Saturday, June 10, 2017
This one hurts.
Adam West has passed at the age of 88.
Literally my earliest memories include watching Batman starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. Steans-family lore states that my first words were "Batman" as I ran around our home with my security blanket around my neck.
The story is that I was toddler-ish and Jason was two years older, and my mom, The Karebear, had to make us dinner before my Dad got home from work (dude worked hard and late). In order to wrangle me, her ADD wunderkind, she figured out that I'd sit perfectly still for Batman, which happened to be on in syndication right when she needed to fire up the stove.
When the Michael Keaton-starring "serious" Batman was released, in 1989, when I was 14, the show came back on cable, and I totally got what they were up to. Somehow, inbetween, like many of my generation, there'd been some confusion about the show being a drama that was kind of stupid and something you grew out of. But, nope, the show had been winking to the older crowd all along.
Saturday, June 3, 2017
Like most kids of my generation, I grew up with Wonder Woman as the default "superhero for girls". Sure, DC had a wide array of female characters, but a lot of "team" concepts aimed at boys included 1 or maybe 2 girls on the team no matter how big the roster got (see: GI Joe). And on Super Friends, Wonder Woman was the all-purpose female character who was not Jayna of The Wonder Twins of Wendy of Super Marv and Wendy (ahhh, the 70's).
|but at least they gave WW two villains from her rogues gallery|
Sunday, January 8, 2017
I'd only become aware of the existence of Katherine Johnson and the "computers" at NASA in the early days of the US side of the space-race within the last four or five years. The internet is pretty terrific when it comes to sharing the sort of information that used to get buried in footnotes or left out of the common narratives shared of our history.
I was pleased to find out that our noon-time showing of the movie on a Sunday was sold-out, so at least the folks in my neck of the woods seem interested in hearing what the movie had to say. You never really know how a docu-drama is going to play, but it was interesting how many families had come out to see the movie. And, honestly, it's a good one for the kids to see.
The movie follows the stories of three women who were pioneers in a world that was breaking boundaries as mankind sought to escape the bonds of earth and reach space. And, while no doubt how the realities are framed will be debated, the overriding drama of the film is how these women pushed back against the racism and cultural norms of 1960's America that very much could have stood in their way.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Thursday night Jamie and I met up with SimonUK for a Fathom Events screening of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). Way, way back in 2012 I watched the movie on BluRay to review the film for Texas Public Radio, and so I see no real need to write the film up again. I'm actually weirdly proud of that review and I don't have much to add.
The screening was actually a RiffTrax performance from 2013, rebroadcast as part of a double-bill with a whole bunch of holiday shorts - originally broadcast in 2009. And as much as I like RiffTrax at home, it can be pretty fun in a theater with lots of other folks, too.
Friday, November 11, 2016
If you're looking for some pure, escapist fun to watch with the kids* (and you want to guarantee they'll enjoy the action while you enjoy the jokes), I really can't recommend the newly released Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) enough.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
After reading The Haunting of Hill House, one or two of you (I know Max was one) suggested I check out more of Shirley Jackson's work. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) was the lead recommendation, and as I'd really liked the other novel, when October rolled in, I selected it as my Halloween read.
That may or may not have been the best selection specifically for Halloween as it's not necessarily the stuff of the monsters and pumpkins and ghosts I usually associate with the holiday, but everyone does it differently. Rather, the closest comparison I could draw would be along the lines of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. But even those are a far cry from this book.
Still, depending on how one were to read it - this book is horror. Not the creeping uncanny spirits of a ghost tale, or even the realization that the normal is face-to-face with the supernatural. It's the reader wrestling with an untrustworthy narrator and a creeping descent into something not necessarily sinister but tragic and mad.
Monday, October 24, 2016
About thirty minutes into Tower (2016), I realized that the soundtrack to the film included the ever-present sound of cicadas, a tree-dwelling insect which emits a steady humming that all Central Texans know as the droning background noise of the hottest days of summer. I'd tuned the sound out the same way we all do, and I began to realize part of why the film felt so immediate - and why the film is so effective. What the film captures is very real, from glimpses of the University of Texas campus to the sound to the casual chatter about campus life, torn apart on August 1, 1966.
