.

The Devil talks Kagle into volunteering to escape from Hell in return for agreeing to possess the judge’s body. Kagle goes along in the hope of getting a chance to avenge himself on his murderer only to find himself falling for the judge’s girlfriend Barbara Foster (played by Anne Baxter). Complications arise and Kagle not only ends up foiling the Devil’s best made plans, but gets persuaded to join the other team, so to speak.

Is there a happy ending? Not quite. But the ending is not quite sad either. Some bad people get their just desserts, the judge’s reputation avoids ruin and Kagle even manages to pull one over on the Prince of Lies.

Is his victory a permanent one? Well, no one involved with this film ever saw fit to make a sequel so I guess we will never find out. But it would be quite heavenly to think so.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Trailer of the Week: Beach Party (1963)

Just don't sit there.

Go see a movie.

Like this one.

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Oh, Rats! I Missed Citizenship Day

Not that there was anyone else making a big deal out of it -- apparently it's one of the newer holidays and has only been around since 2004 -- but still when you are the son of a nationalized citizen and the grandson of a foreign-born woman who made a big deal about maintaining her legal residency in the United States, you feel silly ignoring such a holiday.

Perhaps when American businessmen find a way to make money off it, we will start hearing more about it. But, for now, having a special holiday for citizenship seems kinda quaint.

And it should not be.

But then I should be grateful that I was spared the ordeal of having to watch endless Citizenship Day specials on TV. As well as the inevitable Citizenship Day sales. And the equally inevitable Citizenship Day beer commercials.

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Top of the World, Sis!

I don’t know. Maybe because you’re me and I’m you. It’s always been that way.
--Ann Dvorak, Scarface (1932)

Mother of Mercy, could this line be the best of 1932’s Scarface? Okay, maybe not. After all, it does not exactly rank up there with “we’ll always have Paris” or “I am Heathcliff.” But it is still memorable in its own way if for no other way than the fact that that line is not delivered by the male protagonist’s wife or girlfriend -- it is delivered by his sister. And it says something about the spiritedness of Ann Dvorak’s performance as said sister that that scene does not come across as ridiculous as I would have thought.

To be fair, the entire movie hints at a rather odd connection between the title character Tony Camonte (played by Paul Muni) and his sister Francesca -- aka Cesca -- that goes beyond mere familial protectiveness. Whenever Tony sees Cesca kiss a boy, he gets jealous. He does not mind “rewarding” her for being a good girl by giving her part of his ill-gotten gains but he insists on “protecting” her honor despite her own wishes to the contrary. A gesture that seems even more hypocritical when he chooses to pursue Poppy, his boss’s blonde Anglo-American mistress. Apparently, Tony doesn’t mind pursuing his own version of forbidden fruit -- but he will be damned if he will allow Cesca the same freedom.

Although Tony’s mother is wise enough to suspect Tony’s true motive for being so zealous about his little sister’s honor, she is not strong enough to do anything about it. Neither Tony nor Cesca are inclined to listen to her, and since Tony is an up-and-coming gangster, forcing him to do her maternal bidding is hardly a realistic option.

Even Tony’s own boss cannot keep Tony in his place. Tony is bound and determined to gain as much power in the bootlegging business as he can get, even if it means trouble with rival gangsters and the cops. Toward the end, he manages to finally win Poppy away from his competition by literally disposing of his rival. But he is still not satisfied and keeps on pushing until finally his feelings for his sister prove to be his undoing.

The end shows a distracted Tony facing near-death from his own sibling until the arrival of the cops outside Tony’s residence prompts Cesca to have a change of heart regarding her brother. The two of them prepare to make a final stand against the cops but such a stand proves futile. In the end, Tony gets his long-overdue just desserts and justice is finally served. Sort of.

It’s tempting to negatively compare this version of Scarface with the more famous 1983 remake by director Brian De Palma, but I must confess that I like this version better. Granted, Muni’s accent seems silly at times and his character appears to be way too much an Italian-American stereotype -- but it never provoked the same giggles in me as Al Pacino’s laughable attempt at a Cuban accent in the 1983 movie. Nor is Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance in that movie quite as compelling as Karen Morley’s performance as Poppy.

Ann Dvorak, of course, is in a class by herself, regardless of whether her character is leaning out a window to look at an organ grinder or trying her best to seduce a gangster. Even the potentially silly ending of her character seems more compelling than the fate of a similar character in the 1983 film -- perhaps because Hawks does not quite end her character’s story arc on a safe, reassuring note but manages to hint at an even more subversive relationship between the two siblings than even the most liberal of movie-goers would have guessed. A relationship so daring that even a provocative director like De Palma did not dare to depict anything similar on screen -- though George Lucas undoubtedly came close.

