Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

It's hard to say much about INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL that hasn't already been said elsewhere, especially if one is trying to be fairly vague so as not to spoil the movie for those who haven't seen it yet. We finally had the chance to catch up with it today.

We all found the movie good but not great. On the weak side, the endless stunts and special effects could have been substituted with a little bit more character interaction. The action sequences were just a touch too familiar; for instance, a jungle jeep chase reminded me of the speeder chase through the Endor jungle in RETURN OF THE JEDI, with orangutans substituted for Ewoks. I couldn't help wondering if each interesting landscape or sunset was real or CGI, which takes away a little bit of the magic. And after seeing a number of movies in this genre over the years, I would find it refreshing if the filmmakers chose not to fill the screen with a succession of skeletons and other creepy stuff.

On the positive side, what a pleasure to spend time with Professor Jones and Marion Ravenwood once more! I was always extremely disappointed that Marion disappeared from the series (granted, one film was a prequel to RAIDERS, but still...) and this rights that wrong in a satisfying way. There are many good bits of humor, and pleasantly familiar touches abound, from jokes about snakes to the portrait of Marcus (the late Denholm Elliott) outside Professor Jones's classroom to Indy borrowing one of Han Solo's favorite things to mutter when in peril. Harrison Ford is and always will be Indiana Jones, at any age.

Going into the film I was a skeptic about Shia LaBeouf, but he made a solid contribution to the film and its sense of fun.

The film runs 124 minutes; just five minutes being shaved off would have been an improvement, as I glanced at my watch about 2 hours in. The movie was, of course, directed by Steven Spielberg.

The most amusing job title in the end credits: "Confidentiality Coordinator."

A fun time at the movies if you're a fan of Indiana Jones.

Previously: Indy: The First Review?

Side note: I adore trailers, but having to sit through them at the movies these days is something akin to torture. What a succession of violent, gross drivel. The one trailer I saw today that looked promising was for AUSTRALIA, starring Nicole Kidman; I'd go see it just to see Hugh Jackman.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Today at Disneyland

We headed out to Disneyland this afternoon with our main goal being to see the nighttime spectacular Fantasmic! for the first time in a couple years.

Note the red, white and blue bunting on the building in the background, which went up for Memorial Day weekend:

Not much longer till Toy Story Mania! opens:

Dinner at the French Market:

We caught the new Indiana Jones stunt show which takes place at various locations throughout Adventureland, as Indy and a very tall villain battle over a treasure map.

Here, Indy and the villain are dueling on the bridge at Tarzan's Treehouse:

We took another ride on the Jungle Cruise, even though we were just on it on our last visit. They've hidden a few INDIANA JONES references here and there throughout the ride. We found two, but there are apparently more.

The elephant pool:

Fantasmic! was as wonderful as ever, as were the fireworks.

I've also been fortunate enough to see Fantasmic! in Florida, and while they have the benefit of a stadium specially built for the show at Disney's Hollywood Studios, this is an attraction where the Disneyland version definitely has the edge. The incorporation of the Sailing Ship Columbia and the Mark Twain into the show -- particularly the use of the Columbia for a spectacularly staged Peter Pan battle -- makes the Anaheim version extra-special.

More photos of this week's happenings at the park have been posted at MiceAge.

Bob Dole Smacks Down Scott McClellan

I loved this. I first heard it on the radio yesterday but couldn't find a copy online until today. Senator Dole says it all for this topic.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tonight's Movie: In Person (1935)

Carol Corliss (Ginger Rogers) is a movie star who's suffered a nervous breakdown, and for reasons much too complicated to explain here, she ends up on vacation in a mountain cabin with an ornithologist, Emory Muir (George Brent). Will true love follow? You probably don't have to think very hard about the answer, given that this is a 1935 romantic comedy.

The first 20 minutes or so of the film, during which Ginger wears a couple of unattractive disguises, are on the strange side. After that, the movie settles down into being a somewhat silly but entertaining comedy. They could have invested a little more time developing the romance between Rogers and Brent, while devoting less screen time to Alan Mowbray as Ginger's onscreen partner, a part similar to the one Mowbray played two years later in HOLLYWOOD HOTEL. On the whole, however, the film is pleasant company. Ginger even has a couple solo dance routines to Oscar Levant-Dorothy Fields songs, choreographed by Hermes Pan.

A definite plus is some pretty location filming at Big Bear Lake, California.

This was one of five Rogers films released in 1935, which included TOP HAT. Brent was in seven releases the same year.

