Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Neil deGrasse Tyson of the future pitches "The Martian" in classic NDT style, and it is awesome



80's Watch: UHF (1989)

In the glorious summer before my Freshman year of high school, I saw UHF (1989) in the theater.  Twice.  I admit, once was at the dollar theater, but still.  In fact, one of those dates would have been right around now as my ritual was to go see a movie the night before school started, and that year, our movie of choice was UHF.  For a dollar.



You're welcome, Weird Al.

"Weird" Al Yankovic was an extremely well known figure by 1989, having broken through with his 1984 album "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3D and - much to my delight and surprise - he's still going strong in 2015.  He just played two nights in Austin.  His last album actually hit #1 on the Billboard charts.  Not bad for a song parody man who has managed to outlast and/ or outlive about 90% of the acts he's spoofed.

The movie has a razor-thin plot and is more or less an excuse for Al to move his talents for translating rock songs into jokes about processed foods into the more visual realm of pretty spot on spoofs of TV and movies.  And, really, he sort of very casually takes on the culture of TV in the 1980's in general.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bond Watch: On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

I like James Bond.  I mean, I like Bond enough that there's a tag on the topic here on this site.  But I was never a total die-hard James Bond fan.  He's sort of like Superman in that we all generally know about the character, but, holy smokes, between books, movies, different version of movies, behind-the-scenes ownership rights intrigue, etc...  there's a lot to keep up with.  Hell, there was even a James Bond Jr. cartoon at some point.

I hadn't seen On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) since the summer circa 1987 when my brother and I went to Video Station and rented a new James Bond movie every day or two.  And, frankly, I wasn't remembering a bit of it until Bond put on his kilt and wandered into the dinner party at about the 1/3rd mark.  Which is weird, because this is the movie that opens with Diana Rigg, an actress so associated with Avengers and other work that I'd forgotten she was ever a Bond girl.  Maybe THE Bond girl, depending on your definition.



What I had known for years was the following:

  • This was the one starring George Lazenby, the man who was not asked back
  • People really, really seem to like this one, or at least refer to it a lot
  • Connery still came back for a couple more of these

Monday, August 24, 2015

Super Watch: Superman 2 - the Richard Donner Cut (2006)

By anyone's estimation, the production of Superman: The Movie and Superman II as co-developed/ co-produced movies was a bit of a trainwreck.  It's nothing less than a super-feat that the two movies which came from that effort went on to become world-wide classics beloved across at least two generations.



I actually care about and read about the Superman movie franchise, and I've read and heard so many different versions of what happened during the production of these movies that I have absolutely lost track of all the moving pieces.  But the short story is this:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sci-Fi Watch: Solaris (1972)

Back about three years ago, I listened to the audiobook of the 1961 Polish sci-fi novel, Solaris.  I'd been trying to watch this movie since my college heyday of watching movies based on whatever criteria drives your movie-watching when you're in college, but I never made it more than ten minutes in, which is bizarre given that I'd done fine with director Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film Stalker, saw it twice, and ripped off shots for my own film school projects.



I'd really enjoyed the book.  It felt like a missing cornerstone of what was going on with Asimov and his ilk at the same time, all stuff I love, but you can only ponder so much whether a robot has feelings.

"Parker" Watch: Payback (1999)

Way back in 1999, I remember this movie coming out, but I didn't really care, because I wasn't much of a Mel Gibson fan.  And even since I began reading the Parker novels and found out that Payback (1999) was an adaptation of The Hunter, the first Parker novel by Richard Stark, I've been curious, but I wasn't going to make it a priority.



You kind of have to understand where action movies were in 1999.  It was an era that loved (I mean loved) formula and plot point checkboxes every movie had to contain.  Once you knew the formula, you were going to see action stars basically go through the motions, and by the late 1990's, these movies were going through the motions in pretty terrific style as new filming techniques and ideas were lifted from Asian action movies and cinematography techniques changed.  But the scripts were beginning to feel pretty anemic as action heroes became overly familiar, their tropes predictable, and, frankly, maybe got a little long in the tooth for what they were doing.  Really, if superhero movies and The Matrix hadn't come along, it's a pretty good question where action movies would have gone, but even as an action-movie guy, I was losing interest, and I was squarely in the intended demographic as a 24-year old dude at the time of this movie's release.

But last night I found this movie available for free on Amazon Prime, so I figured - hey, why not?

