Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Stan Lee!

When I was a wee League, I was all about the Saturday Morning Cartoons.  If you're one of my fellow Gen X'ers, you might recall some of the Marvel cartoons that were on during the era, like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.  What I recall is that episodes of The Incredible Hulk and other shows would start with Stan Lee breathlessly welcoming us "True Believers!" with a hearty "THIS IS STAN LEE!".  So, for a long, long time (like, since 1981) I've associated the thrilling adventures of Marvel characters with Stan.

And, I'll tell you what else, I read all of Stan's Spider-Man, and it's really good, y'all.  Not to mention how good I used to find the daily newspaper strip by him and Larry Lieber.

Signal Re-Watch: "Sunset Boulevard" and watching "Casino" on basic cable

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

I finally watched Sunset Boulevard about two years ago, and it's already become one of my favorite films.  I received a copy on BluRay for Christmas (thanks, Jason & Amy!), and gave it a whirl.  Frankly, I'm a bit shocked that I didn't do a lengthy write up of the movie during that time a couple years back when I first watched the movie in its entirety then went to the Paramount to see it, but I can't find a record of any formal prior discussion of the movie.

If you're not familiar, Sunset Boulevard opens on a murder in the Hollywood Hills (I guess, I don't know LA geography) and backtracks in pure noir style to how we got to this point.  A struggling screenwriter who tasted success and watched it fade stumbles upon the decaying mansion of a once great silent film star now living as a recluse, planning her return to greatness.  She has money, and plenty of it, and Joe is willing to take the money and deal with the insanity of the mansion and wretched screenplay she wants him to tidy up that will surely mean the return of Norma Desmond to an imagined legions of fans eagerly awaiting her return.

And then things get dark and weird.

The movie spawned a million quotes, and is best remembered for Gloria Swanson's stunning portrayal of Norma Desmond - a character that reflects what had happened to some extent to many stars of the silent era (and continues to happen to talent as they fade from the public eye in favor of the next new thing) - only, you know, amped up a bit.  Add on real-life former silent director Eric von Stroheim as Desmond's aloof butler, and you've got a really interesting dynamic going.

In general, I don't love movies about Hollywood making movies, but sometimes the industry turns the eye back on itself and is willing to admit a few things about itself that make for a great story or provide an opportunity for great performances - even if there's maybe not a sense of a universal human experience or some such idea.  But I do think the ideas about self-delusion, dreams of stardom and relevancy and what it means when it fades, what we're willing to do for a buck, and more... are recognizable if not relatable.

Plus, man, Billy Wilder's dialog.

"...we had faces!"

There are a LOT of extras on the disc.  Probably too many, but you can't say it's not fairly complete when it comes to talking about the film and reminds me of the difference between access to a film via a streaming service and why you might want to own a copy of your favorite movies.

The movie itself is one of those things that will continue to reveal bits of Billy Wilder's brilliance for several more screenings, and my appreciation for how all of the pieces fit together just grows with every viewing.  I appreciate the devotion to Hitchcock (and also received the Hitch BluRay box set for Christmas that I am dying to crack open), but I think film school could do worse than to point that eye at Wilder and his ability to leap from genre to genre and redefine it as it goes.  As they point out in the bonus features, he not only managed genre - he moved outside of genre and created his own kind of film with Sunset Boulevard.

Casino (1995)

Casino is not a short movie, clocking in at about 3 hours, but I've still seen it probably 8 or 9 times.  And, I argue, it's one of the best reasons to reconsider Sharon Stone as something other than the somewhat Norma Desmond-esque figure she's hellbent on becoming.

you kids who work with video will never know the night mare of lighting this for film

The movie rolls out DeNiro as DeNiro, Pesci as Pesci and a whole herd of hoodlum and thug stereotypes from the Eastern US and drops them in Nevada in the wake of the Rat Pack.

Based on something approximating the real-life events of Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal leaving Chicago and illegal gambling to establish mob foundations in a town where everything is legal - the movie presents the story using a fictionalized version in Sam "Ace" Rothstein (DeNiro) as a mobbed-up bookie who finds he can make a fortune as a legitimate businessman in the wilds of Vegas.  How much is true, how much is speculation and how much is fabrication - probably best Scorsese himself doesn't know.  Pesci, not so long since he tried mainstream credibility with My Cousin Vinny plays mob thug Nicky Santoro, the muscle Ace needs in the early days, but who becomes a liability the minute respectability becomes a necessity.  Stone plays DeNiro's showgirl wife/ greatest distraction and liability.

Fantastically shot, meticulously detailed, Scorsese captured the last of old Vegas before it was subsumed with Vegas' secondary major industry - construction.  (If you've never been to Vegas, it changes completely about every 8-10 years).

this one time in 1995, Sharon Stone made a movie in which she was terrific

It's an epic film that isn't shy about a sprawling cast and intricate relationships presented in sketchy detail, but Scorsese keeps it easy to follow, using the template started in Goodfellas as a jumping off point.  The story stretches over a decade or more, following the rise and fall of key characters who ignite the Vegas scene and make the world there possible before being subsumed by corruption outside, inside and something resembling the actual forces of the justice via the US Justice Department and a lot of bad karma.

Anyway, on this go-round I was really struck by how well the movie presents all of the characters, their motivations and points of view, and even if we want to root for Ace, he's maybe as bad or worse than Nicky in some ways - at least Nicky is honest about his nature and seems to want for things to work out - he just doesn't have the big picture vision that Ace seems to have in spades.

And, by the way, if you're a James Woods fan, this is one of his smaller, wonkier roles and every time it makes me laugh a little bit.

