Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Ten Favorite Films of 1927

This is my contribution to the 1927 Blog-a-thon happening over at Goatdog Blog (click the picture to go to the master page). I'm doing this today in lieu of a Bible post, which will be back next week.

Quite possibly my favorite era of film is the exciting period between 1915, when movies finally found their footing, and 1939, when the Hays Code had finally taken control of the industry and choked the life out of it. Not that there weren't great films post-1939, there were a great many of them; but the early forties was the period of bouncing back from the bloodlessness foisted on the medium by bluenoses.

But I'm here to talk about 1927. In preparing a topic for the 1927 Blog-a-thon, I kept broadening and broadening my topic until I finally settled on just briefly talking up my ten favorite movies from that illustrious year. Most people know 1927 as the year when sound was introduced to film, which is certainly short-changing a highly creative year. Here, without further ado, are my ten favorites of that very year.

Oh, a quick aside before I begin (so much for that further ado thing). When I add movies to the list of films I've seen (over 6500 right now), I go by the copyright date. So there are a number of great films that others might be talking about that I don't mention because, to my way of thinking, they are from 1926 (The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Don Juan, Flesh and the Devil, The General, Metropolis, The Scarlet Letter, The Son of the Sheik, Torrent) or 1928 (The Cameraman, The Passion of Joan of Arc, White Shadows on the South Seas, A Woman of Affairs). Release dates can be tenuous from this time period, because of Academy Award regulations and the platform release system that was used for more movies then than now. I look forward to reading about any one of them on this Blog-a-thon.

10. The Beloved Rogue (United Artists)
The Barrymore acting legacy goes back to the 1870s, and continues today. John Barrymore was, if not the most talented member of the family, certainly the most dynamic. Before breaking into movies, he had already earned a reputation as one of the great actors of the stage, which was no mean feat when his contemporaries included John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. He left the stage on a high note in the 1920s, garnering lasting critical acclaim with his performance in Hamlet.

In films, he tended to specialize in dashing, romantic characters that he tended to get tired of, starring as A.J. Raffles, Sherlock Holmes, Beau Brummel, Don Juan, and Captain Ahab by 1927. He could act, of that there was no doubt: witness his tour-de-force in the 1920 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But he did grow tired of the dramas and wanted to have some fun with a burlesque, and his first picture for United Artists was The Beloved Rogue, a comedic version of the life of French poet Francois Villon. The film was reviled by critics, who decried the comedy and the manner in which Barrymore played the role; so bad was the criticism that even Barrymore came to hate the film. But despite what he thought at the time, the film is an entertaining one, combining adventure and humor and romance in the way Douglas Fairbanks movies did at the time, and the same tradition would be continued by Errol Flynn. In fact, Barrymore could have just copied Fairbanks had he wanted to, but instead he invests the character of Villon with so much comedy that he's decidedly more pathetic and, therefore, funnier.

I'll never understand why this fun movie is so hated. Barrymore went back to acting as dashing romantics in period pieces with When a Man Loves (1927), and his career sailed through the advent of sound. Barrymore starred in some great films, including Svengali (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933), and Twentieth Century (1934). His alcoholism and, possibly, the advent of Alzheimer's disease made it harder for him to remember his lines, and his career suffered as a result. Though he did appear in MGM's Romeo and Juliet in 1936 (with a distinguished cast including Leslie Howard, Norma Shearer and Basil Rathbone), he never got to recreate his success as Hamlet for film. Surviving screen tests reportedly show a Barrymore at the bottom of his game, in a decline which Hollywood did not expect him to pull out of.

Barrymore died in 1942. His friend Errol Flynn played him in the film Too Much Too Soon.

9. Love (MGM)
Greta Garbo is quite possibly the embodiment of the classic Hollywood movie star. She's foreign and therefore mysterious, and her own passion for privacy only made her mystery more intriguing. And she was so absolutely beautiful; the kind of face that movie screens were invented to showcase. To say nothing of her considerable talent. She might have been capable of playing anything, but she was just so beautiful and so secretive that everyone wanted to cast her as the same type over and over again: a dangerous vamp who seduced and abandoned.

For her part, Garbo quickly grew tired of playing the vamp. Born Greta Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden, she appeared in only a few films before Louis B. Mayer signed her to an MGM contract on the strength of her debut, Gosta Berlings Saga (1924). He was taken with the expressive quality of her eyes and the emotion that radiated from her. There was nothing technical about Garbo; or at least, nothing obvious. She was, in fact, a quite capable actress. But she just appeared so genuine, and that was enough to draw an audience to her.

Mayer cast her as vamps in The Torrent, Temptress, and perhaps her real breakthrough, Flesh and the Devil (all from 1926), which she starred in opposite John Gilbert. He was recently divorced and enjoying his status as "The Great Lover"--at the time, he rivaled even Rudolph Valentino as a box office draw. He and Garbo began a passionate affair and, supposedly, she left him standing at the altar. Nevertheless, their onscreen chemistry was powerful and caused a sensation among the audience. Presaging the modern vogue of combining the names of couples into one being ("Brangelina," "Bennifer"), there are many magazines that refer to the pair as "Gilbo."

Garbo was smart about her career and knew how to play the system to get what she wanted. MGM wanted her to play the vamp a fourth time in Women Love Diamonds for director Edmund Goulding, but she refused. Goulding cast Pauline Stark instead, and the film flopped. Garbo held out for a few months before being asked to star in Love, a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina that Dimitri Buchowetski was set to direct. Garbo was cast opposite Ricardo Cortez, with whom she had starred in Torrent. Really she wanted John Gilbert in the movie, and after six weeks of filming she feigned an illness to buy some time. People moved on; Buchowetski was replaced by Edmund Goulding (who would also direct Garbo again in Grand Hotel in 1932), and Cortez was replaced by Gilbert.

The results are on the screen. Gilbert and Garbo, obviously feeling quite strongly towards one another, play Vronsky and Anna with abandon that is strangely, compellingly perilous. We know that their affair cannot end happily, but we also know that they cannot ignore the strength of their feelings. Any shortcomings the film may have are overcome by the honesty of the emotions. That's what Garbo really specialized in: playing a believable woman, one with wants and feelings and passions, who gave herself over to such feelings. Of course, this being the time it was, Garbo's character was usually punished for bringing those feelings out, and ended up dead or alone. But even here, in Love, MGM felt the audience wouldn't accept the ending as written (the ending of Anna Karenina is not a happy one for its title character), and tacked on a happy reunion that mars the film. Thankfully, some prints keep the tragic ending.

Garbo was only 22 when she made the film, playing the mother of a 13 year-old boy played by Philippe De Lacy. She was told not to upstage the boy, so instead she let the boy upstage her with his overacting. She would smile like the indulgent mother she was playing, and I find that more people remember her radiant smile more than they remember the boy. That's due mainly to William H. Daniels, one of the great cinematographers, who loved Garbo's face and made it a mission to light it and capture it so that we can still see it today and marvel at the depth of Garbo's warmth, passion, and beauty. Robert Payne, in his book The Great Garbo, noted that Love showcased a Garbo who "had never been more radiant. There are close-ups in this film as incandescent as any that came before or any that came afterward." He also notes, and I agree, that the screenplay and film as a whole are pretty middling. The film is all Greta Garbo.

The affair between Gilbert and Garbo continued for some time, though Garbo would later say that their affair was really "a friendship. I shall never marry. He's a gentleman, passionate. He uplifts me when I play. It is not an act, I'm living." They eventually cooled, and although she acted with him a few more times, when he died of a heart attack in 1936, she did not go to his funeral.