I'd wanted to see this film from when the producers first released footage maybe a year ago. Then friends saw it as SXSW and had positive things to say, and I was encouraged that the documentary would do the event whatever justice could be done.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
A few apologies to my brother and Jamie who watched this movie with me. While technically a horror movie, this one moves along more like a 19th century novel reflecting upon injustices until the last third. I'm not sure that last third is actually scary - it's more interesting from a science-fiction/ fantasy point of view.
I selected the movie in part because I've been trying to get my head around what Hammer was doing with it's Dracula and Frankenstein films back in the day, and in part because it's the closest to a Bride of Frankenstein film I've noted the studio producing. It is, of course, absolutely nothing like Bride of Frankenstein, so that was a wash.
Friday, September 23, 2016
I'd been wanting to see The Split (1968) for a while. Based upon one of my favorite Parker novels, The Seventh, it also starred Jim Brown, pro-football superstar turned movie star (and a generally much better presence on the big screen than you generally get out of other former athletes*). I wasn't aware of the pedigree of the cast for this movie which is all but forgotten. But when you have a movie with Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Julie Harris, Jack Klugman, Warren Oates, Gene Hackman, Diahann Carroll... and people don't remember it?
Well, it's not a great sign.
Monday, August 29, 2016
The Alamo is an interesting place because they do show exploitation films, they do show controversial material, and at those special screenings, they usually have a host put a frame around what you're about to see. This movie was shown as part of the "Super Krime" series which also contained last week's Danger: Diabolik, but was the riskier showing, certainly. For pop-cultural anthropologists, there's a lot to chew on here from the casting to the racial issues to the pre-code genre-ambiguity and content and - for modern pop-culture which so often includes super-villains in the mix, Fu Manchu lays out the blueprint for so much of what would come afterwards.
By today's standards, your grandparents were racist as hell. Even if they were hip, bohemian folks - by the rules of what non-awful people consider decency and mannered public discourse, what you'd hear come out of Grandma and Grandpa's mouths was likely to get them the side-eye at Thanksgiving - but we're all a reflection of a time and a place. Attitudes change. Society, hopefully, advances. Insert your own election-related joke here.
I am not a paid or professional film historian or scholar, but I have an interest in the history of pop culture and the film industry as well as genre film and whatnot. A few years ago, I came across a picture of Myrna Loy playing the daughter of Boris Karloff in a film I'd never seen. The catch: they're both in yellowface as the nefarious Fu Manchu and his daughter.
A bit more digging told me that this movie was once a favorite, included in some circles as a premier classic horror film of sorts.
But you can't get access to a Fu Manchu film all that easily (and there are many), and it's something that doesn't screen all that often - a bit like the President's Day sequence in Holiday Inn (which they simply excise when they show it as it doesn't advance the plot, but it does feature a whole lotta your beloved Hollywood favorites in black face*). And, yeah, I saw the movie featured yellowface, and cast most of the Eastern hemisphere in a nasty light, so it made a bit of sense to me that the studio was in no big hurry to remind the world they had the film in the collection.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
For years I've been aware there's a movie called Danger: Diabolik (1968), but I didn't know much about it. You'd see references to it in comics and hear film buffs mention, but details were scant. The movie is based on some Italian comics I've never actually seen in the wild, and of a genre that's never really managed to cross over the Atlantic and with which I've barely any awareness - a sort of super-criminal fantasy.
The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is currently running a series their calling "Super Krime", which is a series about "super criminals", ranging from the silent era to the modern era, with some Bond tucked in there. If you're going to do a series about "super criminals", there's hardly a better fit than Danger Diabolik. The movie is entirely about a master thief and robber, a sort of dark-mirror Batman. He's a brilliant, quiet mastermind with a subterranean hide-away where he plans his heists and makes time with his Robin, who - in this case is a sexy blonde who knows how to wear go-go boots.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
I'm currently listening to a Michael Caine autobiography, The Elephant to Hollywood, narrated by Michael Caine. I don't want to tell you people how to live your lives, but I highly recommend spending your commute each day with Michael Caine.