I did watch the movie on basic cable.  Why?  I don't know.  I have a copy on DVD.  But it was fascinating watching them edit the living heck out of Jos Pesci's dialog while allowing for bats to collide with skulls and running ads for The Untouchables where the ad was entirely the infamous "teamwork" scene.

Oh, American TV standards.  You are so weird.

The movie will also have my undying respect for casting Don Rickles in a straight role in a movie.  I mean, who does that?  Brilliant.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: "Trekkies 2" and "The People vs. George Lucas"

I watched these two docs back-to-back, trying to clear out some of my Netflix queue, but also to try to wrap up the number of docs I'm willing to watch about folks obsessing around a particular bit of geek-culture.  It seems like there's a built in audience around these things, so they get made and we can have movies about ourselves as geeks, and that's okay.  Having a movie that reflects the culture built up around a franchise is relevant if not important in understanding the context of that bit of media and why and how it fits in with the broader culture.

The two movies catch two powerful franchises and their fanbases at about the same period, around 2009ish, as Star Trek was more or less out of production and the audience is - you hate to say it - probably in decline as it aged out and maybe moved on as the content had both diminished over a few less-than-stellar series and hadn't had a great movie in quite a while.  Star Wars was, of course, Star Wars, and the final installment (at time of filming) had left audiences with mixed feelings.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Our Christmas Letter, 2012

This is the annual holiday letter Jamie sent out to family and friends.

No, I am not kidding.

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy Holidays!

Another year has passed here in our quiet hamlet of Austin, Texas.  The past twelve months certainly had their ups and downs. 

We’ve been very glad to have family so close by this year as Jamie’s mother had some health issues at the end of the summer, and we’ve been able to see her regularly and enjoy her progress.  Doug has also been here quite a bit to check in and assist.

In the early summer we visited Chicago for vacation and took in the museums, local nightlife and an Astros/ Cubs game at Wrigley.  Jamie’s health has been very stable and Ryan continues to work for the Texas Digital Library, refusing to divulge any details due to the sensitive nature of his experiments. 

In fact, for much of the year, Ryan has been locked up in his makeshift laboratory in the old watchtower on the edge of town.  Luckily, he’s not alone and has his assistant, Fritz.  The pair are working almost feverishly day and night, refusing to see anyone.  You’d hardly know anyone was there but the lights in the tower and the large boxes with strange return addresses delivered regularly under cover of darkness.

In fact, Ryan’s been such a workaholic that the only time we see him seems to be on moonless nights on the road near the local cemetery with his wagon and a shovel where he’s been taking strolls.  “I like to keep fit,” he explains.

He does love his work, and I think he’s on twitter, so maybe you can reach him there!

If you did not hear, early in the year, Jamie was inducted into “The Avengers Initiative” and it sounds like she spent quite a bit of late May wrangling with despotic transdimensional overlords hellbent on subjugating the planet.  It sounds like her ragtag team of misfit heroes really came together and we won’t need to be worrying about those alien invaders again for a little while.  She felt the team work was challenging and complicated, and she’s sorry about the giant metal snake thing they left in Manhattan.  That said, Jamie very much enjoyed the experience and plans to see the team again in summer of 2015.  Maybe with The Vision this time if anyone is thinking ahead.

By the way, if you meet a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, we really encourage you not to look them in the eye, but do give them a big “thank you”.

We hope you and yours had a terrific year, and we hope 2013 turns out to be the best one yet.


Mr. Bananas, esq.
Chimpanzee & Head of Household Staff
Stately Steans Manor

Merry Christmas, Signal Corps

To all of you on The Good Earth

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Birthday, Little Lu

Lucy has her Alamo Bowl pick

Christmas Eve is the birthday of my favorite runt, Lucy the Little Black Lab.

Today Lucy turns 8 years old.  She was born in a backyard in Mesa, Arizona and was adopted/ purchased in February of the 2005.

As my brother says "she's very smart about things that she wants to do", which many people mistake for being a dumb dog.  Nope.  As inbred and tiny as she may be, she's all Lab with all the stubbornness that comes with the breed and all the need for attention that comes with that, too.

Most evenings I spend my time on the sofa with Lucy leaning against my side.  Oh, certainly, she can be a real pain, but in the end I know she wants a few things in the world: walkies, cookies and love.  Most days we can provide two out of three.

Happy Birthday, Little Lu.

Peace on Earth

We come back to a few things each Christmas here at The Signal Watch.

Many years ago now, NathanC shared with us the incredible video of the Apollo 8 Astronauts reading from the book of Genesis from the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968.

Once again, we share this with you.

And, of course, images from the Alex Ross/ Paul Dini collaboration, Superman: Peace on Earth.

May you find warmth in this cold season however you seek it, be it among family, friends, in solitude or on the dark side of the moon in a tin capsule, looking back at our lonely orb, bright against the void.

Close another chapter.  Be grateful for everything the year gave you, and take a moment for what it took from you.

Having grown up Lutheran, I think of this as a night of anticipation, not just for the presents under the tree and the turkey that was showing up during tomorrow's celebration, but it has always been a night when we took a beat and a breath and in the tradition with which I was raised, the next day's delivery was about a better tomorrow for all of us, if we chose it.

Whether you're Lutheran, or Catholic or Zen Buddhist or Atheist, maybe we can choose a better tomorrow. I know what that future looks like to me, and it's what I hope for every Christmas Eve, and every New Year's Eve.

May your Spaceman Christmas be a merry one.  We wish you a peaceful Christmas Eve, wherever you are on The Good Earth.

