I don’t have to give you a rundown of the headlines to remind you the world is circling the toilet bowl. Everywhere you turn these days something horrible is happening. Whether its on the other side of the world or in our own backyards, the litany of bad news seems endless. Movies are supposed to be a refuge from reality, but even that feels hollow in light of recent events.

Rather than dwell on the negative, with this week’s Watercooler Musical Interlude I want to look back to when movies still brought joy. Here is Cab Calloway and his Orchestra performing Jumpin Jive along with the Ritz Brothers in the 1943 film Stormy Weather. If this doesn’t cheer you up, nothing will.

That’s all from me this weekend. Now it’s your turn. Anybody get up to anything interesting moviewise?


12 Responses to “Jumpin Watercooler Jive”

  1. Yes this has been a very sad week for so many, and as regular movie goers, the ache is felt deeply. Certainly you have done your part here with this bouncy and utterly delightful Calloway number from STORMY WEATHER, one I’ve always been charmed by. I must say this really hit the spot for me tonight! Calloway’s “Miinie the Moocher” is another unforgettable number.

    Anyway, I have finally begun to take a look at some recent American television shows that have won the highest praise from my “inner circle” and have moved to acquire blu-ray sets of Deadwood, Breaking Bad and Rome, as well as DVD sets of Carnival and The Wire. I have now watched the first half of the first season of The Wire, and will have much more to say in the future. I plan on watching the entire run before the summer is out, and will tackle some of the others. Another that is still MIA with me is the much-praised MAD MEN.

    The Film Forum’s four-week “Universal 100th Anniversary” Festival continue in full force, and Lucille and I and several of the kids were in attendance for three sessions during the past week. We saw only one new release, which all things considered is the one most of America has now seen: The Dark Night Rises, directed by Christopher Nolan.

    We saw:

    The Dark Night Rises *** 1/2 (Friday afternoon) Secaucus multiplex

    Criss Cross ***** (Thursday night) Universal at Film Forum

    The Killers **** 1/2 (Thursday night) Universal at Film Forum

    Magnificent Obsession (Stahl) *** 1/2 (Tuesday night) Univ. at Film Forum

    Imitation of Life (Stahl) **** 1/2 (Tuesday night) Univ. at Film Forum

    Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein**** 1/2 (Sunday) Univ. at Film Forum

    The Bank Dick **** (Sunday) Universal at Film Forum

    THE DARK NIGHT RISES was slow to get untracked and after about an hour I was figuring the same old, same old, but director Christopher Nolan suffused the progressively tense superhero film with compelling does of gloom and angst and some arresting set pieces that brought the final chapter in the trilogy to a worthy enough conclusion, one that properly focused on the Batman Christian Bale character. Not quite the equal of THE DARK KNIGHT, but within a half star. Still I doubt a few weeks from now if much of this will resonate. The film will always bring the gruesome memories of the tragedy in Colorado for nearly everyone, myself included.

    I am finally convinced that the noir masterwork CRISS CROSS is Robert Siodmak’s masterpiece (Lancaster and DeCarlo are extraordinary, and the stunning black and white expressionistic photography rates among the best of it’s kind) but this is a dark and fatalist film in the Lang tradition that gives a new meaning to the term “double cross.” Based on Hemingway’s THE KILLERS, the film of the same name isn’t always easy to follow, but it again features the team of Siodmak and Lancaster, in a film about the irreversible underpinnings of fate in an existential brew negotiated by a labyrinthine plot that superbly utilizes the flashback. Acting and writing are of teh top-rank, and the film straddles the masterpiece level.

    John Stahl’s IMITATION OF LIFE is better than the Sirk re-make that will be screening on Wednesday night, but Stahl’s MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION falls short of the later Sirk version screening sometime next week at this same festival. Both ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN and W.C. Fields’ THE BANK DICK never fail to entertain no matter how many times one has seen them.

  2. Wow Sam, you have some great television lined up there. I’m a huge fan of many of those shows and I look forward to hearing your thoughts about them.

