Sunday, February 25, 2024

G Watch: Godzilla and Mothra - The Battle for Earth (1992)




Watched:  02/25/2024
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  Second
Director: Takao Okawara
Selection:  Me


We decided to keep on our path of rewatching Heisei-era Godzilla movies in order.  We last watched this one about four years ago during our "hunker down and watch Godzilla because it's COVID-times" erratic sprint through Toho's G-output.  

Honestly, I didn't really remember this one at all until a scene would start.  There was a lot of "oh, yeahhhh..." as the movie unspooled.  And I attribute that to the fact the middle of movie is a mess.  The beginning is interesting enough, and the end is good Kaiju Kombat, but the middle feels like they're trying to make a point about stealing and environmentalism, but it's a little confusing as to how that's tying into our Kaiju problem.  And to further muddy the film, Godzilla - now a heel after the time-warp stuff of the prior film - isn't here to restore balance.  He's just... sorta... rampaging.  

What's funny is how it looks like the new Monsterverse stuff is taking cues from these movies.  This is the first of the Heisei movies to suggest ancient cultures knew of the Kaiju, and there was a balance to the world brought by the Titans.  But here they do it as an exposition dump *after* introducing The Cosmos (our faerie friends).  And the Monsterverse can't bear the thought of either the Cosmos or Mothra in her larval form - so I guess we're just stuck with the window dressing.

Curiously, one of the supporting actors looked so familiar I mentioned it to Jamie who figured out he was recast in Godzilla 2000 as a totally different character, but he had facial hair and a very different demeanor.  But I did feel less crazy (and he's actually in like four of these movies).  And that's just one of those things - I think everyone acting in Japan gets to be in 2-4 Godzilla movies if they play their cards right.







SF Science-Fiction Watch: It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)




Watched:  02/24/2024
Format:  Amazon 
Viewing:  First
Director:  Robert Gordon
Selection:  me

I was watching something recently - no idea what - and they showed clips from It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), one of the 1950's staple sci-fi atomic-age monster horror movies I'd always meant to get around to, but it just never happened.  In the clips, I saw the giant, stop-motion squid at the center of the movie tearing up San Francisco-based landmarks so I thought "hey, let's watch that with Dug."

So, we did.

Quick note:  the version we watched on Amazon was colorized, and done pretty well, I believe by Amazon.  But it's not what I was intending to watch.  Beware which version you're clicking on when you agree to rent the film.

At the time, this movie was very successful, but seems to have been somewhat forgotten by Gen-X and subsequent generations.  Jamie stated out loud what I was wondering:  did someone read a synopsis of Gojira (1954) and decide to try to make something similar here?  Maybe, but also:  by 1955, we were into the second wave of monster films as studios realized the popularity of Dracula and Co. had not really diminished, but - also - wasn't it fun to have giant, radioactive ants (Them! - 1954) or just big old sea beasts (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms - 1953).  

Unlike Gojira, the military here is shown as successful, eventually, against the beast.  But, if you like movies about meetings and some awkward romance (and if you have an interest in getting into Godzilla, I hope you like both), this is the movie for you.  

Look, Harryhausen is a master, but he can only make so much movie so fast.  And make it look as good as it does in this film.  So there's not a lot of time in the movie where we actually see the giant octopus.  When we do, it looks fantastic.  The FX and stop-motion are top of their game for the era, if nothing else, just skip around the timeline of the film to watch that.  It's extremely cool.

The film stars Kenneth Tobey as our submarine commander hero and sexual harasser, Faith Domergue as the brilliant lady scientist who eventually takes Tobey down a peg even as she's clearly ready to bed him, and Donald Curtis, whom I have seen in multiple other movies but never in such a prominent role.  They're all fine.  Tobey I have an affection for as the guy from the original The Thing From Another World and a whole bunch of Joe Dante films (plus Airplane!).  Domergue just isn't one of my favorites.  She's very...  there in the movie, but she always feels a little flat to me.  And Curtis isn't bad as the third wheel.  

The sexual politics of the movie are squarely 1955 for most of the film:  he-man Tobey makes his intentions known, Domergue is sorta having it as Tobey literally corners her and all but waggles his eyebrows.  But the curious bit is the speech delivered by Curtis, informing Tobey (who presumably has been at sea since WWII) "hey, women have their own minds, and they're entering the workforce as equals, so step the fuck off" to which Tobey seems amenable-ish.  It arrives way too late, and has been ignored coming from the mouth of Domergue, but it does arrive, and for that alone I was shocked.