And the only post-Bing Crosby Christmas song that should be in everyone's Holiday rotation, Ms. Darlene Love.

Merry Christmas, Jamie

Merry Christmas to my own Donna Reed.  Once again, I seem to have failed to lasso the moon for you.

I hope that's okay.

You make it a wonderful life, indeed.

Yes, we watched: Santa Paws 2 - The Puppening

A lot of discussion followed the viewing of this, the second installment in the Santa Paws franchise.  Santa Paws 2 is a spin-off of a spin-of of the 1990's harmless movie about a Golden Retriever who could shoot free throws called Air Bud.  Since 1997, I believe this is the 17th movie in the franchise/ shared universe of Air Bud.  No, I am not kidding.

really, I have no one but myself to blame.

I saw part of the first Air Bud movie on cable once, and its really very sweet.  If you're playing along at home, Bud was a real dog that COULD shoot free throws, so they made a movie using this dog, because...  holy @#$% - that dog could shoot free throws!  But as dogs do, he died.  They got other dogs and made more movies in which the dog played sports, and then, at some point, the franchise wasn't cute enough, so the script called for Bud to put some other Golden Retriever in a family way, and out came a herd of wise-cracking golden puppies and an entirely new and far more annoying franchise.

After a few of those movies, Disney (yes, Disney) insisted on a Christmas version, and our heroes joined with Santa's dog's son, I believe, Puppy Paws in Santa Buddies. This begat The Search for Santa Paws.  Which begat this installment.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Holiday (Check) Inn

Light blogging ahead.  I hope your holiday gatherings or un-gatherings are going well.

We'll be on the tweeters and facebook throughout.

Whether you're with family or flying solo, I wish you a restful, quiet time.  And cookies.  Lots of cookies.

Fire? Bad. Holiday Mirth? Good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Very Spidey Christmas

Paul sent this along.

I can only imagine how this would have gone for 5 year-old me. Mind would have been blown...

Wonder Woman, Christmas and a little B&E

Wonder Woman loves Christmas.  Enough to break into your house to make sure you have a lovely holiday.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Heathers (1988)

Yup.  The little movie about teenagers murdering each other and rolling in the media's late 80's obsession with teenage suicide like a pile of autumn leaves.

It is, of course, impossible to imagine anyone bankrolling this movie any time after about 2000 A.D., and it's entirely likely the receipt of this script to a studio in this day and age would mean FBI alerts and investigations.  Still, there was a time when a guy in a trenchcoat pulling a .357 out of his pocket and firing blanks in the faces of two burly jocks in the high school cafeteria was considered hilarious.

sometimes I still miss VHS as a format

I consider myself privileged to have experienced high school in an era before metal detectors, clear plastic backpacks, helicopter parents, "Teen Mom", 24/7 News Cycle angst. and a celebration of popularity on each and every teen-oriented show on TV.  I did not avoid blaming metal bands for the ills of society, and the phrase "juvenile delinquency" still carried some cachet before we decided, en masse, to pretend that all kids are special snowflakes.  And this movie is a product of the era around when I entered grades 9-12.

It's fair to say that the film hasn't aged well, even as it continues to look like the jokes told out back of high schools all across America where moody teens tried not to get caught smoking, the shadow of a decade of dead bodies in public schools looms over the movie and - in its way - doesn't exactly presage actual violence, but doesn't resort to blaming video games, gay marriage and name-a-pundit's-personal-poison, and rather looks at the ecosystem somehow we pretend to not know was there, when high school is, really, the last common denominator of a shared experience for the vast majority of Americans.  

It's also gratifying to see "nerds" and "geeks" in a movie from an era before the idea was co-opted.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Audrey Totter!

December 20th is the 95th Birthday of actress Audrey Totter!  I suppose that makes the timing of this post Audrey Totter-Day Eve.

Ms. Totter starred in a terrific run of films, and had one of her breakout appearances as a source of temptation for the always terrific John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Ms. Totter's character caused a bit of jealousy in Lana Turner.  People, if you can give Lana Turner a moment of pause, clearly you're a force to be reckoned with.

The first movie I saw in which Ms. Totter got top billing was The Set-Up, and it's an absolutely terrific bit of acting under the direction of Robert Wise, but I'd also point you toward Tension, which is a terrific example of noir (and also has Cyd Charisse and Richard Basehart!).  In this one, Totter blows everyone else on screen right out of the frame.   I'd also recommend The Unsuspected to see her alongside Claude Rains and playing a wide range in a single film.

That's sort of what I think of now when I consider Ms. Totter's films.  She wasn't a character actor, and in all of her movies, she manages to do what better actors pull off - and that's too completely fill the character in a unique way and disappear into the role, but still retain the ability to make you notice them.  Her roles in Man or Gun and Tension couldn't be more different, but she's terrific in both movies.

In the 50's, Ms. Totter began working in both film and television, she starred in series like Cimarron City and Medical Center, and retired from the screen with her final televised appearance in 1984 on Murder, She Wrote.

Today, Ms. Totter is still living in Southern California, and through a terrific series of internet blips by way of Jenifer, on Sunday morning I received a video in my email that made my year.   The video is of Audrey Totter sending Jenifer and me best wishes.  The video absolutely blew my mind.  It's like someone you watch at the movies turning to the screen and saying, "Oh, hello, Ryan."

Special thanks to Ms. Totter's granddaughter, voice artist, Eden Totter.  (Eden is super-great, by the way.)

Happy Birthday, Ms. Totter!  We wish you the best on your birthday and will be spending the holiday break catching up on some of your movies we haven't yet seen.