The supporting cast includes Grant Mitchell and Samuel S. Hinds. This black and white movie runs 87 minutes and was directed by William A. Seiter.

IN PERSON is not available on VHS or DVD. It can be seen on TCM.

Update: This film is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.  My review can be found here.

Composer-Arranger Alexander Courage Dies at 88

Notice of the recent death of composer-arranger Alexander Courage has come just days after the passing of TV composer Earle Hagen.

Courage worked as the orchestrator for many great MGM musicals, including SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), THE BAND WAGON (1953), SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), and GIGI (1958).

As John Williams told the L.A. Times today: "He was known to most musicians in the community as having been one of the architects of what we used to refer to as the MGM sound, which meant that most of the musical films from MGM had a particular style of orchestration, which was an extension and development of what was done in the theater in the 1920s. They actually took that to a very high art form, particularly in the musicals produced by Arthur Freed."

Courage also worked as the orchestrator of one of my all-time favorite film scores, THE BIG COUNTRY (1958), composed by Jerome Moross.

As a composer, his most significant work might have been the theme for the TV series STAR TREK.

Alexander Courage was another of the very talented people who has provided us with so many hours of memorable entertainment.

A Beautiful Day

Today was our homeschool group's end-of-the-year celebration at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley.

As you can see, it was a beautiful day here in Southern California:

There were probably a couple hundred people in attendance today.

Giant water balloons!

Hard to believe I'm about to conclude my fifth year as a homeschooling parent. It has been a very worthwhile educational journey for all of us.

Melissa Gilbert to Play Ma in Little House Musical

Melissa Gilbert, star of the TV series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, has been rumored for some time as the likely actress to play Ma in a musical theater version which has been in development.

It has now been confirmed that Gilbert will play Caroline Ingalls in the musical, which premieres in Minnesota this summer.

Patrick Swayze was connected with the musical early in its development, but I assume he is unable to play Pa due to his serious health concerns. Steve Blanchard will play Charles Ingalls.

Sara Jean Ford, who played Christine in the production I recently saw of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, will be playing Nellie Oleson.

The cast also includes Kara Lindsay as Laura, Kevin Massey as Almanzo, and Jenn Gambatese as Mary.

It appears that the musical will focus on the family's years in South Dakota.

Update: Thanks to Mrs. UNG for this link to the Guthrie Theater's page for the musical.

Incidentally, the music is by Rachel Portman, who wrote the lovely score for the Gwyneth Paltrow version of EMMA (1996).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The People Who Are Spending Your Tax Dollars...

...can't seem to manage their own finances.

The Obamas have complained repeatedly about their student loan debt, which they were slowly paying off while living a very affluent existence. Michelle has said that they had collection calls. Of course, for some reason it didn't occur to these Ivy Leaguers that they should start out with a tighter budget and focus on retiring their debt.

At the same time the Obamas weren't paying off their student loans, we learn that Obama was maxing out his credit card to finance a political campaign!

Representative Laura Richardson has a similarly screwy list of priorities. While she was in default on not one, not two, but three mortgages, she also loaned her campaign thousands of dollars:

"Richardson loaned her Assembly campaign $100,000 in the summer of 2006, borrowing against the equity in her Long Beach home. After her election, she raised enough money to pay herself back, but immediately had to plow $77,500 in loans to her congressional campaign."

Amazingly, both Obama and Richardson seek to equate their spending habits with "the little guy" and suggest they really understand rough economic times.

It's certainly disturbing that people with such skewed personal financial priorities get to turn around and spend our tax dollars. Unfortunately, bad decision making is also constantly reflected in Congress's careless spending of Americans' hard-earned money.

Terri at Home at Last Farm offers the perspective of a fiscally responsible American who doesn't want Congress spending her money to bail out others who have made bad decisions. I couldn't agree more.

Friday Update: Thanks to Dana for making me aware of a new article on Rep. Laura Richardson, whose story grows worse the more it's investigated. It transpires she has a long history of missed mortgage payments, as well as stiffing her creditors.

Let's hope the people of Long Beach find someone more worthy of representing them to run against Richardson in the next election.

Tony Snow Needs Our Prayers

Send a few extra prayers Tony's way today. He's a fine man who's had a rough time of it in recent months.

McClellan Didn't Impress Me as W.H. Spokesman...

...and he sure doesn't impress me now.

McClellan didn't raise his supposed concerns earlier why, again?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Media Double Standard

Senator Barack Obama has made an endless string of public speaking gaffes, which are chronicled by Brent Bozell for NewsBusters.