The movie is a tight 80-something minutes, so it's not exactly going to kill your day to watch the movie.  Just don't come in expecting deep character studies or anything.  Come in looking for SF to get blowed up by a squid and you're good.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Ramona Fradon Merges With The Infinite



Literally just yesterday I pre-ordered three comics as they had covers by Ramona Fradon.  Today I have learned Fradon has passed.

Fradon had just retired this January at the age of 97 - and I assumed those covers were her last for DC.  That's a career, friends.  So, clearly, she was well and working right up til recent days.  Thanks to some good people on the internet, she'd been recognized for her role as a woman in comics during the Silver and Bronze Age - in a vastly male-dominated industry.  She was the right artist for many-a-project, and I'm glad she had a sort of late-career renaissance when folks recognized her.  And, frankly, her art was still great right up til January.




If you're unfamiliar with Fradon's style, she's credited with the original design for Metamorpho, a DC hero, and I tend to think of her work as tilting more towards cartoony than illustrative, with an excellent use of line to suggest character.  She's probably almost as famous for her work on Aquaman as Metamorpho, 

In addition to work across genres at DC, she also worked on Brenda Starr, Reporter, a newspaper strip.  

I'm sorry she has passed, but glad she had such a long life bringing so much great art to the world, and really enjoy a new generation of fans the last decade or so.


SF Noir Watch: The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)




Watched:  02/24/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Robert Wise
Selection:  It is I

Director Robert Wise has never let me down.  It's amazing.  Every single one of his movies is good and a lot of them are great.  And, more than a couple of them are straight up classics - the best of the best.  It's super weird we aren't talking about him in the same breath with David Lean, Hitchcock and other famed directors.  He jumps from genre to genre with no problem, and without a stable of his favorite actors he brings in tow.  Anyway, Robert Wise.  Look into him.

This movie's biggest star - to me - is Richard Basehart, but it also has Valentina Cortese and Fay Baker - who I've seen in other things.  And William Lundigen (who I know from nothing).

The movie starts dark as hell and just keeps on going along that path to the end.  Valentina Cortese (who is Italian as the Roman Colosseum) plays a Polish woman in a concentration camp - although the movie never specifically asserts her Jewishness, so it's possible she's one of any of a number of categories that the Nazis murdered.  She is imprisoned with a good friend who sent her son to America and safety, a rich aunt in San Francisco.  

The plot involved Cortese claiming her friend's identity so she can get to the US, the possibility of her identity's exposure, meeting the boy's caretaker (Basehart) and marrying him, and then going to San Francisco to move into the Queen Anne-style mansion on Telegraph Hill.  And then things get domestic-noir dark as the house-keeper (Baker) seems threatened by Cortese's appearance, and curious hints something is amiss begin to pile up.  And, of course, the US administrator (Lundigen) who met her in teh camps and could blow the lid off her identity gets in the mix. 

It's *a lot* but it's a really solid set-up, and top-tier melodramatic tension, something I'd categorize as a noir-thriller.  Cortese is in way over her head for a number of reasons, and the threats are from all sides.  But even as Cortese and others play chess, everything is subtext.  The conversation is polite and has nothing to do with what's actually happening as the characters circle each other, Cortese trying to sort out how to survive what will surely be written off as an unfortunate tragedy.

It's beautifully shot, and the performances are solid.  The story feels ripe for an update or remake.  It's nothing earth-shattering as a film, and not going to change anyone's world, but I was impressed with what it was - and I attribute the success to Wise's direction and the casting.  This could be a forgettable B-movie, but instead I was all in watching the film.  

The ending is pretty wild, keeping the audience going right til the last moments - which could have been tedious, but just works in this roller-coaster of a plot.  

Anyway - I liked it!  No notes.  I'm still having a light chuckle over Cortese playing a Polish woman when the film could have easily found a way to make her Italian, but whatevs.  She's a really solid leading lady, and carries the film with no problem.



Friday, February 23, 2024

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Sports Watch: The Sandlot (1993)



Watched:  02/21/2024
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Director:  David Mickey Evans
Selection:  Jamie

I was wrapping up my senior year of high school when The Sandlot (1993) hit.  At the time, I was more interested in adult-oriented movies, and not at all into baseball, so the movie came and went without much notice on my part.  I'd have forgotten about it completely, but it's since become an inter-generational favorite, especially with baseball fans (which is by far the best sport to put in a movie), and has become a meme-generating perennial.  "You're killing me, Smalls" has escaped the fandom of the film and made it's way into pop culture.

