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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Doc Watch: Salesman (1968)

Salesman (1968) is one of those films that got referenced a bit in texts I had back in film school, and has certainly endured, but not with the same level of notoriety as the Maysles Bros. most famous film, Grey Gardens.  But, dang, if this isn't a pretty amazing bit of film.

A documentary following a team of door-to-door Bible salesmen working first in New England and then in Florida, it feels like the predecessor to not only reality TV shows covering people at work (and I don't mean "unscripted" shows, but the more documentary approach that seems to have fallen by the wayside) but also to the world of films like Glengarry Glen Ross, complete with the archetypes that would fill that movie and others like it.

You can't figure why some guys can close a sale and some guys can't, and you're always asking people who don't have money to hand over what they've got for something that's a luxury item, or at least maybe not a practical necessity.  In this movie we're seeing Bibles going for $30 - $50 in 1968, when the customers on camera are obviously doing the math regarding what the impact of the expense will have on the weekly budget.  They aren't in the homes of high-rollers, they're in middle to lower middle-class homes of working people of the era.

The salesmen are selling the book of faith, but the religion is the sale.  The supervisors expect sales slips, they don't want any backtalk, and they gladly point out how they've cleared out a few people for their attitude alone.  At night in depressing motor-lodge rooms, the salesmen come back to drink and smoke and sort out what's happening - they require the faithful as a customer base, and they know what buttons to push, but they're not selling with the zeal of evangelists - they're looking to see what it will take to put you into a new Bible today.

The movie is a fascinating record of a particular time and place and what people were like.  But it remains relevant as the pressure to produce, to deliver of anyone who ever had a job, and you see how different personalities approach the same problem with varying results - but there's no real clarity to why "The Bull" succeeds where "The Badger" can't get a break.  The desire to get ahead and to dream of doing well gives way to worrying about survival in a world where success or failure are mercurial even to the people in the thick of things.  

It's powerful stuff, and neither begins nor ends neatly.  I can't really recommend the movie enough.  Give a chance if you have the opportunity.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

SW Watches: Johnny Dangerously (1984)

Of the 1980's comedy staples, somehow I never saw Johnny Dangerously (1984) until I was well into college.  I suspect our family's lack of HBO during the window in which this would have run incessantly meant I never had the opportunity.  So, I don't have 1980's nostalgia for the movie.

Frankly, I don't really like it.  Which is weird, because I like everyone in it from Keaton to Boyle to Marilu Henner, but because Jamie does love the movie, I've seen it a number of times.  I think maybe two spots in it ever make me laugh (one of which is using a pricing gun on puppies in a pet store), and another I only laugh at because Jamie laughs so hard at it (Griffin Dunne yelling "Oh muh God!" as his car plunges down a hill).

I don't want to overly complain about it, because it's not actually painful to watch.  It's not like a mid-00's comedy like an American Pie III of whatever that I would just cringe my way through.  I just...  I dunno.  Maybe if I'd seen it when I was 11.

New Bond Trailer is up: "SPECTRE"

Very excited for another Daniel Craig Bond installment.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ghost Watch: The Ghost Goes West (1936)

So, over the years I've occasionally seen the movie The Ghost Goes West (1936) referenced in passing, but nobody ever mentioned what it was about.  Just like "oh, he played stevedore #4 in The Ghost Goes West" sorts of comments.  And I always wondered:  what the hell genre is a movie called "The Ghost Goes West"?  What could it even possibly be about?

This poster is a nightmare of design, but I like it

I actually suspected it was about some sort of colorfully named detective leaving the East Coast and going to California.  And I was totally, utterly wrong.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Yesterday was Joan Crawford's B-Day

March 23rd marks the birthday of Joan Crawford.  She would have been 110 yesterday.

Complicated person, that Joan Crawford.  I tend to really like her in movies, and I think I've shared here and elsewhere how much I like Mildred Pierce, in particular (but who doesn't)?  Johnny Guitar is also worth a view if you want to see something out there on the edge of genre and expectation.

