Saturday, September 17, 2016

Happy Birthday to Cassandra Peterson, AKA @TheRealElvira

Happy birthday to Cassandra Peterson, better known to the masses as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

May Ms. Peterson have a great year ahead of her!

90's Techno Watch: The Net (1995)

I remember seeing the commercials for the 1995 thriller, The Net, rolling my eyes, and making a firm decision that I would not see this movie.  Over the years, it's surprised me how many people have seen it, declared it terrible, and then expressed surprise that I hadn't seen it and never wanted to see it.

The kids will never understand what it was like in 1995, but we were on the teetering edge of a revolution in computing entering the lives of everyone on the planet.  Up to that point, computers had been, in the eyes of the public, a weird mix of science-fiction, radio-kit-bashers-gone-mad, a point of ridicule if people spend too much time with them outside of work, and seen as the key to god-like power as evidenced in everything from Weird Science to War Games to Ferris Bueller.  And, my God, such an overwhelmingly male-oriented hobby or interest.

My first introduction to what we'd wind up calling "the internet" was via the hand-waving plot explanations of War Games, but in real like, I only ever knew one kid, our own Groboclown, who had a modem in his house.  Aside from that, they were kind of a mystery.  By middle-school, I was aware of the "cyberpunk" literary movement, but mostly picked up the terms and ideas of "netrunners" second hand from my brother, who actually read the stuff.  But even at that - I got my head around the potential for use, for abuse, for second lives online (that would overtake meatspace).

When I got my first computer (a refurbished Pack-Bell 486 with Windows 3.1.  Like a @#$%ing BOSS, y'all!) and headed off to college, that was kind of an act of faith on the part of my parents.  They saw it as an over-powered Smith-Corona word processor, which was all we'd had in the house since I was 14 (the early Vic 20 and Apple IIe experiments had not made us computer whizzes).  And there was an assumption I'd do things with it, but no one could say what those things would be.

Fortunately at UT, I managed to move in down the hall from some guys who were already deeply computer savvy and who had actual modems and whatnot.  And, they weren't the kind of guys who sat in the dark and played Doom and didn't converse.  Instead, we were soon running wires down the hallway for networked play, and by Spring semester, with a used and battered 2400 baud modem installed in my computer and an account from UT, I was online.  Not that there was much to do online in 1994, but I was there!

But 1995's film, The Net, was less reflective of the techo-utopianism a lot of us were buying into thanks to pop publications like Wired.  The marketing and concept spoke a whole lot more to our parents' newspaper-headline driven concern over "this crazy, out of control technology", a future-shock echo that was rippling through the world that was just beginning to understand what it meant to suddenly start seeing monitors on every desk at every job and what was happening as we were having to give all those people our names, phone numbers, etc...

Those weren't just stand-alone ugly data-systems anymore, they were now on the Information Superhighway!*

My point is - the context of 1995 when The Net made it to cinemas everywhere with America's newest darling of the Star System-era of Hollywood, Sandra Bullock, was one of an already buzzing fear or discomfort.  Everything about the trailer reeked of the paranoia I could feel from my professors, from the general public and folks who were doing just fine in life without needing an email address, let alone a magic phone in their pocket that was a portal to all of human knowledge and able to access monumental computer systems to provide predictions and prescriptive behavior.*

Anyway, if The Net (1995) has one fatal flaw, it is not the absolutely terrible depiction of computing and the internet that boils away any goodwill the pretty-well researched first act sets up.  It is not a bad performance by Sandra Bullock, who is really very good in what limited amount of action she's given to take as a witness to her own life falling apart around her and a clunker of a script.

The movie is incredibly boring.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Happy Birthday, Lauren Bacall

Today marks the 92nd birthday of actress and screen legend Lauren Bacall.  She passed in 2014, just a month shy of her 90th birthday.

I don't often post pics of Bacall because stills never seem to capture her quite right, in my opinion.  I can't really think of any other actress who strikes me exactly that way, but I've long since quit trying to find the "right" picture of someone who was lovely as a picture, sure, but who's voice and nuances of expression were what made her work so very well in movies.

Happy birthday, Ms. Bacall.

