Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stormy Weather (1943)

I've been wanting to see this film for a while now, after catching a bit about the Nicholas Brothers in a BET countdown show of the GREATEST DANCERS OF ALL TIME. The above clip--I had watched an abridged version before with just the Nicholas Bros. routine, but above is a longer version with the Cab Calloway number leading into it--is just amazing. They're on some superhuman Jackie Chan shit doing those splits down the stairs at the end! I was under the impression that the Nicholas Bros. were the stars of the film, but actually, they just appear in the climax. The stars are Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (best known for dancing with Shirley Temple) and Dooley Wilson (best known for playing piano in Casablanca), and they're both great. Along the way, they encounter lots of top-shelf talent, including Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Fats Waller. This number really killed me:

The whole movie is back-to-back musical numbers and comedy routines. There's even a blackface routine with Flournoy Miller and Johnnie Lee, two black comedians who perform with blackface on. (The action is set in the post-WWI era, when blackface was popular entertainment, and in some cases black performers were only allowed on stage when wearing blackface.) It's actually a funny routine, I wish I could find it on YouTube.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Craziness Nostalgia

Every time I think these fools just hate having a black president, I remember that they acted more or less like this over Bill Clinton. Rachel Maddow puts a little more historical context to it:

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Radical Is Health Care Reform?

In the interest of healing the political divide in this country, perhaps we should spend a little more time talking about where we're coming from on each side of the debate. I know that one of the things that I'm having the hardest time with is understanding how anyone can look at the health care reform package currently being debated, and consider it to be some kind of extreme, radical socialist program. It is, from my perspective, right there in the middle of the road.

If we think about the healthcare debate as a 5-point spectrum, on the furthest point to the left you would have government-run healthcare. Doctors and nurses are employees of the government, hospitals are government-run institutions. This is the system they have in the UK. We also have it in America. It's called the VA system, and it's customers are generally happier with the results than customers of the private insurance agencies are. Nobody, not Obama nor Hillary nor John Edwards, ever even suggested we employ such a system in the U.S. I don't even think Dennis Kucinich went there.

A little to the right of that, we have single payer plans, where healthcare remains a private enterprise, but is entirely paid for by the government. This is the system they have in France, which is ranked the highest in the world by the World Health Organization. Maybe that ranking doesn't count for much, and I know there are plenty of problems with that system, but people living there seem to be generally happy with it. We also have a single payer plan in America. It's called Medicare, and it generally produces higher customer satisfaction than the private insurance industry. In the lead-up to this reform, President Obama refused to even consider a single payer system, incurring the wrath of many of his supporters on the left.

In the exact center of this spectrum, you have the plan that is being offered right now: a package of perfectly reasonable regulations on the health insurance industry, a government-administered pool to buy health insurance through (thus getting better deals for the consumer through collective bargaining, without having the government actually administer health insurance), and an OPTIONAL public insurance plan for those who want it. It's an inobtrusive way to fix the problems that actually exist, without imposing anything on people that are happy with their current insurance. It is, quite literally, the exact middle of the road. It's a compromise between left and right. It is not, by any measure, a radical, socialist takeover of the healthcare industry.

In the center right, I suppose you could have the same plan without the public option. Or, alternately, a few other fixes, like allowing interstate commerce in health insurance, or tort reform to ease up malpractice costs.* And to the far right, you would have the idea that there isn't really anything wrong with the system as it is, and we should just let the market work it's magic.

So here we have a moderate liberal president, starting off by offering the exact centrist plan for healthcare reform. Not only that, but he's even said that he'd sweeten the deal by throwing tort reform in there. And he's indicated that if he can't get this plan passed, he'll compromise further by passing it without the public option (I personally feel that this would make the plan essentially ineffective, but there it is). Does that sound like the megalomaniacal extremist that you hear described by the right? (And personally, I think it's the right plan for America. We're a different country from the UK or France or Sweden. Libertarianism is part of our national DNA.)

