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

Monday, June 6, 2016

"Lady Dynamite" Season 1 on Netflix



Maria Bamford has been around the comedy scene, stand up and character performing, for some time.   I can remember stand-up clips of a very young Bamford on basic cable in the late 90's, and a general awareness of who she was despite the fact I'm not one of those folks who follows comedy the way some people follow music.  But, she had a unique voice (literally and metaphorically) from the time she came out of the gate.

In 2005 she appeared as part of the documentary, The Comedians of Comedy, which followed comedians Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Zach Galifianakis and Maria Bamford as they toured the country playing, basically, rock clubs.   And I remember watching the film and being deeply concerned for Bamford during the entire movie.  They sort of tried to play it off as "Maria keeps to herself.  Maria's an introvert," but the movie basically gave up on trying to get her to participate, and so she became a kind of non-entity within the film.

In 2012, on the heels of Louis CK figuring out people would pay him directly for content and the rise of Kickstarter, Maria Bamford also had a special "The Special Special Special", which I paid to Ms. Bamford to download.  And if you've never seen The Special Special Special, it's kind of amazing.  She basically does an entirely new set for her parents from inside her living room.   And I guess it was while watching that show, or around that time, that I learned she'd had some sort of mental breakdown.  And, it seemed, doing this special was Phase 1 of her getting her feet back under her, professionally.

She appeared in the Netflix season of Arrested Development (as someone playing Sue Storm in a knock-off Fantastic Four),  and held her own with that cast, which is no mean feat.  And, as she has always done, she's toured relentlessly.  I see she's in Austin for the Moontower Comedy festival every year (going on now.  She was on local drive-time radio just this morning), and I think she's here more than that - but I haven't been to see stand-up since a semi-traumatic family outing when I was in college.*

But from the first few minutes of the first episode of Lady Dynamite (now streaming on Netflix), it feels like someone has finally properly placed the megaphone to Bamford's mouth and given her the proper stage where it's not just her freaking out the squares doing her stand-up or trying to fit into someone else's mold of how entertainment is supposed to work.  The show is Bamford's world, and it's - for once (and people say this a lot, but I think it's a safe bet it's true here) - a unique perspective.

Not many shows out there are a sitcom recounting the protagonist's real-life struggles with mental illness.  And making it understandable, sympathetic, and honest-to-god hilarious.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: The Caped Crusade - Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture (audiobook, 2016)



Here's what I know after reading Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture (2016) - I would love to spend a couple hours at a bar with author Glen Weldon knocking back a couple of cocktails and talking comics.  

The book is a perfect compliment to the sort of discussion we've been having here at The Signal Watch the past few years, from our Gen-X Recollection Project (still ongoing!  Send in your posts!), to trying to contextualize what we see in movies of the past and present as seasoned dorks.  

As a matter of course, I've read a few Superman retrospectives, but very few feel like an honest conversation.  Les Daniels' works read like what they are - honest if fairly sanitary historical accounts of the rise of Superman in all media.  The very-well-selling Larry Tye book felt like a lot of research into something the author felt would move books but for which he had little personal affinity and seemed surprised that Superman wasn't the character he remembered from his years watching The Adventures of Superman.  Author Tom De Haven has the strangest relationship with Superman, having written a full novel re-imagining the character from the ground up (in ways that often seemed far, far off the mark), and then a sort of retrospective that made it clear - he kinda hates Superman.

But aside from Les Daniels and a few excerpts in books like Ten Cent Plague and Men of Tomorrow, I haven't read up as much on Batman.  I actually heard of author Glen Weldon when he put out a book called Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.  I purchased the book, but hadn't read it as I had a stack of books I was making it through.  Still haven't read it, honestly, aside from the first few pages, which had me cackling in recognition of someone who truly knew their Superman.  But, two days after I picked up the Superman book, Weldon announced on twitter his Batman book was coming, and as I'd just finished the Tye Superman book, I figured - I'll just wait for that one.

I really can't recommend Caped Crusade enough.  This is a "run, don't walk" sort of recommendation.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

Doc Watch: Electric Boogaloo - The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)



I started watching this doc thinking I'd make it maybe 15 minutes in, get bored, and move on with my life.  But, really, my primary complaint about the film is that it seems like it could have run an additional 30 minutes or so, delving into more of the impact of Cannon Films on popular culture and where the movies found their audiences, and not ever felt like it was running long.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) is exactly what you see in the title.  It's a doc about the rise and fall of the independent movie studio responsible for an ungodly amount of the types of movies suburban kids consumed by the truckload back in the 1980's - particularly when our folks were off doing other things and not paying much attention to what we were watching.  Cannon was responsible for just a tremendous number of movies of all genres, and for a kid back in the 1980's, it was pretty typical to go rent a movie, come home, throw it in the VCR and see the Cannon logo scroll out before you.

