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

Monday, August 3, 2015

Happy Belated Birthday, Myrna Loy!

August 2nd, 2015 marked Myrna Loy's 110th birthday!


Television Weekend: "Wet Hot American Summer - First Day of Camp" and "Penny Dreadful"

I don't often "binge watch" TV, but when you can get through a whole season of a TV show in four hours, sign me up.

The 2001-era movie, Wet Hot American Summer, has, apparently, become a staple of Netflix viewing.  Or something.  Because, for some reason, 14 years later, Netflix has doubled-down and produced 8 episodes of a TV show that should be insanely expensive to produce, just off actor's salaries.  My guess is that everyone is working at scale or something, because, really, what was a herd of mostly up-and-coming actors in 2001 are now established either in Hollywood or smaller comedy circles.  The Netflix series has also added a bucket-load of additional actors in other roles, including Jon Hamm (who has just shockingly good comedy chops, as he's demonstrated multiple times over the years), Michael Cera, and a few I don't want to spoil.

If you missed the original movie, the conceit was a play on "the summer camp picture", which was a staple of the 1980's, from comedies to horror films.   The adult-aged actors played 16-year-old camp counselors, and, Friday the 13th aside, worked not just aspects of those movies, but of camp, in general.*


The original movie squishes a lot into a relatively short running time.  It's a great ensemble piece playing out over the last day of camp as everyone concludes their unfinished business, from romance to preventing a rogue satellite from landing on the camp.  You're either with the movie or you're against it.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Rowdy Roddy Piper Merges With The Infinite

just look at that magnificent bastard

Working a crowd isn't easy, especially doing so as the bad guy.  But, man, somehow Rowdy Roddy Piper became not the villain people loved to hate - people just plain ol' loved him.

I don't follow wrestling now at all, and my window of interest when I was a kid was pretty narrow, so my viewership occurred primarily during that early 1980's window where the WWF was suddenly everywhere, and you had colorful characters like Jimmy "SuperFly" Snuka, George "The Animal" Steele, Mr. Fuji, the Iron Shiek, Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan.

At age 8, I liked it a lot.  The plots were straightforward.  Mean Gene Okerlund had a cool, dry wit we all admired, and it was a lot like watching live-action comics, but only as complicated as the Hostess ads.  There were good guys and bad guys, and sometimes they switched.

Among the wrestlers I liked, I counted Rowdy Roddy Piper.  That guy had moxie.  He was hilarious, he didn't take anyone seriously, and he was just fun to watch.  I just assumed because I liked him he was a good guy who happened to talk trash or something.  He had a kilt, bagpipes, and a mouth that didn't really stop.  But, no, he was a bad guy.

In fact, his gig was more or less that he was the biggest SOB in wrestling, pretty keen with an insult or gag or low-blow.  All with a cocksure attitude backed up with wins, and a fanbase that adored the act.  The clips you watch now are, uh... un-PC, to put it mildly.  But he didn't need to be un-PC, he just needed to be a needling jerk.

In fact, he's been voted the best "heel" in wrestling multiple times.

That, my friends, is the sort of life goal I aspire to.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Noir Watch: Conflict (1945)



No one is going to accuse Conflict (1945) of being my new favorite movie.

It played a few weeks ago on TCM's Summer of Darkness, and I recorded it as I always like Sydney Greenstreet, but hadn't seen (or heard of) this movie.

As host Eddie Muller explained prior to the film, the movie disappeared in part because it's not a film in which Bogart plays the hero, even if he is the focal character and, in that way, the protagonist.  But he's a protagonist who has fallen out of love with his, admittedly not-terribly-fun wife and in love with her sister (played by Alexis Smith).

In order to clear the way to the sister, Bogart works out a pretty good plan to murder his wife (I mean, credit where it's due) while everyone believes he's not even ambulatory thanks to a car wreck.  From here, things get messier and messier, despite the fact that the entire movie feels like one long, telegraphed, inevitable conclusion.

Greenstreet actually plays a nice guy, so while I was delighted to see him...  you know, it's not going to be anyone's favorite Sydney Greenstreet performance.

Not exactly a forgettable movie, but one that feels well worn, plot wise, and certainly lacking in tension both due to the inevitable ending and because... really...  like a lot of movies, they sort of missed the whole element of people acting like people.   Though someone's wife and sister is missing, no one grieves, particularly.  No one is inconsolable and out of their minds.  Instead, they take a jaunty trips to the country and go out for nights on the town.   I dunno.  I don't need gnashing of teeth, but it almost seems like everything after the action of this movie and the horror Alexis Smith's character will feel upon learning the motives for her sister's murder, should have been included.