Jamie pitched it for our evening viewing, and wanting to know what the hubbub was about, we gave it a whirl.

Absolutely, I was reminded of the era, circa 1980-84, when my family lived near a cul-de-sac in Spring, Texas, in the halcyon summer days when kids were kicked out of the house after breakfast, drank out of hoses, and would set up games of baseball to play all afternoon.  We used the cul-de-sac as our diamond, and our certainty we were terrible at baseball ensured we weren't putting out any windows.  My neighborhood was chock full of kids around our age, so getting a handful together to play was never a big deal.  In some ways, I was primed.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

G Watch: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)




Watched:  02/20/2024
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  Third?
Director:  Kazuki Ă”mori, Koji Hashimoto, Katsumune Ishida
Selection:  Me

I'm finally trying to watch the Heisei movies in order-ish (we tried to watch Return of Godzilla and couldn't finish it.  It's a slog.), but after watching Godzilla vs. Biollante, we were ready to return to Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), which is bananas in the best way, and which I remembered fondly.

Work has been busy, so I was also ready for some kaiju kollisions on my television, and this one absolutely delivers.

Re-reading my post on the film from 4 years ago, I agree with myself here, so I'll skip summaries and whatnot.  

The movie *does* jettison the idea that Ghidorah is from space, which even the Monstervese films picked up.  It also low-key implies the villains are white Americans who have traveled through time to show up the Japanese of the future and remake the world in their image - and, man...!  OUCH.  But fair!

*Not All White Guys* is represented by a white guy robot (Jamie theorizes was inspired by T2, which seems very possible, even if just based on trailers the Toho guys had seen), and a sea-faring scientist in the 3rd act.  

The appearance of the US Navy in 1944 is treated as an invading force that's being repelled, which is... true-ish.  As seems to so often be the case with finding anglo actors for Toho movies, the Captain of the US navy battleship is curiously cast, but seems to be having a grand time.  I would love to know what the story was there.

Japan's role in WWII happening is often left murky in Godzilla films, but the war is frequently referenced.  

And this is somewhat why I wanted to get to this movie.  I was maybe five minutes into Godzilla Minus One when I started pondering this movie.  The two have very little in common, but it's hard not to draw a comparison between the appearance of a pre-atomic Godzilla facing off with the military in both movies, and soldiers having life-changing experiences with the beast and then have to reconcile seeing the same dinosaur roaming about at 20 times the size they last saw.  I mean, Godzilla Minus One is pretty good, but you can say it lacked in robots with super-speed and iffy make-up FX.

I do want to say:  the time travel in this movie has no internal logic, and I found it a bit baffling.  Everyone seems pretty aware of Godzilla even though he's been removed from the timeline, and our hero - a rapscallionish journalist - plans to write a book on Godzilla, who no longer exists at one point in the movie.  And clearly Toho was just like "whatever, man.  That's how time travel works."

Anyway, fun times.  

Monday, February 19, 2024

Sports Watch: Slap Shot (1977)




Watched:  02/18/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  George Roy Hill

Slap Shot (1977) is one of those movies that just gets repeatedly referenced and is a sort of rite-of-passage film for a lot of folks, especially big sports fans.  I've been mildly curious about the movie for a long time, but as someone who grew up in Texas, which means know exactly nothing about hockey, it just didn't connect for me before to watch the thing.  

But, the movie came up as I was sorting through back-issue bins at my local comic shop, Austin Books, as the manager is a huge film nerd and the owner is a sports buff (and I think enjoys that I am not a person who says "sportsball" who shops there).*

What I knew was the movie starred Paul Newman, Michael Ontkean and three guys who weren't pro actors who everyone talked about playing three weirdo brothers, the Hansons.  And that was about it.  Some things I could infer were that it was from that mid-70's period where it became a bit trendy in movies to make it feel like it was shot on-location and live in a bar with everyone talking.  And, to be honest, it is not to my taste, Robert Altman.  

Sunday, February 18, 2024

00's Watch: Josie and the Pussycats (2001)




Watched:  02/17/2024
Format:  Criterion Channel (I know)
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Harry Elfont/ Deborah Kaplan

When I moved to Arizona for reasons I can hardly remember in the summer of 2002, I remember spending my days unpacking while Jamie was at work - and Josie and the Pussycats (2001) running all the dang time on HBO.  So, no, I have no idea how many times I've seen it.

