Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mitchum & Leigh Have A "Holiday Affair"

Robert Mitchum & Janet Leigh in Holiday Affair (1949)
When you think of holiday movie classics, several titles spring to mind: It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas and several others. But there’s a Christmas film that you probably haven’t seen, which is also worth your time. It’s 1949’s Holiday Affair, with Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. What’s that, you say? Perennial tough guy Mitchum and Leigh, future star of Hitchcock’s Psycho, starring in a feel good holiday story? That’s right, folks. It’s a delightful movie that should be added to your holiday viewing list. Reportedly, RKO studio boss Howard Hughes made Mitchum star in the film to clean up his image after he was busted for marijuana possession.

 Leigh plays Connie, who buys an expensive train set at Crowley’s department store, where Steve (Mitchum) works. She returns it the next day, and he suspects she’s a comparison shopper for a rival store. Connie tells him she’s a widow who’s bringing up a child on her own. Instead of turning her in, he gives her a refund. Unbeknownst to her, Steve gets fired for this good deed. Later, he becomes close to Connie’s son Timmy, and vies with her boyfriend Carl for her affections. Will Connie end up with Carl, a steadfast lawyer, or Steve, who seems to better understand her and Timmy? The usual comic complications, misunderstandings and touching romantic comedy moments ensue in this funny, heartwarming film.

Mitchum proves he has a flair for light comedy; Leigh is charming as Connie. The supporting cast includes Gordon Gebert as Timmy, Wendell Corey as Carl and the one & only Harry Morgan as an understanding cop. Directed by Don Hartman, this is a charming story that holds up well on repeat viewings. Sadly, it’s out of print on DVD, but its shown regularly on Turner Classic Movies during the holiday season; in fact, it’s being aired on Christmas Eve at 4:15pm. A made for TV remake was produced in 1996, but stick with the original. If you’re looking for a sweet, enjoyable tale to watch during the Yuletide season, I recommend Holiday Affair. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZDQWM8Hsx8.

Happy Holidays to all my readers & fans! Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a fantastic New Year! Thanks for checking out Eclectic Avenue! Keep on visiting the blog in 2014!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Echoes of the Past "Beyond the Pines"

Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 film Blue Valentine was a powerful portrait of a relationship gone awry. It featured searing performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Now Cianfrance & Gosling have teamed up again for the compelling 2013 crime drama, The Place Beyond The Pines. It begins as the story of motorcycle stunt rider Luke Glanton (played by Gosling) who is touring the country with a traveling carnival. When he runs into an old flame, he discovers he fathered a child with her. He decides to quit the carnival, and remain in town to provide for the boy. Luke ends up turning to robbing banks to get money for his son. He has a fateful encounter with a young cop named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) who will have to make some important & life-changing decisions of his own.

This generational crime saga ends up going in directions you don’t expect. It’s a story about fathers & sons and the choices they make. Luke & Avery are men whose decisions echo across the years, and affect the other people in their lives in ways they can’t comprehend. Are the results of these choices fated? Could things have gone differently if these men traveled a different road? Are the sins of the fathers revisited upon their sons? This is an effective, often darkly themed film that doesn’t offer any easy answers.

The cast is peppered with familiar faces, including Ray Liotta, Eva Mendes and veteran character actor Harris Yulin as Cross’ father. Gosling & Cooper are very good, and if you’re used to seeing Cooper in more comedic roles, he will surprise you here. The film has a good sense of atmosphere, and is well directed by Cianfrance. You can almost feel the pull of fate on these characters, and the bleak lives that drive them to make difficult & risky decisions. The movie reaches for an epic feel that sometimes isn’t there, and portions of the story could have used a deeper focus, but this is a challenging film that isn’t a cookie cutter thriller. It's well worth your time; Cianfrance is a talented filmmaker, and I look forward to his next project. The movie is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and online for various forms of digital viewing. If you’re seeking something a little out of the ordinary for movie night, I recommend checking out The Place Beyond The Pines. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz5jTy_lukk.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Covers Gallery, Volume VIII



Our eighth collection of noteworthy remakes, re-workings & re-dos…...

1. You Better Move On - The Rolling Stones’ version of this Arthur Alexander track is from 1965’s December’s Children (And Everybody’s). The Stones & The Beatles were fans of Alexander’s music, and both groups recorded covers of his songs on their early albums.

2. Can You Get To That? - Mavis Staples - The one & only Ms. Staples grooves on this remake of a Funkadelic tune, from her latest album, One True Vine (2013).

3.  For A Dancer- Katey Sagal – Beautiful take on the Jackson Browne classic by the star of TV’s Sons of Anarchy, who has recorded with the likes of Bob Dylan & Bette Midler. This version is on her latest release, 2013’s Covered.

