Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Noel Coward Quote

I think we can all agree with him on this. And the British have made tea into a major part of their culture.

Noel Coward died on the 26th of March in 1973 of heart failure at the age of 73.

Please join the T Tuesday blogger gathering at Bluebeard and Elizabeth.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Bad Sleep Well

The Bad Sleep Well is a 1960 Akira Kurosawa film starring Toshiro Mifune. Both the director and this actor are favorites of mine, so I watch everything I come across involving either of them. They never let me down.

I watched it at Hulu. Hulu doesn't offer any free viewing now, so we're out of luck with them. Here's a trailer:

The New York Times' 1963 review said,
If all the future imports in this theater are as forceful and engrossing as this one from the director of a long list of Japanese champions, beginning with "Rashomon", local film fans are due for a lot of excitement and the popularity of the project should be assured.

"The Bad Sleep Well" is an aggressive and chilling drama of modern-day Japan, exposing a fringe of "big business" in the forthright manner of an American gangster film.
Kurosawa in Review concludes with this: Like so many of the Kurosawa films before it, The Bad Sleep Well is a call to action. Kurosawa lays it all out there for the audience to see. While at the time he was making a film that commented on the society that he lived in, the themes live on today.
Shakespeare would be proud." TCM has an article that quotes the director: "... A film made only to make money did not appeal to me one should not take advantage of an audience. Instead, I wanted to make a movie of some social significance."

Slant Magazine says, "Grim and astringent, Akira Kurosawa's searing condemnation of post-WWII corporate corruption takes direct aim at his prior work's humanistic hopefulness". DVD Talk closes with this: "Any serious student of Japanese cinema should rush out and see The Bad Sleep Well, one of the very best films from one of the art's great masters."

Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 100%.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Hello Holland: 230,000 Tulips at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens

The Dixon Gallery and Gardens has an annual tulip display that just takes my breath away. This is the walk up to the entry to the gardens:

Tulips aren't my favorite flower (I'm more a sunflower and daisy gal), but WOW!

There are plenty of chairs and benches placed throughout the gardens.

There are tulips planted in every area of the gardens during this season.

There is a new piece of art displayed near the entrance to the main gallery building:

Isn't that delightful? It is Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) by Jeff Koons. Wikipedia says, "His Balloon Dog (Red) sculpture was one of the artworks brought to life in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." The Memphis Flyer says, "He currently holds the word record auction price for a living artist. Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at Christie’s Auction house in New York City in 2013 for $58.4 million." I can't think of a more suitable work to display here. It brightened up my day to see it, and I saw it after I'd already seen those gorgeous tulips!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Bitter Tea of General Yen

The Bitter Tea of General Yen is a 1933 directed by Frank Capra and starring Barbara Stanwyck

via Youtube (although this movie comes and goes, never staying available long):

The New York Times has this from the time of its release:
The screen attraction, "The Bitter Tea of General Yen," is a handsomely mounted affair with conspicuously good portrayals by Nils Asther and Walter Connolly. It is a melodrama of China that has certain aspects of Edith M. Hull's "The Sheik." It is a story that is scarcely plausible but which has the saving grace of being fairly entertaining. Certain characters are called upon to be exceptionally credulous at times and those who can overlook this and other shortcomings will probably find the tale of missionaries, romance and civil war in China diverting.
Senses of Cinema says,
The Bitter Tea of General Yen seemed doomed to disgrace from the day of its release. Despite having the honour of being the first film to premiere at Radio City Music Hall, it was a resounding flop that altered the course of the career of its ambitious young director. Back then, audiences could not accept a film that showed a Chinese man and a white woman achieving unprecedented levels of intimacy. Today, audiences may regard the white characters’ stereotypical denunciations of Chinese culture, or the interracial love story with the Chinese romantic lead played by a Swedish actor in yellowface makeup, with either camp irreverence or a queasy sense of shame for Hollywood’s racist legacy. It is a film orphaned between historical and cultural norms.
DVD Talk opens a positive review with this:
Frank Capra's lush, sensual 1933 melodrama The Bitter Tea of General Yen explores what happens when an American woman gets seduced by a powerful Chinese warlord. Although it at first appears to be dated, pulp-magazine junk - replete with stereotypical "Chinamen" references and the old portrayals of Asians as exotic, alluring seducers - Capra and star Barbara Stanwyck elevate this tasty Pre-Code melodrama into something special.
Entertainment Weekly says, "Its credentials are legendary: Directed by Frank Capra and among his personal favorites, it’s also one of the first movies ever to deal openly with interracial sexual attraction." This film is included in the book 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 100%.

