Friday, August 29, 2008

Double Negative...And Dog

My favorite movie of all time has to be Neil Simon's brilliantly hilarious satire Murder By Death. If you love the idea of a murder mystery weekend, in a spooky and remote country manor house, this is the film for you. It evokes all of the subtleties of the murder mystery weekend, and magnifies them a hundred fold. The film's characters are parodies of well-known and beloved fictional amateur and professional detectives. The mood is eerie and foreboding, but inexplicably cozy at the same time. This is one of those movies that my sister and I would curl up under a mountain of blankets watching, with a smorgasbord of munchies laid out on the coffee table in front of us, a feast with which to enjoy this mystery masterpiece.

The best part of this film, if you had to choose [which is pretty darn difficult], has to be the dialogue. Most of the lines just don't make sense! Look at the title - Murder By Death. What does that mean? The entire script is like that, full of one-liners that are laugh out loud funny but confusing to its core. And this movie just keeps rolling along with a clever and confusing [oh so confusing] plot, inspired acting, and memorable quotes. But the thing you need to know about all of this confusion, is that it is so intentional. Nothing about this movie makes sense, and it's written that way on purpose...and it's brilliant. I can't use that word enough to describe Murder By Death. It's just brilliant.

And the cast is phenomenal. Listen to this roster of talent: Truman Capote [the ageless host Mr. Lionel Twain], Peter Sellers [Sidney Wang of Catalina Police], David Niven [the ever-so-suave Dick Charleston], Maggie Smith [Dick's wealthy wife Dora], Peter Falk [street-smart Sam Diamond], Alec Guinness [the blind butler Bensonmum], James Coco [paranoid chocoholic Milo Perrier], and the bride of Frankenstein herself Elsa Lanchester [a younger Miss Jessica Marbles]. My goodness gracious. The performances. Those names.

And the supporting cast is just as tip-top: a young James Cromwell as Monsieur Perrier's chauffeur Marcel, Richard Narita as Sidney Wang's Japanese son Willie, Eileen Brennan [who also happens to appear in the movie Clue] as blond bombshell Tess Skeffington, Estelle Winwood as gas-sniffing Nurse, and Nancy Walker as the deaf and mute maid Yetta.

As you're watching Murder By Death, turn up the volume a little because you don't want to miss any of these memorable quotes. Some of my favorites come early on in the movie from Peter Sellers as Sidney Wang, a take-off of Charlie Chan. A few of these gems are 'Questions like athlete's foot...after a while, verrry irritating!' and 'No pulse, no heartbeat. If condition does not change, this man is dead'. Read some more funny quotes here at Wikiquote.

I simply can't do this movie all of the justice it deserves, so if you haven't seen this movie - please go rent it today! You'll want to figure out whodunnit. And if you, like me, have seen this movie a dozen times over, it's time to see it again! Assemble your favorite munchettes, set your sights on 22 Twain's House, and curl up for a riotous good time. A relaxing way to spend Labor Day Weekend indoors, no?

[Photo of Murder By Death is from Comics Worth Reading]

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tea Time Tangents: Time To Breathe

A little while ago, I tossed around the idea of taking tea every afternoon, as a sort of calming ritual. Yesterday was my first foray into this English tradition, and let me tell you, it felt good.

Tea might have some potential beneficial properties, or perhaps not, but I'm not taking tea for those reasons. Neither am I taking tea to get an energetic boost from the caffeine therein. Rather it's the opposite - I want to find a moment in the day to relax. For a long time, I've been curious about European traditions which bely the American way of life in terms of work and play. A lot has been made of it, about how stereotypical American daily life consists of work, work, work for a continuous stretch of time and then it's home for perhaps another whirlwind of dinner dates, homework and soccer practice if you have kids, and eeking by on a few hours of sleep a night. That doesn't sound very appealing. Not all American households go through this sort of routine of course. In fact certain industries, especially the high tech and gaming ones, are famous for adopting a playful, relaxed environment at their places of business - which puts emphasis on their employees' comfort, and the basic human need for rest, or breaks, from the stressors of work during actual work hours. Some companies take those needs a step, or giant leaps, further. [Sniffle] I want that!

While most of us won't be able to take advantage of those kinds of perks and employer mindset, we can try to incorporate a routine into our daily schedules that mimic the idea of relaxation to increase productivity. Taking naps, or siestas, at mid-day after lunch is one such way. In the US, not many jobs allow for naps during the day, unfortunately - but many of them do [and should] provide a coffee break. If this little break in the day provides you with the best opportunity to unwind, take advantage of it and create a cozy routine for yourself, where you can rest your body and your mind. Bring your favorite tea cup or coffee mug, if coffee is more your thing, along with the yummiest teas or coffees that you like. Also treat yourself to a tasty nibble of some sort, whatever you like, to eat with your tea or coffee. Breathe. Relax.