Happy b-day to a daughter of The Alamo City and one of the greats.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

SW Watches: Waiting for Guffman (1996)

I don't know that I've seen every one of Christopher Guest's films, but Jamie and I agreeing on Waiting for Guffman (1996) was a good sign when we were in our early courtship, and they've become a bit of a staple ever since.

I never did community theater, but I did participate in high school drama, doing some acting (I was so good, y'all) and stage work like lighting and building sets (I always liked the hammer and nails bit more than acting).  Jamie's family was heavily involved with community theater in the Lawton, Oklahoma epoch of their lives.   If you've not seen the movie, it's a pretty great character-driven, improvised comedy in the faux-documentary style of This is Spinal Tap or Best in Show.  The "doc" follows the good folks of Blaine, Missouri as they set about putting on a play to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the town (that's 150th birthday for you folks who have never lived through your region celebrating the b-day).

Horror Watch: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

After visiting Austin's Sfanthor! sci-fi/fantasy/horror shop and classic horror wax museum, I began pondering the fact that I'm probably more familiar with Vincent Price as the amiable but possibly murderous roles in noir films like Laura and His Kind of Woman.  But I quite like House on Haunted Hill and House of Wax.  I've been aware of the cult following for The Abominable Dr. Phibes since I watched a few minutes of it on the TV at Vulcan Video circa 2001.  But, it just never crossed my path.

Despite promises to do otherwise (and go full in on a BluRay set), I picked up a cheaply priced DVD boxed set that included Dr. Phibes and which I'll, no doubt, be bothering you guys with for a while.

This movie is British set and produced, but for international appeal, they cast Price as our lead villain and one of my favorite actors of his generation, Joseph Cotten as one of the guys on Phibes' trail.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

SW Watches: Most of "Major League"

Somehow this movie gets circulated a lot.  I guess there aren't that many successful baseball comedies as the only two other baseball comedies I can think of that aren't Major League, Major League II or A League of Their Own are the Bernie Mac movie Mr. 3000 (that I'm not sure anyone has ever actually seen), and the Tom Selleck flick, Mr. Baseball, which no one really remembers.

I'm just not sure this is a very good movie.  maybe it is.  I can't tell.  It's certainly something people have seen and quote infinitely ("just a bit outside...").  It has good bits, and it does have Rene Russo in a thankless girlfriend role to a mulleted Tom Berenger, so at least she's in it.  It does have an early career Wesley Snipes, Charlie Sheen and Dennis Haysbert as well as an established Berenger and Corbin Bernsen.  And, of course, baseball's Bob Ueker and the gravel-voiced James Gammon.

SW Watches: Three Amigos!

With Disney's Three Caballeros behind us, our Friday movie was the 1986 triple-buddy comedy, Three Amigos!.

Much like The Naked Gun, it's a movie we all grew up on and, frankly, we all know the jokes and gags before they happen.  But if you're a fan, that just makes them better.  Who doesn't look forward to the "My Little Buttercup" scene?  Or Dusty Bottoms saying "the lips will be fine"?

But maybe ten minutes into the movie, I suddenly realized that Galaxy Quest essentially lifted the Three Amigos! plot, which made me wonder which other movies are about actors stumblling into a real-life situation they've been aping.  If you can think of any, let me know.  It's an interesting thing to ponder, because it's a movie that can easily be held up to the critical eye and say the movie is racist - except if we're being honest, that's not really how the movie works (except when it does in that casually racist way Hollywood still deals with Latinos).  It's a cartoon, certainly, and the residents of Santa Poco are sweetly naive, the bandits are cartoonishly rogueish, the producer is a cigar-chomping corporate stereotype.  And, of course, our heroes have no idea what they're doing.   Apply that to Galaxy Quest, and, well...   Just something to kick around.