PS.  If you ever want to know what it would be like to be a detective in the presence of Audrey Totter, I highly recommend the experimental first-person movie, Lady in the Lake, based on the Raymond Chandler novel.

On the Event of JimD's 37th

To JimD, as he turns 37.

Signal Watch Watches: A Bullet for Joey (1955)

I considered listing this one as a noir, but it's more or less really a 1950's G-Man thiller mixing gangsters, fifth columnists, monkeys and Audrey Totter.

The movie opens on Montreal (?) where an organ grinder and monkey wait outside a building at McGill University where they snap picks of an unsuspecting French-Canadian scientist from a camera hidden in the hurdy-gurdy.  A cop spots the iffy organ grinder, and gets straight-up murdered by the oddly dated stereotype.

Turns out our organ grinder is a Fifth Columnist gathering info on a physicist, and then it gets complicated.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Audrey Totter is delivering Christmas Joy

I stole this pic from Jenifer's twitter account.  I figured that in the spirit of the season, she'd want to share.

Here we see Audrey Totter atop some sort of motorcycle/ moped be-decked for the season and lugging around a sack full of toys she is, I assume, redistributing rather than showing off or hoarding.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dang, there's a lot of "Scrooge" movies

Like most folks in US/ Canada/ England and other parts of the Dickens-reading world, I'm a fan of Dickens' shortest and most-on-the-nose work, A Christmas Carol.

On Sunday evening one of my favorite movie versions, the 1984 A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott, was on AMC.  It was a good era for special effects, before things went crazy with CG and filmmakers knew how to work within their limitations but had made art out of editing, shadows, light and fog machines.  As Scrooge, George C. Scott doesn't come off as goofy or immediately redeemable, but he does appear human - the smiles at Fezziwig's made all the more meaningful as they crack the ossified grimace, or the realization of what is coming as he witnesses his own future.

Technology Convo: The Lenovo Yoga

I am supposed to be talking about the Lenovo Yoga this evening, a computer I purchased last weekend as my Dell laptop decides to eat itself from within and I make a transition to new hardware before all is lost.

Steven reviewed his Chromebook, a computer I looked at long and hard before making a different and more expensive decision.  That said, Steven bought his Chromebook for a development box, something I heard was do-able just Saturday night.

I'm looking at Chromebook as a solution for Jamie for next year sometime, and I think it will meet all of her needs - except for figuring out how she can manage iTunes.  So if anyone wants to jump into this discussion, please help me out.

But this is about the Lenovo Yoga, the Windows 8 machine I picked up that's part tablet, part laptop.

Windows 8

I'm a longtime Windows user, and the quirks of Windows are so seamless to my everyday existence that they're usually fairly transparent to me.  You probably read that Windows 8 has been redesigned for the tablet, but that's not altogether true.  Windows has created an interface for the tablet with brightly colored "tiles".  And, sorry, it's mostly intuitive.  If you can use an iPhone or Android phone, this isn't any better or worse.  I also expect that the "tiles" will become more customizable over time, but they work just fine for now, and whether you hold the tablet in landscape or portrait, it's all pretty easy to use.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On Officiating the Wedding of Friends

There are moments in your life that, no matter how clear and ready you tried to be, nothing is as real as the moment when it is actually happening.

On Saturday, around 4:10 PM, I looked at my friend Julia, just absolutely radiant in her wedding dress, and Bill looking sharp in his suit, and the 80-people out in the white chairs on the lawn, and I realized I had the microphone and the script to the wedding and, holy smokes, I'm marrying my two good friends.  Me.  This is happening.

There's no part of the story about how it went wrong.  It went off without a hitch.  The dinner was even really good, and normally wedding dinners are the thing you swallow and pretend to like because, oh my gosh, this place isn't cheap...  but in our case, it was all excellent.  And Bill is a Belgian Ale snob, so you couldn't say one thing negative about the beer selection.

Eventually, Jamie and I even cut a rug on the dance floor.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A moment of silence

My thoughts are with the families of Sandy Hook Elementary and Newtown, Connecticut.

There are no words, and so I'll not try to provide them.  Take a moment for the families, and one for your loved ones.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Saw Louis CK and other Bits into the Weekend

Somehow we wound up with 6th row tickets to see Louis CK at the Moody Theater this evening.  Right on the center aisle.  Kind of crazy.  I insisted to our friends who had seats a bit further away that you could feel the comedy spraying across us from that close.

Louis's brand of comedy isn't for everyone, and certainly his show on FX isn't something I'd likely watch with my folks.  I do find his work challenging (the last bit this evening on 'Of Course' vs. 'But Maybe' isn't necessarily going to be for every audience and runs the risk of being misunderstood by some audiences).

If you know Louie (the oddly misspelled showname of Louis CK's FX program), you might like this. NSFW.  Sorry.


I didn't get to watch, but UT's Women's Volleyball team is once again headed for the National Championship!  We've got as good a chance at winning as not, and no matter what happens, it's been a great year for the squad.

But it'd still be amazing to see a National Championship.

Unfortunately, I never get to watch the games.  They broadcast on the controversial Longhorn Network that I don't have, and I travel so much, I never buy tickets, even though they play across the street.  I mostly keep up via articles online or asking one of our Sys Admins who goes all the time.

The Weekend

We're in San Antonio as of tomorrow as this is the weekend of the wedding I'm officiating.  No Hobbit for me this weekend, I guess.

Looking forward to the wedding.  Of course seeing Julia and Bill get hitched from the best seat in the house is a treat, but Matt & Nicole will be there, as well as other pals like Jonathan and Billie.  This is going to be all right.

