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.
Monday, March 13, 2017
Box office numbers will give me the answer to the question "was anyone really wanting a new King Kong movie, let alone a re-imagined one?" Because I really don't know. Our theater was near sold out, but I had the distinct impression it was full of the kinds of movie goers who think picking what movie they'll see ahead of time is a waste of time - you just buy tickets for whatever is starting next.
King Kong, like Frankenstein, is one of those movie concepts that bled out into the pop culture to such a degree - it's just part of the cultural lexicon. This in spite of the fact very few folks you talk to have actually sat through the original films. But the imagery of both has become so iconic, the concepts both bizarre and yet easy to grasp and the metaphor so accessible... we all get it. Giant apes and flesh golems tend to stick in the mind.
Weirdly, Kong: Skull Island (2017) arguably throws away all of that metaphor, telling a different story. No more Ann Darrow, no John Driscoll, no showboating Carl Denham. No more "'twas Beauty who killed The Beast." This is a 1970's-era landing on Skull Island by a mix of government scientists and soon-to-be-done Army soldiers, rotating out of Vietnam and a whole lotta explosions.
The end result is also something altogether different, and that alone can take some getting used to. You're in for two hours of fast-moving excitement, a razor thin script, name actors without much to do, and a Vietnam known only via high-profile filmic depictions. All in all, Kong: Skull Island (2017) is maybe not what I was expecting, but it is visually stunning, entertaining, contains some pretty amazing FX and action sequences, and if you don't have a bunch of people talking behind you, is going to keep you glued to the screen for the run-time of the movie.
Friday, March 10, 2017
Monday, March 6, 2017
If all you've heard about The World is Not Enough (1999) is that Denise Richards is hopelessly miscast and bad at the whole acting bit, well, yes. That's a good chunk of what you'll want to know before entering into this particular Bond flick.
I'd never seen this movie before because, by 1999, I was not going to see a Bond movie that was starring Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist. And maybe that was a good instinct. Unfortunately I do think I missed out on a few good Bond scenes. Maybe not the most exciting Bond plot of all time (there's a part in the middle that positively drags), and the post-Michelle Yeoh hangover is sorely felt.
The plot is overly intricate, even for a Bond movie, to the point where I literally didn't know what was going on, who people were, etc... because I checked my phone for a minute. I caught up eventually, but by then Denise Richards was in the movie and that was... man. She is not good.
Once again Bond winds up chasing around renegade nukes (if anything should have taught us what a bad idea it is to have nuclear weapons, it would have been these movies and the propensity for these weapons to wind up in villainous hands) after a bunch of stuff about a billionaire guy's daughter getting kidnapped, Bond going to support her in Azerbaijan (her mother was Azerbaijani, her father British), and get her father's oil pipeline completed. She'd freed herself from some terrorists led by Robert Carlyle playing a superhuman Russian, etc... et al. It's complicated.
It's also all a bit forgettable. What you will remember is the stunning boat chase along the Thames, Denise Richards' boob-tacular scientist wear*, and bizarrely outfitted helicopters (which are apparently entirely real). And, they were introducing John Cleese as the all-new Q as Desmond Lleyelyn was retiring (he actually died a month after this movie was released).
Look, I'm also not the world's biggest fan of Robert Carlyle, and I felt like his character got a shit-ton of set-up, and then the movie did too little with the idea. After Jonathan Pryce's megalomaniacal media overlord, this seems like small potatoes (even though the potential bodycount is also in the millions, should Bond fail). I did like the primary Bond girl in the film (not Denise Richards) played by Sophie Marceau, but her storyline takes, like, forever to unfold.
I dunno. I do know this plot is less ludicrous than what's coming in the next film.
*speaking of boobs - while Ms. Marceau is a beauty to behold, physics suggest to me that she's been dealt some unfortunate Photoshopping in the above poster.
*trust me, this is hilarious if you work on a college campus
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Y'all have already seen this one, so no lengthy post here. But that was a really fun movie, and maybe the best intro to the full range of Bat-dorkiness from DC Comics, the movies, the TV shows...
That was just a blast.
And, now I need a lot of white and crystal Lego, because I really want to build a Lego Fortress of Solitude.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
I spend some amount of time (read: all of my time) online, and thus was aware, somehow, of the fictional boogeyman, The Slenderman. It was one of those things that I said "what is that?", Googled it, saw it was a meme sort of thing the kids were into, and went about my business.
The Slenderman was created in the world of online fictional storytelling, and as these things sometimes do, it took off and became an idea that flooded outside of the scary-stories site where The Slenderman first appeared. A quick Google search will turn up thousands of hits. He's an otherworldly figure who haunts children once they become aware of him, and will either murder them or befriend the most pitiable (I think).