The thing about Michael Caine is that he's made approximately one movie per week for the past 50 years, so no human in recorded history has seen every Michael Caine movie, especially Michael Caine.
But the book did get me interested in several Michael Caine movies I had not yet seen. And I figured I should probably start with Alfie (1966), one of the movies that broke Caine as a name talent (I'll be tracking down Zulu next).
In the book, Caine mentions that his former drinking partner, Terence Stamp, had originated the role on the London stage and did not want to movie role after trying to bring the show to the U.S. where it was badly received. And, yeah, I can see Broadway audiences finding the character and play a bit... confusing? Baffling? Not all that intriguing?
I don't ever like to bag on a movie that's fifty years old for being outdated, because I suspect that in some ways, Alfie opened a lot of doors about what could and couldn't be in a movie and to a bit more honesty on screen. The film is about our titular, fourth-wall breaking character who is a bit of a cad and lives his life entirely to be a ladies man. He goes from woman to woman, having a few regulars, picking up a few along the way, married or not, never looking for commitment, just a good time. And while Alfie is a charming character, he's got his own code for looking out only for himself, something he feels works very well, indeed.
Friday, June 10, 2016
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) isn't just one of my favorite Spaghetti Westerns or Westerns, it's one of my favorite movies. I try not to watch it too often as I'm afraid I'll reduce something about the film by making the viewing of the film rote (I've come dangerously close to this with Superman I and II). Instead, each time I watch the movie, I feel like I get something more out of it, see some detail, appreciate some nuance a bit more. If you ever want to see my ideal for combination of camera work, design of scene, score, acting and blocking to drive story and ideas - look no further.
The film features a tremendous central cast. Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson of course. Jason Robards.
Woody Strode and Jack Elam have guest spots as gunmen.
And, of course, we have Claudia Cardinale as Jill.
I wrote up this movie in August of last year. You can read my write up there with many loving screengrabs I stole from the internets.
SimonUK and I took in a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Wednesday evening. It was the second time I'd seen the movie on the big screen, the first being one of my first trips to The Alamo Drafthouse at its original location on Colorado Street. This time we didn't get the large theater, but the projection was phenomenal. I assume it was s digital projection, as we weren't told otherwise.
While I don't have anything particularly new to say about the movie itself, I have been thinking about one aspect of the film in relation to current trends in how we interact with media in 2016.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Sunday evening, our own SimonUK - who moonlights as a server at The Alamo Drafthouse near my house - was given the opportunity to take it up a notch with their "Staff Presents" program, wherein a member of the staff not usually in programming selects a movie and the Alamo shows it.
You like movies. I like movies. We all like movies. Simon LOVES movies. He lives amongst piles of them and may well have underwear made of celluloid taped into a rough briefs shape. I don't know. And, no matter how many movies you think you've seen, Simon has seen more. During the Alamo pre-shows when they're showing clips of deep-cut obscure 1970's horror flicks, Simon has seen them all.
Simon is from some far-flung part of England I can never remember, so he had access to movies we really didn't in the U.S., and he's seen a goodly chunk of American movies we all watched growing up, too. Every once in a while I'm surprised he hasn't seen something from a typical American kid of the 1980's heyday, but not all that often. He's been responsible for me seeing a lot of flat out great stuff the past several years, gotten me out of the house for Planet of the Apes marathons, etc... and for all that and more, and making me eat a Full English Breakfast only once, I am forever in his debt.
So, while I had previously seen The Italian Job (1969), when I heard he was showing and introducing the movie, I couldn't not go. Plus, I really like the movie. It's good, cheery fun and a great heist pic. Plus: Michael Caine.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
We give You Only Live Twice (1967) the most prized of all Signal Watch awards: The Stefon (the award for the movie that has EVERYTHING).
After the frantic shenanigans of Goldfinger, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman clearly believed they were in some sort of race against The Devil who would consume their souls if they did not keep making bigger and crazier James Bond films. Thunderball went all over the place, winding up in a massive underwater battle and then out of control hydrofoil battle.