    We finally caught up with A Single Man. It is one of those chamber piece films that seem near perfect. The casting and performances were wonderful, none more so than Firth, and the storytelling was impressively cinematic for a first-time director and delivered with economy and heart. This last quality was made all the more powerful by the absence of sentimentality.

    Great music selection Craig. Cab and his band in this clip are really swinging.

  3. sartre, I am thrilled to hear we have some great discussion ahead. I’ve been hearing so much about THE WIRE and BREAKING BAD from good friends, and felt I needed to finally heed the advice. I have seen some of DEADWOOD a few years ago, but hope to tackle the blu-ray set with abandon when I sort out the first two, and then ROME, CARNIVALE and MAD MEN as well. I do believe I recall you had issued praise for MAD MEN on a recent thread.

    I’ll keep you abreast my friend!

  4. I liked all the shows you are planning to watch. The Wire is the top for me, followed by Deadwood (equally good but cruelly and unforgivably prematurely cut). MM at its best is right up there and even average by its standards is damn impressive. For me, Rome and Carnivale weren’t in the top tier but both were very entertaining and had memorable moments. Rome had planned another season and when the writers learned they would have only one more they were left with a lot of historical ground to cover in the final season – the epic story would have benefited from being told across more episodes. The writers also wanted to do a third season of Carnivale so the ending though good remained tantalizingly incomplete. American cable networks have produced outstanding television but they can never be trusted to fulfill the implicit contract with the viewer by maintaining commitment to quality shows that take time to build their audience.

  5. “American cable networks have produced outstanding television but they can never be trusted to fulfill the implicit contract with the viewer by maintaining commitment to quality shows that take time to build their audience.”
    @sartre: You are correct, and the number of solid series that didn’t yield a large enough audience or lost their audience and were cancelled before their stories were complete is long and disappointing. But Rome is actually the BBC’s fault. HBO made a contractual deal with the BBC to share expenses on the globe-trotting production, which at the time was the most expensive show HBO had ever taken on. But as production began on season 2 the BBC pulled out, citing the costs. So HBO was forced to cancel the show after its second season, before it got to it’s originally planned third and fourth season. Luckily they found out about this early enough to allow the showrunner to conclude the series as he saw fit.

    According to the showrunner, season 3 would have focused on the rise of Egypt and Cleopatra and season 4 would have featured the life of Jesus Christ from the Roman point-of-view. They telescoped season 3 into the second half of season 2, which is why season 2 jumps so quickly through time and events.

    Thankfully HBO learned their lessons from Deadwood and Rome and now only takes on productions they know they can financially stand behind. Game of Thrones has the scope of Rome, but they’ve managed to keep it affordable. It comes at the expense of battle scenes and effects shots, but they’ve spent their money well on that show.

  6. Fair enough Joel, I wasn’t aware of the BBC being the culprit with respect to Rome. It just goes to show, never trust either a Yank or a Pom.

    Having read the books, I was disappointed with the absence of battles scenes or their simplification in GoT season 1. But they did an amazing job on the Battle of Blackwater in season 2 – arguably the best episode of the series thus far.

  7. Not having read the books, I didn’t really mind it. And honestly I wouldn’t expect it from a TV series with such a low budget and it wasn’t why I was tuning in anyway. I think I could easily have watched another 2-4 hours of GoT for either season 1 or 2 if they just had the characters interacting and doing what they were already doing, no battles needed. I just love the character development and acting on this series.

    The biggest gripe I’ve heard about the series is the lack of battle scenes, and I’ve only heard this from folks who read the books. Obviously if you read the books and you know what was omitted, you want to see that and it’s disappointing to not get the payoff. Plus I’m assuming some people connected HBO’s The Pacific with GoT and expected the same level of action, but The Pacific cost more than three times what GoT did and I’m not sure HBO actually made all their money back on that (The Pacific was not received with the same enthusiasm as Band of Brothers, but that’s an entirely different conversation).

    Anyway, Blackwater is a great episode. There’s an interesting article online about it. It’s amazing that they pulled this off considering they changed directors and direction at the last minute.

