Thursday, December 28, 2017

Happy 95th to Stan Lee!

Say what you will about cheesy hucksterism, but I grew up knowing who Stan Lee and Marvel were years before I read a comic book.  Back in the 70's and 80's, Stan didn't just have his name on every Marvel comic ("Stan Lee Presents:"), and his name on every Marvel cartoon, he was also providing editor's note voice-over to episodes of The Incredible Hulk and other cartoons.  I knew what it was to be a "True Believer" before I ever read a word-bubble of Spidey's inner monologue.

Speaking of:  he also wrote the Spidey daily newspaper strip (in theory), which I read in collections as I got into comics.

Of course we can go back and forth all day about the Kirby/ Ditko/ Lee contributions that made up Marvel starting in '62.  But none of them would have done it without the others.  And, more than that, the longterm effect of Lee's boosterism of comics and comic-book characters is utterly incalculable in a landscape littered with superhero films, TV shows, cartoons, merchandise, toys, clothing, and where even Dr. Strange is now a household name.

I know Stan has made mistakes and not always made decisions that make sense to idealistic fans.  That comes with the territory of being a walking icon and making mistakes as you go.

But I'm grateful he's had a chance to see the world embrace his creations, watched his comic empire flourish for going on six decades, and become a household name himself.


Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas Morning!

Merry Christmas, every buddy.

I hope you're spending today as you like, whether it's in the company of friends, family or feet up and watching a Godzilla marathon while no one bothers you. 

May the day be a peaceful one.  May the close of the year be the best of days.  Let's all strive to be better people in the coming year. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Star Wars Watch: The Last Jedi

If I tend to do extra-sized posts for big, monumental movies that fit into the Venn Diagram of the kinds of movies which I'll cover these days - one of the things I liked quite a bit about Star Wars: The Last Jedi is that there's so much to talk about.  And, as happened with Blade Runner 2049 and a few other movies of late, I entered with zero expectations and found myself so fully immersed for the film's runtime, I know I didn't catch it all.  I am glad to say that this movie bears a second viewing, something I was ready to do at the very moment I finished my Tuesday night screening.

Like a lot of folks, I was pleased when the reviews came out and pulled a mid 90th percentile on RottenTomatoes. And, when the movie then pulled a 50-something percent in audience reviews on RT, I said to Max, "well, this probably means I'm going to love it."*  After all, you can kind of count on people with overly strong reactions to be the most vocal and actually take to the internets to voice their opinions (this is why Yelp! reviews are nearly useless).

And the movie is both a very, very conservative Star Wars movie and something that knows the series cannot just be retreads of the original trilogy in perpetuity.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Remembering Audrey Totter on her 100th Birthday

Several years ago I was out visiting San Francisco and JeniferS showed me a noir she knew I'd never seen, starring Richard Basehart, Cyd Charise and an actor she adored but with whom I was unfamiliar, Audrey Totter.  The movie was Tension, and it was all kinds of terrific.  But, yes, Jenifer was right, Audrey Totter was absolutely phenomenal in that movie, stealing focus in every scene.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas Watch: Love Actually (2003)

People, sometimes a movie is so not aimed at you, all you can do is accept that fact, sit back, and just try to figure it out from an anthropological context.

I'm not going to try to claim Love Actually (2003) is a bad movie, but I will say that it is a movie that I didn't understand.  Credit where it's due - 14 years on, it's a bonafide modern holiday favorite with a fanbase large enough that for a decade after the film's release, studios kept trying to replicate what worked here for New Years, Valentine's Day, and maybe Mother's Day (I don't know.  I wasn't paying attention.).  And my good pal, SimonUK, talks about this movie quite a bit.  He frikkin' loves this movie.  He is, of course, English, and I think the cultural cues I was missing make much more sense to him.  Apparently the race to see who has the #1 Christmas song in England every year is a real thing (which, I know... weird).

Even I knew that this was a movie about a lot of people falling in love, facing the challenges of love, and defining love as something other than romantic or sexual.  What this means is that over the course of what I think was a 90-minute movie, about ten different stories played out as loosely tied vignettes.  Some of them better than others.  Some of them sweet and simple and some making me raise my hand and waiting to be called upon as I had so many questions.

