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.
Everyone has the idea of the 1930's big, splashy movie musical in their head thanks to clips used in other movies and television, and I'd argue that Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) is the platonic ideal of this sort of film. I really don't know much about what was going on at the real Ziegfield Follies or on Broadway in the 1930's, but it seems that what Hollywood was doing at this point was bringing over the basic template of fluffy stories about two young lovers trying to make it work as the excuse for a lot of song and dance. But with the ability to put the camera wherever they wanted, visionaries like Busby Berkeley would redefine what audiences could expect in regards to cinematic spectacle.
Produced at Warner Bros. (I know, I had to triple check it wasn't from MGM), the movie stars a lot of those names you hear about from Hollywood's Golden Age, but who I haven't seen in that many movies. Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler... and certainly other players who were the "that guy" actors of their day.
All in all, the movie is a bit of fun and nothing too challenging to the audience, storywise. Light comedy interspersed with those unbelievable visuals of dozens of dancers creating geometric patterns or almost surreal visuals (20 cops on rollerskates chasing a baby).
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Sunday, February 5, 2017
For about two decades I'd intended to see this movie, and somehow just never got around to it. I'd guess this is partly because I had no idea why I was supposed to see this movie. People would just say "you've never seen The Wicker Man?" and I'd say I hadn't, and they'd laugh knowingly and tell me to add it to my queue.
I should pause here and point out - apparently I never ask what a movie is about when being given a recommendation. You'd think I'd care more.
Friday evening, I swung by Vulcan Video on my way home and, after some deliberation, selected this movie out of the sea of titles. Saturday night Jamie and I stayed in, and while I'd planned to watch The Wicker Man (1973) after she went to bed, we wound up dropping it in the player and watching it together.
Suffice it to say, I now know what The Wicker Man is about, and I get why it has a reputation as a bit of must-see cult cinema in The States, and - I guess - a bit more of a reputation in the UK. It also was not what I'd call Jamie's cup of tea, and I suppose she'll be picking the next three or four movies we watch together.
The timing is a bit odd. I'm currently wrapping up a multi-hour/ multi-part series from the You Must Remember This Podcast, something called "Charles Manson's Hollywood". I'll talk more about that series and the podcast in a future post, but I've spent the past week or so thinking a lot about the hippie and counter-culture scene of the 60's that bled into the 1970's of late, and the bending of free-love into very traditional gender roles, exploration of the psyche via psychedelics and non-Judeo-Christian religion, communal utopianism - and how most of that collapsed in on itself, sometimes ending in violence... Well, you can see how I might have drawn some parallels here.
Before all of you get excited, I did not watch the Patrick Swayze movie of the same name. So settle the hell down.
Instead, I spent part of my Saturday watching the Ida Lupino starring noir, Road House (1948). And, coincidentally, I finished the movie, looked at facebook and the Film Noir Foundation informed me that it was Lupino's birthday. So, happy birthday, Ida.
I'd heard some good things about Road House, and I'm becoming a bit of a fan of Lupino. Add in that the cast included Richard Widmark in crazy-villain mode, and it was one of my two rentals from Vulcan Video on Friday night.
If you've seen the trailer for this movie, and you think that maybe you have a rough idea of what this movie will be like - bingo. You are correct.
Hell or High Water (2016) is currently nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, which is maybe the surest sign that the Academy is comprised of white people over the age of 65. A post No Country for Old Men meditation on justice in the sun-baked desert plains of West Texas, it's an enjoyable enough way to spend the run-time of a movie. But with no non-standard plot turns or character moments, a movie where the sub-text of the film is text, it's the sort of thing that's been done better elsewhere (see the movie named at the beginning of this sentence) and has characters walking a path of moral uncertainty enough that you can say it has some edge to it.
That said, I didn't actually dislike Hell or High Water. It's a fine movie with characters you'll enjoy (I've seen these same characters done a few dozen times, and if you're going to do those characters, this is pretty good), a decent plot, and if you like Chris Pine (I do!) and Jeff Bridges (what sort of psychopath doesn't like Jeff Bridges?), I've got a movie I'd say you can watch comfortably with your dad. Or, better yet, your sibling.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
It's difficult to say how or why I wound up watching all of Saturday Night Fever (1977) on a Saturday night. I will also very quickly disabuse you of the idea that I watched the movie ironically. After roommate CB showed me the movie in college, I realized it's actually a straight up decent movie about a young man realizing what is and is not important as he crosses the threshold from youth into adulthood.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Sunday, January 22, 2017
I really dug Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). It's got a lot to recommend it. Terrific action sequences, two great Bond women, it’s funny in all the right parts, and a villainous plot that’s forward looking and diabolical while also being not ludicrous. The movie is also steeped in some odd cultural artifacts of the 1990's, so that makes for some interesting viewing if you were around at the time.
