Saturday, April 23, 2016

Disney Watch: The Jungle Book (2016)

As kids, most of us caught Disney's post-Walt release of The Jungle Book, based upon the works of famed British writer Rudyard Kipling.  When it comes to Kipling, I have no real opinions.  After all, I've never Kippled.

But thanks to a love for Disney animation and Jamie's deep fondness for the movie, I've seen the 1967 cartoon a number of times.  It's not my favorite Disney animation, and my appreciation for the movie swings between adoration and annoyance, depending upon the sequence.  Balloo = Yes.  Kaa = irritation.

It does have one of the strongest sing-along soundtracks of any of the movies, and is up there with the best when it comes to "Bear Necessities" and "I Want To be Like You", even if the latter is in a portion of the movie I found just kind of confusing as a kid.

But it's also got an underrated villain in Shere Khan.

I've also seen the 1990's Jason Scott Lee version of the movie (but don't remember it in the slightest), and a good portion of a 1942 release, which is much better than you'd guess.

I wanted to be skeptical of this version, but Jon Favreau's name was attached as director.  As goofy and normal as Favreau comes off in his roles and in interviews, he's a smart guy and already turned into as solid a director as you were going to find way back when he put out Elf, and then two Iron Man movies in a row that I quite liked (yes, I like Iron Man 2.  Shut up.).

But, man, that's some tough source material, and these days, when it comes to family entertainment, the forces at work seem to be a mix of risk-averse accountants, shrieking parents groups terrified their kids might find out how things work outside their carefully helicoptered environs and a fear of being seen as anything less than a perfect exemplar of safety first.  The idea of a story taking place in a world ruled by tooth and claw seems like it would catapult this kind of story into the same PG-13 arena as the Marvel superheroes.

The first trailer made me more skeptical than excited, but a very recent trailer that came out maybe a week or two before the film's release turned me around a bit, and, of course, I was cheered by a very positive Rotten Tomatoes score (floating around the mid-90's last I checked).

I'll be honest, I loved this movie.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Today Marks the 81st Anniversary of the Release of "The Bride of Frankenstein"

I've already written plenty about Bride of Frankenstein, but - let's get real - it's one of my favorite movies of all time.  I'm going to talk about it whether anyone cares or not.

The movie was released on April 22nd, 1935.  I've now seen it, probably 16 or 17 times, and every time I watch, like all great movies, I don't just enjoy it, I get something new out of it.  In short, I can't recommend it enough.  And, if you do watch it and don't like it, or if you don't see what I like about it, I'm always happy to chat on the topic.

Yes, the movie is supposed to be funny, so you may feel okay about laughing.  If you ever see Una O'Conner show up in anything, it's okay to laugh.  Yes, the film is supposed to be weird in both the modern and classic sense of the word, and it's generally the uncanny atmosphere of the movie I relish more than anything resembling a scare.  But, yes, it's mildly scary, sometimes, I guess.  And sad.  Only Dr. Pretorius here is having any fun.  Both Frankenstein the Doctor and Being are caught up in a world that torments them despite their better intentions and honest desires.

A complete story in only 80 minutes or so, even if I think you're selling yourself a disservice not watching Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein back-to-back for a good 3 hour movie.

Below are some posters for the picture - not the Mondo posters, many of which I quite like, but the original posters.  And, then, some of photography from stills and the film itself - one of the best visually imagined of the Universal Horror movies - or any movie in any year.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince Merges With The Infinite

According to media reports, legendary musician and iconoclast, Prince, is dead at 57.

Oh, man.

Purple Rain hit the radio and movie theaters when I was still in elementary school.  We were Top 40 listeners, and I have firm memories of sitting in the back seat of my Mom's 1983 Honda Accord and listening to Prince on the radio.  In particular, I remember my mind being blown by my first listen to "Let's Go Crazy" as we were headed to take my brother for allergy shots.  Not exactly what Prince had in mind for reaching an audience, but there it is.

I liked Michael Jackson.  I loved Michael Jackson, but Michael was talking to me where I lived as a suburban kid.  Prince was a streetwise ladies man talking about being a complicated man in a complicated world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

John Williams Appreciation Post: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Finale)

You're gonna need to block out fifteen minutes for this one.  Sorry.

A few years ago The Alamo Drafthouse was running a series based on a local radio show, "Film Score Focus", where the host of the show came, talked a bit about the score for the movie you were about to see, and I think maybe again afterwards.  The screening we attended was for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

It's a fascinating score, one that saves a movie that could have been terrifying and turns it into a work of wonder.  After all, it's a movie about communicating with beings from another world/ plane/ what-have-you, via the power of music.  We may not have a similar written or spoken language, or other form of communication, but we can peacefully share notes back and forth to show our good intentions.

