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

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Official Signal Watch TL; DR "Man of Steel" Discussion

I went to the midnight show of Man of Steel and returned home in the wee hours.  I left kind of a rambling initial reaction here.  I went to work, I came home.  I've seen the movie again (in 3D IMAX with Simon, Angela and Jamie), and I've had time to process the film much, much more.

And, since that first post, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to approach commentary on the movie.  As this will be one of my final posts going into hiatus, we might as well talk about this movie as the intersection between the two major topics of this blog: film and Superman.



Friday, June 14, 2013

"Man of Steel" has now been witnessed

Well, yup.  It's 3:10ish in the AM and I am home.  Just saw Man of Steel with Kevin and Juan.



spoilers below


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Noir Watch: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

I have no idea when the last time was that I watched this movie.  Likely 7 or 8 years ago when I got the DVD and again right after we moved back to Austin.

It's weird I don't watch it over and over, because there's a perfectly good reason The Maltese Falcon carries the reputation its got.  Smart, ruthless, and lean down to the bone, and with every actor in the film turning in terrific performances, its a great ride.  It carries the tone and at least the echo of Dashiell Hammett's spitfire dialog, and definitely retains the labyrinthine plotting that even Hammett's short stories are known for.

actually, those two guns belong to Elisha Cook Jr., but whatever


Monday, June 10, 2013

Supermarathon: All-Star Superman

Thanks to what's looking to be a busy week, this is the last installment of the Supermarathon as I'm booked pretty solid until Thursday night.  I hope I did us proud.

All-Star Superman adapts the 12 issue series that ran unevenly for years back when DC was playing havoc with schedules and you never really knew when a comic was coming out.  The art and story were worth it, and both were savaged at the time of the series' start, with the usual complaints about Morrison's writing drawing confusion and fans of the Jim Lee or Kubert school of illustration baffled by the stylized work of Frank Quitely.

You can view the film at Netflix Streaming.

No sooner than the series ended than word leaked that this comic was truly something unique, and - in what I've since come to simply expect when it comes to Superman - be it this comic or early reactions to Man of Steel, its fascinating to see the audience react to the core of the character and ask "why isn't the character usually like this?" or "where did this come from?" to ideas that were 40-50 years old at the time of the comic's publication.



That said, it took Morrison's storytelling and the voice he imbued in Superman and Luthor to make the series shine.  And, I'd argue, it took the clear, concise, character-driven storytelling of Dwayne McDuffie to take the comic and turn it into a movie that works despite the strange, episodic nature of the narrative.

For those who haven't read the comic, I won't bore you with what was cut to make the movie.  The DC Animation team managed to keep most of the story in place to keep the relevant bits intact and maintain the core of the story, even if its heart-breaking to know what might have been.  They also managed to keep much of the look of the comic, something I thought impossible, even if the 16x9 dimensions occasionally lose the impact of Quitely's page design.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Signal Watches (and spoils) - Star Trek: Into Darkness (the title that made no sense)

Y'all know I love my Captain Kirk, Uhura and McCoy.  I have and wear a shirt with the image of Leonard Nimoy that reads "Spock is my homeboy".  My clock at work bears the image of the Enterprise.  I was ridiculed in 4th grade Reading class for wanting to be on Enterprise away teams when I grew up.  By the teacher.

I understand that one must reboot and refresh a franchise from time to time.  For goodness sake, I'm a Superman fan.  The trademarked character is more about how he's been interpreted in various incarnations than he is about any particular story.

I just don't think JJ Abrams is much of a writer or director.  And its possible Chris Pine isn't much of an actor.



SPOILERS BELOW

What is true is that by the time Star Trek: Enterprise aired, the Star Trek franchise had become so insular and inward looking that it was basically extended fan service.  I don't even know if the show was good or not, as I found myself just... not caring that it was on as I saw it jumping back through the hoops I'd found all-too-familiar after multi-year runs of ST: TNG, DS9 and Voyager (a show I wanted to like, but found everyone but Janeway kind of perplexingly flat.  At least she got to make command decisions and wrestle with saving her crew).

