As mentioned last week, my in-laws were in town this week, also as mentioned they put a damper on my pop-culture consumption. In the early evening hours, we tend to play games or chat or do some activity other than sit in front of the TV. After I put my daughter to bed, some times we’d throw a movie on but usually there was this awkward space in which we’re all sitting around not knowing what to do. Then, of course, there is the fact that they are older and more conservative and many of the things I want to watch would cause them to give my wife a lecture. This is also why I’m a little late with my Criterion Collection Women in Love review. But now they are gone, so look for that soon.
And please, don’t get me wrong. They are swell people and I love them dearly, but they do mess with what I watch, read and listen to.
The Big Sleep
Filmstruck is finally adding in some regular classic movies (as opposed to foreign and art-house classics) on their site. They come complete with new (and archival) introductions from various hosts. Though I’ve seen The Big Sleep several times and own it on DVD, once I saw it in their menu, I just had to watch it again. It helped that my in-laws had never seen it.
Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, the movie has all sorts of behind-the-scenes shenanigans going for it. Hawks had discovered Bacall and had the hots for her. When she and Bogart fell for each other on the set of the trio’s first picture together, To Have and Have Not, Hawks got all sorts of mad and plotted against her. But the film was a huge hit and the studio convinced the three to make another picture for them.
The Big Sleep is based upon the Raymond Chandler novel. The book’s plot isn’t exactly fit together like a puzzle but the cinematic adaptation is notorious for its opaqueness. Famously, Hawks once called Chandler to discover who it was who murdered the chauffeur and the author didn’t even know. Things were made even more muddled as the studio, brimming from audience’s desire for more Bogart and Bacall smouldering, demanded more scenes to be shot with them together. Other scenes were cut, creating a final film whose plot people have been puzzling over ever since.
Add in the fact that the book is pretty racy – it involves pornography, homosexual lovers, drugs, and loads of violence – which had to be toned down considerably for the movie (the plot stems from the fact that one of the characters was drugged and photographed naked for a dirty-book business, something that is hinted at in the film but only if you are paying close attention) and you get a story that is rather impossible to piece together into a coherent whole.
None of this matters one little bit. Bogart and Bacall absolutely sizzle as they exchange barbs and flirt as only they could. A lot of the Chandler plot is changed but his ability to toss off sarcastic one-liners remains. Hawks gives it a rat-a-tat pace and it all comes together like gangbusters.
The Maltese Falcon
After watching The Big Sleep, I just had to watch Bogart tackle another classic literary gumshoe, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. This is often cited as the very first film noir. It’s also the film that made Bogart a huge star and the very first film Sydney Greenstreet ever played in. Hammett’s story is even more convoluted than Chandler’s but it somehow makes a little more sense. There is a legendary, priceless, statue of a falcon that has been secretly passed around and/or stolen from hand to hand for years. Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Mary Astor are all looking for it. Astor enlists Bogart’s private detective to help find it. Backstabbing, guns, double crosses, a few murders, and cinema’s greatest MacGuffin all race across the screen, making for one of the best (if possibly not the actual first) film noirs ever made.
Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue
In the fall of 1975, Bob Dylan took off on a 57-gig tour of North America. Along for the ride was an eclectic, traveling caravan of musicians including Joan Baez (who had not performed publicly with Dylan in over a decade), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Roger McGuinn, T-Bone Burnett, and an assortment of others. They called it the “Rolling Thunder Revue” and they were both ramshackle and glorious. Dylan produced some of the greatest live music he would ever create then and the tour is generally considered as one of his best (which puts it towards the best tours of anyone ever). Most of the shows were professionally recorded, NBC did a television special of a Colorado concert and at the time the official concert album, Hard Rain, hit the shelves. In 2002, Dylan’s bootlegs series released a compilation set of some of the best performances.
Of course, bootleggers and traders have been passing around the rest of the shows amongst themselves. Some kind soul sent me a really nice seven-CD collection of the best of the songs not already officially released and it’s fantastic. If you are an obsessive collector like me, you probably already have all of these shows, but for the more casual fan, this is not to be missed. You can find the collection on my blog, downloadable and for free.
Stephen King has always been prolific writer. Early in his career, publishers told him to limit himself to putting out one book a year as to not over-saturate his brand. As he began piling book upon unpublished book, King created a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, so that he could publish more books. No doubt there was some ego involved there. I suppose every really successful author at some point wonders if they are selling books because they are actually good or if people now just by them because everyone else is.
Whatever his reasons, King published seven books under the Bachman name Published in 1984, Thinner was the last book that used that name before he was outed as King. It’s about a fat, rich, pompous lawyer who runs over and kills an old woman while getting a hand job from his wife. When he uses his political connections to get him off in the courts, an old gypsy curses him and he begins losing a lot of weight very quickly. He then chases down the gang of gypsies with the help of some private detectives and a mafioso who owes him a favor for doing some legal work in the past.
I’m not a King expert but Thinner feels leaner (I almost wrote “thinner” but that seemed a little too on the nose for even me) than the books I’ve read under the King name. He’s cut most of the fat off of his usual overstuffed tomes, slicing off the extra character information he tends to shove down readers’ throats. As such, Thinner is a well-charred piece of work (okay, I’ll stop with the bad food puns now).
I listened to the audio book narrated by Joe Mantegna, who makes it even better, especially when he uses his Fat Tony voice for the mafioso.
Some are calling this crime drama about a secret members-only emergency room for criminals a John Wick knock-off, but I figure if you are going to knock off an action thriller, you might as well knock off the best. It’s got a great cast including Jodie Foster as the nurse, Jeff Goldblum as someone called the Wolf King, plus Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella, and Zachary Quinto. The trailer looks like dumb fun.
Prince “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Prince’s estate just released a long-lost studio cut of him performing “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Sinead O’Connor made a huge hit out of it in 1990, trimming it down to its essentials and filling it with emotion. It’s more expansive here, very Prince, and really, really cool.