Wednesday, May 31, 2023

A Visit to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens (2023)

It's hard to believe it's been five years since we visited the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, California.

We really enjoyed our first visit in 2018 and thought it was time for a return visit, which we recently did in conjunction with attending the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in neighboring Palm Springs.

The Living Desert Zoo is beautifully designed and landscaped; we rank it alongside the Oregon Zoo in Portland, which we've also been to a couple of times.

These scenic views are near the park entrance.

The giraffe habitat is especially impressive...

...and as can be seen here, the giraffes get very close to visitors!

More views...

I love meerkats!

Guests can walk into the wallaby exhibit and stand next to them, which is both fun and unusual.

Mole rats are rather creepy, but there's a fascinating exhibit which provides many windows into their nurseries and other living areas. 

This Zoo can be visited in a morning; three or four hours is plenty. It's important to go early in the day in the hot months of the year.  The Living Desert Zoo is definitely worth a visit when in the Greater Palm Springs area.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

New Western RoundUp Column at Classic Movie Hub

My latest Western RoundUp column has just been posted at Classic Movie Hub!

This month I once again cover the topic of books on the Western film genre.

Along with looking at older books, the column includes reviews of two brand-new books from the University Press of New Mexico, BLOOD ON THE MOON by Alan K. Rode and RIDE LONESOME by Kirk Ellis.

Western fans will want to read both books!

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to read the post, and thanks, as always, for everyone's support of my column.

Previous Classic Movie Hub Western RoundUp Column Links: June 2018; July 2018; August 2018; September 2018; October 2018; November 2018; December 2018; January 2019; February 2019; April 5, 2019; April 30, 2019; May 2019; June 2019; July 2019; August 2019; September 2019; October 2019; November 2019; December 2019; January 2020; February 2020; March 2020; April 2020; May 2020; June 2020; July 2020; August 2020; September 2020; October 2020; November 2020; December 2020; January 2021; February 2021; March 2021; May 2021; June 2021; June 2021 (No. 2); July 2021; August 2021; September 2021; November 2021; December 2021; December 2021 (No. 2); January 2022; February 2022; March 2022; April 2022; May 2022; June 2022; July 2022; August 2022; September 2022; November 2022; November 2022 (No. 2); January 2023 (No. 1); January 2023 (No. 2); March 2023; April 2023; May 2023.

Tonight's Movie: King of Chinatown (1939) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

I've been awaiting the Anna May Wong Collection from Kino Lorber with great anticipation, and I'm glad to say the first film I watched from this set didn't disappoint.

KING OF CHINATOWN (1939) is a 57-minute Paramount Pictures "B" film which I found both different and entertaining.

It's the story of Frank Baturin (Akim Tamiroff), a mobster with a heart of gold, and Dr. Mary Ling (Wong), a gifted surgeon who saves his life after he's shot.

Mary believes her father (Sidney Toler) may have been the one who pulled the trigger, which causes her to be particularly anxious to save her patient, but the reality is it was rival mobster Mike (Anthony Quinn).

During his convalescence Baturin quietly falls for Mary and resolves to change. But with Mike moving in to get rid of Baturin for good, is it too late to start over?

This is a short and sweet story which is also rather unusual. Mobster movies are a dime a dozen, but a '30s film where the antihero falls for his Chinese-American female surgeon? That's something else again. Tamiroff and Wong both give subtle, moving performances which I appreciated.

Both Wong and Philip Ahn, who plays an attorney, are treated in the film with the utmost respect as accomplished professionals. Their culture is likewise presented appreciatively. The tone of the film was rather modern -- in a good way -- and not necessarily what one might expect in the '30s, which made the film interesting on multiple levels.

The solid supporting cast includes J. Carrol Naish, Roscoe Karns, Ray Mayer, Bernadene Hayes, Richard Denning, and Charles Trowbridge.

The movie was directed by Nick Grinde and filmed by Leo Tover. The screenplay was cowritten by Lillie Hayward, whose credits included the Western BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948). I just revisited BLOOD ON THE MOON a couple weeks ago at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

The black and white print absolutely gleams on Kino Lorber's Blu-ray. What a treat to have a "B" movie look so great!

Extras consist of a commentary track by David Del Valle and Stan Shaffer; a 4K restoration of the trailer; and two additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

Look for my reviews of the other films in the set, DANGEROUS TO KNOW (1938) and ISLAND OF LOST MEN (1939), at a future date.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray collection.

Monday, May 29, 2023

TCM in June: Highlights

It's time for a look at the June schedule for Turner Classic Movies!

