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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

After The Kiss, A Murder

“Kiss me, detective!” she hissed.
I grabbed Jill by the waist and pulled her towards me, her soft, warm body pressed hard against mine. Her lips were hotter than the Sahara, her burning tongue entering my mouth and scorching the cavern-like insides. I could smell her sex, the musky invitation whispering, “Take me tonight!”

“How about that cup of java you promised me?” Jill fetchingly teased.
“The kitchen’s to your right”, I jabbed my thumb to the revolving door. “Heat up the percolator, sweetness, and make it snappy!”
She left the room, her tight yellow shift dress switching away, her brassy red hair tantalizing me like a devil’s crown.
I lit up an unfiltered Chesterfield and walked over to the hi-fi, clicking on my favorite Les Baxter album. Baxter was always guaranteed to bring out the tigress in any woman!

I parked my carcass on the plaid sofa, trying to tame my primitive ardor for the time being. What was I going to tell Chief Connell? What was a private detective doing romancing a murder suspect, albeit one with 38-24-36 measurements?
I weighed all my options while the guilty temptress was in the kitchen brewing that precious joe.

“Everything under control in there, baby?” I called to the closed door. I took another perfunctory drag of my smoke as I heard footsteps stomping down the hall towards my apartment.
BANG BANG BANG! A fist pounded against my door.
“Something tells me that’s not Chicken Delight”, I rakishly chuckled.

BANG CRASH! The door cracked open, giving way to a metal claw. I pulled my Smith & Wesson out of my shoulder holster and aimed at the breaking door because I knew exactly who it was. By the time I reached my deduction he demolished my door and came charging at me.

It was Jeremiah, the murderous Danish seaman who already threatened me the other day at Fisherman’s Wharf. Corpulent and standing at 6’6” tall, the peg-legged psycho with the iron claw glared at me.
“This be the last time you get in my hair, shamus!” His bushy black beard bobbed on his ruddy-complexioned face. “Now you give me what I came for, or I cut you up like skipjack, yah!”

“I told you once and I’ll tell you again, Squarehead, I don’t have your damn golden gizmo!” I pointed my heater at his monstrous Scandinavian demon’s head. “Stay where you are!”
“Yah, I tink not, snooper!” he charged at me. Before I could squeeze a few shots at him he pulled the pistol out of my hand with his claw. The gun flew across the room and smashed into my African Fertility God statue, toppling it over.

“I finish you, yah, like I gut minnow!” His yellow separated teeth gleamed. He picked the lapels of my Brooks Brothers suit with his claw and lifted me up by the throat with his one good hand, choking me. I tried kicking him hard in the groin but all I could hit was his damned wooden leg.

“Hah, Hah. Hah! You squirm like eel, dis goot fun!” He hacked phlegm as he laughed. “For de last time, where is the dingus?”
“Let me down ya big ape and I’ll kick it loose!” I wheezed, losing my breath.
Jeremiah loosened his grip on me and dropped me onto my plush thick piled rug. That bastard - my fall aggaravated an old football injury! I almost hit my head on the tinted glass coffee table.
“Hokay but no funny stuff or I kill!”

I was about to try something clever when the revolving door opened. There stood a thin, shapely man without his red hair and yellow shift dress on, in his underwear holding a gun in one hand and a percolator in the other. Fooled again by a pro! The doll was a dude!
“Okay, boys, reach for the ceiling, nice and slow, both of you!” he yelled.

“Angel”, I froze in shock, “Is that you?”
“You didn’t really think I was a woman, did you? I’m after the golden gizmo just like Olaf over here!”
“But, but, but, I thought we had something real!” I exclaimed in horror.
“Listen, sailor, I’ll do anything to get that golden booger, ANYTHING. Besides, that dress certainly does things to my figure!” he swung his hips. I thought I was going to get sick all over my expensive thick piled rug. Les Baxter played on in the background.

“Ugh, you’re that nelly who hangs around the docks, I know you, I fix you like I fix him!” Jeremiah yelled.
“Don’t make a move! I’m walking out with the dingus, not you, fish!”
“Ach, you fish, not me! I walk out wid dingus, girly boy!”
“Not a chance, butch!”

While these two maniacs argued I quickly grabbed my expensive table lamp and smashed the top half of the bulb, taking the base with its exposed wires and smashed it against the percolator in Miss Jill’s hand. The combination of spilled coffee and live electric wires made Jill go into a seizure. The lights in the apartment flickered like crazy.

“Now you give!” Jeremiah lunged towards me with his thick peg leg.
I stood between him and the former Miss Jill who was still flopping around like a gutted fish. I pushed Jeremiah towards Jill and his hook caught to the handle of the percolator. They twitched in a lover’s clutch of electrocution, both bodies hung together and twitching to their electric death.

I kicked the plug out of the wall and watched as both bodies fell to the floor, very cold, very blue, and very dead.

I walked over to the hi-fi, turned off Les Baxter and turned to the telephone. I picked up the receiver and dialed Chief Connell’s personal hot line.
“Hello, Connell? It’s Goldsmith, yeah, me”, I looked down at the two corpses, sailor and drag queen, clutched together in death. “Buckle up your seat belt, Skipper. I’ve got your killers ready for delivery”.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Hard Word (Australia, 2002)

Every once in awhile you see a movie that doesn’t make much sense, completely implausible, BUT…it’s got great actors, likeable characters, snappy dialogue, dazzling cinematography, exciting editing, some of the wildest music this side of an old James Bond movie, and you have to simply sit back and enjoy it, anyway.

“The Hard Word” isn’t a brilliant film but it’s a fun time-waster, a film that almost dares you to like it even though it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. The film starts out showing a trio of Australian bank robbing brothers led by Guy Pearce cooling their heels in penitentiary.

