Showing posts with label recommendations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recommendations. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Noir Watch: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

I have no idea when the last time was that I watched this movie.  Likely 7 or 8 years ago when I got the DVD and again right after we moved back to Austin.

It's weird I don't watch it over and over, because there's a perfectly good reason The Maltese Falcon carries the reputation its got.  Smart, ruthless, and lean down to the bone, and with every actor in the film turning in terrific performances, its a great ride.  It carries the tone and at least the echo of Dashiell Hammett's spitfire dialog, and definitely retains the labyrinthine plotting that even Hammett's short stories are known for.

actually, those two guns belong to Elisha Cook Jr., but whatever


Sunday, March 31, 2013

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superman: The Musical!

Holy cow.

I've known about It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman! for around 10-12 years, but I had never seen it in any form.  Originally produced as a campy Broadway spectacular  in 1966 (it debuted the same year as the Adam West TV show), the show ran for about four months before closing.  I think that, these days, the show has mostly been forgotten.

In 1975, because nobody was paying attention, ABC broadcast a version of the musical.  Reportedly the program aired a single time, fairly late at night and in a dead zone where networks were often trying to figure out how to fill the airwaves*.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no legally obtainable copy of the broadcast available.  For Superman fans, the musical is about as close to an intentionally obscure artifact as I can think of to that king of pop cultural ephemera, the Star Wars Holiday Special.  Superman fans have all seen clips or stills, but we haven't seen the actual full program.

Can you read my mind?


This week, I did obtain a copy.  We'll keep it a little shrouded in mystery, but my source knows who he is, and knows how awesome he or she is.  As the existence of this video may not be entirely on the up and up (and so offended am I that I have immediately burned the DVD so that NONE may find yourself tainted by the sheer audacity of it's illegality), I'm keeping the gifter's name out of it.

But, thanks, man.  That was SUPER of you!**

The video itself is a transfer from tape.  Tape from 1975.  So, it's got some rough edges and the sound is occasionally wobbly because: aging analog media.  It's not the drug-fueled nightmare that the Star Wars Holiday Special devolves into within minutes of the opening, and, frankly, the Star Wars Special had about 20 times the budget of this show.  It's also an oddball bit of nerd media, and would fit nicely on your shelf next to the shelved low-budget, very 90's Justice League pilot, the Legends of the Superheroes, the Captain America TV movies, etc... etc...   But the musical is pure hammy schmaltz, but intentionally so, and it's oddly charming, even if it's not much of a musical.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

We Finally Watch: On the Waterfront (1954)

Somehow, and I don't really have a good explanation for this considering I have seen Manos: The Hands of Fate at least four times in its entirety (including once in the theater), I had never seen the 1954 Marlon Brando starring classic On the Waterfront.

This is young, virile Brando, who was full of ideas about acting that would change the artform forever and who made the ladies swoon.  As much as I like old, weird Brando, you need context, and between this movie and A Streetcar Named Desire,  it's not hard to see why the name still gets tossed around.

And, before we begin, was Karl Malden just born aged 42?  Because, seriously, Karl Malden.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Signal Reads: The Green Eagle Score (a Parker Novel)

This is what I like about a Parker novel.  On Saturday I had a rainy day, and while I'd started the book at the doctor's office on Tuesday (I'm fine.  Just getting the annual inspection.), I read all but those first 23 pages today.



Like other Parker novels, it's difficult to imagine the heist pulled off in the modern era of paranoid security, electric systems everywhere, etc...  But people don't really change all that much, and so the stories still work very, very well.

Since The Jugger - but really, starting with The Score, Stark wisely began fanning out his narrative attention a bit more on the other characters in the books.  Probably the closest I'd point to in something you'd be immediately familiar is some of the feel of the "let's check in with our villain" of the Ocean's 11 franchise.  The characters don't have to be right next to Parker throughout the novel - the narrative eye wanders and gives us some background on some of these characters, some of whom then proceed to die just a few pages later and without much attention paid to their fate.