I was well aware of the concept.  As a kid I knew Josie and friends from Archie Comics, and I had seen both versions of the cartoon, Josie and the Pussycats and Josie and the Pussycats in Outerspace (Hanna Barbera was nuts, y'all).

But like a lot of people, I dismissed the movie when it came out, assuming it was *not for me* and aimed at pre-teens.  Which, fine.  But not my movie.  But sitting there, delirious in the Arizona heat, I sat and watched a few minutes of the movie and was, like, "...ooooohhhh.  They let them make this?"

And I don't mean that in a bad way.  When this hit in 2001, making a movie for the audience about how they were being easily led dressed up as a frothy, fun ride was kind of unheard of.  And also sort of reflected the spirit of the Gen-X generation's initial push into leadership roles in media - just before they decided it was more lucrative to be the villains from this movie instead of spunky musicians.

SPOILERS

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Doc Watch: The Greatest Night in Pop (2024)




Watched:  02/14/2024
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Bao Nguyen
Selection:  Jamie

I was 9 years old (about to be 10) when "We Are the World" hit the airwaves.  And then played non-stop for what seemed to be about 6 months to a year.  I can't say when I first heard the song or saw the video, but I do remember unloading the car when my mom came home from shopping (that was one of our chores) and a copy of the vinyl record being in the back of the van.  

I also recall either that year or the next school year being brought into the cafetorium at Spicewood Elementary where we were shown a "making of" doc about the song and the famine in Ethiopia and nearby countries.  (This was the 1980's, VCRs were newish, and teachers were always finding some reason to show a film).  

We're almost 40 years out from the release of the record, so a lot has changed in that time.  And a lot of people have passed.*  And it's hard for me to imagine what this would look like now.  Do musicians even still do benefit work like this, or has streaming killed the potential for raising money?

But the doc, The Greatest Night in Pop (2024) - now on Netflix - is a neat exploration of what happened and why, how it came together and the bumps along the way.  

The film relies on first-hand accounts, pulling in top-tier talent that participated, from Bruce Sprinsteen to one of the masterminds, Lionel Richie.  And, because it was so star-studded, it also features a treasury of video shot from the event of the recording.  

Unfortunately, some of the key players either weren't available for a sit-down (Quincy Jones) or were very not available for a sit-down (Michael Jackson).  But you do get a very good picture of what it must have been like for the people who walked into the room, using interviews with Cindy Lauper, Smokey Robinson, Sheila E., to the camera crew and engineer.

Sometimes you watch a doc and they talk about the situation and the huge impact it had, and you know they're kind of playing it up.  After all, no one wants to watch a doc and at the end they're like "well, it didn't really work out that great."  But USA for Africa, at worst, raised awareness for how people could take action and not just be told that people were starving, and wasn't that too bad.  At best, it did get nutrional support to the people affected by the famine, as well as medicine and other aid.

From the point of view of the doc and the unique event that was USA for Africa, it's absolutely worth watching just to see all of these people in the same room, minus their support staffs and all the trappings of top-tier rock stardom in the 1980's.  It's not like "We Are the World" is still played on the radio, and it's been a minute since I didn't just say "oh, that's the song" and then mentally tune out again.  I'd forgotten you have Bob Dylan in the room, for example.  

But it's human without getting weird, and you're reminded - much as with the Beatles doc - these are people.  And in the 1980's, the media machine really wanted us to forget that pop stars were just good singers in funny clothes.  

When you're a kid, rock stars seem like a permanent fixture.  I didn't think of Huey Lewis as a *new* thing or that he might be star struck being in the room with these people.  But, really, aside from seeing each other at awards shows where they don't *really* interact all that much, when would this many people get together?  When do you get Ray Charles and Kenny Rogers sharing air? Or Dionne Warwick and Willie Nelson sharing a verse?

The doc has it's truly shining moments, and I won't spoil them.  It never does explain why Dan Aykroyd was there - and that someone specifically tried to get him is all the more baffling.  It also doesn't dwell on who wasn't there - beyond Prince.  But for every huge celeb, we're missing a Madonna.  But I also appreciate that they didn't talk about why people were left out.

Anyway, it's a fun one to watch.  

But, seriously, it's weird this didn't become an annual sort of thing. 




*we miss you, Tina