It's so weird that grieving rarely shows up on film in any significant way in so many movies, both then and now.  But especially in a movie shot during a war.

I do like the windy plotting and Bogart is actually very on point in his acting here (he's so much a presence, sometimes I forget the man actually can act).  But, Alexis Smith doesn't do much but look pretty, and everything else just feels like snapped in parts of a build-it-yourself plot and movie.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

80's Watch: Stripes (1981)


I didn't see Stripes in 1981 when I was six.  I know I was in middle school, and I'm pretty sure I watched this one sometime after my dad figured out I could watch an rated-R movie with him without blowing our cover when it came to the content of whatever it was we were watching.  After all, both of us knew The KareBear could be a little sensitive about language, violence and nudity in movies, and Stripes provides a bit of all of the above.

The movie is from an era in Hollywood when they were trying out these SNL alums as movie comedians and releasing the Second City performers into the wild.  It was also the era when female nudity made its way into movies in a big way, with a seeming prerequisite for many a comedy to include unnecessary shower scenes.

So, hats off to us, Dad, for silently agreeing to not discuss the many topless scenes in this movie with Mom.

Noir Watch: Double Indemnity (1944)


I've talked about Double Indemnity (1944) before, but I finally purchased the movie on BluRay thanks to a recent release that had a lot of participation from TCM and a short doc with Eddie Muller, James Ellroy and others all talking about the film.  And, it cost less than what it would have cost to go to the theater to see the movie when Fathom Events played it when I was in Chicago and couldn't go.

As the commentary on the BluRay sort of barks at you, Double Indemnity set the standard for noir, a form I think of as really cementing maybe 3-5 years later.  The form has its origins in both pulp magazines and adaptations of those stories on the big screen like The Maltese Falcon from 1941, but in comparison to even the crime movies of the 1930's and pre-Hays Code, it's just... different.  Just as comics had to adapt with the Comics Code Authority in place, and that took them down whole new avenues, I tend to think of a lot of the subtlety of noir stemming from the constrictions of the Hays Code era trying to make sense of post-Depression/ post-WWII life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dead Watch: Army of Darkness (1992)



The first time I saw Army of Darkness (1992) it was mostly context free.  My brother had seen Evil Dead 2, liked it, and said "oh, that Army of Darkness movie is the sequel.  Cool."  And that was all I knew.  And with all the knowledge I had about Evil Dead 2 stemming from the cardboard VHS tape cover and the name, I had assumed it was yet another monster-horror-straight-to-VHS movie of the era, and those weren't my thing.

But then some family friends came into town with their daughter who was in, like, 8th grade, and I was a senior in high school and I was told "take Amanda to a movie" because the adults wanted to talk and pretty clearly Amanda and I had nothing to say to each other.  So we drove over to the cineplex to see what was showing.  I don't recall if she had any opinion as to what we should see, and it's not too likely I cared if she did or not (I was 17 or 18).  Thus, I bought tickets for Army of Darkness, because it was showing and the dude on the poster had a chainsaw and was fighting skeletons or something, which seemed a good sign to me, at least.

For the run time of the movie, I laughed like a lunatic in a half-full theater populated with people who seemed pretty sure I was watching the wrong movie.  They were there to see a serious action-horror movie, and that seemed to be how they were taking it until, I'm not sure - maybe the "tiny Ashes" scene?

I loved every last minute of it.  But I also knew - this was not going to be a movie for everyone.

Shortly afterward, I wound up in college.  On my new dorm floor, I ran into some fellows I'd known from my first high school (I moved from Austin to Houston summer before my sophomore year in high school, hi Mike and JAL!), and - given the relationship I'd had with these guys the first go-round, in about thirty seconds of conversation, we learned we'd all seen and loved Army of Darkness.   I don't even know how it then spread around my floor Freshmen year, but pretty quickly everyone had seen it.  And at Halloween, UT had a showing of Evil Dead 2, which, clever me, I brought a date to see.  I'm pretty sure my enthusiasm about the movie didn't help, but my follow up of making her watch The House on Haunted Hill (the original, Vincent Price version) more or less killed any chances there.  All for the best, as Jamie has been a fan of much of Raimi's work and quietly just ignores most of the rest of my vintage horror thing.

Anyway, I'm in no way objective about Army of Darkness.  I don't know how you could be.  In the way of a pre-internet things-that-worked-for-a-small-audience, the fans are quietly cultish but give knowing nods.  Some of my greatest pleasure in the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies (two movies I still think do superheroing better than most of the last 15 years of superhero movies) is when you can see him deploy some of those same directing tricks you know from Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness (the Dr. Octopus' arms come alive scene is just classic Raimi).