Friday, June 7, 2013

Film Noir on Fridays in June on TCM

Noir maestro Eddie Muller is guest hosting every Friday in June on Turner Classic Movies.  The line-up is pretty nuts, and I highly recommend looking at the list and setting your DVR.

Here's a website up at TCM.

Check out the schedule starting this evening!

Tonight:
The Maltese Falcon
City Streets
After the Thin Man
The Glass Key (a must see)
Satan Met a Lady

well, we've all wanted to punch Peter Lorre at some point



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Supermarathon! Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut

For a long time a few things were known about the production of Superman II.  

1.  Originally the first film and the second were shot together and were more of a piece.  However, the movies were split up into two films and portions of the story from what became Superman II were used in Superman: The Movie.  
2.  Director Richard Donner was fired from Superman II and director Richard Lester was brought onboard. Lester reshot large parts of the movie to ensure his credit for the movie.  He had a different approach from Donner, and insisted on a wackier tone.  
3.  Gene Hackman basically didn't return for Superman II's reshoots, and Marlon Brando's portions were cut from the film.

While you likely didn't notice it much as a kid, and were able to give over a lot to superhero logic, Superman II may have the exciting supervillain fight, but it's tonally all over the place and the plot sometimes feels held together by bubble gum and tape.  

It's difficult to know exactly what Richard Donner originally intended and what he would have left in back in 1980 or so, as some scenes are deeply cut from the theatrical release, especially trimmed for hammy comedy which can sometimes feel a bit burdensome in the version that's more familiar.  But this version feels superior from a storytelling standpoint in so many ways that its hard not to want to see it as the "real" version, much as I consider the extended cut of Superman: The Movie as the official version and don't really bother with the original cut anymore.  

Firstly, you can tell everyone is still feeling all right in this movie, that the reshoots and time on the set hasn't taken its toll.  Reeve is buff, his hair in place and I don't think we get the pit stains.  Margot Kidder, especially, still seems on, is always well lit, her hair seemingly professionally done, etc...  And the cinematography seems better by leaps and bounds.  

While the "big city gal fads" of the theatrical release provide some color, watching Lois squeeze orange juice is kind of a half-gag, and it's not missed in this version.  

Also, the reveal of Clark Kent to Lois that he is Superman works terrifically better from a storytelling perspective than expecting that Superman would trip over a rug.  Despite the fact the footage used is from audition film, it feels terrifically stronger from a story telling standpoint.  I suspect that the scene would have only improved if Donner had managed to get it in front of the actual cameras.  

What really seals the deal is the continuation of the father/ son story between Jor-El and Superman, and what each continues to receive from the other as, even in death, Jor-El gives the last of what he is over to his son.  The cheesy appearance of Lara in the theatrical cut and the awkward transition from Superman to the white collared-shirted Clark doesn't occur and continuity feels much more intact.  

And the Phantom Zone villains feel genuinely more menacing under Donner's direction and oversight.  

In short, if you've never seen this cut, I highly recommend revisiting the movie through this version.

Esther Williams merges with The Infinite


We bid farewell to swimmer/ performer/ actress Esther Williams who was the star of a lot of splashy musicals back in the day.


Williams was a youth swimming champ, and - at least according to IMDB - was discovered by one of those talent scouts who was always plucking counter girls and girls at Schwab's enjoying a malted and turning them into movie stars.

Superman: The Happiest Fella?

Just up here in space, smiling at nobody

There have been a lot of posts (hi, Max!) and articles by longtime Superman fans regarding the to-date seemingly somber tone of the new Superman film, Man of Steel.

Folks are worried about a "grim'n'gritty" Superman versus the cheerful fellow who takes delight in his powers that you've seen since Superman's first appearance in Action Comics #1.  That imagery has been a part of the "discovery" part of the story for Superman in one form or another in all sorts of representations, from Superboy comics, to the animated series, to Superman Returns and Superman: The Movie where we see a young Clark Kent running faster than a freight train and beating Brad and the gang back past the Kent homestead.  And, of course, the absolutely terrific "reveal" sequence when Superman saves Lois and then runs around Metropolis saving the day.

