Saturday, September 9, 2017
The other night Jamie and I watched Superman: The Movie for the first time in some time. For us, that meansL it's been over a year since we sat down and watched it. For me, it's been greater than 6 months. It may be that same "more than a year" timeframe - these days I can no better remember a particular viewing of the movie than I can an airplane flight or yet another hotel room. I've been trying to watch things new-to-me and kind of failing at it, and re-watching this movie, yet again, was not going to get me into anything novel.
What spurred us down this path was the recent article on a site called Polygon that discussed what most Gen-Xers and our forebears already knew: Christopher Reeve is more than just a buff, cut dude in spandex. He was a Julliard-trained actor. And, he was working with a director and script that didn't just ask him to glower or look mournful across the span of two movies. In comparison to the funeral dirge of Man of Steel and Cavill's limited acting opportunities and Batman v Superman and the inane use of the character, Superman: The Movie's myth-building, multi-tier, multi-faceted structure gave Reeves (and the film itself) the chance to do something deft and nuanced when it wasn't being broad and slapsticky.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
I had two failed attempts to see Shin Godzilla (2016) when it was released in October 2016 and then had a quick return to the screen around New Years 2017. The first time something at work came up and I had to cancel. The second time I went to see the movie with PaulT and Jamie and something was wrong with the film. It started and a 1K tone was laid over the soundtrack to the movie. Which was both awful and hilarious. Anyway, they stopped the movie about three minutes in, we had this weirdly informal conversation with the manager about what we should do, and I got a couple passes to come back, but couldn't attend the next screening as it was my first day back to work after the holiday break.
And the more stuff I saw about the movie, the more goggle-eyed I became. I really wanted to see this flick.
In case you don't know what Shin Godzilla is, essentially Toho Studios rebooted the Godzilla franchise from square one (it was also marketed in the US as Godzilla: Resurgence). And if you've never seen Gojira, the 1954 Godzilla that is the Japanese version and lacks Raymond Burr (a) shaaaaaaame on you, and (b) fix that immediately. It's a terrific film. And aside from Godzilla 1985, Gojira is one of the only movies that's just about Godzilla (aka: Gojira) attacking Tokyo by himself and for mysterious reasons and is not fighting, say, Anguirus*. Here, in a re-booted universe that's never heard of Godzilla, our scaly pal returns again for the first time to wreak just horrible, unthinkable havoc upon an unsuspecting Tokyo.
And it is really, really good.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
These days, I'm not writing up every movie I've seen. And I'm not going to write up this one. But I'm suggesting you catch this one while it's still in theaters.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
It didn't occur to me that smoking was something that would become something people forgot to know how to do, let alone show on film. The early 00's saw the end of smoking in film and as an acceptable habit for white urban and suburban middle-classes as well as a sign of rebellion or cool in film and television. So when smoking - something that makes total sense for your 1989-era spies to be doing - becomes something they don't look like they know how to do, and your movie can't quite figure out that drawing attention to smoking (unless you're David Lynch) is antithetical to cool, anyway, you become somehow less cool than had you never tried in the first place.
Somewhere in the plot-drenched Atomic Blonde (2017) there's a deeply smart movie fully capable of keeping an audience used to cookie-cutter plots on its toes. This movie also features one of the more ground-breaking action sequences you'll see in any movie this summer, merging the seamless combat sequences of Marvel's Daredevil show with the manic life or death choreography of one of the better Jason Bourne films - and it may be worth the price of admission just for that set-piece alone.
Unfortunately, it's a movie that relies of the same @#$%ing MacGuffin of most spy/ espionage films of the past 20 years - someone has a list of all the covert agents and our hero has to get it back before blah blah blah - while also trying to lift from Le Carre's moral DMZ of Cold War Berlin, and maybe trying to riff on Bowie and other late 20th Century musician's leaning on Berlin as a sort of crucible of self. But that is giving someone's sexy spy actioner more credit than it's due, at least in presentation rather than intention.
