Friday, February 12, 2016

The Kid Brother (1927)

The Kid Brother is a 1927 Harold Lloyd film. Popular when it was released, it's still considered one of Lloyd's best and is included in the book 1,001 Movies to See Before You Die.

The NYT review from 1927
opens its review with this:
Enough laughter was generated yesterday in the Rialto Theatre by Harold Lloyd's new comedy to make thousands forget the gloomy weather. In this eventful and hilarious production, called "The Kid Brother," Mr. Lloyd displays no little ingenuity, none of his gags being inspired by any other comedian.
Rotten Tomatoes doesn't have enough critic reviews for a score, but the audience rating is 84%.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Doorbell Rang

The Doorbell Rang is a 1965 Nero Wolfe detective mystery by Rex Stout. This is a fun book from a fun series.

from the Wikipedia article:
The Doorbell Rang generated controversy when it was published, due largely to its unflattering portrayal of the FBI, its director and agents. It was published at a time when the public's attitude toward the FBI was turning critical, not long after Robert F. Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover clashed and the Bureau was coming under fire for its investigations of Martin Luther King.


Researching his book Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America's Greatest Authors (1988), journalist Herbert Mitgang discovered that Stout had been under FBI surveillance since the beginning of his writing career. Most of the heavily censored pages he was allowed to obtain from Stout's FBI dossier concerned The Doorbell Rang:
About one hundred pages in Stout's file are devoted to the novel, the FBI's panicky response to it and the attempt to retaliate against the author for writing it. The FBI's internal memorandum for its special agents told them that "the bureau desires to contribute in no manner to the sales of this book by helping to make it the topic of publicity." Orders came from headquarters in Washington that any questions concerning the book should be forwarded to the Crime Records Division, thereby putting book and author in a criminal category.
An internal memorandum by Special Agent M.A. Jones (name surprisingly not censored) summarized the novel and went on to write a critique for the FBI's top command — a rare "literary" honor accorded to few books in its files ... Following the review came a series of recommendations — first, Stout was designated as a person "not to be contacted" without prior approval by FBI headquarters in Washington...
In April 1976, the Church Committee found that The Doorbell Rang is a reason Rex Stout's name was placed on the FBI's "not to contact list," which it cited as evidence of the FBI's political abuse of intelligence information.
from the dust jacket:
This is, in the considered opinion of his publishers, the finest detective story ever written by Rex Stout and therefore one of the very best ever written by anyone. As a new peak for the old master, it provides an occasion to celebrate an outstanding career, as well as a new challenge to the wits of his fans.

A very rich woman comes to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, claiming that she is being harassed by the FBI. She reports that agents are following her and members of her family, her wires are being tapped, and her privacy is being otherwise invaded. She demands that Wolfe help her to find relief and offers him the largest retainer he has ever seen.

Wolfe, with some hesitation, takes the case and quickly encounters a murder about which members of the FBI may know more than is apparent. He also soon finds himself in a direct encounter with FBI agents under highly questionable circumstances.

Never before has Rex Stout written a book more perfectly plotted or one with a denouement so skillfully arrived at.
Wikipedia has quotes from several reviews.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil is a classic 1958 film noir thriller. Written by, directed by, and co-starring Orson Welles, it also stars Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dennis Weaver, Ray Collins, and Joseph Cotten. It is the story of crime and corruption in a Mexican border town. A car bomb and drugs and a newlywed couple are plot elements.

This film is almost universally praised, finding a place on everybody's best-of lists, and I feel foolish criticising it; but at every point along the way if there's a stupid decision to make the character does that. It's downright painful. I kept talking to the screen. "Don't do that! Anything but that!"


The Guardian gives it 5 out of 5 stars and calls it "brilliant". Empire Online opens with this: "For over 40 years critics and filmmakers from Francois Truffaut to Paul Schrader to Curtis Hanson (citing its influence on LA Confidential) have paid homage to the technical mastery and I inspiration of Orson Welles' potent 50s noir." Time Out gives it 5 out of 5 stars and calls it a masterpiece that gets better with age.

A 1958 NYT review says, "THANKS to Orson Welles, nobody, and we mean nobody, will nap during "Touch of Evil,"". Roger Ebert gives it a spot on his Best Movies list. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 96%.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Tea Party

Tea Party:

by Kerli, who celebrated her 29th birthday on the day before yesterday. The song is said to have been inspired by the Mad Hatter's tea party in the 2010 Alice in Wonderland movie.

Lyrics excerpt:
Welcome to the Tea Party
Want to be my VIP?
Didn't RSVP?
That's okay (That's okay)
Welcome to the Tea Party
oh oh oh oh
Want to be my VIP?
When I'm all steamed up (up)
Hear me shout
Tip me over and pour me out
Down to the last cup
We keep it boiling hot
We keep the party moving till we drink the last drop

Please join the T party that is a weekly event at Bluebeard and Elizabeth's blog.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Point Omega

Point Omega is a 2010 novel by Don DeLillo. I'm not a big fan of the author, but he's well-respected and it's a short book.... I don't know why his books fail to attract me. This one is no different in that respect, but I'm not giving up on the author.

from the dust jacket:
Don DeLillo has been "weirdly prophetic about twenty-first-century America" (The New York Times Book Review). In his earlier novels, he has written about conspiracy theory, the Cold War and global terrorism. Now, in Point Omega, he looks into the mind and heart of a "defense intellectual," one of the men involved in the management of the country's war machine.

Richard Elster was a scholar -an outsider- when he was called to a meeting with government war planners, asked to apply "ideas and principles to such matters as troop deployment and counterinsurgency."