After the wedding, I plan to come home, finish Christmas shopping, then lay very, very still before Dug and K arrive for the holidays.  I have a feeling that when my feet hit the ground at the start of January, work is going to be nuts.  I need to plan summer vacation now or its not going to happen.

Trailer for "Pacific Rim" - summer 2013

This is a movie by a big name director who decided to make a movie about giant robots fighting kaiju.

I don't know how I'm not supposed to see this movie.

Yes, it looks ridiculous, but it's a summer movie, y'all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Lincoln (2012)

I'm feeling a little punchy, so let's make this clear:  I liked this movie, and I think you might enjoy it, too.  I was a bit afraid my less than reverent tone might suggest I did not like the movie, but that's not true.  

Jamie, Juan and I finally caught Lincoln (2012), the recent release about Old Penny-Face.

Ann Miller brings some Holiday Cheer

Hey!  Christmas Eve is in less than two weeks, so it's time to start panicking.  But not Ann Miller!  She's adorned her tree with a spear head for some reason, and she's already got a mess of presents ready to go.  It looks like she's standing in moss in an infinite void, so she's got that going for her, too.

I wonder why Jamie doesn't dress fancy like that for the holidays...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Man of Steel Trailer #2 - Because, really, what else are we going to talk about at this site?

A second trailer with greater plot detail has surfaced for the coming Superman movie, Man of Steel.

When I think of how superhero movies have traditionally been shot and edited, even recent Marvel event films that I quite liked, I have to tip my hat to the cinematographers and editors of Man of Steel.  While you can almost taste the filter effects, it at least doesn't feel like a disposable popcorn flick from jump that even the Iron Man films tilted toward.  The look and feel may not have been how I would have done things, but I can dig the "I saw a Terence Malick film once" vibe they're going for in an effort to make this film on what appears to be a scale more epic than Donner's Modern America Myth of Superman: The Movie.

I desperately want to fling myself on the alter of fandom and get excited.  I really, really do.  But...

To get it out of the way - the trailers for 300 and Watchmen were also amazing spectacles, but as movies, both based on works I knew very well, I found the actual product terribly disappointing.  And, as every nerdling knows, Zack Snyder directed both of those films as well as Man of Steel.

I gave up hope for an ideal Superman movie when I heard Snyder had been hired - a move I found shocking with Chris Nolan attached as producer.  But pretty clearly, Nolan is receiving a paycheck and isn't really involved.  The studio is just riding off his story treatment with Goyer and the good name 3 Batman films and an Inception earned WB and counting on the fact that John Q. Public has no idea what a producer actually does and how fungible that term becomes when money gets thrown around in Hollywood.

Man of Steel Trailer is GO

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pardon us as we deal with some new technology. I bought a new device/ laptop/ tablet.

One thing that I do that drives everyone I know absolutely crazy is:  be perfectly happy with Microsoft products.

Well, sort of.  A few years back I obtained a new laptop PC with Windows 7 to replace my dying Windows Vista desktop box.  Well, the Windows 7 laptop had been acting up for a while, and I have now upgraded to a Lenovo Yoga with Windows 8.  It's a sort of tablet and PC in one running a full version of Windows 8.

"But, Mr. Blogger, why do you stick with MS devices?"  I work in MS all day long, and it generally works fine.  Except when it doesn't.  And I'd rather eat my own hat than deal with someone called a "Genius" while getting my ankles nipped at by mall rats.

2012 - Hollywood Memorial from Turner Classic

Once again, Turner Classic remembers actors, directors, composers and so much of the talent that passed in 2012. Many names you'll know, even more you won't, but you'll be glad they took a moment for each of them.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: I sort of watched "Hondo" and "The Mistle-Tones" and all of "The Blues Brothers"

I watched the movie Hondo, a John Wayne oater I hadn't seen since high school.

It's not my favorite movie, and if you're going to watch a western with John Wayne, this is one of them.  It also stars Geraldine Page, who was apparently the wife of Rip Torn and a well known Broadway star.  It's Apache v. the white folk with a bit more of a sentimental streak for the Apache, even as the movie ends with everyone agreeing "well, that's going to be about it for The Apaches."

By and large I recommend skipping this one and going straight to The Searchers.

I also watched parts of several Lifetime and Hallmark Channel holiday movies, but watched the better part of something called The Mistle-Tones, which was not very good.  It did check off the boxes of an over-worked single person finding romance, someone who loves Christmas too much, a dead relative who also loved Christmas, Tori Spelling and one of the girls from Sister, Sister.

This morning I got up from going out last night and having a drink called an "Orange Whip".  I was, of course, very excited about the Orange Whip, because for twenty years, thanks to this scene, I've wanted an Orange Whip.

Well, I drug myself out of my post-Orange Whip evening and found the 1980 classic The Blues Brothers playing on cable.

Blues Brothers is one of those movies that's probably not, technically, the best movie, but it's nonetheless a great movie.  Terrific walk-ons from legends of American music, great gags, and the best car chase to ever occur in any movie, ever...

The deadpan delivery by Aykroyd and Belushi is legendary, and it's a terrifically quotable film.  If you've not seen it, see it.  f you've seen it, you know of which I speak.

Saturday Round-Up

Yesterday I realized this week is going to be exceedingly nutty. We're finally seeing Lincoln on Tuesday, Thursday we've got tickets to see Louis CK, and Friday we head to San Antonio where, on Saturday, I'll be officiating a wedding.