The end result is an overly long movie which seems to believe it's delivering on style while dropping the ball on what 1989 looked like, fails to develop any characters - up to and including our lead - and lets James McAvoy run around looking like a Brad Pitt character a decade early. But don't worry - someone went to Spotify and filtered for "'80's" and applied period-specific pop songs with a Zack Snyder-esque penchant for making the song so on-the-nose you start thinking about the mechanics of how this movie got made.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
I was skeptical when Matt Reeves and Co. relaunched the Planet of the Apes franchise a few years back. We're big fans of the original five films here at The Signal Watch - but despite a certain affection for Tim Burton and an appreciation for anything with a simian in a featured role, I've only seen that remake once. Because I kind of hated it and wound up having to apologize to several friends who agreed to go see the movie with me.
So, yet another go at the idea wasn't something I was looking forward to initially.
But, lo and behold, Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were released, and, yea, I dug them. They managed to find an astonishing line where they could break from the original narrative but still give nods enough, show respect for those movies and still be entirely their own thing. If Caesar wasn't the child of apes who'd traveled through time and space, we still found a way to make him the founder of the Ape Society that didn't need to bend time and space to get the job done. And if I always stood by the complex heart of the original slate of films, the new movies refused to be any less challenging.
I'm pleased to report that War for the Planet of the Apes is a worthy conclusion to the trilogy, an astonishing technical achievement, and - as all the apes movies have been (save the Burton one-off) a thoughtful character study and examination of morals. And, of course, a dystopian sci-fi franchise that actually earns its dim view of humanity. It isn't just ignorance or folly that leads to man's downfall, it's mankind's inability to tame our demons that drives us straight over the cliff.
Monday, July 17, 2017
Monday 7/17 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of RoboCop. It's no secret that we here at The Signal Watch are fans of the 1987 sci-fi cyborg opus, and, so, over the weekend, we watched the movie for 476th time.
The first time we caught RoboCop, it was at a one-screen, old-fashioned movie house in Ishpeming, Michigan, when we were on our annual visit to see the grandparents in the summer of 1987, and - for whatever reason - my mom decided we needed to not spend another evening pounding soda in my grandparent's living room, and, instead, pound soda out of the house.
We alerted my mom to the idea that the movie was Rated-R, but the KareBear and Admiral were fairly liberal about this sort of thing, and in the era of Arnie, if my dad wanted to watch the latest Rated-R action releases, he was watching them with us, so we were getting pretty well desensitized to violence in movies, is what I guess I'm accidentally saying.*
Friday, July 7, 2017
So, I hadn't actually paid all that much attention to Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) prior to showing up to see it in the theater Thursday night. Sure, I'd watched the trailer and was pleased they went with The Vulture for a villain.
At this point, I'm fine with just noting the release date of a Marvel movie, paying my money and showing up. Marvel hasn't always knocked it out of the park, but I'm generally guaranteed a pretty good time out at the movies, and some of the films have been spectacular, reminding me both why I love superheroes and a trip to the movies.
It wasn't too hard to figure out that this Spider-Man film would stick to the high-school years, abandon comic canon (all the Marvel movies have done that), but stick to the core of what makes the character work (also, all the Marvel moves have done that). After feeling let down by Sony's reboot of Spidey with The Amazing Spider-Man - so much so (gulp) I never watched the sequel - I was thrilled that Marvel and Sony saw the light (and potential for profit) enough to bridge differences and make it work.
I'm pleased to say I enjoyed myself as much as I did at Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and many other Marvel films of the past decade. And, while there are huge changes from the comics, Spider-Man: Homecoming reminded me why I ever liked Spider-Man, his world, and his niche in the Marvel Universe. And, that I am very much not alone in wanting to see Peter Parker swinging from a web and trying his hardest.
Thursday, June 8, 2017
It's no secret I'm not a fan of the three prior entries in the shared DC filmic universe (which the kids are calling the DCEU, of DC Extended Universe, which makes no sense, but this train left the station without me).
If you want to extrapolate how much I was dreading the possibility of another weak entry from DC in the current superhero movie bonanza, you can check out my recent post on my love for Wonder Woman as a character and then, based on how I felt about Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, try to figure out how another movie as weak as the prior DC films was going to settle with me.
Of course, as the cinematic debut of The Amazing Amazon (despite 75 years in print and a well-known commodity), Wonder Woman (2017) carried an unreasonable set of both expectations and penalties for movies far beyond this single picture. If it failed, who knew what this meant for Wonder Woman as a franchise, yes,* but, if it failed: what would happen to female-starring superhero movies in general?