Some might be attributable to someone who is tired making remarks off the cuff...but the media's double standard is that if a Republican made the kinds of continual errors that Senator Obama is making, it would be a major news topic that the press wouldn't let go.

The same press that has endlessly repeated nonstories, such as Dan Quayle sticking an "e" on the end of "potato," is giving Obama free passes on a daily -- sometimes more than daily -- basis.

For more, see Michelle Malkin and Ed Morrissey, plus video from Allahpundit.

TV Composer Earle Hagen Dies at 88

Earle Hagen, who composed some of the most memorable music in TV history, has passed away.

Hagen composed the theme music for THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, and I SPY, among other classic TV programs.

Hagen compared his work on I SPY, which included traveling the world learning about the music appropriate for each of the show's international locales, to scoring an hour-long movie on a weekly basis.

Prior to his TV work, Hagen was an orchestrator at 20th Century-Fox for a number of great musicals, including CAROUSEL, DADDY LONG LEGS, and THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.

Probably everyone who reads this has whistled the ANDY GRIFFITH theme at some point in their life. Hagen was one of those relatively unsung entertainment figures whose work has had a lasting positive impact on all of us.

A Nice Story to Start the Workweek

Over the past decade, Kirk and Anne Douglas have rebuilt 401 playgrounds at Los Angeles area schools and parks.

Wouldn't it be great if newspapers carried more stories like this instead of focusing so heavily on doom and gloom?

A side story: The article is accompanied by fun photos of 91-year-old Kirk "christening" a slide by going down it himself. The photos were taken by Bob Riha, Jr.

If you've ever seen Gene Kelly's 1967 TV production of JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, Jack was played by little Bobby Riha...who went on to a career as a newspaper photographer. He used to work for the local Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR is the story of a Congressman (Tom Hanks), a Texas socialite (Julia Roberts), and a CIA operative (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who worked together to fund the Afghan battle against the Soviets in the '80s.

The three lead actors are all excellent. Hanks plays a hard-living, hard-drinking man who, despite his flaws, manages to accomplish something significant. Roberts is quite striking playing a wealthy, confident woman who looks notably unlike any other character Roberts has played. Hoffman was particularly intriguing as the rough-edged, sarcastic CIA man who knows his stuff but isn't appreciated at the agency.

It's a good movie about a relatively obscure topic, marred only by the gratuitous use of profane language. Even if the real people actually spoke that way, hearing the same word over and over is boring and uncreative; it loses all meaning.

On a more positive note, many of the Washington scenes had the feel of THE WEST WING, a series I liked. So it was amusing to get to the end credits and realize for the first time that the screenplay was by THE WEST WING's Aaron Sorkin. Much of the movie plays like THE WEST WING, with some excellent humor and fast-paced "walk and talk" scenes. If only the filmmakers had had more faith in the substance of their material and toned down the language...

Ever-delightful Amy Adams heads the supporting cast as Wilson's assistant. The cast also includes Emily Blunt (an interesting actress completely wasted here), Ned Beatty, and John Slattery.

The movie was directed by Mike Nichols. The runtime is 97-102 minutes, depending on the source consulted.

Parental advisory: This film is rated R for language as well as (totally unnecessary) brief nudity.

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR is available on DVD. The minimal extras include a good "making of" featurette about 17 minutes long.

Despite my reservations, this was a worthwhile film which I'm glad I ordered from Netflix.

On Memorial Day...

...a heartfelt "thank you" to all who have served our nation.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tonight's Movie: No More Ladies (1935)

NO MORE LADIES is a light, glossy comedy which provides excellent entertainment.

Playboy Sheridan "Sherry" Warren (Robert Montgomery) marries Marcia (Joan Crawford), but despite his love for Marcia, Sherry just can't seem to stop himself from spending time with other ladies. So Marcia decides to use Jim (Franchot Tone, who married Crawford that year) to make Sherry jealous.

Although the plot could be a downer, it's all handled with such a light touch that it's simply fun. No one really believes for a minute that Sherry and Marcia won't end up living happily ever after.

The grand supporting cast includes Edna May Oliver, Charlie Ruggles, Gail Patrick, Arthur Treacher, Vivienne Osborne, Reginald Denny, and in her first film, Joan Burfield, who would soon be known forever after as Joan Fontaine.

The film was directed by Edward H. Griffith and an uncredited George Cukor, who took over when Griffith became ill. The witty screenplay was cowritten by Donald Ogden Stewart (THE PHILADELPHIA STORY). Crawford's beautiful gowns were designed by Adrian. The art design by Cedric Gibbons is particularly splendid, with one dazzling set after another.