When I took tea yesterday afternoon, a tad bit late at 5:00 pm but what the hay, I drank green tea [from a tea bag] straight with no milk or sugar involved. I poured water into my crimson Anthropologie tea cup, and heated it up in the microwave! I know none of this sounds like the proper way to do it, English style, but that's okay isn't it? It's the thought that counts and the end result was blissful satisfaction. The process will improve with time, less laziness, and the purchase of loose tea leaves, I'm sure of it! Oh, and also a tea pot. I need a tea pot. After the water was nice and hot, I submerged the green tea bag into the cup and let it steep, albeit improperly. I drank my little cup of tea along with an egg salad sandwich, with the crusts cut off. I normally don't cut the crusts off my bread, but in this case, I made the extra effort. The whole experience of taking tea was comforting in and of itself, and my desire to make this a personal ritual is very strong. If I am at home around tea time, I will take tea.

Warm tea is comforting, but the nibble accompanying it interests me far more. Tea sandwiches are of course always an option. Homemade baked goods like cookies, cakes, and muffins or scones are without a doubt excellent contenders for that coveted spot on the tea plate. I hope the baking bug bites me often! And if fresh ingredients aren't available, store bought yummies will do just fine. More than fine even. In fact, I'm going to have a Little Debby Oatmeal Cream Pie with my tea this afternoon. Why not I say!

[Photo of Spode tea cup is from Gift Collector, photo of a restful nap is from, and photo of luscious tea cakes is from BBC Good Food]

Monday, August 18, 2008

Film Flashback: To Serve Them All My Days

This title of a miniseries televised on PBS, based on R. F. Delderfield's novel, evokes nostalgic memories more than the production itself, whose content flies through my head whirling with vague images of schoolboys and young men in uniform. I don't remember a whole lot of detail about this miniseries except that I loved it, and that the subject matter dealt with young men. Since I first viewed To Serve Them All My Days on Masterpiece Theatre, when it first aired in the early 1980s...1982 to be precise, my interest wasn't stimulated by burgeoning hormones. I was only 9 years old at the time. Instead I was enraptured by the scenery first and foremost, the costumes, and the British accents. I was similarly ethralled by The Flame Trees of Thika, which I had seen on Masterpiece Theatre just months prior.

Now that I'm all grown up and then some, I'd like to revisit that visual jewel of a television series which captured my youthful attention and helped cement my ongoing love affair with British culture. Now that I have re-familiarized myself with the plot, I realize that the emotional pull of this series [I never read the book] had much to do with my heartfelt approval of it, in the same vein as John Knowles' A Separate Peace which I did read a few years later. The issues of class in English society during the 1920s and 30s as well as the emotional fallout of military service and conscription are brought to bear. These issues transcend generations, culture, and geography and can be quite complicated or quite simple, depending on one's philosophical views or personal experiences.

But what I really want to delve into a little further right now is the large cast of this production. When I glance over the cast list, a few names pop out and I recognize them immediately. I had known for many many years that Matthew Waterhouse who played Briarley also portrayed the Portrieve [oh no I jest - a little Doctor Who humor here] or rather Adric, the Fifth Doctor's companion. I also know that the late Frank Middlemass who played Headmaster Algy Herries also brought the character of Rocky Hardcastle to life in As Time Goes By.

Now here's something I didn't know but am absolutely tickled to have found out. Belinda Lang, otherwise known as Belinda Hawk, played Beth Marwood Powlett-Jones in To Serve Them All My Days. She also played Alleyn's wife Agatha Troy in the Inspector Alleyn Mysteries. What I failed to ascertain before now is that in real life Ms. Lang is married to none other than Hugh Fraser, who portrayed Captain Hastings so winningly to David Suchet's Hercules Poirot. I was also clueless that Tim Wylton, who played Griff, was the same actor who played both Lol Farris in As Time Goes By and Stanley Dawkins in My Hero. These two characters are so dissimilar in appearance and practically everything else that I still can't believe that they were portrayed by the same man - now that's good acting.

Continuing on with the cast list, a young Nicholas Lyndhurst of Only Fools and Horses and Goodnight Sweetheart fame played Dobson. And finally the main character David Powlett-Jones was portrayed by John Duttine, whose face is the only one I can remember from the series but only hazily. He is married to Mel Martin and has also appeared in Midsomer Murders, Eastenders, and Dalziel and Pascoe.

Hmmm, I do think that To Serve Them All My Days needs to be placed in my movie queue straight away. Will do.

