Saturday, April 1, 2017

Ape Watch: King Kong (1976)

With Kong: Skull Island checked off my "must see" list, I noted King Kong starring Jessica Lange was on Amazon Prime.

If ever a movie was a mixed bag, it's the 1976 version of King Kong.  It's a movie only the 1970's could have produced, still in the echoes of the pessimistic Planet of the Apes saga but brimming with the romanticism we'd see in Superman: The Movie and Star Wars.  It features two/ three stars busting out - nobody aware they'd become Hollywood icons - in Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange and Charles Grodin, who would go on to be Charles Grodin (and that is not a complaint).

But it's also a movie with a very good mask/ make-up on a guy in an ape suit, big animatronic hands, arms and legs for Lange to cling to, and a re-writing of the premise as an Energy-Crisis-conscious abandoning of the showbiz angle of the original for something about oil exploration.  And it really whittles down the wonder of Skull Island - dumping the dinosaurs in exchange for more dialog and human moments, severely diminishing the idea that this is an adventure film.

Signal Watch Reads: Altered Carbon (2002 - audiobook)

A few folks had recommended to me Altered Carbon (2002) by Richard Morgan.  Likely this was due to my interests in science-fiction and detective/ noir fiction.  Not a bad call, that.  The book is more or less a detective story with a decidedly noirish bent set in a far-flung future of high technology and interstellar travel.

While our characters live in a fantasyland of technological wonders and possibilities, the technology the book is most preoccupied with is the digitization of the human consciousness, allowing minds and personalities to flow freely between bodies or into virtual environments as specters, even crossing the cosmos for business meetings into rented "sleeves".  While mankind lives at a point where genetic and chemical manipulation of the human form is common practice, the same ills that always plague humanity are no further off.  War, hunger, institutionalized economic disparity, religious mania... all still present hundreds of years from today despite the colonization of many new worlds and the discovery of alien artifacts.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Noir Watch: Tension (1949)

This is likely the fourth time I've watched Tension, the 1949 pulp-tastic noir I was first introduced to by JSwift during a trip to SF a few years back.  It aired this last Sunday during Turner Classic Movies' new segment, Noir Alley, hosted by Eddie Muller.*

Muller does what he does so well - introduce the movie, give some history and context and talk about the players in unpolished terms.  This screening included an appreciation of co-star Audrey Totter, whom we at The Signal Watch think is absolutely tops, and a closer discussing the complicated life of director John Berry.

In addition to Totter, the movie also stars Richard Basehart, William Conrad, Lloyd Gough, Barry Sullivan - and, oddly, Cyd Charisse in a role where there is not a single step of dance.  I mean, she's terrific - she's got some straight acting ability, but it's an odd fit for someone who appeared in roles with not a single line but a lot of dancing.  That's sort of her deal.

It's a bit of a small-scale production, a tight cast working with a rat-a-tat script by Alan Rivkin, and good, twisty fun with some severely dated bits that don't seem aware they've inverted the Superman paradigm.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Cartoon Short as Promo for Pixar/Disney's upcoming "Coco"

Love the combo of classic Disney character animation with 3D.  Could have been a "Pluto" back in the day.

Hope this one is as good as the last few Disney features.

Signal Watch Reads: Dirty Money (a Parker novel - 2008)

On Monday around 3:07 Pacific Time (I was flying back from Berkeley, CA), I finished the final Parker novel by Richard Stark, Dirty Money (2008).

It's a hell of a thing to say I read all 24 Parker books, plus the four Grofield spin-off novels.  That's certainly a first for me, when it comes to books.  Back in the 1990's, I read about five or six books with a tight continuity by William Kennedy, and I've read a lot of Hammett's "Continental Op" short stories - but 28 books by one person feels like a lot, airplane reading though they were.

Dirty Money doesn't conclude the series except for the fact that Donald Westlake (Stark's real name) passed on December 31, 2008 without producing any additional Parker novels.  Parker doesn't die, doesn't go to jail, doesn't give up on crime to have 3.5 kids and become a manager at Hardee's.  Butcher's Moon, the 1974 near-conclusion of the Parker series, also didn't feel quite like a finale, although the bodycount in the novel certainly had the sort of thing you didn't imagine Stark wanting to top.  But it did make for a satisfying conclusion of sorts.

Fortunately, so, too does Dirty Money make for a fantastic conclusion to the 90's-00's Parker rebirth.  The story ties together the plots of the two prior books into one continuous novel of sorts, refusing to gloss over the complications that I had, as a reader, half forgiven Stark for, thinking he had maybe written the other too quickly, hadn't really paid the same attention to detail he once did in that 1960's-70's heyday that produced the first ten novels of the series.