Probably the most joyful you're likely to see Superman is in Superman: The Movie after The Man of Steel first appears and then flies around Metropolis performing super good deeds.

In fact, I've gone on record as saying that the key to my understanding of Superman in many ways is the moment wherein he saves Lois, reminds her of the relative safety of air travel, and then turns around and lets loose with this huge grin before flying away:

"Man, I wish she'd fall out of a helicopter EVERY day!"

Monday, June 3, 2013

Signal Watches "Brick" from 2005

Between his role as the adorable kid on 90's sitcome 3rd Rock from the Sun and his leap to leading man status in 2012, Joseph Gordon-Levitt made a peculiar film with Looper writer/ director Rian Johnson.

I cannot begin to imagine how my high school brain would have dealt with this movie, but I am fairly certain I would have believed it to be The Best Movie Ever.  Basically, it's a faux-Dashiell Hammett mystery set in a high school with a hard-boiled detective replaced by a hard-boiled high school senior, playing the angles and trying to get to the mystery that opens the film, of what happened to his ex-girlfriend who had reached out to him days before for help, seemingly wrapped up in some trouble with local drug peddlers.

The film is both curiously believable as a low-level crime story happening in the margins around high schoolers, just outside the periphery of parent or teacher supervision.  But because of the similarities to the stories of Hammett and Chandler that have so permeated western fiction, it's also an interesting point of view that the sorts of things we usually tie to the adult world we know are happening just out of view even in suburban sprawl at public high schools.

I do wish some of the writing were a bit tighter, but it's a signature move of Chandler or Hammett work to see the plot become so twisted it takes a chart to keep it all straight.  That sort of thing pays off well in repeated viewings, and while I did watch this movie years ago (probably in 2007) I'll probably not wait 6 years between viewings again so I don't feel like I'm just playing catch-up the whole time.

Joseph Gordon-Leviitt shows chops that so many child actors dream of having but never develop as they get older and have the usual post-child star tail spin.  If you want to see some of what materialized on the big screen in 2012 with this guy in an earlier stage, I think JGL was already pretty excellent here.  

Friday, May 31, 2013

Supermarathon! Superman Returns

I've already written plenty on this movie over the past 7 years.  I mean, a lot.  Leading up to the movie, I did a whole "Summer of Superman" theme, and it was sort of a thing.  I even got re-blogged by Pop Candy at USA Today thanks to our own JimD.

I won't deluge you with all the links where the movie got a mention, but here are a few.  I'm not proud of some of this.

The first blush comments

When the press (that had oddly really been pulling for this movie to fail) started reporting with glee that there would be no sequel and I got a little pissy

Watching the movie again about 5 months later

And then in November when I watched the movie during my "let's review everything in 2012" deal

I don't think my opinions or feelings have changed much since that viewing in November 2012.  Superman Returns is a strange movie.  Beautifully shot, amazing art and set design, and it really swung for the fences when it came to subtext and layering.  But given public opinion and some wonky bits, it's a mixed bag.




Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Gone to Big D For a Few Days

Tonight I went and saw Enter the Dragon at the Alamo Ritz with Juan, CousinSue, Amy and Jason.  if you're never seen this Bruce Lee vehicle...  I am not sure I can help you other than to recommend you check it out as soon as possible.

I'm not the world's biggest Bruce Lee fan, and maybe that's a mistake.  I dig what that guy is up to, and he is absolutely fascinating to watch.  I still don't think American film has seen his like since, and even in imports, I'm not sure the guys I used to watch in college quite captured the athleticism and intensity of Lee.  Well, maybe Jet Li.

Tomorrow I am headed off for Dallas for a few days for work.

this trip will be tragically short on Victoria Principal

Happy Birthday, Christopher Lee

Yesterday, May 27th was the birthday of actor and presence Christopher Lee.

the actual most interesting man alive

At the end of the day, Christopher Lee should be known for his voice.  Booming like you imagine a Roman Senator ought to, commanding like sort of guy who bosses around dark forces of the netherworld, eloquent like the trained actor and brilliant fellow I like to believe Lee is.