This black and white film runs 80 minutes. The trailer is here.

NO MORE LADIES has not had a release on video or DVD, but can be seen on TCM. Click here in order to vote your interest in a DVD release.

Crawford and Montgomery costarred many times during their MGM careers. A review of their excellent film THE LAST OF MRS. CHENEY is here.

Update: This film is now available from the Warner Archive. My review of the DVD is here.

Tonight's Movie: California (1946)

CALIFORNIA is a meandering, overwrought Western which never quite lives up to the sum of its parts. It has excellent lead actors in Ray Milland, Barbara Stanwyck, and Barry Fitzgerald, but the film is curiously uninvolving; there is a lack of character development and sluggish pacing. The film doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, shifting gears from being a wagon train movie to depicting life in a gold rush town to a story about Milland stopping the evil machinations of those who would stop California's quest for statehood.

Through it all, Milland and Stanwyck have a love-hate relationship, but we only see the surface of their characters, and not their motivations, for far too long. What's with the chip on her shoulder and her willingness to marry a former slaver (George Coulouris)? Why did Milland desert the army? On the other hand, some major plot developments are telegraphed miles in advance. It's a fairly tedious 97 minutes which builds to an unpleasantly violent conclusion.

The supporting cast includes Albert Dekker, Frank Faylen, and Anthony Quinn. The striking color cinematography is by Ray Rennahan, who worked on many beautiful Technicolor films including GONE WITH THE WIND, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, and BLOOD AND SAND. Stanwyck's costumes are by Edith Head. The film has a couple montages set to choral music, with the score by Victor Young; Young did fabulous work on many films, including John Ford's RIO GRANDE and THE QUIET MAN, but here the choral songs give the movie a sort of "B" movie, juvenile tone.

CALIFORNIA was directed by John Farrow. Four years later Farrow and Milland would reteam for the Western COPPER CANYON, reviewed here, which was quite a bit more entertaining. Both films were partially shot on location at Sedona, Arizona.

CALIFORNIA is available on DVD as part of the Classic Western Roundup, Volume 2, along with THE TEXANS (reviewed here), THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO, and THE CIMARRON KID.

Today's Dessert: Super-Sized Ginger Chewies

I tried a new recipe today, Super-Sized Ginger Chewies from Elinor Klivans' BIG FAT COOKIES:

They must be the largest cookies I've ever made -- a quarter of a cup of dough for each cookie!

Unlike Ginger Crackles from Abigail Johnson Dodge's WEEKEND BAKER, which use granulated sugar, this recipe uses brown sugar.

They were excellent; if your family likes this type of cookie I recommend trying them.

The recipe has been posted on the web and is available at the subject link.

Here's a review of the cookie from an Australian blogger.

Only at NASCAR...

...would you see an entire stadium of people attending a sports event reciting the Lord's Prayer in unison.

The stirring Memorial Day tribute preceding the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte also included a large contingent of bagpipers playing "Amazing Grace," a 21-gun salute, the playing of "Taps," and Darryl Worley singing a beautiful a cappella rendition of the National Anthem.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Their Own Desire (1929)

The second half of tonight's Robert Montgomery double bill was THEIR OWN DESIRE, a lively -- if somewhat melodramatic -- romance which runs a fast-paced 65 minutes.

Lally (Norma Shearer) falls in love with dashing Jack (Robert Montgomery), unaware that Jack's mother is the woman who broke up her parents' marriage.

The film is interesting both storywise and as an example of an early sound film depicting the '20s. It starts out on a sad note, detailing the breakup of Lally's parents. The film picks up steam when Lally and Jack meet while spending "a summer on the shores of Lake Michigan," as announced by a title card. (Such cards are a reminder that the Silent Era had just barely ended when this film was made.) The sequence where Jack and Lally meet -- at a beautiful Art Deco pool -- and then attend a shadowy dance is delightful. According to posts at IMDb, the music playing at the dance is called "Blue is the Night"; it's great "mood" music.

The supporting cast includes Lewis Stone and Belle Bennett as Lally's parents. Bennett overacts, but Stone is as polished as in his later films. Helene Millard plays Jack's mother.

Norma Shearer was nominated for Best Actress for this movie, but lost to...herself! She won the Oscar that year for THE DIVORCEE.

Location shooting took place at the Midwick Country Club in Pasadena; based on this 1929 list in Time Magazine which ranks polo players from Midwick, I assume that's where the polo sequence at the start of the movie was filmed. The Midwick no longer exists; the land became a housing tract in Alhambra known as "Midwick." I'd love to know where the pool featured in the film was located.