And as much as I like the Three Stooges pastiches, the wicked good camera work and editing, the melding of horror, comedy and cheese...  Man.  Who can you not like Bruce Campbell?  The man is a national treasure.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

80's Watch: Weird Science (1985)

Ah. John Hughes.  What exactly happened to you in high school, man?

What's weirdest, Mr. Hughes, is that it's the filter through which you experienced your formative years, applied to a very small handful of films, either created or so reflected a vision so all-consuming that its seemed to rewrite reality for your audience, leading decades of suburban kids to believe your movies have something, anything, to do with reality, and rewriting how movies and TV would portray high school, and allow all of us to cast ourselves as the outcast and the geek.  Hell, we all knew we were Cameron, not Ferris.  And that was the point.



Pretty clearly, Mr. Hughes, your perspective is that of a highly privileged suburban Chicagoan, something that is both incredibly specific and still enough part of fly-over country and enough a part of the generic American public school experience that we can't help but recognize the surroundings and relate a little when we see a gym with kids in PE dress-out uniforms* or the lockers along the hallway.  Even if the same public missed the point during those test screenings of Pretty in Pink and insisted on the wrong happy ending (which I imagine must have killed you inside, Mr. Hughes).   

Maybe in middle-school we believed it, but even by high school, we knew it was never as simple as the jock, the nerd, the princess, the criminal and the freak.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ape Watch: Every Which Way But Loose (1978)


It's been about 24 hours since I finished watching Every Which Way But Loose (1978), and I'm glad that I didn't have time nor energy to write much about it immediately after turning off the TV.  I don't want to give the movie too much credit, but as the credits rolled, I was left thinking what an odd product of its time the movie really was.  And the more I thought about it, the odder the movie seemed.

It's action star Clint Eastwood, well established in everything from the Spaghetti Westerns he'd conquer to the Dirty Harry movies to Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes.  And then he goes off and makes a movie where it seems the biggest draw is the inexplicable inclusion of an orangutan that doesn't seem to really drive the plot.

Eastwood plays Philo Beddoe, a tow-truck driver who seems to know his only real skill is with his fists.  So good is he, he both never backs down from a fight and he earns no small amount of side-money in illegal bare-knuckle matches in parking lots and on factory floors.  He's distinctly blue-collar, as is the movie (something that would fade within 10 years), all of the characters scraping by and living outside of polite society.  Philo meets a lovely young country star, Lynn, and for once he seems interested in something beyond the next moment.

Lynn seems to be in some trouble with an ex, and departs somewhat abruptly.  Philo grabs his Orangutan and decides to follow her.

Along the way, Philo and his buddy (his brother?  I wasn't clear) Orville stumble across the same ridiculous biker gang over and over, the biker gang losing bikes and fights along the way.  And Philo accidentally draws the attention of a cop who would just as soon throw his career away to find Philo for the humiliating beating he takes in a bar.

Deep down, I think this movie was trying to be something a bit more than a movie about a guy, an ape and punching out dopey bikers and cops.  And it sort of succeeds.  There's a certain lovely pointlessness to the movie, a sort of open-ended road-trip mentality that wants to embrace absurdity that never quite ever realizes that usually there's a sort of point to the pointlessness.  Yeah, we get that Philo relates better to the silent ape than people and it's through Clyde that he works out that he's even having feelings, but, I dunno.  There's just not a whole lot of payoff that seems so close to occurring.

I'm not sure the kids are aware that as big of a deal as disco may have been in the 70's, country music was a sort of omnipresent force as well. Hee-Haw was a thing which people happily watched. The movie does have some nice cameos, and does have a pretty good theme song:



Friday, July 24, 2015

Shark Watch: Sharknado 3

I don't know how you people are wasting your life, but here's how I'm wasting mine:



Thursday evening saw the broadcast of Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, the third installment in the Sharknado franchise which seems like it started a million years ago, but, no, apparently began in 2013.

The first Sharknado movie I caught on the 10:00 PM rebroadcast after twitter blew up and piqued my curiosity.  I hadn't initially tuned in, as the matching of the SyFy Network, slumming actors and sharks was absolutely nothing new.  For good or ill, I can't tell you how many shark-related Asylum films I've seen on the network, but it's been way, way more than I should really be talking about if I want to retain any credibility, anywhere.

