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For Those Wonderful Kitties Who Had A Good Week July 8, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cats.
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In case you missed the good news

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Summer Of Movies: Youtube Noir July 7, 2018

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If you’re a B-movie fan like me, youtube is a wonderful thing. Tons of old obscure movies reside there – many of ’em in the public domain, many more in what I like to refer to as “copyright defensive indifference,” since whatever level of piracy exists in their free access is something no obscure rights holder knows and/or cares about.

This summer, I’ve binged on two categories of films you can’t really find anywhere else – minor noirs too obscure for TCM and the like, and old 1970s era TV movies of the week, which I’ll review in some upcoming posts.

Let’s start with some noir, ranging from the very good to the, well, merely okay.

Pushover (1954) features Fred MacMurray as a cop assigned to woo gangster moll Kim Novak (in her film debut), enough to find out where her bank robbin’ boyfriend and the stolen money is. Borrowing a lot from Double Indemnity, MacMurray plays a guy bored & stuck in his own life, this time a cop and not an insurance salesman. While he and his partners set up a peeping tom stakeout of Novak’s apartment, MacMurray plots with Novak to trap her gangster boyfriend and run off with the money themselves. Philip Carey plays his bachelor-for-life partner who then peeps on neighbor Dorothy Malone, back in her brunette good girl days, and his subsequent flirting with her drives other elements of the plot. This one wasn’t bad – if not for MacMurray’s casting, I doubt I’d’ve made the Double Indemnity comparisons. He always plays a good sullen weasel, and Novak makes a good femme fatale. Usually in any sort of plot-counterplot crime or caper films, the degree of believability  in either the plan or the way in which the plan inevitably collapses is key to the success of the film. In something like Kubrick’s The Killing, the mechanics of the plan make up the entire film, and it’s all undone by the wrong choice of a cheap suitcase. The Killing still works despite the character making that mistake – unlike what happens in Plunder Road or The Chase, which I’ll discuss later. In Pushover, the unraveling of MacMurray’s game is handled very well, without any feelings of movies that are forced simply to wrap up the plot. So, this one is pretty good. (more…)

Summer of Movies: The Incredibles II (2018) – See It For The Short! July 3, 2018

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It’s gotten to the point where I only go out to the theater once a year or so. Used to go all the time. No more.

The experience just sucks. What else can I say? Bombarded with ads, trailers for some of the most God-awful looking drek, one after another, like body blows. People on their stupid omnipresent phones. Endless onscreen interactive wifi bullshit for all those God damn omnipresent phones.

Get off my lawn, I know.

Anyway, I ventured out to see a film I figured I’d like a lot, Incredibles 2. I thought the first one was wonderful, one of the best cartoons and flat out one of the best films of the last decade, really.

The sequel? Well, I liked it, but it’s nowhere near as good as the first one. How could it be, when the first one seemed so original at the time, a more comical version of “Watchmen,” really, with a phony universe of superheroes who’d been banned by society.

But in the years since the first film, I think we (especially me) have been inundated and overdosed on superheroes. Too many movies made from too many comic books, and even too many parody versions of the superhero genre like Venture Brothers and the like filling up the pop culture. So an Incredibles II has that uphill battle to wage – how can it deliver the familiarity of the original without seeming like yet another rehash of a cultural zeitgeist that’s turned into a flood?

Well, for one thing, the animation is pretty impressive. The sophistication of the computer animation used keeps getting better and better, and the object rendering, motion, and moving camera illusions are amazing to see.

But as far as story, I thought it fell short. A lot of it is a rehash of the first film, where much of the plot revolves around arguments over the necessity of superheroes and the like. And Incredibles II spends the majority of its screentime on two parallel stories – one with Mr. Incredible home with Jack-Jack the baby discovering his powers, the other with Elastagirl out saving the world with a publicity campaign designed to decriminalize superheroes. The schizo nature of this set-up makes up the bulk of the movie – we really don’t get a mesh of the two plots until good ol’ act 3, basically the final half hour, when the family comes together to save the day.

While I liked it and was entertained, my first reaction was that it wasn’t in the same league as the first one, and the obvious set-up for three, four and whatever else Disney wants to milk this thing to death the way they do with everything else made me simply sigh. I mean, you KNOW Brad Bird will move on to other stuff and we’ll get THE FORMULA from THE ANOINTED FRANCHISE SUCCESSOR like with every friggin thing else.

I’ve liked a lot of Bird’s work, from Iron Giant to Ratatouille. I wonder if he only made this one to secure deals for other stuff, to be honest. Who knows.