Friday night we stayed in and didn't do much. I was tired, man. I wound up sleeping til very late in the morning. I did walk the dogs and then we headed down to where Northcross Mall used to be (I had no idea that place had just sort of disappeared).

We went down to go see Superman collector and purveyor of finer super-objects, Tim Gardner, at the Chemical Toy Fare.  I picked up a really cool Superman clock and a handful of nice prints from Tim.

There, I also met Batwoman:

and Jamie spied a pretty fancy Batmobile.

It was a small fare, but reminded me a LOT of the "comic conventions" that we used to see in town back in the mid-80's when I was getting into comics.  Two mid-sized rooms, tables set up and lots of people who know each other.  Friendly, but not particularly crazy.

Also, we inadvertently and briefly met the actor who played the voice of John Redcorn on TV's King of the Hill.  He's a very nice guy.

Last night we headed out for Violet Crown Social Club here in town for Mikey's birthday.  Part of the East 6th Street scene that I'm a little too old for, but is still pretty welcome.  If you're familiar with Austin's "6th Street", it's not really what it was 10-15 years ago.  It's worth seeing, but it's different from what it was and not as much of a destination for music fans or even for just going to get a drink.  East 6th doesn't really have a music scene, but it does have decent bars where you can get a seat and a cocktail.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Happy Hanukkah from The Signal Watch!

I can't source this image, but I dig it

It's the Winter Holiday Season, and now's where the rubber hits the road and Hanukkah arrives!

I may not be Jewish, but a whole line of people who brought Superman into existence and oversaw him as a character for decades were most certainly Jewish.  Joe, Jerry, Mort, Julie and many, many others.  Superman most definitely has a Jewish heritage.

So, Happy Hanukkah to all of you who plan to light the first candle on the menorah tonight!

Some Super Links

As Snyder's Man of Steel approaches, images are released and the pop-culture wheel has turned a little, it seems people may not be quite as ready to immediately dismiss our pal, Big Blue.  I'm beginning to wonder if the time might be right, and the approach of this movie resonant enough, that Superman could find a place in pop culture again.

I woke up this morning to two different articles about Superman on some favorite sites.

Cracked talks "5 Ways Superman is Shockingly Realistic According to Science".

IGN picks up on the thread Jake and I were discussing in "Hero Worship: Why the New 'Man of Steel' Poster Rules"

Here's Jake's post, "Man of Steel (of Nazareth)?"

Friday, December 7, 2012

On "Marvel NOW!"

I've had a few people write me and ask if I had thoughts on Marvel Now!, which I take as a good sign for Marvel since I don't remember anyone asking me any Marvel questions in, literally, years.  But a bad sign, because nobody seems to know what this thing is.

For those of you not in the know, Marvel Comics - home of The Avengers - is starting a lot of their series over with a new #1 without feeling the need to reboot their entire universe the way DC did with the New 52, about 16 months ago.

DC immediately took a dollar share lead with the New 52, and all of Marvel's attempts to stop the bleeding with events like "Avengers versus X-Men" didn't really help.  I still think a lot of DC's success had to do with slapping #1 on the covers more than any reboot, and their willingness to embrace digital delivery.

Answering Your Questions - Part B

So, yeah. Questions! You asked them, I'm answering them.

Not many of you asked questions, so here goes.

Paul asks:  Nachos?

SW:  I will refer you to my upcoming monograph "Nachos!", due for print in 2014.

Randy asks: I have a deep fear that I like "Online Ryan", but not necessarily "Real Life Ryan" (as I've spent very little time with the carbon-based version.) How much alike are the two?

SW: I think what you're saying is "I probably wouldn't like you in real life", which... thanks, man. I needed that.

Happy Birthday to The Doug

Happy Birthday to Jamie's brother, Doug.  He's the Torgo of our family.

Signal Re-Watch: Skyfall (2012)

Not much to say.  I met The Admiral at the movies and we watched Skyfall, me for the second time.

I think on this go-round I got to appreciate a little more of Sam Mendes' direction and how taught the movie is as a Bond actioner.  I pondered getting up and hitting the men's room, but there was never a place in the movie I thought it'd be all right and I wouldn't miss anything.  That might be too much info, but it's a pretty good sign that I didn't want to miss 180 seconds or so of a movie I watched just a couple of weeks ago.

It's not a flawless movie, but, gosh, I still like it.  It has a lot of the traditional Bond issues tied up in Bond's misogyny, and I'd like to see that tackled a bit differently just to shake things up a bit in a future installment, without inserting some Mary Sue she's-better-then-him-at-everything-wink-cute character.

I look forward to seeing who shows up as the next villain and what sort of plot/ issues we'll see in the next film.  I don't see Daniel Craig's Bond in a Moonraker repeat or fighting dudes with submersible secret bases - but I think Mendes and Craig can put out a compelling Bond without going totally sci-fi.

Anyway, Connery will probably always be Bond in my head, but I am pleased that a new generation can think of Daniel Craig as "their" Bond.  I'm a fan.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Answering Your Questions - Part A

I'm off to watch Skyfall with The Admiral this evening, and then I've got a thing afterward.  I think it's another night of no blog posting.

Rather than leave you with nothing, I thought I'd turn the tables.  I have a small but regular readership.  I put it to you guys to send me your questions, and I will do my best to answer them when I return to blogging.

Just post questions to the comment section, or email them to me at the contact link above, and I'll answer whatever you got.

