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I don't ever like to bag on a movie that's fifty years old for being outdated, because I suspect that in some ways, Alfie opened a lot of doors about what could and couldn't be in a movie and to a bit more honesty on screen.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.
Monday, June 20, 2016
At the risk of sounding super creepy, what I really remembered from this movie was Jane Seymour. I knew I hadn't seen this one during my Bond-sprint post 7th Grade because I was totally shocked to find out, in high school, that Paul McCartney and Wings had offered up a song for a Bond movie when Guns N' Roses covered the song on Use Your Illusion I. While I'm certain I'd heard the Wings version, I don't think I'd ever quite put 2 and 2 together (because I could not have cared less about Wings until about that point).
When I was in college I lived in a dump of an apartment that happened to be (a) close to campus, (b) furnished and (c) featured cable. And, in that year ('94-'95), TBS started showing Bond movies on an infinite loop, and it was then that I finally saw Live and Let Die (1973). And, as a 19 year-old, it was kinda hard to ignore Jane Seymour, who I was mostly familiar with from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Somewhere in Time.
|"It shall be I and Yaphet Kotto that you will remember from this movie, for very different reasons!"|
But, as they say, I showed up for the Jane Seymour, I stayed for the bat-shit plotting and boat chases.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
I guess my biggest question about this movie is why it's called "Zootopia (2015)" to begin with when the name of the city in question is "Zootropolis". Further confusing the point, I think that in England the movie was released as "Zootropolis", but I'll let someone from across the pond confirm or deny that notion.
We're a number of years on from Disney's Home on the Range, the worst Disney film I can remember ever seeing, and the one that threw the future of Disney animation into question. No, there's no glorious return to 2D hand-drawn animation, and I suspect we've seen the last of that artform on the big screen from any major studio. That's okay. Walt would have wanted innovation and character. And gags. And, Zootopia delivers on all fronts.
What's different now is that, I think, you can feel the impact of John Lasseter's influence spread from Pixar to Disney, and not just in animation technique. He's as much Disney as Pixar these days, and I can only think it's helped put Disney on a better track, and the sensibility of story coming first now lives at Disney as well as their cousins in San Francisco.
I've written here and there about my love of the Talking Heads. I don't know exactly when I decided I liked them, but my interest in them goes back to middle school, and I started picking up an album here or there in high school, really becoming interested my Senior Year when Sand in the Vaseline hit the shelves and gave me more of an overview of their "greatest hits". I've seen both Byrne solo and "The Heads".
My first memory of the existence of True Stories was a subway poster for the film I saw hanging in a deli in Dallas while on a church youth retreat when I was 15, but I never came across a copy of the film (kids, there was a time in the long, long ago when all media was not instantly available just because you thought about it). But circa 1996, I located and rented True Stories (1986) and gave it a whirl on the ol' VHS player I shared with my two roommates at the time.
Living in a place, sometimes you have a hard time knowing what it is that makes that place unique or special. It can be the outsiders perspective, what they see as the difference that can really resonate in its own peculiar way. I don't think a non-local could have made Slacker and captured the particulars of Austin in summer in the late 1980's, but it's hard to imagine anyone local to Texas seeing Texas in the light True Stories captures - a ridiculous cartoon of a film that still, somehow, seem absolutely true.
Saturday, June 11, 2016
|If Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle with dinosaurs gets you going, I have great news for you|
One phrase I usually roll my eyes at when folks try to use it as a criticism of a fictional film is that it was "manipulative". Fictional stories are made up tales that, by design, manipulate the audience to sympathize with characters, worry for them, etc... While the best directors, writers, actors and Hollywood talent in general have a knack for this and make it happen organically, studios spend a tremendous amount of energy getting good at pushing all the right buttons for audiences despite the raw materials they're working with. A combination of brand identity, pre-awareness, familiar faces and providing absolutely no surprises along the way seems to be the most profitable of movie formulas, if the roaring success of the Transformers franchise is any indication.
Anyone who shrugs off Spielberg as a commercially successful director is missing the point, film snobs. Spielberg has got his technique down, winning both the organic, artistic argument as well as the crowd-pleasing popcorn crowds, balancing one against the other with only the occasional misstep. He's going to have to be long dead before we treat him like a rich, fun guy in a baseball cap, but the man can direct the living hell out of a movie. And part of that has always been that Spielberg's attention to detail is astounding. From his 1970's and 80's scenes of domestic life that ring with the cacophony of exhausted parents raising children (E.T., Close Encounters, Jaws) to the nuance of character he gets out of his actors in everything from Lincoln to Bridge of Spies.