Heck, it has a nerve-jangling pre-credits sequence that’s better than near any of the last ten or so films.
By the time I saw this movie, Jamie and I were dating, so we believe we saw this one in the theater together but can’t piece together when or how. But because I never saw the final two Brosnan movies – the reviews were scathing on both, and I was otherwise occupied – I never returned to watch this one again.
You’ll remember Tomorrow Never Dies as "the one with Michelle Yeoh" if you spent 1993-1995 writing "Mr. Michelle Yeoh" inside a heart in all of your school notebooks (which, ha ha, surely no one did. Cough.). Brosnan is back as Bond and seems more comfortable in the role. Dame Judy Dench continues as M, now giving Bond a lot more leash and verbally manhandling the British Navy. Our villain is Jonathan Pryce, who isn't reptilian or overly creepy, and that makes him oddly buyable as a motivated guy people would get behind. And, of course, the movie features one of the Loises of the 1990's, Teri Hatcher.
I was surprised to realize that, at least now, I liked this movie perhaps more than I’d enjoyed GoldenEye. The writing seemed to be on better footing from both a plotting and dialog perspective, and while Martin Campbell was not responsible for this film, he’d paved the way for what Bond could be like in the 1990’s context which director Roger Spottiswoode would continue to good effect.
By no stretch of the imagination is Roger Corman's Death Race 2050 a good movie, but it was released this week (streaming on Netflix at the moment), and I needed some campy satire to wrap up this particular moment in American political history. You guys be you, I'll still enjoy some barely concealed hostility hidden beneath a thin veneer of comedy and allegory wrapped up in a decidedly trashy movie.
I still like a good B-movie. Heck, a film-loving co-worker asked me what I recommended that I'd seen lately and my two answers were Tower (not a B-movie) and Starcrash. While I always like the unintentionally hilarious bad movie, Roger Corman has made making lower-tier films an artform and routinely pushed what's possible in movies thanks to an interesting mix of inventiveness, a certainty no one is watching all that closely, and a certain fearless stunt filmmaking. Sure, sometimes the product is bad (well, all the time). The politics can be almost confusing as you grapple with stereotypes of race or class mixed with stereotype breaking and shattering.
But, hey, I couldn't sleep well growing up, and trashy movies were there for me. I may be the only person you know who owns a copy of Reform School Girls.
Friday, January 20, 2017
If the idea of ending the Timothy Dalton experiment was to shore up the Bond franchise again, one can certainly make an argument that it worked. This was the Bond film that brought in Pierce Brosnan as Bond, got Martin Campbell in as a director, and more than anything else that would point toward what a modern Bond could be in tone - casting Dame Judy Dench as M.
I'm a little bit convinced that the rethinking that led to Casino Royale may well have come from what M reveals about Bond to his face in her brief appearance in the film. In a movie of very good moments, for a wide variety of reasons, Dench's scenes are the most grounded and somehow still the most engaging, and it's also the best Brosnan himself is at any point in the movie - and he's rather good throughout.
GoldenEye arrived in 1995 as The Age of the Blockbuster took a leap forward, and Bond was no longer to be an option on the marquee. Now, we all had to go see Brosnan, whom every American had pegged for the heir to the Bond throne from his first appearances on Remington Steele.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984) was the second Trek movie I saw, the first being Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I expect we saw it in 1985 as we watched it on television - either VHS or on cable, so I would have already been very familiar with the cast of characters by this point as 1984 was the year I discovered Trek reruns on our local UHF channel, KBVO.
I liked the movie then, and I was delighted to find I thoroughly enjoyed it all over again. Frankly, it's been forever since I'd seen this movie despite the fact it came with the Star Trek BluRay set Jamie gave me a few years ago for Christmas, and I didn't have particularly great memories of it from the last time I'd seen it, which could have been fifteen years ago. At the time, I mostly just relished Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon ship's captain who is not so clever as he believes and is simply outclassed by Kirk and Co.