BUT – I can STRONGLY recommend and praise TO THE RAFTERS the Pixar short shown with it, the absolutely wonderful “Bao,” Domee Shi’s brilliant ode to mothers & sons. Again, the computer animation is astonishing, with character design being properly “cartoony” and universe objects (especially food in this one) looking amazingly real. But the simple story, told without dialogue, about a mom dealing with her son growing up is handled brilliantly, cleverly and humorously. Really hit home to see the difference between something special like “Bao” and then something that was basically well-designed calculated entertainment right after. Anyhoo,  it’ll be interesting to see if Shi gets to do a feature at some point. Here’s hopin’.

And now, back home, to my safe little CAVE to watch more old crap. But I’ll only briefly mention the crap and focus more on some nice discoveries on youtube for the next installment.

Gone Hollywood July 1, 2018

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The ESPN ribbon under the Yankee/Red Sox game I’m watching keeps flashing the breaking news that LeBron James has signed with the LA Lakers.

4 years, 154 million. Magic Johnson ain’t screwing around.

I scoffed at the endless speculation over this all during last season, and I’ll admit I’m a little surprised. Yeah, he has a house out here and is clearly interested in tv/movie production. But he’s already a national brand and coulda handled that from anywhere. I saw him staying in the east, or even with Cleveland for another year.

But there we are.

We’ll hear plenty how if he manages to win a championship with the current mostly young Laker team, after taking two other teams to championships previously.. how THIS PROVES IT!!!!! he’s better than Jordan, bla bla bla.

I’m sure we can assume a Golden State/LA Laker western conference playoff battle, perhaps even the conference final, I’m sure all the fans will go for that. And then, once LeBron and his new team manage to conquer Golden State, imagine the irony when they lose to the Celtics in the finals overall. (more…)

Summer of Movies: Some Edward Dmytryk Films June 30, 2018

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I’d been looking to expand a look at Dmytryk’s work and career for a film class this upcoming year. Calendars move in ebbs and flows, Jewish holidays move around, etc. Long story short, a few weeks got added to the first half of my class. A lot of the class deals with the transition from page to screen, and two directors who wrote substantially about their processes of doing that, Sidney Lumet and Edward Dmytryk, are focused on.

Lumet’s easier – he wrote an excellent book on his films and there are more great films to choose from. He’s also great to examine since “auteur” signatures can be discerned, yet Lumet hated to be thought of that way. So the commonalities are way more subtle than a Hitchcock, or Burton or Kubrick.

Dmytryk started out as an editor and wrote a great obscure book on editing, portions of which I’ll use since he goes into some decent detail on translating script pages to the screen. He also had an interesting career arc – originally part of the Hollywood Ten, Blacklisted, went to England to find work, and then got back into Hollywood by naming names  – not as prominently as Kazan or others, but it got him back into low budget material that he built upon, and then regularly working into the 1970s in more mainstream features.

After Kazan named names, he made On The Waterfront as a personal statement about loyalties, criminal association, and conscience.

When Dmytryk returned to Hollywood, he made a film I’ll add to my class – The Sniper (1952), a low budget job focusing on a lone gunman psycho shooting at brunettes in San Francisco. It explores the psyche of the killer (Arthur Franz) without giving us blatant cause-and-effect flashback scenes or Simon Oakland speeches about Freud to explain why he’s nuts. Franz is very good here, the police procedural material handled very well, along with an early Richard Kiley performance as the police profiler/psychiatrist assigned to the case. The thing that makes it stand out is the reality of the characters, and Dmytryk’s signature anticlimactic ending. His love of underwhelming endings hurts some of his films, but not here, in what could have been a standard formula ending for 1952. (more…)

Summer of Movies: Bookending the ’70s with They Might Be Giants (1971) and Winter Kills (1979) June 29, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Movies.
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Watching these two right after one another got me thinking a lot about how they’re both products of their time – more specifically, products of a very precise time.

The ’70s began with all sorts of hope and promise – we were fresh off the moon landings and remnants of all the peace ‘n’ love crap from the late ’60s still had a residue in the culture. I found They Might Be Giants as a good example of this particular zeitgeist. George C Scott plays a judge who has gone insane, thinking he’s Sherlock Holmes. Joanne Woodward plays the therapist brought in to treat him, and it turns out she’s actually Dr. Watson.