Aside from that, I really don't feel that there's anything new to say about Three Amigos! that we didn't say when we were in 8th grade.  If you don't like Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short, there's not much I can do to help you out, but I do think that while this may not be the smartest of any of their movies (it features a singing bush voiced by Randy Newman), it's still one of the funniest (it features a singing bush voiced by Randy Newman).

As a sign that life just isn't fair, El Gaupo actor Alfonso Arau really didn't do much else in American cinema after this, when he should have become a household name.  That dude is hilarious.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cartoon Watch: Three Caballeros (1944)

Lysergic acid diethylamide was first discovered in 1943 and introduced to the public in 1947,but not popularized until the mid-1960's.   So we're going to assume that whatever inspired the 1944 Disney feature length film, Three Caballeros, was more likely a byproduct of a lovely tour of Latin America and either the psilocybin mushroom or the peyote cactus.

For three summers in the mid-1990's, I worked at the Disney Store.  The soundtrack to the store was always a laser disc, or - more specifically - one side of a laser disc that played over and over in about a 45 minute loop.  For at least one of those summers, part of that loop was the titular song to Three Caballeros, performed by Jose Carioca, Panchito and Donald Duck.  I loved that frikkin' song.*  But I'd never seen the movie, and it hasn't ever really been readily available.

This weekend TCM played a bunch of stuff from the Disney vault, and luckily NathanC turned me on to the fact Three Caballeros was playing, so I finally DVR'd it and watched.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

SW Watches: The Right Stuff (1983)

I was lucky to be born into an era when the job everyone aspired to was "astronaut".  As you got older, if you were me, you realized you were going to be too tall, wear too many glasses, be just amazingly awful at pre-Calc, and maybe develop a crippling fear of heights.  I was just never going to be astronaut material.

But, yeah, like a lot of people my age and older, I was pretty space-crazy growing up.  We were living on the edge of the world of Buck Rogers and Star Trek.  And, to be a part of that seemed like being a part of the future more than anything you could do (we can quiz Matt A. on the veracity of this childhood fantasy later, but it seemed right at the time).

On my 6th birthday, the Space Shuttle Colombia took off from Kennedy (STS-1). I was well aware it was a coincidence, but it still felt like a pretty good birthday present.  Watching it with the fam is still one of those indelible childhood memories.

Two years later, the Philip Kaufman directed movie The Right Stuff (1983) was released to theaters.  Based on a Thomas Wolfe novel, it's certainly not a movie aimed at kids, but The Admiral was also not one to let the two little miscreants he'd sired run around ignorant of one of the greatest periods (if not THE greatest period) of technical achievement in human history.  Nor would he let it pass that we would not know of the flawed, insanely brave men who sat atop those rockets and came back safely.  Let alone, we might not know the name of Chuck Yeager.

I remember seeing many movies in the theater from my childhood, and certainly the memory of seeing The Right Stuff is still vivid.  While the movie was not the sort of thing I was running around play-acting afterward, I knew I'd seen something quite different and kind of astonishing.

In the years that have passed, I have no idea how many times I'd seen it, but I caught it again while Jamie and I were dating, and I remember really realizing for the first time how damn good the movie really is.  I'm always shocked not just by the mixed reactions you can get at the mention of the film, but that it's not mentioned in the same breath with other films that routinely make great movie lists.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Franken-Watch: The Bride (1985)

Ever since I was a kid, I'd be meaning to watch the 1985 movie, The Bride, but was first told it was "too adult" or something, and later, "it's not very good".  And, you know, that second one is far more correct than the first rationale for skipping this film.  But between my interest in the Frankenstein story in general and because the movie Bride of Frankenstein is easily in my top 5 or 10 movies (especially when paired with Frankenstein itself, for a neat, under 3 hour package), I figured that if I could watch Christmas Vacation over and over, I could make time for a movie I hadn't seen.

If our trend this week is about failed marriages, we can twist that idea a bit to include how the doctor lost his lady friend, Jennifer Beals.