MGM, meanwhile, didn't think people were that interested in hearing actors speak, and dragged their feet on the recent revolution in sound. Therefore, Garbo didn't make her sound debut until 1930 in Anna Christie. Perhaps they were afraid that her Swedish accent would be off-putting. But it wasn't. It was liquid heaven.

8. It (Paramount)
Before the term was run into the ground, Clara Bow had It. Elinor Glyn said so. And Glyn would know: she was pioneering mass market erotic fiction for women at the time. In her novel, It, Glyn described "it" as "... that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes... entirely unself-conscious... full of self-confidence... indifferent to the effect... she is producing and uninfluenced by others." And she said that Clara Bow had it (although Dorothy Parker would derisively snort of Bow: "It, hell. She had those.").

She certainly did. She had those, but she had It to spare, and she'd worked hard to get it. Clara Bow was born in Brooklyn into a family of mental illness, poverty, and abuse. Her mother had previously had two stillborn daughters, and Bow was not expected to survive (she didn't even have a birth certificate). She was a tomboy because she was poor, and the other girls would take a look at her ratty clothes and shun her. At 10, her friend Johnny died in her arms, burned to death (the trauma never left her, and in fact every time she cried in a movie she was reminding herself of Johnny). Bow's mother was a prostitute; she was also an epileptic and mentally ill. She had public affairs with firemen. Bow's father may also have had mental problems; in any case, he was never home, and when he was, he abused Bow and her mother. He raped Bow when she was 15. She won a contest in 1921 for a bit role in Beyond the Rainbow, but her part was cut out of the final movie. Her mother, angry at her for deciding to become an actress, took to sneaking up behind Bow and threatening to kill her; one night, Bow woke up to see her mother holding a butcher knife to her throat. Bow never slept well again, suffering from insomnia for the rest of her life.

It's no surprise, then, that Bow felt a need for companionship. As her career began to take off, she was dating co-star Gilbert Roland; soon, began dating director Victor Fleming at the same time. He directed her in The Mantrap (1925), her first major success. Reputed to be among her lovers were Bela Lugosi, Gary Cooper, John Gilbert, and John Wayne. She was said to have kissed and told in language that would make a sailor blush. Stories of her supposed sexual insatiability grew, as did stories of her alcoholism and drug abuse. And there was always the worry that her family's mental instability would take a hold over her as well.

But in 1927, it all added to a public persona that was shocking but bold, and completely irresistible. She was a natural to star in the film version of Glyn's novel. The film itself is pretty tame despite how shocking the premise is supposed to be. Clara Bow did have sex appeal, undoubtedly, but the film tells a pretty average story of a rich man who falls in love with one of his own shopgirls (he doesn't realize it at first), and endangers his engagement to another woman because, of course, Bow is just too captivating to let go of for very long. Where the sensationalism really comes in is when a reporter writes a story claiming that she's an unwed mother. Otherwise, much of the film is pretty average. Like Garbo in Love, what makes this film is Bow's performance as a wonderful character. She's energetic, beautiful, and immediately likable. If Garbo was 1927's mysterious lady, Bow was her polar opposite: reachable, yearning, and absolutely perfect.

This was only an extension of Bow herself. She was the kind of woman who was more comfortable staying at home and playing poker with her cook, maid, and chauffeur rather than attending her own premieres. Simple and likable. So why didn't her career survive the advent of sound? Some claim it has something to do with her thick Brooklyn accent, but that's too easy. In fact, it was her own worry about what people would think of her accent that gave her "mic fright" to the point where she simply became too nervous to give an effective performance. Instead of perpetuating her stardom, she retired in 1933, married Western star Rex Bell, and had children. In 1949, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia; her therapy included shock treatments. It plagued her the rest of her life, until she died of a heart attack in 1965.

In 1927, when asked what "It" was, Clara Bow replied in her thick Brooklyn accent: "I ain't sure." But there's no doubt that whatever it was, she had It. She had It in spades.

7. College (United Artists)
This seems to be a lower-tier Buster Keaton film for a lot of people, and while I wouldn't rank it as highly as The General or The Cameraman, it is one of my favorite Keaton films. Really, any of Keaton's silent films is special, because they star Buster Keaton.

Keaton had started out as a vaudeville performer; in fact, his father, Joe Keaton Sr., performed in a show with Harry Houdini (popular legend has it that Houdini himself bestowed the nickname Buster on the lad). Keaton learned to take falls at the age of three, when he began performing in vaudeville shows with his family; the act had nearly been destroyed by his father's alcoholism, and at age twenty-one Keaton went to New York to break into films. He met with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and, unsure of how films worked, dissected a motion picture camera to discern how the medium could be used. Whatever he saw, he liked, and soon was not only acting alongside Fatty, but writing all of his gags and occasionally directing. Buster and Fatty would remain lifelong friends. Their producer, Joseph M. Schenck, was impressed enough with Keaton to start letting him write, direct, and act in his own two-reel comedies. From there, Keaton went on to make longer features that didn't always hit with audiences, but which were certainly ambitious and incredibly funny.

In College, Keaton plays the same sort of sap character he was known for: the quiet Southerner who was resourceful and driven, but who found himself in circumstances beyond his control. He was never quite trying to work the system, like Chaplin's Tramp, but usually tried to avoid being the center of attention. Until, that is, he was forced to test his bravery for the hand of the woman who set his heart on fire. In this film, Keaton goes to college to prove to the woman he loves that he, too, can be a big man on campus and, thusly, win the respect of his peers and the love he seeks. Keaton films usually have a simple premise. But the gags... the gags are the whole point. The highlight of this film is the scene where Keaton tries to play sports with the other students, failing miserably because of his own physical weakness and ineptitude. The bits are so classic that you might recognize them even if you've never seen the film--many directors have heavily quoted this movie, and to this day, I'm certain that several of the bits in the sporting scenes are given to Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace.

Buster Keaton's is another career usually assumed to have been ended by sound. In fact, Keaton made several sound movies, 13 of them for MGM between 1929 and 1934. They just aren't very good, because MGM's stifling studio system didn't allow Keaton the freedom he'd had with United Artists, and because they later tried to team him up with Jimmy Durante, whose comedy style is far too brash and loud to mesh with Keaton's simplicity and laconic line delivery. It just didn't work. Compounding problems were Keaton's alcoholism, which became an impediment to working. But Keaton kept at it, making films that just weren't very good or didn't get noticed. He made several slapstick two-reelers for director Jules White, the man behind the Three Stooges, as well as writing gags for the Marx Brothers. In 1952, he finally appeared with Charles Chaplin in Chaplin's film Limelight. And his work was rediscovered before he died, leading to appearances in several high profile films such as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), a great episode of The Twilight Zone, one final silent comedy called The Railrodder (1965), and myriad television appearances. He died in 1966, one of the few geniuses of film to feel the appreciation of a later audience.

College remains but one of his many masterpieces.

6. Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (Paramount)
Chang is what one might ostensibly call a documentary, but even the people who made it referred to it as a melodrama. In fact, they wrote a script for it, staging events as best as they could to create a dramatic version of life in Siam (now Thailand).

Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack were directors of anthropological documentaries that were really dramas filmed in exotic locales (such as Grass, 1925). This film, which follows a family of Lao villagers as they struggle to live day to day in the wild jungle, is one hell of an exciting movie. Yes, there are tigers and leopards and bears and elephants in this movie, but this was a much different time in filmmaking than it is now. The animals are wild. The actors, themselves, real Lao villagers, are in very real danger. And a lot of the animals are really killed on camera. For the main "character" of this film, Kru, most of the threat to his home comes from leopards. So Kru enlists the other villagers to go on a very real and very violent hunt to rid the jungle of cats. Lots of animals are killed in this movie, not in an overly graphic way, but in a coldly realistic manner. In the end, Kru's home is destroyed by an elephant stampede which takes place, for real, on camera. Those are real people trying to outrun real elephants. Lucky for them they succeeded. It's an exciting sequence in its own right, but the film serves as a nice precursor to Frank Buck's films of the early thirties, in which he documents his own travels to capture exotic animals for zoos (all I can say is, if you want to see a tiger in a life-and-death struggle with a boa constrictor--and you do--see Bring 'Em Back Alive, 1932).

Without a doubt, the best part of the movie is Bimbo, the family's pet ape (they call him a monkey, but he's a gibbon, which is an ape). He's the most entertaining part of the movie, pulling some hilarious reaction shots and mugging his way through it all. This is a great movie to watch, one of the films that, despite the fact that it's staged and not entirely genuine, captures life at a time and place that has changed since. Which is certainly noble enough. Add to that the fact that the film is genuinely fun to watch.

Cooper and Shoedsack had a knack for knowing what would capture the attention of the audience, and went on to direct King Kong in 1933.

5. The Unknown (Universal)
Tod Browning is one of my favorite figures in the history of film. Like a lot of young boys (myself included), he was fascinated with the dark and bizarre world of the carnival, and at 16 he ran away to join one. He served as a talker for the Wild Man of Borneo, did a live burial act called "The Living Corpse," and was even a clown for the Ringling Brothers. He did magic, comedy, even blackface for vaudeville. He found himself acting for D.W. Griffith until, in 1915, he ran his car at full speed into a moving train. He lost his front teeth and shattered his leg, and spent two years convalescing and writing scripts. His love for the macabre and his sympathy for gruesome antiheroes as a director led producer Irving Thalberg to pair Browning with actor Lon Chaney.

The collaboration yielded some great pictures, but it seems that they only fit a small niche. They aren't quite horror films, but they are definitely dark and strange, moody and surreal. Browning and Chaney both refused to shy away from unpleasantness; in fact, they seemed to revel in it. One of their best and darkest films together was The Unknown, in which Chaney plays Alonzo the Armless, an ex-convict hiding out in a carnival, pretending to be an armless knife-thrower. All is well until he falls in love with Nanon (Joan Crawford in a very sexy role), the carnival owner's daughter, who cannot stand being touched by a man. Circumstances force Alonzo to have his arms taken off for real, but while he's away Nanon overcomes her fear and falls in love with the strongman. And for that, Alonzo has to take his revenge.

This film prefigures the same themes that would drive Tod Browning's masterwork, Freaks (1932): acceptance, fear, revenge, anger. Contemporary critics didn't see the brilliance of The Unknown (and it is a brilliant film); the New York Evening Post said: "A visit to the dissecting room in a hospital would be quite as pleasant, and at the same time more instructive."

Browning's career continued with much the same reaction. He and Lon Chaney made a few more films together, including Chaney's only sound film, a 1930 remake of their 1925 film The Unholy Three, before Chaney died. Browning paired with Bela Lugosi for Dracula, a film which audiences loved but which Universal itself hated. His next film, Freaks, derailed his career with controversy. He made a few more movies before going into seclusion for the next nearly three decades. He was found dead in 1962. But he leaves behind him a legacy of bizarre, fascinating films for anyone who cares to look.

4. October (Sovkino) (aka Ten Days That Shook the World and October 1917)
Creating art in a bubble is never easy, and that was certainly the case with October. The Soviet government commissioned this film to honor the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, and picked Sergei Eisenstein to direct because of the international success he had attained in 1925 with Potemkin. This was a time when the Soviet Union was still interested in interacting with the outside world, before the isolationism that came later, and who better to communicate the ideals of the Revolution than an artist the outside world had already applauded?

For his part, Eisenstein was more interested in developing his theories of film structure, which he described as "intellectual montage," and this is probably where he differed from what the Soviet government wanted to see. He edited together shots of unconnected objects to create intellectual comparisons; for example, in the film he links all religions by showing images of Jesus, Hindu gods, Buddha, Aztec gods, and a primitive idol, and then all of that is linked to images of military regalia, suggesting nationalism and patriotism are similar to a religious fervor. These montages met with official disapproval; Eisenstein's film was declared unintelligible by authorities in charge of that sort of thing, and he was even forced to take out all of the references to Leon Trotsky.

Viewed now, eighty years later, it's easy to see why the Soviets didn't appreciate it. But it's also a rich, rewarding experience: a historical epic that is also thoughtful and experimental. Eisenstein does communicate the ideals of the Revolution, but at the same time he's highly critical of it. A Bolshevik artist, Eisenstein had hoped that the Soviet regime would be one that subsidized the arts and allowed for freedom of expression. But socialist realism was the order of Stalin, and films had to adhere to a specific vision of the regime. Eisenstein had become disillusioned, and Soviet functionaries chafed under what they rightly perceived as an attack on them.

The film is especially visceral because it uses the same locations and, in some cases, the same participants of the October Revolution. The actors involved aren't necessarily acting; they still believe, perhaps even more fully, in the Revolution. But viewed ten years after the outpouring of idealism, with reality setting in and a new oppressor at the head of a lumbering government, it is a much more thoughtful film than possibly even the contemporary Soviet audience realized.

3. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Fox Film Corporation)
F.W. Murnau had been a major figure of the German expressionist film movement, making three masterful films--Nosferatu (1922), The Last Laugh (1925), and Faust (1926)--before leaving Germany for Hollywood. Producer William Fox had been a fan of Murnau's films, and asked him to make an Expressionist film for Hollywood.

Sunrise, therefore, features stylized, exaggerated sets that make the world look like a fairy tale illustration. The story doesn't really feature characters, but tells a story about The Man (George O'Brien), who is cheating on The Wife (Janet Gaynor) with The Woman from the City (Margaret Livingston). This story, meant to stand in for the general human condition, is told in a broad style that nevertheless feels very real and, with its focus on emotion over character, very powerful. Murnau's style doesn't call attention to itself, but keeps all of the attention on the Man and the Wife and their struggle with fidelity and love, and the way the real world intervenes is right out of the fairy tale tradition. Title cards are kept to a minimum, using the imagery and the constructed sets to tell the story, which is truly a song of two humans.

Sunrise shared the first Oscar for Best Picture with Wings, but while that movie is merely spectacular, this is a feast of passion for someone with the right frame of mind to see it. A towering achievement.

2. Napoleon (Gaumont)
Abel Gance can never be accused of a lack of ambition. This epic film tells the story of Napoleon Bonaparte from his childhood, through the French Revolution, all the way to the beginning of his Italian campaign. It is an enormous film, employing a great number of actors and extras. More than that, it is pioneering in its use of sharp editing, handheld camera shots, and the final reel of battle scenes, which plays on a triptych (called Polyvision) which is a precursor of widescreen filmmaking, 27 years before it was introduced to American film as Cinemascope.

It's a hard film to describe, but it is no ordinary biopic. Because it is so ambitious, struggling to get every detail right and yet also trying to provide entry points for the audience as well as comment on the goings-on, it's a hard balancing act. But somehow, the film maintains its balance. It was a critical success, but it was barely shown due to its incredible length (330 minutes), and when MGM picked up the rights to show it in America, it was severely cut and not restored until 1980. Audiences were indifferent. It does take a certain amount of fortitude to watch the entire film straight through. But it's also an immensely rewarding experience.

Abel Gance intended this film to be the first of six telling the life story of Napoleon, which might have made for an experience of thirty-six hours. The cost prohibited that, of course. But what a film that might have been.

1. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Fox Film Corporation)
My favorite film of 1927 is this German film by Walter Ruttmann. It's shot in a documentary style, depicting the goings on of a single day in Berlin, accompanied by music and with no narrative. It's simple, and that simplicity is what makes the film so beautiful. Comprising five acts, like a symphony, it was inspired somewhat by Soviet montage theory, though the film is more interested in aesthetics than in politics. Ruttman himself said the he wanted to make "something out of life [. . .] creating a symphonic film out of the millions of energies that comprise the life of a big city."

From a historical viewpoint, what makes this film so precious is that it depicts everyday life in interwar Germany, during the time of the Weimar Republic, before life changed so drastically for Germany. There is some criticism of daily life, to be sure (workers enter a factory, juxtaposed with cows driven into a corral), but overall Ruttman's film is an avant garde depiction of a day in the life of a city (although it actually took over a year to shoot).

It's beautiful. At least other filmmakers seemed to think so, as others experimented with the same theory, most notably the excellent Soviet film The Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and the Dutch film Regen (1929).

And those are my favorite films of 1927. I could talk about them all day, although it feels like I have. I hope some of you will go and see some of these great masterworks of cinema.

The Definitive 200 #151-175

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six.

Please, merciful father, make this list stop hurting me. I think I can count all of the Janet Jackson songs I like on all of two fingers. Though I'm having a hard time thinking of a second one. I liked "I Want You," but otherwise... No, nothing's coming to me.

As of yesterday, I finally own this album. I've heard it before, of course, and it's fucking great. A masterpiece. Queen rocks, and this is only one of a streak of great records.

Great album, one I don't have, yet again. How can I own as many CDs as I do and still feel like my collection is incomplete? Well, because it is, I guess. I'm a little disappointed that only one Sabbath album made it to the list, but this is a damn good choice, too.

Yes, I own this. It was fun at the time, but I don't think I've listened to it since about 1999, and I probably never will again.

Another of Prince's many classics. Purple Rain, 1999, Sign O' the Times... seems like exactly the right amount of Prince. There's so much more great stuff, of course, but those three are the treasures.

I know a lot of people were clamoring for the appearance of Public Enemy, so I feel a little sheepish admitting that I've never actually heard this album. By the time Public Enemy were making their appearance in my suburban white neighborhood, I was already onto something else. I've never been a huge fan of rap (though I like my share of it), and I just kind of ignored this. I really should check this out, it's gotten so much acclaim over the years. Boy, how do you think the other members of Public Enemy feel about all of this embarrassing Flavor Flav shit?

It's hard to peg a single Dylan album as his best, but my vote would be for this one. This is a nice, confessional, stripped-down album. And it's got "Tangled Up in Blue," "Shelter from the Storm," and "Idiot Wind," among others. Brilliant without being self-important.

The song "Father Figure" makes me weirdly horny. Come on, just because an album had a lot of hit singles doesn't mean it's one of the definitive albums. This shouldn't be here at all.

Boy did Boyz II Men suck. I actually forgot about them until just now. This is just a travesty. Will Bel Biv Devoe be joining us anytime soon?

No, they suck.

I, like Tom the Dog, have only really heard this as the mash-up classic The Gray Album. I love The Gray Album. I love The Beatles. Jay-Z... well, production by the Neptunes can only help anyone, and I guess I liked "99 Problems" okay, and I enjoyed "Change Clothes" (mostly for the sexy video with sexy Naomi sexy Campbell...SEXY!). But otherwise, I still have no real need for any Jay-Z in my life. I don't like his rap style, which is basically talking flatly over a drum machine and drawling out the rhyming words.

I still think she's a joke, albeit a fairly slinky, hot one. But her music is pitiful.

The original Black Eyed Peas, and nothing more. Overrated. Like the Peas.

It turned out that about 98% of the Madonna songs I liked actually did fit on a single album. That was kind of fun. I understand why it's here, it made a big impact, even though I've never thought Madonna was particularly talented in any way. But hey, at least she showed girls like Britney Spears that being hot and occasionally danceable could turn a mediocre career into a mediocre career with longevity. Cyndi Lauper was a much better singer.

Does this list really need five Led Zeppelin albums on it?

I'm not really a fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Never have been, except for his playing on Bowie's Let's Dance album (once again, where is Bowie on this damn list?!). I love the guitar, and the names that leap into my head are Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Steve Vai, Mick Ronson... lots of names before I would even think about Stevie Ray Vaughan. I can just listen to B.B. King for the indulgent blues strains, and the music is better.

Another of the big alternative bands that I just didn't like. It's not that I hated them, I just didn't think they were any good. This is the kind of music I think of when I think of my mentor Paul Riddell's joke that any K-Tel collection of early 90s alt hits should be called "Waaaaah!"

Oh, get fucked.

I do love Tull. This is one of the greats, although I've found it's not for all tastes.


This is placed far, far too low on this list. It needs to be way higher. It would be in my personal top 10, but it should at least place in the top 25 or 30, I think. The influence of David Bowie is so far-reaching that most people don't even notice it anymore. I worked with a guy who once told me: "Without the Sex Pistols there'd be no punk music, but without David Bowie there'd be no Sex Pistols." I knew exactly what he meant; shit, Johnny Rotten even stole his haircut from Bowie. I love this album.

Shakira's alright, but give me a break. This shouldn't rate at all.

This is another cheat. Yeah, it's an alright (if obvious and uninspired) collection of tunes, but this is just such a lazy choice.

To answer the question Tom the Dog asks, this is very deserving. In fact, there are three other Al Green albums that deserve serious consideration, too. No one's collection of music is complete without some soul music, and that means Al Green and Otis Redding have to be in your collection. Shit, where is Otis on this list?

Great choice, definitely better than Isaac Hayes's Shaft. I love funk and soul.

To be concluded.

Random Movie Things

I ended up seeing Casino Royale and liking it quite a lot. I really hoped they'd stop that silly prequel talk and instead just relaunch the series, and that seems to be what they're doing. Rather than making another adventure in the old Bond series, they're going to make the next film a direct sequel to Casino Royale. They're calling it Bond 22, but I'm thinking of it as Bond 2. I was so thrilled to see the series strip away all of the silly, quippy bullshit that's weighed the series down with four decades of expectations and assumptions, and just start over with something modern and fun. My only real complaint is that Eva Green just didn't have the weight to play a character like Vesper Lynd, and I'd like to see the women in these movies become real people. Seriously, cast real women opposite Craig, not a bunch of ingenues.

Anyway, the thing that really irritated me was a recent interview with Sean Connery, in which he mentioned the possibility of making an appearance in a Bond movie. "It would have to be something really considerable to bring me back. It would have to be an offer that you can't refuse," he says. "If there was a good part in a Bond film, I'd certainly look at it...I would never return as James Bond. If the part was well written, I could come back as Bond's father but it would cost them. It would definitely cost them." Yeah, we get it, Sean, you love money. I really hope no one's taking that seriously, because that's the kind of silly bullshit Casino Royale worked damn hard to get past. Besides, at this point, who really wants to see Sean Connery in a movie? All he's doing now is collecting paychecks. His taste in projects has always been awful--seriously, turning down The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia, but saying yes to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Alan Moore should slap him silly. Oh, and thanks for saying no to the three good ones, because you would've sucked the life out of them. Oh, and get bent for ruining League. A great comic book with a shitty adaptation. Again.

Of course, what I'd really like to see them do is just leave this as its own series and remake the Ian Fleming novels. Seriously, do Live and Let Die, which is the second book, put the brutality back in, and cast Milla Jovovich as Domino. Just a suggestion...

