Wednesday, July 19, 2017
I was skeptical when Matt Reeves and Co. relaunched the Planet of the Apes franchise a few years back. We're big fans of the original five films here at The Signal Watch - but despite a certain affection for Tim Burton and an appreciation for anything with a simian in a featured role, I've only seen that remake once. Because I kind of hated it and wound up having to apologize to several friends who agreed to go see the movie with me.
So, yet another go at the idea wasn't something I was looking forward to initially.
But, lo and behold, Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were released, and, yea, I dug them. They managed to find an astonishing line where they could break from the original narrative but still give nods enough, show respect for those movies and still be entirely their own thing. If Caesar wasn't the child of apes who'd traveled through time and space, we still found a way to make him the founder of the Ape Society that didn't need to bend time and space to get the job done. And if I always stood by the complex heart of the original slate of films, the new movies refused to be any less challenging.
I'm pleased to report that War for the Planet of the Apes is a worthy conclusion to the trilogy, an astonishing technical achievement, and - as all the apes movies have been (save the Burton one-off) a thoughtful character study and examination of morals. And, of course, a dystopian sci-fi franchise that actually earns its dim view of humanity. It isn't just ignorance or folly that leads to man's downfall, it's mankind's inability to tame our demons that drives us straight over the cliff.
Well, this is going to complicate things.
But, yes, I'll absolutely be going to see it. First read about this circa 2001 in a book by Les Daniels.
Monday, July 17, 2017
Monday 7/17 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of RoboCop. It's no secret that we here at The Signal Watch are fans of the 1987 sci-fi cyborg opus, and, so, over the weekend, we watched the movie for 476th time.
The first time we caught RoboCop, it was at a one-screen, old-fashioned movie house in Ishpeming, Michigan, when we were on our annual visit to see the grandparents in the summer of 1987, and - for whatever reason - my mom decided we needed to not spend another evening pounding soda in my grandparent's living room, and, instead, pound soda out of the house.
We alerted my mom to the idea that the movie was Rated-R, but the KareBear and Admiral were fairly liberal about this sort of thing, and in the era of Arnie, if my dad wanted to watch the latest Rated-R action releases, he was watching them with us, so we were getting pretty well desensitized to violence in movies, is what I guess I'm accidentally saying.*
Sunday, July 16, 2017
It's impossible to measure the impact this man had on pop culture and culture in general. Legendary director and inventor of the modern zombie genre, George Romero, has passed.
We'll miss you, George.
Friday, July 7, 2017
So, I hadn't actually paid all that much attention to Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) prior to showing up to see it in the theater Thursday night. Sure, I'd watched the trailer and was pleased they went with The Vulture for a villain.
At this point, I'm fine with just noting the release date of a Marvel movie, paying my money and showing up. Marvel hasn't always knocked it out of the park, but I'm generally guaranteed a pretty good time out at the movies, and some of the films have been spectacular, reminding me both why I love superheroes and a trip to the movies.
It wasn't too hard to figure out that this Spider-Man film would stick to the high-school years, abandon comic canon (all the Marvel movies have done that), but stick to the core of what makes the character work (also, all the Marvel moves have done that). After feeling let down by Sony's reboot of Spidey with The Amazing Spider-Man - so much so (gulp) I never watched the sequel - I was thrilled that Marvel and Sony saw the light (and potential for profit) enough to bridge differences and make it work.
I'm pleased to say I enjoyed myself as much as I did at Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and many other Marvel films of the past decade. And, while there are huge changes from the comics, Spider-Man: Homecoming reminded me why I ever liked Spider-Man, his world, and his niche in the Marvel Universe. And, that I am very much not alone in wanting to see Peter Parker swinging from a web and trying his hardest.
Saturday, June 10, 2017
Thursday, June 8, 2017
It's no secret I'm not a fan of the three prior entries in the shared DC filmic universe (which the kids are calling the DCEU, of DC Extended Universe, which makes no sense, but this train left the station without me).
If you want to extrapolate how much I was dreading the possibility of another weak entry from DC in the current superhero movie bonanza, you can check out my recent post on my love for Wonder Woman as a character and then, based on how I felt about Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, try to figure out how another movie as weak as the prior DC films was going to settle with me.