But there's a lot to recommend The Search for Spock. It's a movie that does a fine job of raising stakes, having some fairly dark implications, but is eternally, against all odds, optimistic as our heroes fight bureaucracy, Klingons and the forces of nature for the sake of a friend. And you can't get better than that.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
It's literally impossible to imagine this movie getting made in the last ten years. A studio film that's a musical wherein the leads are actually lip-synching to mostly tin pan alley versions of 1930's era songs, and, by the way, it's more or less a depressing late-1970's story that maybe is deconstructing the conventions of the movie musical. Cheerfully titled Pennies From Heaven (1981) and starring the lovable duo from The Jerk, Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters.
We wanted to see it as The Alamo Drafthouse had included clips in the La La Land pre-show as a modern musical we might not have seen. And I was curious why I had heard of the movie, but it's not discussed much and I don't recall anyone ever telling me to check it out.
I think if I'd been clued into any of this before the movie, I might have enjoyed it more than I did. But I spent the first thirty minutes trying to figure out what I was even looking at, and then adjusting to what they were doing.
Sunday, January 8, 2017
I'd only become aware of the existence of Katherine Johnson and the "computers" at NASA in the early days of the US side of the space-race within the last four or five years. The internet is pretty terrific when it comes to sharing the sort of information that used to get buried in footnotes or left out of the common narratives shared of our history.
I was pleased to find out that our noon-time showing of the movie on a Sunday was sold-out, so at least the folks in my neck of the woods seem interested in hearing what the movie had to say. You never really know how a docu-drama is going to play, but it was interesting how many families had come out to see the movie. And, honestly, it's a good one for the kids to see.
The movie follows the stories of three women who were pioneers in a world that was breaking boundaries as mankind sought to escape the bonds of earth and reach space. And, while no doubt how the realities are framed will be debated, the overriding drama of the film is how these women pushed back against the racism and cultural norms of 1960's America that very much could have stood in their way.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
So, this was one of the Bond movies I was absolutely positive I hadn't seen before. I would have been 14 when it came out, and for the life of me, I have no idea how I missed a Bond movie coming and going over the summer when I was that age, except for family vacations and summer camp colliding to make it difficult. I even remember reading about how this wasn't a typical Bond movie, and that sounded kind of interesting.
But, you know, it didn't work out. Never saw it.
Well, we finally arrived at the second and final Timothy Dalton Bond, and while I will go to the mat supporting Dalton, it's hard to know exactly what was going wrong as they put these things together, but it's an oddball of a movie, certainly. And you can see what they had in mind for this movie, and how the 1980's influenced everything about this movie rather than Bond influencing other action movies as it had once upon a time.
But at least Q actor Desmond Llewelyn got a tropical holiday out of it all.
Friday, January 6, 2017
It's not often I watch a whole Godzilla movie. I probably watched 3/4ths of about 3 or 4 of them last year, but they never showed up on my movie-list as I don't watch them from beginning to end. Usually I stumble in 1/4 of the way in, have no idea what's happening, and just keep on watching.
And that's kinda too bad.
I never quite recovered from missing Shin Godzilla in the theater this year (twice I had tickets! TWICE!), but over Christmas, the El Rey network celebrated the holiday with "Kaiju Christmas", which was something like 36 hours of Godzilla movies. In fact, I wrapped up Christmas Day night watching the second half of Godzilla vs. Destroyah.
I'd never seen Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003), but heard it was a fun one, and, indeed it was.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
This movie doesn't have the best ratings, but there's a lot to like in The Living Daylights (1987). Maybe not everything is grand, and I feel like the back 40 minutes got away from them, but all in all, I enjoyed this the most of any Bond we've watched since For Your Eyes Only.
Look, I may like Roger Moore as much as the next person who grew up with him as Bond, but he made some very, very silly Bond movies (lest we forget Moonraker) and by View to a Kill, I was firmly believed this was a man who should not be running anywhere without a spotter, let alone that Tanya Roberts would be throwing herself at Grandpa Roger. That he did not openly wink at the camera seems somehow unbelievable.
I can't say I need my Bond more grounded. I love The Spy Who Loved Me, and that has a sneaky kidnapping boat and an undersea villain's layer. But I also want it to feel like maybe my Bond is not treating itself like a parody. And with The Living Daylights, we get back to what feels like good old fashioned international intrigue, a plot that holds together very well (if not entirely a mirror to our own world), and makes Bond feel like a secret agent rather than a gentleman who gets into ridiculous scrapes.