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Screen Reviews

The Apartment

The Apartment

directed by Billy Wilder

starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray and Ray Walston

MVD

The Apartment stands as one of Billy Wilder’s greatest comedies, although today its not all that funny. C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) works for an insurance company in New York. He lives in the west 60’s and looks for love. But he’s not the only one looking; his supervisors all borrow his apartment for their own trysts; often leaving him out in the cold and rain. C.C. falls for the elevator operator Fran Kubelik (MacLaine) even though she’s seeing the big boss Sheldrake (MacMurray). Hijinks ensue, but rather sad ones as this is a tale of infidelity, casual sex and attempted suicide. The pressure is high, and eventually C.C. decided that happiness is more important than a career and the story resolves into a happy-ish ending.

Shocking in its time, this movie now comes across as rather tame by today’s sexual standards. The minor bosses are played for laughs; Ray Walston arrives with a Monroe-esque blonde and four cocktails and proceeds to boot C.C. out into the cold. C.C.’s landlady and his neighbor can’t believe the amount of sex he appears to have, and the banality and overwhelming population of New York adds an interesting backdrop to the social commentary. Widely acknowledged as the best comedy of Wilder’s career and the post war era, the movie engages and the characters all feel very real. Lemmon is the perpetual nice guy even though he’s made a deal with the devil, MacMurray is shady and ambivalent and not the man I recall from My Three Sons. Walston and the other mid-level execs feel predatory, and it’s innocent Miss Kubelik who feels the saddest as she’s kicked from man to man and treaded on worse than the prostitute she almost is.

The packaging of this classic story gets high marks. Along with the fresh Blu-ray strike, there’s a stack of documentaries and interviews that do an excellent job of setting the time and space the movie debuted in. A small, neatly bound hardcover book accompanies this with more interviews and stills. I took he trouble to watch all the special features prior to the film itself; that made the cultural context much cleaner. This is a black comedy and not the sort of silly drag farce Some Like It Hot or Seven Year Itch projected, but it’s a touching look at the price of selling your soul and darn nice love story for the post war pre-sexual revolution era.

mvdb2b.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White

Hoodoo

Yep Roc

Tony Joe White, “The Swamp Fox,” is what people mean when they call someone a legend. From his first album, 1969’s Black and White, which brought forth two classic songs (“Willie and Laura Mae Jones” and the stone groove funk of “Polk Salad Annie”), until this record, Hoodoo, White has stuck to his strengths. His bassy growl of a voice coupled with his spare, funky guitar have been his hallmarks, and when he’s on, there ain’t nobody better — or badder.

Hoodoo continues the magic of 2010’s The Shine with nine cuts of country soul/blues/funk that White is a master of. From “The Gift” to “Alligator, Mississippi” this is indeed swamp music — deep, humid stuff that gets into your skin and won’t let you go. White, backed by bassist Steve Forrest and drummer Bryan Owings, hits a mid-tempo groove that flows so naturally and easy, sorta like a Dixie beer on a hot day. His voice has rarely sounded better, and the record was recorded for the most part live, so the tunes have a fresh, new quality to them that works well.

Tony Joe White is indeed a legend, but one that doesn’t rest on his laurels, still producing his own brand of southern soul as only he can, and doing it for the love of it. The royalties from “Polk Salad Annie” or his ’70s monster hit “Rainy Night in Georgia” have probably set him up for life, so it’s the lure of songwriting and performing that drives him, and glad we are of that. Hoodoo is another winning record from the one, the only Swamp Fox, Tony Joe White. Ain’t nobody badder, nowhere.

Yep RocTony Joe White

Categories
Music Reviews

Tal & Acacia

Tal & Acacia

Black and White

Sisters Talitha and Acacia Walters-Wulfing are God’s favorite cheerleaders, plain and simple. And when their songs pop up randomly while His iPod is in shuffle mode, Jesus smiles REALLY big!

Their masterpiece debut, Wake Me, arrived in stores and at online retailers via Sony Music in 2010. The record garnered national radio airplay over the next two years as they toured the U.S. extensively and their songs were placed prominently in both movie and television soundtracks.

In 2013, the Nashville-based duo returns with their self-produced, independently released sophomore effort, Black and White. In the grand tradition of such acknowledged pop masters as The Beatles, The Buggles, and The Bangles, Tal & Acacia have further spread their creative wings, delivering a rock-solid piece of work that exemplifies their ever-maturing songwriting and offering a plethora of infectious Brian Wilson-like earworms.