Spaghetti Watch-tern: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

I vaguely remember my dad explaining Spaghetti Westerns to me at some point in high school while we watched High Plains Drifter on cable on a Saturday, but I didn't watch The Man With No Name Trilogy until college when JAL took me to the Paramount to watch The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and I fell in love with a movie the way you do when you're 20.  I followed up quickly with the two others and then, in that era where you paid extra for letter-boxed movies on VHS, I got my hands on Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).



Expect no objectivity from me when discussing Sergio Leone's sweeping epic.  From Woody Strode entering the frame in the first scene to Claudia Cardinale carrying water jugs out to the railroad workers, there's not a frame of the movie I don't think hits all the right notes.  Now, it's not an obvious and easy movie to watch.  It unspools slowly and steadily, but isn't the sort of movie that's quick to lay out the plot for the audience lest they get lost, and it's rife with operatic symbolism and themes, and it does not care if you're keeping up.  The movie is too busy being exactly the movie Sergio Leone wanted to make, complete with Charles Bronson as the anonymous harmonica playing gunslinger and one of the best of the Leone/ Morricone collaborations.



Saturday, August 22, 2015

Myrna Watch: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)


What's most certainly a light bit of fluff, and maybe not the most hilarious movie to an audience in 2015 versus the intended post-War audience, there's still a lot to like in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947).  Naturally I'm predisposed to a Cary Grant comedy role, and that I think Myrna Loy can do no wrong is a well-documented bias/ problem.  But, still.

Loy plays a by-the-book judge who is raising her sister (Shirley Temple), a 17 year old girl in the post-War era at the dawn of the concept of the American Teenager.  Temple believes herself mature beyond her years, the boys her own age not worthy of her sophisticated mentality, and swings wildly in her infatuations, landing on visiting speaker to her high school, an artist played by Cary Grant.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Classic Watch: Gone With the Wind (1939)

I'm starting to suspect that Gone With The Wind (1939) might be a little racist.



I have sooooo many mixed feelings about this movie.

Of course it romanticizes and mythologizes The Old South, which...  you know, I grew up in Texas, a state that so enjoyed the Civil War that we had the last battle by accident before word got to us that it was all over.  People here aren't so enamored with the Civil War era here these days, but I can tell you, there was a time.

To say the least, I personally can't really get behind folks wanting to evoke memories of cotillions where the folks serving the food are doing so under punishment of death should the pigs-in-a-blanket get spilled.

But pointing out that Gone With the Wind is racist and celebrates a culture that maybe died for a reason, and maybe... just maybe... we should see what befell the post-war South as karma reminding folks that she can be a real bitch - all that is shooting fish in a barrel.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Noir Suspense Watch: Beware, My Lovely (1952)


There's nothing much complicated about Beware, My Lovely (1952).  But it works.

Based on a short story and play by the same person who wrote the screenplay, Mel Dinelli, the movie takes place in 1918 in the wake of WWI.  Ida Lupino plays a war widow who now runs a boarding house (so, don't actually expect to see Lupino's plunging neckline as in the poster, which... tamp it back a bit, poster artist.).  Robert Ryan, an actor who I like more and more with every movie, is a day-laborer she's hired to get some cleaning and work done around her gigantic Queen Anne-style house.

Oh, and he's totally crazy.  Memory lapses and a desire to kill perfectly nice ladies seems to be the overriding set of symptoms of whatever's ailing him.  So, it's more or less a good hour of Lupino realizing this dude is going to kill her and keeping herself alive by managing to stay a step ahead of him and trying to tell her idiotic neighbors that this dude is going to kill her.

It's pure suspense, has a brief running time and Lupino and Ryan, so what's not to like?

It does seem this movie has been made over and over, with a recent example being the Idris Elba/ Taraji Henson film, No Good Deed (2014).  But, you know, it's a pretty primal fear, so it's inherently interesting.  I mean, every time Jamie has to let someone into the house to fix the AC or whatever, I'm always like "oh gosh, what if they do something to my comics?".

Poor, helpless comics.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Marx Bros. Watch: Duck Soup (1933)


If you want to see Patient 0 for a goodly portion of American comedy, you really need look no further than The Marx Bros.  I can't even say the Marx Bros. are an acquired taste, because you either like them or you're dead inside.

I've written before, at some point, that few things in this world please me more than Margaret Dumont, and she is very much in the middle of this movie.  Here's our introduction to Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) as he's introduced as the new Regent of the nation of Freedonia, thanks to Dumont, who has a crush on Firefly, getting him placed in office.