With much of the same crew responsible for prior efforts involved in this venture, there was no reason to believe much had changed from the disappointing first three DC filmic installments. And, no, I couldn't trust the trailers. Man of Steel had a phenomenal trailer, and I actually went to see Suicide Squad in part because it had a different director than Snyder and had a fun trailer.
Whatever changed at DCEU's offices (Geoff Johns' rise to power, I'm guessing), I am ecstatic to say: Wonder Woman has made it to the big screen, and I was absolutely thrilled with the movie.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
Thursday night we had nothing queued on the DVR, the Cubs weren't playing and I was pondering what we might put on the tube when Jamie said "Why don't we watch Commando?"
I immediately ran over and began trying to remove the Jamie-disguise from whomever was pretending to be my wife, but eventually it was revealed that, no, it was her, and she didn't care what we watched. She had seen my recently purchased Commando BluRay collecting dust on the shelf for months, earnestly waiting a viewing, and - as she loves me, some times she takes pity on me.
Now, if you know me, you know of my ironic/ totally not-at-all ironic love for Commando (1985), an early-ish Arnie picture that was part of what catapulted him to superstar status that would reach peak popularity around 1992.
In the harsh light of reviewing this movie in 2017, the movie probably seems positively camp. While it certainly has some gags and Arnie-isms, it was never intended as a yuck fest - but Arnie was part of a wave of a certain kind of action movie that wasn't afraid of a sense of humor. And I can easily watch it as a straight action movie of workmanlike success, just as I can enjoy the movie for the truly bizarre specimen and reflection of a certain mentality in mid-80's actioners that it is. OR I can enjoy it as the Platonic Ideal of 80's Action Movies/ Movies in General.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
I'm not entirely certain what to make of The Blue Gardenia (1953), and possibly talking about it right after watching it is a mistake. It was this week's pick on TCM's "Noir Alley", introduced by the great Eddie Muller.
My current take on the film is that I like a huge amount of the pieces that made up the movie, but wasn't a raging fan of the movie itself. I mean, it stars Richard Conte, Raymond Burr and Anne Baxter (who does some kind of edgy stuff for 1953 - but that's noir all over). It's got a scenario as treacherous as many or most in noir, pulling the world down a normal person's ears because she made a bad decision or two. And it's one of the more straightforward "no means no" messages you're going to see in a movie, but baked into the social standards of the era - which makes it all the more challenging.
And did I mention Fritz Lang is the director? And Nicholas Musuraca (Out of the Past) was DP?
AND it had George Reeves in a supporting role as a wiseguy of a cop?
Yeah, I don't quite get why the movie felt a little flat.
Monday, April 3, 2017
So, I re-watched the 2016 Ghostbusters because Jamie said "I really want to rewatch the new Ghostbusters". So, we did.
I still liked it okay. It's not the original, and struggles when they have to stop goofing around and get through the actual plot.
Some of the issues on a rewatch and having had seen the original approximately 13,000 times is the mental mapping you start doing to the original as the movie is a "remake" of sorts, with tons of nods to the original in both plotting and in Easter Eggs. But this time I really felt the lack of a Dana and Louis - we never really have any point of reference characters to pull back and remind you this is happening in a mundane world.
Luckily, the cast is really funny, and likable, when they aren't cracking jokes, exactly. Even the villainous Rowan is so goofy and almost plausible (we all knew that guy at the coffee shop), he's kind of likable.
This is going to sound weird, but I think the movie should have been about 20-30 minutes longer to let it breathe. It is a fast-paced movie, and maybe too fast paced. On this viewing I caught a lot of dialog and ideas about who the characters were that I didn't quite get the first go-round (but knew from stuff I'd read online before seeing the movie). Like, this time Patty's local-history-buff part made way, way more sense.
Anyway - it's imperfect but still fun.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
For whatever reason, this has long been one of my top 5 MST3K episodes. Well, that reason is primarily Zap Rowsdower, the burly, mustachioed, Canadian-tuxedo'ed co-star of the movie. Paired with the weiniest kid to ever star in a movie, it's a match made in cinema glory.
Saturday, April 1, 2017
With Kong: Skull Island checked off my "must see" list, I noted King Kong starring Jessica Lange was on Amazon Prime.