The movie features a fascinatingly 1980's cast, probably meaningless to the kids today, but you Gen X'ers and post Gen X'ers will probably at least raise an eyebrow.  Cast as Doctor Frankenstein (who I don't know ever receives a first name in this version) is former rocker/ current adult contemporary wunderkind, Sting, who was transitioning as the Police collapsed for the fifteenth time and as he made a stab at an acting career in some offbeat movies during the era (like Dune!).  As the titular Bride/ Eva, the movie casts Flashdance star Jennifer Beals, most likely as she and Elsa Lanchester are both the proud owners of gigantic, dark eyes, lots of hair and striking features.  Not too distant from his role in The Highlander as the Cossack, Clancy Brown plays Viktor/ The Monster (yeah, artistic license), but well before he became Mr. Crabs of SpongeBob fame.  And, David Rappaport, who you'll recognize from Time Bandits, plays a new character, Rinaldo the dwarf, a guy who befriends the monster as he wanders in the woods and helps him realize personhood.  And, a young Cary Elwes shows up, all fresh faced and prettier than everyone in the room.

SW Watches: The Odd Couple (1968)

I plan to catch up on a few episodes on the new Thomas Lennon/ Matthew Perry starring The Odd Couple TV series reboot*, and I realized that - while I'm familiar with the general idea, I have never seen the movie in its entirety (and I am not going to rewatch all of the Tony Randall/ Jack Klugman series).  The movie is currently streaming on Netflix, so I gave it a whirl.

Now, that's not to say I haven't seen large chunks of the movie, and, in fact, in 8th grade I actually did a fairly lengthy scene from the original play for my final in the drama class I took that semester.  I think I was Oscar, but I don't actually remember.  I mostly remember having to act like I was on a date at a time when talking to girls made me start sweating like a pig.

After just watching Love Crazy, I didn't really go out of my way to a watch a second movie about divorce a day later, but I guess I better watch Kramer v Kramer tomorrow.  But it is interesting to see that the social stigma around divorce was changed by the time The Odd Couple (1968) was playing theaters, versus the "oh, the shame!" aspect of it in Love Crazy from 27 years prior.

I'm doubly surprised that I hadn't seen the 1968 movie because I genuinely really enjoy both Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and it's kind of like saying you like McCartney and Lennon's solo work, but you never listened to "Revolver".  Here, both are in top form, and swing between hilarious and maddening and pathetic in ways that I am sure community theater has been royally butchering for four decades now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

SW Watches: Love Crazy (1941)

The relationship America had with movie stars was a bit different back in the day.  For actors like Myrna Loy and William Powell, I suspect the pair were considered a bit like to-flight sitcom talent from the 90's.  And as the concept of episodic stories at the time were confined to the radio and matinee serials, outside of the Thin Man series (which, if you've never watched them pour yourself a whiskey and enjoy), the two were paired repeatedly due to their chemistry, but as new characters in new settings.

Love Crazy (1941) was the fifth movie in a Loy/ Powell box set Paul gifted me a while back, and one I'd somehow just forgotten to watch.  It's comfort food from jump, a movie for folks who'd been fans of Loy and Powell since before The Thin Man would cement their place in cinema history.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

SFANTHOR opens in Austin: Sci-Fi/ Fantasy/ Horror museum and shop on South Congress

For reasons I cannot firmly recall other than fanboyishness, I follow Vincent Price on facebook.  So, I was a little surprised on Friday to see the folks managing the account - managers of the Price estate - be the ones who broke the news to me via a link to an Austin Chronicle article that the weird castle that's been under construction on touristy South Congress was not a hipster medieval bar, but a WAX MUSEUM AND HORROR-THEMED STORE.  

I had no Saturday plans, so I grabbed JuanD and he and I braved the usual Saturday traffic and crowds of South Congress (it's the kind of place where you stand in line for 45 minutes for a magical Austin ice cream - hint, it's just Marble Slab - or 2 hours for a @#$%ing cheeseburger.  G**damn this town), and went to check it out.