The movie was directed by E. Mason Hopper, whose work in silents dated back to 1911. The screenplay was by the Oscar-winning Frances Marion. Shearer's gowns were designed by Adrian, who was only in his mid-20s at the time.

THEIR OWN DESIRE is not available on DVD or VHS, but can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. Click here to indicate interest in a DVD release.

You can read a bit more on this film at Classic Ramblings.

Update: Here's Carrie's thoughts on the film at Classic Montgomery.

Update: And here's a post with thoughts by Raquelle at Out of the Past.

Update: This film is now available on a made-to-order DVD-R from the Warner Archive.

Tonight's Movie: Live, Love and Learn (1937)

LIVE, LOVE AND LEARN is the story of Bob (Robert Montgomery), a starving artist who falls in love with wealthy Julie (Rosalind Russell). Bob and Julie marry and live happily in his rundown studio apartment, but when Bob achieves artistic and financial success, he and Julie find their relationship floundering.

LIVE, LOVE AND LEARN starts out wonderfully, beginning with an artist sketching Leo the Lion at the start of a fun credits sequence. The wedding scene, with Bob gasping "Thank you" after kissing Julie, is absolutely delightful -- and the best scene in the movie, which is unfortunate since it comes at the beginning of the film.

Montgomery and Russell are charming in the early scenes, and have excellent chemistry, but the movie begins to flounder around the same time as Bob and Julie's marriage, moving from lighthearted to fairly grim.

The overall film is moderately entertaining, worth seeing if you like Montgomery and Russell as much as I do, but I wouldn't class it as one of their better efforts.

The supporting cast includes Robert Benchley as Bob and Julie's best friend, Monty Woolley as an art gallery owner, and Helen Vinson as Julie's old school chum. Mickey Rooney makes a brief appearance as a neighbor boy, and his ANDY HARDY girlfriend Ann Rutherford has a brief unbilled role.

LIVE, LOVE AND LEARN was directed by George Fitzmaurice. It runs 78 minutes and was filmed in black and white. The trailer is here.

This movie has not been released on video or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs July 22, 2008.

July is Rosalind Russell month on TCM. Three more Russell-Montgomery films are being shown on July 22nd: FAST AND LOOSE (1939) (which was reviewed here), NIGHT MUST FALL (1937), and TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936).

2012 Update: This film is now available on DVD-R in the Warner Archive Robert Montgomery Collection.

New Book: The Essential Chocolate Chip Cookbook

Here's a fun cookbook I found while browsing at Borders yesterday afternoon.

THE ESSENTIAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKBOOK is by Elinor Klivans, author of 2004's excellent BIG FAT COOKIES. Klivans has also contributed to Williams-Sonoma's ESSENTIALS OF BAKING and many other baking cookbooks. The book was put out at the very end of last year by Chronicle Books, a publisher I mentioned in a post yesterday.

The book has beautiful photography and many interesting recipes, including Chocolate Chip Gingerbread, Chocolate Chip-Crumb Pound Cake, and In-the-Chips Marble Cake.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Nancy Goes to Rio (1950)

MGM musicals were my first big movie love, and I've seen most of them -- some of them many times over. Until now, however, I hadn't caught up with Jane Powell's NANCY GOES TO RIO (1950).

The plot involves a mother (Ann Sothern) and daughter (Powell) unknowingly vying for the same role in a play, as well as for the same man (Barry Sullivan). The story is on the silly side, but it's an excuse to enjoy truly stunning Technicolor, pretty tunes like "Time and Time Again" and "Magic is the Moonlight," beautiful dresses by Helen Rose, and a couple of numbers featuring Carmen Miranda.

Miranda plays a woman who is a coffee company executive by day but is inexplicably an entertainer by night. The costume for her final song, with a hat decorated with little umbrellas, has to be seen to be believed. In fact, the entire number has to be seen to be believed; it's an explosion of swirling color. Carmen Miranda was one of a kind. (A reminder -- the boxed DVD set of some of her films will be out in just a couple more weeks, on June 17th.)

NANCY GOES TO RIO is a remake of Deanna Durbin's IT'S A DATE (1940). In the Durbin version her mother was played by Kay Francis, the man involved was Walter Pidgeon, and the exotic locale featured was Hawaii.

The film was directed by Robert Z. Leonard. It runs 100 minutes. The supporting cast includes Louis Calhern, Scotty Beckett, and Hans Conreid.