[Starting from the top, photo of To Serve Them All My Days poster is from Spout, photo of Frank Middlemass is from Muppet Wiki, photo of Belinda Lang is from Haig Lang Productions, photo of Tim Wylton is from The Importance of Being Earnest, and photo of John Duttine is from Heartbeat Autographs]

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Design Deliberations: Art Deco

Besides the Arts & Crafts style of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Art Deco is my other favorite design aesthetic for interior and exterior design. Personally, I would choose to live in an Arts & Crafts home and decorate it in that style - natural and rustic. It's more fuzzy wuzzy warm and cozy, and I like that. As an earth personality true and true, with bits of water and fire thrown in for good measure, I like to be comfortable. And cozy. So I think a homebody who loves to eat comfort food would do better in an Arts & Crafts home rather than an Art Deco one. Also the colors used in Arts & Crafts decorating suits me just fine [browns, mossy and forest greens, natural ochres, and terracotta] because I am an Autumn, and those are very pretty Autumn colors.

But I just love the look of Art Deco even if I don't necessarily want to live in an Art Deco home. Its beauty is easily appreciated when witnessed firsthand of course, but also when witnessed on the television screen or the movie theater screen. When I think of Art Deco, in terms of British Mystery, my mind immediately turns to Agatha Christie's Poirot. Sure there are lots of other cinematic examples of the Art Deco aesthetic. Movies of the 1920s and 1930s exemplify living in an Art Deco world, because it was during those years that its popularity peaked in the United States. You can see evidence of that when viewing the lovely Thin Man movies. Art Deco elements in such areas as clothing, jewelry, furniture, accessories, and large-scale designs of buildings, boats, and train stations are often featured in modern movies and television programs set during the Roaring Twenties, or soon thereafter. They add an incredible amount of integrity to the films they are featured in, as well as provide such visual attraction with their style and elegance.

Agatha Christie's Poirot starring David Suchet has to be one of the best sources on film for everything Art Deco. The location scouts, set designers, and costume designers who worked on that television series have done an excellent, nay a perfect job in creating Hercule's Poirot's world. His flat at Whitehaven Mansions in London, which is in actuality called Florin Court, is a beautiful representation of Art Deco. The houses in London as well as those around the English countryside, that Poirot travels to for his investigations, are also prime examples of sleek and streamlined symmetry. Funny enough, Art Deco is very much about symmetry, which of course is a topic that frequently occupies Hercules Poirot's fastidious mind.

The interior designs in Poirot are just as stunning as the exteriors. Glass, lacquer, and chrome are plentiful, along with surface embellishments featuring marquetry and enamelling. Egyptian motifs are popular Art Deco elements as well as patterns including chevrons, stepped forms, and sweeping curves. Floors are primarily marble, pale wood parquet, or wall to wall carpeting in light colors like cream and taupe. Accessories abound with angular pottery vases, vibrantly hued bowls, Lalique crystal, and Asian-inspired laquered screens.

Clothing, jewelry, and art fell under the influence of the Art Deco movement as well. Wide-legged pants, geometric patterns, bakelite jewelry, and Egyptian-themed jewelry containing turquoise and coral became very popular. You can read more about Art Deco here, or here, and also here. These sites provide springboards to jump to other related websites, for perhaps more information and glorious pictures.

[Photo at the very top of Florin Court is from Art of the State, photo of The Thin Man is from They Had Faces Then, photo of an Art Deco car is from Ace Collins, photo of lacquer screen is from Paul Stamati Gallery, photo of glass mirror is from Lynette Smith Mosaic Art, photo of Art Deco fashion is from Paperdoll Review, and photo of bakelite Egyptian-themed necklace is from Deja-Voodoo]

Monday, August 11, 2008

Film Flashback: Tommy and Tuppence

One of the most stylish, quirky and compatible couples ever to appear on-screen, James Warwick as Tommy and Francesca Annis as Tuppence Beresford are simply effervescent in Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime. Annis and Warwick starred as the adventure-loving husband-and-wife detective team in the television series which aired between 1983 and 1984 in the UK. I adored these adaptations for the plotlines of course, but the two main draws for me were the actors and their brilliant chemistry, and the clothes. Let's talk about each in turn.

Charm just oozed out of Annis and Warwick as they portrayed Tommy and Tuppence, and I can't think of anyone else who would have done that much justice to those roles. I'm sure if I thought hard enough, I would come up with a few but there's no need to really. Annis and Warwick brought a sense of playfulness [remember the twinkles from Warwick's eyes and the flirty glances between the two], a teeny bit of camp, and appropriately timed gravity to their roles. Their beautifully balanced performances, along with Agatha Christie's brilliant stories, gave us plenty of opportunities to gasp with suspense, roar with laughter at Tuppence's fancy antics like those hilarious ballet moves, and swoon a little at the romance of it all. They were a very romantic couple.

