Saturday, April 30, 2016

Alien Day Watch: Alien (1979)

It had been some time since I'd seen Alien, and I had never seen it on the big screen.  The Alamo Drafthouse was doing double-bills of Alien and Aliens, and then Alien3 and Alien Resurrection.  I showed up for the double-bill, but I've been exhausted all week, and when SimonUK, my movie buddy, announced he'd seen the two movies on 4/26, I felt like I had an out.  So, we watched Alien, grabbed a pint at the bar after skipping out on movie #2, and then I went home for 40 winks.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A "National Superhero Day" Tour of The Fortress

About three years ago I did a post where I took a bunch of photos of my collections.  But it's been a while, so I thought for National Superhero Day, I'd take some pics and show you where we're at today with the collections of The Fortress of Nerditude/ League HQ/ Signal Watchtower.

John Williams Appreciation Post: Rey's Theme from The Force Awakens (2015)

There were many things I enjoyed in the Star Wars prequels, but the parts could never quite match the whole of what I was hoping for.  Among the bits I enjoyed - Williams' scores stayed up to snuff.  But I figured when Disney picked up the franchise, he'd be retired.  Little did I know.

I was delighted that, in his 80's, he was willing to come back to Star Wars.  He's not a kid, and we should be quite grateful that he's not just alive, but still, if the Force Awakens score is any indication, still as good as ever.

I loved Rey's theme.

It's difficult to talk about, as I lack the vocabulary for discussing music properly, but it has a Williams-ian adventure hook, but it's also got some lighter bit in the woodwinds, "feminine", lighter, more "humble" than anything.  She's a - as the track is called on the soundtrack "Scavenger".  She's one of these desert people scraping by.  She doesn't even have an Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and pleasantly domestic existence - but she also can't leave, even if she doesn't entirely understand why.  Luke sought the great expanse beyond his twin suns.  Rey wants someone to come to her, but, instead, she has to go.

The music goes from simple woodwinds to orchestral sweeps, just as she goes out upon her adventure.  It's a complex piece, to my ear, as Rey is perhaps a more complex character than Luke was before her - at least at the beginning of her story in comparison to his own in Episode IV.  There's a lot more going on there for her here in Episode VII, with 6 movies of history preceding her, and a history that's taken place between those films.

As Luke's theme was what we think of as "The Force" theme, Rey's theme merges with The Force, and the next part of the Star Wars saga begins in earnest.

Today is, I guess, #nationalsuperheroday

Here are some folks who have been pretty good friends to me over the years. Here's to Superheroes!

All art by the great Alex Ross.

Today Marks Our 16th Anniversary

Thanks for being you, Jamie.  I love you!  I've got no other words.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Colonel Roosevelt (2010) - audiobook

In college I started reading up a bit on Theodore Roosevelt.  If you're reading American History of the 20th Century, he's a figure that looms incredibly large, and I wasn't the first History major to take an interest.  In fact, my instructor for my "Presidents and the Press" course was a bit of a Roosevelt scholar, and when it came time to write a paper and I was asking him for topics on TR, he told me to forget it - there was nothing new to research, and sent me down the path of researching a minor scandal during the Wilson administration (and that's when I turned on Wilson).  

To Dr. Gould's point, there's a lot of stuff out there both about and by Theodore Roosevelt.  And, no, an undergrad history major who wanted to write about the Panama Canal or Russian/ Japanese peace treaty wasn't going to produce any original scholarship on the matter.  You begin with reading about TR's great deeds and see him as a champion you can't believe has become something of an obscure lost-uncle figure to many Americans in comparison to FDR (or even his niece, Eleanor), but, much like Shaft, TR is a complicated man.

Colonel Roosevelt (2010) is the third in a triptych of biographies by Edmund Morris.  The first to arrive came out in 1979, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, but I wouldn't read it until about 2001 on a trip with Jamie's family.  On a personal note - reading that book on the porch of a cabin in Minnesota and taking long breaks to fish, cook fish and eat fish, was maybe some the most pleasant few days I can ever recall.  The second installment, Theodore Rex, arrived in 2002, and really covered the era of Roosevelt's presidency (and for anyone who thinks our current administration is acting with unprecedented imperial-like authority, my friends...  not even close).

The third installment, Colonel Roosevelt, covers the era between Roosevelt departing office until his death.  If you think a post-presidency career for Roosevelt was one of quiet solitude, well... (a) your understanding of 20th Century Presidential Politics needs a refresher, and (b) you are so, so wrong.

One day I will read a Roosevelt biography and reach the descriptions of his death and funeral and not get weepy, but, today is not this day.

Happy Aliens Day!

So, we're really doing this, huh?

It seems we're gonna now have a sci-fi holiday every few months, this latest being 4/26, in honor of the planet LV-426, where the Norstromo set down in Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror masterpiece, Alien.

I'm not due to watch the movie until a double-bill tomorrow night with pal SimonUK, but see both of the first two Alien movies I shall.

I saw Aliens the first time when I was in middle school when I was at an all-day Saturday academic competition and a parent accidentally put it on a video player in a "relaxation" room.  Something like 4 dozen kids silently agreed not to tell anyone we were watching a Rated-R action/ sci-fi/ horror film so we'd all get a chance to watch an R-Rated movie on someone else's dime.  Jason was there, so I assume it was when I was in grade 6 and he in grade 8.