Friday, March 24, 2017


Wool is a post-apocalyptic novel by Hugh Howey. I knew nothing about this book and just picked it up at my local bookseller on a whim. I'm glad I did. It's an interesting situation.

from the back of the book:

What would you do
if the world outside was deadly,
and the air you breathed could kill?

And you lived in a place
where every birth required a death,
ad the choices you made could
save lives -or destroy them.

This is Jules's Story.

This is the world of Wool.

The Washington Post opens with this: "Even if it were just a run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic novel about a society forced to live underground, “Wool” would still be quite a tale." The Guardian says it "is uneven but shows a great deal of promise". The Independent closes with this: "...with the film rights already sold to Ridley Scott, Howey's Wool is likely to be spoken about in the same breath as The Hunger Games and The Passage before long."

Wired says,
Howey’s strength is in his characters. They are distinct and yet familiar in their desires. They love, even when it isn’t allowed, they explore even within the confines of the silo and they create. So much happens in Wool that little more can be said about the characters without giving much away. Let’s just say that this is storytelling based upon good characters placed in difficult situations...

Fantasy Book Review says, "Give it a go. It's pretty good." SF Book concludes, "Wool is a fascinating tale of the world in a tube, a classic not to be missed." Kirkus Reviews has an interview with the author.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Case of Two Cities

A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong is the 4th novel in the Inspector Chen series. The Inspector is also a published poet and samples of poetry are scattered throughout. Here's one:

35 Birthday Night
2:30 A.M. A dog barks
against the moon-bleached night.

Is the dog barking into my dream
or am I dreaming of the dog?
I appreciate this look into a foreign culture, and I'm reading these as I can. I got this one as a Christmas present. They should be read in order. You can read Chapter 1 of this book at this link.

from the back of the book:
Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is assigned a high-profile anti-corruption case, one in which the principal figure, Xing, has long since fled to the United States and beyond the reach of the Chinese government. But Xing left behind his organization, and Chen , while assigned to root out the coconspirators, is not sure whether he's actually being set up to fail.

In a twisting case that takes him from Shanghai all the way to the United States, reuniting him with his colleague and counterpart from the U.S. Marshls Service, Inspector Cathering Rhon, Chen finds himself at odds with hidden, powerful, and vicious enemies. At once a compelling crime novel and an insightful, moving portrayal of contemporary China, A Case of Two Cities is the finest novel yet in this critically acclaimed, award-winning series.
Publishers Weekly opens a positive review with this: "Chinese expatriate Qiu's gripping fourth Inspector Chen novel ... captures an honest detective's struggle to be true to his professional ideals under a repressive regime." The Independent says, "As a detective novel this is lacking in thrills, but its pleasures lie elsewhere. A fascinating picture of the new China emerges...". Reviewing the Evidence has a positive review.

I have read:

#1 Death of a Red Heroine
#2 A Loyal Character Dancer
#3 When Red Is Black

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death is a 1964 film directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price. Price plays a nobleman who terrorizes the local villagers. There's plenty here to spark quite a philosophical conversation about good and evil, life and death, love, sacrifice, and choices.

via Youtube:

Senses of Cinema concludes:
A film that defies both categories and critics, The Masque of the Red Death is a unique work in the annals of Anglo-American horror. It sits more comfortably, perhaps, beside such Italian Gothic films as Beatrice Cenci (Riccardo Freda, 1956), La frusta e il corpo (The Whip and the Body, Mario Bava, 1963) and Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977). All these films share its near-psychedelic visual exuberance, although they lack its underlying subtext of renewal and hope. Yet on its deepest and most visceral level, The Masque of the Red Death is precisely the sort of lurid and vulgar “bad” movie that – back when you were a child – your parents always told you not to watch. As a basic motivation for watching movies, it’s hard to improve on that!
Moria gives it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars and says,
The Masque of the Red Death is the most sumptuous of all Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with some expansive castle interior sets, most notably a series of interlocked rooms with each in a single colour scheme.... The film is also luxuriously photographed by a young Nicolas Roeg, who would later embark on his own directorial career with the likes of Don’t Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and The Witches (1990).
1,000 Misspent Hours calls it "mostly forgettable". British Horror Films begins a positive review with this: "It would be easy to dismiss Masque Of The Red Death as just another Corman/Poe film, but somehow, it's much more than that." TCM has some information. Rotten Tomatoes has an audience score of 66% but not many critic reviews.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

