Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Sci-Fi Watch: "The Expanse" ReWatch, Season 5

One of the most insane things you can do is recommend someone watch multiple seasons of TV more than once.  But here we are.

The first time I watched The Expanse, I watched it entirely by myself* as a binge-watch.  I think I made it through the first five seasons in about three weeks (the sixth had not started yet), which is simply not a thing I do.  

Spoiler - my least favorite season of the show was the fourth season, which I still liked, but felt like the one season where I felt I'd seen this same sort of thing elsewhere.  On a rewatch, I better appreciate how the Western-like settlement and tensions between moneyed and non-moneyed pioneers informs the overall arc of the show.  

The Fifth Season, which brings the character, political and story arc threads of the show to a head, while simultaneously splintering our Rocinante-based space-fam, was one I'd quite liked the first go-thru.  On a second viewing, I liked it even more.  

The issues our characters brought into the series at its start finally have time to get some spotlight, all against a backdrop of the inevitable consequences of the centuries of exploitation of the Belt (for whom you can apply a dozen real-world analogies) coming to bear.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Willie Mays Merges With The Infinite

American legend and baseball player, Willie Mays, has passed at the age of 93.

Mays was, statistically, one of the best to ever pick up a bat and put on a glove.  His career preceded the advent of the Golden Glove, and he still won 12 of them, consecutively.  He had 660 career home runs and a .302 career batting average.  And, frankly, it's exhausting to think about telling you people about every single one of his records and achievements.  Here's Wikipedia.  

I'm not sure we'll see his like again as a player - most baseball folk have him in company with Babe Ruth.  But, if the MLB can learn anything from Hays, I'd tell them:  let your players love the game the way Hays did.  Before I'd read about what kind of player he was - heck, before I knew about baseball - I knew him as a larger-than-life personality who took joy in people and his sport.  The game needs that, and is at its best when you've got those players.

We're sorry to see him go, but as long as people talk about baseball, folks are going to talk about The Say Hey Kid.  

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Fellini Watch: La Strada (1954)

Watched:  06/16/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Federico Fellini

Back in the 1990's, I managed to escape film school without much in the way of a "film studies" background.  I was a "production" guy, so I was taking classes that required hauling around equipment and working with fellow students to try and get shorts made - and there weren't credit hours or time for me to also take the classes offered on Fellini and others.*  

At the mercy of the syllabus for the classes I did take, I saw a wide variety of film, but we weren't shown some of the giants, which I now find... odd.  Because in the mid-90's, people still cared about European film and the work of folks like Bergman, Fellini, Godard and others, both inside and outside of academia.  It would be like securing an English degree, but they assume you're reading Shakespeare on your own.

As a result, some of this became so monumental in my head as "challenging viewing", I just never took the Pepsi Challenge.  

But...  then, I realized as I turned 49 -  why not?  So.

Anyway, I am currently on a quest to make the most of my Criterion subscription by checking out a few movies from name directors, especially non-American directors.  You may have noted my recent four movie sprint through some Akira Kurosawa.

Mentioning Fellini on facebook, our own NathanC, who tends to dip into these kinds of film better than many, recommended I start with La Strada (1954).  My only prior exposure to Fellini had been randomly watching Roma back in college.**  So, La Strada it was.  

I have zero complaints about this movie.  I get it.  I know that's not much of a review, but this is what had been advertised to me about Fellini since college, complete with circuses, clowns and sadness.  This is not a complaint.  It's like hearing "well, Dr. Seuss features a lot of Loraxes" and there you are, spotting a Lorax.  

To me, the remarkable thing about the film was that La Strada is the art that a post-WWII Italy was producing.  While certainly not directly commenting on the war, I can only imagine the mood of the post-Mussolini Italians climbing out of the rubble after the Allies bombed and shot their way across the country.  Of *course* the need to tell stories about the people living on the edge of society, the misfits, and making the cruelty casual no matter what love you throw at it came from this era and this place. 

I also understand how folks trying to imitate what is on screen here could go very, very badly indeed.

