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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Me Mini Movie Reviews: Blast of Silence (1961)

I watched the 1961 noir movie Blast of Silence the other night. A really good film, made on a shoe string budget, about a hired killer in Manhattan at Christmas on a business trip, is a lean and mean noir hidden gem.

Writer and director Allen Baron also stars as the lead Frankie Bono, the hit man on a job over the holidays. Lionel Stander provides the hard boiled voice over narration that fits perfectly but is in a very rare second person narrative, even though you know it's Frankie's head doing the talking. Frankie perfers to be alone, but contacts must be made and there is time to kill as well before he can complete his job which leads to interaction with various characters - some good, some bad. Frankie begins to realize he might be looking for something more than his current profession, and it's a monkey wrench in his otherwise expertly crafted professional plans.

While the plot is there to hold it together and keep things moving forward, Blast of Silence is more of a character study of Frankie Bono and his thoughts. There's no wasted moments here either, as the taut 77 minute running time plows straight forward through Frankie's business trip. There may have been better actors for the role, (Peter Faulk almost did it) but Baron plays the hitman accurately as one who is downright uncomfortable around people or situations that aren't killing related. This guy is an outsider, who just doesn't fit in, probably anywhere, and his back handed attempts at it over a lonely Christmas prove rattling to the out of place Bono. He tries to find a way around, but this being a noir, you can see plans just not coming together.

The cinematography is excellent, providing the dark night streets of Manhattan along with the isolation of the busy Christmas packed crowds as well. There's one excellent shot down a New York street where the camera doesn't move at all as Frankie comes walking towards it and you can just feel the city. Like Baron points out on the DVD, the city itself was like a whole other character in the movie. And I have to mention the cars - they don't make them like that anymore.

The DVD is from the Criterion Collection, and they really do this package up right. Some excellent DVD extras, including an hour long documentary with Allen Baron as he travels through Manhattan many years later retracing the steps of the film. The still photos as well show just how much the city and locations have changed since the film was made. The documentary was made pre 9/11 and the twin towers can still be seen on the water line shots.

The reason this movie even made it to my attention was because of the comic Criminal (written by Ed Brubaker and art by Sean Phillips). Sean did the artwork for the DVD cover as well as writing and drawing a 4 page comic included in the DVD package that introduces us to Frankie Bono. I love Sean's gritty and moody art on Criminal, and it works perfectly here.

Overall, this is a great addition to my movie collection. As a fan of noir films, it doesn't get much more noir than this one, which was actually made at the very tail end of the era for that genre by a rookie but determined movie maker who came up with a great little gem. If you like indie movies, noir films, or are just tired of the current lack of theatre hope, it's worth checking out for a hard and fast trip through 1961 Manhattan with Baby Boy Frankie Bono. Out of Cleveland.

Verdict: Recommended.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Slowly But Surely...

...I'm getting back to upgrading and modifying my setup here at home.  I had the ideas of what I wanted to do, but then got derailed by the job.  Now that I've put in a month there and am getting used to it, I can now think about other things again.

Finally got around to setting up my Picnik account like I mentioned in the other post, and now I've installed the new web browser Flock on my Mac.  This is one very cool browser for those of us plugged into various social networking, blogging, and media sharing sites.  Once you get it setup, you've got very quick and easy access to your favorite sites in the sidebar - Facebook, Flikr, Youtube, Twitter, etc - that continue updates and access even while you surf off to other sites.  It also has a photo uploader and blog editor included that makes it easy to get your thoughts and pics online without the usual 35 mouse clicks.  There's even drag and drop abilities built in.  The media bar is also pretty cool.  Again, quick access to your friends uploads or Flikr or Youtube top picks.  There's also an RSS feed reader built in too so you don't have to keep clicking back to your fave sites.  There's certainly been some thought put into this browser with a plethora of options built in for the Web 2.0 crowd.  I'm going to keep putting it through it's paces, but I like what I see so far.  Didn't think anything would pull me away from Firefox, but Flock just might.

Also got my old PC hooked to my TV (still a tube, no LCD yet :) so I can watch my DVD's and videos while I compute on the Mac.  And with the wireless Apple Airport Express working away, it's all networked quite nicely.  Someday I'll have a big screen TV on the wall, but still got other bills to pay first.

Now I'm blogging, surfing, and watching my new DVD's of the old TV show The Equalizer.  That was a cool show - basically a version of the Punisher, but a British version with more class and witty retorts.  But he knew how to meet out the justice to the bad guys.  "Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Take A Picnik

I'm probably behind the curve here, but found an excellent website for editing pictures called Picnik. You sign up for a free account, and then upload a picture from your computer or any of a number of picture storage sites (Flikr, Facebook, Photobucket, etc) and edit away with their online editing software. You can then save the pic back to your computer, email it, or save it out to any of those other sites.

It's remarkably streamlined and easy to use - especially for those of us that like to mess around with editing pictures but don't have a bachelor's degree in Photoshop. You can do some fun, creative things with it or even just crop or fix red eye. Certainly worth a look.