R.I.P. Chuck Berry


Chuck Berry died this past Saturday at age 90. A musician whose influence can't be overstated, a founder of Rock and Roll, his loss will be keenly felt. The BBC obituary says,
Chuck Berry's trademark four-bar guitar introduction and quickfire lyrics reflected the rebelliousness of the youth of the 1950s. He was one of that exclusive group who took rhythm and blues from its black roots and "crossed over" to make it part of most teenagers' lifestyle. He influenced generations of succeeding rock stars, most notably the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.
Nadine, released in 1964:

lyrics excerpt:
Nadine, honey is that you?
Oh, Nadine
Honey, is that you?
Seems like every time I see you
Darling you got something else to do

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back
And started walkin' toward a coffee colored Cadillac
I was pushin' through the crowd to get to where she's at
And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat

Notice that coffee-colored Cadillac in the lyrics? That's my connection to the weekly T is for Tuesday gathering at Bleubeard and Elizabeth's blog. We share a drink (and I admit this post stretches the point); but please join me in a cuppa coffee (I take mine black, but I have white and brown sugar cubes and Swiss mocha for flavoring if you like) while we stroll down memory lane and appreciate some more of his music.

He wrote Memphis, Tennessee in 1959, though the Johnny Rivers 1964 cover is better known:

"If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry." - John Lennon

Rock and Roll Music (1957):

The New York Times obituary calls him "genre’s first true superstar" and says, "Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” wasn’t the first rock ’n’ roll song, but it was the best and brashest of the genre’s early advertisements." Roll Over Beethoven (1956) is #97 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Billboard says,
Berry isn't, as some assume, the inventor of rock. True, he was its most important early architect, but by the time his debut single "Maybellene" was unleashed into the world in 1955, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and Bill Haley & the Comets already had iconic hit singles on the Billboard charts. Elvis Presley's rocked-up version of the blues song "That's All Right" dropped in 1954, and "Rocket 88" -- an Ike Turner-helmed recording some historians hail as the first true rock n' roll release -- actually came out in 1951, years before the rock revolution started in earnest.

So why, if rock was already on the charts, is Chuck Berry most commonly cited as the single most important figure in rock music's creation? Simply put, unlike Domino, Presley, Haley or even the immensely influential Diddley, Chuck Berry helped codify what rock music would become.
Maybelline (1955):

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a nice biography and says, "it's not an exaggeration to say that he's the most influential figure on modern rock & roll: Name any major band—the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith—and they'll have cited Berry as an inspiration," and is quoted by Wikipedia as saying
While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together. It was his particular genius to graft country & western guitar licks onto a rhythm & blues chassis in his very first single, "Maybellene".
A couple more of note are No Particular Place to Go from 1964:

and, of course, Johnny B. Goode from 1958, one of the musical selections chosen for inclusion on the record sent into space on Voyager:

Not ready to stop? Here's an hour of him, a Greatest Hits album:

R.I.P. Chuck Berry.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I Live in Fear

I Live in Fear is a 1955 film directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, a trio that never fail to make a wonderful movie. This one is about a factory worker who is frightened of a nuclear attack and is devoting all his effort to moving his loved ones to safety in Brazil. His family fights him every step of the way, going to great lengths to prevent him from realizing his plan. The fear is tragic, but anyone who lived through the Cold War or 9/11 or the current presidency so far can surely connect with the desire to pick up lock, stock, and barrel and move some place safer.

I watched it free (but with commercials) at Hulu. You can watch a trailer at MUBI. I can't find even a clip to embed.

There's what sounds like a theremin in the score.

The NYT review from 1967 calls it "one of the weakest of the great Japanese director's works". TCM has an article which opens with this: "One of the first Japanese commercial features to directly address the fear of nuclear holocaust and the implications of the atom bomb, I Live in Fear (1955, aka Record of a Living Being) was an unusual and unexpected movie for director Akira Kurosawa." Time Out notes it as "Kurosawa's least commercially successful work" but argues it is successful in some ways: "Kurosawa remains the cinema's supremely humanist emotional manipulator".

Slate opens with this: "If someone should feel compelled to make a film about 9/11—specifically, about the social and psychic toll that the attacks have and haven't taken—a good model would be Akira Kurosawa's I Live in Fear".

Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 70%.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A sign of 42

I saw this 42 while I was walking north on McLean.