The basic hook of the movie is that Cannon was fast, cheap and out of control.  They were making movies fast and furious, producing what they assumed was crowd-pleasing stuff, leaving decorum, taste and craftsmanship behind as they raced to give us an endless supply of films loaded with violence, nudity, ridiculous plots and a way to kill a couple of hours on a Saturday night.  They gave us everything from Breakin' parts 1 and 2 to The Last American Virgin to American Ninja to Bolero to Invasion USA to Masters of the Universe to Over the Top, and dozens and dozens of movies in between.  If you're over the age of 35 or so, it's highly likely you raised yourself on a steady diet of their output running on cable or from the local Mom & Pop video rental shop.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Disney Watch: The Jungle Book (2016)



As kids, most of us caught Disney's post-Walt release of The Jungle Book, based upon the works of famed British writer Rudyard Kipling.  When it comes to Kipling, I have no real opinions.  After all, I've never Kippled.

But thanks to a love for Disney animation and Jamie's deep fondness for the movie, I've seen the 1967 cartoon a number of times.  It's not my favorite Disney animation, and my appreciation for the movie swings between adoration and annoyance, depending upon the sequence.  Balloo = Yes.  Kaa = irritation.

It does have one of the strongest sing-along soundtracks of any of the movies, and is up there with the best when it comes to "Bear Necessities" and "I Want To be Like You", even if the latter is in a portion of the movie I found just kind of confusing as a kid.

But it's also got an underrated villain in Shere Khan.

I've also seen the 1990's Jason Scott Lee version of the movie (but don't remember it in the slightest), and a good portion of a 1942 release, which is much better than you'd guess.

I wanted to be skeptical of this version, but Jon Favreau's name was attached as director.  As goofy and normal as Favreau comes off in his roles and in interviews, he's a smart guy and already turned into as solid a director as you were going to find way back when he put out Elf, and then two Iron Man movies in a row that I quite liked (yes, I like Iron Man 2.  Shut up.).

But, man, that's some tough source material, and these days, when it comes to family entertainment, the forces at work seem to be a mix of risk-averse accountants, shrieking parents groups terrified their kids might find out how things work outside their carefully helicoptered environs and a fear of being seen as anything less than a perfect exemplar of safety first.  The idea of a story taking place in a world ruled by tooth and claw seems like it would catapult this kind of story into the same PG-13 arena as the Marvel superheroes.

The first trailer made me more skeptical than excited, but a very recent trailer that came out maybe a week or two before the film's release turned me around a bit, and, of course, I was cheered by a very positive Rotten Tomatoes score (floating around the mid-90's last I checked).

I'll be honest, I loved this movie.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Western Watch: Shane (1953)



I hadn't watched Shane (1953) in more than a decade.  Even the DVD I have is clearly a relic from the beginning of the DVD era.  If I hadn't watched the movie in a while, it seems that Jamie does not care for Shane, and that's one of those things that you're going to have to endure if you want to stay married.

For my dollar, Shane is one of the great westerns, one of those stories of the expansion into the west and foretelling other great Western stories that explore the nature and fate of the gun-fighter like The Unforgiven,  Beyond the loose definition of the Western genre, it's also, simply, a great film.  Beautifully shot, well-acted, nuanced and better than you likely remember.

Contextually, the book the movie was based on and faithfully adapted from (and which JAL and I read in class in 7th grade if memory serves) was released in 1949, four years after the closing of WWII.  That the book was told in a first-person perspective from the eyes of a child and the movie mostly retains that POV, makes sense.  At it's heart, the story speaks to the naivete of what we see when we look at violence as an heroic act, of putting the gunman on a pedestal - as both writers of Western novels and Hollywood have always done.  In 1949 and 1953, one can imagine all the GI's returning from WWII who had to endure the questions of both the folks who had seen the war from newsreels and kids who saw it as a comic-book adventure against cartoonish Japs and Krauts.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Noir Watch: Gun Crazy (1950)



I've lost track of how many times I've seen Gun Crazy (1950).  And, in fact, over the past ten years its easily become one of my favorite movies.  Tuesday night JAL and I met up at the Alamo to catch a screening which was, it turned out, part of a series the Alamo was doing about social issues in movies.  And, of course, Gun Crazy is as good an example of how a good gun owner gets sucked into the issues of a bad gun owner as you're like to see.