Host of Film Score Focus, Brian Satterwhite, rightfully pointed out that - if one listens - the score is constantly blending a few things.  Yes, that child-like piano riff we all think of with Close Encounters, but also Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star", which makes itself heard fully at around the 10:50 mark of this clip.

It's a nice bit of work, that.

It's all about The Harriets: Harriet Tubman replaces Andrew Jackson on the Twenty Dollar Bill

Late Edit:  A more full story in the NYT tells me some of what you see below isn't entirely correct.  Looks like MLK, Sojourner Truth, Susie B. and Eleanor Roosevelt all made the cut in their own way.

Though the changes seem to take place infrequently, the US Currency does, in fact, change over time.  Bills don't look the same way they did when I was in college, and I couldn't tell you what's on the back of a quarter, because I don't think they've printed two alike in 10 years as they've been featuring imagery connected with all 50 states.

A couple of years ago, someone noticed that US currency, when it carried a depiction of a human, was adorned almost entirely with the images of old, dead white men.  That's the way its been my whole life, and - as a white guy, I hadn't thought about it a tremendous amount, or any more than I think about why they use yellow in the middle of a road or why Wendy's Hamburgers are square.  That's just a thing that was that way when I showed up.  The only real challenge to this notion has been the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin and the not-much-used Sacagawea coin, which I only get as change from vending machines.  But on our paper currency?  White dudes.  Just like movies starred white dudes and looking at most of Congress?  White.  Dudes.

Now We Are Six - The Sixth Anniversary Post

JimD has alerted me that this date marked the final post at the first blog I ran, League of Melbotis.  That statement is semi-correct.  It is the final post one would see, I suppose, if they visited the site, but I shut down the blog back in in December of 2009 with 3420 posts.  That site had a start date of about April 6th, 2003.

The post on April 20th, 2010 at League of Melbotis was part of my return to blogging, redirecting folks over to this site.

On April 20th, 2010, a "to review" post went up on this site and covered what we had been on about at League of Melbotis.  On April 23rd, I dipped my toe back into the blogging waters.  You can see the posts that week as we returned to greatness.  

By the time I launched this blog in 2010, blogging was on its way out, replaced with Instagrams, tweets and Snapchats.  People refer to their feeds on Tumblr as "blogs", but, let's get real... that isn't a web log.  That's re-posting stuff.  It's a terrible forum for long-form posting.

League of Melbotis was a bit more of what people kept back then insofar as a "personality" blog.   I considered it my sandbox and clubhouse, a place where other folks would drop by.  It was far more unpredictable in nature than the media-review heavy form of this site, and the readership felt like a little social circle.  We had little focus.  We might talk Elvira in one post and the Iraq war in another, what I had for breakfast in the next.  That sort of thing was passe in 2010, and I've not really ever thought about going back to that format.  Keep it simple-ish.  Talk about the news when it's unavoidable.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Punisher - Batman '66 Style

This is so wrong.  NSFW, btw.

90's Watch: Hackers (1995)

In February of 1919, some of the greats of the silent era - Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith - came together to found their own studio: United Artists.  The studio was formed in reaction to studio and artist friction over salaries and creative control.  One could say that the idea of an artist's ability to produce an independent vision is baked into the DNA of UA, and, over the years, that spirit has brought us new perspectives to the silver screen, bold proclamations of artists unhampered by the small minds of businessmen, free from the the penny-pinching dream killers of accounting.

So, it should come as no surprise that, some 76 years later, UA would bring us a truly unique dream of the 90's, a clarion call to a generation, a mirror held up to reality showing us truths about ourselves in only the way we can truly get from a masterpiece like Hackers (1995).

This is maybe one of the worst movies I've seen in the last ten years.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Star Wars Watch: Star Wars - The Force Awakens (2015) round 4

I finally busted out my disk of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) (or, Star Wars VII as the kids are calling it).

I'm pleased it held up so well upon a fourth viewing and a non-theatrical viewing at that, where distractions abound and I'm more likely to lean back and take a more critical view of a movie.  And, now knowing the plot reflects many milestone elements of Episode IV, all of that really falls into the background and I can just enjoy what the actors are doing, the sets, the vehicles, and all that stuff you get to like about a movie you watch over and over like Star Wars or Star Trek or, in my case, Captain America or the Superman movies.  

It's also funny to see how I relate to the new characters in comparison to the Episode IV - VI characters I grew up with.  My feelings regarding Rey and Finn are oddly... paternalistic.  My "empathy" characters, the ones I understand or relate more to at this point in my life are still Han, Leia, Chewie and Luke.

I'm incredibly impressed with the talent of John Boyega and Daisy Ridley and love the characters created by the actors and behind-the-lens crew.  These are fun characters to follow, not an obligation because that's who the camera is pointed at in a movie called "Star Wars".

