Saturday, January 28, 2017

Stuff I Didn't Watch All the Way Through This Week

It's been a long week at work and in the news.  I was bemoaning one of these projects on twitter, and when I told CanadianSimon I'd quit watching the movie and two other things this week, he did point out - hey, it's been a weird week for Planet Earth.

Still, my patience was a bit raw, and that meant I didn't make it very far into a few things I'd been meaning to check out.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 

I didn't see this movie when it came out, mostly because I didn't really like much of anything about the first one.  Highlights included the casting of Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Stan Lee's cameo, but I didn't really get where Peter Parker as mouthy, non-nerdy teen-ager was coming from, and I was super-annoyed that they were trying to go down the 1990's path of exploring Peter's parents' death as integral to his history (dude got bit by a radioactive spider.  We don't need to heap 30 years of back story into it).  To top it off, their Spidey was never actually *funny* when quipping from inside the mask.  He came off a bit more like someone bragging while playing a video game against a hopelessly outclassed opponent.

Friday, January 27, 2017

That Gum You Like Is Going To Come Back In Style: A Twin Peaks Re-Watch

This spring, Showtime will bring back Twin Peaks, the short-lived, much beloved show that ran on TV circa 1990-1991 and had one feature film release, Fire Walk With Me in 1992.   Way, way back in the 1990's the show made headlines, and managed to capture the public imagination (sort of) during it's initial first season, which ran only 8 episodes.  But in the 1990's - as I am sure is true in some ways now - success meant the network and studio boys wanted to get a piece of the pie and get involved, and the second season started strong only to wobble under the weight of 22 hour-long episodes, as was the standard of the era for network shows.

The bizarre turns to quirk turns to a self-parody in pretty short order.  Time changes and a loss of the charm that marked the first dozen or so episodes plagued the show, and the show lost viewers.  At least it went out quickly.

It's hard to explain how utterly weird it was that Twin Peaks ever happened.  We were still basically in the era of three networks (with Fox just finding its footing) and a bunch of cable channels that were usually putting out original material of iffy quality.  Shows on the major networks were scientifically designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and so we wound up with a lot of what still shows on the networks today.  Cops, lawyers, doctors, and family sitcoms.  Some evening soaps with implied sex that came on between 9 and 10 in the Central time zone.  Hell, ALF was quirky.*  If you wanted a flavor of anything oddball, you were in deep cable or finding video stores with a "cult" section.  I mean, David Lynch was hardly a household name in 1990.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore Merges With The Infinite

Actor and producer Mary Tyler Moore has passed at the age of 80.

My first two memories of Mary Tyler Moore include realizing (a) that MTM tag at the end of shows was her production company and (b) thinking Rob Petrie married well the hell out of his league.  I mean, I was like 7 or 8 and didn't watch enough TV to quite get how this works, but I was pretty sure Laura had settled or Rob was rich or something.

Years later she broke new ground with the Mary Tyler Moore Show, showing a divorced woman making it in the city as a reporter.  The show was a hit and and Moore became a force in the entertainment world in her own right.

I'm not going to quite do her justice.  She will be missed.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Noir Watch: Boomerang! (1947)

I've really been wanting to see Boomerang! (1947) since NathanC reviewed it back a couple of months ago.  And because Nathan wrote it up, I don't have to!

Signal Watch Reads: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2004, audiobook)

Like everyone else, I didn't think about Alexander Hamilton a whole lot other than knowing he was on my money, invented the Fed, and somehow got into a duel (and lost) with a more obscure Founding Father, Aaron Burr.  The Revolutionary War era and the founding of the United States is such a deeply complex time in history, I've never really had my head around it, and as that history in broad scope tends to work best for me when woven into biographies, I'd long intended to read biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and a George Washington bio written by Ron Chernow that was given to me by NathanC that's been collecting dust for way too long.

Part of my issue is that most of those books are the "why is this 900 pages long?" variety, and I've been so buried in Roosevelt biographies, I've not really made enough time or room in my head for much else, but I've been working to change that.