It's an interesting narrative trick as you definitely get a complete picture of the story, but you also know that Stark's narrative in invested in the story and isn't going to get sentimental about  a character just because we spent two or three pages with that person, learning their inner thoughts.

The Green Eagle Score is about the payroll heist of an Air Force base in upstate New York.  Parker leaves Claire, whom he picked up in the last book, The Rare Coin Score, in Puerto Rico, to chase down a haul put in front of him by an old comrade whose ex-wife is shacked up with a clerk in the finance office on the base.

The book takes a telegraphed but no-less fascinating left turn into the usual complications of a Parker heist, but it's so wildly different from the complications of The Seventh or even The Handle, that it doesn't feel like old hat, even in the 10th Parker novel.

Good, fun read.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Signal Reads: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2006)

I have not seen the film of Winter's Bone, and now it'll be a while longer before I'll feel comfortable watching an adaptation.  I always need some space between the book and the movie or it runs the risk of ruining both for me.

The story, from what I gather, isn't too much changed in the filmed translation, so those of you have seen the movie may not have seen a story that deviates much on plot points.


The novel is set in the near past if the comments made about what's on television are any indication (the book loosely describes characters watching the now-defunct series Wishbone on PBS), located within a few miles of the hilly forests of the Ozarks where the secretive, backwoods families run their business outside of law and society, dealing with each other in brutal fashion.  These days they make and sell crank, but they still spend generation after generation expecting short, ugly lives.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Watch: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

editor's note:  This review appears in a different format at the Texas Public Radio website.  We were provided a review copy of Kino Lorber's BluRay release of the film, for which we are tremendously grateful.  




While the Lifetime and Hallmark networks will duke it out for weeks ahead of Christmas, airing competing schmaltzy movies in which divorcees find love under the mistletoe, there has long been a tradition of quickly and cheaply produced Christmas movies intended for the kiddies. These movies usually assume that no adult will even attempt to watch the flick, and so all bets are off when it comes to bothering with appealing to anyone with more than two digits in their age.

To better understand the pleasantly cynical take on making some green during your White Christmas, it is not hard to imagine an entrepreneur sitting on his cot, looking up at the ceiling and trying to make two things kids like go together into one entirely new package. In our case, the space race is on, and, heck, who doesn’t like Santa?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Noir Watch: The Set-Up (1949)

This is the third time I'd watched this movie, but every time it's been years apart.  

The Set-Up (1949) is the story of an aging fighter, well past his prime, but still taking to the ring on a low-class circuit, fighting at the bottom of crummy bills in shoddy venues.  Robert Ryan played a lot of heavies, but here he plays the fighter who truly only knows how to do one thing - and that's get up and get back in the ring again and again, not yet shaken off the promise of the one-in-a-million shot, now with much smaller dreams of respectability.  

Audrey Totter plays Julie, the woman in his life who has seen his string of losses and watched every fight, seeing the man she loves beaten and bloodied.  As the movie begins, they've hit a cross-roads - though it's possible Ryan's "Stoker" doesn't yet fully realize the gravity of the situation.



Meanwhile his manager, who can count on Stoker to lose in every bout, takes a pay-off promising Stoker will take a fall, but cuts his own fighter out of the deal, considering it a no-brainer that his guy can't make it and wont' get lucky.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Signal Reads: The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by R. L. Stevenson

The only other Robert Louis Stevenson I've ever read was Treasure Island back in elementary school.  I remember it being quite good, but that was also 1984-85, so it's been a while.  I will also state that, in third grade, I read an adaptation for kids that was still very gripping to me at the time, and pretty scary, but I think it had elements from the movies sprinkled in.

I have seen multiple version of the Jeckyll/ Hyde story in film, from silent versions to Mary Riley, so it's not like I was unfamiliar with the story, but as Dracula and Frankenstein are adapted again and again, the books they sprang from often seem forgotten entirely in the adaptation - so I wanted to give the novella a spin.  I found a copy a long time ago narrated by Christopher Lee, but it doesn't appear to be available on Audible anymore.  Needless to say, Christopher Lee is a tremendous talent, and his range suits the book incredibly well.