I took a shot of the front of my Dodge RAM truck and then played around with editing it. Was a fun little time waster (click to enlarge)...

Most What?

I just saw a commercial on TV for an upcoming reality TV show called America's Most Smartest Model.

Really?  I may be a little rusty on my high school grammar classes, but if the first words out of the contestants mouths aren't "Fix the title", then they should all fail right there.  Because to borrow a phrase from Bull Durham's immortal Crash, that'd be a "dubious honor."

Friday, April 25, 2008

This 'N That...

So the food shortages turn out to be more of a media tempest in a tea pot as far as Stateside is concerned, while the rest of the world would love a ration of 4 50 pound bags of rice. Figures. Still, it would make sense that food shortage would be the next big panic attack. It's getting warm in this hand basket...

Speaking of food, I lost the link to it, but apparently Arbys in buying the Wendy's fast food chain and Dave Thomas' kids aren't happy about it. They didn't want that takeover, but guess it's going ahead anyway. Something about a stock only deal that I don't understand, but I just hope the Wendy's menu doesn't change to shaved beef only options.

And elsewhere, Wesley Snipes has been sentence to 3 years in prison for...wait for evasion. Yep, that's right, 3 years of hard time for not paying taxes. People (read celebs) get far less - like 80 minutes - for a DUI conviction, and he gets 3 years for tax evasion. What the?! This is messed up. The prosecutor made it a point to say they were trying to make an example out of him, so that's why they went after the hard time, but this isn't right. The message this sends is that DUI's and assaults risking people's lives aren't nearly as bad as the government not getting their cut of your money. This stinks. Yes, he should have been convicted and handed some kind of serious fine on top of the money he owed, but that should have been it. Pay what you owe, and a penalty, and carry on. What's with the jail time? I long ago lost any faith in the "justice" system of the courts as I'd read one messed up lack of justice story after the other, but this takes the cake. I bet Snipes wishes he had just stayed abroad and out of the States and continued a good life making straight to DVD movies...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Let Them Eat...What?

Just to add to the full plate of world wide terror and apocalypse pending motifs, there is now word of food rationing on both the East and West coasts of the States. People are being limited on how much rice they can buy. The article also mentioned how rice exports have been limited from international outputs and reports of stockpiling as well. Hysteria and panic haven't set in yet, so I don't think McDonald's nation is going to fret just yet. Besides, the government would tell us if something was wrong, right?

This doesn't bode well, but guess it was only a matter of time. You can't keep foreclosing on family farms and turning all the crop land into airports and suburbs and expect to eat. Not unless one can survive on Yellow Dye Number 5...

(Found via

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Maintain Radio Silence...

Well, I'm still around, but still kinda feeling under it instead of on top of it (that's a Daylight movie reference, just FYI). Busy month, and the weekend was pretty busy too, but I got some stuff done. Hate doing taxes, but got that done and should even get a decent refund. Ok, government, Show Me the Money! (eww, a Jerry Maguire reference). Bit by bit I'll get my stuff together here and hope May is a better month so that I'll Be Back. (Terminator reference!)

Got my Amazon order in - Uh-huh, Package Delivered. (Mad TV Sketch reference!). Something always cool about getting a box in the mail, even when you know what's inside. Got season 5 of The Rockford Files, Season 1 of The Equalizer, the early Michael Mann movie Thief, and the 1961 crime/noir movie Blast of Silence that has fantastic cover art and a four page comic by Sean Phillips. He does the awesome art for the comic Criminal, which I also picked up the second volume of. Also got volume 4 of the hardcover Punisher Max by Garth Ennis.

And because country radio makes me feel like "snapping and throwing country A through K out on the street" (High Fidelity movie reference!), I also picked up the CD's for Allison Moorer's Mockingbird album and Tift Merritt's Another Country. There aren't a lot of female country singers that catch my attention these days, but these two seldom heard on radio voices usually knock it out of the park. They were remarkably close in price to buying it on iTunes, but I wanted the liner notes / lyrics booklet with these, so I bought the CD's as they were close in price and DRM free. I'm glad I did, as Tift wrote up a great little story of rejuvenating her creativity and how the album came about via a solo getaway trip to Paris. I've always been one to pour over the liner notes when listening to a new album, and I miss that about buying stuff on iTunes. Luckily they're getting more albums with a PDF of the liner notes included, but they still got a ways to go. I look forward to listening / viewing this stuff soon (hopefully) and maybe reviewing some of it too.

Anyway, off to bed again after a long day and somewhat convoluted shift. "Bon Voyage - ! I'm going to take a shower. I'm going to sleep...for a month." (the movie Heat reference!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who Won What Now?

Huh. I guess the CMT Music Awards were on the other night. Some people won some awards and it was voted on by the fans. Taking a look at the winners list, I realize either I'm getting old, or country music is getting worse. There's only one or two awarded songs/performers that I don't automatically switch the radio station or away from CMT when they come on. I mean, really, Kellie Pickler and Taylor Swift sweep the awards? Um, who are they again?