I loved it.  I still recall that I came home, admitted to The Admiral that I'd seen this rated-R movie that he would totally dig, and we went and rented it, and, indeed, we all dug it together.  I then recorded the film off HBO, and proceeded to watch it a grand total of 32 times in one calendar year.  I could quote it line for line.

Weirdly, I wasn't that interested in Alien.  I finally watched Alien in 8th or 9th grade, and I liked it.  A lot.  But I wasn't much of a horror film guy, and the horror overtones never grabbed me in quite the same way that Ripley v. Alien Queen had captured my young mind.

Kind of an odd thing, in retrospect, that I never thought twice about our lead as a woman the same age as many-a-teacher or mom, who wasn't asked to do the Sybil Danning bit, but was exactly what she was supposed to be.  A competent do-er, the person with a head on her shoulders when the shiznit hit the fan.  And for a long time, when the question would come up "why aren't there more women in action roles" it wasn't that we'd point to Sigourney Weaver as proof that there were, but proof that "yeah, I dunno.  Sigourney Weaver is an exemplar of what an audience finds perfectly reasonable in a movie.  More of that, I think."

But, man, those Giger visuals, the pounding score, the phenomenally envisioned sets...  it's a hell of a movie.  A little startling when you go and watch Them! and realize Cameron more or less ripped off a lot of that movie for his picture, but both still work. Especially when you get that last, unexpected battle with the loader and Alien Queen.

That's the stuff, right there.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Doc Watch: Electric Boogaloo - The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

I started watching this doc thinking I'd make it maybe 15 minutes in, get bored, and move on with my life.  But, really, my primary complaint about the film is that it seems like it could have run an additional 30 minutes or so, delving into more of the impact of Cannon Films on popular culture and where the movies found their audiences, and not ever felt like it was running long.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) is exactly what you see in the title.  It's a doc about the rise and fall of the independent movie studio responsible for an ungodly amount of the types of movies suburban kids consumed by the truckload back in the 1980's - particularly when our folks were off doing other things and not paying much attention to what we were watching.  Cannon was responsible for just a tremendous number of movies of all genres, and for a kid back in the 1980's, it was pretty typical to go rent a movie, come home, throw it in the VCR and see the Cannon logo scroll out before you.

The basic hook of the movie is that Cannon was fast, cheap and out of control.  They were making movies fast and furious, producing what they assumed was crowd-pleasing stuff, leaving decorum, taste and craftsmanship behind as they raced to give us an endless supply of films loaded with violence, nudity, ridiculous plots and a way to kill a couple of hours on a Saturday night.  They gave us everything from Breakin' parts 1 and 2 to The Last American Virgin to American Ninja to Bolero to Invasion USA to Masters of the Universe to Over the Top, and dozens and dozens of movies in between.  If you're over the age of 35 or so, it's highly likely you raised yourself on a steady diet of their output running on cable or from the local Mom & Pop video rental shop.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Raimi Watch: Darkman (1990)

I don't believe anyone in the movie actually calls the main character "Darkman", btw

What to say about Darkman (1990)?

It's hard to categorize as "good", and I think my affection for it is rooted in nostalgia and the electric current I got seeing this very, very strange movie when I was 15.  It came out just shortly after I'd moved to Spring, TX, where I'd live from grades 10-12.  I was vaguely aware of a movie called Evil Dead 2 that you were supposed to see, but I hadn't seen it yet, and I'd never heard of Sam Raimi.  I just took Darkman for what I thought it was and what I'm sure the studio brass also thought they had: a royalty-free superhero movie they could make cheaply and quickly to ride on the coattails of Batman (1989) and America's awakening interest in superhero movies about "dark" heroes.

400 Years Since We Lost Billy Shakespeare

Purveyor of dirty jokes for more than 400 years

April 23rd (yesterday) marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

What an absolutely strange relationship we have with Shakespeare.  And by "we", I mean everyone dwelling the planet who has to wrangle with the English language, and, therefore felt the impact of the man that people in tweed jackets call "The Bard".

What other writer can you say "I got my Masters in X", and people simply nod in understanding?   Who else did every one of us start reading in middle school and carry on reading after college?  What other 17th Century playwrights have you seen lately?  Who else coined more phrases and uses of phrase than Billy Shakes?

Why Did I Do This? Watch: Can't Stop the Music (1980)

"I can't believe you haven't seen this movie," my boss said to me.  "It's terrible."
And, me, never one to shirk from a challenge, saw that it was, indeed, free on Amazon Prime.
Hubris is always punished, my friends.

To complain about a movie that convinced a group of people to found The Razzies is a somewhat pointless endeavor.  But, yeah, you can absolutely see how this movie would have convinced someone to make sure the ineptitude of the filmmaking got its own special notice.  It's a movie so bad, you kind of feel like maybe you'd go crazy if forced to watch it two or three times in a row - a designation I reserve for a very few films of the Manos: The Hands of Fate variety.

In some ways, it feels like a 1940's Mickey Rooney/ Judy Garland film, as a songwriter (Steve f-ing Guttenberg) and former model (Valerie Perrine) put together an act and put on a show, recruiting their upstairs neighbor (who happens to always dress as a a Native American stereotype) and some guys they know from the disco (a portion of what is to become The Village People).  The old-timey tone may make sense when you find out it was directed by Rosie, the Bounty Towel pitch-lady/ Rhoda's mom/ comedienne who appeared with Mickey Rooney in films, Nancy Walker.