NANCY GOES TO RIO is available on video and is also part of the recently released DVD set of 9 MGM musicals, Classic Musicals From the Dream Factory, Vol. 3. The DVD print is gorgeous. (October 2017 Update: NANCY GOES TO RIO has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.)

This movie can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

This film wasn't the best MGM had to offer, but if you like colorful musicals, there is still much in the movie to make it worth seeing.

New Book: Patio Daddy-O at the Grill

Longtime readers may recall that I have a fondness for retro-style cookbooks, whether vintage or new books containing old recipes or graphic art.

I was thus delighted to learn that Chronicle Books, publisher of many beautiful cookbooks, has a new retro cookbook, PATIO DADDY-O AT THE GRILL.

The book is written by some of the same authors of 1996's PATIO DADDY-O.

Dr. Krauthammer on the Obama Doctrine

An excellent analysis of how Senator Obama developed his policy of being willing to speak with foreign dictators without preconditions, as well as how Obama has misrepresented history.

The Blake DeWitt Fan Club

We've been fans of the Dodgers rookie Blake DeWitt since Opening Day, when he was plucked out of the minors to fill in at third base.

Back in DeWitt's hometown in Missouri, a radio station has even signed up to carry Dodgers games. If DeWitt is demoted to AAA Las Vegas, the station will try to carry those games instead.

Hopefully he won't be returned to the minors again!

In other baseball news...

Jon Weisman of the Dodger Thoughts blog has a book due out in 2009, 100 THINGS DODGER FANS SHOULD KNOW AND DO BEFORE THEY DIE.

A tip of the cap to former Dodger catching great Mike Piazza, who is retiring. The Dodgers have been remarkably blessed in the catcher position, dating back to Brooklyn.

Finally, word has leaked that the Big A will host the 2010 All-Star Game, the first time the game has been played in Southern California since 1989. The formal announcement will be made next week.

Funny Math at the L.A. Times

I sat down to read the paper at breakfast this morning and noted the top headline, "Californians Barely Reject Gay Marriage."

Curious, I read the article...and found that Californians oppose gay marriage, 54% to 35%.

A 19 point difference is "barely"?

The paper assures us that "controversial topics often lose support during the course of a campaign."

Regardless of one's opinion on the issue, hopefully we can all agree that a newspaper fudging the numbers to support their preferred position is troubling.

Patterico reminds us of the Times' odd use of poll numbers during the last Presidential campaign, when Bush leading Kerry by 16% in Arizona meant that state was "in play," but Kerry leading Bush by 15% in California meant California was securely in Kerry's corner.

Saturday Update: Patterico contrasts the Times' reporting of the gay marriage poll with their reporting of an Obama-McCain poll which is in today's paper. Obama is up on McCain by 7 points, within the poll's margin of error (that's a pretty big margin!), yet the paper says "Obama Would Take California in November." But gay marriage is "barely" rejected by 19 points, and the paper hastens to assure us that the measure will likely lose support by this fall!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Mystery Street (1950)

MYSTERY STREET was a wonderful surprise, a film noir/police procedural with Ricardo Montalban as a Boston detective, circa 1950.

Montalban's Lieutenant Morales joins with Dr. McAdoo (Bruce Bennett), a forensic specialist from Harvard's Department of Legal Medicine, in order to solve the case of a skeleton found on Cape Cod. Watching them gradually put together the pieces of the case using both science and old-fashioned legwork is fascinating. (Morales tells McAdoo something along the lines "You solve cases with your brains, I solve them with my feet.") It's also quite interesting having a peek at the state of forensic medicine over half a century ago. 93 minutes fly by quite quickly.

Montalban is excellent and handsome to look at, as well. (Georgiana Young Montalban was a lucky woman.) I've seen him in everything from Esther Williams movies to STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN to playing the King onstage in THE KING AND I, and even watched him filming a scene on the FANTASY ISLAND soundstage once upon a time, but had never seen him in a role when he was this young that wasn't in a musical or Western.

Bruce Bennett (THE MAN I LOVE) is also terrific as the Harvard scientist. The fine supporting cast includes Sally Forrest, Marshall Thompson, Elsa Lanchester (chewing up the scenery as only Elsa could do), Betsy Blair, and Jan Sterling.

This is one of those fine little movies you might never have heard of which is out there just waiting to be discovered. It was strikingly filmed on location in Boston by cinematographer John Alton, who is particularly known for his black and white photography. (A couple videos I have of Anthony Mann film noirs actually advertise "Photographed By John Alton" on the side of the box.) Alton was equally skilled with color photography, winning the Academy Award for shooting the ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS; he shared the award with Alfred Gilks.

