Thursday, May 30, 2013

Movie Quote of the Week

Let them eat static.
--Ricardo Montalban, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

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TV Quote of the Week

It's unfair to judge yourself by the criterion of age. A vital, intelligent woman is much more than the sum of her birthdays.
--Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman, "Beauty on Parade"

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

R.I.P. Steve Forrest

American actor Steve Forrest, most famous for his starring role in the 1970s TV series S.W.A.T. and for being the younger brother of the late actor Dana Andrews, finished his last mission on May 18 at age 87. He was also known for playing the title role in the mid-1960s British series The Baron.

He will be missed.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Movie Song of the Week: "Hymn to the Fallen"

In honor of Memorial Day.

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Movie Quote of the Week

I'm gonna dedicate my book to those who shot but didn't get shot, because it's about survivors. And surviving is the only glory in war, if you know what I mean.
--Robert Carradine, The Big Red One (1980)

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TV Quote of the Week

There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war except its ending.
--Lee Bergere, Star Trek, "The Savage Curtain"

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

R.I.P. Ray Manzarek

American musician Ray Manzarek, former keyboardist and founding member of the 1960s rock group The Doors, finished his last session Monday at age 74.

He will be missed.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Pop Song of the Week: "Go Home"

Some prejudices even the Hag can't overcome... Dammit!

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Trying to Find a Better Life at the Movies

I am always tempted to recuse myself from reviewing movies like the 2011 release A Better Life because it is hard to pretend I can be unbiased about the subject manner. But then it is very hard for me to be very unbiased about many subjects. Besides, it is not like diehard Anglophiles recuse themselves from reviewing English movies. Nor do Francophiles recuse themselves from critiquing the latest Gallic film. If anything, I tend to be a little harder on movies about Mexican-Americans and their immigrant parents because my expectations are higher. I find it ridiculous to pretend that movies about Mexicans should be novelties when there are already so many of us in the American movie-watching population. Moreover, I find it equally ridiculous to pretend that we are incapable of inspiring the same great stories that we take for granted in other segments of the American population.

In any event, A Better Life is not the best movie about Mexican-Americans and immigrants that I have ever seen -- but it is not a bad movie either. After having seen Mexican actor Demián Bichir play a wealthy drug-dealer-turned-politician in the American cable TV series Weeds, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well he played a character on the other end of the class spectrum -- though I am not quite happy to note that his two biggest parts in America thus far involve variations on decades-old stereotypes.

Some parts of the movie were a bit too good to be true. Bichir's character Carlos Galindo, a humble illegal immigrant working as a landscape worker in southern California, seemed at times to be a bit too mellow for a guy who has had so many setbacks in his life. The conflict between him and his American-born son seemed to get resolved almost a tad too easily to be believable. But some areas -- like the relationship between him and his sister -- were all too believable, and even the rather silly event that landed him in trouble was more believable than most illegal immigrant apologists would have you believe. (I am not an expert on illegal immigration but I have met enough such people to know that while some such are more law-abiding than one would expect from their circumstances, still others are not quite as law-abiding as they could be.)

For what it is worth, my own father was never an illegal immigrant but he did have the same air of being wiser than his years that Bichir brings off so well in this movie. Indeed, much of this film's merits lies in the way it focuses on aspects of Mexican and Mexican-American culture that are still invisible to most American movie-goers.

If there is one such drawback to such a movie, it is that we are fast approaching the point where most Anglo-American movie-goers are not likely to welcome future work in this area. Already there is a tendency to see such movies as propaganda more than art, which I find ironic since it can be argued that movies that show the opposite view of illegal immigration are also more propaganda than art. Besides, propaganda tends to be in the eye of the beholder, and while I must admit that my views of illegal immigration are a bit more mixed than those of most Hispanic liberals, I must confess that I grow increasingly wary of those who only cry "Bias!" whenever a particular story is not in their favor.

But then most people rarely go to a movie theatre to have their political opinions challenged. And even more rarely to have them changed.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Movie Song of the Week: "Beauty School Dropout"

Listen to Frankie Avalon, kids. Stay in school!