In the end, the combo of clearly-not-quite-recovered actress Tara Reid, world's best sport Ian Ziering, veteran actor John Heard, and a water spout full of sharks making its way across LA was, indeed, chicken soup for the soul.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Marvel Watch: Ant-Man (2015)


I was never skeptical of an Ant-Man movie.  For folks who have long followed my ramblings, you know I have a very simple rule for why I'll give anything a go when it comes to sci-fi and superheroes:  there is no such thing as a bad idea, only bad execution.  Frankly, when people were predicting doom for Guardians of the Galaxy because (oh my goodness!) it wasn't a known quantity!  and it had a raccoon and tree-man! I was left scratching my head and saying: well, those aren't actually problems for a movie.   Those are just new or odd things.

Re: Ant-Man comics:  I have a pretty huge gap in my comics' knowledge regarding Hank Pym as Ant-Man from the classic Marvel U, and I was just left confused by Mark Millar's take on Pym in The Ultimates, that I sort of believe has taken Pym off the playing board for Marvel forever.  I'm totally unfamiliar with anything about Scott Lang other than that - he exists in the comics, I guess?  It seems like I saw him in a Marvel role-playing game supplement.  At some point I read one issue of something called Irredeemable Ant-Man, which didn't really work for me.

So, there you go.  I basically can't tell you anything about Ant-Man as a comics figure beyond the period in the 1980's when Hank Pym was adventuring with no mask and just growing and shrinking things and using the heroic name "Hank Pym" as part of West Coast Avengers.  But check in with me if you have questions about Super Turtle.  I have wisdom.

As per the movie?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Noir Watch: 99 River Street (1953)

As part of TCM's Summer of Darkness, this evening Eddie Muller showed 99 River Street (1953), a noir I'd somehow started once but never quite finished.  Given the issues we had with our last DVR, I believe that it just got pushed off the DVR when we accidentally recorded an all-day Archer marathon or something.



I'm not surprised Muller showed this one, but am, perhaps, surprised it took him this long.  I've heard him speak about Evelyn Keyes, a woman he met before her passing, and he spoke with tremendous admiration, and this movie fits as neatly in with the more rough and tumble noir as anything.  I've seen Keyes in a few movies, and she's a surprising talent.  Maybe more striking than beautiful, but with a certain calculating intelligence she brings to her roles that I like.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Comedy Subterfuge Watch: Spies Like Us (1985) and Top Secret! (1984)

I dunno.  Do I really have to talk about these movies?  I'm tired.



Yeah.  I'm not going to write about these movies.  I like Top Secret! much, much more than Spies Like Us.  How's that?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ape Watch: Tarzan The Ape Man (1932)

As you may recall, I recently read Tarzan of the Apes.   I don't tend to believe the cosmos is telling me anything, but I also try not to ignore coincidence.  Because, hey, serendipity counts for something.



TCM featured "Ape Day", I believe, the other day, with all sorts of simian cinema, with everything from King Kong to Planet of the Apes to Every Which Way But Loose, and, of course, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), the first Johnny Weissmuller/ Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzan movie.

I have seen this movie in bits and pieces, but I don't think I'd seen it straight through until now.  And, people, it's pretty amazing.  In fact, we're going to roll out our new feature... the Stefon.  So you'll know when:

Happy Birthday to Barbara Stanwyck (b. 1907)

It's funny how the mass audience only remembers a few actors from says gone by. I am sure most people know the name Barbara Stanwyck, but as time marches on, I'm not sure how many folks know her by site or have seen her films. I haven't seen that many, and I tend to give a movie a chance if I know she's in the credits.

She's an amazingly versatile actress from an era when that wasn't always appreciated so much as playing yourself in different costumes and time periods (see: Judy Garland).  But here's just a few highlights.

Clash by Night

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Noir Watch: The Third Man (1949)

In general, it seems that at some point someone will suggest The Third Man (1949) to you.  I know the name had been thrown at me for years, especially when I started digging into film noir, but there seemed to be a certain lack of availability to the movie, and I wasn't going to just buy it on DVD of Amazon, site unseen.

new poster by ace artist Francesco Francavilla


A year or three ago, it was included in the Paramount Summer Film Series, our local grand theater's showcase of classic film.* Jamie and I went and saw it, sitting up in the balcony (my prime spot).  And while I often watch and enjoy a movie, it is all too rare that I go back to that place where I can both become utterly absorbed in a movie and enjoy the construction of the movie simultaneously.  these days, even if I enjoy the hell out of a movie - let's say Captain America 2, for example, I'm generally just enjoying watching a fun entertainment with characters I like, blowing up floating aircraft carriers and whatnot.