When Jurassic Park arrived in theaters, it was a fun-park ride about a Disneyland with no rides - but, rather, living attractions, a fantastic zoo where science had not stopped to wonder if: just because they could, whether they should. For all the wonder of dinosaurs, there were a million details that were right: vehicles on tracks, contingency plans, a controlled environment overseen by an experienced crew including a big game hunter to make the calls on how to manage the deadly denizens of the park. No thought was spared when it came to how such a park would work.
In fact, the movie takes place prior to the opening of the park as "the blood sucking lawyer" is brought in to review whether or not the park is fit to open, if it's safe, if they know what they're doing. Of course, this came not just from Spielberg, but from the novel by pop-science-fiction author Michael Crichton (no, I never read it), who understood that sometimes if an idea is pretty fantastic, it can work as just a single point of fiction in an otherwise tangible universe. So, of course, lawyers would be pretty interested in figuring out what sort of liability their eccentric founders were asking InGen to take on putting delicious humans anywhere near Tyrannosaurus Rexes. And, of course, a major plot point is that the two paleontologists asked to look it over and give the thumbs up see danger everywhere despite the precautions taken.
Which is weird, because Jurassic World seems intent on lifting scenes and shots from Jurassic Park, but it's steadfastly disinterested in the logic and tone of the world of the first two movies. It's a movie about dinosaurs eating people and that makes families find each other again, and two people with absolutely no chemistry fall in love. Ready to the sacks for money!"
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.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
I didn't grow up in a baseball family. We never watched baseball on television, and my baseball career lasted one season of T-ball. I did make it to an Astros game and saw Nolan Ryan pitch, both a great memory and maybe the single most common experience in baseball as the man pitched for about 8 decades.
During high school I returned to the Astrodome to catch a game, and it was there where I internalized that I really didn't know a damn thing about baseball.
But when I'd go see movies as a kid, baseball was no different to me than law-enforcement or flying an airplane - it was just something I hadn't learned about yet. So why wouldn't I go see movies about baseball?
I did see Field of Dreams (1989) during its initial theatrical run. Aside from a general appreciation for the movie, I'm somewhat surprised at the movie on this review, that audiences filled cineplexes to see it and it was a big enough movie that it became cultural shorthand, leaving us now only with the misquoted bit of "If you build it, they will come" (it's "If you build it, he will come." And it's weird that should be misquoted given the underlying tension of the film.). But that's comparing today's audiences to audiences of 2016 who wouldn't stand for this sort of thing. Or, rather, wouldn't show up in droves for a movie about mysterious voices instructing people to build baseball fields.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
With a Monday afternoon off for Memorial Day, Jamie and I weighed whether we'd be seeing X-Men: Apocalypse versus anything else. Jamie, a solid fan of Cap and luke-warm on X-folk, pushed for Cap as she wanted to see it again on the big screen, and as I thoroughly enjoyed myself on the last go-round, I was more than happy to agree. We'll catch X-Men soon enough, and I have a post brewing as to 'why' when we're kinda not huge X-nerds in 2016.
There isn't much to say that I didn't already say, except that on a second viewing, when I wasn't just trying to keep up with the rocket-propelled trajectory of the movie, a lot of things that felt like bullet-point plot points as they went along suddenly felt much more organic. Cap's arguments for non-compliance not only held up better on a second-viewing, but the death of Peggy, which I took as mostly an emotional beat in the first viewing, I now could see how that scene was really about Sharon quoting Peggy and giving Steve the resolve he needed in his moment of crisis. The best person from the point in his life where he found his true self was speaking to him via her niece.
And, speaking of that niece, there's a lot more goo-goo eye stuff going on between Sharon and Steve - and, in fact, her very cooperation with Steve suddenly doesn't seem so much like a "doing a pal a solid" as her clearly breaking protocols for this guy. They just don't actually say anything before that first kiss, and so it is a bit less jarring once you catch the interplay a bit better.
But the race to save Bucky feels far more grounded on a second viewing as well. Steve's intentions felt more clear, and his insistence on saving Bucky somehow feels less like "well, because he's the good guy" and because of that shared history, even as he seems to know Bucky may actually be guilty and may actually kill him this time.