4. Wagon Wheel – Darius Rucker had a country hit with this cover of the The Old Crow Medicine Show song. It’s on the former Hootie & The Blowfish member’s 2013 solo disc, True Believers.

5. Long Time Gone –Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day) & Norah Jones teamed up this year to record their own edition of 1958’s Everly Brothers album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. This is one of the strongest selections on that 2013 collaboration, Foreverly.

6. Sleeping With the Television On – Power popper Kurt Baker rocks out on this remake of a track from Billy Joel’s Glass Houses. Baker’s version is on his 2012 EP Want You Around.

7. Jolene – The White Stripes – The alternative rockers cover Dolly Parton’s classic on their album Under Great White Northern Lights (2009).

8. Somebody’s Been Sleeping - Foghat - Originally recorded by 100 Proof Aged in Soul, a group created by Motown songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland, British rockers Foghat recorded their take on the song for 1979’s Boogie Motel.

9. When I Write The Book – Andrea Re - The Nick Lowe/Rockpile hit is re-worked into a slow burning soul tune by Andrea Re. It’s from the 2001 tribute album Labour Of Love: The Music of Nick Lowe.

10. Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.) - Marshall Crenshaw - Best known for his hit Someday, Someway, Crenshaw does a nice job with this live version of an Edwin Starr song. This is one of the bonus tracks on the reissue edition of his debut album, Marshall Crenshaw, originally released in 1982.

11. For What It’s Worth - Lou Rawls - 60s rock meets classic soul on Rawls’ cover of the Buffalo Springfield hit. It’s on the disc I Can't Make It Alone: The Axelrod Years.

12. Magnet & Steel – Popdudes faithfully re-do Walter Egan’s hit, from 2013’s Drink a Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock.

Bonus Track: Hush – Billy Joe Royal – A sort of reverse cover for our bonus song. Billy Joe Royal recorded this Joe South penned tune in 1967, before Deep Purple released the most well known version of the song in 1968. Royal’s original recording is on The Very Best of Billy Joe Royal: The Columbia Years 1965-1972.









Sunday, December 1, 2013

Family Secrets & Lies Surface in "Stoker"

The title family in the movie Stoker (2013) gives new meaning to the word dysfunctional. When her beloved father dies in an accident on her 18th birthday, India Stoker is distraught. Tensions grow between India and her emotionally distant mother, Evelyn. They are both surprised when her Uncle Charlie (who India didn’t know existed) comes to pay his respects. Charlie is handsome, good-looking and intelligent. But India is suspicious of him and the true reason for his visit. Charlie stays around after the funeral, and sets his sights on Evelyn. When India sees Charlie arguing with their housekeeper, who later disappears, it’s only the beginning of a mysterious & twisted series of events.

As Charlie & Evelyn grow closer, India becomes interested in Whip, a student at her school. Another relative visits, and tries to warn the women about Charlie, with tragic results. Things aren’t what they seem for any of these characters. Charlie’s motives are far more devious than they first appear, and the complex India may have some secrets of her own. The jumping off point for this intriguing film is the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Shadow of A Doubt (1943). In that tale, Joseph Cotten starred as another Uncle Charlie, who visits his family, and whose easygoing demeanor hides a dark truth. In fact this story’s Charlie is named in homage to Cotten’s character in the Hitchcock film. There’s also more than a touch of the movie The Bad Seed (1956) here as well.

Mia Wasikowska (who played the title role 2010’s Alice in Wonderland) is very good as India, finding the right balance between innocence & a growing sense of her own sensuality. Matthew Goode is excellent as the smooth talking, devious Charlie. And Nicole Kidman is very good as Evelyn, who is initially drawn in by Charlie’s charming ways, with terrifying results. The film is visually striking, with some startling images of both beauty and horror, thanks to the fine work of cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon. The evocative score is by Clint Mansell, and there’s a great choice of songs used in the background of a couple of key scenes. The screenplay is by actor Wentworth Miller, who starred in the TV series Prison Break, and the film marks the American debut of Korean director Park Chan-wook, best known for The Vengeance Trilogy.

To say much more about the story would give away its twists and turns; this is a fascinating psychological thriller. If there’s any problem with the the movie, it’s that you may find it a little hard to sympathize with any of the characters, but that’s a minor quibble with this eerie, unusual film. If you’re a fan of the TV series Bates Motel, American Horror Story or Twin Peaks, you’ll likely enjoy this offbeat tale. Stoker is available on Blu-ray, DVD and for digital download. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1I2PMInn7M.