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Movie Quote of the Week

The newspaper was wrong.
--Mary Steenburgen, Time After Time (1979)

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TV Quote of the Week

I knew there was more to English television than Masterpiece Theatre.
--Kate Hodge, She-Wolf of London, “Nice Girls Don't”

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Comic Book Image of the Week

Oh, no! Not Sylar?!

On second thought, this image was drawn long before anyone conceived of the TV show Heroes. And one suspects that character on the cover could beat Sylar with one arm tied behind his back. Though if they ever make Alan Moore's Miracleman into a movie, I would not be a bit surprised if Zachary Quinto (the actor who played Sylar) ended up playing this character as well.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Quote of the Week

How should an aging, black jock like myself know anything about pop culture? Man, I am a living part of pop culture and have been for nearly 50 years. Beyond that, I think pop culture expresses our needs, fears, hopes and whole zeitgeist better than some of the more esoteric and obscure forms of art.
--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, "Coming Out of the Locker Room Ghetto", The Huffington Post, February 4, 2013

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

¡Feliz Día de la Madre!

Happy Mother's Day to all my loyal readers. I hope you all enjoy a pleasant day with your own mothers.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pop Song of the Week: "Danny's Song"

In honor of Mother's Day.

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Movie Song of the Week: "Baby Mine"

From the 1941 Disney classic Dumbo, it is the ultimate Mother's Day tune. Please feel free to share it with your mother.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Ruben Navarrette, Jr.!

Born May 11, 1967.

He is a nationally syndicated columnist best known for his non-fiction book A Darker Shade of Crimson, a book written about his years as a Mexican-American student at Harvard.

He has also become notorious with liberals for being an apologist for former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Bush Administration. For that matter, he is not very popular with many conservatives because of his sympathy for Mexican illegal immigrants even though he is often quite conservative on the issue compared to most Mexican-American journalists.

I was a big fan of his book when it first came out but I have not been too crazy about his more recent work. And yet I find his book more provocative than more politically correct books I have read about Mexican Americans -- perhaps because it was one of the few books I have read about Mexican Americans that do not portray us as a social problem.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Martha Quinn!

Born May 11, 1959.

She was one of the first video jockeys to appear on MTV and to this day, my favorite. She also had a short-lived career as an actress, but the less said about that, the better.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Ellen Ochoa!

AKA Ellen Lauri Ochoa.

Born May 10, 1958.

She is a former astronaut and current Director of the Johnson Space Center. She became the first Hispanic woman to go into space when she went on a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993. For what it's worth, she is also half Mexican on her father's side. It is a shame she is not more famous but then most nativists like to pretend that Hispanics like her are the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Ariel Durant!

Born May 10, 1898. Died October 25, 1981.

She is best known as the late spouse of historian William Durant although she helped him so much with his work that she deserves to be recognized as a historian in her own right.

Ironically, her work and her husband's are frequently passed over as old-fashioned by modern liberals who would be shocked by how young Ms. Durant was when she got married. She was fourteen when she and her husband tied the knot and the two of them had met when she was a student of his. In fact, Durant resigned his post as her teacher in order to marry her. Of course, most historians would argue that the Durant's relationship was more the exception to the rule than the rule itself. But, hey, it worked for the Durants. And thus far history has judged them less harshly than their critics.

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen

American animator Ray Harryhausen, best known for his work on such films as the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts and the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, finished his last model two days ago at age 92.
He will be missed.

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Comic Book Image of the Week

"Say it loud! I'm green and I'm proud!"

You can say many things about Alan Moore's version of Swamp Thing but you can never accuse him of false modesty.

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

I hope you all enjoy the holiday.