In 2014 a new story broke out of Waukesha, Wisconsin that two 12 year-old girls had lured their friend into the woods and then attempted to stab her to death in order to impress/ appease "The Slenderman", which... to an adult sounds a bit like committing attempted murder to appease a movie or television character like The Cryptkeeper or something. I don't want to belittle any of this, because two little girls really did have some sort of break and a third was gravely injured and will no doubt suffer longterm effects, but as someone well beyond the age of the girls who made this decision and with a "I existed before the internet" point of view, it's very hard to imagine the world that created this tragedy.
The HBO Documentary Beware the Slenderman (2016) dissects the scenario that led to the incident, looking into the world of the girls, what's online and how they related to it. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen a doc that had this sort of access to the parents of perpetrators of an act like this who were clearly involved and participating in the film within a couple of months of the girls' incarceration and into the trial.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Lili (1953) is a mid-20th Century movie I'd never heard of before I started watching it on TCM this week. Probably best described as an all-ages musical with fantasy elements (and puppets!), I have no doubt that the sweet-spot for finding an audience for this movie is young girls, but, hey, I'm a 41 year-old dude, and I liked it just fine.
As with all-ages movies pre-1990 or so, there are plenty of elements no one thought twice about including in a story for kids (which explains why - now in command of online content, Millennials have made a cottage industry of getting the vapors writing about pre 1990 family entertainment and why its "secretly dark"). And it's hard to say that Lili is exactly a light-hearted movie. It's not. The main character is definitely going through a crisis during the entire run-time of the movie, there's the spectre of marital infidelity, suicide, acknowledgement of the costs of WWII...
But it's got puppets!
Friday, February 17, 2017
Editor's Note: This post is full of spoilers, judgment, bad judgment, semi-frank talk that admits to the existence of sex and particular sexual preferences. It's also too long and I regret everything.
While those of you who don't follow your worst instincts were out seeing Lego Batman, I spent my movie-going weekend once again teamed up with AmyC, taking in Fifty Shades Darker (2017), the Twilight fan-fiction gone rogue which has taken on a life of its own as a beast of unstoppable proportions. We attended an official "rowdy" screening at The Alamo Drafthouse, where audience members were encouraged to provide their own Springer-esque "whoooooo"s and "ooooooooh"s. Really, a sensible approach in a theater that serves some pretty decent cocktails, and one deployed during Magic Mike screenings, I am led to understand.
My interest in the Fifty Shades phenomenon is at least 1-part anthropological study. There's some schadenfreude in there and definitely some straight up morbid curiosity. But I am curious as to what-goes-on out there in the movie-going world of which I am not a part, especially when something is a huge success, and I am pretty far outside the demographic.
Unlike my go at seeing the first film in this series, I did no legwork to prepare. With no review of the prior film, I mostly forgot the subplots and minor characters from the first movie, recalling the movie as a blur of boredom, threadbare plotting, inane dialog, oddly dull sex and vexing characterization. If the mark of a good movie worthy of a sequel is that you want to spend more time with the characters (see: Guardians of the Galaxy), Fifty Shades of Grey did nothing to make me care what was happening to either character.
That said - I am not the target demo. I like talking raccoons with machine guns.
But, here we are. two years later, and I have borne witness to Fifty Shades Darker, the second in the inevitable trilogy of movies about Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, and based, glaringly, on episodically written fan-fiction. While I am the first to say that this is better than the first installment (less in the way of tastefully shot, lengthy sex scenes that felt like moving stills from a Sears catalog), it's still a movie with a lot of questionable messaging, tremendously bad plotting, open-ended questions that will never be resolved, and two people that - after two movies of watching them go - one no longer just finds dull but cringe-worthy.
But, if CW-worthy characterization unevenly sprinkled with some pretty basic sex on screen (a huge novelty here in 2017) is your thing, man, have I got a movie for you.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
As mentioned, I'm listening a bit to the You Must Remember This podcast during my commute, and moved on to a 6 episode run on Joan Crawford. One of the topics covered toward the end of the series is how much of an impact Mommie Dearest (starring Faye Dunaway as a cartoonish Crawford) had on the popular conception of Joan Crawford, surpassing the image the actress had worked tirelessly for decades to make herself a star and retain her star status for decades past those of her contemporaries.
Humoresque (1946) should probably be thought of as a John Garfield picture, first and foremost. He's certainly got the most screentime and the longest character arc. The actions of the other characters in the film are focused upon what focused on their relationship to Garfield.
He plays Paul Boray, a violinist who rose from working-class roots in the streets of New York to become a national sensation within the high-class world of classical performance. The film is a melodrama, no doubt, and an examination of a man of extraordinary talent and passion and the women in his life, including the girl-next-door, his mother and the wealthy society woman who elevates him from nothing to star status, but who carries an incredible amount of baggage.