Friday, April 17, 2015

SW Watches: While the City Sleeps (1956)

I DVR'd While the City Sleeps (1956) off of TCM because I saw it starred Rhonda Fleming and Ida Lupino, and that Dana Andrews is no slouch.  But I like Lupino in particular, and while her part is gigantic in this movie, as always, she nails it.  And, hey, it also features Vincent Price in another playboy-layabout role, because that's more or less what he always did until he got recast as the master of horror.

Also, turns out this was directed by the always terrific Fritz Lang, and was one of his final projects as a director.

Rhonda Fleming = Production Value


Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Whole Lotta TV: Kimmy Schmidt, Daredevil, Batman, Americans, Mad Men, Flash and more - keeping me from movies

I realized I hadn't been posting a whole lot, at least not about movies.  But I've also been watching a metric @#$%-ton of TV lately.

Like a lot of you, I heard the Tina Fey produced Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was pretty good, and at 22 minutes per episode, only 13 episodes and that each one was like eating a box of Hot Tamales or Mike & Ike's, it was the first series I've binge-watched since I was home with the flu and watched 2 seasons of Archer.


A concept that, no doubt, HBO would have insisted been a brooding melodrama with plenty of sexual dysfunction and nihilism, this take on "what happens when a girl is kidnapped at 14 and doesn't leave her bunker cult layer until she's 29ish?" is, instead, super upbeat, life-affirming and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.  The brand of humor feels akin to the dizzy chaos of early 30 Rock, and even if we only ever get these 13 episodes, they were pretty damn enjoyable.  But, yeah, I guess there's a second season guaranteed by Netflix (where the show is living), so I'm down with that.

Anyway, it's not often I watch 13 episodes of something so fast I don't even mention it between start and finish, but there you are.

And before we move on:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 15th, 1865 - 150 years since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln

April 15th, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC.

Lincoln in April, 1865


On the evening of April 14th, Lincoln was shot point blank while sitting in the Presidential box while watching a play.  On April 9th, General Lee of the Confederate States of America had surrendered to General Grant at Appomatox, and the war between the states was effectively concluded.

Were it fiction, the assassination might be considered a weirdly indulgent bit of storytelling in a sprawling tale of the original sin of the birth of the United States.  As a very real event, Lincoln's death stands as a moment of personal tragedy that somehow echoes as harshly as the four years of war and hundreds of thousands lost.  The timing of the assassination meant that we never saw a coda to the 16th presidency, would never question Lincoln's handling of Reconstruction or witness Lincoln watching Washington DC come back together as the capital of a single nation.  We would never see Lincoln as a private citizen no longer with the weight of the nation resting upon his shoulders.

There's plenty of information out there about Lincoln's assassin, and I won't belabor any of the details of Lincoln's murder or the story of his murderer.

Instead, I'll remember that Lincoln was a man of his times, but a remarkable one at that.  In the midst of the war (and historians will never tire of debating the motives of the action) Lincoln produced the Emancipation Proclamation.

While the nation fought a miserable war against itself, Lincoln took the final step that the states that had fled for the confederacy feared he would upon his election, and forever changed the course of the nation.  

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

This act, which Lincoln would ultimately perform as a proclamation rather than by way of political maneuvering or clout.  And, as the war drew to a close, the 13th Amendment was proposed, but Lincoln would not live to see its ratification.

And, on that night in Ford's Theater, a believer in abstract causes that would always trump the dignity of his fellow man, sought revenge for the shame he felt had been bestowed upon his state and the hardships he felt the South would continue to endure.  Failing to see the irony in his own battle cry of "Sic semper tyrannis!", he fled the stage, hobbled, to die badly in barn, disowned by the very people he thought would hail him as a hero and protect him.

I don't need to tell you much else about Lincoln.  He's all but a folk hero to us here in the States, and probably beyond.  His funeral train was met by endless masses, and he continues to inspire generation after generation of Americans.  The Lincoln Monument in Washington DC stands as a stark reminder of not just the man, but of his times and of the great penance paid by the United States for our moral failings, his death a closing note to the cost of all that had preceded it.




Sunday, April 12, 2015

Birthday Gift: Taking It Back to the Beginning


For my 40th, Jamie got me the deluxe collector's set of the 1960's Batman TV show.

Thanks, Jamie!

It's a pretty fantastic set with all the episodes cleaned up for BluRay and HD TV.  There's also an "Adam West scrapbook", episode guide replica set of Batman cars and a Hotwheels Batmobile.  All in all, pretty nice!

The picture and sound quality is top notch, so after all these years of not being able to get ahold of this show, it seems worth the wait.


The family lore is that, when I was a tiny kid my mom couldn't get me to hold still or be quiet when she was trying to make dinner for my dad and brother, until she realized I'd totally hold still and shut up if Batman and Robin were on the screen.  So, every weekday when the show was running in syndication (this would have been about '76), I was placed in front of the TV and would happily watch while she made Mac n' Cheese or whatever.  The legend goes on to swear my first words were "Matman", which I'm sure made my parents feel really appreciated.

My memory was of just being a huge Batman nut.  There are photos somewhere of me with a pacifier and cape.  Like a lot of kids, when the Tim Burton Batman movie came out and the press discussed the Adam West show, it was my first time finding out the show was a comedy.  On the strength of the Burton movie, Batman '66 came back in syndication, and has been aired off and on again since, but legal wranglings between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox prevented home video release.

All of that seems to have resolved itself and now I can enjoy the show once again.  And, hey, I look forward to sharing the show with my impending nephew when the time comes.  I hope he takes it as seriously as I did, because, dang it, this is a version of Batman worth loving, too.  And not just because of Julie Newmar.

