Sunday, March 15, 2009

Movie: Shack Out on 101 (1955)

Like all great works of art, Shack Out on 101 functions on several levels.

First, there’s the level at which it’s total shit. The budget for this Red Scare melodrama was so low that virtually all of the action is limited to one set, a California burger stand that has inexplicably become an espionage hotbed. Every scene runs too long, especially the ones that should have been cut. Like the indoor deep-sea fishing expedition. Or the love scene between deeply uninteresting leads Frank Lovejoy and Terry Moore that includes a civics lesson, with a kiss for each branch of government. Or the workout that takes place next to the serving area, in clear violation of any number of health codes, with the participants complimenting each other on how their bodies look with and without clothes. (“Them’s my pecs!”)

Then there’s the level at which the movie’s flaws work in its favor. Sometimes having three sweaty actors wedged into a tight frame shouting at each other does build intensity.

Finally, there’s the Lee Marvin level. As fry cook/spy Slob, his performance is loose and funny until he fires up that gangly, agile menace. When he turns on Moore, I was certain he was going to kill her – not her character, but the actress. He makes this lousy movie crackle with life. You can’t not watch Lee Marvin, even when he’s pimping cigarettes. (H/t to Bill Crider.)

Music: The Bad Plus

The trio is closing out a four-night run at Seattle’s Jazz Alley in support of their latest album, For All I Care. The first half of last night’s fantastic set had the boys performing their usual dense yet delicate instrumental pieces. Pianist Ethan Iverson introduced an original about stunt driving legend Bill Hickman’s love of fruit salad that had an entire movie playing in my head.

Then they were joined by rock vocalist Wendy Lewis for some amazing covers. A spare “Lock, Stock and Teardrops” that included every echo you’ll hear when your lover finally leaves, a version of “New Year’s Day” stripped of bombast but full of passion, a “Comfortably Numb” that can cut through the haze and make any stoner’s hair stand on end. Together, they even found tendrils of twisted longing in “Blue Velvet” that David Lynch somehow missed.

Here’s Fred Kaplan, who knows a thing or two, on For All I Care. And Ethan’s extraordinary reminiscence of Donald E. Westlake. And again, my favorite thing on the internet, Ethan’s opening of The DaVinci Code as written by Richard Stark.

Miscellaneous: Links

Repeating these from my Twitter feed. Are you following me over there? You should be.

The New Yorker profile of Tony Gilroy is packed with great information on screenwriting.

My favorite bar and a grand cocktail jointly celebrated. Watch the video to see the legend Murray Stenson in action.