Thursday, October 27, 2016

Halloween Watch: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Watching a Frankenstein/ Bride of Frankenstein (1935) double-bill has become my personal Halloween tradition.  I'd already watched Frankenstein this year, and so needed to work in Bride of, which has been tough with the Cubs actually making it into the World Series.  I mean, usually by early October, I'm kinda done with baseball and my football watching is contained to Saturdays.

But, what would Halloween even be for me without The Bride of Frankenstein?  It's horrific, beautiful, eerie, hilarious, and everything I'd want in a single movie, and everything I like about the holiday.

Here's to Mr. Whale and company, and everything that makes this one of my favorite films.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson, 1962 - audiobook)

After reading The Haunting of Hill House, one or two of you (I know Max was one) suggested I check out more of Shirley Jackson's work.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) was the lead recommendation, and as I'd really liked the other novel, when October rolled in, I selected it as my Halloween read.

That may or may not have been the best selection specifically for Halloween as it's not necessarily the stuff of the monsters and pumpkins and ghosts I usually associate with the holiday, but everyone does it differently.  Rather, the closest comparison I could draw would be along the lines of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.   But even those are a far cry from this book.

Still, depending on how one were to read it - this book is horror.  Not the creeping uncanny spirits of a ghost tale, or even the realization that the normal is face-to-face with the supernatural.  It's the reader wrestling with an untrustworthy narrator and a creeping descent into something not necessarily sinister but tragic and mad.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Non-Essential Viewing: Rocky Horror Picture Show (2016)

I don't know how to categorize this.  It was a two-hour television "event" on Thursday night, in prime time.  It's a sort of "TV movie", but it's in the manner of one of the live musicals the networks have been doing.  Only, it wasn't live.

It also wasn't... very good.

Look, no one has remade this movie to date because the original is lightning in a bottle.  It was a movie that's still relevant, but a lot of what was taboo or edgy in that film has lost it's subversion as elements have become or are becoming more mainstreamed.  Putting a play/ movie about themes that were still considered unmentionable in the 1970's and turning it into fodder for channel flippers on a Thursday night was going to be difficult - but I almost felt like, Laverne Cox aside, most of the cast didn't really know how this was supposed to work.  And, frankly, it didn't feel like the director or producers knew how to do this, either.

To maybe throw some context on this:  the show/ movie was directed by Kenny Ortega, a name that's not exactly household for me, but he was the brains behind High School Musical.  And, boy howdy, does that explain a lot when you're watching the thing.

Really what struck me while watching this was:  Hot Topic.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Doc Watch: Tower (2016)

About thirty minutes into Tower (2016), I realized that the soundtrack to the film included the ever-present sound of cicadas, a tree-dwelling insect which emits a steady humming that all Central Texans know as the droning background noise of the hottest days of summer.  I'd tuned the sound out the same way we all do, and I began to realize part of why the film felt so immediate - and why the film is so effective.  What the film captures is very real, from glimpses of the University of Texas campus to the sound to the casual chatter about campus life, torn apart on August 1, 1966.

I'd wanted to see this film from when the producers first released footage maybe a year ago.  Then friends saw it as SXSW and had positive things to say, and I was encouraged that the documentary would do the event whatever justice could be done.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Hammer Watch: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

A few apologies to my brother and Jamie who watched this movie with me.  While technically a horror movie, this one moves along more like a 19th century novel reflecting upon injustices until the last third.  I'm not sure that last third is actually scary - it's more interesting from a science-fiction/ fantasy point of view.

I selected the movie in part because I've been trying to get my head around what Hammer was doing with it's Dracula and Frankenstein films back in the day, and in part because it's the closest to a Bride of Frankenstein film I've noted the studio producing.  It is, of course, absolutely nothing like Bride of Frankenstein, so that was a wash.

Comic Artist Steve Dillon Merges With The Infinite

God.  Dammit.  2016.

Comics artist Steve Dillon has passed.

Dillon was one of the finest comics artists of the past few decades, mixing an illustrative quality with cartooning and pitch perfect sense of tone and a moment.  Not only did he have one of the deftest pencils when it came to capturing the exact, perfect expression for every character in a panel - something I assume he did effortlessly as he did it in every panel - but his ability to change pacing, to whip between romance to horror to comedy within a single page remains unparalleled and may never be matched.

His pairing with Garth Ennis was a boon to the medium, from Hellblazer to Preacher to The Punisher.  I don't just consider Preacher a seminal comics work of its era - I consider it a seminal work of its era - full stop.  That said - not recommended for all audiences, Mom.

