TCM: Stage Door

How had I never seen this 1937 masterpiece? Katherine Hepburn, radiantly beautiful (and impossibly slim!); Ginger Rogers showing that she was a top-flight comedienne; Lucille Ball doing a wonderful job (but giving way to Ginger); Constance Collier, the great silent movie star (and playwright) as Katherine Hepburn’s coach; and Ann Miller, aged just 14, dancing beside Ginger Rogers. (She had claimed to be 18 when Lucille Ball discovered her a year earlier.) The one-liners crackle and zip, and you quickly realize that although there are several male characters, this movie is all about the girls: their dreams, their rivalries, their hopes and despairs. Unfortunately neither Amazon nor Netflix have it available for streaming, but TCM delivered the goods.`

"Logorama" is brilliant

This weekend the Aquarius cinema in Palo Alto is showing the Oscar-nominated short subject films for 2010, along with some “honorable mentions”. We decided to checkout the animated films, and were blown away by the brilliant contenders. The longest film, and the one I expected to enjoy most, is “A Matter of Loaf and Death”, the latest Wallace & Gromit creation from Nick Park. Beautifully made, as funny as ever, but perhaps a bit predictable. It was followed by Nicky Phelan’s “Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty”, a much shorter but hysterically funny piece, which was distinguished by the interleaving of two quite different animation styles. Two other films caught my eye – Javier Recio Gracia’s “The Lady and the Reaper”, and Frabrice Joubert’s “French Roast” – but neither achieved the heights of Nick Park and Nicky Phelan.
Then came the last film – and before it was shown, there was a warning that it contained strong language and violence. A few parents shooed their children out of the theatre. And then it started:

We’re talking about “Logorama” by the H5 Group from France. Energetic, subversive, startling, cynical, politically savvy… It’s just brilliant. Quite apart from anything else, I hope it sets the bar for “fair use” of copyrighted visual material from now on. Every familiar logo in our advertisement-drenched world seems to be skewered.
One reviewer of the 2010 Oscar contenders concluded that:

“Logorama” stands out among this year’s nominees, but a likely winner is a usual suspect, this year’s Nick Park concoction.

I hope she’s wrong. I think that it would be a healthy sign if the Oscar went to the most subversive candidate. It’s happened before…
In the meantime, if you get the chance to see these films, carpe diem! (The whole of “Logorama” seems to be online here, but things change….)

Up in the Air

Yes, there’s a lesson in this for people like me….

(Which reminds me: I’ve got two trips coming up this month – one to Boston, and one to Shenzhen. Hmmm.)


Back in Seattle, my cable TV/internet provider Millennium Digital Broadstripe had a pricing model that made it irrational to get anything other than a package with every premium service that they offered.
Here in Palo Alto, we have Comcast, and it didn’t quite work that way. After making sure we had the four essential channels – Fox Soccer, Speed, Turner Classic Movies and BBC – there were plenty of economical, premium-free packages. And they offer a fair number of video-on-demand options, both paid and free. But even so…. Yes, we belong to Netflix, but we’ve found ourselves ordering “worthy” movies on DVD and then being in the mood for something light.
Last week we visited some friends for dinner, and after we’d eaten a couple of us wound up in the den, watching bits of weird Troma movies, streamed from Netflix via their Xbox360. The penny dropped, and that evening I ordered a Roku box. A $99 set-top box that lets me stream video from Netflix and Amazon straight onto my HDTV. Finally I’m getting to enjoy the IT Crowd
(Oh, and a tip for Amazon: you need to investigate a subscription pricing model for video-on-demand. Yes, it’s more convenient that I can search the Amazon catalog through the Roku, rather than having to add movies to my “Instant queue” on my laptop before I can watch them. But every time I find something on Amazon, I go to check for it on Netflix, because I’ve already paid for all I can watch from them.)