The June Star of the Month is Katharine Hepburn. This is the actress's fourth time to be so honored; the last time was in May 2007, when TCM honored her centennial alongside that of John Wayne.

Over two dozen Hepburn films will be shown on Thursday evenings over the course of the month. Please note there will not be a separate Star of the Month post for June.

The June Noir Alley titles will be BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN (1950) on June 3rd and 4th, THE VERDICT (1946) on the 10th and 11th, FLAXY MARTIN (1949) on June 17th-18th, and STORM WARNING (1951) on the 24th and 25th.

The TCM Spotlight on Tuesday is called "Hollywoodland" and will offer a mix of documentaries and feature films focused on filmmaking.

Below are just a few highlights from TCM's June schedule. Please click on any hyperlinked title to read my full review.

...A day of Robert Mitchum films on June 2nd includes BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), which I was fortunate to revisit on a big screen at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in mid May.

...There's a two-film Tony Curtis tribute on Saturday evening, June 3rd, which includes the TCM premiere of a childhood favorite, THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH (1954). Janet Leigh, Herbert Marshall, Barbara Rush, and David Farrar costar.

...ALONG CAME JONES (1945), a genial Western comedy starring Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, and Dan Duryea, gets a primetime showing on June 4th.

..."June Brides" is the theme on June 5th, with titles including the musical ROYAL WEDDING (1951) and the romantic comedy JUNE BRIDE (1948).

...I love a good submarine movie, and TCM is showing several submarine films on June 7th, including Glenn Ford in TORPEDO RUN (1958).

...Alexis Smith's birthday celebration on June 8th includes the atomic-era thriller SPLIT SECOND (1953).

...A day of "Beach" movies on June 9th includes the murder mystery THE LAST OF SHEILA (1973) which I recently saw for the first time.

...The Musical Matinee on Saturday, June 10th, is the sublime THE MERRY WIDOW (1934), starring Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. When I last saw it at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2018, I smiled through the entire film and then teared up at the end out of pure happiness. Highly recommended.

...Judy Holliday is celebrated on June 12. The lineup includes the outstanding FULL OF LIFE (1956), in which she and Richard Conte are expecting a baby.

...One of my favorite discoveries of the last decade, REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947), will be shown on the 17th. Joan Leslie heads an excellent cast in this time traveling crime film.

...Father's Day on June 18th will include a pair of MGM classics, OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945) and FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950).

...On June 20th Loretta Young stars in the pre-Code drama PLAY-GIRL (1932). Her leading man was her future brother-in-law, future director Norman Foster, who married her sister Sally Blane in 1935.

...London is the daytime theme on June 21st, with titles including MGM's memorable film of the London Blitz in World War II, JOURNEY FOR MARGARET (1942).  Robert Young, Laraine Day, and Margaret O'Brien star.

...Stewart Granger is celebrated on June 22nd. The lineup includes KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950), which incidentally will soon be out on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.

...I loved revisiting THE NAKED CITY (1948) at the recent Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival! This crime procedural is highly recommended; its attributes include outstanding location photography. It will be shown June 23rd.

...The fun musical ATHENA (1954), starring Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds, will be shown on Saturday morning, June 25th. It's goofy but colorful and quite entertaining.

...A wonderful birthday tribute to Eleanor Parker is scheduled on June 26th. The eight films include the marvelous World War II romance THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944).

...Robert Montgomery stars as Lord Peter Wimsey in the mystery HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1940) on June 27th.

...In 2020 I was almost surprised just how much I enjoyed seeing Tracy and Hepburn in PAT AND MIKE (1952) for the first time in many years. It's a very good film about a gifted female athlete and a sports promoter, directed by George Cukor. The air date is June 29th.

...The month wraps up on the 30th with a day of "beach" films including the excellent WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960). Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Paula Prentiss, and Jim Hutton lead a great cast in the ultimate spring break movie.

For more on TCM in June 2023, please visit my Quick Preview of TCM in June, along with TCM's online schedule.

A Visit to Pioneer Cemetery

Last month we visited our family in Eugene, Oregon, and while we were there we visited the city's Pioneer Cemetery, established in 1872.

The cemetery backs up to the University of Oregon campus, and I've walked through it on multiple occasions over the years. As will be seen below, it's particularly appropriate to share photos of this visit on Memorial Day.

While walking through the cemetery in 2016 I stumbled across the headstone of Leslie O. Tooze, 98 years to the day after he was killed in action in World War I. He was a 1916 University of Oregon graduate who was killed in France and awarded the Silver Star.