The script was cowritten by writer-director Richard Brooks (THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE). It was directed by John Sturges. Three Sturges-directed Westerns have been reviewed here previously: BACKLASH (1956), ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953), and SADDLE THE WIND (1958). ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO and SADDLE THE WIND will be included in the Warner Western Classics set coming to DVD this summer.

MYSTERY STREET is available on DVD. It can be purchased as part of a double bill with ACT OF VIOLENCE, or as part of the 10-film Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4. I purchased the big set when Amazon recently had it on sale for $29.99; $3.00 per movie struck me as a great deal, particularly as every film in the set has a commentary, featurette, and other extras. A DVD review from Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant is here.

(September 2017 Update: MYSTERY STREET has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.)

The trailer can be seen at the Turner Classic Movies website here. This MGM film is part of the TCM library.

This film would be great on a double bill with MGM's 1942 film KID GLOVE KILLER, which starred Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt in another "early CSI" procedural detective story.

A very enjoyable viewing experience.

NYT Trading Access for Positive Coverage?

Ed Morrissey has an interesting story about the New York Times threatening poor coverage of the release of John McCain's health records if they were left out of the pool of reporters able to cover the story first.

Given the Times' open hostility to McCain on multiple occasions this year, it's an easy story to believe.

Ed has asked the NYT for a response but thus far is still waiting.

A side note, the records are due to be released "by May 23rd." Sounds like a Friday-of-a-holiday-weekend "document dump" coming to me.

More from the L.A. Times. Interesting that the same press so anxious for Senator McCain's records let President Clinton's refusal to release his records slide.

Sunday Update: The Times never responded to Ed, but complained in an article that the release was "tightly controlled" -- despite having a larger pool of reporters than a McCain medical document release the paper had praised in 1999!

B&N May Buy Borders

Interesting news for those who love books.

(Hat tip: L.A. Biz Observed.)

The Wall Street Journal asks: "Would a bigger Barnes & Noble kill independent bookstores?"

I think that ship has already left port...for instance, my favorite independent bookstore in East Long Beach, CA -- the late, lamented Book Emporium -- closed as soon as word came that a Borders would be opening across the street. The number of independent bookstores nationwide has already shrunk considerably. I question whether a merger of the two chains would make a further difference to those independents still in existence.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Texans (1938)

THE TEXANS is a '30s Randolph Scott Western which has a somewhat creaky, frustrating plotline, yet nonetheless provides 93 minutes of fun entertainment.

It's Texas just after the Civil War, and Scott plays Kirk, a former Confederate soldier who meets up with a beautiful girl, Ivy (Joan Bennett), who is running guns to renegade soldiers who refuse to believe the South has lost forever. The soldiers include Ivy's sweetheart, Alan (Robert Cummings). Before you know it, Kirk and Ivy are driving 10,000 head of cattle to Abilene, with many adventures along the way. Will the cattle make it to Abilene and escape the nasty Northern tax collector? And will Ivy choose Alan or Kirk?

That's about the sum total of the plot, which in many respects is simply a nice, old-fashioned Western with an excellent cast of players, including Walter Brennan, Francis Ford, and May Robson (playing her role as Bennett's grandmother too broadly for my taste). Bennett never looked more lovely, but her Ivy is so silly, continually making wrongheaded choices, that one wonders if Scott is attracted by anything other than Ivy's looks. Scott, as ever, is a stalwart, resourceful hero.

The depiction of the Reconstruction "carpetbaggers" is way too cartoonish; if some of the very real problems of Reconstruction had been presented more seriously, it would have been more believable. The depiction of the nasty Northerners is offset by an ultimately positive depiction of the gallant U.S. Calvary.

And despite the photo at the top of this post, there is a serious lack of romance in the film, conveyed mostly by Scott casting a few longing looks Bennett's way.

Some beautiful location shooting (probably including some stock footage) is mixed with soundstage shots and back projections -- sometimes all in the same scene, which can be a bit jarring.

Despite my critical comments, I had a good time watching this movie. I suppose part of the fun was mentally dissecting what I would have liked to see done better, but it was well-paced and entertaining, despite the flaws. There's nothing like Randolph Scott and a good cattle drive!

The movie was directed by James P. Hogan, who worked on many films in the BULLDOG DRUMMOND series and died fairly young.

THE TEXANS has been released on VHS and is also available on DVD in the Classic Western Round-Up, Vol. 2 collection. The other films in the set are CALIFORNIA (Ray Milland), THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO (Glenn Ford), and THE CIMARRON KID (Audie Murphy).


