Saturday, March 31, 2012

North to Alaska (1960)

North to Alaska is not exactly a good movie, but it's quite fun if you just go with the flow. I've seen this one a few times over the years, but recently watched it again, as I'm still catching Stewart Granger films. I've gotten kind of used to Granger being broody and darker, so his sheer good-naturedness and happy exuberance in this movie made me grin. He's so very cheerful. Reminded me of Van Heflin's hilarious line in Three Musketeers to Gene Kelly: "Will you stop looking happy?" But it all works well in this movie.

This movie's about two gold miners who strike it rich in Alaska. With wealth in his pocket, George (Granger) is ready to marry his long-pined-for fiancee. He sends Sam (John Wayne) to bring her from Seattle. Only she got tired of waiting and is already married. Sam gets a hair-brained idea to bring another French lady (Capucine) up to Alaska... only he doesn't exactly explain the situation to her, so she's in love with Sam before they reach Alaska. Throw in the gold strike, claim jumpers, and quite a few brawls to the romance, and you've got the plot to North to Alaska.

Most of my favorite parts of this movie are any time Ernie Kovacs is around. I grew up on re-runs of the Ernie Kovacs Show. We watched his show as often as we could. He was truly a brilliant and gifted comedian, and his show had some absolutely priceless skits on it. We always loved when he set weird stuff to music, like the pencil sharpener whistling "Sentimental Journey," and what we used to call "the spaghetti eating music." And there's Percy Dovetonsils and his awful poetry. And of course, the Nairobi Trio skits were always family favorites, and my sister even dressed up as one of the Nairobi Trio for Halloween one year. Given that I'm not much of a comedy person, Ernie Kovacs was definitely special and a very important figure in my childhood.

I love him as Frankie Canon in this movie. His constant scheming to make it rich just cracks me up. He watches for any opportunity he can turn to his advantage without having to do any work. He does that smiling "I'm your best friend, really!" routine, while lying and cheating and manipulating anything and everyone he can get away with. I love when Clancy the dog thwarts one of his early attempts. And, of course, I love when he finally gets caught as his final scheme goes awry and he finally gets his comeuppance. It's all very satisfying.

John Wayne and Stewart Granger are great as the gold-mining partners. I love their relationship, and the two actors play well off each other. I think John Wayne is underrated in the comedy department. Capucine is lovely as the love interest. When Granger sets out to drive Wayne's character jealous and prove he loves Capucine's character, Michelle, I just grin and grin. Fabian... well. He's young, rather cute, and annoying as all get out. He's my least favorite part of this movie, but at least he annoys the other characters just as much, so I can live with it.

The other thing I enjoy about this movie is the scenery. It's filmed partly at Hot Creek, near Mammoth California, a place I've been visiting since I was a little kid. You used to be able to cross the bridge they built for the movie, but it is finally gone and has not been replaced. Hot Creek is one of those places that has a jillion signs saying essentially, "Don't swim here, scalding water," and people still go in the water... and still get burnt or worse every year. Idiots. But it's beautiful there, and I love seeing it in the movie.

(me, at Hot Creek a couple years ago)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Some Like it Hot on the big screen!

Well, I've seen my first George Raft film on the big screen! (Why yes, I do watch this movie for George Raft first, those other guys second...LOL!). I discovered a new theater in my area, the Fox Theater in Redlands, which has Classic Movie Tuesdays. Last night's movie was Some Like it Hot.

Talk about a fun movie to see with a small crowd of enthusiastic film lovers! There was much delighted laughter all the way through. The theater really is more of an event center, with a dance floor, tables, etc. They set up seating in the middle for the film viewing. The print was clean, the sound good, though a little loud for me. I will definitely be going back to see more movies here. Their film selection is quite varied, so it will be interesting to see what April's schedule holds!

All in all, a great time at a nice venue. But any chance to see classic movies big screen without driving all the way to Hollywood is grand by me!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Blog award!

Irene, from And then they start to sparkle, and Patti, from They don't make 'em like they used, to has generously awarded me the 7x7 link award. Thank you both! It's an honor. This award has the following rules which, as usual, I'm going to break. I've never been comfortable passing things on, and most of the people who I would award have already received this!