The screening was either sold out or nearly so, which, even in a small theater at The Alamo on a Tuesday at 7:30 - for a movie that's now 66 years old - is a pretty good thing.  What was truly surprising was that the screening was of a 35mm print struck in the 1960's, as near as I could tell.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Our Valued Customers: The End is Nigh

On Monday, one of the longest running and one of the best online comics out there, Our Valued Customers, announced that the curtain will be coming down.  If you follow one of my more modern social media outlets - say, fb or tumblr, you've likely seen me link to the strips on a very routine basis.

I'm taking a risk and posting this strip without permission, but I do respect a good cease-and-desist request

The one-panel comic was about those of us who wander the aisles of our local comic booke shoppes, but the humor was always universal.  The set-up of the strip is a caricature of a real person saying a real thing overheard by the folks working the register.  And, having spent time in many-a-comic shop, it all rang exceedingly true.  I believe he's got a network of other comics retailers sending him heir best stuff, but I don't know exactly how this works.  Just that it does.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mars Watch: The Martian (2015)

Back this last summer, we read the novel The Martian by Andy Weir, and so it's kind of hard to ignore that fact as we roll into discussing the movie.

On Saturday we headed out to the Alamo to see The Martian (2015) in 3D directed by Ridley Scott and featuring a busload of name actors - headlined by Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney.  As one would expect, the movie has some changes from the novel, cuts a lot in order to work as a movie (and for time), and makes some extremely minor plot changes.  But, in general, like a lot of book-to-movie translations of the past decade of newer, very popular books, there's a tremendous fidelity to the source material (funny how it only took movies a century to figure out people liked for these things to match).


Just like the book, the movie is about a Mars mission in the very near future which experiences a surprise weather event which surpasses expectations in terms of severity and thus threatens the crew  NASA protocol insists that the crew scrub, get to their launch vehicle, escape to their orbiting spacecraft, and return home.  As the crew leaves their base, Biologist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by a piece of loosed debris - the antenna - and is sent hurling over a hill, his bio signs offline.  Presumed dead, the crew takes off, leaving Watney on the planet's surface.

Watney re-awakens to find himself alone, with no means of communication with Earth, and supplies in the "hab" will account for only a short amount of time on the planet.  And the lack of moisture, and living in a structure that was never intended to last forever against the Martian environment are just the start of his woes.

The loss of an astronaut is a disaster for NASA, and Watney is given a hero's funeral, but within days, a staffer at NASA notices evidence of Watney's survival on satellite photos of the base and things back at NASA and JPL go into overdrive.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Full Review of Kino Lorber's "Phantom of the Opera" 2-disc BluRay collection

Lon Chaney, man of 1,000 faces, as The Phantom of the Opera.
Credit Kino Lorber

Preamble:  This review was originally released at Texas Public Radio.  As I'm a bit obsessive about losing columns at other sites, I'm archiving it here.  But, if you haven't read this one yet, I recommend clicking the link back to TPR and giving them a hit rather than reading here.

Full disclosure - The disc was a review copy provided by Kino Lorber to Texas Public Radio, and this column was edited with the generous help of NathanC of TPR.  

2015 marks the 90th anniversary of the release of seminal American horror/thriller, The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney. The film stands as a hallmark of both horror film and silent cinema, and as a survivor of the many mishaps and hardships that befell many other films of the era. Today, it continues to thrill audiences.

This fall, Kino Lorber delivers a terrific two-disc Blu-ray set which fans of the film will enjoy as they dig in to the treasure trove of special features, and those newly arrived to the film can enjoy for the magnificent presentation and contextualizing available in the special features.

Lon Chaney, in both his make-up and performance as Erik, remains such a recognizable concept that The Phantom of the Opera has endured in the popular imagination while the film’s contemporaries have faded, surviving mostly in the domain of serious film buffs and historians. The film stamped itself onto the zeitgeist thanks not just to the film’s perennial Halloween showings, but because it brought audiences something both novel and universal in its shadowy tale of outsiders and the chilling wonder of the unknown.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Austin Books and Comics and the Remarkable Labor Day Sale

I've been exceptionally lucky to be able to say that my Local Comic Book Shop is the astounding Austin Books and Comics.  I grew up in Austin, and Austin Books is a big part of how and why I fell in love with the medium as a kid.  For good or ill, I've now been shopping here off and on for 28 years, and I never think "well, I've done everything I can do here.  I guess I'll go collect some stamps."