Of course, as the cinematic debut of The Amazing Amazon (despite 75 years in print and a well-known commodity), Wonder Woman (2017) carried an unreasonable set of both expectations and penalties for movies far beyond this single picture. If it failed, who knew what this meant for Wonder Woman as a franchise, yes,* but, if it failed: what would happen to female-starring superhero movies in general?
With much of the same crew responsible for prior efforts involved in this venture, there was no reason to believe much had changed from the disappointing first three DC filmic installments. And, no, I couldn't trust the trailers. Man of Steel had a phenomenal trailer, and I actually went to see Suicide Squad in part because it had a different director than Snyder and had a fun trailer.
Whatever changed at DCEU's offices (Geoff Johns' rise to power, I'm guessing), I am ecstatic to say: Wonder Woman has made it to the big screen, and I was absolutely thrilled with the movie.
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|
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
We had a request from our Kansas City branch to get back into the Live-Tweet Business.
It's been a long time, and Stuart pitched one of one of the best movies ever produced by humankind.
The Movie: Escape From New York
Available streaming at: Netflix or for $2.99 at Amazon
Time: 9:00 PM Central
My handle: @melbotis
Our hashtag: #snakescape
If you've not seen this movie - it's directed by John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, They Live), in his 80's heyday, telling a tale of the dark future of 1997 (the movie was released in '81).
It stars Kurt Russell! Lee Van Cleef! Ernest "I'll be in anything" Borgnine! Donald Pleasence as the POTUS! Isaac Hayes as Post-Apocalyptic Isaac Hayes! Harry Dean Stanton! and Adrienne Barbeau (and all that that entails)! Tom Atkins (you'll totally recognize him from the 1980's)! And Frank Doubleday in my favorite performance of it's type, anywhere!!!!!
It's 1997, and the world is not going so well. The President's plane is infiltrated by terrorists, and POTUS must make good his escape en route to a peace conference and prevent the escalation of an international conflict. Unfortunately, POTUS' escape capsule lands him in the middle of New York City, which - in the context of the last 1970's was kind of a hellhole, and so by '81 it made some sorta-logical sense it would be walled off and turned into a maximum security penal colony.
Luckily for the US Government, they recently captured super-criminal Snake Plissken (who is NOT dead, thank you), so they send him in to retrieve our two-legged MacGuffin.
It. Is. Amazing.
Friday night! 9:00 Central! Be there!
Monday, April 10, 2017
Look, I go and see every single Marvel Studios movie in the theater. I just dig what they're up to, in general. Point being - there was never any question whether or not they were getting my $12 for a ticket.
Things I knew before the trailer came out:
- Thor would get a haircut
- Jeff Goldblum would play a major part
- the movie would have the Hulk in it somewhere
That's about it. Nobody told me it ALSO had Cate Blanchett.
I don't know how many of you saw Ghostbusters (2016), but one thing that was absolutely true was that Chris Hemsworth absolutely held his own with four of the funniest people working in TV and film, and, in fact, got the biggest laugh of the film from me. So letting him do more of that here - that's welcome.
Thor was never my favorite comics character - and I've tried. But I have enjoyed the Marvel Studios version a great deal and pretty much everything about the movies, even though they're generally considered less than the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, the second one is most forgettable, but it does have some good stuff in it, but I couldn't tell you the plot now if I tried.
Anyway, this looks fun, right? High stakes. Big, big story. Guest stars. Cate Blanchett.
This could be more than okay.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
Thursday night we had nothing queued on the DVR, the Cubs weren't playing and I was pondering what we might put on the tube when Jamie said "Why don't we watch Commando?"
I immediately ran over and began trying to remove the Jamie-disguise from whomever was pretending to be my wife, but eventually it was revealed that, no, it was her, and she didn't care what we watched. She had seen my recently purchased Commando BluRay collecting dust on the shelf for months, earnestly waiting a viewing, and - as she loves me, some times she takes pity on me.
Now, if you know me, you know of my ironic/ totally not-at-all ironic love for Commando (1985), an early-ish Arnie picture that was part of what catapulted him to superstar status that would reach peak popularity around 1992.
In the harsh light of reviewing this movie in 2017, the movie probably seems positively camp. While it certainly has some gags and Arnie-isms, it was never intended as a yuck fest - but Arnie was part of a wave of a certain kind of action movie that wasn't afraid of a sense of humor. And I can easily watch it as a straight action movie of workmanlike success, just as I can enjoy the movie for the truly bizarre specimen and reflection of a certain mentality in mid-80's actioners that it is. OR I can enjoy it as the Platonic Ideal of 80's Action Movies/ Movies in General.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
I'm not entirely certain what to make of The Blue Gardenia (1953), and possibly talking about it right after watching it is a mistake. It was this week's pick on TCM's "Noir Alley", introduced by the great Eddie Muller.