As a comic book fan, I've come to terms with the fact that there are some things I'm just never going to see in a superhero movie. Krypto will never fly alongside Superman. Supergirl will never ride on her winged horse. And Wonder Woman will never be portrayed as a real woman, but as wank material for 13 year-old boys. So when I hear that they're talking about a Justice League movie, I just roll my eyes and chuckle. Fanboys, of course, have taken the bait and run with it, but it's never going to happen. DC and Warner Brothers are hardly going to take several media properties that are worth millions on their own and combine them in one movie that's probably going to be a logistical nightmare. Remember back in 1997, when Tim Burton was going to direct Nicolas Cage as Superman in a movie written by Kevin Smith? Yeah, it took nearly a decade and Superman Returns was the best they could come up with. That's sad. This movie will never happen, and the people who are online clicking their heels and imagining whether or not Christian Bale will play Batman...well, I pity you a little bit.

Stardust is one of a number of Neil Gaiman writings I've yet to read, so I don't really know much about the plot of the movie. But every picture I see from it makes me want to see it more and more. It just looks so damn neat. Plus I love Claire Danes and I haven't seen Michelle Pfeiffer in anything for far too long.
I was all set to say something nasty to address the rumor that Emma Watson was not going to play Hermione in the final two Harry Potter movies, but Warner Brothers took pity on me and announced that they had locked her, Daniel Radcliffe, and Rupert Grint to star in both of them. Shame on you for scaring me like that, bloggers.

Well, I guess we know the audience Transformers is going for. This picture of Megan "I have my boyfriend's name tattooed next to my pie" Fox tells me everything I need to know about the total smarmy commercialism this movie is going for. And about the idiots in their 30s who will be going to see it, confusing the ease with which Hollywood markets to the geeks for quick cash for some sort of respect. It just makes me laugh, because Michael Bay doesn't really know what women are for in his sexless, passionless movies. Not anymore than the kind of guy who's going to walk up out of the basement to see this movie does.

And for no reason at all, some Grindhouse babes.

Man, do I wish it was April 6.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Definitive 200 #126-150

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five.

I'm a sucker for "Don't Stop Believin'" all the way. That said, Journey fucking sucks. Trivia: this song inspired an Atari 2600 game.

I like Christina, and I think she's on her way to becoming a real artist, but this album is pretty unnoticeable. It's weak and certainly not definitive. The real accomplishment of Christina is that, of all the teen pop girls, she's the one who's pulled herself up out of the crappy music. This album gives no indication of that; it's forumlaic and basically the equivalent of background music.

I keep hearing how Jay-Z is supposed to be this amazing rapper, but when I hear his music, all I hear is him whining. Seriously, he's got this unpleasant whine, and he can barely rap.

Overrated crap that takes itself way too seriously. Is that the key to winning a Grammy these days? The self-importance?

It's a good soundtrack, for the most part, although I do blame it for the whole bluegrass cover thing which is starting to get pretty tiresome. I don't know that it's essential, but it's nice. It inspired a fun little album of bluegrass Disney songs called O Mickey, Where Are Thou?

I have a Cars singles collection, and it's probably more than I need. The Cars were okay. But were they essential?

I like Enya, but her albums are less and less good everytime she releases one. Watermark is still one of my favorite albums, and I would have gone with that one. Although, really, why Enya belongs on a list of definitive albums is frankly beyond me.

My mom had this travesty. It's pretty awful. There's the rape of Nat "King" Cole's corpse by his own daughter so that she can fake a duet to make money and turn around her irrelevant recording career (it's just immoral, I'm sorry), and the rest is all covers of her father's most well-remembered songs. Pathetic. She should've titled the album Thanks for the Money Opportunity, Dad.

This is pretty crap. Of all of the big eighties soundtracks on this list so far, this is the one I don't like a single song from. And there's that Kenny Loggins myth in full force again!

I guess it's Richie's most consistent album. Of the eight tracks, four of them are some of his best songs (including "All Night Long" and "Hello"). I like Lionel Richie in the eighties, he had some great tunes, but this just seems like a totally random choice. Is it that big a deal?

I fucking hate her music.

I remember when this album was a big deal on VH1, Phase One: The Old Guy Years. There are some good songs on it, but give me a break here. I like Bonnie Raitt's music, but again, top 200?

Wow, are there really four Metallica albums on this list? I'd say bump Metallica and put on Kill 'Em All, in that case. Their first four albums are awesome. On the other hand, four albums is probably pushing it a little. But given how much this list sucks, it's nice to see some occasional blistering metal on it. (By the way: no KISS albums so far? Jesus.) Like Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All, I had this on tape, but it broke.

All of the Sheryl Crow songs I like can be counted on one hand: this album has none of them. I have no problem with her, I just don't care for her music. I never understood the massive appeal.

That's a nice moment: this is actually my favorite Sinatra album, very gentle and wistful, like being up at 3 in the morning and reflecting. My other favorite Sinatra album is Sinatra at the Sands; now there was a man who knew how to give a great concert. How in hell did it take 140 spots on this list to finally get to Sinatra?

Interesting choice to put a live album up. Earth, Wind & Fire were okay, they were kind of like a family-friendly version of Parliament.

Give me a break. This was so tired, even then.

My second favorite Willie album (after Stardust), and I have no problem with this appearing on the list. I love his music, and this concept album is one of his clearest. Not a bum track here.

Are you kidding me? 1-fucking-44? That's crazy. Not only is "Imagine" one of the greatest songs ever written (and its overuse has not had any impact on its beauty and strength), but it has some other strong, wonderful tracks: "Crippled Inside," "Gimme Some Truth," "Oh My Love," "Oh, Yoko," and the achingly beautiful "Jealous Guy." This and Plastic Ono Band are Lennon's strongest albums.

What? She's hot, but her music...

Beautiful. This is what Toni Braxton wants to be, but isn't. How can Etta be lower?

This is Elvis Presley's first album, and it's both an easy and a stupid choice. I mean, how can you not love Elvis's early music, right? The thing is, albums in 1956 were usually little more than a collection of singles with some filler thrown in to pad it out, and as this album goes, it's not great filler. Plus, this has been re-released on CD so many times with extra tracks that the lineup keeps changing, so it's a bit of a cheat. Besides, everyone knows (or used to) that the great Elvis from 1956 was the one released a few months later, Elvis, which is a much more cohesive album because it was created to be an album. It's a great snapshot of a young singer before the fame went to his head, trying his best to be himself, and it's great. Seriously, I appreciate the attempt to keep away from compilations (this is a list of albums, at least, not like that horrible Rolling Stone list of greatest albums, which was, like, 75% hits collections), but if you're going with early Elvis, why not just nab Elvis's Golden Records? That's an excellent collection of singles.

I adore this album. Not a single skippable track.

I wasn't a fan of the whole alternative thing, but I liked the Smashing Pumpkins. This was that moment before Billy Corgan's ego completely manifested itself in his music, and this fucker just sounded good. "1979" still sounds so right to me.

I don't own it, but it's a great album, from the classic title track on down. Dave Brubeck is my favorite jazz composer.

To be continued.

Need Links?

This is the rare Xenoglaux ("strange owl"), a tiny owl that exists as its own genus. It's been spotted in a Peruvian conservation area, marking the first time the animal has been seen in the wild. It was first discovered in 1976, but only in nets, caught by accident. This news makes me happy and sad at the same time. Happy to see something thought lost again, but sad at the prospect of losing it as it is, of course, endangered, and it is thought that as little as 250 of them might exist in the wild.