I started buying my comics off the spinner-rack at the local grocery, at news stands and at convenience stores.  Then, at some point I looked at the ads in a comic book and realized there were specialty stores, and I assume some path of logic there led me to finding Austin Books.  I can't say I recall my first trip there, just that we stopped in as often as KareBear would load us in the van from North Austin and deposit us at the store.

Back then it was a big store, as comic shops went, but  nowhere near the footprint today.  That, and it was half fantasy/ sci-fi books and posters and whatnot, and half comic book shop.

I moved away in high school and had some decent shops in the Spring, Texas area (Bedrock City showed up when I was in college, but I don't recall the names of the other two shops that have since gone under).

In the late 90's and early 00's, the store was purchased and began the transformation to what it is today.  I won't bore you with the details, but around 2007 they began finding new events and ways to expand.  And, in 2015, Austin Books is now a complex that includes:

  • the gigantic original store which is a huge store with a variety of graphic novels and comics that rivals literally any store I've seen in three countries and two continents.  Toys.  Back-issues.  A huge Showcase Comics selection of Golden to Modern.  
  • Guzu Gallery - which is a pop-art objects store and local artist gallery focusing on pop art
  • Outlaw Moon Games and Toys - which has a wide variety of games - role playing and board as well as vintage toys
  • one of my favorites - The Sidekick Store - where they sell unbagged back issues and discount Bronze and Silver Age comics

And, the staff is incredible.  Owner Brad has really got the business sorted out, has insisted on a professionalism that remains friendly but never falls into that "Boy's Club" thing you can get at other stores.  Day-to-day, manager Brandon somehow keeps the whole place going.  And there are loads of employees who have tremendous knowledge of comics, toys, comic history, and they can help you find something on the shelves.

The Labor Day Sale is currently on, and I've done quite well.  This year I focused on all Superman titles, as that's my current collecting focus (I'm about wrapped on Wonder Woman Vol. 2 and the remaining Enemy Ace appearances I've got are a little spendy).

For details on the sale, go here.

But I had a good bit of fun looking, and wound up with new (to me) issues of Action Comics, Superman, Superman's Pal - Jimmy Olsen and made a spike in my modest Superman's Girlfriend - Lois Lane collection.

I got to the sale on opening night, and headed straight for The Sidekick Store.  I was looking at 2-for-1 Superman issues when I sensed a disturbance in the force.  Brandon got this picture or me just before I looked up.

(all photo credits on this post go to Austin Books and Comics.  I'm assuming they won't be pissed I'm saying something nice about their store)

that's me in the red plaid shirt at The Sidekick

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

TV Comedy Noir Watch: The Spoils Before Dying (2015)

I am absolutely flabbergasted that the 2014 IFC mini-series The Spoils of Babylon is not more widely discussed.  It had an all-star cast, a distinctive narrative and visual style and did something most comedy utterly fails to do - continue to tell a story that's still sort of interesting as the thing goes along.

The 2015 follow up is The Spoils Before Dying.



Now, follow me here.

Both series are framed by introductions of each episode by author, screenwriter, producer, director Eric Jonrosh.  Jonrosh was the sort of high-literary figure of the 20th century that's since been kind of forgotten as Fifty Shades of Grey has come to define the modern American novel.   Jonrosh also embodies the worst excesses of the brightest minds of the 20th Century and their more, uh, colorful golden years.  And is played by Will Ferrell in a beard, old age make-up and about 150 extra pounds.

this is not actually me, your humble blogger, but I understand the confusion

The Spoils Before Dying is less the sprawling 1970's-era TV mini-series than its predecessor and, in a tale unrelated to the prior series, a noir-jazz-Mickey Spillane mash-up pastiche.  Again, the story itself would probably be fine as a drama, played straight.  I'm not kidding.  It's a tight little murder mystery with Chandler-esque turns and a nice upping of the ante in the final act.

But that's not really so much what they're up to.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Martian, Andy Weir (audiobook)

I guess back in January, my pal Paul suggested I read The Martian (2011) by Andy Weir.  I know this because I keep a list of books I've read mixed with a list of suggestions I've taken seriously, and I do write down who made the suggestion.