1. Tell everyone something no one else knows about.

2. Link to one of my posts that I personally think best fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, and Most Pride-worthy Piece.

3.Pass this award on to seven other bloggers.

So, 1, something no one else knows about... um. How about... I have an alarm-clock phobia. I loathe, despite, and hate alarm clocks. My first alarm clock was in the 7th grade, and it was one of those old-fashioned, loud buzzy-clangy-sounding ones. It was so painful to be jarred awake by that cursed thing that it scarred me for life. I have never used an alarm clock since, unless I must get up at some unreasonable hour of the morning to go catch an airplane or something. And when I am forced to use one (I use the alarm on my cell phone nowadays as I don't even own an alarm clock), I will wake up just about every hour all night long in anticipation of it. I will usually be awake a full half hour before it actually goes off, unable to go back to sleep for fear it might actually awaken me. So yeah, I get very little sleep if I have to set an alarm. I have also never used a snooze button on an alarm clock in my life. I set the alarm for when I need to get up, and I get up. Period. There's no going back to sleep with the possibility of it actually going off looming in my head. And yes, I've tried music ones, etc. It doesn't matter whether it's loud and strident, my favorite music, radio, or the softest buzz (my favorite "alarm clock" was a pager (remember those?) set on vibrate on top of my dresser), I will wake up before it goes off every time. I should add, I have no trouble waking up on time. Maybe it's just years of habit, but the lighting, the cats' activities, etc. all trigger when it's time to get up on any normal day.


Most Beautiful Piece -- Writing-wise? Hah! So how about this one?

Most Helpful Piece -- Well, if a movie review helped someone either find a new movie they liked, or helped them avoid something bad, then there's something helpful here, but as they're all about the same style... I can't really say I've ever been very helpful! So I'd say simply consolidating a list of which movies I've reviewed onto one page (thanks to Patti) is probably more helpful than any single post.

Most Popular Piece -- Thanks again to Patti pointing out we do have Stats in blogger, I found the most popular post here by a landslide is this one on movie animals.

Most Controversial Piece
-- I don't think I've written any! Although, anytime anyone criticizes something popular, there will be dissenting views. That's a good thing. I was thinking perhaps when I criticized the new Star Trek movie, or Hemingway... but when I just checked those posts, there wasn't much dissent. Hm. Even when I said I didn't like some major famous classic movies I didn't really catch much flak. So, I guess I'm really not controversial.

Most Surprisingly Successful Piece
-- I guess the same one that's the most popular. Who knew how much people wanted to see pics of movie horses?? Maybe I should post some more? LOL!

Most Underrated Piece -- No idea. I have many many posts with no comments, but as I don't think the posts were anything special, I can't say any were underrated.

Most Pride-worthy Piece -- As my posts are simply representative of my passions, and not indicative of cool knowledge or anything more interesting than my own humble opinions... none. Although I've noticed that the posts I have the most excitement for when I'm composing them are usually the ones with no comments. What I love just isn't what everyone else loves. LOL! The writing I'm most proud of is my fiction, not my blog posts.

Thanks again for the award! Sorry this acceptance is so belated.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Things that make me happy

Huzzah! At long last, the wonderful score to Island at the Top of the World has been released by Intrada! Thank you!! I've literally been waiting my whole life for this one to come out. When I was young, I'd recorded the beautiful main title by holding a tape recorder up to the television when the movie was aired. I think I finally wore that tape out. My, but this is so much better! This is a gorgeous, pristine copy of the score, with lovely packaging, and, needless-to-say, it's been playing on the stereo non-stop since I received my copy.

This soundtrack is my favorite Maurice Jarre film score of all time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


So, what's up with the inability to have post comments emailed to you on blogger anymore?? The radio button to select the email option is gone on everyone's comment forms, and and I get zero email notifications except on my own blog. This vexes me greatly, as now, the only way to see if there's a response to my comment is to go remember where I commented the next day, and go back and manually check. I don't have time for that! I barely have time to post/read around here anyway. Email notifications were lovely and necessary and kept everything neat and tidy and timely.

This is annoying me greatly. Anyone have a suggestion or solution? Thanks!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Assassination Bureau (1969)

Well! It looks like Netflix got a bunch of replacement DVDs in finally. All of a sudden, stuff that’s been in my “unavailable” section for months and months is back and ready to ship! I was expecting the next Mario Lanza movie yesterday, but this one came instead. That’s okay, I’m always ready for an Oliver Reed movie.

