25 July 2010

The Perils of Pauline

Pauline Starke wonders what to do with her Sunday afternoon. Perhaps, she thinks, it is time to summon the meteors.


21 July 2010

The Truth About Youth (1930)

Dating from 1930, The Truth About Youth is a surprisingly enjoyable potboiler from First National and Vitaphone Pictures -- definitely a B-List production, but one starring a pair of future A-Listers (namely Loretta Young and Myrna Loy) who show some significant talent in spite of the somewhat limited material. The only real stumbling point in this picture is the ending which features a twist that might make even M. Night Shyamalan raise an eyebrow (and no, Loretta Young does not see dead people).

The plot here is fairly straightforward: Richard Carewe (Conway Tearle) has raised Richard "The Imp" Dane (David Manners) in his father's stead, and has arranged for him to marry Phyllis Ericson (Loretta Young), but whilst out on a tear (under the premise of attending a psychology lecture) he becomes smitten with a nightclub singer named Kara (alias The Firefly, played by Myrna Loy). The Imp convinces Kara that he is a rich young bachelor and marries her in secret. When Phyllis discovers a letter from Kara to The Imp, Richard the Elder deftly convinces her that the letter was actually written to him -- the letter having been addressed only to "Richard" -- and sets about trying to fix the whole mess. He bribes Kara into pretending that she and he are in love, and shenanigans ensue. 

It's a standard Good-Woman-Bad-Woman motif, with Loretta Young as the innocent sweetheart and Myrna Loy as the money-grubbing chiseler. Loretta gets top billing and does a good job with her character, but as she is wont to do Myrna basically steals every scene in which she appears, and by and large steals the whole movie -- in one particularly memorable scene she throws a delightful little fit, replete with slapping of man-face and tossing of pottery (this after The Imp admits that he isn't all he claimed to be). Myrna also sings two numbers in the nightclub, although it's fairly obvious to the attentive viewer that it isn't her voice, and that she is only lip-syncing. Still, she sells the hell out of it, bless her heart.

Loretta and Myrna appear in only a single scene together, but it is easily the best scene in the movie. Phyllis follows Richard to the nightclub and pretends to be starstruck by Kara, essentially telling Richard that she wants to be just like Kara when she grows up, much to his consternation (she suspects that Richard's courtship of Kara isn't on the level, as the saying goes, and it's clear that her praise is purely to test Richard). 

The male leads, on the other hand, aren't nearly so interesting. Conway Tearle does a decent job with his character, but there isn't much about his role that's particularly memorable. The same goes for David Manners, whose character's nickname might be the only really notable thing about him -- he doesn't do much to break the mold of the Generic 30s Guy, although it should be said that the script doesn't really give him much opportunity to do so. 

Finally, there's the ending. Although Richard manages to get The Imp to divorce Kara, he refuses to marry Phyllis, claiming that he never actually loved her. Phyllis takes the news shockingly well, exclaiming that she really loved Richard the whole time. This ending really doesn't make much sense at all, which has the unfortunate effect of upending the picture in the last five minutes. We do see that The Imp's devotion to Phyllis is questionable, but the movie gives us no hints whatsoever that Phyllis is really in love with Richard. It's kind of a shame, since I really enjoyed the picture up until that the script decided to drop that pipe-bomb in my lap.

Yet even if the ending doesn't really work, the picture is still enjoying. The acting feels quite crisp for its time, and the camera work here isn't nearly as stiff as in other movies from the same time. Then, of course, there's Myrna Loy, who has an uncanny ability to make any movie better by here mere presence. Indeed, she's pretty much the number one reason to watch the picture. The Truth About Youth is worth at least one viewing, especially for Myrna Loy fans.

[Image Sauce]

15 July 2010

A Profile in Greatness

Let me tell you about John Barrymore. This guy. This guy is un-fucking-believable. He gives a great performance in every picture of his I've seen. I've already touched on his talent in When a Man Loves, and he brings similar energy and gravity to Beau Brummel, with equally superb results. His portrayal of the eponymous villain in 1931's Svengali was easily the best part of the picture -- in a film full of uncomfortably stiff acting, Barrymore's delightfully over the top performance really carries the whole movie.In the all-star bonanzas of Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight, John Barrymore delivers a pair of memorable performances, his portrayal of a tragically forgotten silent film star in the latter picture being particularly moving. He is similarly great as Mercutio in the 1936 production of Romeo and Juliet (this in spite of the fact that he, along with just about every other member of the cast, was at least twice as old as the character he was playing, if not more so).

The fact that John Barrymore turned in such great performances throughout his film career becomes even more impressive when one remembers that he was partying like the proverbial Rock Star the whole time, raising the devil with his frequent drinking buddies W.C. Fields and Errol Flynn. It seems that this lifestyle caused trouble for him as early as 1933, as he apparently had such difficulty remembering his lines that he resorted to using cue-cards placed off camera and around the set -- of course, the guy is so good at what he does that it's impossible to tell.

On and off the screen, John Barrymore is one of my favorite actors. He had talent that I can only dream of having, and maintained a lifestyle that I can only dream of emulating. To put it simply, John Barrymore: a pretty cool guy.

[Image Sauce]

10 July 2010

Starship Amazing - The Power of Science is Staggering (2008)

In the not-all-that-distant past I was into electronic music, primarily the more dance-oriented stuff. Although it's quite a different from what I listened to in those days, The Power of Science is Staggering by the Alaskan duo Starship Amazing is nevertheless an excellent example of just how good electronic music can be, and indeed a reminder of why I got into this style of music in the first place. 

The Power of Science is Staggering features thirteen diverse tracks, which run the gamut from laid back, hip-hop ("This is My Ideal World!" and "Kill the Body, Keep the Parts") to energetic drum and bass ("Judging By The Size of This Crater, Someone Brought the Ruckus") to more atmospheric compositions (e.g. "Finally!"). Each track is comprised of a variety of unique elements, which the result that each track is enjoyable in its own special way. Tracks such as "Finally!" and "Anyone Who is Down" feel particularly well-suited to driving around town at night, while "In a World Where Only the Strong Survive, Only the Strong Survive" seems better suited to shooting enemy robots with green laser beams while flying around in a spaceship. Then there's "Pokemon ≠ Pokemon", a song which features voice samples from Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and is just plain fun to listen to.

If you couldn't tell by the song titles (or the name of the band, for that matter), Starship Amazing perhaps may not be taking themselves entirely seriously. Of course this only adds to the charm of the music, and when combined with the fact that Starship Amazing also seems to be quite heavily influenced by video game music makes the album that much more fun to listen to. 

In all honesty, I was quite pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this album. Whether you're a long-time fan of electronic music or just in the market for something new and exciting, you owe it to yourself to give The Power of Science is Staggering a try, and the fact that Starship Amazing has made the entire album available for free listening and download means you really have no excuse not to. Go check it out. I don't expect that you'll be disappointed by what you find.

P.S. Starship Amazing also produces a weekly podcast that is extremely entertaining. I highly recommend listening to that, as well.

06 July 2010

Miss Loy

Having recently finished reading her autobiography, I can now say with some certainty that Myrna Loy was one of the coolest people to ever walk the face of the earth. Seriously people, go hunt down a copy and read that shit. It's an enlightening and enjoyable read.