Saturday, June 9, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Stardust Memories (1980)

Interesting.

So, as some found horrifying, I didn't take to Allen's 1979 film Manhattan.  I've generally basically liked the Woody Allen movies I'd seen, so I gave Allen's follow-up, Stardust Memories (1980), a whirl and hopefully my positive reaction will get me back in your good graces as a watcher of cinemaaaah.



Basically, Stardust Memories solves the problems I had with Manhattan in many ways, or The Problem I had with Manhattan, which was that I finished the movie thinking "and so what?".  It seemed as if in Manhattan Allen had found he had a particular patter down from Annie Hall, found he could play himself in his own context, and it didn't really matter if the story went anywhere or was basically upperclass urbanites mistaking their high school-ish romantic tangles as interesting enough for the rest of us (yes, I got the thing that Allen's character could only connect with a high schooler.  All well and good til you consider his real life marital woes, which...), and the clumsy, flailing quest for something "deep" by self-medicating and spending too much on therapy that went nowhere as a pursuit unto itself.

Stardust Memories acknowledges all the questions, perhaps a bit too on the nose from time to time, but it at least tries to move beyond Allen in one of his stand-in roles, but challenges the character, adding on the layer of the frustrated artist at a crosspoint in his life of the guy who has made it, and all the expectation and responsibility inherent.  The trials of the filmmaker, piled on top of the usual hand wringing Allenisms over the allure and complications of women drive the character conflict, and create enough of an arc to give the movie the weight that Manhattan sought for but never achieved.

I guess if you're going to have a "character driven story", this is a pretty darn good example of what that can look like, even if its hard not to guess how close the "character" is, as pre-usual, just Allen casting himself against good looking women.

Watching the movie, I still grapple a bit with some of the line delivery and Allen-patter, and 70's-era signposts for intellectualism that had become a parody of themselves by the time I came of age, but I won't hold it against the film, especially as it pushes the narrative boundaries a bit, and effectively at that.  Further, while Manhattan is always the movie that gets the credit for the visual love letter to New York, I'll take the work in this movie.  Even without the dialog and banter, it seems to use the frame less to show and more to tell the story.

Anyway, fear not Woody Allen fans.  I have not sworn off the man's work.

Signal Watch Watches: Best Worst Movie (2009)

After a steady diet of terrible flicks over the past two decades, something I had somehow come to enjoy in my teen years, seeking out bad movies is something I'm now limiting in my intake as I realized a man can only watch R.O.T.O.R. so many times, and there's actually stuff you can enjoy because its actually worth watching.  But for a long, long time I felt like I was fairly well in tune with what we all considered the worst of the worst.

And yet, somehow, I'd missed the phenomenon of Troll 2.

Of course, I was also living in Phoenix when The Alamo figured out how to turn genre-film and midnight screening material into part of their bread and butter, getting people excited about movies that they had never seen, or getting them to pay good money to see movies they'd seen for a far more modest cost on late-night HBO a decade before.

The first time I ever heard the words "Troll 2" was, curiously, at an improv show performance where one of the actresses mistakenly believed that repeatedly making callbacks to a movie few people have not seen nor remember was comedic gold.  I swear she dropped the movie's name four times, hoping for a laugh.  She was greeted with stony silence, but the fact that she kept going back to the well made me realize "oh, this is one of those things today's hipster kids are into.  I get it.  But, seriously, naming something funny when you aren't doesn't draw a laugh.  STOP IT NOW.".

Best Worst Movie (2009) tracks the circa 2006 fad (I'll go ahead and call it that) of being really into Troll 2 from the perspective of the folks who participated in the creation of the movie, including the stars, writer, director, extras and, of course, some of the folks making midnight screenings happen.