That was the only news story I read this week that I thought was interesting. Well, that and the capture of British sailors by Iran, but I'm waiting to see how that comes out. Hope to see you tomorrow! Everything else was about Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears, and I really didn't find enough interesting stories to do a Throwdown. So, I'm taking the week off from it and just presenting my usual links instead. I hope doing The Ladies at Court earlier today was good enough!

I'm going to start off, of course, with ModFab's weekly installments of American Idolatry. Here's the rundown on this week's competition and this week's loss. Goodbye, Stephanie; you deserved another chance. Speaking of Idol, Badmouth has a rundown on some of the former criminals who've appeared on the show.

Some literary interests this week: Culture Kills has something to say about the importance of history in fiction; Attempts is starting a look at great comic book pages; and I Against Comics has a great idea for a Teen Titans book.

Remember Eric Poulton's steampunk Star Wars? Well, he's got a new entry: the Death Star. He's also got some downloadable steampunk Star Wars desktops which are pretty cool.

Here's some more cool movie-related stuff: from Josh Hill comes some notes on the workout the actors did to become Spartans for 300 (intense as hell, here and here); My New Plaid Pants laments the recent choices Wes Craven has made; Cartoon Brew says that the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie is as bad as I figured it would be; and Apropos of Something has Smurf Fiction.

Lots of weird and terrible political action. I think it was a mistake for Hillary Clinton to let Bill come forward and defend her from the detractors who point out (correctly) that she voted for the war. Congratulations, Hillary, you just killed your campaign. You just made it possible for guys to taunt you for crying to your husband just because someone said something mean. Seriously, is she going to run to her much more capable husband every time things become more overwhelming? Anyway, The Hill has a little bit about it. Meanwhile, Bill Maher has two very clear paragraphs about Valerie Plame, No Fear of the Future has some cynicism I can identify with, and Johnny Yen has a powerful post about the Iraq War that I urge you to read.

After all of that, you'll forgive me for retreating back to tits. At No Smoking in the Skull Cave, Becca has the cutest pictures of Saskia Howard-Clarke and Sophie Howard playing together. British models are the sexiest girls in the world.

And finally, Mary-Louise Parker asks: why are singers such pussies? She wrote this for Esquire, and I love every word. I always felt she was a rock chick.

Need glasses?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Definitive 200 #101-125

Part one, part two, part three, part four,

This is an album I personally have some problems with. Not that it isn't good, don't get me wrong--in fact, it's especially nice as a sort of ancillary to one of my favorite albums, Volume One by the Traveling Wilburys (Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan all play on this album, as does occasional Wilbury drummer Ringo Starr, and Lynne produces both albums). But the singles were just so overplayed. I still love "Runnin' Down a Dream" and "Yer So Bad," but I got so damn sick of hearing "Free Fallin'" over and over and over and over and over and over again that I just can't ever hear it again. Consequently, I've never felt the need to own it. As of now, I have Greatest Hits, Wildflowers, and a bunch of stray tracks from iTunes. I think really a disc is about all I need.

102. VAN HALEN – 1984
Another of the six Van Halen albums I need. I never had a problem with David Lee Roth going solo, because the synths on this album kind of pointed to the idea that they were going to become...well, as crappy as they did with Sammy Hagar. Seriously, at least Roth doesn't have to look in the mirror and realize he sang "When It's Love." He was with Van Halen before they sucked.

Here's the problem for me: that Celine Dion is awful. However, everything else on this soundtrack is film score, and it's nice that at least one film score made the list. On the other hand, if you want to get into a film score discussion, there are so many better albums than this one (frankly, James Horner is a bit of a self-repeating hack). Seriously, there are so many better scores than this piece of crap.

This is a great album, not least of which because it has "Our House" and "Woodstock" on it.

I remember back when people liked TLC. I could never really figure out why. I could never figure out why anyone liked Destiny's Child, either.

I like three Beck songs, and one's a cover. I don't think any of them came from here. I don't know, Beck kind of sucks. I get it, you like James Brown, now calm down.

Even to read the name of the Beast is to curse you for all eternity.

To this day, I've never even heard N.W.A. When gangsta rap became the thing, I was already over rap, and I didn't really get an appreciation back for rap until about three or four years ago, when it entered a sort of art rock phase.

I was thinking about this album the other day. It's a great album, I don't think anyone could deny that, but I was thinking about this belief going around that punk was started by the Pistols. I know the accepted wisdom is that punk came from England and the Sex Pistols were this incredibly influential band, but the Ramones had their first album out about seven or eight months before this album came out. And the first New York Dolls album came out in 1973, three years before Never Mind the Bollocks or Ramones. Not to say the Sex Pistols weren't an influential band and that they didn't have the one great album (and it is great), but what's the deal?

This is my personal favorite Beatles album, sort of putting to bed their early image and style and starting the experimentation phase. Like Revolver, this is an exciting album because it's a transitional one. But this is, for me, the Beatles album that's easiest to listen to without skipping a song.

Radiohead sucks. They just suck.

Tom the Dog is right, this should be much higher than Graceland. (I may have added the "much.") This is a great album, although I'm happy with The Essential Simon & Garfunkel. If I was going to buy one of their albums, though, it would be this one. It's a good end to the sixties. Does that mean the sixties end with a gentleness and not passionate turmoil? Yes. Anyone who cared ran away at Kent State and went and sold out because they were scared. Sad, but true.

Thanks to their being on this list, I'm starting to really hate the Dixie Chicks. Three albums now?

I used to have this tape, too. Great metal.

No. There's nothing from Michael Jackson that anyone needs to own after Bad. If you really think you need to own Bad, that is, which I know a lot of people don't.

I can't tell one Mariah Carey song from the other. She's incredibly hot, but her music is just awful.

"Take My Breath Away" is a great song. Everything else, no. Please stop perpetuating the myth that Kenny Loggins is awesome in any way.

This is Elton John's major achievement, and his last great albums. Yes, there was a time when this man was putting out consistently great albums. The one before this, Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player wavers a bit, but the four albums before that are excellent. This is the masterpiece. After this... well, no one can stay brilliant forever. This album should be higher, I think. It's one of the masterpieces of the seventies.

Also a great album. I've had Every Breath You Take: The Classics for some time, but recently I've decided to buy the actual albums. They're great.

Yeah, it's a pretty good album, but so overplayed that it's lost its wonder for me. I like Gwen Stefani's solo albums miles better than any of her No Doubt stuff, which was really only intermittently good.

Excellent album. Another great Stones record, this one with "No Expectations" and "Sympathy for the Devil," which may be my favorite Stones track.

122. R. KELLY – R.
Except for molesting children, I'm not really cognizant of anything this guy's done. I don't care.

Tool? Is that a joke? Man, they'll let just anyone on this damn list. When does Lit show up? And Hoobastank? Jeee-zus.

Yeah, they were okay in that "I'm ripping off Bowie and the Beatles" kind of way. (Speaking of, where the fuck is David Bowie on this list?) I remember back when it came out and Oasis was supposed to be "the new Beatles." Never got tired of hearing that. Not that it matters, because when do you ever hear about these idiots anymore?

I'm not a huge reggae fan, but I like a couple of Marley's tunes. "Jamming" is one. I have a collection, it's more than I need.

To be continued.


The poster for Disney's Enchanted.The rest of these look like poster concept drawings to me, though some people are saying otherwise. This first one is my favorite; it kind of looks like the art Disney did for The Black Cauldron.

The last one is kind of a neat concept. It reminds me of the posters they did for Lilo & Stitch, with all of the well-known Disney movie characters backing away from him.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Definitive 200 #76-100

Part one, part two, part three.

Surely I'm not meant to take this seriously. Faith Hill? Jesus, why?