Anyway, I highly recommend catching the movie again. I watch all the Marvel movies more than once not just because - hey, sometimes I pick up things I missed before - but it's fun stuff to see again, especially in the theater. It's really amazing how well Marvel has managed these movies, film after film, finding just the right talent for each role and directors to fit the film.
More on what I'm getting out of these movies in a future post.
|if you are not pleased with what follows, Queen Elsa has some words for you...|
Honestly, I have no idea if I was reading Devin Faraci back at BadAss Digest before it became Birth.Movies.Death., and I couldn't tell you exactly when I started seeking out his writing in particular. Pretty recently, I guess, like maybe even in late 2015.
Well, a few days back it seems Faraci went and accidentally lit a spark under the butt of the collective hive-mind of the internet, and whatever was under that butt wasn't just flammable, it was atomic rocket fuel. He wrote an article called Fandom is Broken, but I don't need to tell you this. Because chances are, if you read this site, you've already read the article elsewhere. It's certainly been making the rounds. If you haven't read it yet, here's the link. Go read it and then come on back. These 1's and 0's will still be here floating in the interwebicon.
Back? Excellent. We missed you. How are you?
One more to read - it's that Onion AV article Faraci linked to, and it's also required reading. Sorry. So, off with you if you didn't read that, too.
Sigh. So... For this week I had already planned to write about the upcoming Ghostbusters film, the grousing going on about this new movie ruining some peoples' childhoods, and I thought I might outline why - frankly - that's a really weird stance to take on a 30+ year old movie that was never, ever going to be the same again no matter whether it starred the same four guys (which we should have just let go of since Raimis' passing), four other different guys, four women, four guinea pigs or four plates of nachos.
But we're not going to park it on Ghostbusters. Oh, no. Because these two article made me think about a few things, and, in ways big and small, I am certain I am part of the problem, too. And so are you, buddy, so don't feel so smug.
At this juncture I think it's important to take a breath and have a moment of self-reflection rather than take to the twitters and prove Mr. Faraci absolutely correct by threatening him.
Monday, May 30, 2016
For some reason, prior to Saturday evening, I had never seen the 1980's romantic hit comedy, Mannequin (1987). I wasn't much of a fan of The Brat Pack in the 1980's, and didn't really care much about whether or not Andrew McCarthy would or would not find love in a movie about Mystic Pizzas or Real Dolls or whatever.
However, here in 2016, Jamie and I were at dinner, and somehow it came up that I had not ever seen this 80's staple, and she pointed across the table and said "when we get home, we're watching Mannequin". People, if you knew how many movies I've made Jamie sit through because I found some inherent value to that movie which she had not seen or which had escaped her (and, often, by movie's end would continue to elude her) - you'd understand, I didn't really feel I could say no.
If Jamie can sit through Conan (again), I can watch Mannequin.
In the 1980's, the first generation of the channel Nickelodeon had a show for little kids on during the day called Today's Special. Really, the only time you'd catch it was during the summer or if you were sick. But the show ran for 7 years and was about a lady who - each night - brought a mannequin to life after a department store closed, and they'd do the kinds of kind-of-fun-but-educational stuff you'd see on TV for kids back then.
For some reason as a kid I was very aware the show was made in Canada. I have no idea why that seemed important to me. But it made me think Canadians had weird ideas about entertainment.
But, for years, I assumed Mannequin was a rated-R version of the same basic concept, but instead of learning about spelling or how a garden hose works or whatever, there was sexing going on in housewares.
Sometime about twenty years ago I actually read the novel this movie was based on, but all I can remember about it is that there is no literal "Big Clock", and more than there is any literal "Long Good-Bye" or literal "Big Heat" in those respective movies or books. But, hey, not so in the movie adaptation of The Big Clock (1948). This movie practically goes full-Batman in literalization of a rich sociopath's obsession.
The movie definitely qualifies for noir - a mysterious and sultry woman is responsible for the life-altering, seemingly insurmountable situation a man finds himself in - one only partially of his own doing, but one had he been behaving better, he never would have found himself in. But, really, it reminded me in many ways of a Hitchcockian-thriller, and that's no complaint. I enjoy a good Hitchcock movie from time to time.
I just remembered that I'd failed to write up a movie I watched last week, 1949's Criss Cross, starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo and the always hiss-able Dan Duryea.