You Only Live Twice has:
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
|I take exception with the promise of this poster's tagline|
My Sophomore year of high school I had participated in some stuff in the drama department at my high school. By the end of the year they were doing the Spring musical, which, that year, was Bye Bye Birdie. As I'm not a single-threat, let alone a triple one, I wasn't planning to participate. But, as I am extremely good at happening to be just standing there, someone came by and grabbed me to work crew on the show. And, because I believed there was no "I" in "team", I somehow wound up as the guy in the "fly booth". Which is a small box above the stage with a few cranks where I'd wrangle the signs, "flying" them in and out of view of the stage.
So, for three showings of Bye Bye Birdie in the Spring of 1991 (and lord knows how many rehearsals) I sat in a black box thirty-something feet above the stage and pondered the imponderables of high school while my classmates danced, sang and "acted" their way to glory.*
Consequently, I know the play of Bye Bye Birdie fairly well. Or did, I guess. And, for a while, I was really over my fear of heights.
I think I've seen the movie version before, but it was a long time ago, and, frankly, I didn't remember it at all. I've also seen part of a televised newish version, but I doubt we made it very far through that one.
Friday, February 5, 2016
I had more or less no idea what this movie was until about a half hour before I left to go see it. PaulT and I haven't been able to hang much lately, so when he pitched going to see an Orson Welles movie I'd only heard of here and there, I said "yeah, sure!". Because (1) hanging out with PaulT is always a good time and (2) I am truly trying to weight the number of movies I watch this year that are new to me at something like 70%. Thus, I'm trying to be game for anything pitched my way, especially if it'll include a beer with a pal.
At this point, I am still not sure if this movie is called Falstaff or Chimes at Midnight or Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight). I do know it was released in 1965. It was not well regarded or received upon its release, and it doesn't get much play out there.
It's a strange adaptation of Shakespeare, and I actually asked my boss a few questions Thursday as she has a Masters from UT in English, and did her thesis on some aspect of Shakespeare, and my familiarity with The Bard is exceedingly limited. Welles plays Falstaff, a recurring character in Shakespeare's plays, specifically Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, as well as The Merry Wives of Windsor. I haven't seen any of these as movies or on stage, nor have I read them. To me, Falstaff is an operatic character and one I mostly equate with Thor's buddy, Volstagg. And, at that, I haven't thought much about the character other than that by my late 50's, I expect to be referred to as Falstaffian in stature and temperament.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
The Ipcress File (1965) is one of those movies you see mentioned a lot, especially in conjunction with the name "Michael Caine", but I'd never actually seen it, myself. Just as Bond movies were taking off, Bond producer Harry Saltzman decided to launch a competitor to Bond's sexy, sly cartoonish spy adventure and gave us a spy somewhere between Bond and George Smiley.* His world is not about bureaucracies being very sneaky against each other, nor is Harry Palmer going to drive a high end sports car with a smoke screen and rockets, either.
What really stood out for me, though, was that Harry Palmer - at least in this film (and he's in 3-5 films, depending on how you count them) - feels like a very real sort of person in comparison to James Bond. Chalk this up to Michael Caine's talents or a very clever script, but Harry Palmer is a semi-ne'er-do-well who is happy having a government check, finds all this easier than working for a living, and is riding out this "spy" gig he's got going on until the gravy train runs out. In the meantime, he peeps on people and doesn't particularly care for the rest of the rubbish paperwork.
Until he's changed offices and put on a real assignment.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
|this poster does a surprisingly good job of summing up the movie|
This was the one Bond movie that, even during the 7th grade sprint of renting Bond movies back to back all summer, somehow I never picked up. I don't know why. It's possible it was checked out. Even stranger, I always assumed I'd run into it on cable or at the Paramount during the summer, but it never showed, or I never came across it.
So, here in 2016, I finally watched the movie.
Unfortunately for me, I had triple-checked the plot of Thunderball (1965) over the years to make sure I really hadn't seen it, and - yes, that movies absolutely was the one where the guy crashes a Vulcan with two atomic bombs into the ocean near The Bahamas and ends with a wicked underwater fight.
Don't worry. If I had that spoiled for me over and over and still enjoyed the movie, you'll be fine.