Ah, see, that's country music. That's what it sounds like. This just might be the greatest country album ever recorded.

I haven't heard an entire Coltrane album ever, really. I do like him, though.

Another great Floyd album. The title track pretty much says it all.

I actually like this album (as I liked Thriller), but this seems awfully high on this list. Not that this would even be the 20th terrible choice they've made with this list. But "Rock with You" is a great pop song.

I love this album, and yet I don't own it. Gaye had a major artistic and commercial hit with What's Going On, and it was with this album that he started to make records that were increasingly, almost uncomfortably personal. This is a classic, but it's also restless and full of Gaye's personal turmoil. Great stuff.

I guess parts of the song "Night Moves" are alright (the first 20 or so minutes, or does it just feel that long), but I'd never accuse Bob Seger of making a great album. This list is really getting mediocre, and I can't believe there are still 118 more albums to go.

I have real problems with Paul Simon, and in fact all of the music I like by him as a solo artist can fit on one disc (I know, because I made one). I think this is one of the overrated albums of the eighties, one of those things that white guys in their forties fall in love with because...why? It makes them feel okay that someone they listened to when they were younger is still making okay music. Other than a couple of tracks--"The Boy in the Bubble," "You Can Call Me Al" (classic video)--I've got no real use for it.

That can't be possible. Seriously, can people tell one Linkin Park song from another?

85. PRINCE – 1999
This is another of Prince's run of classic albums. That's some actual definitive music, and belongs on this list, possibly higher. I don't hear much funk today, and Prince's music somehow just gets better to listen to as the years pass. Bebe Buell says that "Little Red Corvette" is about her; I swear I can hear "Bebe, you're much too fast," but you tell me. A great, great album. If they'd remaster these things, I'd buy them in a heartbeat.

Come on, two Def Leppard albums now? Get bent.

I never though Janet Jackson was anything special. I heard "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" for the first time in years the other day, and I wasn't impressed. I wasn't then, either. This seems like a real arbitrary decision to put it up this high.

I'm not a huge fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers, but this is at least from a time when they sounded like a decent band. I don't know what they're doing these days.

Not a bad album (I love "So Far Away" and "Walk of Life" and "Money for Nothing"), but it's not exactly a go-to for me. If Dire Straits come on the radio, I might not change the channel, but unless it's the guitar intro to "Money for Nothing," I'm not really going to turn it up, either.



This is their U2 album. Later U2. No, thanks.

By this point, I actually don't like any of Zep's music anymore. A lot of it just sounds like dicking around with a guitar.

Nelly sucks so much ass. God, does he bug me. Seriously, wearing a Band-Aid as a tribute to a fallen friend? Who's in jail for selling drugs? Fuck you, get your priorities in order.

If you like Creed, you need to put your head in a gas oven, breathe deeply, and wait for the moment of clarity. You'll see it, trust me.

96? 96? Are you fucking kidding me? This should be in the top ten at the very least. This is one of the all-time great rock albums, the album that sort of closes out the punk era and is, in my own opinion, the album that closes out the Clash (I don't think they were ever this good again). Come on, "Train in Vain," "Lost in the Supermarket," the title track, "The Guns of Brixton," "Spanish Bombs," "Rudie Can't Fail"... what the hell is this doing at only 96?

97. CELINE DION – FALLING INTO YOU Celine Dion is not comparable to the Clash. They're not on the same level.

One of the classic albums, and it's crazy to see it this low, next to the terror of Celine Dion (and somehow less than her at that!).

I admit it, I'm a sucker for "She's Like the Wind." But it's the kind of sappy pap that is only good every once in a while when you're in the mood for some cheese. Fuck, you could not outrun "The Time of My Life"... even my dad had this on tape. Which is kind of an embarrassing thing to say. Other than cultivating my lifelong lust for Ronnie Spector by including "Be My Baby," this is a nightmare of an album.


To be continued.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

TOPAZE (1933)
John Barrymore is always a joy to watch, even when the film isn’t. And I’m disappointed that it wasn’t. The plot is very simple—a naïve, honest schoolteacher is used by a rich baron and his mistress for a crooked scheme—but it’s from a Pagnol play and the script is by Ben Hecht, so I was hoping for more. Myrna Loy’s in it, too, and she’s one of my favorite actresses. Did they cut out some of the French play’s rougher spots? Because this feels a little…bowdlerized. **1/2 stars, Barrymore is wonderful.

EUROPA ’51 (1952)
Roberto Rossellini made this masterful film about a woman moved to madness by the plight of those who have become displaced or forced to crime by the fallout from World War II. It’s a hard movie to describe, except to say that Ingrid Bergman’s performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen by anyone. The changes her character goes through…from a sort of genuine ignorance to a genuine altruism and self-hatred that everyone around her mistakes for insanity. It’s a hard film, showing once again the superiority of Europe to Hollywood during this time period in dealing with adult subject matter; the catalyst that moves Bergman’s character to introspection and caring is the suicide of her young son. Excellent. **** stars.

Richard Harris plays a footballer who lets fame go to his head and pushes away the people who keep him grounded. Frankly, I found it overlong and not very interesting. Richard Harris is excellent, though. ** stars.

B movie versions of a great comic strip. I like the kind of square dorkiness of Tracy himself, but these are pretty much a waste of time unless you’re a huge fan. **1/2 stars for all four.

After fully expecting to hate this film, I’m surprised to be able to say that I loved it. I know they’ve been saying this is a prequel to the Bond series, but I really hope that it’s actually a relaunch. Because this film does what we’ve all wanted Bond to do for some time, which is drop the gimmicky bullshit and just tell a serious spy story with some great action sequences and real intrigue. This was a story for adults that is in part about the loss of one man’s humanity in the service of a higher ideal. How does Daniel Craig stand up as Bond? Well, it’s hard to gauge, because the 007 he plays here is one markedly different from those who came before. This is the Bond that Ian Fleming wrote; a brutal man who makes mistakes but gets the job done with a minimum of personal involvement. There are still some problems, of course. A bit of the Bond formulaism remains, which is probably never going to go away. I think the casting of Eva Green was tantamount to a disaster; it’s amazing to me that she’s announced that she’s never going to take her clothes off again in favor of serious acting after this movie, which proves that she’s got a lot of problems in the acting department (and she was so much more genuine and honest in The Dreamers, I’m very disappointed here). It’s especially disappointing considering the general excellence of the rest of the supporting cast. Judi Dench, in particular, gets to do a nice job here as an M that’s a hard bitch; she doesn’t have to play the cute, funny scenes as a reaction to Bond’s “charming” misogyny like she did in the other films. There are also some real clunkers as far as the dialogue goes, which I hope I can blame on Paul Haggis. It would have been nice to have a realistic female lead. But the movie as a whole was compelling, exciting, intense, and a fresh start that should be built on. I loved it. ***1/2 stars.

I’ve never liked Maggie Gyllenhaal overly much, but I thought she was quite good in this movie about an ex-junkie ex-convict trying to remain in her daughter’s life. Everyone, even her own family, is against her, already judging her by her past and not giving her much of a chance to turn her life around. That’s the saddest part of this movie, the way everyone regards her as a sexual object (even her own father) and refuses to allow that she has something to offer her child (like, say, love). Only Danny Trejo, as a fellow ex-junkie, takes her at face value. And her brother comes around. What especially got to me was the way the story is told; it ends when it’s supposed to, instead of coddling the audience into a pat solution. ***1/2 stars.