When the trailer hit for the soon-to-be-in-theaters Ridley Scott directed version of The Martian, it was absolutely the sort of thing I like seeing, and I got pretty excited.  I was a big fan of Interstellar, and I even really liked Gravity, warts and all.  And as much as I like strange visitors from other worlds-type scientifiction, I also get pretty jazzed about fictional takes or speculative takes on plain old science and technology.  Mix that with the space program, like the two movies I just mentioned, and you've sold a couple of tickets to the occupants of my household.

You've got a few weeks before the movie arrives, and I highly recommend checking out the book prior to the film's release.  It's not that I think Matt Damon and Co. will do a bad job - I'm a big fan of Damon (have you seen the Bourne movies?).  It's that the book is really good and reads really fast.  I'd started the book just over a week ago, and recommended it to Jamie.  She started and finished it all today.  So, there's a context clue for you (and she also cleaned out the cupboard.  I think she bent time.).

I listened to the audiobook, which takes longer, of course, but it more than filled the commute and back I had to Arlington, Texas this week.

If you haven't seen the trailer - and I'm not spoiling anything - an astronaut is delivering his first log entry after an accident occurred during an emergency evacuation of a Mars mission.  He'd been stuck through by part of a loose antenna in a wind storm, and then blown over a hill, his suit's life signs reading nil.  Of course, he wasn't dead, but the crew was forced to leave him, and now he's stuck on Mars, with no way to contact home, the next mission coming to the planet in 4 years, and only enough supplies for 6 people for about a month.

And yet, it's the most optimistic book I've read in years.  Maybe ever.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

80's Watch: Tapeheads (1988) - Let's get into trouble, baby

Tapeheads (1988) is most certainly a cult movie, but it's a sort of under-the-radar cult movie that feels like it should be one of those movies people talk about a LOT more than they do.  If people have seen it, it's one of the movies they saw 20 years ago, but probably not a lot since, and maybe not that many times.



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Noir Watch: Double Indemnity (1944)


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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Noir Watch: The Third Man (1949)

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

new poster by ace artist Francesco Francavilla


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

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Awesome Watch: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)


Back when I was in high school, when the Kevin Costner movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves came out, I believe it was TNT that counter-programmed by showing the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood that opening weekend.  In conjunction, they held a telephone call-in poll for which the audience liked better, and, holy @#$% did the 1938 version win by a landslide.

And, even when you're at that age when you're like "oh, new movies are inherently better", I was pretty darn aware that this movie was way, way better than the Costner version.  I certainly didn't think the 90's version was bad, if you ignored the cheesy Bryan Adams theme and Costner's accent, but The Adventures of Robin Hood felt like the mother of all fun action movies.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Set Your DVR's - "Gun Crazy" is on Turner Classic this Friday!

Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir, takes the captain's chair at TCM for several Fridays this summer.  You can read up on the program, dubbed "Summer of Darkness", and maybe learn a bit more about Noir and Muller himself.

He's recently released a book on the a cult favorite in Noir circles, the 1950 feature Gun Crazy, starring John Dall and the phenomenal Peggy Cummins.  


I'll go ahead and recommend this one.  I've seen it a few times, and I'll definitely watch it several more.  It's a remarkable movie.  Wonderfully shot, well acted and just extremely well put together story about two people who never should have met - a spiritual predecessor of the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde.

I really wanted to hit Noir City XI in San Francisco as Ms. Cummins was the guest of honor at a screening of the movie, and was present for an interview.  Our own J_Swift scored me a signed poster by Ms. Cummins, which is a prized item in my household.


So set that DVR for this Friday.  Or, better yet, make a date and watch it.  It's a hell of a movie.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (audiobook)

This isn't the first time I have read Red Harvest (1929) by noted crime and detective author Dashiell Hammett.  In fact, it was the first Hammett I ever read, but it was about fifteen years ago and over the course of a few plane rides, and after reading my fair share of Hammett since, I could only remember snippets here and there and the general plot and tone.  But with Hammett's birthday recently passed, I decided that was my cue to revisit the book.



It would seem this novel inspired a whole lot of other stuff from general tone to dialog to whole films, but to my knowledge it has never been translated into a movie of the same name with the same characters.  And it's just as likely the things the book inspired were, in turn, the inspiration for other works.  There are certainly similarities to the book in the Kurosawa movie Yojimbo (but Kurosawa states he was inspired by The Glass Key, a different Hammet book turned into a movie with similar themes - and the movie has Veronica Lake, natch), which in turn would have inspired A Fistful of Dollars and the mediocre as hell Last Man Standing.