The guidelines:

  • I'll do questions of a personal nature up to a point, but be good.  Don't embarrass yourself.
  • Ask the question in a complete sentence.  
  • I don't read minds, so don't hint around.  Ask whatever it is you want to know.  (ex:  If you want to know what design elements I like about the movie costume for Superman, do not ask "how do you think Cavill looks in the suit?".  Ask "how do you feel about the design of the current movie suit for Superman?")
  • You can submit as many questions as you want.
  • I reserve the right to ignore or fail to respond to your questions.  You can take my failure to respond however you like.
  • Feel free to express your own opinion as part of a question, so I know where we're starting from (ex: I think sandals and socks are a sexy combination.  How do YOU feel about this combo?)

Okay.  So.  Tell me about your mother.

this summer, Star Trek will take my money

Here's the trailer for the new, action-packed-looking Star Trek.

I'm actually pretty comfortable with the complete distortion of Roddenberry's Star Trek that the new series has become.  Well, I'm uncomfortable with it, but what am I going to do?  Not watch new Star Trek?  Ha ha ha ha.


Anyway, I'm looking at this wondering about the episodes "Charlie X" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before" rather than anything to do with Khan, but we'll see.

Also, is it wrong that I wish they found a home for George Takei in this movie?  Yes, probably.  But I just like George Takei.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pondering a bit on the poster for "Man of Steel"

If you hadn't seen the latest poster for the upcoming Superman movie, Man of Steel - here you go:

Superman in shackles, surrounded by men in military outfits I'd say look like they might belong to The National Guard.  It's not exactly "you will believe a man can fly", but I'm actually quite okay with that.

I know from online pals and some of the Superman community that they would much prefer to first see a majestic Superman or a powerful Superman or a smiling Superman or what we've seen before, and while I'm not trying to support a movie I don't know anything about, from a marketing perspective, I think I get what they're going for.

Donner's Superman: The Movie never really addressed how the world might react to a man in a cape flying around and shrugging off bursting shells like a light, rainy mist with much more than a big "welcome, alien buddy".  Donner's version took the common feeling of good-will that 40 years of comics and the George Reeves program had brought to theaters.  Christopher Reeve's Superman lived in a world where cops stood slack jawed and dopey as Superman handed over cat-burglars and dropped off boats full of crooks on Metropolis's main thoroughfares.

Whatever Zack Snyder is doing isn't ignoring today's world of cops in armor reacting with SWAT precision to crises the world of 1938 or 1978 didn't take into account in the movies.  The poster seems to acknowledge - if a Superman did live today, we know the military and government would have something to say on it, and it wouldn't be "ah, you seem okay.  Go ahead about your business, you lovable scamp."  Whether it's an adult like myself, or someone in the prime young male movie-going bracket of which I am no longer a key demographic - it's almost impossible to imagine that the appearance of an alien picking up tanks or just flying around not causing some panic at the highest levels.  It's the issue of translation when moving the character from a children's fictional character to a character intended for an audience skewing over 13.

Achtung!: Krampusnacht is HERE

Time to put on your devil costume, get your switches out and scare the wee ones into their best behavior.

Your Holiday will not be as cool as...

Christmas with Bogart and Bacall.


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.

New "Man of Steel" Poster?

It's possible/ likely this is a fan comp, but us Superman fans haven't had much in the way of posters or imagery yet from the upcoming Superman movie, so here you go.  I have seen a similar shot/ possibly this shot from the trailer.

I kind of think this is a fake, but - hey, Superman, amiright?

Hollywood buzz is that - of the 132 minute runtime of the film, Superman mostly sits in jail playing a harmonica made of wax paper and an old Ace comb for 87 minutes, wishing the cafeteria beans weren't so bland.

A bold new take.

Don't worry, the world is still safe.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Finally getting around to comics again

This is how I know the schedule for the past two months was a little wacky.

I haven't been to the gym for at least four weeks, and I was sorting my unread comics, and I have three months' worth of some titles backed up.  No working out - which is it's own funny story - and no time made for comics in the evenings.  At least not those floppies, as I have read some collections.

The nice thing is:  Looking at this pile on my coffee table, I actually want to read all of these comics.

In the past when I'd hit a point where I was too busy to read comics, it was always instructive to look at what I didn't want to read in multiple issues at a time.  That usually meant I was dropping the title.  But with the limited number of titles I'm buying as floppies these days, (a) I know I can catch up, and (b) the spark still seems to be there as I'm sorting through my comics to start cutting down the pile.

Myrna Loy is ready for December

Myrna Loy bribes a member of Santa's crew.

Holiday Party 2012: Wrapped

If I kind of disappeared the past few days, we've been prepping for, and then having, our mostly-annual holiday party.

When we moved back to Austin from Phoenix, we decided that we wanted to have a Christmas party to catch up with friends, many of whom we see all too rarely these days.  The first party was both a great "welcome back" party, with a completely packed house, and also, as it turned out, served as one of the last parties before babies, etc...  as evidenced by the fact that I dismissed the last guest at 4:00 AM.

We've had the party almost every year since then, with, I believe, only one hiccup.  We try to have it early, before December is really in full swing and you're in competition with a thousand other parties.  We try very hard not to be jerks about it, but it's a cocktail party and while we adore your kids, this is not the house nor party for having the wee ones running about underfoot.  This is grown-up drinking time.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Noir Watch: The Unsuspected (1947)

A few points:

1.  Everyone is familiar with Claude Rains from some of his bigger pictures like Casablanca, but he was truly the Michael Caine/ Gene Hackman of his time.  He was a terrifically talented performer who fit neatly into film after film, and despite the fact he is obviously and indelibly Claude Rains, he just works in every role, no matter how good or bad the film.  