The movie seemed to be trying to recapture a bit of the magic of 1946's The Killers, also starring Lancaster, with Ava Gardner as the twisty (and, let's be honest, dangerously sexy) femme fatale. That picture is surely one of the purest examples of what we think of when we think about noir. In Criss Cross, once again Lancaster plays a fellow who can be led astray by a good looking brunette - not stumbling across a mobsters' girl this time, but coming home to Los Angeles, trying to tell himself it's not so he'll see his ex, Anna (the terrific Yvonne DeCarlo), but to settle in and lead a domestic life with his parents and brother. Get his old job back. But before he's even made it in the front door of the family house, he's back at his old haunt, seeing how things have changed.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
This may be the true start of "silly Bond". Or, at least, a more lighthearted Bond franchise.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971) saw the return of Sean Connery to the role after the George Lazenby experiment (and, yes, we skipped On Her Majesty's Secret Service because we'd watched it just prior to starting on the chronological viewing of Bond films, but we'll get back around to it). He looks comfortable in the role, picking up the thread of revenge for the death of Diana Rigg at the conclusion of the prior movie. Oddly, it's not stated directly, but Bond tracks Blofeld to a secret lair where he manages to dispatch him before the credits even roll.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Due to work-related needs, I only attended the first double-bill of the day the Noir City Austin 2016.
I want to thank the Film Noir Foundation, Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and Austin Film Society for making this year something I wish I had planned for much, much better. Because what I was able to attend was absolutely fantastic, well planned and curated.
And, of course, once again thank Eddie Muller for being such a terrific host and guide through the world of film noir, film history and fantastic historian in his own right. People will be relying on his work for decades to come.
The two films they showed at mid-day were pure film noir, and as had been programmed in the double-bills all series, an A and B picture. I was a big fan of both of these films, neither of which I'd seen before. And that's much of the fun of Noir City. Yesterday I was talking to the guy sitting next to me when he asked if I was a fan of film noir or classic film. And I said "well, yeah, but, honestly, I hate to claim any expertise. I feel like no matter how much I've seen, there's an endless amount of content I haven't seen."
The Dark Corner (1946) is a just-post-war private dick film, starring Mark Stevens as a clear nod to the Philip Marlowe type, a sort of rusted Galahad in a fedora who maybe gets too personally involved in his cases. His Gal Friday is played by a pre-comedienne Lucille Ball, and she's actually sharply witty in this movie, and steals a lot of spotlight from her co-star. But, as I may have mentioned before, I find "sultry Lucy" kind of an odd concept after spending a lifetime thinking of her as Mrs. Ricardo, but there it is.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
I was intending to pace myself during Noir City Austin, but I wound up getting paced by external forces. The gameplan for today was to skip the morning shows, sleep in, walk the dogs, go to movies for a few hours in a row, be home around 10:30 this evening.
So, I made it out for the 3:00 - 6:15 double-bill of Flesh and Fantasy (1943) and Destiny (1944), and Jamie had even come to meet me for the 6:45 show of Scarlet Street, but during Destiny, I started getting an upset stomach - which I think was from just a combo of things I ate - and I was all sweaty and clammy and wasn't sure how I was doing, so we went home and I made her watch Criss-Cross instead.
But, man, the double-bill I did catch was pretty terrific, even if Noir Czar Eddie Muller admitted, it wasn't really noir, but more of a rare opportunity to catch a couple of films that aren't really in release anywhere, and that we were watching new prints from Universal.
Flesh and Fantasy (1943) is a fascinating experiment that feels 85% complete, but learning that the film had studio fingerprints all over it explained a tremendous amount. Essentially three tales hovering between magical realism and pre-Twilight Zone ironic and uncanny, the stories are held together with a studio-created book-ending mechanism of Robert Benchley being read three tales that relate to his current predicament of not being sure whether to believe a dream he had or a gypsy's fortune.
Marvel Watch: We Admit We Watched "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011) for the 5 Billionth Time
Oh, FX Network. I know when you aren't playing some of my favorite shows (Fargo, The Americans, Louie, Baskets...) your other primary job seems to be playing Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) on what seems to be an infinite loop. You're following the 1990's TBS Raiders of the Lost Ark model, and it worked for them there, and it's working for you here.