The film's former wanna-be child star, Michael Stephenson, actually does an amazing job directing the documentary, collecting all the folks from the film together, getting them to talk honestly both about the film, where they are now, and how they related to the film then and now.  A lot of the questions I had left over at the end of Rock-afire Explosion are nowhere to be found in this film.  I mean, sure, you can still have some questions, but those might be of a nature that you can sort out for yourself.  Basically, the film doesn't raise more questions than it answers, and its pretty honest about what's going on.

Oh my GOSH, you guys! "The Keep" is now on Netflix Streaming!

Oh my gosh, you guys.

You say you've never seen The Keep (1983)?  You saw you've never even heard of it?

Well.
One night when I was about 14, this gem came on TV.  Directed by Michael Mann, starring Scott Glenn and Jurgen Prochnow, and featuring an amazing score by Tangerine Dream (a band unfortunately mostly lost to time and changing tastes), this was a supernatural thriller about Nazis getting in over their heads in a remote mountain town with a long-buried secret.

It also stars Ian McKellan, Gabriel Byrne and numerous others who never, ever talk about their participation in this flick.

The thing languished for years.  Michael Mann has disowned it, Scott Glenn never talked about it, and maybe only Tangerine Dream was out there mentioning it, trying to get people to buy the soundtrack.  Heck, when I saw it a few years ago at The Alamo, we saw the only print known to exist.  The studio doesn't even bother to own a copy other than the master.

Somehow I like this movie.  I mean, its terribly flawed, but I like what somebody involved was trying to do.  I like the clunky, slow pacing, and the fact that you know lots of people are going to get it because, hey, 1/2 the characters are Nazis.

The Keep is now on Netflix Streaming!  I cannot believe this turn of events.  So run, do not walk, to a computer (which you're probably already on), and watch this sort of good film!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: A Shot in the Dark (1964)

Y'all, I finally watched A Shot in the Dark (1964)!  Please check one of those movies off the list that everybody else saw 20 years ago.

And, sure enough, it totally lived up to the hype.  I haven't ever seen that many Sellers movies or Blake
Edwards films, but, yeah, I get it.  Sorry it took me so long.



If you don't know what I'm talking about, before The Pink Panther, Blake Edwards directed a movie starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.  A Shot in the Dark did well enough to spawn a sequel you may know as The Pink Panther.  This spawned not just several Pink Panther movies and a favorite movie theme by Henry Mancini, but a Pink Panther cartoon based upon the opening animation for the Clouseau movies (I watched the cartoon in repeats on WGN in middle school), a brand of pink insulation, and, eventually, a reboot of Clouseau under the Pink Panther banner, but with Steve Martin, which did better than you'd expect.

Sellers, of course, died far too young.

I won't go into too much detail, but its worth a watch some time.

TL; DR: Comics, Superheroes, Watchmen, and Authorship

Fine.  Let's talk about this.

This is going to be, I believe, my final word on the topic.  The topic of Before Watchmen.



I've raised my hand a few times over the last two or three years and tried to make various points about how I have felt that the current crop of 20-somethings approach comics fandom differently than how I came up as a reader and fan.  Most certainly, there's the internet and social media aspect that has become (I'd argue) more important than the comics themselves in many quarters.  And, of course, the level of fandom that seems to stem ultimately a whole lot more from being able to dress up as a character and wander around a Con for many of these "fans".  If I can be blunt, I can't shake the suspicion that they're not the same kind of fan that's sought out every appearance of a character.  And, given sales, I have to wonder if they're paying for comics at all.

There's also plenty of folks on Etsy making their own products featuring non-DC approved licensed characters, people making webcomics, etc...  In short, fan fiction is as much a part of the culture to the current target demo as the "legitimate" product.

In a way, that sort of sense of entitlement/ fan ownership could be seen as a mutant offshoot of the Big 2's insistence that the characters supersede the creators in importance.  If we aren't immediately associating Bill Finger with Batman, but some nebulous corporate entity that also owns TV, the news, the internet lines, AOL, Jerry Seinfeld, Bugs Bunny, and Six Flags...  it may be that Time Warner is simply big too see the contours.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Signal Watch Double Bill: Shock Corridor (1963) & The Naked Kiss (1964)

Holy hell, y'all.