I was maybe two feet inside when I wished Stuart were here to see this.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

SF Watch: Explorers (1985)

As a kid I remember not exactly loving this movie.  At the time, I thought it was kind of boring and anti-climactic.  As of last night I kind of think that, like the ship the boys fly in during the movie, it's also a mess assembled out of used garbage piloted by people who have no idea what they're doing.

For example - when you title your movie Explorers (1985), you may want to try including the concept of "exploration" not getting hi-jacked briefly before coming right back home.

I don't mean to be so harsh, but, man...  Back in the 1980's, an era that brought us E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies, Monster Squad and other movies about adolescents getting caught up in a magical world of imagination and adventure and maybe learning something about empathy and themselves along the way, this movie ended up as a bit of a renter after not really doing great at the box office.  And it seemed like it should have been great.  Kids doing it for themselves.  Computers.  Space travel.  Aliens!

It feels like this movie kind of knew what the pieces were that went into these coming-of-age movies, a genre enough unto itself that the 2011 JJ Abrams movie Super 8 sought to recreate the feel.  The films required a backdrop of kids not doing great at home - divorced parents, dead parents, grieving or troubled parents.  But the parents were present, if a bit distracted.  The 80's gave us kid rooms that were messy that contained things real kids' rooms of the era might contain like mangled comics, toys, posters strewn around.  Kids weren't particularly nice to each other, even as friends.  The lead would maybe have a crush on some nice girl who wore lots of purple or pink.  And, these were never the cool kids.  They were average, or maybe a little nerdy.

Sure enough, Explorers features 3 outsider kids - the romantic sci-fi nerd (Ethan Hawke), the science-minded nerd who other kids just want to beat the crap out of (River Phoenix in dad-glasses), and the Junior John Bender (the guy you never heard from again but who is actually better than Ethan Hawke in this movie) team up to float around in a pile of garbage inside a space marble and then....

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Noir Watch (sorta): High Wall (1947)

So, like a month ago I started watching this movie on a DVD I'd picked up, and got an hour into it and the DVD fritzed out on me.  So I got a replacement copy from Amazon (seriously, their return policy is the bees knees), and finally got around to finishing the movie this evening.

I am not sure I'd recommend High Wall.  By far the best feature of the movie is that it stars Audrey Totter as a psychiatrist who is not afraid to monkey around with experimental brain surgery and the liberal application of medication.  It's only marginally noir, in my book.  More of a suspense thriller with noirish undertones.

Basically, the movie is about a guy who probably really is, at the very least, unstable following his return from WWII, who comes home to a wife he married in the fog of war, only to find out that she wants someone pulling in more bucks than he's worth now that he's not drawing a military salary.  He leaves for Burma to fly cargo and send home paychecks.  When he comes home, he may or may not have killed his wife, who he figures is schtupping her boss - a kind of sleazy dude who happens to be overseeing a Christian Book publisher.

It's all very sordid.

Trek Watch: Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home

As we say good-bye to Leonard Nimoy, I wanted to give one of the Star Trek movies a whirl.  And Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home seemed a good choice.  It's lighter, was directed by Nimoy, and has a strong character thread for Spock.

just a couple of bros, trading colorful metaphors

I'm actually a fan of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, not the least because it truly felt like an episode of the original show taken to its logical extreme - exploration leading to realization of some greater truth about humanity, etc... And the direction by Robert Wise is impeccable.  I'm also a fan of Star Treks II and III, both great action movies, expanding on the ideas from the TV series, both the commentary of The Star Seeds and the pioneering science you'd see Kirk and Co coming upon from planet to planet, episode to episode.