But perhaps I’m reading a bit too much into the movie. After all, most Latins -- Italian and otherwise -- that I have met in real life are at best indifferent to their little sisters or at least are no more affectionate to their female siblings than their Anglo counterparts. While I must admit to being somewhat fond of my own little sister, I am not that fond of my little sister. And I assure you all that my feelings for her are strictly platonic. Seriously.

Although I guess I should find it somewhat disturbing that I seem to be developing a taste in my love life for blondes -- and my little sister, of course, is blonde.

Then again she doesn’t resemble Ann Dvorak so I should rest easy. Right?


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Friday, September 18, 2009

Pop/Movie Song of the Week: “Be My Baby”

In honor of the late Patrick Swayze, I'm posting one of my favorite songs from the soundtrack for 1987's Dirty Dancing.

Not that it would be easy to post anything else from that movie, but what the hey?

Besides, the Ronettes just don't get enough respect these days.

I hope you all enjoy it.

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Movie Quote of the Week

It's amazing, Molly. The love inside, you take it with you. See ya.
--Patrick Swayze, Ghost (1990)

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TV Quote of the Week

The war you have just seen is true. Only lives have been lost to protect the innocent.
--Henry Gibson, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

R.I.P. Mary Travers

Mary Travers, a former member of the 1960s folk-rock group Peter, Paul and Mary, passed away yesterday.

She will be missed.

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R.I.P. Henry Gibson

And now yet another icon from my youth -- former Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In star Henry Gibson -- has passed away as of this past Monday. He is probably best known to movie buffs for his appearance as the lead Nazi in 1980's The Blues Brothers.

He will be missed.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

R.I.P. Patrick Swayze

Actor Patrick Swayze, star of the movies Dirty Dancing and Ghost, has passed away at age 57.

He will be missed.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

R.I.P. Larry Gelbert

Famous TV and movie screenwriter Larry Gelbert -- most famous for his work on the TV series M*A*S*H -- passed away this past Friday.

He will be missed.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Other Day That Will Live in Infamy

It's that day again. The one day in September that I will be reminded of every year.

I'd say more but as a non-New Yorker with no kinfolk -- save for a cousin's son -- currently in the military, I don't feel I have the right. Today is not the day for grandstanding.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Movie Song of the Week: “Rich Man's Fugue”

From 1969's Sweet Charity, it's a song proving that even in the 1960s, people were parodying the dance styles of Baby Boomers. I would like to believe that Suzanne Charney -- the brunette girl with the ponytail -- went on to become a big star but unfortunately, she did not. But Ben Vereen became a big star, and you can catch a glimpse of him in the last third of the number. And of course, this movie's director -- dancer/choreographer Bob Fosse -- managed to become famous too.

I hope you all enjoy it.

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Movie Quote of the Week

You know, there are 20 million guys out of work in Manhattan alone just waiting for my job.
--Charlton Heston, Soylent Green (1973)

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TV Quote of the Week

Anyway, you all think that you’ve won. But they’re just going to replace me with someone exactly like me. Because nothing ever changes. People don’t change. Relationships don’t change. And the medical system will never change either.
--Courteney Cox, Scrubs, “My Saving Grace”

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Scrubs: “My Jerks”

I was all set to give up on this show after the seventh season since it seemed to be repeating itself more and more. Nor did I like how the show's writers kept treating a main character's love interests (especially a lady doctor played by Elizabeth Banks, who seemed to be treated especially unfairly).

However, I was convinced by an essay on Byzantium's Shores to give it another try and so far I have been quite impressed.

One of the reasons I started becoming disenchanted with the series was its refusal to show growth in the main character, John “J.D.” Dorian, a former medical intern whose constant pursuit of women who were always wrong for him and just plain refusal to grow up were becoming more and more pathetic.

In this season, Dorian actually seemed to be maturing -- or at least trying to -- and doing his damnedest to follow in the footsteps of his mentor, Dr. Perry Cox. Dr. Cox in turn seemed likely to follow in the footsteps of his former nemesis Bob Kelso, the former Chief of Medicine.

The season also introduced a new set of interns for Dorian to teach: Katie, a enthusiastic brownnoser, Denise, a callous tomboy, and Ben, a lazy Indian who seemed intent on singlemindedly undermining the usual hard-working model minority stereotype. The season also showed the usual characters (Dorian's surgeon friend Turk, Dorian's former girlfriend Elliot, and Dorian's nurse/mentor Carla) but with more emphasis on the interns and their problems than usual.

