Saturday, March 5, 2016

Space Watch: Apollo 13 (1995)

Here's the thing.  I don't think Ron Howard is much of a director.

When I watch his movies, I can almost feel the focus groups and studio notes taken as wisdom.  I shouldn't be able to pause in your movie and say "this scene was written this way because they think I'm a moron".  But, in a Ron Howard movie, that's generally my take away.  He wants to make movies that will be both semi critic-pleasing and still sell a boat load of tickets, and that's a tough balancing act, but one he's made work for years.

Signal Watch Reads: Walt Disney - The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006) by Neal Gabler

A while back NathanielC suggested this book to me, and after 33+ hours of audiobook, I am, at long last, done.*

I've written about Uncle Walt before, and I've read up on the man and his work in bits and pieces over the years, including The Art of Walt Disney, which is on a shelf about ten feet from me as I type this.  Full disclosure as well - my second job as a teenager was as a fresh-faced "Cast Member" at The Disney Store when it was still a prestige sort of store in the halcyon days of the early 90's (and I could have done far worse.  I learned a lot between the Princess Dresses and Dalmatian snowglobes.).

The name "Walt Disney" is a name that conjures up a wild array of ideas for anyone.  It's a universal brand anywhere in the world, which is really pretty amazing.  As children we love Disney, as teen-agers we get cynical and start feeling clever when we find out that maybe Walt Disney's cartoons aren't the same as the dark and often bloody fairytales which inspired them.  We retain fond memories of cartoons and live action movies, the theme parks and TV shows and everything else Disney can mean.  We wink and nod, no dupes for the product of Walt Disney, right up until we pick up that BluRay or take our kids to another movie or buy that t-shirt, watch anything on ABC, or see a movie produced from a Disney subsidiary making straight up regular movies.

Merchant Ivory Watch: The Remains of the Day (1993)

When this movie ended, I said something along the lines of "Well, that was exactly what I expected" and "I think there's a reason that they don't make movies like this much anymore".  But I didn't really mean either comment as a dig, and neither comment was entirely accurate.

Back in the 1980's, UK film concern Merchant Ivory began exporting films to the US with a small burst of success here stateside.  Really, I think the breakaway hit was A Room With a View (1985) - which I've never seen to my recollection - exploded with the one-two punch of Howards End (1992) - which I did see in the the theater during its initial run - and The Remains of the Day (1993) - which I did not, though I do remember it coming out.  If you ask American cinephiles if they like Merchant Ivory pictures, I think they'll say yes, but aside from these three movies, I don't know if any others really got any traction stateside, and by the turn of the Millennium, Merchant Ivory pictures had largely disappeared from the conversation.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hey, Mom. Happy Birthday.

top row - Jason, me, The Admiral, bottom row - Amy, Jamie, The Kare-Bear

It's my Mom's B-Day.   She's trying to keep it on the QT, so don't tell anyone.  We're not making a big deal out of it.

Still, the Kare-Bear is the best, and we're not letting her B-Day go by without comment.  So, here's some family pics.

Marvel Watch: Agent Carter - Season 2

Tuesday evening saw the conclusion of Season 2 of Marvel's Agent Carter, a short-run ABC television program.  ABC is, of course, a Disney company, and Marvel is also owned by Disney.

The show is a spin-off from the Captain America movies and a lodestone pointing to the mid-20th Century origins of the Marvel comic characters and the fictional origins of the doings of the Marvel Universe films.  If you're not keeping up (and both ratings and anecdotal evidence suggests you're not), Agent Carter follows the post-WWII, post-Captain America: The First Avenger doings of Special Agent Peggy Carter of the Strategic Science Reserve - the forebear of SHIELD.