My current take on the film is that I like a huge amount of the pieces that made up the movie, but wasn't a raging fan of the movie itself. I mean, it stars Richard Conte, Raymond Burr and Anne Baxter (who does some kind of edgy stuff for 1953 - but that's noir all over). It's got a scenario as treacherous as many or most in noir, pulling the world down a normal person's ears because she made a bad decision or two. And it's one of the more straightforward "no means no" messages you're going to see in a movie, but baked into the social standards of the era - which makes it all the more challenging.
And did I mention Fritz Lang is the director? And Nicholas Musuraca (Out of the Past) was DP?
AND it had George Reeves in a supporting role as a wiseguy of a cop?
Yeah, I don't quite get why the movie felt a little flat.
Monday, April 3, 2017
So, I re-watched the 2016 Ghostbusters because Jamie said "I really want to rewatch the new Ghostbusters". So, we did.
I still liked it okay. It's not the original, and struggles when they have to stop goofing around and get through the actual plot.
Some of the issues on a rewatch and having had seen the original approximately 13,000 times is the mental mapping you start doing to the original as the movie is a "remake" of sorts, with tons of nods to the original in both plotting and in Easter Eggs. But this time I really felt the lack of a Dana and Louis - we never really have any point of reference characters to pull back and remind you this is happening in a mundane world.
Luckily, the cast is really funny, and likable, when they aren't cracking jokes, exactly. Even the villainous Rowan is so goofy and almost plausible (we all knew that guy at the coffee shop), he's kind of likable.
This is going to sound weird, but I think the movie should have been about 20-30 minutes longer to let it breathe. It is a fast-paced movie, and maybe too fast paced. On this viewing I caught a lot of dialog and ideas about who the characters were that I didn't quite get the first go-round (but knew from stuff I'd read online before seeing the movie). Like, this time Patty's local-history-buff part made way, way more sense.
Anyway - it's imperfect but still fun.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
For whatever reason, this has long been one of my top 5 MST3K episodes. Well, that reason is primarily Zap Rowsdower, the burly, mustachioed, Canadian-tuxedo'ed co-star of the movie. Paired with the weiniest kid to ever star in a movie, it's a match made in cinema glory.
Saturday, April 1, 2017
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.
Friday, March 31, 2017
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.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
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.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Despite all the Twin Peaks love you've seen here lately, I'm not someone who actively sought out much in the way of the movies of David Lynch. It's always been a guilty spot for me, but I have so many hang-ups, who can keep track?
So I'm finally watching some of his movies and rewatching others, mostly because Dune is the only one I've watched over and over the past 15 years or so, and I still haven't seen about half of his feature film output. Maybe more.
I missed Mulholland Drive when it came it, and despite the year 2002 adorning the movie here and there, it was released in 2001. Early October 2001. And for you kids who don't recall that particular window in history - we were a little preoccupied with planes crashing into towers and what would come next. So I'm not entirely surprised I missed this one, given how I remember my schedule at the time.
And that's too bad. It's a hell of a movie.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Today marks the something-or-other birthday of Joan Crawford. Maybe 112th. As many actresses have done over the years, she lied about her age a few times, so it's hard to know exactly what year she was born.
I saw my first Crawford picture when they showed us Mildred Pierce in film school, and I've been a fan ever since.
I'm thrilled that it seems both the kids who are into TCM are placing Crawford in context - even my generation is lukewarm on the whole Mommie Dearest business - and now it seems FX's Feud: Bette and Joan is telling an audience about the person that was Joan Crawford (née Lucille LeSeur), and using the amazing What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? to do so ain't all bad.
She was born in San Antonio and lived in Lawton, Oklahoma - both places our own Jamie lived. In fact, I believe Crawford's childhood home was only about two blocks from Jamie's childhood home.
If you've never seen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, do so, and then watch Feud: Bette and Joan. And then watch Mildred Pierce. And then Grand Hotel. She's got dozens of movies in her history. Not all of them are terrific or hold up, but it'd be nice to rehabilitate Joan Crawford's memory a bit and for her to be more than Faye Dunaway overacting.