And yet, there's nothing gained from these compromises. Conservatives talk about this modest plan in EXACTLY the same language they would use to talk about literal socialized medicine. I don't know how the conservative mind works. To a conservative, is this the equivalent of Bush wanting credit for not invading Iran?

*The thing of being able to buy health insurance from different states seems perfectly reasonable to me, just as being able to buy drugs from Canada seems perfectly reasonable. I'm all for it, although I don't see where that alone is going to solve all our problems. I'm a bit less sure about tort reform--I'm suspicious of anything that limits consumers' rights to sue corporations--but hey, what the fuck, let's put it on the table. I'm all about compromising.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Beatle Day, Part 2

A couple other Beatle-related things I dredged up. First, here's a couple National Lampoon skits: Christopher Guest presenting a history of the band (there's another one of these on Neil Young, just as funny) on a record that I guess is called Good-Bye Pop. The second comes from the Radio Dinner record. I'm guessing it might be partially a spoof of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album, which he released after going through primal scream therapy. Or maybe just a joke about what a bitter, egotistical asshole John had become in the 70's.

National Lampoon - History of the Beatles
National Lampoon - Magical Misery Tour


Examination of whether or not Paul McCartney died in a car accident.
SoulSides presents soul covers of Beatles songs.

Happy Beatles Day!

I like that EW picked their top 5 worst Beatles songs, and didn't take it as an opportunity to beat up on "Revolution 9." I mean, it ain't "The Murder Mystery," but if "Revolution 9" were on a Velvet Underground album, everyone would be talking about what a genius Lou Reed was for coming up with it. I can get behind including "All You Need is Love," (not a fan of "Lucy in the Sky" or "Strawberry Fields," but AYNIL is surely the most annoying of their hippy songs), and "Dig It" (I can't even remember this song, but there's definitely some junk on Let It Be), but "Wild Honey Pie" is a pretty dumb choice. It's 1 minute long, and I like the way it works on the wacky first side of the White Album. I like "Don't Pass Me By," too, but I guess I can see where Ringo's vocals might not work for some folks on that one.

The other selection is "Flying," which is definitely one of the worst songs they ever recorded. But the silly melody provides a nice blank canvas for weird cover versions. Here's two of the weirdest bands I've ever heard taking stabs at it:

The Residents - Flying
Shockabilly - Flying

By the way, my top 5 Beatles tracks (hey, might as well): "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" (just the perfect pop song), "Tomorrow Never Knows", "I Am the Walrus", "Come Together" and "Run For Your Life". I like that last one just because it's so funny to listen to a pop-y Beatles song about threatening to kill your girlfriend. "I Feel Fine" would be up there, too. And "Blackbird." And one of their early R&B covers I like a lot, "Bad Boy," although the only place I've ever heard that song is in one of their corny Beatles cartoons:

Bonus Track:

And here's the greatest interpretation of a Beatles song ever!

Doodles Weaver - Eleanor Rigby

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Liberal Bias!

From the current issue of Oxford American, Lester Maddox burning a copy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A reminder to journalists that, if you're pissing off southern conservatives, maybe it's a sign that you're doing your job.

Speaking of which, another example of the liberal media's bias: the new Ken Burns series.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


As always, thanks to Dennis for constructing this quiz. This one took me like two months to finish, but here it is.

1) Second-favorite Stanley Kubrick film.

I started to say Paths of Glory, but then I kept thinking about The Shining, which seems to reveal more every time I watch it. The way it builds a sense of increasing menace in every scene, every moment, it's really a fantastic construction.

2) Most significant/important/interesting trend in movies over the past decade, for good or evil.

One-word answer: the internet. I guess that's two words, but I think the internet has hugely impacted the ways we watch movies. As a force for evil, I think everyone can recognize what's bad there, but let's talk about it as a force for good. Because we all like discussing movies, and exploring their meaning, but 10 years ago, how much of an outlet did most people have for this? It's one thing to go home and mull a movie over in your mind, it's quite another to be able to get those thoughts down on virtual paper and get them out--and quite another thing still to engage in an ongoing discussion about a film with a group of people bringing their diverse views to it. This does change the way we watch movies. I would also add that, in the 10 years since I've had some sort of outlet on the internet, my tastes and ideas about movies have changed much more than they did the previous 10 years. You have to get those old opinions out in order to let new ones in.

3) Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) or Buffalo Bill Cody (Paul Newman)?

Never seen the Altman film, but I really can't remember anything about the Eastwood film either.

4) Best Film of 1949.

White Heat

5) Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) or Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore)?

Oscar Jaffe is a great character, but I love what Jack Benny does with Joseph Tura in To Be or Not to Be. There's that great scene where he's disguised as a Nazi general, and is speaking to another Nazi about Joseph Tura. When the Nazi insults Tura's acting, Benny is able to...geez, I'm not even sure how to describe it. It's like he reacts without changing his facial expression. What an amazing comedian.

6) Has the hand-held shaky-cam directorial style become a visual cliché?

Well, it obviously has, so I don't think that's really the question. The question is maybe whether it still has value if used well. And I think it does. Used sparingly, handheld shots are still effective, and maybe even more effective now that audiences have gotten used to them, so the effect is more invisible.

7) What was the first foreign-language film you ever saw?

I've been wracking my brain to think of a foreign language film I watched in the 80's. I can't think of one. Can it be that the first film I watched in a foreign language was John Woo's The Killer at the Tate Center? Wow, I was a dumber kid than I thought.

8) Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) or Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre)?

Peter Lorre can always count on my vote.

9) Favorite World War II drama (1950-1970).

Hmmm....I don't know. I watched a lot of WWII flicks when I was a kid, but I got bored with them, so I never really looked that deeply into the genre as an adult.

10) Favorite animal movie star.

Miracle the Horse from History of the World, Part 1.

11) Who or whatever is to blame, name an irresponsible moment in cinema.

Pass (just to get this thing out of my queue).

12) Best Film of 1969.

Putney Swope. I don't know if that's really a "great" movie, but I love it.

13) Name the last movie you saw theatrically, and also on DVD or Blu-ray.

Theatrical: Funny People, a great character piece with completely unnecessary plot elements.

DVD: Payback, starring Rip Torn. Great performance. But I'm about to put on Coraline.

(this is now over a month old--the earliest questions I answered are nearly two months old--but I'm going to leave it.)

14) Second-favorite Robert Altman film.

The Long Goodbye. Besides being the perfect mix of L.A. noir and off-beat comedy, it's got the all-time greatest use of a reflected image in film (Marlowe fooling around on the beach superimposed over the couple's conversation).

15) What is your favorite independent outlet for reading about movies, either online or in print?

I guess you could say that I'm currently in the market for such an outlet.

16) Who wins? Angela Mao or Meiko Kaji? (Thanks, Peter!)

When I read the names, I assumed that Kaji was Sister Streetfighter, and so I almost answered Angela Mao without looking them up. But no, she's Lady Snowblood, so I think she could take Angela Mao (just barely).

17) Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) or Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly)?

Haven't seen Bullets Over Broadway, so I can't judge Tilly. I think My Cousin Vinnie is pretty weak, but Marisa Tomei is pretty cute in it, so I guess I could go with her.

18) Favorite movie that features a carnival setting or sequence.

My holy trinity of carnie flicks: Nightmare Alley, The Unknown and Freaks.

19) Best use of high-definition video on the big screen to date.

Geez, I don't know. Maybe that Cloverfield movie.

20) Favorite movie that is equal parts genre film and a deconstruction or consideration of that same genre.

Fresh on my mind, The Hurt Locker.

21) Best Film of 1979.

What a great year for comedies. I guess I'm going with Life of Brian, edging out Being There and several of the movies that defined my childhood (Meatballs, The Jerk and The Muppet Movie). While Holy Grail has been run into the ground, and Meaning of Life reveals itself to be pretty uneven on repeat viewings, Brian remains one of the best works of satire ever filmed. But if we can count concert films, I'd be tempted to pick Richard Pryor Live in Concert, the best standup comedy performance ever captured on film.