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Quote of the Week

George Jones' voice was a rowdy Saturday night uproar at a back-street beer joint, the heartbroken wail of the one who wakes up to find the other side of the bed empty, the far-off lonesome whistle of the midnight train, the look in the eyes of a young bride as that ring is placed on her finger, the memories of a half-asleep old man dreaming about the good old days. Lost love, lost innocence, good and bad memories, and experiences that are just too much for a human being to deal with. He sang for us all, the non-stop partiers, the guys who are alone and the girl done wrong, the puppy lovers, the extrovert, the introvert and the guy at the end of the bar who never seems to go home... George had a song for everybody.
--Charlie Daniels, from his eulogy about the late George Jones (natch)

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Audrey Hepburn!

AKA Audrey Kathleen Ruston.

Born May 4, 1929. Died January 20, 1993.

British actress and Hollywood icon. My present novia is a big fan of hers. And so am I.

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Friday, May 03, 2013

Pop Song of the Week: "He Stopped Loving Her Today"

Yes, it is rather an obvious choice for a George Jones song but then it was one of my late father's favorite country tunes so why shouldn't I post it? Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it. If you're still mourning a lost love, please try to get over it in a less drastic fashion than the guy in the song.

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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Movie Song of the Week: "Hotel California"

From the 1998 movie The Big Whatifski -- er -- The Big Lebowski, I post one of the most memorable Spanish-language songs of the 1990s. This is, of course, not the original version of this song but it really ties the site together.

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Movie Quote of the Week

These people... they're capable of anything.
--O. J. Simpson, Capricorn One (1978)

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TV Quote of the Week

I think the last census showed Aztecs in short supply in Chicago.
--Simon Oakland, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, "Legacy of Terror"

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Bette Davis Eyes and the First of the Red Hot Latin Loathers: Bordertown

I never really understoond what the term "Bette Davis eyes" meant until after I recently saw this movie. Perhaps it was because, like most people of my generation, my main knowledge of Ms. Davis's work came from her post-Baby Jane days when she seemed to be cast more and more for shock value than for actual talent. Or perhaps it was because like most movie buffs, I took Ms. Davis' status in her younger days for granted. After all, one could argue that anyone could do good with the great dialogue of an All About Eve or The Petrified Forest; however, to stand out well enough to make a silk scarf of the pig's ear of a movie that is the 1935 movie Bordertown takes special talent.

Indeed, the script for Bordertown is bad enough that Ms. Davis's ability to stand out in her role as Marie Roark seems more of an accomplishment than any of her more famous roles. And of course, part of the reason Ms. Davis stands out so much in this movie is the way she uses her oh so noticeable eyes. In fact, she uses her eyes in a mad scene so different from previous movie mad scenes that the studio's first impulse was to make her do it over. It was not until after:

(1.) Ms. Davis agreed to do such a repeat only if the movie's preview audiences failed to realize her character's true mental status.


(2.) said preview audiences proved her right.

that they backed off of such a demand.

Ironically, Ms. Davis was never supposed to be cast in Bordertown. The male lead Paul Muni originally wanted either Carole Lombard or Lupe Vélez to play Ms. Davis' part opposite his Johnny Ramirez character. However, after Ms. Davis got a lot of positive attention as a result of her role in the 1934 RKO film Of Human Bondage, Warner Brothers studio head Jack L. Warner insisted that she be cast in the part -- which is just as well since Ms. Davis's performance is one of the few reasons Bordertown is still worth watching nowadays.

Part of the problem with this movie is that like all too many Hollywood movies about Mexican-Americans -- including some recent releases I could mention -- the movie is never quite as progressive as its creators think it is. On the surface, Johnny Ramirez is a lot more sympathetic than the thuggish title character Muni played in Scarface -- but not by much. Although the script makes much of him being a reformed hood who has turned his back on his former lifestyle and now just wants to play lawyer and please his mother, it also makes him seem incredibly naive. No sooner than he graduates from law school than he turns his back on his law books, and when he has the chance to help an old friend with a big civil case, he does not seem to even try to do much research, preferring instead to just wing it based on what little information he finds. As a result, he not only ends up losing what should have been an open-and-shut case against the rich white debutante who drunkenly ran into and totaled his friend's truck, he also ends up being held in contempt of court by a very biased judge. And as if that is not enough, he punches out the opposing attorney to boot.