  8. Interesting to read your take on GoT, Joel. I just can’t divorce my experience of the books from that of the show and so I’m often left feeling outside it. Every significant deviation from the source material shouts out at me because I understand why Martin wrote the original the way he did. The occasional change actually works well for me but too many leave me thinking – that isn’t as effective storytelling and it undermines the future connections between this plot point and…

    My biggest complaint in terms of exclusion is not the battles, but the extent to which they’ve removed prophecy and back story – such critical elements in the books that add layers of intrigue and richness to the overall tapestry, and help create a sense of meta-dance of cause-and-effect that speaks to both humanity’s character flaws and strengths. The tower of the undying is one of the most memorable sequences in the books yet it has far less power in the series because most of prophecy revealed to Daenerys is stripped away. If you go to one of the reader fan sites their topics of discussion are dominated by the possible candidates for future reveals that will be critical to where the saga is going. Most of these are driven by the back story and prophecy elements. But watching the show one is never encouraged to look particularly far ahead.

    Having complained so much, I do like the show. I particularly admire the acting (and casting for the most part), and the sense of epic scale the production achieves.

    I know that the show could never simply transcribe the books and that cuts, amendments, and rearranging was necessary. But I still think some of the choices were disappointing and will create unnecessary complications down the track and lessen the pay-off power of future reveals.

  9. All I can say is you might be right, but this is a TV show, not a book. Things that work on the page do not work in exposition. You can certainly try but good luck with that. Maybe there’s a way to be entirely true to Martin’s writing, but Martin himself is fond of saying over and over again that he purposely wrote the novels to be entirely impossible to film. And I take him at his word, considering he had a long history of paid professional work as an actual screenwriter. So if the author says he intentionally set the producers up to fail and sold the rights anyway, then the producers making adjustments to make it work seems entirely fair to me.

    Regardless, if the TV shows *were* just the books word for word, then what really would be the point? This is the undying issue of page versus screen and it will never end. The two must diverge, and if good drama and well-acted characters come at the loss of philosophy, thematic weight, and narrative historical depth, then maybe the two were never going to be melded in the first place? I have a friend who doesn’t like the LOTR films only because they didn’t film them word for word, but when I try to tell him that two hours of just walking and oral history would be hard to watch, he doesn’t get it. Really? Because that seems obvious to me, and I love the books myself.

    Anyway, from someone without all the back-story and depth and yadda yadda yadda, I can tell you that GoT is quite enthralling TV. I feel sorry for you and Craig and anyone else that seems to find it maddening. You are truly being robbed of a good time.

  10. I never said I found it maddening. I think they’ve done a good job for the most part re adaptation and I still enjoy the series despite not being fully on board with some adaptation decisions.

    I’m not advocating that the television adaptation should have been completely true to the books. I obviously understand that could never be the case and would not be desirable given the different form. All I’m saying is that it’s sometimes a slightly jarring watch after reading the books and that the writers could have arguably gone in a different direction on some fronts and still made it work for television.

  11. You’re absolutely right, they could have gone in different directions and taken different tacks. It sounded as though you’re disappointed overall, but I didn’t intend to characterize your reaction to it incorrectly. I like the series. I think there’s quite a bit of thematic depth to the stories they’re telling, as well as rich characters and good plotting. I guess I see the incredible task set to them and that also factors in my appreciation of the series. In any given episode there are 6-9 different plot lines occurring simultaneously in a half-dozen or more locations, with multiple character arcs in each plot line. Some of these overlap, and some not at all. And they must accomplish all of this within 10 hours a season, which sounds like a lot but really isn’t much at all considering the task.

    I honestly am not aware of any series that has attempted something like this before. Maybe a BBC series? I’m not familiar enough with them to say.

  12. Joel, I focused on my disappointments or quibbles too much and failed to underscore the considerable achievement I recognize in the show.

    What you highlight as exceptional is something that is also true of the books. Both the books and the show, so far, make the complicated nature of the storytelling remarkably easy to follow. However, the cast of characters grows and grows, more locations and histories are introduced, and numerous subplots develop – this is what makes the source material so hard to adapt to the screen. It’ll be interesting to see how the television writers deal with the problem of adaptation as the scale of the source material it draws upon becomes ever more vast.

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