22) Most realistic and/or sincere depiction of small-town life in the movies.

People always want to talk about how great small-town life is, but if you've ever lived in a small town, you know that small-town life sucks. So I think Pleastentville is the most accurate depiction of small-town life, because, like small-town life, Pleasentville sucks.

23) Best horror movie creature (non-giant division).

24) Second-favorite Francis Ford Coppola film.

I think I'm going to say Dracula. I mean, it's not a great movie, but it's great-looking. If it didn't have the bullshit claim of being more true to the novel than previous Dracula movies (it's not), I don't think it would be as widely dismissed as it is.

25) Name a one-off movie that could have produced a franchise you would have wanted to see.

Anyone remember that Sky Captain movie from sometime in the 00's? That was a cool film, even if it wasn't a very good one. I would definitely have watched more of those.

26) Favorite sequence from a Brian De Palma film.

The bizarre hypnosis scene from Sisters.

27) Favorite moment in three-strip Technicolor.

OK, I don't have a deep knowledge of what is and isn't, so if I'm off here feel free to correct me. The first thing that comes to mind (especially when you use the word "moment") is Dorothy walking out of her black-and-white house, into the technicolor world of Oz. But I'd also have to give a shout out to the big dance number in The Red Shoes.

28) Favorite Alan Smithee film. (Thanks, Peter!)

I hadn't realized it until I looked it up, but the video to one of my favorite Wu Tang tracks is an Alan Smithee film!

29) Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) or Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau)?


30) Best post-Crimes and Misdemeanors Woody Allen film.

Deconstructing Harry. Woody still playing himself, but being more honest about what a horrible person he is.

31) Best Film of 1999.

Princess Mononoke got it's US release that doesn't really count. The other film that topped my list that year was The Blair Witch Project, but I haven't gone back and watched it since. I doubt that experience I had in the theater watching it will ever be duplicated on repeat viewings. Which leaves quite a few realy amazing films on the list, including some that have gotten better over time, like Rushmore and The Straight Story, but for my favorite, I'll still say South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. That film made me laugh so hard I literally couldn't breathe.

32) Favorite movie tag line.

I just know I'm going to think of a really good one the moment I hit "publish." The famous Jaws 2 tagline "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water" always seemed very effective.

33) Favorite B-movie western.

Pass (this one's really outside my area of expertise).

34) Overall, the author best served by movie adaptations of her or his work.

I've been wracking my brain over this one, and I'm going to stop. If it were just on the basis of L.A. Confidential, I'd say James Ellroy, since that script really takes what works from his book and disposes of a lot of stuff that...well, stuff that's cool in the context of the book, but would be irritating on film. But then there's The Black Dahlia, so that kind of puts an end to that line of thinking...

35) Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) or Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard)?

Taking these quizzes really hammers home how many movies I haven't seen. My Man Godfrey is one of them, so I'll go with Hepburn.

36) Favorite musical cameo in a non-musical movie.

The Yardbirds in Blow Up. It's a bit of wish fulfillment in so many ways. There's so little footage of the band, compared to their contemporaries like The Stones and The Who, and as far as I know there is no other footage of them with Page and Beck both playing lead (they only recorded two songs with this lineup, and I believe did one brief European tour). And for someone growing up in the 80's, they were this mythical band that Led Zeppelin had evolved out of, that you'd read about but never really hear. And the clip (which is lipsynched, and the music doesn't actually have the two lead guitars on it) is like a fantasy of what The Yardbirds might have been like. As far as I know, they never destroyed their instruments onstage. I'm thinking Antonioni maybe had seen The Who, and just told The Yardbirds to do The Who's schtick.

37) Bruno (the character, if you haven’t seen the movie, or the film, if you have): subversive satire or purveyor of stereotyping?

Well, to me it seems pretty clearly to work as satire. I'm sure there are others who aren't so sure, but if there weren't, then it wouldn't be very good satire.

38) Five film folks, living or deceased, you would love to meet. (Thanks, Rick!)

Orson Welles, Lon Chaney, John Waters, Jacques Tati, Groucho Marx.