I was confused and delighted that this movie starred Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart, both Americans, and my eyes about fell out of my head that Dino De Laurentiis was a producer.  

Anyway, the movie is one of the most written about in cinema, and I don't think anyone will gain much from my scribblings, so I'll cut it short here.  But thanks to Nathan for the suggestion!  I'll be seeking out La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2 and Amarcord soon (with a possible check in with Nights of Cabria).  

*I'll talk about the abortive Bergman class I took, soon
**which I need to rewatch as I think Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson is in it as a young woman after reading her memoir

Neo-Noir-Comedy Watch: Hit Man (2023)

Watched:  06/15/2024
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Richard Linklater

As a good Austinite, I feel extra pressure to watch Richard Linklater movies, and still miss half of them.  But this one took literally no effort to watch as I have Netflix thanks to my T-Mobile service.  

Reviews were initially pretty good for Hit Man (2023/24?), as near as I can tell.  But I think the wider audience response has been more mixed.  And I get it.  The movie feels like it has a bit of a genre pivot or thematic pivot half-way through, and that's a pretty good way to lose people.  Arguably, it goes from a sort of goofy comedy to a dark-comedy neo-noir.  And that turn in the middle is some YMMV territory.

The basic set up is that we have our public college prof (people keep saying Community College, but he seems more adjunct at a full university.  TERMS MEAN THINGS.), teaching philosophy and psychology.  But - He moonlights for the New Orleans PD making surveillance equipment for catching people who are trying to hire a hit man,  So, when the NOPD gets a tip someone is looking for a contract killer, they send in an undercover cop posing as a hit man.  

One day, the main undercover cop can't do his thing, so they (Retta!) send in the tech, Gary Johnson (Glen Powell).  Turns out he has a real knack for sliding into the role, and as he tries again and again, finds he can be the hit man to meet the profile of the contractee.  

Friday, June 14, 2024

G Watch: Godzilla x Kong - The New Empire (2024)

Watched:  06/14/2024
Format:  4K disc
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Adam Wingard

The thing about this movie is that, from the first minute, it's more or less the chaos I look for in the last fifteen minutes of the best popcorn movies.  

This movie is, technically, really dumb.  The "this story makes no sense" stuff I'll spend a post crying about most of the time isn't just there, it's the whole shooting match.  It's mostly just highly silly and unlikely things happening, scene after scene, and Rebecca Hall in a pixie cut saying out loud what is happening so the kids watching don't get lost.

And I could not be happier with the results.  

If you're looking for a recent Godzilla movie with a moral center and a story about the human condition - I have amazing news for you.  But this is not that movie.

Yes, yes, there's some nice stuff about mothers and daughters thrown in there.  But you're here to see Kong smack some other apes with a smaller ape.  You want to see Godzilla suplex Kong.  You want to see people flying around in a crazy spaceship thing blasting classic rock.  You want to see monsters duking it out in a major metropolitan area.  And mysterious people and their underground culture and maybe magic?  Sure.  Let's just say magic.  And Titan Dentistry (which is what I would call my practice if I became a dentist all-of-a-sudden).  

This movie is colorful, and loud and incredibly goofy, and I am not secretly glad it exists.  After the dour start to the Monsterverse, the direction of these movies has found out how to be something genuinely fun - because they were in no way nailing the "big monsters, big feelings for humans" thing they were trying.  

It will be interesting to see how they try to make this work with Season 2 of Monarch, because half of what Monarch brought to the table, this movie was like "ha ha!  NOPE!" and did its own thing.

Doc Watch: Brats (2024)

Watched:  06/13/2024
Format:  Hulu
Viewing:  First
Director:  Andrew McCarthy

I can remember a time in my life when I was weird about the non-John Hughes movies by "The Brat Pack".  I can't remember why.  I do remember people would say "oh, that's a Brat Pack movie" and I'd say "oh, then I won't watch that", but it was so long ago, I don't even remember what the reasoning was.  