Illicit (1931)

Film of the week: Illicit (1931).Illicit From IMDB:

The film is interesting because it’s early Stanwyck, but also because of the independent woman angle which soon will fade from view with the ushering in of the code. Once the ’40s hit, the independent woman became an uptight career woman wearing a tailored suit, her hair up, and sporting a stern attitude. Young, carefree non-virgins became a thing of the past. But these precode films are what helped mold the strong images of Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Barbara Stanwyck…

Barbara Stanwyck is superb in this: young, playful, beautiful, extraordinarily strong and very sensual. She gives a very modern performance that wouldn’t have been out of place 60 or 70 years later. The ending is a bit of a cop-out, but I imagine that the studios insisted on it; it doesn’t spoil the film.
And why now? Well, on a whim, I programmed my DVR to record it a couple of months ago, but I didn’t get around to watching it until last night. Check it out.

Utterly, unredeemably negative

I went to see “The Dark Knight”. I saw it in Cinerama, in a packed cinema, and I was in the middle of the row. This meant that I couldn’t easily do what I wanted to: leave.
I hated it.
It was, without doubt, the most negative, life-denying film I have ever seen.
This was quite clearly a post-9/11 film. Back on September 16, 2001, Dick Cheney notoriously said:

We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

In this film, there is only the dark side. The light side is lost, swallowed up in the shadows. Oh sure, the director tosses us a bone in the form of the two ferries at the end, but by then the pointless, inchoate mayhem has numbed us to the point where we can hardly appreciate it. All of the good guys have given up on the values they professed, and the best we can do is lie about them or make them our scapegoat.
As we left the cinema, I looked around me. Everybody seemed subdued; nobody looked happy. For myself, I jammed my headphones into my ears and cranked up the loudest music that I had on my iPhone; when I got home I knocked back half a bottle of wine in a couple of minutes. I felt as though I had lost something. I want to un-see the film, to have that bit of my life back.
Brilliant? Oh, sure, but so very, very cynical. Others have invited us to look into the pit, have shown us the fragility of civilization – Dante, Picasso, Golding, Bosch, Spiegelman – but none of them laughed at us as they did so.
UPDATE: I’ve been reading some of the reviews over at RottenTomatoes. Only one reviewer seems to have seen the film as I did: Armond White of the NY Press. Money quote:

Aaron Eckhart’s cop role in The Black Dahlia humanized the complexity of crime and morality. But as Harvey Dent, sorrow transforms him into the vengeful Two-Face, another Armageddon freak in Nolan’s sideshow. The idea is that Dent proves heroism is improbable or unlikely in this life. Dent says, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” What kind of crap is that to teach our children, or swallow ourselves? Such illogic sums up hipster nihilism, just like Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. Putting that crap in a Batman movie panders to the naiveté of those who have not outgrown the moral simplifications of old comics but relish cynicism as smartness. That’s the point of The Joker telling Batman, “You complete me.” Tim Burton might have ridiculed that Jerry Maguire canard, but Nolan means it—his hero is as sick as his villain.

And here’s the oddly-named Camila Batmanghelidjh in the Independent:

What worries me even more than the violence was the lack of human compassion surrounding it. Human life is presented as worthless. For me, the apathetic bystanders who facilitate violence are more disturbing than the Joker himself. His perversion, at least, has a sad logic to it. The indifference of the onlookers, though, is shocking.

Dawkins on Darwin

The first episode of Richard Dawkins’ three-part documentary on Charles Darwin has been broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK. I’m not sure if/when it’ll be shown in the USA, but in the meantime it’s up on Google Video:

48 minutes. Highly recommended.

Farewell Routemaster (and other interesting fare)

I discovered the rather strange online video site Jaman today. It’s a streaming (or download-to-rent) service, which has a large library of movies and short subject material from “the long tail”. The films range from silent classics to recent gems such as “Conversations with Other Women”, which I saw recently. In addition to pay-to-rent items, there are also quite a few free (ad-supported) treasures: cult schlock like “Bad Girls Go To Hell”, quirky short subjects like the strange Greek film “Single Bed”, and documentaries like “Farewell Routemaster”. It’s a long tail indeed….