Of the movie's run-time, I enjoyed the back 1/3rd of the movie, but found the first third grating and the middle third baffling and sometimes tedious.  I will say, the movie really did stick the landing in a way that nothing prior had suggested was coming.  I went from not-cracking-a-smile and checking my phone to actively engaged and actual laughing out loud.  I'm not sure I've ever had this experience before with a movie, where nothing changed about how I felt about what I was seeing previously by what I was now seeing - but I felt the quality of the movie quadrupled in just a scene or two and roughly maintained that level through to the end.

Happy Birthday to JimD

JimD holds aloft his magic sword
Happy birthday, Jim.  May Castle Greyskull give you the POWER

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"A Christmas Story Live!" Hot Takes

On the evening of 12/17/2017, Fox broadcast a sorta-live version of what's apparently a real Broadway musical, a - if I'm being honest - not terribly great musical.

And there is nothing like checking in with twitter to get the voices of America, and despair.

There were a lot of pleased, happy tweets.  A lot of criticism, just and otherwise.  But I grabbed a few samples to share with you.  They will tell you all you need to know about The Greatest Country on Earth and what people think is a pretty good idea to just shout into the internet void.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Wrapping up 2017

We all thought 2016 was a bad year.  We lost Bowie right off the bat, and then Prince and a parade of other folks who we'd grown up with and who seemed taken too soon.  But I'll be honest, now I'm just wondering what sort of smoking crater I'll be wandering around in looking for protein sources by this time in 2018.

I spend some amount of time talking myself down in regards to the political situation in the U.S., but it's difficult to feel like things are going well when stories have started circulating that the White House is entertaining the idea of a secret police force answerable and loyal to the occupant of the Oval Office.  It's hard to feel like things are going well when a guy who already seemed like a lunatic, even by Southern standards, was nominated for Senator for Alabama and is still doing okay despite charges of pedophilia and is so racist he has no idea he's racist.  And it's not like Alabama is pro-pedophilia, it's that we're finding out that half of the country hates the other half so much, they'd rather elect politicians who are willing to reflect and magnify their fury at "the left", no matter how far afield those people are from the supposed moral center of "the right".  I kind of worry people might genuinely murder me, given the chance, for thinking our collective financial power could ensure the healthcare of every American.

The Wild Ride of Joys and Disappointments of "Justice League" in a 3 minute clip

Superman actually *acts* like Superman, but because the movie needed reshoots and Cavill was legally required to keep his mustache for Mission Impossible 64 (or whatever), they had to digitally remove the facial fuzz.  And it looks terrible.  So, like all of Justice League, you get some really good stuff, but you have to take it on the chin a little, too.

And, hey, that is JUST like Batman from the comics!  It's just... kind of a not-great scene.  I dunno.  How he fights the guy doesn't even make a lot of sense, really.  He has him on the ground, and then he lets him get back to the gun while he runs away to scurry up a water tower?  And it's the last we'll see of him in Batman-mode in quite this way. 

This is kind of Justice League in a nutshell.  Has stuff you really want to see, but the delivery vehicle is terribly messy.  Still, worth a watch.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

It's Just not Christmas Until Audrey Totter is Looking Right Into the Lens

Through not-so-mysterious means, the 1947 film Lady in the Lake has become a perennial holiday favorite for me.  Philip Marlowe detecting, Christmas time and Audrey Totter sorta looking you in the face.

This is the movie directed by (and kinda starring) Robert Montgomery as Marlowe and shot almost entirely from his POV.  Pretty amazing work for the era and size of cameras in 1947.  The book is darker and more grisly than the movie, and not set at Christmas, if memory serves.  The plot is complicated by the fact the movie never visits the key location from the book, keeping everything in the city and refusing much in the way of exterior shooting.

But, hey, Audrey Totter is terrific.  And they actually make Christmas kind of key to the adaptation, so that's fun.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Happy Birthday to Ms. Gloria Grahame

You probably know Gloria Grahame for her small but pivotal part in It's a Wonderful Life as Violet, the attractive blonde in Bedford Falls who fails to land Jimmy Stewart and is a headcase in the Pottersville segment of the movie.