This was supposed to be actor Zach Braff's last season on the show and indeed, there was a rumor that this was supposed to be the show's last season as well. However, a ninth season has already been announced and as far as I know, Braff -- the actor who played Dorian -- will not be returning.

Will the rest of the eighth season be as good as Jaquandor suggested? That remains to be seen, but so far, it has promise.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.: “Pilot”

I always seem to be discovering new TV shows either two seasons after everyone else has discovered them or else after they're gone off the air.

This show is one of the latter examples, and the sad part is that I had plenty of opportunities to see it on TV during its first run. I just chose not to see it because it didn't seem like something that would appeal to me. Perhaps I was fed up with mediocre Indiana Jones imitations and thought that this would be just another one of those. Or maybe I thought the title was just too gimmicky to describe a TV show that was worth watching.

Whatever was the problem, I'm certainly over it now. Bruce Campbell has long been one of my favorite actors and this is definitely one of his better TV series. Add in a sci-fi gimmick that is actually intriguing and supporting characters that are genuinely memorable and I could just kick myself for not discovering this show earlier.

The whole show revolves around the title character, the Harvard-educated son of a Western marshal who is hired to capture the twelve criminals who murdered his father on his last mission. Along the way, he tangles with a rival bounty hunter named Lord Bowler and a sexy entertainer named Dixie Cousins. His would-be sidekick is a lawyer named Socrates Poole and he also finds time to run into a mad scientist and his beautiful daughter.

As you might guess, he doesn't catch all the criminals on his first outing but he does bring a few wrongdoers to justice, and he also comes across a mysterious golden orb that has been discovered by Chinese railroad workers. At the end of the episode, the mysterious orb is being washed away in a river but rest assured that it will return.

If only the same could be said of this series.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

It's the Day Without Cats

So you just know I gotta post something...


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

All About Sandra

What the heck happened to Sandra Bullock?

It seems like just a decade ago when she was America's sweetheart -- a genuine movie star whose girl-next-door persona seemed a welcome alternative to the artificial glam of a Sharon Stone or Pamela Anderson.

Now Ms. Bullock seems determined to trash her old persona in order to revive her big-screen career, only to create one disaster after another. Granted, most of the films Ms. Bullock made back in the 90s were hardly classics... but they seemed more watchable than her most recent efforts.

First there was The Proposal, a summer movie based on the idea that basing a whole romantic comedy around a variation of the bossy character Ms. Bullock played in Crash would be a good idea. It wasn't.

Not only was Ms. Bullock's “boss from Hell” routine fairly dull compared to Meryl Streep's take as Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada, but the movie went on to put in her character's mouth the same sort of stereotypical immigrant jokes that should have become obsolete in the year 2009. Not to mention the fact that the movie gave us yet another variation on the old “green card marriage” subplot -- a subplot that might have worked better had the writers not seemed so bound and determined to skip over some of the real-life issues facing modern-day immigrants in order to give Bullock's character a happy ending.

After that came All About Steve, a movie about a woman who travels halfway across the country in pursuit of a would-be boyfriend. Apart from the movie's tabloid news parodies and some scenes featuring Thomas Haden Church as a egotistical newsman -- scenes which get a lot more humor from Mr. Church than the script deserves -- this is not all that funny a movie.

I guess the movie started to lose me that it suggested that Bullock's character (Mary Magdalene Horowitz) was seriously abnormal just because she likes creating crossword puzzles and wearing red boots. Excuse me? Liking crossword puzzles is weird? Wearing bright red boots in an era in which even shy suburban women sometimes go in for tattoos and not so shy women sometimes go in for body piercing is abnormal? Is the screenwriter serious?

Then there is the script's constant attempt to get humor out of stuff that is not all that funny. For example, an incident in which several deaf children fall into a hole is treated as the stuff of high hilarity And an attempt to parody pro-life and pro-choice demonstrations is made which does not actually parody such demonstrations but rather provides a lukewarm and inoffensive imitation of such.

The sad part is that the movie hints at enough potentially interesting themes -- be yourself, diversity is a good thing, conformity is bad -- that it could have been great had the filmmakers put forth some effort.

But they did not.

And I can't help but find it pretty ominous for Ms. Bullocks' future that both movies have tried to sex up the traditional Sandra Bullock image by either showing Ms. Bullock in various scenes of near-nudity or else dressing her up in a red bra and short skirt. In other words, it is no longer enough for Sandra Bullock to act like Sandra Bullock. Now she has to act like Sharon Stone. Which is an odd message, indeed, to include in that second movie -- that movie that supposedly encourages people to be themselves...

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Monday, September 07, 2009

First Stop Palookaville, Next Stop Death

I actually got around to seeing 2008's The Wrestler this weekend and I was surprised by how much I liked it.