I later learned that Leslie had an identical twin brother, Lamar, who survived the war. As the grandparent of identical twin boys who live in Eugene, that really hit home. Lamar is said to have had a dream the night before his brother died foretelling his death.

Leslie's body was actually moved to Portland at one point, but his marker stands in this beautiful cemetery as a memorial to honor his service and sacrifice.

I particularly wanted to return to the cemetery last month for another reason: A few months ago, while exploring FindaGrave pages related to the family of writer Laura Ingalls Wilder, I made a surprising discovery. Laura's uncle, Thomas Quiner, is buried in Eugene's Pioneer Cemetery.

I have loved Laura Ingalls Wilder's books since I was old enough to read -- indeed, I am partly named for her -- and having visited multiple sites related to the author over the years, there was no question I'd stop by Pioneer Cemetery again and pay my respects at her uncle's final resting place.

Although we had the plot number, there were no GPS coordinates, but the cemetery's kind caretaker helped us find the location. My husband has since submitted the GPS data to FindaGrave, which will assist any future visitors.

Thomas Quiner was the younger brother of Caroline Quiner Ingalls, Laura's "Ma." He had moved from Wisconsin to Eugene, where he was sadly killed in a logging accident in 1903. His wife Lillie lived until 1924 and is buried alongside him; she remarried in 1919 but there is no reflection of that on her grave marker.

The Quiners had six children, four of whom survived till adulthood. Tying in with Memorial Day, one of Thomas and Lillie's grandsons was killed at Guadalcanal in 1943.

Another Memorial Day connection: Caroline and Thomas's older brother, Joseph Carpenter Quiner, was a member of the Wisconsin Infantry and died on April 28, 1862, from wounds received at the Battle of Shiloh. He was 28 years old.

For photos of more historic pioneer cemeteries, please visit Photos From the Road: Lone Pine Cemeteries and Photos From the Road: Lone Pine Earthquake Cemetery.

On Memorial Day

Remembering with heartfelt gratitude the brave men and women who gave their all for our nation and our freedom.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Fast X (2023)

There's a reason the Fast and Furious series has lasted 22 years and counting: It gives the fans what they want. The tenth entry in the series, FAST X (2023), certainly does so...and how!

FAST X runs 2 hours and 21 minutes, and while I'm a fan of shorter films, I was having so much fun that this movie never felt long to me. I can't think of a higher compliment.

Best of all, the movie had a couple surprises in store in the final minutes which found me both applauding and laughing in shock. Those moments were delightful, with the promises of more to come. And that's all I'll say on that score, in the interest of keeping this review relatively spoiler-free for future viewers.

The FAST X plot spins off of happenings in FAST FIVE (2011) a dozen years ago -- remember Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) dragging a vault with their cars? That incident ended with the death of Reyes (Joaquin de Almeida), and now his son Dante (Jason Momoa, AQUAMAN) is ready to make Dom pay. Momoa definitely has an impact as a psycho killer.

Dante attempts to make Dom suffer by losing his own family, including his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), son Little Brian, aka "B" (Leo Abelo Perry), sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and the wider circle of family and close friends including Han (Sung Kang), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Jakob (John Cena), Dom's formerly estranged brother who is back in the fold.

Needless to say everyone unites to battle Dante and especially to protect Little B. Along the way we also meet up with old friends such as Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), Queenie (Helen Mirren), and most deliciously, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).

Statham, my favorite of all the characters in the series, only has a couple of scenes, but they're excellent, and again, I anticipate seeing more of him next time around.

Kurt Russell's spy boss Mr. Nobody has gone to ground at this point and only appears in a photograph, but his daughter Tess, aka Little Miss Nobody, puts in time helping Dom. She's played with nice touches of humor and bravado by Bree Larson (CAPTAIN MARVEL).

There's also a cameo by the late Paul Walker's daughter Meadow as a helpful flight attendant, and Rita Moreno plays Dom and Mia's Abuelita, who comes for a visit early in the film.

The fearsome villainess Cipher (Charlize Theron) is also on hand, but this time it's a "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" situation. It might be a little hard to believe, considering she killed Little B's mother (Elsa Pataky) in a past film, but her temporarily uniting with Letty certainly keeps things interesting.

It's telling that this time around the film opens rather than closes with a meal around the table in Dom's L.A. backyard, as there is literally no ending to this film, it simply stops at a certain point. FAST X is said to be the first of a final trilogy to cap the series. We'll see. (Incidentally, I need to count how many times Dom has had to rebuild his house over the decades...)