Certainly, one can imagine Lawrence Kasdan and his contemporaries involved know a bit more about kids, failed marriages, etc...  now than they did 30 years ago.  And, at its heart, Star Wars is a family melodrama about a very messed up clan.  So there's quite a bit for the old favorites.

But I watch Finn and Rey discovering the Millennium Falcon and even finding each other not with skepticism, but excitement at the passing of torches, of new characters I can enjoy, if not identify with (or, wish to be).  Alas, my heart doesn't go pitter-patter for a girl young enough to be my daughter, but still for Princess Leia stepping off that Resistance command ship.  But, man, watching Finn has all the hallmarks of how I saw myself faking it as a younger me.  "We'll use the force!"

And, yes, I still take a little kid's delight in all the spaceship battles, whether its the amazing "graveyard" sequence with the Falcon on Jakku or a squadron of X-Wings coming in low over a lake on Takodana or storming Starkiller Base, and watch lightsaber battle with popped eyes, especially among rookies taking up the only fight that matters.

Here's to Star Wars being back and something I care about all over again.

Trailer for "The Legend of Tarzan"

Dude.  I kind of vaguely knew this was coming out, but hadn't seen any trailers.  If you're going to make a Tarzan movie in 2016, this is the one I want to see.  I think.

Dear God, do not let this be as terrible as it probably will be.

John Williams Appreciation Post: Jaws

Ah, the primordial terror of the theme to Jaws. That low sound of the monstrous heartbeat quickening, joining with strings and woodwinds and horns like the sound of alarm over the whole thing, and giving way to Williams' fanfare of adventure for Roy Scheider.

As a kid, this was among the first songs I knew that wasn't a nursery rhyme, disco hit or the Star Wars Theme, or Queen (I don't know why, but we had some Queen in the house).  It was also the one you could plunk out on the family's upright if you messed around long enough to find the right combo of keys.

Yeah, this is the one you can find people shouting at each other about - "did Williams steal from Dvorak?" - and I don't doubt there's influence there.  You can do worse than to borrow concepts from a famed composer, and it seems disingenuous to suggest someone with Williams' background wasn't familiar with Dvorak and it's all a coincidence.  But, they are two different pieces in the same way everything out of Nashville for the past two decades has been essentially the same three songs, but nobody seems to mind much.*

Anyway, it's maybe the first Williams score that I'm aware of that became cultural shorthand around the planet, that you can still hum in a swimming pool to produce an unwarranted sense of danger.

*seriously - how can you even listen to New Country?  Bleh.  I am judging you, Country Music fans.

Dog Watch: Air Bud (1997)

I really have no explanation for why I watched about 90% of Air Bud (1997) on Saturday night.  I was supposed to be at a baseball game for our local minor league team, The Round Rock Express, but I was taking my 86 year old uncle, and once its tarted drizzling, we just went and grabbed dinner instead.

Well, that meant I was home by 8:15, because 86 year olds like to eat dinner kinda early.

So, I walked in the door and Air Bud was on TV, and I started watching it ironically, but, you know, I kinda liked it.  It's not that hard to believe it got watered down into the movies we eventually got and spun off into the Buddies series.  But, yeah, it was okay.  And it was generally better in execution than most low-budgety stuff made for kids.

I really thought I'd seen it before, but I think I caught maybe the last five minutes.  I really hadn't seen it.

It's a movie about a sad kid living with his mom and baby sister in a new town who meets a dog that can shoot baskets.  Like, there was a real dog that could do that, and they filmed him and we had a movie about a kid overcoming some minor obstacles, the meaning of teamwork, friendship, bad coaching, sports dads being jerks, responsible pet ownership, the evil of clowns and how cool it really is when you train a Golden Retriever to shoot baskets.

It wasn't going to win any Oscars, but it wasn't totally stupid.

Weirdly, I still haven't watched my BluRay of Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet.  Toonight, maybe?

Noir Watch: Phantom Lady (1944)

Movies produced during the height of WWII are always interesting.  You certainly get to see who signed up to serve and who stayed stateside.  That's no judgment, everyone had reasons they did what they did.  Just a couple of weeks back, for the first time I saw the government docs telling my own grandfather he was not going to be signing up as his civilian job was considered vital to the war effort.

So, we get Franchot Tone, not really the biggest star to come out of Hollywood, and hardly a household name in 2016 (he was married to Joan Crawford for several years, so may God have mercy upon his soul).  I don't think I know Alan Curtis except for looking familiar enough he must have been in something I saw (ah.  High Sierra.).  And Ella Raines is both very good in the movie and terribly attractive, so its a bit odd this movie in particular didn't launch her further along.

Noir fans will, of course, delight to see Elisha Cook, Jr. show up in a movie doing anything, and hear he plays a lecherous jazz drummer.