But this was my first time reading the actual novella of The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson.



Here's the thing about this book...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

An Excursion to Mile High Comics in Denver, CO

I wasn't terribly excited to have to get on a plane and head to Denver Saturday morning.  It's been a busy couple of weeks at work, and I wrapped up major meetings Thursday and Friday.  But off to Denver I went, asked to present at a conference that was aimed at my industry, but not so much directly at me and what I do.

When I was first getting into comics and believed I only really needed Batman, X-Men, Teen Titans and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in my life, I came to find out that a couple years before I learned what an X-Man or Teen Titan was, there has been a crossover between the Big Two, and an Uncanny X-Men/ Teen-Titans comic had actually been printed.  It blew my mind.  I never saw the cover of the comic, or who had worked on it.  It existed as a line-item in ads for a place on Denver called Mile High Comics as a title and price point.*

Eventually I saved up some money rather than taking whatever I had and riding immediately to Piggly Wiggly on my bike to look at the spinner rack.  My mom wrote a check and in some amount of time, the comic arrive in the mail.  It was like magic.  And the cover to the comic was pretty awesome, even if the story set the tone for how poorly I've always felt crossovers worked.

Over the years of following comics, I'd always heard legends of the store itself - a massive space that dwarfed the imagination (this was back when Austin Books was about 1500 square feet and half of that was dedicated to sci-fi books) and had an amazing selection.

Eventually, I even bought a couple of issues from them online before deciding the fun of collecting comics is in the hunt, not just ordering something off the internet.

I had just crawled into bed Friday night when I realized:  hey, I'm in Denver with time to kill.  I could jump in a cab and...

So Saturday afternoon I stepped outside my hotel, negotiated a return trip with a cab driver and off I went to the Mile High Comics Superstore.  And a Superstore it is, indeed.

this represents about 1/2 of what you can actually see inside the door...

Friday, October 26, 2012

October Watch: Dracula (1931)

With the arrival of the Universal Horror Blu-Ray set, I wanted to get Dracula (1931) in before Halloween.

I first saw Dracula back in high school when it was going through a bit of a renaissance, probably because of those @#$%ing Anne Rice books that I kind of blame for leading to Twilight.

As a kid my concept of Dracula the character was fairly benign and drawn from things like The Groovy Ghoulies and the 70's-monster-plosion.*  But Dracula never seemed to be available on VHS, and I sure as hell wasn't going to read a whole book, but thanks to the monster-magazines and books I always seemed to have growing up, I already knew the story, including the character names and basic plot elements.



I was surprised how spooky I did find the film the first time I saw it.  I've always been of the Ed Wood school of willing-suspension-of-disbelief, even in movies which have long traded on literalism for the most part.  If I see a giant fake bat on a string, I guess I just buy that that's supposed to not just be a bat, but Dracula travelling incognito.  If there are armadillos in Castle Dracula, then, by gum, Transylvania must be overrun with cousins of my fellow Texans.  I dunno.  As long as I'm enjoying the film, I've always been willing to forgive a lot.**

Monday, October 22, 2012

October Watch: An American Werewolf in London

I cannot begin to come to An American Werewolf in London (1981) objectively.  I had to leave work fifteen minutes early or so to make the picture, and someone said "I've never seen it.  Is it good?" (my co-workers are well aware of my love of movies like The Room, so my interest in a movie is not a sign of my belief in the film's quality).