Today I am 40. We ponder my mortality via Superman.

It's my B-day.  A milestone b-day at that.  I'm planning to take the day easy, read some comics, watch some movies, play with some dogs.  Nothing too extravagant.

But it's also a time to ponder and reflect, and nothing helps you reflect more than Superman.


Oh, 70's humor.  You were on the nose to the pointy of cruelty.

But nothing helps one ponder old age like a good Superman comic book cover.



Let's face facts...  I work on a college campus.  I am more than aware this is how the undergrads see me as I wander the halls.  The notion that these whipper-snappers see me as anything other than someone who might know their parents is delusional.  I never feel the need to try to pretend like I know what the kids are up to these days, because that's like your parents trying to impress you by going to see Billy Joel.



I, of course, see myself as older and wiser, telling these young punks how it should be done - and how it should be done is by doing it exactly how we did it in my day.

On the Event of my 40th

This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
Talking Heads



Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb - born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok I know nothing's wrong... nothing

Hi yo I got plenty of time
Hi yo you got light in your eyes
And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up and say goodnight... say good night

Home - is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there
I come home - she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
I can't tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time
Before we were born
If someone asks, this where I'll be... where I'll be

Hi yo
We drift in and out
Hi yo
Sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I'm just an animal looking for a home and,
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head
Ah ooh


Saturday, April 11, 2015

B-Day Watch: Guardians of the Galaxy and Superman - The Movie

This weekend marks my 40th birthday.  As such, I'm taking it easy and enjoying some of my favorite movies.

Last night was a recent favorite, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), because it will be a while before I see Rocket Raccoon in anything, and I will rewatch Captain America 2 just prior to Avengers 2.

Es muy bueno!


It's actually a little surprising how well the movie holds up upon multiple viewings in a single year.  And, man, you don't hear much about it, but it's also a very pretty movie.  Space isn't a black field with white dots - it's a nebula cloud of Kool-Aid colors.



And, this morning I got up early and put on Superman: The Movie.  Not much new to see on a 50th or so screening of the movie, but I wasn't going to let a "Ryan gets to watch whatever he wants this weekend" window go by without Superman.

As the credits rolled, Jamie asked me if I'd seen it 100 times yet.  And, I don't think so...  but you never know.  It's possible.  I know I've seen it a few times per year every year since 2008 or so, and before that I'd watch it a lot more than that.  So...  yeah, I have no idea, really.

I also started Blade Runner last night and realized I was exhausted during the "let's kill the eyeball guy" sequence, so I didn't finish.  Sometime this weekend, though.

Oh, and Daredevil is pretty @#$%ing right on.  Check it out on Netflix.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Mother Night

Between longer audio books, I'll sometimes do a Vonnegut book.  After finishing a 37 hour book-listen, taking on a decent audiobook that's at a mere 6 hours can feel like a downright vacation.  Sure, I know I'm missing a lot by not seeing Vonnegut's doodles and intentional use of the page, but, I figure, better this than the fact I'd never get around to it as a sit-down read.

Mother Night (1961) was released a few years prior to Slaughterhouse Five, and also deals with the lives of participants in World War II during and after the war.



Told as an account by Campbell himself, as evidence to present at his coming trial in Israel, the book makes interesting use of time, assuming the audience will not be surprised by many aspects presented and revealing many things immediately rather than at key points to create surprise, were the story a straight chronology. It certainly has the matter-of-fact quality I've come to recognize in Vonnegut's work.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Actor James Best Merges with The Infinite



Both our own Alfredo Garcia and the New York Times are reporting the passing of actor James Best, known best to Gen-X'ers as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on TV's The Dukes of Hazzard.

I did not really follow Best's career, but at some point - possibly even pre-Wopat/Schneider departure, I identified most with the good Sheriff the most of any character on the show.  All I, too, wanted was to park my car beneath a shady tree and take a snooze beside a lazy hound-dog while the cicadas chirped away.  And we were never gonna catch those durn Duke Boys anyway.

 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Billie Holiday hits the Century Mark

It's tough to top Billie Holiday.  She's undoubtedly one of the most important vocal performers of the 20th Century, and certainly one of the most recognizable voices since recorded and broadcast music sprung into existence.

Today marks the birthday of Ms. Eleanora Fagan, born April 7th, 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Holiday's biography also reads like the blueprint for a terribly depressing biopic, but it's also a remarkable American story.



This weekend I tried to watch Annie Lennox, who I have admired since I was a kid, perform her new concert, Nostalgia, on PBS, recorded in front of an upper-crust audience at LA's Orpheum Theater.  And, while I understand that many performers sooner or later hit a point where they explore The Great American Songbook - Lennox performed a few of Holiday's standards, and I found the thing puzzling enough I turned it off.  But, taking apart what was happening and for what audience could take a few hundred pages and a deconstruction of cultural appropriation that would leave nobody happy.

Strange Fruit and God Bless the Child aren't owned by Billie Holiday, but they're certainly part of her catalog, and I don't blame Lennox for wanting to emulate Lady Day, but...  context.   Billie Holiday's voice, song choice and expression were formed by what amounts to an extremely troubled youth (broken home - to put it mildly - and as a kid, she ran errands in a brothel) and young womanhood (prostitute by age 15).  Holiday was part of the colorful jazz scene of Harlem from the early 1930's and onward (she was performing by age 17), and was playing with Count Basie and Artie Shaw within a few years.  Even after some very public problems, she did manage to play shows at Carnegie Hall that were very well received.