You may remember Peggy as the uniformed sidekick to Tommy Lee Jones as Steve Rogers transformed into Captain America, who stayed on the radio with him as he piloted the Red Skull's plane into the Arctic.  Yes, yes, I was quite smitten with Agent Carter back during the first go-round, and I was a bit disappointed that - as we then jumped to the 21st Century, that was the last we were going to see of Peggy.  The film had written Peggy as pointing a new way forward for female characters in Marvel movies, and, Peggy was based on a character from the comics, who - in turn - reflected the sort of bad-assery women were displaying in all sorts of very, very real covert and resistance-fighting roles during WWII.

Monday, February 29, 2016

George Kennedy Has Merged With The Infinite

In a true case of "Man, I thought that guy died, like, 8 years ago," George Kennedy popped up today in the news as having had passed at the age of 91.

91.  George Kennedy.

I am sorry.  I really, sincerely thought he died before 2010.

You essentially have two George Kennedy's.  You can go for the one I first encountered, Detective Ed Hocken of Police Squad in The Naked Gun.  Or, you can go for his dramatic turns in Cool Hand Luke or The Dirty Dozen.

I always liked George Kennedy.  He did good stuff.

Happy Birthday, Superman!

Some time ago, DC Comics stated in a letter column that Superman's birthday takes place on Leap Day.  No, it's not the date Action Comics #1 went to print or anything.  It's all a little muddled, but the Superman Homepage is here to give you details.

Thus, every four years, when February 29th rolls around, we get to wish Big Blue the best of birthdays.

I have to say, this looks like an ideal birthday party, if you ignore the guy who is constantly trying to kill you is hiding in the back of the room (get on that, Batman).  After all, who wouldn't want to be at a party with this crew?

While Superman is (sadly) a fictional construct, we consider him a pal and we hope that as he exists in the zeitgeist, he's somehow still able to have cake with all his pals.

Happy B-Day, Superman.

Noir Watch: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

This one has been on my hit list for a couple of years now.  I recorded it off TCM way back in December and finally pulled the trigger and watched it.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is one of those movies like Sunset BoulevardThe Hustler or On the Waterfront that came out during a certain window of moviemaking that I think people associate with Eisenhower-era positivity, thanks to TV re-runs and a deluge of Disney movies in their youth.  Of course, Noir sort of blows the doors off all that.  But a lot of Noir gets caught up in incredible situations, with dames on the make, gangsters, long-game scams.  But sometimes something like this - stylized though it may be - gets at something a bit beyond the grift or the crime.

Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a press agent for live acts in the Big Apple.  Things are falling apart for him as he can't seem to place a story with any of the major columnists, especially J.J. Hunsecker - played with menace usually reserved for dictators and ganglords by Burt Lancaster in a pair of horn-rimmed specs.  J.J. wanted Falco to break up a brewing romance between his sister, Susan, and a jazz guitarist, Steve Dallas.  With the two planning an engagement, Falco sees doom for his own business and begins wheeling and dealing, going to Hunsecker with his problem and the two pair, their styles different but need to manipulate people and situations spinning into darker and darker territory.

This was one hell of a movie.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mars Re-Watch: The Martian (2015)

Last year we read Andy Weir's novel, The Martian, and watched the movie starring Matt Damon.  So, we're well covered in writing about both movie and book.

I am happy to say that the movie still holds up, and, with many more months separated between book and movie, the details that were different didn't bother me as much.  If anything, I'm still confused with the casting of Mackenzie Davis as someone I think we all believed to be Korean-American, and with the benefit of the extras on the BluRay, it's very clear that they cut a lot around Kristen Wiig, who seemed weirdly cast in the movie (she just didn't have much to do).

I'm a little frustrated in my personal life that there is still no model of the Hermes, the amazing spacecraft transporting the crew between Earth and Mars, for me to buy online.  What up with that, licensing people?

This would look great on my bookshelf.
 This may seem a little demanding, but have you seen all the BS you can buy from the Previews catalog?  Want a My Little Pony tea-cup warmer?  No problem.  Star wars kitten mittens?  Got it.  Talking Knight Rider KITT sleeper bed?  Sure, why not?

So, yeah, give me my damn Hermes model.