If ever a movie was a mixed bag, it's the 1976 version of King Kong. It's a movie only the 1970's could have produced, still in the echoes of the pessimistic Planet of the Apes saga but brimming with the romanticism we'd see in Superman: The Movie and Star Wars. It features two/ three stars busting out - nobody aware they'd become Hollywood icons - in Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange and Charles Grodin, who would go on to be Charles Grodin (and that is not a complaint).
But it's also a movie with a very good mask/ make-up on a guy in an ape suit, big animatronic hands, arms and legs for Lange to cling to, and a re-writing of the premise as an Energy-Crisis-conscious abandoning of the showbiz angle of the original for something about oil exploration. And it really whittles down the wonder of Skull Island - dumping the dinosaurs in exchange for more dialog and human moments, severely diminishing the idea that this is an adventure film.
Friday, March 31, 2017
This is likely the fourth time I've watched Tension, the 1949 pulp-tastic noir I was first introduced to by JSwift during a trip to SF a few years back. It aired this last Sunday during Turner Classic Movies' new segment, Noir Alley, hosted by Eddie Muller.*
Muller does what he does so well - introduce the movie, give some history and context and talk about the players in unpolished terms. This screening included an appreciation of co-star Audrey Totter, whom we at The Signal Watch think is absolutely tops, and a closer discussing the complicated life of director John Berry.
In addition to Totter, the movie also stars Richard Basehart, William Conrad, Lloyd Gough, Barry Sullivan - and, oddly, Cyd Charisse in a role where there is not a single step of dance. I mean, she's terrific - she's got some straight acting ability, but it's an odd fit for someone who appeared in roles with not a single line but a lot of dancing. That's sort of her deal.
It's a bit of a small-scale production, a tight cast working with a rat-a-tat script by Alan Rivkin, and good, twisty fun with some severely dated bits that don't seem aware they've inverted the Superman paradigm.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Despite all the Twin Peaks love you've seen here lately, I'm not someone who actively sought out much in the way of the movies of David Lynch. It's always been a guilty spot for me, but I have so many hang-ups, who can keep track?
So I'm finally watching some of his movies and rewatching others, mostly because Dune is the only one I've watched over and over the past 15 years or so, and I still haven't seen about half of his feature film output. Maybe more.
I missed Mulholland Drive when it came it, and despite the year 2002 adorning the movie here and there, it was released in 2001. Early October 2001. And for you kids who don't recall that particular window in history - we were a little preoccupied with planes crashing into towers and what would come next. So I'm not entirely surprised I missed this one, given how I remember my schedule at the time.
And that's too bad. It's a hell of a movie.
Monday, March 20, 2017
I remember trying to watch They Live By Night (1948) a decade or more ago when I was still narrowly defining "noir" as folks in hats in urban settings with tough-talking dames. Truthfully, I didn't get it. I made it about 40 minutes in and then threw in the towel.
But along the way, I've heard They Live By Night referred to so often, I began to feel downright guilty I'd never finished the movie. Maybe it's been in context of the career of Nicholas Ray, or a post WWII film that was reflective of the Depression-era storytelling that was still happening in the first years after the war. It's never given a top-billing-of-noir placement, but when writers who know noir start talking, eventually this movie gets a mention. And, as it turns out, deservedly so.
Three convicts escape from prison and hole up with the brother of one of the convicts. The youngest convict, Bowie - in for killing a man - seems to just want to get away, even as his colleagues want him as the third man necessary for committing bank heists. Bowie meets Keetchie, the daughter of the guy they're hiding out with, and they begin to fall for one another.
After the three convicts pull another heist, Bowie and Keetchie go on the lam together, splitting off for the other two. And, of course, things get complicated as the two bounce across the middle of America trying to keep ahead of both criminals and the law.
In many ways, They Live By Night is ground zero for the films that would come after it. Bonnie and Clyde. Badlands. Hell, even Gun Crazy is a funhouse mirror version of this movie in which morals are turned upside down.
Farley Granger who plays Bowie would also appear most famously in Hitchcock's Rope and Strangers on a Train. And you can see why Ray wanted him in the film. He's got a certain innocence and you can believe he really does want to do what's right if he had the slightest clue what that looked like. And, just as much, you can believe that Keetchie is the best thing that ever happened to him - maybe the only good thing. Keetchie is played by Cathy O'Donnell, who had previously appeared in The Best Years of Our Lives (an amazing post-war film), and would later appear in Ben-Hur.