Got me trying to think of the last country music newcomer that really caught my interest. Or at the very least, I didn't automatically dislike. Keith Urban and Gary Allan come to mind, but that's been a few years now and they weren't exactly newcomers either. Canadian group Doc Walker got my attention last year, but that was with their 3rd album. As it is, most of the new voices on country radio or CMT that get the heavy rotational play don't appeal to me at all, and yet I consider myself a pretty big country fan, even though I listen to a lot of different stuff. However, most of the voices in my playlists don't get much radio play. Why can't I turn on the radio and hear Allison Moorer, Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam, Allison Krauss, Mike Plume, Waylon Jennings, Cash, Chris Ledoux, Vern Gosdin, Marty Stuart, Patty Loveless, Mark Collie, or Randy Travis? (just to name a few). Reminds me of the quote from Johnny Cash where he was in the studio and asked them what they were up to. The told him they were looking for the next Randy Travis, and he asked them "What's wrong with the one we got now?"

I guess I'm just not in their desired demographic anymore, but that's ok. Lucky for me, there's YouTube and iTunes so that I can continue to listen to good country music whenever I want. Just hope somebody will come along that has heart and soul and doesn't look and sound like a teaching guide to a marketing course.

I'll just dream of turnin' on my steel belted radio and a DJ sayin' "Hey son, it's just the song that matters now."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Weekend Catchup

Well, the first two weeks at the new job are in. Hopefully, it just gets better from here. Very tiring place to work, but the people I work with are good and I'm getting the hang of how they do things now. Either way, it's a stepping stone to something better in due time, so once my body gets used to it, hopefully it won't be too bad.

Spending the weekend resting and watching sports that I don't get to see now that I work every night. Got hockey playoffs on now, and Montreal is up 2-0 on Boston with their OT win last night. Baseball is going too, so it's a great time to be a sports fan if you have time to watch the games.

Also watched a couple movies last night - the old black and white one I reviewed below, He Ran All The Way, and for laughs the always funny classic Chevy Chase movie Fletch. That one's funny no matter how many times you've seen it.

Better link to this too. Whitechapel has a forum open where writer Ed Brubaker was answering questions. There's also a bunch of preview pages for the current issue of his Criminal comic if you scroll down. It's free, so check it out. Criminal is one of my absolute favorite ongoing books out there. Great art, characters, and noir story telling worth every penny.

Thanks for the comments and hopefully I can get back to some regular posting again over the next month as I get used to my current way of life...

Me Mini Movie Reviews: He Ran All The Way (1951)

Last night I was flipping through the channels looking for something to watch, and came across a black and white movie on TMC. It looked interesting right away, and I thought it might be a film noir I probably hadn't heard of. Turns out I was watching the 1951 movie, He Ran All The Way starring John Garfield and Shelley Winters.

I came in close to the beginning with Garfield's character, Nick Robey getting insulted by his mother. This guy didn't have a happy life, one could tell right away, and was probably going to go do something stupid to improve it. He figured he was smarter than he was, and went to join a buddy for a payroll heist worth $10,000. Well, as could be predicted, it all went pear shaped for the criminal duo and Nick winds up with the money and on the run. He is not the calmest guy under pressure, and keeps moving to stay in front of the cops. A chance encounter at a swimming pool leads him to Peggy Dobbs, a somewhat naive but pretty girl played by Shelley Winters. Some awkward conversation later, and he winds up escorting her home. This is where the bulk of the movie takes place, as Nick is introduced to Peggy's family and figures he has a place to hide out for a while. Unfortunately, his paranoia starts to get the better of him and he makes a crucial mistake leading to him forcing the family hostage while he waits for things to calm down out on the streets so he can get away. Who makes it out from there is the question.

This was apparently John Garfield's last film before dying very young from heart problems. He does an excellent job as the paranoid Nick slowly spiraling out of control while really just looking for a place to belong with people who would love him. He's in almost every scene and carries the movie forward towards it's inevitable conclusion. Garfield portrays a character that the audience can almost sympathize with. Nick really just wants a better life and love, but goes about it in just about every wrong way possible. Shelley Winters as Peggy comes across as the naive victim at the beginning, but as it goes along has you wondering if she is scheming a way out or developing Stockholm Syndrome. The ending makes it clear, but it's a well played progression. The other family members are excellent as well, playing increasingly desperate individuals who will have to make hard choices to get away.

Overall, it was a quite enjoyable movie that sucked me in and had me watching right through to the end to see how it played out. Once again, the old movies show how it's done - no need for fancy computerized graphics, just a solid story with good acting.

Verdict: Recommended.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The new job is going
Lots to learn
The things we do
For money we earn

So I sleep in the day
And work in the night
Then sit at the blog
With nothing to write.

"OH NO!! I'm speaking in Rhyme!" - Jim Carrey in The Grinch