I'd guess you'd call this one a black comedy, and I would almost dismiss it… except one can never dismiss Oliver Reed, (nor Diana Rigg, his lovely co-star), and the film went all awesomely cool in the ending.

The movie is set in the early 1900s, and the plot involves Diana Rigg as a feminist journalist who uncovers the titular Assassination Bureau. To destroy it, she commissions a hit – on the head of the group, Ivan (pronounced the Russian way, thank goodness) Dragomiloff, played by Oliver Reed. And he accepts and turns into a challenge to his group. What follows is a romp across Europe as he evades his corrupt fellow board members and takes them out before they can get him. Diana Rigg follows him and gets sucked into it, of course. It’s more complicated than that, with Ivan upset that the Assassination Bureau, originally created to rid the world of truly evil people, has become nothing more than a hitman squad that takes money for their work and ignores the rest. Then, there’s the true villain of the piece, played by Telly Savalas, who takes over the Assassination Bureau when Reed goes on the run. Savalas intends to use the group start a war in Europe, and Reed becomes the good guy. Curt Jergens co-stars as one of the bad guys. Interestingly, this movie was based on an unfinished story by Jack London!

Anyway, mildly entertaining with some quite amusing almost-cartoon-like parts (not a bad thing at all) – mostly because Reed and Rigg are so very good at their acting jobs they make anything do they do enjoyable. And the ending! The ending made me sit up and grin. Minor spoilers ahead...

All the heads of state in Europe are meeting at one castle, and Telly's character intends to wipe them all out. How? By dropping a bomb from a zeppelin! Now, really, if you want to make a movie better, throw in a blimp. Blimps are awesome. Then let Oliver Reed loose on it. With a sword. Trying to stop the bad guys and their nefarious plan. And let him sword fight with the bad guys on the skinny little walkways inside. Oh yeah, I’m all over that. I don’t care how corny the special effects are. Oliver Reed, sword fight, a blimp... those three in the same sentence make me one very very happy girl.

So yeah, enjoyed it quite a bit in the long run! I only wish Diana Rigg had more of a part to play in the ending, though at the same time, the role she did have made sense. I just wanted more. I loved a section in the middle where she hears a persistent ticking in her hotel room and suspects a bomb is planted somewhere.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

That Midnight Kiss (1949)

I grew up on Mario Lanza records (my dad loved listening to him), but strangely, I've never seen any movies with him. Well, after catching this clip of him singing one of the greatest and most exciting tenor arias of all time, I wanted to see more. You see, very few tenors can actually sing this aria well, and to my great surprise, Mario Lanza is one of them. (This is a short version of the aria, cutting out the best part of it, but what is there is fun.) When Lanza sings straight, he really is good. When he starts scooping up to his notes and getting schmaltzy, well, it's harder for me to listen to.

So, on to That Midnight Kiss, which was Lanza's screen debut. It's light-weight, cheesy but sweet, fluff. It made me smile; it made me roll my eyes. Lanza co-stars with Kathryn Grayson, whose soprano voice is a bit of an acquired taste, and a bit ear-piercing on those super high notes they insist she hit. Plot was slight, but that was just fine. It didn't need plot. Lanza plays a truck-driving opera singer who is overheard by Grayson and given a chance to replace a famous (but obnoxious) tenor in their new opera house. There's minor romantic complications that inexplicably get resolved simply by seeing each other again. Very Hollywood. I have no idea what the title has to do with the movie. And, they spend the whole opera rehearsing Lucia Di Lammermoor only to perform something else (non-operatic) in the finale. Um, okay then. Glad you guys worked so hard on that duet!

Ignoring all that, what made this one fun was the cast. Jose Iturbi (as himself) gets the funniest parts, as does Keenan Wynn and Jules Munshin. Ethel Barrymore is under-used, but always a presence in any movie she's in. The two leads are fine, with Lanza earnest and likeable in his screen debut. There's a few opera arias sung for me to enjoy.