The other star in these adaptations was the 1920s flapper fashions for both the women and the men. Warwick looked as dapper as they come in his suits, hats and overcoats but it was Annis' costumes which really stood out. I looked forward to seeing the different outfits Tuppence would wear in each episode as much as I looked forward to the plot, and trying to deduce whodun the crime. Her cloche hats with matching coat, the extra long and layered strands of beads with matching earrings, the cute office dresses with dropped waistlines, and the extravagent shift dresses had me all atwitter. Could I dress like this? What could I do to simulate the flapper look from the elements in my closet? Let's see...I could somehow attach my tshirts to my shorts, turn my shorts into skirts, re-string all of my necklaces together into one, cut my hair...hmm. Silly me, I was only a tween around that time [can't remember exactly when the series aired in the US on PBS] and not the girliest of tweens at that. My closet consisted mainly of shorts and tshirts at that time, and kind of still do, so I never ended up dressing like a flapper in reality - although I probably imagined I did quite often during those tender years.

In comparison to other Agatha Christie television adaptations first aired in that same decade [Joan Hickson's Miss Marple and David Suchet's Poirot], the production values for Partners in Crime weren't too stellar. Although they had beautiful outdoor shots in real nature, the indoor shots obviously looked like they were taken on a sound stage. The furnishings on the set, especially of their home's lounge, were artfully created with Art Deco pieces which I liked - still do. This lended itself to a unique look and combined with the costumes and some "big" performances, the tv episodes resembled theater plays - a bit of murder mystery theater. They were quite enjoyable indeed.

Now that Annis and Warwick are in their early 60s, I fervantly hope that the powers-that-be bring them back as Tommy and Tuppence to adapt Christie's novel N or M? and her final novel Postern of Fate. These are absolutely brilliant works of detective fiction, in my meager opinion, which still show the chemistry between these two characters. In N or M? and Postern of Fate, they may be older and wiser, with children, but both Tommy and Tuppence continue to showcase their respective personality traits that defined them during their earlier adventures. Tuppence still remains as curious, plucky and thrill-seeking as ever while Tommy is her steady rock, the pragmatic one who follows his head as his eager, beloved wife follows her intuition. The stories are just perfect for screen adaptation, and it would be such a thrill to see Annis and Warwick reprise their colorful roles more than 25 years later. Please please please, pretty please?

[Photo at top of Tommy and Tuppence is from Amazon, photo of flapper fashion is from Ariki Art, and photo at bottom of Tommy and Tuppence is from Hercule Poirot Central]

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

New Releases Roundup: For the Week of Thursday August 7

New in Movie Theaters * from yahoo
Hell Ride - Vinnie Jones is on a roll and costars in another movie, about biker gangs and conflicts within. Produced by Quentin Tarantino. This film comes out in limited release on Friday August 8th.

New in DVDs * from blockbuster
Blockbuster seems to be a bit behind in updating their new releases, which are usually released every Tuesday. Right now they are listing titles that were released last Tuesday, but if you would, please check their website [using the link above] every now and again to see if they're up to date.

New in Music * from billboard
Kiki Dee - "Almost Naked: Kiki Dee Live", "The Walk of Faith", "Where Rivers Meet" EMD Int'l label
Judas Priest - "British Steel/Screaming for Vengeance" Legacy label
Pink Floyd - "Collectors Box" United States Of label
Robyn Hitchcock - "Element of Light", "Fegmania!", "Gotta Let This Hen Out!", "Luminous Groove" Yep Roc label
Thompson Twins - "Here's to Future Days" Edsel label
Ron Wood - "I've Got My Own Album to Do", "Now Look" Rhino label
Joy Division - "In the Studio with Martin Hannett" Interstate label
Kelly Osbourne - "Live in London" Universal Int'l label
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - "Lucky Man and Other Hits" Documents Classic label
The Moody Blues - "Nights in White Satin Hit Pac" Universal label
Eric Clapton - "Pilgrim/Reptile", "Road to Escondido/Back Home" Warner Music label
The Waterboys - "Room to Roam [Collector's Edition]" EMD Int'l label
The Paddingtons - "Stand Down" Universal label
Billy Childish & the Musicians of the British Empire - "Thatcher's Children" Damaged Goods label
Squeeze - "The Complete BBC Sessions" Universal Int'l label
Dave Stewart - "The Dave Stewart Songbook, Vol. 1" Ada/Surfdog label
The Cure - "The Perfect Boy" Polydor France label
Queen - "We Thank You All" United States Dist label

