Thursday, August 4, 2016

Nick & Nora Watch: Another Thin Man (1939)

After two great movies in a row, the third installment of the Thin Man series, Another Thin Man (1939) feels like a project that just didn't gel as well as it could have.

I recently completed reading The Return of the Thin Man, which is less a book and more the lost story-treatments and scripts that Dashiell Hammett worked on during his tenure in Hollywood and some editorial/ historical notes about what was going on with Hammett in relation to the work.  Frankly, you're probably better off just watching the two movies it covers - After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man, but completionists will find the book worth checking out.

The gist of the notes about this third movie indicate that not only was Hammett sort of done with Nick and Nora before he even started work on the movie, the credited screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett - who had worked with Hammett on the two prior films - were also ready to call it a day.

All in all, the film does work.  Let's not call it a troubled film.  But the alchemy that caught everyone's attention in the original that semi-carried over to the sequel, is fizzling a smidge by this installment.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

70's Watch: Shaft (1971)

In the 1990's, for reasons that involve a lot of co-option of black culture by suburban white kids, and waffling between irony, genuine appreciation and I think a sincere love for the score - young white America somehow became invested in the 1971 film that was considered one of the best films to come out of the blaxploitation movement, Shaft.

Context free, a lot of us cracker kids watched I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka on VHS or HBO, maybe understanding that this was riffing on movies of a prior era, but I hadn't seen them, nor had my peers.  I think the closest I got to taking in any blaxploitation film until the early 90's was tuning into Super Fly one night as a kid in middle school, believing from the title that it was a superhero movie I'd somehow missed.  If anything, I got a clue as to what the spoof movie had been on about via reruns of TV shows that lifted from blaxploitation, but I confess to being mostly ignorant of the genre until maybe 1992 or when I got to college.

Kids hipper to a wider variety of music than what I listened to picked up pop-culture references as 80's and 90's hip-hop name-dropped and sampled from 70's actioners and that bled over to other genres of dance music.  The curious kids picked up some of those movies to rent and saw a lot of stuff I didn't catch until others got me to take a look or I heard about it word of mouth (the internet was just Star Trek fan pages and lo-fi porn then, you see).  Other kids who had gotten into soul and funk music tracked down Isaac Hayes and wanted to actually see Shaft.  I do know that by the time I left high school, I was at least aware of who Hayes was, but that was about it.  Had maybe heard of Shaft, but this was also an era in which your local Blockbuster likely didn't carry movies that were older than 7 or 8 years from the theater.

As a good, sorta-hip white kid of the 1990's, I caught Shaft at some point during film school.  I don't remember if it was before or after a unit on blaxploitation as a genre and my first exposure to Pam Grier (something a young man never forgets).

The funny thing is - watching it this last weekend, I didn't really remember Shaft all that well.  Once the one guy gets tossed out the window, I couldn't really piece together what the plot had been, just snippets here and there.  So, I was pleasantly surprised to find out - Shaft is actually a strong private detective story in a classic pulp-crime style (deeply appealing to this viewer), with a fascinating protagonist who is literally not playing by anyone else's rules - if'n you should ever want to see what that actually looks like, you with your anti-heroes.

And, of course, Shaft is a Black superhero who cuts through white culture through the sheer power of not giving a good goddamn.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Shark Watch: Sharknado 4 - The Fourth Awakens

It's never quite been the same since the first Sharknado movie appeared on TV like a bolt out of the blue.  Yes, it was absurd, it starred sharks, it featured actors whose careers had seemingly jumped the... shark.  In those weird years where the SyFy network decided it was all about post-Corman D-level movies with C to Z-list actors, and movie after movie about man vs. monster was released into the wilds of basic cable - those movies - which never took themselves seriously - also usually came with a reduced sense of humor and never quite, exactly, seeing how absurd they could get.

And then came Sharknado.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

August 1, 2016 Marks the 50th Anniversary of the Shootings at the University of Texas

I wrote about the tower shootings on the 46th anniversary of the event, and I talked a bit about what the tower means to those of us who live in Austin, the students and alumni and those of us who work in the shadow of the UT Tower.