Based on a stage play (and feeling like it often), Scott does Holmes more as Don Quixote (the origin of the title – those windmills might be giants, after all) and eventually wins over the sad ‘n’ frustrated creature-of-boring-habit Watson into his happier world of make believe. He galavants around NYC and we meet all the street crazy friends he has who play along with his fantasy, and eventually we wind up with a very similar manifesto to Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s the seemingly crazy who not only can see the magic of living, but MUST see it in order to go on – while those of us who are supposedly sane not only can’t see it, but won’t. (more…)

White Cooked Chicken With A Ginger Soy Dressing June 29, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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Saw this one on TV, made some minor modifications to it, and came up with a wonderful simple way to cook chicken, especially when I’m in the mood for something light and not piping hot on a warm summer night.

“White cooked” is the Chinese version of sous vide – cooking in simmering water. If you’re someone who demands crispy skin, this ain’t for you. The skin will come out flabby and unusable, kinda like I am in the eyes of most women.

You’ll need a pot big enough to submerse a chicken or its parts in water. I saw this done with a whole chicken, I did it with a bone-in breast.

Into the water: at least 2 big tablespoons of salt – the water should be 2x as salty as pasta water.

At this point, you can pick your flavorings. When I planned on making a chicken salad with mayo afterwards, I stopped with salt. For the ginger/soy recipe, I added about a half cup of sherry, some chopped scallion and a few nickel-sized pieces of smashed ginger to the water. Any sort of aromatics in the water at this point will subtly infuse the meat, however.

Bring it to a boil. Add the chicken, bring back to a boil, and then lower to medium to keep at a simmer.

Cook uncovered 20 minutes. Then, flip the chicken over, simmer another 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, lid the pot, and let it sit another 30. Finally, take the chicken out onto a cutting board and let rest another 15.

That’s it!

You’ll have a nice pot of homemade chicken broth as well, to save for later. Consider this when you’re adding stuff to the water at the beginning.

Peel off the rubbery skin and separate the meat from the bone. Chill in the refrigerator if you want.

I cut up the meat and tossed it in a ginger-soy dressing made up of: 2 tbs soy, 1 tsp finely minced ginger, 1 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil and some chopped scallion.

Serve over some crisp lettuce or cabbage. Or, you can do what I did – take the homemade broth and use it to cook some rice in the time the chicken was sitting & resting.

That other chicken, sitting and resting in front of my TV after a long day? He’s for dinner tomorrow night.

 

 

RIP, Harlan Ellison June 28, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Movies, Television, Writing.
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Died in his sleep, according to a family announcement today. He was 84.

As he said, “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.”

Ellison is one my favorites. I wrote this about him many years ago, so I’ll link it here.

Summer Of Movies: Bedtime Story (1964) June 27, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1960s, Movies.
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I play hooky from writing by watching more and more old movies. And the combo of whatever speed bumps I’ve hit while working on Wagstaff 3 and the discovery of WAY too many old noirs and the like on youtube have produced a lot of regular movie viewing the past few weeks.

I also needed to screen a bunch of stuff to evaluate for classes.

So I’ll begin a run down of what I’ve viewed so far, with some brief reviews and commentary.

I started with Bedtime Story from 1964, the original version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. David Niven and Marlon Brando play the roles that’d be redone as Michael Caine and Steve Martin, while Shirley Jones gets to play the mark that’d be redone with Glenn Headley. And redone better, actually – in the original, Jones is basically the innocent, whose honest love reforms the Brando character. Changing her to another con artist in the remake is a rare example of a story change in a remake that improves on the original. The character change for Headley is altogether brilliant – a way to basically redo the original set-up, where the Niven/Caine and Brando/Martin characters have their private challenge to see who can get rid of the other by taking Jones/Headley for a sap. We can have all the same gags where Brando/Martin pretends to be the soldier with psychological paralysis and Niven/Caine swoops in pretending to be the psychiatrist and so forth, but now our memory of the entire story arc changes when we find out that Headley was not the sappy mark but instead a superior con artist playing both of them (and us) at the same time. I kept waiting for that in the original, but instead got the standard character-reformed ending common to older films.

The original is still fairly funny. Niven is a natural, and Brando isn’t too bad at comedy.  This was post-Mutiny on the Bounty, when Brando’s star power had waned and his reputation for being difficult started to affect his casting, but I suspected he only did a little movie like this only to work with Niven, possibly bed down with some of the babe extras playing other marks, and a little research proved me right, at least on the Niven part. Jerry Lewis’ theory on Brando (and actors in general) was that directors that worked well understood how to confer with the inner “troubled child” inside every actor – Kazan could confer with it, but Lewis Milestone could not. Watch Hearts of Darkness to see Coppola deal with it, or perhaps, lose the ability he once had during The Godfather. Or even better, watch Lost Soul, a fascinating 2014 documentary on Richard Stanley’s failure to complete the awful Island of Dr. Moreau remake. Brando’s sabotage of the film seems to be an act of revenge in defense of Stanley once he had been fired. Val Kilmer’s sabotage was more in defiance of Stanley’s authority on set to begin with. Two great docs on moviemaking, and windows into the later career of Brando, anyway.