Of course, along came the Grammy performance of the opening number to Hamilton, a fact-laden number intended to get us to the start of the action but laying out Hamilton's childhood story (which is enough to fill a book itself), and - like for so many of the rest of the people who saw this or listened to the soundtrack recording (or the lucky few who've seen the show), I was compelled to know more.  Maxwell suggested the Chernow bio, so I burned an Audible credit and picked up Alexander Hamilton (2004).  And, 37 hours of audiobook later, here we are.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Bond Watch: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

I really dug Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). It's got a lot to recommend it. Terrific action sequences, two great Bond women, it’s funny in all the right parts, and a villainous plot that’s forward looking and diabolical while also being not ludicrous. The movie is also steeped in some odd cultural artifacts of the 1990's, so that makes for some interesting viewing if you were around at the time.

Heck, it has a nerve-jangling pre-credits sequence that’s better than near any of the last ten or so films.

By the time I saw this movie, Jamie and I were dating, so we believe we saw this one in the theater together but can’t piece together when or how. But because I never saw the final two Brosnan movies – the reviews were scathing on both, and I was otherwise occupied – I never returned to watch this one again.

You’ll remember Tomorrow Never Dies as "the one with Michelle Yeoh" if you spent 1993-1995 writing "Mr. Michelle Yeoh" inside a heart in all of your school notebooks (which, ha ha, surely no one did.  Cough.). Brosnan is back as Bond and seems more comfortable in the role. Dame Judy Dench continues as M, now giving Bond a lot more leash and verbally manhandling the British Navy. Our villain is Jonathan Pryce, who isn't reptilian or overly creepy, and that makes him oddly buyable as a motivated guy people would get behind. And, of course, the movie features one of the Loises of the 1990's, Teri Hatcher.

I was surprised to realize that, at least now, I liked this movie perhaps more than I’d enjoyed GoldenEye. The writing seemed to be on better footing from both a plotting and dialog perspective, and while Martin Campbell was not responsible for this film, he’d paved the way for what Bond could be like in the 1990’s context which director Roger Spottiswoode would continue to good effect.

Women's March in Austin, 01/21/2017

I'm the guy in the Superman shirt

I hadn't really planned to go to the Women's March in Austin early in the week.  While I understood and supported the idea (more on that later), I also am of the opinion that the last thing anyone needs at a march for women's rights - and as the event drew closer, LBGQT rights, the rights of POC, the rights of people non-Christian faiths, the rights of immigrants - was to have a giant, 40'ish, straight, white man standing in the middle taking up space.

"Will you be going to any of the marches?" a colleague asked me.
"There's not really a march for boring white dudes," I said.
"Well, you could always come out in support."

Support, indeed.  Maybe I wouldn't just be in the way.  When I mentioned maybe going to Jamie, she was on the idea like white on rice (and hadn't asked because she knows I like my Saturdays for coffee and contemplation.  Sometimes we do that thing where we don't ask each other if the other wants to do something because we both assume the other won't want to, but we're both into the idea), and because Jamie is a woman and I support her, we were off to the races.

Now, this isn't a blog on politics, and despite my personal misgivings about the new president and his crew, I am not planning to turn this into my soapbox (much).  But, I gotta be me, and so occasionally don't be shocked if you see a This Moment in History (tmih) post, or an Actual History or news post.  Or, even something personal.

And, yeah, participating in one of the largest collective protests the country has ever seen (and I will go to my grave telling you that the 50K number being quoted for walkers at today's march in Austin is too conservative an estimate) is something I did, it was a newsworthy event, and so, it's going to wind up on this site.  You don't have to read the posts and you don't have to care.  There's no fee either way.

Inauguration Day Watch: Roger Corman's Death Race 2050 (2017)

By no stretch of the imagination is Roger Corman's Death Race 2050 a good movie, but it was released this week (streaming on Netflix at the moment), and I needed some campy satire to wrap up this particular moment in American political history.  You guys be you, I'll still enjoy some barely concealed hostility hidden beneath a thin veneer of comedy and allegory wrapped up in a decidedly trashy movie.

I still like a good B-movie.  Heck, a film-loving co-worker asked me what I recommended that I'd seen lately and my two answers were Tower (not a B-movie) and Starcrash.  While I always like the unintentionally hilarious bad movie, Roger Corman has made making lower-tier films an artform and routinely pushed what's possible in movies thanks to an interesting mix of inventiveness, a certainty no one is watching all that closely, and a certain fearless stunt filmmaking.  Sure, sometimes the product is bad (well, all the time).  The politics can be almost confusing as you grapple with stereotypes of race or class mixed with stereotype breaking and shattering.

But, hey, I couldn't sleep well growing up, and trashy movies were there for me.  I may be the only person you know who owns a copy of Reform School Girls.