As always, the movie is part racing film, part superhero movie, and part soap opera; the recurring characters and traditions also make me think of the '40s "B" series films I love -- these films just have really big budgets!

Some viewers like to belittle these films as unbelievable cartoons, but I'm certainly not one of them. They've brought me a great deal of joy over the years, including this one.

The movie was directed by Louis Leterrier and filmed by Stephen F. Windon. Locations included Portugal, Italy, and England.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. There is one scene my daughter told me to avoid watching, and I followed her advice. Otherwise it's the same as always -- lots of wrecks, no gore. The child in danger theme is also kept to a minimum as he's well protected by family. As ever, dedication to family remains a key theme.

A trailer is here.

It may be worth noting for clarity's sake that while this is FAST X, there are actually 11 films, including HOBBS & SHAW.

Previous reviews in this series: THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001), 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003), THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006), FAST & FURIOUS (2009), FAST FIVE (2011), FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013), FURIOUS 7 (2015), THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017), FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW (2019), and F9: THE FAST SAGA (2021).  

Quick Preview of TCM in July

Time for a quick look at some of the good things coming this summer from Turner Classic Movies!

An online preview of the July schedule is now available.

There will not be a traditional single Star of the Month on TCM in July; instead the Star of the Month lineup will focus on 1970s stars including Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dreyfuss.

The July Noir Alley titles are DEEP VALLEY (1947), IMPACT (1949), SHOCKPROOF (1949), JULIE (1956), and DESPERATE (1947).

I'm particularly excited about the July TCM Spotlight which will be focused on "B" movies. "B" films are dear to my heart; I'm especially curious about THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY (1936) with Reginald Denny and Gail Patrick and THE STRANGE MR. GREGORY (1945) with Edmund Lowe and Jean Rogers.

Other "Special Themes" on TCM in July will be "Disability" and "The South on Film."

As usual, Independence Day will be celebrated with a lineup which includes YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942), THE MUSIC MAN (1962), and 1776 (1972).

Later in the month there's a fun primetime evening of "Christmas in July" films including CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (1947), and A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938).

Some of the daily programming themes in July include Hope and Crosby's "Road" movies, pianos, Las Vegas, luck, Shakespeare, the moon, nightclubs, Africa, blondes, and murder mysteries.

A July 5th day of films on opposing Communism will include several films I've enjoyed, including THE STEEL FIST (1952), BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952), and the TCM premiere of ARCTIC FLIGHT (1952), starring Wayne Morris.

Filmmakers receiving multifilm tributes in July include Rock Hudson, Joe E. Brown, James Cagney, and Natalie Wood. There will also be a memorial tribute to Harry Belafonte.

I'll have much more on TCM in July posted here around July 1st. In the meanwhile, the June Star of the Month will be Katharine Hepburn.

Have a great summer!

Update: For more on TCM in July 2023, please visit TCM in July: Highlights.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...The Library of Congress Festival of Film and Sound playing at the AFI Silver Theatre in Maryland in mid-June looks really special. The rarities screening include a 35mm print of the rarely seen Deanna Durbin film SPRING PARADE (1940), which is not available on DVD or Blu-ray. Also showing: A digital restoration of FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1944), which I was fortunate to see in a beautiful 35mm print thanks to the UCLA Film & Television Archive in 2014. Any of my readers able to travel to Silver Spring, Maryland, should check this festival out!

...This week Glenn Erickson reviewed the Essential Film Noir Collection 4 from Australia's Viavision Imprint. The titles are ROPE OF SAND (1949), APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1950), THE ENFORCER (1951), BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), and JENNIFER (1953). Excellent extras include commentary tracks by Alan K. Rode, Samm Deighan, and Jason Ney.

...Earlier this month items from the estate of Olivia de Havilland were auctioned by Bonham's. The interesting catalogue may be reviewed here. Items included many books and a check she wrote to Errol Flynn on Christmas Eve, 1937.

...A couple years ago I enjoyed the Liam Neeson film THE ICE ROAD (2021), an original Netflix film which I reviewed here. It was an exciting film about truckers in Northern Canada. A sequel set in Nepal has just been announced, although it's going to air on Amazon Prime rather than Netflix.

...A few days ago the streaming service HBO Max changed its name to Max and rolled out a new interface which included many names being listed together as "creators" on menus rather than crediting their specific roles. It's going to be changed, but what a terrible idea.

...This month's streaming lineup on the Criterion Channel includes ten "Screwball Comedy Classics."

