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Thursday, Apr 28, 2011
Today this time capsule feels like what it is: a clumsy if relatively sincere attempt at adult drama.

In 1961, a hot wind was blowing over American movie theaters from Europe, where they made films in which grown-ups had sexual relationships. So when this low-budget New York indie came out, it attracted a lot of serious critical attention for its “frankness”. It was actually about people who had sex! Perhaps unfairly, Jonas Mekas compared it to sexploitation and stag films (which he called Hoboken movies) and found the latter less pretentious. With the air of an overblown incident, it’s adapted by Burton Wohl from his novel and shot in excellent low-contrast black and white by the great Floyd Crosby during the era he was working on Roger Corman’s Poe cycle. There’s not much to the story, so be warned that we’re pretty much giving it away.


Lola Albright (of TV’s Peter Gunn) is an aggressive “older” woman (in her 30s!) who seduces the supposedly 17-year-old “boy” who looks like a 20-something actor doing “awkward” (Scott Marlowe, 29 for the record). She offhandedly predicts it will be good for him, and she’s not wrong. As is typical with sexually active women in American drama (see the plays of John Van Druten), it starts as a lark but she falls hard for the guy. That’s flattering, but he can’t get over the shock of discovering she’s a burlesque queen. (The DVD package falsely claims she’s a prostitute.) She defends herself well as someone who’s not ashamed but is aware of social attitudes and double-standards, although in this case the double-standard probably protects her from jail. One of the best elements is the teen’s relationship with his understanding father (Joe DeSantis). I’m sympathetic to any movie of the period that doesn’t cruelly punish its characters for sexually stepping out of line, but today this time capsule feels like what it is: a clumsy if relatively sincere attempt at adult drama.


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Monday, Apr 25, 2011
As the participants constantly remind us, there was more to the Burly Q than flesh. This sensational documentary definitely confirms this...and much, much more.

It has its roots in vaudeville and the musical panto of Britain and France. It became a sensation when Depression-era audiences found its sometimes scandalous fare a decent escape from the dismal dimensions of daily life. By World War II, it was considered upscale, sophisticated entertainment, viewed as viable family fare. Afterwards, it catered to the more mature needs of a returning male clientele.


By the late ‘50s, it was already showing signs of pornography’s sour patina. Today, we mistake strippers and their skanky ilk for same. What the women of Leslie Zemeckis’ thoroughly entertaining documentary Behind the Burly QW - The Story of Burlesque want you to know is that Burlesque was never about sex. The carnality was purely commercial, just part of a way of getting otherwise reluctant patrons to part with their hard earned (and desperately needed) cash.


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Wednesday, Apr 20, 2011
This show is fascinating but has irritating ticks. It was made for commercial breaks, but does that justify annoying teasers of what's coming up next and recaps of what we've just seen?

This series is hosted by comic book creator Stan Lee (Spider-Man, X-Men, etc.), although the legwork is done by contortionist Daniel Browning Smith. In each of the eight one-hour episodes, Smith meets three people who have some “special power”, a talent resulting from genetic mutation (like a guy with very flexible skin) or through long study (a Shaolin monk who generates powerful punching force) or through an invention (like a guy with a portable jetpack flying suit). Usually the special fellow (no women so far) shows his stuff and then submits to EKG tests or catscans or some other scientific measurement in an effort to measure or explain what he does.


Some people are more remarkable than others, and one or two feel dicey. The Scotsman who claims to have prophetic dreams doesn’t quite come through; however, he has the rare talent of lucid dreaming and waking on command. The “wolfman” is simply a scientific researcher who’s studied wolves, knows their signals and howls convincingly. The “human bee hive” is scientist who’s synthesized a pheromone. Some people have been highlighted on other venues, like the autistic British savant who can play any piece of music in any style. Some people are mighty impressive, like the guy with a super memory and the human calculator, and brainscans show them to be using larger or different portions of their brain for these skills than in average people. Some people are jaw-dropping, like the man in India who conducts electricity, or the man who can run without stopping because his blood metabolizes oxygen differently.


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Wednesday, Apr 20, 2011
A classic. A masterpiece. A flawless Blu-ray release. What more needs to be said?

It happens so rarely that, when it does, your heart feels lighter than a helium-filled balloon, wanting to leap from your chest and soar as high and as far as your imagination will let it. When it does occur, it’s like feasting on fun, a sensibility sensation not unlike sinking your giddy choppers deep into a succulent cauldron of contentment candy. The individual who can build such a creation demands deification—recognition as one of the mighty gods of the oft-hindered human spirit. There should be temples in his or her honor, buildings renamed or ships re-christened.


When a solitary member—or a collection of confident craftsman—of the humble race of man finds a way to tap into each and every cell of creative excitement and push the parameters of the pleasure principle to new, previously non-existent norms, there needs to be awards, cathedrals, interstates, and planets in recognition of their unnamable nobility. Such should be the fate of one Brad Bird, for giving us something as uniquely splendid as The Incredibles (available now for the first time on a stunning Blu-ray release).


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Tuesday, Apr 19, 2011
(Much Ado About Nothing is) perhaps the best, breeziest adaptation of all of Shakespeare's works - warts and all.

There are two Kenneth Branaghs in the world of cinema. One makes undeniably brilliant adaptations of Shakespeare plays like Henry V, Hamlet, and Much Ado About Nothing (new to Blu-ray from MGM). He finds both the pomp and conversational circumstance in the Bard’s work and accents it with flourishes both inspired and experimental. Then there is the Branagh who begs to be scorned, who turns something like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein into a witless wash of overripe Method acting and dull David Cronenberg inspired bio-horror, or retrofits Love’s Labour’s Lost into a dreadful ‘30s musical (complete with newsreel footage and period tunes).


While it may seem exciting or even adventurous to sit back and wonder which Branagh you are going to get at any specific moment (Dead Again? Or - sigh - Sleuth?), it’s a concept that leads to some serious questions. Why, for example, is he capable of such wistful flights of romantic fancy ala Much Ado, and yet can get lost and cast adrift in the demented parameters of his colonial Japan set As You Like it? Since few have seen his work since bringing his epic vision of Shakespeare most famous tragedy to the screen, it’s imperative that one look back and see where the schism began. Oddly enough, the magical Much Ado may have played a bigger part in the bifurcation than originally thought.


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