2.  A special thanks to Jenifer out in San Fran for making sure I paid attention to Audrey Totter.  I still haven't seen that many of Totter's film, but she's a terrific talent.  

The Unsuspected (1947) played a few nights ago on TCM and I managed to record it.  It's an interesting film, and I don't think host Robert Osbourne was wrong to make comparisons to Laura prior to the film starting.  It may borrow an idea or three from the film, but director Michael Curtiz (of Mildred Pierce, Casablanca and many, many other films) instills the film with his own vision and more than enough suspects and twists to keep you going for the duration.  It may not be one of his better known efforts, but it is extremely well directed, even as it hinges on "new technology" to tell its stories - something that often doesn't age well with movies.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Gloria Grahame

Actress Gloria Grahame would have been 89 today.  Unfortunately, Grahame passed in the early 1980's, well before her time.

We've profiled Ms. Grahame here before, and it's likely she'll get mentioned here again in the future.

Ms. Grahame is a bright point in the constellation of lady-actors from a certain era whose work I go out of my way to find.  It's hard not to love the work she does in movies like Crossfire and The Big Heat.

A little digging will turn up a lot of evidence that Ms. Grahame led a deeply complicated life, but its hard not to love what she did on the screen.

Here's to Ms. Grahame.

Signal Watch Watches: Killer School Girls From Outer Space (2011)

So, life is funny how it surprised you sometimes.

Not that long ago I was sitting in my office at work making digital libraries happen when a guy from my building who I talk to now and again, mostly "howdy" and "hello" as we pass, asked me about some posters from Mondo I have hanging up in my office.

"You like sci-fi?"
"Yeah!  It's kind of my thing.  Not so much the modern stuff, but I kind of dig mid-century stuff and maybe up to the 80's the best."
And we parted ways.
A few days later Bill appeared in my doorway with a DVD in his hand.
"A while back, my son and I made this movie."
My stomach dropped.  I like a good Birdemic trainwreck, but I like it from a casual distance.  I do not like to have to nod and smile and say "that was super!" when it was not super at all.  Then I looked down at the cover.

" that Ron Jeremy?"
Bill nodded.  "Yeah, we hired him for a day.  All green screen.  He was really nice."
"This is...  like, everything awesome about movies."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Noir Watch: Hotel Noir (2012)

The story on this movie is that it's a low-budget affair and a passion project that's made it's way to In-Demand on cable before theaters or BluRay.  The movie sports some pretty big names from Danny DeVito to Robert Forster to Carla Gugino and the perhaps too always-game Rosario Dawson.

The film is a tribute to various offshoots of the noir genre, recognizing the occasionally laconic pacing and low-rent nature of many of the stories in these films, of low-level cops and grifters making bad decisions for sex and money or some combination of the pair.

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?


trying to fix RSS.

This is what I looked like in second grade

I was a monster of a kid.  Holy smokes.

Signal Shame Watch: Liz & Dick (2012)

Well, that was most certainly a movie with Lindsay Lohan in various Liz Taylor Halloween get-ups.

I wasn't planning to watch Liz & Dick (2012), the much hyped Lindsay Lohan-as-Liz Taylor biopic, but Twitter was having enough of a field day under the #lizanddick hashtag that I had to check in and see what was what.  And a trainwreck it was, indeed.

I don't actually know anything about the history of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, and I've only seen a rare few of each of their movies.  Aside from finding each to be fine actors and finding Liz Taylor in her prime quite fetching, I don't know that I've spent as long as the duration of this movie thinking about Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend Round-Up 2012

Well, so that was the long weekend for Thanksgiving.

that was a really, really good white.  No idea what it was.
The Thanksgiving Holiday is over, and we head into the Christmas season.

Before we bid adios to Turkey Day, here's some quick views...

Signal Watch wishes Noel Neill a Very Happy Birthday!

Born November 25th, 1920, Noel Neill played Lois Lane in the original Superman movie serials with Kirky Alyn, and then in all but the first season of the 1950's TV series, The Adventures of Superman alongside George Reeves and Jack Larson.  She went on to appear as Lois' mother on the train in Superman: The Movie and appeared briefly as Gertrude Vanderworth in Superman Returns.

She is one of our favorite performers in any Superman media, and we want to extend a big birthday howdy to our Lois of choice.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Larry Hagman Merges with The Infinite

Larry Hagman, of Dallas TV fame, has passed at the age of 81.

I am a child of the 70's and 80's, and was living in the Dallas area circa 1979-1981 and Houston, after that.  There were four channels at the time.  We all watched Dallas.  Yes, we all knew who JR Ewing was.  And, like much of America, I also wondered who had shot JR.

He drinks your milkshake

Son of actress Mary Martin and a native Texan, Hagman's relationship with Texas continued on and off for most of his life.*  Hagman was a major wheel in TV, both in the US and abroad, where the show ran in re-runs well past when the show had been cancelled.

Later, I'd start watching re-runs of I Dream of Jeannie, where Larry Hagman played astronaut Tony Nelson. He got to be on TV with Barbara Eden every week, and that ain't bad.

Major Nelson was never any Darren-like pushover

Readers of this blog will also remember him from Superman: The Movie as the Army officer who bravely steps up and assists Valerie Perrine when she fakes an auto accident to distract a convoy for Lex.

bravely, bravely ponders a stricken Valerie Perrine

Hagman had recently returned to TV in a reboot of Dallas, and was enjoying a second wind of stardom.

Hagman passed today in a Dallas hospital.

*As a side note, the more someone is like the villainous JR Ewing, the more likely it often seems that they'll be elected governor in Texas, over and over and over.