TL;DR: Wonder Woman at 75, at the United Nation and 'Wonder Woman v.2 #170'

Yesterday was, apparently, the official 75th birthday of Wonder Woman.  As part of that event, Wonder Woman was made a Special Ambassador of the United Nations, an icon for new efforts within the UN to speak on behalf of gender equality.

I don't know how much of Wonder Woman's origins most people know, or how hung up they are on some of the more salacious details of creator William Moulton Marston's personal life, or how that played out on the comics page.  But I do know that Marston was sincere in his interest to create a strong female superhero, not just with whom little girls could identify, but for little boys to understand that women could do all the things that men can do.  They can leap into the fray and they stand as equals (although I'd argue Marston may have had a bit more of an ideal of a matriarchy in mind even more than than just an egalitarian ideal).

"Wonder Woman" TV star Lynda Carter was in attendance

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Super Watch: Supergirl Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2

When I started watching Supergirl last season, I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes and letting my disappointment in the formulaic, color-by-numbers approach take me to a dark place.  But then, probably earlier on than I'd admit, the show started doing something different from what I expected.  Rather than setting up petty jealousies between characters, rather than turning Calista Flockhart's Cat Grant character into a caricature, rather than turning Kara into a hapless dope that everyone loves only because that's what the show insists must happen despite the fact the character is an idiot ruining everyone's lives...  someone stepped in and started turning the show into something I quite liked.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Marvel Watch: Luke Cage (Season 1, 2016)

I want to say that I loved Luke Cage.  Because for a full 6 episodes, I was ready to stand up and say "this is the best Marvel TV series to date, even better than Jessica Jones or Season 1 of Agent Carter".  But, man, the back half of this series feels rough.  It's still watchable, but as early as the beginning of the seventh episode, the wheels start coming off, and it's only in fits and spurts that the show reclaims the excellence of those first six episodes, seems to remember its mission statement, and doesn't feel like it's a throwback to 1990's-era superhero movies.  I have a few hypotheses as to what may have occurred, but that doesn't save the overall project anymore than headcannons or fan theories (neither of which this blogger recommends you indulge in).  What matters is what winds up on the screen.

What does retain it's consistency, as surely as the cells in Luke Cage's body bounce back from a bad day, is the strong character put forth in Luke Cage, the grounded, human force of a man trying every day to do right.  In Luke Cage we get that rarest of characters which are slowly climbing their way back from two decades of think-pieces to the contrary, the good guy who doesn't need to be called an anti-hero to work in a modern context.  For Marvel, and maybe for the mass audiences, up to this point we've relied on our sepia-toned notions and the uncomplicated moral battle of the Allied fight against the Axis to gain access to the point of view of our upright hero in Steve Rogers - AKA: Captain America.  But in Luke Cage we get a modern man who has known the compromise all his life and despite what's past, he's moving forward in a world that broils and churns with moral compromise as the "smart" move, the only way to get things done.  And we have a hero who isn't living in a hypothetical world of cops and robbers, but in a world that reflects a lot of our own, with Trayvon Martins and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Hero of the Empire - The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill (by Candice Millard, 2016 - audiobook)

The study of history in practice can be maddening if the bar you hold up is trying to read up on every single thing anyone ever did before this very moment.  If that's your standard, then I'm a little behind in developing my all encompassing eye into the past.  Example:  I'm a publicly educated kid from the burbs who focused on North America in obtaining his history undergrad degree.  Aside from the bare-bone basics, I know very, very little about Winston Churchill, but I figured I had to start somewhere.  But, why not with a book by a terrific author and starting at the beginning?

I'd previously read Candice Millard's two prior full-length books, The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic, and I can honestly say they were some of my favorite books of the last decade.  Both books covered events which usually appear as footnotes or brief interludes in other historical retellings, diversions in the telling of longer, more expansive stories.  Yet, Millard managed to craft one of the most harrowing stories of real-life adventure you're likely to read in the Theodore Roosevelt starring The River of Doubt, and in Destiny of the Republic, she sets out to set you weeping about the unjust passing of President James Garfield, shot by an assassin and victim of the limitations of his times, just on the precipice of modern knowledge we now take for granted.

I would argue that, by zeroing in on a specific time, place and people, she was able to say more about those people with a greater degree of eloquence - using historical fact, reconstructed timelines, letters and post-facto primary sources - to shed light on moments and giants of our history.

Here in her third book, Millard demonstrates why she's becoming a favorite of many more readers than just myself.  Whether you're a history buff who's already schlepped your way through a number of Churchill biographies or - like yours truly - you find yourself embarrassingly ignorant in regards to the biography of one of the modern West's greatest leaders, Millard's spun Churchill's life as a young man into a narrative in the mold of epic adventure, all while reporting the facts.