Airlines charging for a second bag was bad enough, though perhaps understandable given current economic conditions.

But now American Airlines is charging $15 for the first bag checked?

This marks the first time an airline has charged passengers for bringing a suitcase.

The entire point of an airline's existence is to fly people from Point A to Point B and back again. Very often passengers are going to be staying at Point B a while and need more luggage than they can stow in an overhead compartment.

Charging "extra" for such a basic service, handling a single suitcase per passenger, is the height of absurdity.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Scarier and Scarier

So Barack Obama...

...believes that the "critical ingredient" for a judge is "supplied by what is in the judge’s heart" rather than by the judge's knowledge of the law and adherence to the Constitution.

...believes his wife should be able to campaign for him, but that her speeches are not fair game for critical analysis or response from the opposition.

...believes that other countries should be able to give U.S. citizens the okay for whether or not we drive SUVS, the temperature we keep our homes, and how much we eat.

...believes he's not that well-known in Kentucky because his home state of Illinois is further from Kentucky than Arkansas. (Check out this map.)

...believes that Kennedy's meeting with Kruschev was a success.

...believes that Iran is "not a serious threat" compared to the Soviet Union, because Iran has a smaller military than did the Soviets, demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the former policy of mutual deterrence and the danger of nuclear materials in the hands of a relatively small number of terrorists.

And the above doesn't even touch on his desire to meet with the leaders of terrorist nations without preconditions, his comments on "bitter" voters clinging to their guns and God, or his longtime relationships with a hatemonger (Jeremiah Wright) and terrorists (William Ayers and his wife).

Is there really a chance this man could be elected President?

Tuesday Update: Ed Morrissey on "Budgeting and Asymmetrical Threats": "Anyone who can dismiss the threat of Iran out of hand because it’s 'tiny' someone who has spent the last fifteen years wearing blinders."

It's Official: Sports Night 10th Anniversary Set Coming to DVD

The rumored 10th anniversary edition of SPORTS NIGHT is now official. The set is coming to DVD on September 30th, 2008.

The set will include 2 discs of bonus material including featurettes, deleted scenes, and gag reels. The set will also have commentaries and a 10th anniversary book.

Count me in for this one. :)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Today at Disneyland

After a couple hours at California Adventure today, we went over to Disneyland for the remainder of the afternoon.

As always, the flowers at Town Square were beautiful:

We took a cool ride on the Jungle Cruise:

Some of the detail which makes the ride such fun -- a chair with fishing poles next to the boat dock:

The famous Back Side of Water at Schweitzer Falls:

Is it just us, or is Schweitzer Falls a mere shadow of its former self? Seems like it used to be a thick sheet of water.

Some more fun detail outside the Jungle Cruise:

Next it was time for the short new Prince Caspian Pre-Parade:

Friday night my husband took all the kids to see PRINCE CASPIAN at the Edwards Big Newport in Newport Beach, which is the "go to" place for big movie openings hereabouts -- people are already camping out for the Indy opening next week! They all liked the new Narnia movie, which Frederica Mathewes-Green of National Review suggests is an improvement on the book. (For more on the movie, here's a National Review column by Thomas Hibbs.)

Finally it was time for the Parade of Dreams. Here's Ariel:

We love this parade but honestly, the floats are becoming a bit shabby. (That poor Ursula float...) Refurbishment or a new parade seem to be in order here.

My favorite float is the Mad Tea Party:

A final note, an Indiana Jones stunt show opens in Adventureland next week, timed to coincide with the release of the movie:

It was a lovely afternoon!

Today at Disney's California Adventure

We're having a bit of a heat wave here in Southern California. Saturday the temperature was close to 100! It was at least 10 degrees cooler today so my girls and I decided to spend the afternoon at California Adventure and Disneyland while the boys were busy elsewhere.

Beautiful summery flowers at Sunshine Plaza:

Toy Story Midway Mania (aka Toy Story Mania!) isn't open yet -- the official date is June 17th, with passholder previews starting the first week of June -- but the store next door has opened for business. It has a light, airy feel reminiscent of Disney World's Beach Club decor:

A ride poster featured in the store:

Some much-needed shade has been installed on Paradise Pier adjacent to the new ride -- note the surfing Donald detail on the roof (click any photo to enlarge):

Kevin Yee recently reviewed the Florida version of the ride for MiceAge.

We finished the California Adventure half of our visit with a spin on the charming King Triton's Carousel:

The carousel's unique theming includes depictions of famous Southern California seaside parks of bygone days:

More flowers:

Pictures from the Disneyland half of our visit are posted above.

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