I'm not familiar with the work of writer/ director/ producer Samuel Fuller, but he has one of those names you always hear.  And, I haven't had opportunity yet to visit the Paramount yet this summer for the summer series, nor had I ever been in the State Theater on Congress, side by side with the Paramount.  Wednesday night provided a great opportunity to knock some items off my list, and so I caught both Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964), two movies that earned their bonafides.

Of the two films, Shock Corridor may have dated more poorly, even if it still holds up very well from a narrative standpoint.  It follows a newspaper journalist who knows he can earn a Pulitzer by going undercover into an mental hospital to solve a murder the police have been unable to crack as the only three witnesses were hopelessly mentally ill.  He recruits his stripper girlfriend, played by the lovely Constance Towers, into posing as his sister who files charges of attempted sexual assault.  With training from a psychologist, Johnny Barrett sneaks in undetected.

And then learns that a mental hospital run under the common practices of mid-20th Century medicine was no picnic.

When they make my bio-pic, tell them this is exactly what I want the poster to look like, but with Jamie dancing in the corner.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

D-Day Anniversary

Better writers than myself will have covered the D-Day Anniversary, but Wednesday was the 68th Anniversary of the Allies storming of Normandy, signalling the beginning of the end of the occupation of France and the end of the Third Reich.


We didn't want the day to pass with no mention of the event.


Ray Bradbury Merges with The Infinite

Like many of us English-speaking Westerners, one of the great moments of my youth was having a Ray Bradbury book put in my hand.  Oddly, it was Fahrenheit 451 and I was in fifth grade.  Most certainly I had an ambitious teacher, one who did not mind much if she shattered our cozy suburban world with a picture of dissolute marriage in an ossifying culture that was just our culture carrying on from our current trajectory.

It'd difficult to say how much of an impact the book had on me, and continues to have on me, as I've returned to it a half-dozen times, seen the movie a handful of times, and even consumed it in comic form (one of the few forms of print Bradbury would suggest would survive the end of books.  The end of ideas.*).



Just a year before Fahrenheit 451, my parents, knowing I had a thing for that red dot in the sky, took me to see a play of The Martian Chronicles, and the honesty of what it had to say about us shook my ten year old little self.  

Throw in Something Wicked This Way Comes and re-reading the Martian Chronicles two or three times and you've got the literature that left an indelible impression on a worldview.  It's completely fair to say that these books had a huge hand in shaping my perceptions, and absolutely they posed the questions that helped to lay the rail for the long haul of developing a moral perspective.  And that's the value of fiction, I think, when you're coming of age.

And, really, how many millions of us are there who understood where Mr. Bradbury was going with all this?  How many of us clenched paperbacks on the school bus or leaning up against the wall while we sat on our twin -sized beds and learned something about us that sounded perhaps deadly accurate even when wrapped up in spacesuits or demon carnivals or watching old women die in a pyre of novels?

Books. Comics. Movies. Travel. Grey Gardens.

Hello.

I am afraid it is already very late, and thanks to an evening out for dinner, followed by a catch-up call with my folks (just returned from Disneyworld), and catching up on a few things around the house, I am afraid we come to a third evening in which I have not written a post in which I review any media.  Partially, because no media has been consumed.

I feel I should post this evening because tomorrow night I am off to the movies to see a double bill of Shock Corridor and Naked Kiss at The Paramount's Stateside Theater.  You are welcome to join me.  At this time, I believe I am going alone.

Books:

During my commute, I am listening to For Whom the Bell Tolls*.  I also finally cracked Grant Morrison's Supergods over the weekend.

Supergods is covering a lot of history I already know, so I am really hoping it finds a new direction soon.  the Hemingway book is fantastic.  I'm pretty skimpy on my Hemingway, having only read short stories, some assigned stuff, and A Farewell to Arms.  Quite enjoying the audio book.