Pearce is a prison librarian, his easy-going brother Mal is the prison butcher, and short-fused brother Shane just lifts weights and cusses a lot. Their defending attorney Frank Malone (Robert Taylor) keeps them in the cooler in between heists he arranges for them (??) while trying to bone Pearce’s wife, Carol (played by Rachel Griffiths) on the side.

Although the idea of prisoners being taken out of the pen to pull a heist is pretty ludicrous the ridiculosity doesn’t end there, because the job they pull is robbing the prize money at the Melbourne Cup, the Australian equivalent to the Kentucky Derby. With the help of two extra thugs, esp. a short-fused psycho named Tarzan, well, if it was so simple for five yobs to hold up the Melbourne Cup it would be done all the time. But so what? It’s only a movie.

After double-crossing Frank and his two rent-a-thugs (incl. Tarzan) the boys run off with the swag after scamming an innocent, drunken girl in the parking lot who Malcolm falls head over heels over (“You small better than Christmas dinner” gushes the larcenous foodie). On a side note, all three brothers get their rocks off at some point during the film, i.e., Shane gets jiggy with the hot redhead prison psychiatrist.

All through the movie Dale (Pearce) accuses his wife Carol of banging Frank while Frank in turn accuses her of banging anybody in pants, making us wonder all through the film which side she’s on. By the end of the film she has to make the ultimate decision, will it be her husband, dead-end con Dale or smarmy, connected attorney Frank? It’s all up to her.

It’s great seeing Guy Pearce playing an Australian thug, dirty, greasy and long-haired, way more badass than his work in “Factory Girl”, “Bedtime Stories”, and “The King’s Speech”. It's also cool seeing Rachel Griffiths play a cheap blonde after playing nerds in “Very Annie Mary”, “Muriel’s Wedding”, and “Hilary & Jackie”. They both give excellent performances, and I also thought Joel Edgerton and Damien Richardson playing Pearce’s crazy brothers were outstanding.

“The Hard Word” is highly recommended simply because it’s like a quick slug of Red Bull, not necessarily nutritious but so adrenaline charged you can’t resist the ass-kicking rush it gives you. Check it out.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

After a mind-numbingly long delay Todd Solondz’s latest film “Dark Horse” has finally seen a release. Now that it’s out the expression “catch the movie" has taken on a new meaning as the film couldn’t sit still to survive a screening.

When I found out it was out I planned on “catching” it at the Westside Pavilion Landmark where it played on Tuesday and Wednesday; however, by Thursday and Friday it was playing at The Nuart Theater in Westwood. Before I could even get to the theater it had been moved to The Chinese Theater (not the big one, but the Chinese 6 Cineplex next door) in Hollywood for Saturday and Sunday. That's three different locations within the course of a week!

By the way, the film stars Selma Blair, Christopher Walken, and Mia Farrow, a pretty heavyweight crew of actors, and again, this is Todd Solondz, the director of “Welcome To The Dollhouse” and “Happiness” we’re talking about. To see a film treated so poorly by distributors and exhibitors answers every question as to why the film industry is failing.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Moon Of Alabama

I recently finished reading Bertolt Brecht’s play “The Rise And Fall of the City of Mahagonny”, a stunning musical play about a man-made paradise of debauchery. Although the play takes place in the Gulf Coast it more likely brings to mind the sleaze of Las Vegas, highly predictive of Sin City since this great play was written in the late Twenties.

In this play four working stiffs from Alaska travel to a bed of sin called Mahagonny (note the word "Agony"). The boys blow all their dough, much debauchery ensues, culminating in the death of JJ Smith by overeating, Alaskawolf Joe by a fatal KO in the ring, and Jimmy Gallagher's sentence to death by electrocution for being broke, his hard-earned pay bankrupted by drink, gambling and women in Mah-agonny. Gallagher's death sentence for the sin of being flat broke seems more relevant today than ever.

First performed in 1930, Mahagonny was the drama world quivalent to Igor Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring", prompting boos, fist fights, riots et al at its initial performance. Dark and raunchy for its time, it brought a new experience to musical theatre that was probably the most radical thing theatergoers had ever seen.

The popular line of opinion is that Mahagonny is Brecht’s anti-capitalist concepts at work in that it shows a society so completely intoxicated by greed that it ultimately comes undone and destroys itself in a blizzard of excess. I think that the excess of alcoholism, gambling and womanizing are common traits that ruin anyone regardless of class affiliation.

As shown in the videos depicted here you can see that the German production is far more explicit in its views of decadence, shown in a highly theatrical cabaret style, as opposed to the American version, which is more traditional in its pretensions towards standard theatre. The production differences between the German vs. American version almost looks like two entirely different plays!

Pictured above is the Audra McDonald version of “Moon of Alabama”, also known as “The Alabama Song” or “Whiskey Bar”. Two other versions of the Kurt Weill melody are included here, one a duet from Nina Hagen and Meret Becker and the other from an Italian production featuring Valentina Valente. While the song isn’t particularly phenomenal, the differences in style all four singers take still represents the story well. The song is performed towards the beginning of the opera when Jenny and the prostitutes arrive in Mahagonny to work all the marks in town.

The influence of “The Rise and Fall of Mahagonny” is far reaching, and can be found in works as diverse as Tom Waits, Randy Newman, The Doors, David Bowie (who covered "Albama Song"), Slapp Happy and even Lars Von Trier's film "Dogville". While the “Threepenny Opera” is Brecht and Weill's most infamous opera, “The Rise and Fall of Mahagonny” is the piece that changed modern opera forever.