But The Third Man takes me not just back to how much I liked the parts of a film during film school, but wanting to take it all apart and look at how it's assembled - the reason I wanted to go to film school - more to learn how it all worked more than I suspect I ever really had any intention of going off to be the next jodhpur-clad director that America did not need.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Happy Birthday, Harrison Ford!

Happy Birthday, Harrison Ford!  You are the best actor who is in all the best movies.  So, well done, man.

Today you're 73, but let's review just a few of the times you've been awesome.

You totally showed up in a bit part in Apocalypse Now.  I was not expecting that at all.


You were kind of way cooler than Richie Cunningham in American Graffiti.


You were fake-Amish in Witness.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Noir Watch: Red Light (1949)

This wasn't my favorite movie, so I'll keep it short.

Red Light (1949) tells the story of a successful San Francisco trucking magnate played by George Raft*, whose brother has returned from service as an Army chaplain and will now be going full time as a Catholic Priest, complete with his own church.  The brother is killed (by Harry Morgan! at the direction of Raymond Burr!) in a revenge scheme as Raft sent up Burr for some crooked dealings.

This poster is basically lying about what this movie is about.  


Raft's dying brother whispers to him that if he's looking for who killed him, the answer is in the Gideon's Bible in his room.  Raft goes to claim it and it's disappeared, so he runs around the Southwest trying to find the Bible, as any of five people could have taken it.  Virgina Mayo is one of those folks, and she gets wrapped up in helping George Raft and being very white bread and pretty.

In any movie you see him in, Raft has more or less one mode, and here it's tilted toward impatient anger from the moment his brother dies.  I don't know that the performance is flat, exactly, but sometimes the line delivery can be all so one-note, it becomes almost funny.

There's a sort of weird mid-20th Century evangelism to the movie, with Raft maybe learning the lessons in the Bible are there for men like him who are in real trouble - including a sort of homily from a soldier who (in a goofy flashback sequence) contemplates suicide until a window washer leaps through the window and saves him.

It all sort of feels like Reader's Digest got it's hands on your standard potboiler noir and said "I know how to spruce this up!".

Anyway, not really my cup of tea.


*Raft also played a trucking magnate in They Drive By Night, which was just a better movie by anyone's measure.

Pirate Watch: Treasure Island (1950)

After watching Johnny Tremain, I've been curious as to how the other Disney live-action films of my youth hold up.  I won't likely be reviewing Son of Flubber for example, but some of the more "adventure" type titles I haven't seen in a while are on Amazon streaming, so...  here we go.



I don't know how many times I watched this one as a kid, but it was more than once.  And, I read the book when I was 10, which is really the perfect time to read Treasure Island.  At 10, I wasn't terribly interested in romance in my books, and there's absolutely none to be had in the novel, but I was interested in pirates and cutthroats and treasure chests and maps (my second grade teacher, two years prior, had known this so much she brought me a souvenir treasure map from The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, and I studied it like it was going to find me a genuine treasure).

The New "Superman v. Batman" trailer exists, so here goes

Circa 2002, before Superman Returns, WB really, really wanted to do a Superman vs. Batman movie, and it even got a reference in a billboard in the background of I Am Legend.  This was just after the success of Spider-Man and X-Men, and WB was trying to figure out to jumpstart the DC heroes, something they'd sort of ignored in the wake of the slow death of the Batman franchise under Joel Schumacher.

As I recall, the storyline for the script was that Batman had been around for a while, gotten married, semi-retired, etc... but then along comes Superman who has a super-fight, and in the battle, somehow Bruce's wife is killed as a bystander.  In this version, in order to keep up with Superman, Batman makes a deal with Satan or something and gets magical powers in order to stay toe-to-toe with Superman until, of course, they had someone else to go fight.

Never make a deal with this guy
A script leaked a couple of years ago has a different version, but, again, Bruce loses a spouse but Superman just says "hey, don't kill nobody, okay?" which Batman totally wants to do.  It involves Joker clones and a lot of painting oneself into a corner, narratively

If you're keeping score, even WB - the people who brought us Catwoman, Jonah Hex and Green Lantern - decided against the green light on this script, maybe deciding we first needed to remind America what Superman looked like.

Well, when Man of Steel did pretty well, but word of mouth wasn't all that great and it wasn't clear WB could just roll out a Superman sequel and expect success, they finally went ahead and pulled the trigger on the Batman/ Superman meet-up, and - if nothing else - they hopefully finally got it out of their system and came up with a product that will give everyone the same entirely unsatisfactory match-up that's occurred in every superhero comic, ever, where neither wins and they become friends so they can go off and fight the other threat that was a bigger deal than their little misunderstanding.

Here's the new trailer, by the way.