Comics:

Wednesday sees the arrival of Before Watchmen.  I won't return to discussing the project in this post, but its another DC product I'm leaving on the shelf.

But I am picking up a few books this week.  Action Comics.  Popeye.  Fury Max.  iZombie and X-O Manowar (which had at least an interesting first issue).  But looking at the picks for September...  Man, it looks a little bleak one year on from The New 52.


Movies:

Of course Wednesday, I'll be at the double bill of Shock Corridor and Naked Kiss, so maybe see you there.

Sunday I'm off to see Prometheus with Matty, Nicole and JuanD.  Should be a hoot.  I'm mostly looking forward to Scott's visual spectacle.  If the story pans out, all the better.

My Blu-Ray of John Carter is coming soon.  A movie not many saw, but which I really liked.  Here's to Planetary Romance.

For next week, I don't have anything on my Paramount schedule, but I do have a ticket to see The Old Dark  House at The Alamo Ritz.  It's a classic, but one that rarely screens.  This should be fun.  Again, I'm going alone, so if anyone wants to buy themselves a ticket, let me know.

Just FYI:  Realized tonight there's a strong chance I'm not going because...


Travel:  

Next week I'm off to Boston for most of the week for work.  I'm presenting with a colleague from Florida.  We'll be out in the "Quincy" area, wherever the heck that is.  I've never been to Boston, and I won't get to do any touristing.  It's going to be all-conference, all the time.

No, I am not telling you where or when I'm presenting, Mom and Dad.


Grey Gardens:

Home ownership has finally caught up with us.  In the past couple of weeks, we found a small stain in our laundry room was actually indicating a roof leak that hadn't leaked thanks to the SEVERE DROUGHT plaguing Texas.

May showers led to a leak that dripped between the walls of two rooms upstairs and straight down into the ceiling of our dining room.  A room which is delightfully free from any real furniture, so, it all ended okay after we lost some plaster, etc...

Then, our air conditioner died for a few days there.

I keep waiting for raccoons to start wandering through the living room.

Jamie has taken care of hiring people who can fix these things, and she has provided oversight of repairs.  We are keeping the slow decay of our home at bay for the time being.  Its just a bit taxing to even deal with, money aside.


That's it.

I gotta go to bed.

As a last thing...  the new album is out from Advance Base, if that's your thing.


*spoiler:  It tolls for THEE

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: The Rock-afire Explosion (2008)

My experience working at Chuck E. Cheese Pizza is fairly well documented, and so I am unsurprised that I might have a pre-disposition for an interest in the backstory and current state of part of the weird world of Pizza Parlors that double as Robot Music Shows.

The 2008 documentary, The Rock-afire Explosion (available on Netflix Streaming) seeks to uncover, really, one man's ongoing love of the robot band that made his childhood magical and the engineer who created the Rock-afire animatronic band and performances that made the Showbiz Pizza chain possible.

Honestly, it's maybe a little messed up.

see the face of your Mayan Apocalypse and behold your DOOM

I cannot begin to guess the original intentions of the filmmakers as they set out to begin interviewing private Rock-afire Explosion band owner Chris Thrash (I imagine they thought just getting Thrash and his band was plenty for a short film), but the final product is a mostly-feature-length, warm-hearted look at a man and his quirky dream.  One assumes that through Thrash the filmmakers got in touch with Aaron Fechter, the creator of the band, and an interesting guy himself.

Flechter seems a bit one part Willy Wonka/ one part Ahab, a guy who struck it big with an idea when he was very young, and who built a company that he very much cared about.  The failure of the overall Showbiz Pizza company and the fate that shook out for the animatronics group he owned is still very clearly present for the man, and there's something a bit tragic about the guy when you see what he's kept from the old days (and it certainly makes you wonder about his business acumen).