I paused and said "You know, I don't really know.  I've seen this movie a half dozen times since I was sixteen or seventeen, and I know I like it."  And I suspect that's true for a lot of us who saw the movie when we were the right age to enjoy the horror, the comedy (it is a wickedly funny movie), the sex, and the rather pragmatic ending to the film.  Like the better horror films, you don't really worry about the bad science, the faults in the make-up or effects (and this is Rick Baker so the effects were completely groundbreaking for 1982 and still look mostly terrific.  @#$% CGI.) because its not about whether you can see the string on the bats or the seam in the creature's suit.  In a weird way, as expensive as a creature feature could be to produce, it really is about the story.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October Watch! Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

If you've never seen Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), it's an absolute blast of a movie and pretty much sets the tone for every succeeding creature feature to follow - but it also leans a bit on the set-up of movies like King Kong.  Intrepid explorers/ scientists have some vital but benign evidence, return to the spot  far from civilization where it was found, and modern man can't deal with the havoc that ensues when an unexpected monster appears (and makes off with the stunningly attractive woman along for the ride).



Creature is fun partially because of the raw science-adventure tone that movies like Prometheus try to capture, of lantern jawed scientists throwing themselves into the path of danger in the name of discovery - along with a scrubby but affable crew along for the adventure who know their protocols are there for a reason.  As well as knowing natives may be superstitious, but they're also not crazy, so sometimes you just avoid their "Black Lagoons" if they suggest that's not a good place to bring your boat.  But: SCIENCE.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Signal Reads: Solaris (1961)

There is nothing like a beloved Polish sci-fi novel written in 1961 to make you feel like a complete idiot.

That was a better book than I was a listener.

I once saw the Russian film of Solaris circa 1994, but I'll be honest.  I'd had a lot to drink, and I don't remember anything about it at all, but when people would ask, I'd say:  Yeah, I've seen Solaris.  It wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't exactly true that I remembered seeing Solaris.  It's like saying you've been to San Diego, but you've only been to the airport.


So, on Jason's fiance's dad's suggestion, (I could have actually sat down and read the book, but that isn't going to happen, so) I purchased and listened to the audiobook of Solaris by Stanislaw Lem.  It's no lie that Greg is a much smarter man than myself (and you, too.  Seriously, meet Greg some time), and while I am sure Greg got more out of it than me, the book didn't disappoint.

It was also the rare book that I finished with the absolute certainty that I was going to read it again, because while I had grasped much of the book, I also knew that, thanks to the linear format of the audiobook, what I would have done to re-read certain parts, to flip back and forth in the book to piece it together when new information presented itself - I was just caught up in the flow of the story being told as it unspooled on my iPod.

Monday, October 15, 2012

October Watch: Ed Wood (1994)

In 1989 I caught my first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which featured the movie Bride of the Monster.  At the time I had never heard of Ed Wood, and I wasn't terribly aware of the sea of terrible monster movies out there.  But I like to know that my adoration of terrible movies sort of begins and ends with the work of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

When I watch a movie like Birdemic: Shock and Terror, a movie so abysmally, ineptly put together that those watching it assume it has to be a put on, I think of Ed Wood and his sincere belief in his projects, and while I understand the desire to refuse to believe anyone could be so myopic...  no.  We're funny things, us people, and we have rich visions that we are often unable to translate.



Ed Wood was released in 1994, and among the folks I worked with in film school, it was a bit of a totem.  We quoted from the movie endlessly, and we believed in the central conceit of trying to follow your uncompromised dreams to make the product you want to make.  And sometimes that meant exactly using pie-plates on sting to recreate a UFO crash.*

This scene (language NSFW), is more or less every project I ever did in film school in a nutshell.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sci-Fi Watch: The Time Machine (1960)

Credit to Jason, he alerted me to the showing of the The Time Machine (1960) as part of The Alamo's Kids Club series of movies.  It's safe to say I have never sat down and watched this movie end-to-end.  What I did not know was that I had seen probably 90% of this movie in bits and pieces over the years.