When I figured out who was *in* the Brat Pack, I realized I was really not the market for those movies.  I was too young for the stuff produced before 1985 or so, and we didn't have HBO for me to watch those movies.  Add in whatever that vibe was, and I just never circled back to see them.  Anyway - the concept of the Brat Pack is pretty loosey goosey, with no exact filmography or even common understanding of who is in it.  We can debate that in the comments.

This doc is written and directed by former Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy, who is a writer these days, and a pretty good one.  He's digging into the fall-out and feelings of the clutch of actors discussed in a 1985 New York Magazine front page article called "The Brat Pack", written by then-young journalist David Blum.   

The article followed Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson as they went about a night-in-the-life of young Hollywood during a period when there had been a spike in movies starring, and aimed at, younger people.  It is largely considered to be a hit piece, and by 1980's standards, I guess it is.  Now it just reads like a jealous dork seeing how these extraordinarily fortunate young people spend their time.  It lumps in other actors and co-stars not in attendance and slaps the sobriquet upon them.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Godard Watch: Alphaville (1965)

Watched:  06/13/2024
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jean-Luc Godard

My relationship with the films of Jean-Luc Godard is fraught.  On the one hand, I recognize his unique vision and what his films brought to cinema during the height of his powers - and that we're still playing catch up 60 years later.  On the other, I feel like he's a pretentious wanker who can't get out of his own way.  So watching his films can feel like doing homework or eating vegetables.  I know it's a good thing, and from time to time I'm enjoying myself, but other times I'm eating undercooked green beans, and I know green beans can be really good - just not like this.

That said, Alphaville (1965) has a prescience to it that feels deeply immediate here in 2024, as I am sure it did in 1965.   

The film is about an agent, with the unlikely and phenomenal name of "Lemmy Caution" (aka: Ivan Johnson), in a future world not too far from 1965.  He's entering Alphaville from the Outer Countries to find out what their plans are as Alphaville is secretive and weird and maybe wants to destroy everything that is not Alphaville - which is run by a computer known as Alpha 60 under the view of a Dr. Von Braun.

The people of Alphaville live in ways prescribed by the computer, an emotionless, bland existence where everyone gives the same greetings and operates as dictated by the computer, which applies what it considers logic to everyone's movements.  

Our protagonist is there to find out what it plans, and to try to recall one of their own agents who has risen to become the leader of Alphaville, Von Braun.  Along the way he meets Natacha, the daughter of Von Braun, and the two begin a sort of relationship which threatens them both as she learns about concepts forbidden to anyone in Alphaville - love, a conscience, poetry....

The film is a mix of Godard's intense styling, showing the modernist Paris of 1965 as a sci-fi dystopia, and a sort of not-quite Grahame Greene or le Carre spy thriller.  All stuff with which I am onboard.  The clean, computer perfect world of Alphaville now, of course, has the vibe of post-WWII technology and a booming world moving very fast as computers and technologies I think of as modern are coming into being - and the style of architecture that began pre-WWII with Bauhaus and Brutalism is becoming Mid-Century Modern.  The giant office buildings and their tiny squares of light indicating a person insider are appropriately ominous.  

But, holy hannah, watching this movie where the computer has gotten rid of art and poetry and feeling, but under the watchful eye of humans who think *this is great*, it sure hits different in an era where executives think ChatGPT is the cure to all ills, including making our art and poetry for us.  What would have felt like an abstraction 10 years ago now feels like a concrete clear and present danger.  That was not something I expected.

Yeah, I don't know that reciting poetry is going to free the world from the machinations of the evil machine, and some of that feels like some very-1960's thinking, but I get the sentiment.  And our hard-boiled agent getting the girl at the end certainly has hints of Rick Deckard making his way out of Los Angeles.