Star Trek IV, of course, picks up the threads of II and III and completes a trilogy of related movies, sending the crew of the Enterprise home to face court-martial for the events of the prior two movies.  Spock has returned to life in the events of III, and keeps up a stoic as he finds his footing.  And, of course, the world will end if we don't travel back into the past, enjoy a Michelob and grab some humpback whales.  Returning to the roots of Trek, Star Trek IV sets up a conflict that can't be resolved with phasers or photon torpedoes, setting up what a wacky adventure for our faithful crew in the 1980's.

Of course, y'all don't need a plot synopsis of Star Trek IV.

And, of course, it's not like I haven't written about the movie before.

This movie marked another evolution in Spock's character - the movie where he fully accepts his human nature and the inherent illogic of humanity as part of his own nature.  His mother's reminder that his friends have substituted the "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one" was ignored to save him, he in turn applies to the comatose Chekov.  And he embraces the human notion of "guessing" rather than working from facts and numbers.

It's not the A Plot of the movie, but it's interesting to see what must have been on the minds of Nimoy and Harve Bennett, who acted as story developers but also as Director and Producer, respectively (for you kids who weren't around yet, saving the whales was kind of a big thing back in the '80's).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

GUEST POST: AmyC talks "Fifty Shades, Forty-Three Dollars"

Editor's Note:  Every once in a great while, there's a particular need to bring in an expert here at The Signal Watch.  I posted on Fifty Shades of Grey on Monday, and mentioned I'd seen the movie with longtime pal, AmyC.  She was game, and I hadn't had opportunity to hang with her in a long time, so it seemed the ideal opportunity.  I want to thank Amy, because not only did she go to the movie, she brought a perspective to the whole event that made it all seem like less my usual descent into madness with a movie like Santa with Muscles, and, instead, she was a fantastic sounding board as we discussed "what does this movie mean?" en route and on the return trip from the movie.  

Without further ado, here's Amy's post...

Fifty Shades, Forty-three Dollars

Ever since The League pitched the idea of going to see Fifty Shades of Grey, I’ve been excited about going to see a movie that I would have otherwise done my level best to ignore, mostly because I think that bad movies transcend themselves when shared, and become transformed into good experiences through the alchemy of shared derision. I actually consider myself something of an aficionado of horrible movies, having snickered my way through The Room, Showgirls, Goblin 2, and various other legendarily bad pieces of dreck. And while I hadn’t managed to get through the book, despite a heroic effort on my part, I’d managed to absorb enough of the story indirectly to be dead-certain it was NOT going to be a good movie. Most of my exposure to the content was through YouTube videos featuring parody-readings of excerpts from the books.

Video 1
Video 2
Video 3
Video 4

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that I have spent a good portion of my professional life teaching classes about sexuality. Generally, most of my time was spent talking about sexually-transmitted infections, birth control, and the ins-and-outs of human reproductive anatomy, but I also took every chance I could get to talk to people about consent, the value and power of mutual pleasure, and respect for one’s self and the person or people one becomes intimate with throughout one’s life. I’ve also had the great privilege of helping some people deal with the aftermath of sexual assaults and abusive relationships, which has made me wary of how our culture portrays love and sexuality in our entertainment.

However, since I knew I was going to be seeing it with a friend, in a theater full of people that would mostly be sincere fans, instead of ignoring it or tut-tutting it, I started psyching myself up for seeing it by actively looking for information about tie-in (heh!) products and things that fans were hoping to see in the film. I got a good chuckle about the sex toys, lubricants, and various other odds and ends for sale at Target , and an actual belly laugh out of the existence of a Christian Grey teddy bear in a wee little grey suit, kitted out with a little Venetian mask and a tiny pair of handcuffs. I read a surprisingly thoughtful essay about the transition in the Anastasia character’s make-up and styling from the film’s makeup artist (the lip color gets darker throughout the film since it’s part of the book that Christian is fascinated by Anastasia’s lower lip) that accompanies a set of cosmetics assembled by a high-end cosmetic company Make-Up Forever that’s being sold through Sephora. There’s a lot of official product out there, and it’s fascinating in its variety and far-ranging price-points.