[Photo of the Waterboys is from Burning Light]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rock Over London

Oh the free-wheeling days of one's youth. When I was about ten or thereabouts, I began listening to quite a bit of music. MTV had already launched and at that time, the music video channel was still all about music [and videos]. I loved watching MTV and rapidly gained a whole new knowledge base of bands and singers from the US, the UK and Down Under. I was introduced to artists like Duran Duran, the Eurythmics, Split Enz, and The Police through MTV. A little later on 120 Minutes, the alternative music video show on MTV, introduced me to more obscure names. I was enchanted and enthralled by the mix of music and visuals, many of which were very creative and cutting-edge for the times.

As a child of the 80s, I must admit to overwhelming feelings of nostalgia when I hear music from that era, no matter the genre. I was pretty open-minded about pop culture, and there wasn't much I wouldn't listen to or watch. In 1984, children were given another avenue to watch music videos and you can bet I took NBC up on it. Kidd Video joined the Saturday morning cartoon line-up on the major network, combining cartoon characters and gripping plotlines with music videos. Gripping plotlines. Heehee.

But despite my love for television and thusly music television, there was one program on the radio that I looked forward to every week. Rock Over London cemented my fondness for British new wave musical acts, which was and continues to be my ultimate favorite musical genre, and as an easily-influenced youngster heading into her tweens, I was instantly hooked. I had recently become enraptured by British culture from watching British television programs, mainly on PBS via cultural powerhouses Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery. Doctor Who had also come into my life during this time. Needless to say, any movie [Oxford Blues], television show including American ones featuring English actors/characters [Ian on Fame who apparently was not English in real life], and musical group or performer of the British persuasion garnered my serious attention, and perhaps adoration?

The things that I loved most about Rock Over London was number one, the show was broadcast from England! My sis and I would huddle over our little portable radio, with its antenna up and ready to receive transmissions, and eagerly anticipate hearing Graham Dene's cheery voice begin the broadcast. Dene's voice was instantly recognizable and with great wonder, we would wait to see what he would play and who. At the beginning, there were so many artists we knew nothing about because, although he would play new releases from established acts who we were familiar with from MTV or mainstream radio, mostly Dene would introduce songs from British acts that were relatively unknown to most Americans. But as we became loyal listeners, we became "in the know", and could spout off a few dozen names of bands and singers that would make our friends from school raise up their arms and shrug their shoulders, as fifty jelly bracelets in a rainbow of colors slid down to their elbows.

So who were those British artists, whose poetic prose and dreamy instrumentals inspired us so? Well there were many and quite sadly, I've forgotten alot of their names over time as it was more than 20 years ago, and my memory is not good. Some of them became well-known in the States, while others became popular to only those of us "in the know", and others still were one-hit wonders never to be heard from again. That's probably not true, but unfortunately we never seemed to hear anything else from them. I do remember taping songs from Morrissey - Every Day is Like Sunday, Indigo Eyes from Peter Murphy, Its My Life from Talk Talk, Angel Eyes from Wet Wet Wet, Pop Goes the World from Men Without Hats [who are from Canada but I think the song was played on Rock Over London] and...I can't think of any more!

But ahh, from my savvy Internet research, I've gathered some additional names of British alternative artists who were featured on ROL. And they are in no particular order: China Crisis, Nik Kershaw, Madness, Housemartins, Big Country, Alison Moyet, Scritti Politti, Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths, Style Council, Bryan Ferry, New Order, Dream Academy, Julian Lennon, Big Audio Dynamite, Cutting Crew, Pet Shop Boys, The Mission [UK], PreFab Sprout, Erasure, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Aztec Camera, Johnny Hates Jazz, Squeeze, World Party, Maxi Priest, Psychadelic Furs, UB40, and Everything But the Girl. Wow. I remember, I remember! I love all of these guys and gals, and I love the Internet. Thanks, Internet, for helping to jog my poor memory. I got the majority of these names off of Ebay selling descriptions - people are really selling Rock Over London-related stuff! Cool.

Although this was a whole bunch of names, it doesn't begin to scratch the surface of all of the British alternative artists I have listened to and enjoyed over the years. Just typing up this short list brought waves of fuzzy wuzzy nostalgia over me, and I'm feeling better for it. Dream Academy...those were the days...

Read a bit more about Rock Over London here at Popdose.

[Photo of Rock Over London is from Strawberry Switchblade, photo of Kidd Video is from Branded in the 80s! and photo of Dream Academy is from Choppercat's Civilian 2007]