Because the story has been copied over and over in many forms since, there's something weirdly modern but all-too-familiar about the movie. It's noir, so one can expect that things won't end well for the players involved, who can't make the right moves at the right times as forces bigger than them work against them.
Even the roadside wedding chapel bit reappears in a number of noir films - a sign of hope and purity made a little cheap and tawdry, something compromised about what's supposed to be a grand occasion.
Visually, the film has a few components that make it stand out, not the least of which is helicopter-mounted camera shots already in 1948, following cars blasting through prairies and dirt roads of rural America.
They Live By Night is a movie well worth checking out and I much more get how it fits in with the genre, especially in the non-urban branch of the genre, the hidden back alleys just off Main Street USA.
As I mentioned previously, as a TV series, Twin Peaks managed to limp along for most of the second half of the second season. You could feel the writers realizing they'd taken a bad turn and trying to right the ship in the final few episodes, but the good continues to be outweighed by the bad.
The drippy plotline of the Miss Twin Peaks pageant, and Robyn (Teen Witch) Lively doing her best with a dog of a plotline for her wildly inconsistent character, Lara Flynn Boyle being reduced to a background character, Audrey and Billy Zane going full in flagrante in a private jet right in front of Pete... and the tired plotline of Lucy choosing the father of her kid - something so worn out even the show winked at how nobody cared anymore by the time she made a decision...
Lost in all this was Harry and his plotline with Josie. And from what I can find online, Michael Ontkean who played Sheriff Harry Truman walked away from the show fairly bitter about the whole experience. And I can hardly blame him.
That said - the final episode of the show, directed by David Lynch with writing by Mark Frost, Robert Engels and Harley Peyton, returns the show to form. Doing such a good job and creating some of the most memorable moments of the entire series that it's easy to forget the meandering path we took to get there.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Last weekend Turner Classic Movies' Saturday night programming block "TCM Underground" showed Thrashin', a 1986 movie about skate boarding. So, of course I set the 'ol DVR.
No, this is not Gleaming the Cube - which I've never seen, and came along 3 years later.
Most of the marketing for Thrashin' I was aware of came in the form of an ad or two appearing in my comics at the time. So, check the backs of your 1986-era comics to see if you, too, have a back-cover ad for this opus.
Friday, March 17, 2017
I'm late to the game on Logan (2017), the third stand-alone movie for Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the X-Men's conflicted brawler, Wolverine. Most of you who wanted to see it have seen it, so you won't need me pushing you toward the theater.
While the series began strong and is one of the films responsible for the past twenty years' worth of exploding growth in superhero films, more recent entries have been less than required viewing and - to this viewer - disappointing. Enough so that I never bothered to watch the second Logan/ Wolverine/ James Howlett movie, The Wolverine, and only caught the most recent X-Men movie via a borrowed BluRay.
It's an interesting movie to see on the heels of Kong: Skull Island, both fantasy actioners intended for an audience with pre-awareness of existing tropes. Both borrowed and nodded to existing media outside their genre.
But Logan remembered that a story is about character first, plot second, and - arguably - you can care about everything going on in this movie whether or not you've seen any X-Men movies before. And, really, that's not something just superhero movies struggle with, it's something comics struggle with year in and year out.* And while I'll argue that the Marvel movies, both stand-alone and Avengers group efforts are heavier on character than plot, in exiting the safe confines of a PG-13 rating, Logan is free to explore much about the character that's hinted at but always seems frustratingly, perhaps hypocritically, absent in most portrayals of a man who has lost track of his kill count and whose own body is the weapon which has taken so many lives.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
We're watching the new FX series, Feud: Bette and Joan (highly recommended), and it reminded me I'd been meaning to watch Sudden Fear (1952), a noirish potboiler starring Ms. Crawford, Jack Palance and Gloria Grahame.
Just the casting alone was enough to raise an eyebrow. Of course I've seen a number of Grahame's pictures, a handful of Crawford's, but when it comes to Jack Palance, I've seen Batman, Shane and, sigh, his pair of 80's City Slickers comedies.* And to see him in a movie where he has to act like a basically normal, functioning human was almost bizarre. Because by the time I was a kid, even in real life Jack Palance was acting like a cartoon weirdo.
It's a strong, taught thriller with some great cinematography, tremendous use of sound and Crawford putting it all out there as she does a large amount of her acting completely alone.