I first read Lee's name in monster movie books when I was a lad.  He was a main player for Hammer Films back in the day when Hammer was in full throttle putting out new movies of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, cultists, all kinds of good stuff (I prefer his Dracula in Curse of Dracula to his "Creature" in the Frankenstein films, but it's all good) and his picture and name came up over and over.

As a cult favorite actor, Lee has also appeared in everything from The Man with the Golden Gun to Captain America '77, a TV movie.  I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between "fans" and folks who appreciate or follow film from the art appreciation angle, and there's always room for both.  And while you see indie darling directors and some actors, "fans" get excited by the gravitas of particular (and often peculiar) talents.  And when they come into their own as professionals, the fans cast the actors they love.

And so, at 91, Lee has two more Hobbit movies coming as Saruman, he's forever immortalized as Count Dooku - maybe one of the best parts of the Star Wars prequels, and he keeps popping up in various Tim Burton projects in cameos and small parts. And, he blew the doors off in Scorsese's Hugo.

And, he just released his second heavy metal album, this time partnering with Judas Priest.

He also does the occasional audiobook, and I highly recommend giving one a whirl.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Supermarathon! Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Ah.  Yes.

So, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

I recall this movie coming out, hanging around local theater Showplace 6 for maybe a week or two and then disappearing.  I vaguely remember bad reviews, but as a kid who was used to every movie he loved receiving bad reviews, this wasn't anything to sweat.

One day in the Spring of 1995 I was doing laundry at my first apartment, and I remember watching the entire thing, with commercial breaks, on Austin's UHF affiliate as I ran down to the laundry room during commercial breaks to swap out loads.

Superman unilaterally threatens every nation on Earth

The thing about Superman IV is that it actually has a pretty solid premise going in, a premise that it jettisons partway through and replaces with a blow-dried Rocky Horror stand-in with shiny fingernails.

I like that the film attempts to take Superman through the question of responsibility of a Superman when it comes to the nuclear question, and that he starts at "that's not really my decision" - changes his mind - and then, through the course of the narrative, sees that mankind needs to make a decision on its own.  You can see the high-minded ideals Reeve brought to the screenwriters as a co-creator of the story.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I finally watch: I, Robot (2004)

As a kid, I read some Isaac Asimov, but not a lot.  Robot Dreams, the Robot Novels (Caves of Steel, etc..).  About eight years ago I read one Foundation novel hopelessly out of synch with what I was supposed to be doing and read Prelude to Foundation, you know, before Foundation, which was apparently not correct as it came out much after the original books - but did include a favorite character of mine (spoiler).

But like things do when you're 13, the robot stories stuck with me.  I believed in the infallibility of the Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.  I barely even remember the stories from I, Robot anymore, but I read it three times before I finished high school.  Still remember knocking a huge chunk of it out while sitting on my folks' front porch one sunny day.

But I knew Will Smith was nowhere to be found in any of the short stories that make up the anthology of I, Robot.



The movie of I, Robot was released in 2004, and marked a very conscious decision for me not to pay to see something that I knew I would find disappointing.  I didn't remember the book well even 9 years ago, but I was pretty sure none of the stories contained within starred The Fresh Prince.


  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
In some ways, the movie is a new story based in the world of Asimov's US Robotics and with robot psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin, a recurring character in the stories of I, Robot, who appears in multiple stories at different points in the character's fictional lifetime.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Supermarathon: Superman III

Watching Superman III is an exercise in trying to guess what everyone involved was thinking.



For the third installment, the Salkinds kept Richard Lester on board as director, and with the Newmans on as writers (who had drafted an earlier script of Superman I and II, but who had been re-written by Tom Mankiewicz).  The camp and and slapsticky nature that reared it's head in Superman II in the theatrical release is back in full force, right from the choreographed opening that feels perhaps inspired by old silent comedies and Rube Goldberg machinations.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Calling it now: Everyone will now suddenly like Superman

Firstly, I am totally OK with this.