Seen as a whole, it's an absolutely fantastic bit of cinema, and earns its place among the pantheon of pre-Star Wars classics, with one foot in the 19th Century HG Wells-penned source material and another in the atomic-age sci-fi boom, but landing squarely with a relentlessly tough view of humanity in something that looks like a family adventure film.  I'd also argue that, as a huge Planet of the Apes fan, I can definitely see parallels in what Serling was doing with his adaptation of the French novel of Planet of the Apes in order to tell his own Time Machine-line story.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hello, Babies

On Wednesday evening I finished listening to God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater via audiobook.  I had read the most quoted part of the book on a poster by a local artists of some renown, a Mr. Tim Doyle (who once owned and managed a comic book shop in a mall beneath a dormitory), and the quote stuck with me the way some of these things do.  What the poster said was this:
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.
It is the blessing Eliot Rosewater plans to bestow upon a pair of twins born to an arsonist of ill-repute who has asked him to lead the proceedings at the twins' baptism.

Just so you know, I have been asked to officiate a wedding this coming winter. Should I be asked to officiate a baptism, the above quote shall be included in my remarks.  Other excerpts will be taken from The Bible, Ray Bradbury, and Kanye West.

Anyway, I finally consumed the book recommended to me long ago.  Thank you for the suggestion.

But now I feel like I need to read Slaughterhouse Five again.  Or all the Vonnegut novels I've read.  Again.

So it goes.

At any rate, a fine book and an interesting read as the presidential election blares out of every orifice of media and we all pound our chests about our understandings of who gets ahead and how and how we choose to look at one another as a matter of policy and, according to this novel, a matter of sanity.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: The Underwater Welder

Jeff Lemire is currently doing a tremendous amount of work at DC Comics, and not just his series Sweettooth.  Prior to the New 52 he took on Superboy, and was doing a great job - certainly telling less headache-inducing stories than what we saw starting last September.

But many of us came to know him from his work on the Essex County trilogy, meditative, ethereal stories of past colliding with the present.  His latest book, The Underwater Welder feels a bit like a fourth installment in the Essex books, but in a new location (the hard cut coast of Nova Scotia), with water and diving a significant and ongoing theme rather than the wide open prairie/ near tundra of Essex County.


Jack Joseph is 33 years old and has made his living as a welder on the oil rigs that can be seen from the shore of his hometown.  His wife is very, very pregnant as he heads out for one last stretch of work before the baby is born - all in the week around Halloween, a day that resonates with Jack back through the years.

Lemire recognizes that past informs the present, and unlike the previous books in the Essex trilogy, the anxiety of the coming of fatherhood informs the future.  Despite the 224 pages of book, the comic feels much more like a particularly dense short story, in part because of Lemire's elaborate sense of pacing through visuals.  While far from an illustrative approach, Lemire's work stays on model in its' scratchy/ sketchy style, but paced brilliantly over the page count as each panel holds significance to the forward motion of the story - panels breaking up time, changing from one object to another, or otherwise manipulating the reader's point of view.

I hesitate to give up too much about the book, but it feels like Lemire is moving onward and upward with his work, instead of continuing to repeat himself - especially in the denouement of the book.  Rightly so, TV writer Damon Lindelhoff intros the book as an episode of The Twilight Zone, which featured tight vignettes that took characters through a strange or supernatural occurrence that provided some greater relevance in their life or gave the audience a moment to think a bit about what it meant for the character (I am still haunted by the idea of the man who wanted time to read, and in the wake of nuclear holocaust had all the time in the world.  Until he broke his glasses.  I probably think about that at least once a week.).

The story reads like fable or myth, and that's to its strength.

I did wonder how rushed Lemire felt to finish the book with his other assignments in queue.  The ending, while entirely satisfactory, lacked the pacing of the preceding set ups.  But perhaps I read the book too quickly.

Anyway, recommended.

And now I have to finally read The Nobody.

Friday, August 10, 2012

We read more Parker: "The Seventh" and the graphic novel of "The Score"

The Seventh

The Seventh is, probably not-coincidentally, the seventh book in the Richard Stark (pen name of Donald Westlake) series of books about Parker, the tough guy master criminal who first appeared in The Hunter.