Monday, August 1st marks the 50th Anniversary of the tragedy on the UT Campus.  With time and distance, UT has learned to talk about the day, quite unlike in the era when I was a student at UT (1993-1998).  There has been one dedication ceremony of the Memorial Garden which sits south of the Main Building (alumni will remember it as the Turtle Pond), and tomorrow will see a re-dedication ceremony.

A documentary on the event, Tower, has been winning acclaim far and wide.  I've heard from those who've seen it that it's excellent, and I keep missing opportunities to see it myself.  The film focuses less on the means and motives of the shooter, and, instead, on the people caught in the crossfire, using a wide array of modern technologies to recreate the day with respect and immediacy.  Here's to broad release soon.

The Austin American Statesman has put up an excellent site with interviews of witnesses, timelines, etc...

From Wikipedia:

Bourne Watch: Jason Bourne (2016)

This is my fourth Bourne movie, and with about 9 years between The Bourne Ultimatum and Jason Bourne (2016), a lot has changed in the world and in movies.  You'd be hard pressed not to find an action movie not taking something from Paul Greengrass's energetic direction and tracking camera shots.  It's something I'm maybe too aware of when I watch something like Captain America: Civil War, when they go in for some "authenticity", or at least a particular feel to the action in the Lagos scenes - that "we're on an espionage mission, so the camera needs to be shakey" look to the proceedings comes right out of these movies.

But as a character in film, Bourne was always a bit flat, a bit two dimensional.  He was the hero who was complex not by what he did, necessarily, but by virtue of the background given him.  Then he proceeded to act like a fairly standard-issue guy-in-a-white-hat action hero.  Matt Damon did a lot to make the character likable, and when you're one guy against the CIA, there's a lot to root for.

The first three films contained the plot of what might have been in a single film if the Bourne movies weren't mostly about the extended action sequences.  Really, The Bourne Ultimatum is impossible to understand unless you've seen the first two, and it's really the third act of a story about Jason Bourne recovering himself from a bunch of shady dudes who got him to volunteer for a CIA program that made him a superhuman, but messed badly with his personality and splintered his mind.

I don't think the third movie, no matter how many Joan Allens in turtlenecks it may contain, is actually a great movie.  It's a necessary concluding chapter with more impressive stunts than prior films.  And speaking of Joan Allen, my feeling was that Pam Landy's part was more pivotal in making you care that any of this was happening at all than anyone realized.  Without a Pam Landy, you've got a bunch of people just operating in a moral neutral zone where it's all about government folks playing CYA and a guy who's a bit of a cypher trying to not die.  That's not really a story, per se.

I was unsure what to expect with a fourth installment, especially one arriving late.  I had no idea what story they might concoct to see Jason Bourne back in action after escaping.  But, like Batman comics of late, it seems there's no part of Bourne's origin that we don't need to explore more, and so it's back to the origins of Treadstone,

Comedy Watch: Super Troopers

It's been years since I watched Super Troopers (2001).

Thanks to my incessant theater-going between 1994-2002, I caught this one during it's theatrical release and was able to say "I saw this before it became a hit via home video and cable".  Thus, my hipster credential or whatever.

Going back is never easy.  The comedies I enjoyed from my teens through my early twenties reflect much more of the sense of humor of a young man who can happily sit through, say, one of Adam Sandler's earlier works.  Which I did.  Heck, in my teens, I saw a Pauly Shore movie in the theater.   This is sacrilege for a 90's Austinite, but I find Dazed and Confused nigh unwatchable these days.

Super Troopers 2001 was the brainchild of and investment in comedy troupe Broken Lizard, and was marketed as such, which was weird, because I don't think anyone had ever heard of Broken Lizard in most major markets.  They hadn't had a show on MTV or Comedy Central or anything that I recall.

The movie uses the set-up of making the Broken Lizard guys highway patrol officers in upstate Vermont, not known for having a whole bevy of issues, and so the cops spend their days entertaining  themselves with comedy sketches along the roadway and trading insults with city cops from the local small town.  Really, especially in the first 45 minutes of the movie, that's where the movie works best and is genuinely funny (to me, anyway).  And that's the part everyone remembers.