Recorded, engineered, and mixed by Joe Hutchinson at Carport Studios in Nashville, Black and White is more organic-sounding than T&A’s debut, due primarily to the luscious Richard Carpenter-caliber layered vocal arrangements, the warmth and beauty of the oft used Rhodes piano and the oh-so fat live drums. In addition to the sisters’ own stellar vocal, guitar and keyboard contributions, the support cast of bassist Loren “Snoopy” Clark, drummer Kyle Hicks, violinist Jesse Hale, and percussionist Almichael Rodgers also all deserve kudos for their super rock star performances.

High energy highlights including “This Is Love,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Shoulders,” and “All in All” showcase the duo’s signature Go-Go pop style. And with its super groovy “Ooh, la da, dee la, da” sing-along chorus, “That’s Me” is a mega gem. However, despite the compelling crunchiness of the snappier ditties, a few of the record’s slower tempo tunes actually shine the brightest. Clearly referencing scriptures, the blues-flavored “Stone” and the delicate “Ninety-Three” both address a personal love relationship with Jesus Christ. Sweet and subtle, “Hands” is not only the crowning jewel of the record, it also serves as a vivid audio snapshot of the duo at their absolute best. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit that this one is so powerful that it actually gives me heart palpitations and makes breathing difficult. In fact, it likely will soon prompt intergalactic hipsters to ask earnestly, “Adele who?”

What I continue to find most engaging about Tal & Acacia’s music is that they aren’t shy about combining bold messages of personal faith with their everyday life experiences. Although it’s a road less traveled by many of their contemporaries, it’s an honest and refreshing approach that only makes sense, as Christians do fall in and out of love — we walk our dogs, read books, surf the Net, go to the movies, attend Van Halen concerts, and all sorts of other “normal” stuff. Shocking, I know.

But jeez Louise, three years is a flippin’ long gap in-between records. So, was it worth the wait? Oh, double heck yeah to the tenth power! In fact, Black and White is such an exciting record, it compels me to take my pants off and do silly dances through the streets as I shout with joy.

Tal & Acacia: talandacacia.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Betty White in Black and White

Betty White in Black and White

starring Betty White

Johnny Legend Presents

Looking back at network television, the last 60 years have seen magnificent changes — the introduction of color, High Def and 52-inch plasma screens, visible pregnancy, the F-word, and the sound of a toilet flushing have all enhanced our viewing experience. But one thing has stayed the same — the vapid content and the fundamental business of flogging products. You’ll feel these early echoes of commercialism in these seven kinescopes from the 1950s. Betty White began in radio and she created the first TV production company run by a woman. Her shows stick to the standards of early television with a mix of homey stories, G-rated comedy, and hard sell advertising. Betty’s cute as a bug, and if your experience is limited to The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, you’ve missed one of the industry’s clean-cut hotties. She’s having genuine fun on these shows, and the comedy isn’t completely corny even if it’s often overplayed.

There are samples of four series, beginning with Life With Elizabeth. This features Del Moore as her “TV hubby” and has the best video quality of the disc. The show feels like sketch comedy toned down to the level of vague innuendo that the networks felt the American public could tolerate. The two make a nice couple with solid chemistry and each was a master of the “slow burn” style of humor. The Betty White Show is less entertaining — it’s really a variety show focused on her singing and reading jokes sent in from the audience. The ads hold your attention — Geritol, RDX (the weight loss syrup, not the high explosive), and the tailfin-armed 1957 Pontiac pound the hard sell. Betty tones down the Geritol pitch with her innocent look and guilt-inducing style. Lurking here you’ll find an early charity plug from Martin and Lewis at the height of their career together.

A Date with the Angels returns to the domestic sitcom formula with Bill Williams as the new and improved “TV hubby.” The guests are much better — Sheila James (Zelda on Dobie Gillis), Nancy Culp (Jane on Beverly Hillbillies), and Richard Deacon (Mel Cooly on Dick Van Dyke Show) all are excellent performers and make the simple stories better than they might be. Finally, a remade The Betty White Show returns, featuring extended comic sets. It’s not exactly the sitcom as we know it today, but relates closer to the short stage play format with a mix of guests and stock supporting actors. Time is compressed though action and dialog and the rare closeup reaction shot. The standard “three camera sitcom” lies somewhere in the future, and since the studio cameras of the day were as maneuverable as refrigerators, these shows feel very static. The final segment “Jealousy” features Gloria Talbott with the same metal-tipped bras that Marilyn Monroe made famous. She later became one of the early “Scream Queens” when her divorce forced her back into the business. It’s clearly the best segment here, but you’ll have to dig deep to get to it. At 180 minutes, this might be more Betty White than you can take in a single sitting, but it’s worth skipping around and sampling. Compare it to any random show today, and you’ll be impressed with what’s remained constant. Some things never really change, even when the data rate is turned up to 2010.

MVD: www.videoservicecorp.com