I don't always write up or post when I watch a movie on cable, especially if its one I've seen before, especially multiple times, as I usually wander in after the beginning and don't always make it to the end. But CA: The First Avenger is one that I seem to turn on as I'm flipping channels, some time will pass and suddenly and I'll realize I'm finding myself watching Peggy Carter talking to Steve about meeting him at the Stork Club as the Flying Wing plunges into the Atlantic.
I wouldn't say this is a perfect movie from a technical standpoint - and the CGI breaks down here and there (even as Skinny Steve still looks seamless to me). But, man, it works for me. And not just because of Hayley Atwell (which doesn't hurt).
What's funny is that, oh, gee... I guess back in 2009 when they were talking about this movie getting made, there was all sort of concern that the amazingly savvy audiences of the modern era wouldn't take to Captain America as a character because of something or other about how much smarter we are in the 2010's than we were in the 1940's and that having something to do with being a decent human being no longer being a "relatable" trait for a character.*
Well, the marketing wasn't all there for this movie, and it didn't make a mint, but, boy howdy, the sequels did just fine, it seems. And we got two good seasons of a spin-off TV show with Peggy Carter, which happened to be one of the few watchable things on network TV in the past couple of years.
Anyway, I dig this movie, and I should probably not just turn it on and leave it on as much as I do, but there you have it.
*I cannot tell you how annoyed I get at the idea that audiences of the modern era are more "sophisticated". Watching a ton of TV doesn't make you more sophisticated, but it will train you to expect certain things. I sat through two movies from the 1940's last night with an audience that giggled at anything they didn't understand like a herd of middle-school kids. The techniques change and symbolism and execution change with technology and perception, but your hip, modern ideas are going to look positively quaint in fifteen years, so, get over yourself, you knobs.
Friday, May 20, 2016
This weekend I'm attending the third Austin Film Noir Fest, or, at least, a good chunk of it. It's going on down at The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Austin's famed 6th Street.*
It's gonna be interesting but a bit of a marathon as each showing is a double-bill, and there are three showings on each day Saturday and Sunday.
The whole deal is hosted by Film Noir Foundation founder and President, Eddie Muller, whom you may have seen on TCM last summer, in interviews about the film noir genre, or popping up wherever film noir is found. Muller is a terrific author (from what I've read) - writing scholarly works on the genre. He also works to promote the preservation of film noir, restoring films and uncovering lost movies. And, I really think he and the Film Noir Foundation have been responsible for a resurgence and growth in interest in noir beyond the 10 or so films folks name-drop when it comes to noir classics.
This evening's pictures included noir staple (and a personal favorite of mine), This Gun for Hire (1942) and a far lesser known film, Fly-By-Night (1942). The idea is that each bill is an A and B picture from the same time period in the history of noir, so you can see a growth in the genre's development.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Obviously near-post-silent German film isn't my usual deal, nor Brechtian musical comedy. The closest I'll get to that is a fondness for Fosse's Cabaret and that I have all of the albums by The Dresden Dolls. And, you know, Tom Waits and others have carried through the spirit of the movement through to the modern era.
I haven't seen much in the way of G.W. Pabst's directorial efforts, although I'm well aware, from film school, he's one of those names you're supposed to be able to drop. He was a giant of German cinema in the pre-Nazi days, and brought Louise Brooks out of Hollywood and over to Weimar Germany, and I've seen Pandora's Box. A contemporary of Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, going to the pictures in Germany back in the day must have been something.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
With the passing of Darwyn Cooke, I had my quick appreciation write-up, and on Sunday, as I was eating my oatmeal and pondering the fact I had to work all afternoon, Jamie pitched watching the animated version of Cooke's comics classic, Justice League: The New Frontier (2008).
For a while there, I was purchasing every single new DVD WB Animation pushed out as DC got into the feature-length animated film business. These days I limit my actual purchases (my last purchase being Flashpoint, which seemed as good a place to jump off DC Entertainment in many-a-ways), but I have a pretty good run of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Justice League videos. And, as I type this, why the hell didn't they ever make a Flash movie? It seems like an obvious fit.
But I don't think I'd actually watched this disk in something like 6 years.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
I hadn't watched this movie in a few years, but I've got a shelf full of Batman films, cartoons and TV, and on Friday night - in the wake of finishing The Caped Crusade: Batman and The Rise of Nerd Culture, it felt like time to review some Batman again.
Not sure what to watch, I just gave Jamie some options, and she selected Batman Begins.