Brando took direction here, however. And from Ralph Levy, a longtime TV director. This was his only feature. He went back to episodic TV right afterwards. And this was back in the days where television people were routinely looked down upon like minor leaguers in the entertainment field.

And now we see how important the Niven factor may have been, eh?

For some reason this one never turns up on TV or TCM and I’d never seen it. But you can find it on youtube, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

And yes, I know it’s presently being remade AGAIN with the STARTLINGLY ORIGINAL IDEA of SWITCHING THE GENDERS!!!!!

OMIGOD!!!! THAT’S NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE!!!! Pat yourselves on the back for that one, Hollywood!

And yes, let’s make sure we follow save-the-cat/McKee story structure like it’s Holy writ, people.

And yes, make sure to insert current pop culture catch-phrases, buzzwords and the like.

And to run the table: keeping in line with the current trend in Hollywood comedies, let’s go totally overboard on bathroom humor, body excretions, and other overused and trite attempts at gross-out humor.

Oh dear GOD, will it most certainly SUCK.

Hollywood actually got a remake correct back in 1988, I guess they couldn’t just let it be. Gotta make sure all remakes are unnecessary and pointless somehow. Just another day at the office.

Meh. The more I think about what will most certainly be in the upcoming re-remake, the more I like the simplicity of the original, and the silliness of the first remake.

When do we get the gender swapped version of Victor/Victoria? I think we will have reached the singularity by then.

 

 

 

How BOUT Them Yankees! June 20, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball.
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Oh, they are fun to watch. Especially when they come back from a 5-0 deficit against what looks like a playoff bound Seattle Mariners team and win with a walkoff homer by Giancarlo Stanton in the bottom of the 9th, like they did tonight.

After a game tying homer by the hopefully formerly struggling Gary Sanchez. He’s only hitting .191, but has 41 RBIs anyway.

They managed to get ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East despite Sanchez, Stanton and Bird underperforming at the plate…. but perhaps Sanchez and Stanton are getting hot?

Who knows?

Will rookie pitchers like German and Loaisiga develop the way Severino has?

Dunno. Hope so!

All I know is that these guys remind me more and more of the Yanks circa mid 1990s, when Jeter was the hotshot rookie, when they first brought Pettite, Rivera and Posada up to join Bernie Williams and a few established vets like Jimmy Key and David Cone… and they went on an amazing tear for years, peaking in 98-99 looking unbeatable. Now they got Judge, Sanchez, Torres, Adujar, Severino, German, Frazier and Bird coming up from the minors to join the vets Stanton, Sabathia, Tanaka, Chapman and Gardener… it feels a lot like a long run is beginning for this group.

I’d love to see another run like that from another home-grown group of Yankee stars, and not just to make me feel 20 years younger.

More than that, really, since the magic of watching baseball makes me feel like a starry eyed nine year old again watching heroes supposedly bigger than life. Probably why I’ll never stop watching, although it’d be nice if the baseball cards weren’t so damn expensive as opposed to when I actually WAS 9 and you got 10 cards in a pack for a dime.

And yes, get off my lawn.

And tonight, Stanton was the big hero – it seems like it’s a different guy every night, one of those magical intangibles that always wind up being the hallmark of a championship team.

It’s still early. The Red Sox look really solid and the division will be tough. The Astros, Mariners, Angels and Indians are all pennant-capable teams in the AL, which looks a lot tougher than the NL about now. So we’ll see what happens in the end, especially with the extremely lame one-and-out wild card playoff.

The Yanks could win 100+ games, but if they finish second the the Sox, they could wind up in a 1 game playoff against the likes of Justin Verlander, fresh off rejuvenating sex with Kate Upton.

Although, at least there IS a playoff. The 1954 Yankees won 103 games and finished 2nd to the Indians. They got to stay home and watch the Giants win the Series.

Is this the year? I hope so, but who knows? I’m optimistic that “THIS IS THE YEAR!!!!” will be a reasonable sentiment for many years to come with the core of young stars the Yankees have and are developing.