SYRIANA (2005)
This is another one of those self-important epics about the lives of people and how they tie in to a given situation. The situation here is our continued exploitation of the Middle East for oil and how it affects the lives of the poor (and, in one case, turns someone into a terrorist). I applaud this film for trying to shine a light on how our problems with the Middle East have been of our own making, but I also think some of it could’ve been a little less sure of its own nobility. Still, there are things here that need to be said, and at least someone has the guts to say them. *** stars.

William Wyler was such a brilliant director, it’s hard to pick one film and say it’s his best. But this Oscar-winning film has to be in the top tier. This is an excellent film about the resilience of the British home front during World War II. It’s the kind of movie that would be so much bullshit today, but the kind of honest, gritty drama that needed to be made about the bravery of everyday people who triumph over evil and hardship by living their lives the best they can. It’s something more people should see today, when some believe that shopping and ignoring the war is somehow heroic. At the center of the film is Greer Garson’s moving performance as Mrs. Miniver, which is itself a triumph (as is Dame May Whitty, who stands for the fastidiousness of the English upper class, which in the end must soften to survive). It’s a beautiful film about life at home during a war which has come to the back door (in one scene, literally). Simply excellent. **** stars.

This an excellent bookend to Mrs. Miniver. It’s William Wyler again, this time telling the story of three veterans who come home only to find it hard to go back to their normal lives. Fredric March has trouble going back to his family (including wife Myrna Loy and daughter Teresa Wright), while Dana Andrews discovers that his own wife (Virginia Mayo) has become a popular lady about town, and Harold Russell (not an actor, but an actual veteran who lost his hands) worries that his girlfriend won’t love him anymore with hooks for hands. It’s a beautiful film that, even at its nearly three hours length, doesn’t feel a second too long. This is a powerful film, very gritty in its day for its frank treatment of divorce and forcing the audience to think about the political reasons for the war instead of blindly waving the American flag. The way this movie treats the returning veterans with such genuine consideration is touching; Harold Russell’s storyline is especially beautiful and heartbreaking. Astounding. **** stars.

Another William Wyler classic, this one about the goings-on in a police station. Kirk Douglas stars in a typically gripping performance as a police detective overwhelmed by the stress of trying to adhere to a strict moral code in a system that’s increasingly willing to make deals and sweep things away. He discovers that his wife (Eleanor Parker in an excellent performance) has some past indiscretions of her own, and finds that the morality he lives by is too unbending to forgive. An excellent, intense drama that seems ahead of its time; the problems of the police agencies in America have only multiplied since. ***1/2 stars.

I love that Cartoon Network is airing these Hellboy movies. Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, and John Hurt all reprise their roles in this well-animated offering. If you like Hellboy, you know what you’re getting, and what you’re getting is good. *** stars.

ZENON: Z3 (2004)
The third and final Zenon episode is cute enough, still in the upper tier of Disney Channel, but not as good as the first two. There’s a definite tone shift here; the first two movies saw space travel as a brave and important thing to do, and this movie seems to have the opposite viewpoint. The goddess of the moon warns humanity not to colonize the moon? That’s total pants. Kirsten Storms is still a cutie, though. And at least Raven came back for this one, even if she shot all of her scenes in a room on the same day. **1/2 stars.

This is an excellent Robert Bresson film that simply reenacts the trial of Joan of Arc. It doesn’t add much, and it doesn’t try to, and that’s the brilliance of this film. Bresson has gone back to the actual transcripts of the trial and used the words of the past to illuminate it. There are no cinematic devices, no manipulation of who’s right and who’s wrong. The one thing Bresson does in an attempt to make the story relevant to his time is actually quite brilliant—he cast a typical French teenager, Florence Delay, as Joan. The story takes place in 1431, but Delay looks like any French girl from the early sixties, right down to her modern hairstyle. It’s a great move: it’s quite probably the only movie I’ve seen about Joan that puts her in the terms of a modern teenager. There’s nothing heroic about her suffering, she’s simply a girl cast onto the stage of history and damned for it. Excellent. **** stars.

I find it odd that this film was Billy Wilder’s box office disaster (and critical failure). Maybe it’s viewing this film 56 years later, but it’s amazingly prescient about the cynicism and manipulation of the media. Kirk Douglas gives one of his best performances (which is really saying something) as Chuck Tatum, a hard-bitten newspaper reporter who’s looking for the story which will make his career. He finds it in a small New Mexico town when a worker is trapped in a cave-in. The lengths Tatum goes to in order to manipulate the story (he doesn’t report reality so much as the formula which people will expect to read) are shocking; he even goes as far as to manipulate the entire situation to his advantage, extending the crisis until he realizes what he’s done. By then, of course, it’s too late. And when he realizes people should know what he’s done, no one’s interested. This is a powerful story about cynicism and truth, and how our information is filtered to us. See it. This is Billy Wilder’s lost classic. **** stars.

I love the world of Rocky. I just hear that music, and I’m hooked. Rocky is one of my favorite movies of all time, so it was pretty much a given that I was going to see this one. And it’s a pretty typical Rocky movie, really. And that’s what’s nice about it. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s not an unwelcome addition to the canon. It’s just that, if you don’t like Rocky, this isn’t going to change your mind. So, for fans only. I’m a fan. *** stars.

I guess Agatha Christie just isn’t my cuppa. Margaret Rutherford is wonderful as Miss Marple, though. And the score’s nice. **1/2 stars.

Mensteala Thieves Again!

It's no secret that Ned Holness (aka Carlos Mencia) steals material. But to steal from Bill Cosby? You think people aren't going to notice that? And from Bill Cosby, Himself at that? Ouch, dude. What a fucking asshole.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Health Report: Week 14

It's been a pretty normal week, I guess. The big news (not health-related) is that I've been actively pursuing a job. I had to take the civil service exam, which I thought was pretty easy, except that I missed five questions and only got a 93 on the thing. That put me in 9th place on the register for this job, and that's assuming that no one else does better and pushes me further down the rung. I'm going to call about taking it again (I just took it this morning) and try to get up higher on the list of candidates, because I think I know which questions I missed and I can do better.

The only significant change in my appearance has happened not through weight loss (although I am still losing weight), but through a haircut. I finally got my yearly haircut (I like to let it grow long over winter when it's freezing) so that I didn't look like a killer lumberjack at any job interviews or anything. So no longer am I this CHUD......but I am now this less hairy CHUD.How about the lighting on that second one? I look like I have a black eye.

It's a lot more comfortable to go around like this, frankly. There's something to be said for not having to bother and just being comfortable, but it does reach a point where I get sick of the hair getting in my mouth.

And that's the whole week in health. Still doing the same, and I'm trying some of the exercises everyone's suggested. I feel good. I'll feel better if I can get this job, not only so some money can start flowing in, but since it's at a college, I'll have free access to their gym. Nice. Then I can get lean, and then bulk up with muscle. Because I saw 300 and Casino Royale this week, and I'm just feeling a little inadequate these days...

The Many Moods of the Silver Surfer

This is the Silver Surfer action figure from some wave or other of the Marvel series. Generally, I think Marvel makes some pretty lame action figures (with the exception of a couple of Spider-Mans...Spider-Men?), but I had to buy this one because it came with a small Howard the Duck figure, and the actual comic book series Howard the Duck is one of my all-time favorite comic books. So, the Surfer is a collateral add-on. What really amazed me about this figure is that it has, let's say, 9000 points of articulation, and you can put this guy into nearly any pose that you can imagine. And some people could imagine quite a lot. I'm not really sure who this figure was made for and why he can do all of these things, but here are some of the many moods of the Silver Surfer.


In Repose



Worshiping the Sun


Pride in the Abs

Auditioning for the "All That Jazz" Remake

Queen of the Dancefloor

All Aboard

Thoughtful Masturbation