In this volume, following a particularly well-planned and executed heist that should have landed him a nice chunk of change (something sorely needed after the disastrous conclusion of The Jugger), Parker is hiding out and playing it cool when he comes back from a quick trip out for cigarettes and beer to find the girl he's been shacking up with stone cold dead in an apartment that's still locked and shows no signs of forced entry. And, of course, not just Parker's take (his seventh) is gone, but the whole take from the heist.

Stark never explains Parker, never spends time on much other than notes about characterization, and there's never a why.  All we see is Parker on the job, and it's not some writerly oversight.  Nobody gets insight into what makes Parker tic - be it his partners, the people he goes up against, or the reader.  We know he doesn't like small talk not just because the limited omniscience narrator tells us, but because Parker tells people rattling on at him to shut up, and he seems to appreciate the slain girl not just for her bedroom acrobatics, but for her agreement that they can sit in silence for hours if they've nothing to say.  But we never see a young Parker becoming Parker (at least by this seventh book).  Heck, we never even know his first name.

This book follows what happens not when a heist goes wrong, or a run in with the Outfit, but the unexpected occurring, and throwing Parker off his game.  We always get to see little pieces of Parker, and this book gives us an opportunity to see Parker wrestling a bit with making the smart move versus doing what he wants to do from a gut level once he's been shown up.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Happy 25th Anniversary in Comics, Mr. Waid

Mark Waid has been one of my favorite creators in comics for a while now, but I was a little slow on the uptake.  I still haven't read his run on Flash excepts for partial excerpts.  I haven't picked up all of his terrific volume of work.

I was alerted by the headline at Comics Alliance that we're celebrating 25 years of Mark Waid working in comics.

Let The Signal Watch not be remiss in saluting this tremendously talented and influential voice in the comics medium.




Last summer Mr. Waid came to Austin on the dime of Austin Books and Comics to host a screening of Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger.  He was terrifically gracious with us stuttering fanboys and the few sentences that he shared both at the movie - and the next day when he signed some of my favorite Waid-penned books - were sort of my own equivalent of meeting a rock star and it actually living up to what you'd hope.

Of late, like other terrific friendly-rock-star-story creator Chris Roberson and MonkeyBrain Comics, Waid's been exploring digital comics with his Thrillbent digital imprint and the terrific Insufferable.

But, as much as that, Waid is doing the thing the best writers seem to do as he gets older...  he just keeps getting better.  It's absolutely stunning to check out his work and see how well he handles different genres, characters, etc...  and how each resonates.

Anyway, look up Waid's work.

A few recommendations:

  • Irredeemable
  • Incorruptible
  • Insufferable
  • Potter's Field
  • Kingdom Come
  • 52
  • Superman: Birthright
  • Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty
  • Here Comes Daredevil
  • Empire
  • Fantastic Four
  • Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes

Monday, July 30, 2012

Signal Re-Watch: Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Author's Note:  Spoiler's ahoy.  Proceed at your own risk.

So, today I teamed up with Jason, AmyD, The Admiral and Jamie and re-watched what appears to be the final installment in the Nolan-helmed Batman trilogy.



The first look at the movie was posted last week after I'd seen the movie with a different crew.

As has been the pattern with Nolan's movies since Memento (and what I tend to think is true of movies I don't just enjoy, but enjoy re-watching), once you know how it ends, it's a pleasure to re-watch the film and see how the moving pieces work together, and not just from a plotting perspective, as in a particular good espionage movie or thriller.  I've harped a lot on how Nolan has more or less used the Bat-movies as a chance to explore ideas of fear, justice, security & liberty - and it was worthwhile to take in a second viewing and watch the movie in a frame of mind more conducive to regarding what Nolan was doing and trying to say, and not just hanging on as a summer thriller unspooled and I did my best to keep up.

Of course, I don't have a score sheet that enables me to check Nolan's ideas off, and what you read here is based on nothing, really, but my own reading of the movies as a whole, so you'll have to bear with me.