But Grahame's career included a lot of noir, some musicals (she's in Oklahoma! as Ado Annie), and a life off-screen that was dramatic, to say the least.  If you follow older films and want to see some top notch noir, I recommend (very highly):

  • Crossfire
  • The Big Heat
  • In a Lonely Place
  • Human Desire

But this list is not even close to comprehensive when it comes to her body of work.

Like a lot of women of her generation in Hollywood, her rise was incredibly fast and her path out of Hollywood was rocky, to say the least.  Curiously, Annette Benning is playing Grahame in an upcoming movie that covers the final years of Grahame's life, from what I can tell.  Looks promising, as far as these movies go.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

(TL;DR) The Whitest Christmas of All: Hallmark Christmas Movies

Hollywood is Weird

I am 90% positive I've previously mentioned my fascination with basic-cable Christmas movies.  I'm not talking about the endless rerunning of Elf, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, or other films that had a theatrical life before finding a permanent second life as seasonal programming somewhere on the basic-cable dial.  I'm talking about the made-for-TV 2 hour films that appear on The Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Lifetime and the Up Network, running in an endless loop, 24-hours-per day, starting this year a few days before Halloween.

Look, I'm not against Christmas.  But, as Jamie wisely pointed out to me, if you're starting your Christmas movies October 20-something, that makes Christmas last fully 1/6th of the year, and that's insane.  And, it bulldozes two fairly major holidays inbetween.

What's fascinating is that this model must be wildly profitable for Hallmark and the other networks for Hallmark to start running these channels as 24-hours-per day holiday movies so early.  These movies have their own little pocket of stars, the top of the heap features former Full House co-star Candice Cameron Bure and former Party of Five sib Lacey Chabert.  Others flirt with the stardom.  Alicia Witt's in a few of these, Lori Loughlin (also Full House), and you'll see a few other actors pulling double or triple duty as stars, but you can guarantee at least one or two new movies per year from Chabert and CCB.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Today is the 89th Birthday of Mickey Mouse

Today is the 89th anniversary of the debut of Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey cartoon to be released. We'll celebrate that next year on the 90th, but this year let's watch Plane Crazy, the first Mickey cartoon worked on by Walt and Ub Iwerks, but held off on release until they could add sound, after Steamboat Willie.

I may have an affection for all eras of Mickey cartoons, but the early, chaotic rubber-hose-armed early era holds a special place in my heart. The ingenuity of story, art, ideas and character is all there from the beginning, just popping off the screen. Yeah, there's influence from contemporaries like Felix and Koko, but Mickey and Minnie are a force unto themselves.  And these cartoons are as funny today as they ever were.  Just great stuff.

Happy B-Day, Mouse!

23 Days of Gourds for Randy - Day 22

Sunday, November 19, 2017

DC Movies Watch: Justice League (2017)

I had no intention of seeing Justice League (2017).

It's not that I don't like the Justice League as characters or concept - I'm a comics guy who tilts toward DC Comics, and once had a complete run of everything from Morrison's JLA run in the 90's to 2011 (I sold if off during the purging of longboxes about two years ago*).  My bonfides include significant runs of Wonder Woman, Superman and Flash comics, reasonable Batman-cred, and having had watched the respective movies and TV shows featuring the JLA characters in a wide variety of live-action and animated incarnations (with exceptions which I can discuss but won't do here). I will happily test my DC Comics-Fu against any of you nerds (but not Mark Waid).

I'm on record regarding Man of SteelBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman.  One of these films was much, much better than the other three.  Let's just say 2017 was much better for DC than prior years.

It's no secret those first three movies left me a broken, bitter man.  The very ethos of the films was so far afield from the DCU I knew and loved, and the take on Superman so fundamentally broken (and at the end of the day, I'm a Superman guy), that I just didn't want to do it again.  I'd watch it on cable or when JimD sent me the BluRay against my protestations.

Then, as of Thursday I guess, trusted sources, such as creators Mark Waid, Gail Simone, Sterling Gates and our own readers including Stuart and JimD saw the movie, and weren't furious at it.  They had some nice things to say.  So, I got my tickets and I went to a 10:45 PM show on Friday evening.