We see Elster at the end of his service. He has retreated to the desert, "somewhere south of nowhere," in search of space and geologic time. There he is joined by a filmmaker, Jim Finley, intent on documenting his experience. Finley wants to persuade Elster to make a one-take film, Elster its single character -"Just a man and a wall."

Weeks later, Elster's daughter Jessica visits -an "otherworldly" woman from New York, who dramatically alters the dynamic of the story. The three of them talk, train their binoculars on the landscape and build an odd, tender intimacy, something like a family. Then a devastating event throws everything into question.

In this compact and powerful novel, it is finally a lingering human mystery that haunts the landscape of desert and mind.
The Guardian:
It requires careful reading, but as with the man in the gallery, and as with every other aspect of this finely austere novel, the harder you look, the more you see.
New York Magazine says, "Point Omega, DeLillo’s new novel, fits right into this glacial aesthetic. You could even say it’s something of a breakthrough: It brings us, in just over 100 pages, as close to pure stasis as we’re ever likely to get." Slate has a lengthy review.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing is a 1996 Bruce Willis film, a straight re-make of Yojimbo (as was Fistful of Dollars). This version takes place in prohibition-era West Texas on the Mexican border and features an Italian gang and an Irish one battling over the bootleg concession. This is priceless.

It stars Bruce Willis (one of our favorites), Bruce Dern, William Sanderson (a Memphis native who was also in Blade Runner and 2 Babylon 5 episodes -Grail and Thirdspace among other films) and Christopher Walken.


Empire Online gives it 3 out of 5 stars and concludes, "The film's real strength is the way it sounds, with Ry Cooder's jangling score competing with thunderous gunplay for the shell-like's appreciative attention." Rolling Stone says, "Nice going, guys, but it's been done." EW gives it a grade of "D" and calls it a "numskull, overwrought shoot-'em-up". DVD Talk says it's "overly grim" and feels "flat". Roger Ebert despises it, giving it 1 star, and calls it "a mannered, juiceless, excruciatingly repetitive exercise in style." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics rating of 37%, but the audience rating is much higher.

I've decided that most film critics don't know fun when it's staring them in the face.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Wedding Rehearsal

Wedding Rehearsal is a 1932 British romantic comedy, directed by Alexander Korda. It's the story of a wealthy, middle-aged bachelor whose mother threatens to cut off his money unless he marries. His plan is to marry off all the suitable young women to other suitors, and his befuddled bumbling in avoidance of matrimony is the substance of the plot.

Pleasant-enough, but it won't make it onto my re-watchable list.

I watched this free at Hulu, but it's currently unavailable there. I can't even find a trailer online. I can't find it for sale anywhere, either. Apparently, you're out of luck unless you want to pay for a video subscription service. But, I do have to say you're not missing that much.

Rotten Tomatoes has no critics score, and the audience score is 33%.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out is a 1947 film noir starring James Mason. Ah, James Mason! You cannot go wrong with one of his films. It is directed by Carol Reed. Scrolling across the screen following the opening credits is this:
This story is told against a background of political unrest in a city of Northern Ireland. It is not concerned with the struggle between the law and an illegal organisation, but only with the conflict in the hearts of the people when they become unexpectedly involved.
via Youtube:

The 1947 NYT review calls it "a most intriguing film". has an exploration of the film. DVD Talk says, "Odd Man Out is rightly hailed as a masterpiece of British film". Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 100%.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Buddenbrooks is a 1901 novel by German author Thomas Mann. It's the story of 4 generations of the Buddenbrooks family. Published when he was just 26 years old, this was his first novel and was specifically cited by the committee when he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929. It has had 4 screen adaptations. The book is quite long -the Everyman's Library edition is 731 pages. It can be read online only in German. Though the book itself is in the public domain I can't find a translation online. Seeking this book out is worth the time, and reading the book is an easy task. I found myself swept along, caught up in the characters' lives.

from the dust jacket:
Buddenbrooks, first published in Germany in 1901, when Mann was only twenty-six, has become a classic of modern literature.

It is the story of four generations of a wealthy bourgeois family in northern Germany facing the advent of modernity; in an uncertain new world, the family’s bonds and traditions begin to disintegrate. As Mann charts the Buddenbrooks’ decline from prosperity to bankruptcy, from moral and psychic soundness to sickly piety, artistic decadence, and madness, he ushers the reader into a world of stunning vitality, pieced together from births and funerals, weddings and divorces, recipes, gossip, and earthy humor.

In its immensity of scope, richness of detail, and fullness of humanity, buddenbrooks surpasses all other modern family chronicles. With remarkable fidelity to the original German text, this superb translation emphasizes the magnificent scale of Mann’s achievement in this riveting, tragic novel.
A Common Reader concludes, "Undoubtedly a classic (who am I even to confirm such an obvious fact?), and worth every one of five stars, I would say that this is a novel all serious readers should read, and I am only surprised that its taken me so long to get to it."

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Naked Edge

The Naked Edge is a 1961 thriller starring Gary Cooper and Deborah Kerr as George and Martha Radcliffe. Hermione Gingold is in this, too. This was Cooper's last film. He died in May of 1961, a week after his 60th birthday. He had converted to Catholicism in 1959 (his wife and daughter were Catholic). In his last public statement he said, "I know that what is happening is God's will. I am not afraid of the future."

After having heard her husband provide the deciding testimony in a murder trial, Martha Radcliffe begins to suspect that it was actually her husband who had committed the crime.

via Youtube:

The 1961 NYT review sadly says, "old Coop deserved something better to ring down the curtain on his career."