Harpo and Chico play spies from the neighboring nation of Sylvania, and, eventually, there's a war between the two countries.  Because.

Anyway, this is one of my favorite of the Marx Bros. movies.

Sure, the set-up mostly seems like an excuse for the Marx Bros. to recycle bits from their vaudeville act, and that's okay.  As Jamie rightfully pointed out - the thing about the Marx Bros. is that they don't rely on the sitcom formula of set-up, punchline, set-up, punchline that creates a sort of rhythm to the show (see: The Big Bang Theory).  They just go for punchline, punchline, punchline, and you just need to keep up.

If you've never seen it, well, it's a bit too late to catch it last night on TCM, but it'll be on again at some point.

80's Watch: Tapeheads (1988) - Let's get into trouble, baby

Tapeheads (1988) is most certainly a cult movie, but it's a sort of under-the-radar cult movie that feels like it should be one of those movies people talk about a LOT more than they do.  If people have seen it, it's one of the movies they saw 20 years ago, but probably not a lot since, and maybe not that many times.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

Oscar Winner Watch: Birdman - Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - 2014

Man.  I really struggled with this one.

Let's make no mistake, Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) is a technical marvel, and the sort of thing you have to give a tip of the hat just for its audacious approach to style and technical function.  It wants to be a melding of cinema and theater (or: theatre), and I'm not one to say that doesn't occur.  It's also a movie that's going to demand repeated viewings, something Pauline Kael refused any movie, and I think she has a point (asking someone to watch your movie over and over to "get it" shouldn't be a point of pride.  But rewarding viewers who catch something new on the second viewing should be a life goal.).  Our actors are all good, all on point, and the performances are not lacking - even when one character is supposed to be a bad actor, he nails his line delivery of line delivery, demonstrating to everyone that this is going to be a disastrous performance.



Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2015, and, of course, it's a movie about Hollywood's self-loathing and a desire to produce something better, something that matters as much as a well-written novel or beautifully produced play, and which isn't about superheroes and celebrity, even when that's exactly what Hollywood is exactly about on a good day.   Hollywood loves nothing so much as movies about itself (see: The Artist and it's Oscar win - and immediate dissolution in cultural memory after the fact - and how Argo made filmmakers into courageous action heroes), and even more so when Hollywood feels like a movie is doing their job for them and baring the artists to the public, as if to say "this is how Hollywood really feels, and what we really want to make if only there weren't so much money in making dumb shit for the flyover states.*"

The movie both criticizes and indulges in pretension in such a rapid fire, alternating current that it's hard to know what's satire and what writer/ director/ producer Alejandro G. Iñárritu actually thinks.  All of which makes a movie nigh-critic proof, because something is going on here, clearly, and if you get it wrong... well.  And, my god, the references and name-dropping.  Didn't you read Borges in undergrad?  No.  Shame on you.  You'd understand this scene and it'd be hilarious.  Otherwise you might mistake this as just a scene from yet another backstage dramedy about yet another at-his-wit's-end actor in crisis going through the motions you've seen before.  But, hey.  Good camera work.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Rin Tin Tin Watch: Caryl of the Mountains (1936)

So, mid-way through reading the Orlean Rin Tin Tin book, I ddi some Googling, as I had no real recollection of watching any version of a Rin Tin Tin movie.  Someone on eBay was selling an 8-disc set for $1 plus S&H, and for 8 movies, I figured it was worth the risk.



Caryl of the Mountains is a...  I have no idea.  53+ minutes of confused storytelling with a few pretty good stunts by Rin Tin Tin Jr., and the most lantern-jawed Mounty you'll ever see.  Pretty clearly low-budget, the movie is the sort of thing where you spend the first five minutes watching someone put mail in an envelope and lots of people talking when horses aren't riding.

This is the second Rin Tin Tin, one that never grabbed audiences in the same way that the original had managed to win over millions of people.  Of course, talkies hadn't done dog pictures a lot of favors (a point Orlean covers beautifully), and by '36, that had taken it's toll.

It's an interesting little time capsule of a particular kind of movie from a particular time, but it's not exactly something I'm suggesting folks run out and add to their collections.