One does not spend ten years extolling the virtues of Superman and then get pouty when public opinion changes (thanks to the movie.  I'm not taking credit).  I'm not going to decide I don't like Superman because comics fans and the public alike shake off the past couple of decades of proudly proclaiming Batman's a hero and Superman's a zero.  And if people find something to like about Superman: GREAT!

Believe me, having a movie that sells people on Superman is going to make whatever I've been up to the past several years a lot easier to understand, and when it comes to family, friends and co-workers, I can use whatever help I can get.  Hopefully someone will do a follow up with a great Barks/ Rosa Ducks movie and I won't have to explain anything about myself ever again.

This all hinges on Man of Steel being a watchable film, and the trailers are pretty promising.  I have a strong feeling that even if the movie is not my cup of tea, the groundwork is already there to get people thinking about Superman a lot differently.

what are they looking at?  Where are they?


So, I just ran across an opinion piece at Comic Book Resources in which the writer points to various comics released over the past decade and, in my opinion, has found "his Superman".  No doubt a discriminating reader of comics, what with having a column and at least one podcast about comics, this writer finally found a way to "get" Superman.  He's got his in.

And, in many, ways, that's sort of what it takes.  If you can't find a point of accessibility, why would you like the character?

Not only is Superman one of the longest running characters in fiction, he's appeared in so many media over the years, the character has become this wall of iconography that's criss-crossed generations, nations, etc...  The very constancy of the character's omnipresence in culture, his association with comics, his occasional guest appearances, etc... all can lead to a belief that you gave the character a shot but you were too smart for what Superman was selling.  I know!  I've been there.  See yesterday's post on my era as an X-reader.  Couldn't get me to touch a Superman comic back then.

Tickets Purchased - Man of Steel is GO for Midnight Screening

I have purchased 3 tickets for the midnight screening of Man of Steel for The Alamo Ritz.



If you are interested in joining us here in Austin, I'll be with JuanD and KevinW (and owing a lot of apologies to Jamie).

There is likely to be a secondary screening on Saturday, so if you want in on that, give me a holler.

If you're up for being a REAL Superman fan and making the midnight show, we'll be there!

To join us, get your tickets here.




Tuesday, May 21, 2013

WB wants to be clear with you, "Man of Steel" is an action movie

Apparently someone at WB was a little miffed that the prior trailers for Man of Steel were not action packed enough. Well, no worries, my attention depleted fellow citizens, WB is here to PUT ACTION IN YOUR EYEHOLES.



Anyway, looks action packed.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Some weekend catch-up - movies, TV and comics

If you follow me on social media that is not this blog, you might have heard I had a touch of the food poisoning over the weekend.  A bad salad or pizza, I think.  Worst greek salad I've ever eaten, but it seemed fresh, so what do I know?

Well, I know what it feels like to get kicked in the stomach from my karate days, and this felt sort of like that, going on and on for quite a while.  So, I want to thank Jamie for the 2:30 AM run to Walgreen's to grab me some OTC meds and being a great help to me over the course of the weekend.  For a dialysis patient, it seems like the last year she's been taking care of me more than me of her.

I was sidelined from a planned viewing of Star Trek: Into Darkness, but I did catch a few movies over the weekend on cable and DVD.

Manhattan Melodrama with Myrna Loy, Clark Gable and William Powell was actually very, very good.  Thanks to Paul, who handed me that DVD on Friday.  Some 30's-era moral-minded civics lessons wrapped up with gangsterism and Myrna Loy in some great hats and dresses.  The title is dated, so don't expect organ music and fainting.  It's a bit more of a personal drama sort of movie.

The Campaign with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis was probably released at the wrong time, when we were in the middle of election season and everyone was so deadly serious about politics.  It's a lightweight movie in the Semi-Pro or Step Brothers model.  But it's pretty funny stuff, if pretty blue.  Speaking of, though it's two GOP candidates, I think you could have done this with any two candidates, aside from a few points.