So, not one I'd want to own, but I'm definitely glad I saw it.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Big Bang (2011)

I can't say I'd recommend this film to anyone who usually follows me here -- it's a hard R film with lots of bad language, nudity, sex, etc. -- but this neo-noir film amuses me greatly, so I'll review it here anyway. I caught it on Netflix's streaming video a few months back, loved it so much, I immediately bought a copy of the DVD the very next day. I watched the DVD yesterday evening for my second viewing.

When I saw it the first time, the first thing that I loved was the fact that the film had opening credits! Full-on opening credits. Woo! Then the film begins, and I thought I was watching a re-make of Murder, My Sweet. The hero, a private detective named Ned Cruz (played superbly by Antonio Banderas), blinded, is sitting in an interrogation room with three cops. He's concerned about a woman, but none of the cops will tell him if she's okay until he tells them what happened to get him in this mess. The movie is mostly told in flashback, with Cruz narrating his story. The case Cruz was working on was locating a missing stripper for a giant of a man just released from prison. Things rapidly get complicated (as they do in Murder, My Sweet), this time with Russian mobsters, diamonds, and most uniquely -- with a reclusive billionaire who's built himself his own private particle accelerator under a town in New Mexico. Seriously. It's awesome.

This movie takes the classic old school detective movie formula and mixes it up with a bunch of physics! And it does it with a lot love and respect for old noir films from all involved, with the end result: a movie that satisfied my love of old movies with some new, interesting twists. Sure, I absolutely could have done without the language and graphic images, but I liked the rest enough to really enjoy it anyway. The first time I saw it, I wasn't expecting the physics angle, and the more references that kept popping up (a warehouse called Schrodingers, Planck's Constant Cafe, etc,), the wider I kept grinning. I used to work in the Physics & Astronomy dept at college, so this stuff is familiar and right up my alley.

So what do I love about this movie?

Well, first off, the cast. Two of my favorite modern actors star in this: Antonio Banderas and Thomas Kretschmann. They're why I watched the film in the first place, and both were great. Kretschmann, Delroy Lindo, and William Fichtner play the three cops, and they're all perfect, all distinct characters. Sam Elliott plays the crazy, obsessed billionaire, Sienna Guillory is the missing lady, and Robert Maillet plays Banderas's 7-foot-tall client. Everyone of them, and the other actors I didn't mention, fit their roles very nicely.

Second -- I really really love the way this movie is filmed. It uses color, smoke, and geometric shapes the way a b&w noir film would have. It's lovely, surreal, and since so many modern films seem to be flat and monochrome, the vivid colors here are a breath of beautiful, fresh air. I love that in the interrogation room, the colors are black, grey, or white (clothes/walls/etc.), where the flashbacks are all colors: vivid yellows, reds, blues, purples. It's a striking contrast that subtly feeds the narrative. The camera angles, the juxtaposition of circles and squares and triangles in just about every shot, the set decorations... all give this the feel of a noir film. Cruz's detective office has the classic neon sign outside flashing red letters. Love it! The houses at the end of the film seem almost like a bit of an homage to the beach house in Kiss Me Deadly.

Third -- I love that Ned Cruz is a true good guy, in the old sense. He's honest, he does his job well (even when he doesn't like what he's doing), he's smart, and he figures things out. He does his best to protect his client and make things come out right. His detective character was quite refreshing.

Fourth -- the plot gets more and more entertaining as it goes along, as the missing person's case intertwines with the billionaire's design to be the first to see the God particle. The wild finale was crazy and wonderful and just exactly right for what came before. (There is an epilogue that feels a bit tacked on, though. I kind of wish it ended before that, after this last hilarious line of Banderas's.)

Anyway, the dialogue is sharp and quite a few of the lines made me laugh out loud. I read some reviews and some people had trouble catching all the dialogue, and yes, Banderas's accent seems a bit thicker than normal, but I didn't have any trouble understanding him. Kretschmann is German, so this is a movie filled with lots of lovely accents. One of my favorite lines is from Banderas to Kretschmann: "We're just two migrant workers in the land of opportunity." LOL. My other favorite line (from Krestchmann) makes little sense out of context, but it makes me laugh and grin just thinking about it: "See, I like my aftershave, and I like the color of my shoes..." and I can't quote the rest because it might be a bit of a spoiler.

And I also love the Burma Shave signs.