Perhaps “like” is not the right word to use. After all, the fate of the title character -- a professional wrestler named Randy “The Ram” Robinson -- in this movie is hardly a cheery one and I can hardly accuse the film's director of making your standard feel-good sports epic.

But I found the movie to be very moving, indeed, despite the fact that I don't care much about professional wrestling, Mickey Rourke or the usual Hollywood clichés about lovable fuck-ups leading lives of quiet desperation.

Perhaps the film works for me so much precisely because the film doesn't pretend the title character (played by Mickey Rourke) is a lovable character. At the start of the movie, Randy “The Ram” Robinson is an aging pro who has screwed up big-time over the years and is now starting to reap the consequences of his actions. He's getting too old to successfully wrestle without risking another heart attack, yet he knows little else he can do. Moreover, not only does he not want to quit, he is not sure he is able to quit.

His one steady companion is an aging stripper named Cassidy who is facing the same question as Robinson: how to make a living in a profession with such an obvious expiration date. Cassidy is played by Marisa Tomei and it is a credit to her talent that the relationship between her character and Rourke's seems so convincing, even when it comes to the inevitable shout-out to pop culture: in this case, a set of 80's songs which provokes temporary nostalgia in both Cassidy and Robinson.

Evan Rachel Wood plays Robinson's estranged daughter Stephanie, and she too does a good job with her character, depicting the obvious conflict between hope, despair, anger and indifference which sum up her relationship with her father throughout the movie. In one scene, she gives the impression of obviously wanting to believe her father's attempts at reconciliation. In another, she all too accurately depicts the emotions of one who has been let down by her father once too often and it would be silly to pretend she does not have a point.

In the end, Robinson decides to forgo any attempt to make a go of it in the non-wrestling world and returns to the ring, even though he suspects -- no, knows -- that such an return will most likely to be the death of him.

To the director's credit, he does not shy away from the darker implications of his title character's story arc. Even the one scene toward the end which had the potential to turn into a Hollywood cliché -- the scene in which Cassidy rushes to ringside for one last conversation with Robinson -- ends on an all too logical note.

As does the movie itself.

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Nonsequential Links VII

Because you just can't stop at six...

(My comments, of course, are in parentheses.)

Say, anybody ever wonder why we don't have "Management Day"? (Perhaps because every other day is already Management Day.)

Exactly when does the "heat of the moment" of 9/11 fade away, and reason...and restraint...and LAW set in? We were right to strike back against those who hurt us and killed our loved ones...but how long do we continue striking back against enemies with moral impunity before we are the ones provoking a new cycle of violence? (I wish American politicians would ask themselves questions like these.)

We can't ignore Chappaquidick, nor should we. But it isn't the only thing to remember about his life.

But the next time you use a flat broom, circular saw, or clothespin – thank the Shakers who invented them. And maybe we should remember that utopia means “no place.”

Now, I do speak Spanish (more or less), but I don't think I really look like the person you'd approach in a crowd and expect to be able to understand Spanish. (As I've noted before on this blog, I've actually met Ms. Swendson in real life and she's right about her looks. I would have never guessed it myself.)

We can disagree without one side or the other being “insane” but when you insist that everyone must think exactly like you and live exactly like you (whether you are liberal or conservative) that is insane. And that is not democracy.

As for the IRS, I may be Mexican, but I ain’t dumb—no comment on our finest of institutions. (I usually take this column with a grain of salt, but I can't help but agree with this comment.)


Friday, September 04, 2009

Movie Song of the Week: “Good Morning Glory”

From 1933's Sitting Pretty -- which is not to be confused with the Clifton Webb movie of the same name -- it's yet another kitschy movie song with water imagery.

This time out we also have the vocal talents of Jack Oakie, Jack Haley (aka the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz), Ginger Rogers and the Pickens Sisters -- as well as yet another reminder of the stuff people got away with before the advent of the Hays Code.

For those of you who are confused by the little boy at Ginger's side toward the end of the song, no, she is not rehearsing for her future role in Bachelor Mother. The boy is supposed to be her little brother. At least, that's the screenwriters' story and so far they're sticking to it.

I hope you all enjoy it.

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Movie Quote of the Week

I can use one honest lawyer, but don't overdo it.
--Frank Morgan, The Good Fairy (1935)

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TV Quote of the Week

Sorry Dixie, existential thought doesn't hold much water out here in the territories.
--John Pyper-Ferguson, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., “Pilot”

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

"But, Meredith..."

My favorite scene from 1935's The Good Fairy.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Trailer of the Week: The Good Fairy (1935)

Well, just don't sit there.

Go see a movie.

Like this one.

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