Let's be honest:  Justice League has massive plotting issues, bizarrely genericizes and changes Kirby's Fourth World mythology in a way that makes it feel one-note to audiences who don't know their Granny Goodness from their Mister Rogers while also ruining the epic world building for fans of The New Gods (one of the most important ideas in superhero comics and comics in general).**  It has some terrible CGI, I hate the Flash's costume (a TV show should not be kicking your butt in this arena), and not nearly enough Amy Adams for my dollar. ***


After three narrative and character misfires and one absolute gem of a superhero movie (you're my hero, Patty Jenkins), shake-ups in management at DC, a switch of directors, reshoots, a slashing of runtime by nearly an hour...  Some combo of people and factors finally seemed to care a bit about, at least, Superman.  If nothing else, they got Superman right.  And I cannot tell you how much of a difference that made to me as a viewer and what I was willing to deal with and what I wasn't in my superhero epic.

23 Days of Gourds for Randy - Day 19

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Today Marks the 95th Birthday of Veronica Lake

Today marks the 95th birthday of actor Veronica Lake.

I quite like Lake and she's in some great movies, from Sullivan's Travels to The Blue Dahlia.  My favorite is This Gun For Hire.  Lake's career in Hollywood was brief and tumultuous, and she was gone within a few years, but she left a tremendous mark few have been able to match. 

Lake passed in the early 70's, but that's a whole other story.  If you only know her from glamour photos, seek out one of her films.

23 Days of Gourds for Randy - Day 14

Friday, November 3, 2017

I liked "Thor: Rangarok"

Marvel is at an interesting point in it's movie making history.   We're, what, 20 movies in?  Now that they're past origin stories, they seem to have embraced two things:

  1. tone can vary 
  2. letting creators with a vision go a bit nuts means you aren't necessarily repeating yourself (as much)

Guardians of the Galaxy demonstrated that audiences wanted a bit of balance to grim-dark superheroes, and the abysmal approach to DC's slate of films up to Wonder Woman showed what *not* to do - so it's a bit rewarding to see Thor bounce back from what was arguably one of the weakest Marvel movies with Thor: The Dark World* and come back with the pop-corniest Marvel movie since... well, this summer's Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 were both pretty solid entries as well.  Let's just agree it's been a good year to be a Marvel movie fan.

Marvel's movies have reflected or echoed an arc not dissimilar to what has happened with the printed comics.   Hitting the stage with a surge of quick hits that were better than what we'd seen of late in the same genre, an expansion of the universe with a diversity of types of comics/ movies that reflect the milieu of each character, pulling them back together with Avengers comics/ movies as mega-events that never quite work, exactly, but do ground everyone in a single reality, then push everyone back out into their own books/ films.

23 Days of Gourds for Randy - Day 3

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Houston Astros Win World Series 2017!

I'm a Cubs fan, but I grew up in Texas, and spent part of elementary school and part of high school in Spring, which is part of Houston.

The 'Stros were the home team, but I wasn't a baseball fan.  That said, I still remember my folks taking me to see Jose Cruz and Nolan Ryan in the Astrodome.

But this isn't about me:  it's about my friends who suffered all these years watching the Lastros.  The Dis-Astros.  Who watched the 'Stros ditch the orange for some safe color choices and wait it out til it came back again.

Houston's pro sports last saw glory back when the Astros were in the World Series in 2005.  Prior to that, you have to look to the WNBA titles by the Comets in 97' and 98' or the Rockets' wins in basketball (gulp) back in 94' and 95'.   The Texans and Oilers just never really get there nor got there.

And, of course, Houston is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.  A lot of tough days for that city this year.

But, dang.  What a series.  I watch 98% Cubs baseball, so I mostly only see the National League, and those were the playoffs games I watched til the Dodgers took out my team.  Had the series gone Dodgers/ New York - maybe I would have watched... but I was in when the Astros bumped off New York.

I'll let you read elsewhere about the series.  But do yourself a favor and read up on Game 5, which was bizarre, and that article more or less encapsulates how it felt to watch the weirdest game I'd had the pleasure of watching - granted, I'm pretty new to baseball.

Congrats again to the Astros, but especially to my pals who have suffered with the team, year in and out.  And to my pals who were cheering for the Dodgers.  They had an extraordinary season and a series that looked to go either way during every inning of 7 games.

Oh, and:  Congrats to Carlos Correa of the Astros, who knew how to make the most of what was already a great moment, and who proposed to his girlfriend (she said "yes")!