Signal Watch Reads: Rin Tin Tin - The Life and the Legend, Susan Orlean (2011 - audiobook)

I am not entirely certain why I decided to read this book.  I've not read any prior Orlean, and I had literally never seen anything with Rin Tin Tin in it other than a few scant moments of the circa 1990 series, Rin Tin Tin: K9 Cop.  It is true that I like a happy looking dog, and I was marginally aware of a strange history of the pooch.  But after reading the Larry Tye Superman book, a topic I knew entirely too much about to ever wonder where it was going, and partially because, lately,  I've been thinking a lot about the lifespan of a media-driven concept - as the 20th Century and the first media giants fade in the collective memory, Rin Tin Tin seemed to be a good place to pick up that thread again as any.

Certainly I was curious as to what became of the media empire that I knew once existed and, today, there's not a kid out there who knows what the words "Rin Tin Tin" mean.

And, hey, it's about dogs.  I'm a fan.



Susan Orlean is perhaps most famous for the book she wrote, The Orchid Thief, which was turned into a Meryl Streep movie which I confess that I have never seen (Adaptation).  In Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, Orlean traces more than a century of history, from the ramshackle, lonely and unpredictable childhood of Lee Duncan, the man who would find a litter of German Shepard puppies in a kennel within an evacuated German base in WWI France, straight through to the modern era of DVD's and memorabilia collection.  And, of course, the tangled existence of a very real dog who became a screen legend, only to become a fictional character with his passing, and becoming the sort of property that people wind up suing one another over until the value of the property has fallen through the bottom.

Orlean weaves her own story into the book, not one that's particularly remarkable as these things go, but it gives the reader context when it comes to her research, what sparked her interest, how the misty memories of both the dog on the television in the 1950's series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and her relationship with an knowable grandfather echoed back to her as she tried to bring the past into the present, with things both on the screen and real.  And, it's an honest approach as Orlean necessarily frames her experience hunting down the folks who are still alive from Lee Duncan's family, those associated with the show and a Texas woman who has been breeding heirs of Rin Tin Tin in Texas, and who was smart enough to run out and trademark Rin Tin Tin when Hollywood had not.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Crawford Watch: Possessed (1947)


You know, I probably like Joan Crawford more than your average straight dude born in 1975.  Thanks to Faye Dunaway's performance in Mommy Dearest, the Joan Crawford of legend has superseded the Joan Crawford who shows up in her movies.  But watching those movies, you can see why folks decided maybe Joan was a little on the intense side.  And, her personal reputation as one tough lady did nothing to soften that edge (look up her rise within PepsiCo some day.  Absolutely bad-ass.).

To get real, Joan Crawford was a great beauty in the 20's and 30's when she hit Hollywood, and as she aged, maybe some of that slipped on her.  She remained attractive, but there's only so attractive someone can be when anger seems to their default setting, and you can see it set in somewhere in their resting face.  Here's where this boomerangs back - because Joan Crawford said "screw you, I'm still playing the sexy dame in middle-age", and did not just disappear into motherly, unsexed roles - and it kind of flips back on itself that the iron will in there somewhere is attractive all on its own.

Probably the first Joan Crawford movie I saw was Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, which is a crazy movie to start to get to know Crawford.  I love that movie, and she's great in it, but Mildred Pierce, which I saw next, is still my favorite Crawford movie.  She's so damn good in it, and it's such a weirdly excellent movie for a movie about a lady making pies.

It turns out Possessed (1947) is sort of Yin to the Yang that is Mildred Pierce.  And I have new second favorite Joan Crawford movie (move over, Johnny Guitar).  It's not a mother and daughter coming up together in a tough world with lay-abouts for men and fried chicken joints as cash cows.  It's a woman on her own, trying to find love, witha  complicated relationship with her step daughter.  Oh, and she has schizophrenia.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sheep Watch: Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

Jamie's a sport and, thanks to that whole "we share a home" bit, she watches a lot of stuff she wouldn't select on her own (ex: The Keep).  But back when we started dating, one thing we could agree on was Aardman Animation's Wallace and Gromit.  We were both pretty big fans of Nick Park's adventures of an absent-minded inventor and his roommate/ canine companion, Gromit.



So, this evening, we made our way out to see Aardman's latest theatrical release, Shaun the Sheep Movie, a feature length of the animated TV series and Wallace & Gromit spin-off character.  The reviews seemed decent, I guessed, as it had a 99% at Rotten Tomatoes.