Anyhoo.  Glad I took the challenge and finally watched it after it's sat on my shelf for a couple of years after an impulse buy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Adventure Horror Watch: The Mummy (1999)

Watched:  06/12/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  third?
Director:  Stephen Sommers

Okay.  I am aware that this movie is a favorite of many-a-folk.  I think it played really well with people of a certain age as a cable-rewatch or DVD favorite.  I was 24 when this came out, just out of film school, and spent 1997 learning about the Universal Monster films, so I came in with *opinions*.   I saw this once in the theater, saw the sequel somewhere along the line, and skipped all the subsequent Stephen Sommers output until Van HelsingAnd Simon and I discussed that movie at length.    

If you want to go on with your life not listening to someone who is going to not spend a review effusing about this movie, I get it.  Do what you have to do.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Vamp Watch: Slay (2024)

Watched:  06/11/2024
Format:  Tubi
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jem Garrad

It's Pride Month, and so I guess (1) Google TV thought I should watch Slay (2024) and (2) Tubi is apparently releasing original comedy horror movies now.  So, thanks, Google TV and Tubi.

This movie is exactly what you think it will be, and that's not a complaint.  It's a horror-comedy about four drag queens who accidentally book into a biker bar in the middle of nowhere.  Meanwhile, it turns out vampires are real, and they're going to decide this bar, on this night, is where they need to be.

If you're expecting excellent puns, double-entendres and camp, yes, this movie will deliver.  Also a pretty boiler-plate Night of the Living Dead-style set up, yes, that's what you're getting.  But that's...  exactly what this movie wants to be and it's what it delivers on what I'm guessing was not the world's largest budget.

I don't personally follow drag, but my understanding is that Trinity Tuck, Hiedi N. Closet, Crystal Methyd and Cara Melle are stars in the drag world, and I'm not shocked.  They're funny and watchable.  What I didn't expect was the supporting cast of bikers, tough guys, bar flies and locals absolutely understands the assignment and is solid.   

A local pair of LGBQT+ folks toughing it out here in red-neck land has shown up for something they can't believe is coming to their bar, and the aging bartender is maybe more delighted to have them the show there than he wants to let on.   Anyway, these actors had to do a lot and sharing the spotlight with our four leads is tough, but everyone does it.

In the end, *unlike* Night of the Living Dead, the movie is really about overcoming differences and working together to... kill a bunch of vampires.  And accept who each other are.  There's also a nice tag about accepting each other as we change, and that having some decency and love in your heart can save the day.  And along the way, we're going to see some blood and use pool cues to dispatch the undead.

I would love to see what this group and Jem Garrad could have done with $10-20 million more than what hey had.  I bet it would be great.  For now, this one is a Tubi original (who knew?) and free to watch with a few ads.

So, happy Pride, y'all.  

Monday, June 10, 2024

Disney Watch: Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

Watched:  06/10/2024
Format:  Disney BluRay
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Ken Annakin

A long time ago now, Stuart gifted me a BluRay of Swiss Family Robinson (1960), a kind-of-hard-to-secure item.  I'd expressed to him my fondness for the live-action Disney films that more or less informed a lot of the spirit of Disney in a certain era, from this film to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Treasure Island to Johnny Tremain and more.

Most of these I saw on The Wonderful World of Disney and a collection of other places.  

I'm not at all surprised I took a shine to this movie as a kid.  It had too many pets (including two Great Danes), it's shot in a beautiful location (Tobago), has a lot of zoo animals from tigers to elephants to zebras, a set that's so cool, they recreated it as a great attraction at Disney World and Disneyland, which was a must-do for me as a kid (and adult, when it was turned into Tarzan's house or some nonsense).  

But the basic set-up is that a Swiss family is moving to New Guinea - somewhat fleeing Napolean and what's happening in Europe - and wind up shipwrecked somewhere in the "East Indies" which I put in quotes not because it's not real, but that's a pretty big area to guess about.  

There's pirates about, tigers in the woods, etc...   The two elder boys seek to circumnavigate the island when they stumble upon a Captain and his cabin boy, held by pirates.  Of course the cabin boy is a girl (it is so obviously a girl), which they discover after liberating her.  And with no other women or girls on the island who aren't their mother, they make their way home, while tensions mount.