Afterwards, Ramirez ends up abandoning his law practice and going to work as a manager for local bordertown casino owner Charlie Roark (played by Eugene Pallette). Ramirez proves more successful as a casino manager than he ever was as a lawyer, and he even manages to attract the attention of not just one but two Anglo women -- Charlie Roark's wife Marie and spoiled debutante Dale Elwell (the same woman who totaled the truck of Ramirez's friend). Ramirez makes it clear early on that he is not interested in returning Marie's affection. Instead he becomes obsessed with Ms. Elwell (played by Margaret Lindsay), a woman whose idea of romantic subtlety involves continuously addressing him as "Savage" and letting her girlfriends know that her interest in him is little more than social slumming. Eventually Marie grows jealous of Ms. Elwell and strives to win Johnny for herself. When Johnny refuses to cooperate, Marie takes it upon herself to free herself from her husband by using her spouse's own love of gadgets against him. And when that plan does not work to change Johnny's mind, she accuses Ramirez of a crime he did not commit...

In any event, it would probably be a bit much to expect 2013 liberalism from a 1935 movie, especially one made at a time when Mexican-Americans were still facing massive discrimination throughout the American Southwest. Then again it seems a bit much to applaud such a movie for essentially implying that all such cases of discrimination were just the result of fiery Latin tempers and all too active Mexican fists.

It says something about the movie's concern for its Latin characters that we in the audience never do find out whether Johnny's friend ever got his truck fixed. Nor does it help that the script's idea of a happy ending means Johnny Ramirez leaving Anglo society in order to go back where he came from. True, it is implied in the movie that Johnny will be using his money and experience to finance a law school for his fellow Mexicans. But after eighty minutes of implying that you can take the boy out of the barrio but not the barrio out of the boy, such an ending does not seem all that cool. Moreover, Ms. Elwell's fate is depicted in such an over-the-top fashion that even the most ardent LULAC member might consider it to be overdone.

Indeed, Bordertown is a lot better when it comes to the unintentional irony. For example, when Ms. Elwell first sees Mr. Ramirez in the courtroom, she immediately draws a sketch of him and labels it "savage" despite knowing little more about Ramirez than his profession, his appearance and his ethnicity. Yet when Ramirez drops by her home later in the movie, Ms. Elwell is in her backyard sunbathing in the nude (said sunbathing, of course, being done in such a fashion that even the most conservative member of the Hays Office would not object). In short, like the stereotypical "savage" she undoubtedly looks down upon, Ms. Elwell is not only wearing no clothes when Mr. Rodriguez arrives but she is also doing her damnest to turn her skin darker. And like a "savage", she does not seem particularly guilty about the damage she caused earlier in the movie until it is almost too late to do anything about it.

Anyway, there are many movies about Mexican-Americans that are much better to watch than Bordertown. However, Bordertown does give modern audiences an interesting insight into what even the most progressive white non-Hispanics thought about Mexican-Americans back in 1935. And come to think of it, that is perhaps the most damnable thing about Bordertown -- not that it is so dated or so backward but that it was considered so progressive by the standards of its day. If nothing else, that makes me wonder how progressive today's best movies will seem in 2091.

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Judy Collins!

AKA Judith Marjorie Collins.

Born May 1, 1939.

American folk singer best known for such songs as "Both Sides Now" and "Amazing Grace". She is also famous for being the inspiration for the Crosby, Stills and Nash song "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes", which described the relationship between her and her former boyfriend Stephen Stills. For that matter, her song "Chelsea Morning" allegedly inspired the name of Bill and Hillary Clinton's daughter Chelsea.

Oddly enough, the above album cover (the one for her 1979 release Hard Times for Lovers) was never as famous as that image of Ms. Collins would make you think -- which might explain why more overtly sexual female singers like Madonna never imitated it. Then again, Ms. Collins is rarely remembered for her 1961 cover of the folk song "Maid of Constant Sorrow", a song which was, of course, inspired by the same folk song that would be covered more recently under the title "Man of Constant Sorrow".

Oh, well. She is still a memorable singer.

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