What I had forgotten, until the movie started, is that the Shaun the Sheep franchise has been aimed at very young kids.  So, you know, a 40 year old dude was not the intended audience.   But the thing about Aardman animation is that they've always focused on a broad audience, so parents need not worry about wanting to spend the run-time checking their cell phones and spacing out while inanity or Thomas the Train-level story-telling unfolds.

Dog Watch: Finding Rin-Tin-Tin (2007)

Because I like watching dogs on TV (ask Jamie), under other circumstances, I might have tuned in to this movie for about five minutes, realized it was terrible and getting worse with each passing moment, and moved on.  But I'm currently reading the Susan Orlean book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (2011), and so I was curious, I guess.  Rin-Tin-Tin is a character who was already on the shelf by the time I was a kid, with occasional blips of relevance (I remember Rin Tin Tin: K9 Cop on The Family Channel circa 1990 as it ran at the same during the same era as The Family Channel's Zorro reboot, which I did watch), and I plan to talk a whole lot more about Rinty when I discuss the book.



But I'm around 1967 or so in the book, so I have a ways to go before we get to this 2007 movie.  

Let's just say...  there's a point at which when you're trying to get your independent kids' movie made where you've agreed to film it in Bulgaria with a cast of unrecognizable actors on a shoestring budget, that maybe it's time, as a producer, to take a hard look at your film and say "why isn't anyone wanting to put money into this?  Maybe... just maybe...  it's time to take a step back and rethink everything."  That clearly didn't happen here, and while I hate to say it's worse than the Air Buddies franchise - because nothing is worse than the Air Buddies franchise -  at least I understand that those movies are aimed at very young children and are more or less using puppies as digital puppets.  They aren't a weird munging of real history, fake history, the horrors or WWI played down for laughs and fart jokes.

Michael Mann Watch: The Keep (1983)

So, a few days ago, pal JuanD posted something to Facebook about German electronic musical combo, Tangerine Dream, and - knowing neither Juan nor I had any better plans for Saturday, I got us all fired up, as I'd recently seen that Amazon Instant was offering up the 1983 Michael Mann opus, The Keep.



I didn't promise the movie would actually be good.  I'd seen it before.  But if you're looking for an extended mix and meshing of the finest in early synth odyssey and forgotten tone-poem movie making, well, my friends, have I got a commercially unviable flick for you.

The first time I saw The Keep was some point circa 1988.  I'd actually heard of Tangerine Dream thanks to a sci-fi book I'd read a year or so before (The Architect of Sleep) in which the first-person narrator was a fan of the band.  I'm thinking that I saw that name come up prominently and stuck with the movie.  In an era when most of what was on the radio was by Guns N' Roses and Janet Jackson, I didn't have a lot of Tangerine Dream immediately available to me, and this was the first time I'd actually heard them.  It's also possible I also saw the name of Miami Vice and Manhunter mastermind Michael Mann listed as director, but I don't remember when I knew the movie was his work.

If you've seen The Keep, it's kind of remarkable that I gave up an evening of my life watching the movie (and loved it), but back then, I had no real preconceived notions of what a movie should be.  Around that same time I recall watching My Life as a Dog, first with English dubbing and then with subtitles, on two consecutive nights, and agreeing with my brother that it worked much better with subtitles.

Later, I'd ask other people if they'd ever seen the movie, and realized that the completely random viewing on a local UHF channel that led to me seeing the movie meant I was one of very few people who'd seen it.  In college I met people who knew it either by reputation or because of the Tangerine Dream connection, but can't recall anyone who had seen it (though I suspect JAL had watched it, and I'm just failing to recall).  The studio has more or less disavowed the movie.  It's not really been available since VHS, and even the version available on Amazon is in SD.  When I saw the movie a few years ago at The Alamo, we weren't watching the 35mm copy the studio sent around for rentals.  We were watching the only copy the studio owned, and they so didn't give a shit about it, they were sending it out for viewings.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Disney Watch: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Dang.  Just got done watching 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and that is one dark, morally ambiguous kids' movie.  And as much as I remembered loving that movie before, and as much as I really loved it as a kid - dang, does that movie hold up.


When I was about 6, my mom read me either the full book of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or a kid's adaptation.  Neither of us remembers which, because I have asked.  But she did remember I was sort of bonkers for the book.

As a kid, I saw the movie several times, and I know I watched it at least once at school, because the whole cafeteria full of kids watching the movies kind of went bananas.

What's not to like?