Horror Watch: Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria (1977) is one of those movies that you see cited a whole lot for various reasons, usually around cinematography or as it exploited a trope of the horror genre that someone wants to discuss and class it up a bit.

For this reason, about a year ago I decided I wanted to see Suspiria, but as it wasn't on Netflix of available via Amazon Prime, my efforts were thwarted.  Luckily, Austin still has a movie rental company called Vulcan Video which recently moved it's South location to actual South Austin (Ben White, bitches!  Near both Blazer Tag and Jamie's dialysis clinic!).  I went and renewed my membership, discovering the last time I was in was July 20th, 2001.  Jamie believes we last rented "The Star Wars Holiday Special", which sounds about right.

When I've asked people if they've seen Suspiria, and they've answered in the affirmative, they usually also back it up with "it's interesting, but I'm not sure it's very good."  Which told me what I needed to know going into the film.

Anyway, point is - Suspiria was available.  I rented it  I watched it.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Catch Up Watch: Beauty and the Beast (1946)

I believe it was in 1994 or 1995 that our own JAL suggested I was Jean Cocteau's cinematic fever dream Beauty and the Beast (1946), or, as it's French, La Belle et la Bete.  I don't know why it took me so long to finally watch it when I've probably watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation at least three times during the same interval, but there you go.

Most of my knowledge of the story of the fable of Beauty and the Beast comes from (a) the Disney film I've seen about a dozen times and (b) half-remembered snippets from a unit in my second grade class where Ms. Miles read us fairy tales.  But I don't know if I've read any official versions of the story since childhood, I just remembered the "Belle's dad gives Belle a raw deal, something about a magic mirror, and Beast getting very sick because Belle leaves to go back home for a bit".  And, of course, that he turns into a handsome prince.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Happy B-Day, Claudette Colbert

Today is the 113th birthday of Ms. Claudette Colbert, a film star who was especially prominent in the 1930's and 1940's.

I have only seen a few Claudette Colbert movies, but she's pretty terrific.  And if you haven't seen It Happened One Night, fix that problem.

And if that doesn't work for you, I recommend her film Cleopatra from 1934.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bond Watch: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) is one of my favorite Bond films.  If I had a top 5 pre-Craig Bond films, this would be hovering right next to Goldfinger.  It's peak Moore, when he's not just seemingly having a laugh in a tux, but he's funny as hell but still buyable in action sequences - of which this movie has some good ones.  It has one of my favorite title sequences/ theme songs after Goldfinger with Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better", and the pre-title's opening is directly tied to character motivations later in the film (and it's a bad-ass ski-chase with the best ending to a ski chase on film!).

Doc Watch: Darkon (2006)

When I was in high school, I'd quit playing officially sanctioned sports about 3 games into the basketball season my sophomore year (that's a whole other story, but let's just say - that was my first experience in recognizing an adult had no idea what they were doing).  I was kind of between activities at one point, and somehow heard about this thing where people were hitting each other with foam swords and shields - Society for Creative Anachronism.  I briefly considered getting involved - I mean, who doesn't want to smack someone with a sword? - but then had a thought that maybe this was not going to be the thing I would do, even if it were fun.  It sounded like something that would start off exciting and then devolve into nonsense.

Watching 90 minutes of the 2006 documentary film Darkon has not cleared up much of how that would have gone for me.

Darkon (2006) follows the better part of a year of an intricately designed and played Live Action Role-Playing game (aka: LARPing) and the lives of the folks who partake in the... activity?  Lifestyle?

"Darkon" is the name of the fantasy continent inhabited by the players of the game.  They keep a map of spaces broken out into hexes (a common sight to anyone who played table-top RPG's) and battle in real-space for those hexes with a set of seemingly well-agreed upon battle rules.  Armies of folks representing nations (armies seeming between 15 and up to 75 people) whack at each other with foam covered weapons and an array of objects meant to represent everything from catapult missiles to wizard-cast "fireballs" or, more infamously, "lightning bolts".

The players take on characters - lots of Lords of Realms and whatnot.  Magical beings.  Wizards.  If it showed up in a fantasy novel in the past 40 years, it's probably something someone is pretending to be.