...Toby Roan of 50 Westerns From the 50s reports that VCI Entertainment will be bringing out the 15-chapter serial JACK ARMSTRONG: THE ALL-AMERICAN BOY.

...At Hometowns to Hollywood, Annette Bochenek pays tribute to MGM musical favorite Betty Garrett.

...Notable Passings: Michael Norell, who played Captain Hank Stanley on EMERGENCY! (1972-78), has passed away at the age of 85...Dorothy Colbert, aka Dotty Harmony, has died at the age of 90. A former member of the June Taylor Dancers, she was married to Robert Colbert (THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS). They had at one point divorced but remarried April 4, 2022, a year to the date before her death...Ed Ames, who was part of my childhood in reruns of DANIEL BOONE (1964-68), has died at 95. I also love the Christmas music he recorded with his brothers. And who could forget his funny appearance on THE TONIGHT SHOW with Johnny Carson?

...Please note that there will not be a roundup column on June 3rd, when I'll be away for my summer vacation. Around the Blogosphere This Week will return on Saturday, June 10th.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my May 20th roundup.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Storm Warning (1951) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

An excellent cast stars in STORM WARNING (1951), recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

The movie stars two of my very favorite actresses, Ginger Rogers and Doris Day, along with Ronald Reagan and Steve Cochran.

Despite the good cast I'd previously avoided tackling this film because of the tough subject matter. I'm glad I finally caught up with it, and I found it a suspenseful and for the most part very good film.

Rogers plays Marsha Mitchell, a traveling dress model who makes a detour from her planned route to pay a brief surprise visit to her sister Lucy (Day). Marsha hasn't seen Lucy for a couple of years, and in the intervening time Lucy has married Hank (Cochran) and is expecting a baby.

When Marsha arrives in town on a bus she has trouble finding a cab to take her to Lucy's house, and she suddenly finds herself witnessing a horrible scene in which a group of robed men kill a bound man they've pulled from the jail.

The masks fall off a couple of the men, and a man who shoots the murder victim will later prove to be Hank, Lucy's husband.

Despite the pleadings of District Attorney Burt Rainey (Reagan), Marsha keeps quiet about what she saw for Lucy's sake and plans to leave town...but then things take a violent turn with Hank.

This was an interesting film which had curious echoes of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951); the film version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 play had been completed just weeks before STORM WARNING was shot.

In both stories a visiting sister ends up in a battle with a lout of a husband over her pregnant younger sister, with the husband ultimately physically attacking the sister. Otherwise the plots diverge, but I couldn't help noticing the similarities which do exist. When Cochran is dressed in a t-shirt he certainly calls to mind Stanley Kowalski.

Rogers and Day are both outstanding in strictly dramatic roles. Some of Rogers' best acting is wordless as she struggles with what to say and do, trying at all times to protect her sister from further hurt. Watching Day crumble from the loving young wife into a betrayed woman is heartbreaking.

Reagan is solid in a fairly perfunctory role as the good guy, while Cochran is all over the place emotionally; his wild performance is in stark contrast to Reagan's calm demeanor.

Cochran's most striking sequence comes early on when he sobs to his wife and Marsha about wishing he hadn't been at the killing; when he leaves the room and listens to the women talking, the waterworks immediately stop and he listens with satisfaction as to their reactions. Realizing he was only giving a "performance" for their benefit is a startling moment which clarifies to the viewer that he is a truly bad man.

The script by Richard Brooks and Daniel Fuchs mostly does a good job tackling the evil of the KKK and the difficulty of getting frightened people to testify against the group. My main complaint about the film is I felt the climactic sequence went over the top, coming off as overwrought and cartoony; something a little more restrained might have been more effective, but maybe that's just me.

Hugh Sanders as Klan leader Barr is also a little overdone, but I suppose maybe there aren't many nuances to play for a character that bad...

The movie was effectively filmed in black and white by Carl Guthrie at a number of interesting-looking locations in Corona, California, in Riverside County. It was directed by Stuart Heisler and runs 93 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Sean McClory, Lloyd Gough, Ned Glass, and Ross Elliott.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific. The Blu-ray is a new master from a 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative.

Disc extras consist of the trailer; the short ONE WHO CAME BACK (1951); and the Merrie Melodies cartoon BUNNY HUGGED (1951).

STORM WARNING is a worthwhile social drama with a pair of excellent lead performances by Rogers and Day. Combined with the excellent Blu-ray print, this is a recommended disc.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Amazon Warner Archive Collection Store, Movie Zyng, or from any online retailers were Blu-rays are sold.

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