I'd argue that the Coen Bros. were obviously nuts for Hammett, and Miller's Crossing is essentially a particularly strong blend and distillation of Red Harvest and The Glass Key, in everything from plot similarities to character archetypes to Hammett's very specific dialog and use of slang.  Further, the term "Blood Simple" is used more than once in the book, and is - not coincidentally - the title of their debut film.

Hammett had a favorite character, a detective who refused to name himself (cough... Man With No Name... cough) in his narratives.  The character appeared in what must have been dozens of short works published in magazines like Black Mask and which are known as The Continental Op stories.  A private detective employed by The Continental Detective Agency usually solves crimes around the Bay Area during the 1920's - the period during which Hammett was writing (and drinking, one assumes).

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TV Watch: Peaky Blinders - recommended

We've been watching the BBC series, now streaming on Netflix, Peaky Blinders.  In BBC or HBO big-budget style, the show is only 6 episodes per season, but the production is incredible per episode with top flight talent in front of, and as near I can tell, behind the camera.



Our resident music snobs will like the soundtrack.  Though the setting is 1919 Birmingham, England, the show makes excellent use of Nick Cave in season 1 (including use of "Red Right Hand" as the credits track) and, as we've just cracked season 2, they've subbed in Ms. Polly Jean Harvey.  The music fits shockingly well against the late Industrial Age backdrop as working-class gangs move like sharks through the factory workers, IRA sympathizers, nascent communists and blue-clad cops on dirt streets in flat caps and tweed.

Season 1 playlist
Season 2 partial playlist

You can't get thrown by the name of the show (the name of the family-based gang at the center of the show) any more than you can get thrown by the accents and patter unfamiliar to American ears, but all of it understandable enough.

The lead of the show, Thomas Shelby, is played by Cillian Murphy - most recognizable to Americans as The Scarecrow from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises.  The cops out to get the gang are led by Jurassic Park's Sam Neill.  One of my favorite characters is Tommy's Aunt Polly, played by Helen McCrory, who you might have seen as Draco Malfoy's mother in the Harry Potter films and briefly in Skyfall.  I hear Thomas Hardy shows up here in Season 2, so I'm ready for that.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Answering Questions - The Picky Girl asks Where One Should Start When it Comes to Comics

Picky Girl placed the following in the comment box

Ok, I have a question. So I was not a comics girl growing up. I read a ton - and a lot of stuff that was probably way above my head - but the only comics I ever came in contact with were Archie and Veronica at my grandmother's house (in the bathroom...).

In college, a prof handed me Watchmen, and I loved it. I read some graphic novels and did a lot of reading about comics and the superhero, but when it came to comics, I never knew where to begin. There are so many iterations that I don't know where to begin. Any suggestions?

I'll go ahead and ask my fellow comics dorks to weigh in down in the comment section.  I know you've got your opinions, and my suggestions are just that.  They're just some suggestions by me.  So, chime in, buddies.

First of all, I think if you get down to it, a lot of people had their first and often their last exposure to comics through Archie Comics.  There's a reason everyone over a certain age recognizes Archie and Jughead, and enough people are aware of the Archie-Veronica-Betty love triangle so that you can use it as cultural shorthand.

I'm one of those kids, too.  I have a warm spot in my heart for Archie, even if I can't imagine how one remains a lifelong reader, but people do that, and that's kind of cool.

yeah.  every high school guy has two girlfriends who are cool with this situation.

Back in the 90's, you got to ride the wave of 1980's envelope-pushing comics and academics for whom bringing in anything on the edge of culture to teach was kind of a novel thing.  Watchmen has sold a lot of copies to kids taking a blow-off course where they could read comics, but it earned its rep as one of the very, very few comics that reads like a sprawling novel and talks to an audience of people who also read Thomas Wolfe.  I cannot stress how rare this is in capes and tights comics.  Less so in other genres of comic.

The 1970's brought in the first writers that wanted to push beyond kiddie-stuff and you wound up with Green Arrow seeing his ward shooting up smack (no lie!), but it still read as a 22-page adventure with only loose tethers to the past and future.  And, 95% of the time when comics think they're writing for adults or to make a point, it's still basically Speedy doing smack.

First it's comics, then you smoke one rock of pot, and then wham-o!  You've riding the white pony and defending Jethro Tull in public.

Almost nothing in capes and tights before or after Watchmen is Watchmen, and I've written extensively about how comics have learned all the wrong lessons from a superhero comic that wrote up to a literate audience.  We can cover that again some other time, and surely will, but that wasn't really your question.  What I'm doing here is: expectation setting.