Saturday, June 23, 2012

Noir Watch: Desperate (1947)


Desperate (1947) feels very much like a movie that was made because somebody needed a thriller and they needed one fast.

One of the things I like best about noir can be the the tightly woven plots that fit together like a Swiss timepiece.  Desperate is not an exemplar of this mode of noir-making.

The world's most illogical criminal gang, led by a pre-Godzilla Raymond Burr, decides that to make their heist run well, they should just hire a truck from a guy Raymond Burr knew when they were kids.  So, they hire the incredibly potent newlywed Steve Randall, played by Steve Brodie.

Steve is onto their scheme after showing up and letting the guys who announce "hey, we found some furs!" load their stuff onto his truck at a warehouse, but gets twitchy when one of them shows his pistol for absolutely no reason.  The gang decides to hold Steve in the truck, but in the cab of the truck where he signals a security officer with the lights.  Bullets fly and mayhem ensues.

Desperate to see the closing credits, maybe.

Little Jamie and Dug (with Donald Duck) are the cutest things

Just lookit little Jamie.  She is just the cutest thing ever.

She mentioned once or twice that she's had this character breakfast as a kid, but I didn't know what the heck she was talking about.  But there it is!

Jamie and The Dug plus Donald Duck?

This picture is my favorite thing, ever.

I like seeing pics of Lil' Jamie.  What a sweet little moppet of a kid she was.  We just got her old bike back from her folks that she rode when she was around this age, but Jamie being Jamie is refusing to ride it.

Signal Watch goes all Teen Angsty with "Rebel Without a Cause"!

Just FYI: I DVR'd this a while back and finally watched it Friday night. It's playing again Saturday on TCM as part of their Natalie Wood-a-thon if you're looking for a night in.

this is the part where I admit I cuffed my jeans in high school because I thought James Dean made it cool.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is one of those movies I suspect a lot of people know from the iconography of the poster and can probably tell you it stars James Dean and Natalie Wood, but I don't think most folks around my age have bothered to ever watch.

When I was in middle school a friend's dad who had been of age when the movie came out insisted we get sat down and watch the thing.  At the time I didn't find much of the movie terribly relatable, and I recall we kept having to stop the movie to basically explain the 1950's to us kids in a context that didn't involve Olivia Newton John and John Travolta.

I watched it again in high school, and it felt far more relevant at least in its depiction of the gulf between the world of parents and what's going on with their kids, but that was about 20 years ago.

Rewatching the film highlighted some of the excellent work by director Nicholas Ray, and to see the relationships between the characters through the eyes of an adult (physically, perhaps not emotionally) was most certainly interesting after all this time.  I don't think I really noticed how intensely compressed the timeline of the main action actually is during the film (the last two thirds occurs over basically one day, I believe).  I was far more acutely aware of the cues from Sal Mineo toward James Dean's Jim and that was some pretty bold stuff for a 1955 film.  And, most definitely the relationship between Jim and his parents feels less staged as a plotpoint and more as a condemnation of conflicting parenting styles.  Of course in 2012 a character enjoying having three adults in their household is probably considered excellent parenting above criticism, so, you know...  different times.

Some smaller details stuck out.  I realized that not only do you not really see smokers on the big screen anymore, you never see teenagers smoking, which was a staple of films when I was a kid and goes utterly unmentioned when Natalie Wood and Jimmy Dean light up (to mention it would be uncool, anyway).

Despite being the film he might be most associated with (I guess Giant is the other contender), the movie was released posthumously for Dean.  The fatal car wreck that took his life occurred just a month before the film's premier.  Still, Giant wouldn't hit the screen til after Rebel, and perhaps that's fitting, as the performance and film have greater scope, but it's tragic that Dean would never see the reaction to either.

Dean's performance is of the school that you can recognize from Brando and Newman and other contemporaries who had stepped away from the traditions of the stage actor and played to the intimacy of the camera.  In the mumbling world of the teenaged male, it seemed only too appropriate for the seeming prisoner within his own skin to need a camera snooping closeby when nobody is watching to see what's going on with Jim Stark.

I'm not sure sure that this is the first movie that moved beyond depicting teens as spunky, can-do mini-adults, but the film's impact and potency still resonate in even the goofier teen sex comedies as kids struggle to communicate with their folks and to gain their acceptance/ legitimize whatever the heck it is they're going through (see:  The Breakfast Club).

Because of the age of the characters, it's also a bit easier to understand the decisions made by the protagonists and antagonists in the film, their motives and stakes are worn on their sleeve.

One bit I always liked in the movie, that goes undiscussed, is that the guy who seemed ready to kill Jim early in the film extends a hand of friendship, adding to the tragedy that drives the rest of the movie.  Of course, it says nothing great about Natalie Wood's Judy that she seems to bounce from Buzz to Jim mostly because Buzz is no longer with us, but high school girls...  they're screwy.

Anyway, if you've not seen Dean's defining role and you'd like to see an extremely young Dennis Hopper playing a fellow named "Goon", this is your chance.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Jimmy Stewart Double Bill: "Anatomy of a Murder" and "Harvey"

Not very long ago at all I posted about my reverence for actor Jimmy Stewart.  This week the Paramount Summer Series featured a pair of classic Stewart films, Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Harvey (1950).

You really couldn't hope to find two more different films, and that's what Paramount Summer Series programmer Jesse Trussell was attempting to highlight.  Stewart's affability is most certainly present in both films, but Harvey provides Stewart with a fantasy role in the sort of polite small town atmosphere of mid-century Broadway shows, where old ladies are silly hens and polite misunderstandings are the thing of great screwball comedy.  Meanwhile, Anatomy of a Murder is a fictionalized account of small town murder and the attorney who takes on the case despite some terribly gray areas and open questions (ie: what I believe most defense attorneys are doing when they take on a case).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

TL; DR: On Willing Suspension of Disbelief, John Carter of Mars, Superheroes and Sci-Fi

I was reading a post at The Onion AV Club offering a reconsideration of this spring's commercial disaster, John Carter, and a single statement stuck out at me.
On the run, Kitsch ends up encountering a Thern in a cave and is teleported to Mars. (I’m sorry, I mean Barsoom).
And with that, I had to re-evaluate everything else in the article.

Rightfully, elsewhere in the article the reviewer points to the pulp roots of the movie, that it was a film that perhaps reflected a different era not just of writing sci-fi (or, as it was called, "Planetary Romance" before "scientifiction" had been coined, which, of course, became "science fiction") but of film making.  Sure, I'm onboard with "not the right place on teh spacetime continuum for this movie, and not the right marketing"

But what struck me was the curiously quasi-anglo-centric/ xenophobic/ concrete thinking that belies so much of why sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, etc... have such a hard time with an adult audience.  In short, I'm guessing this same author wouldn't have phrased it as "Kitsch end up encountering a Man in a cave and is teleported to Japan. (I'm sorry, I mean Nippon)." 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Your Mid-Day Peggy Cummins Moment

Peggy Cummins is that lovely sociopath nextdoor.

Gun Crazy, 1950

If you've never seen the movie, here's one of the scenes which helped garner its reputation:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Next week we head for Chicago - Expect low to no posting

Next week Jamie and I head for sunny Chicago, Illinois for a few days of vacation.  We're escaping the Texas heat in exchange for Chicago heat.

I'm definitely looking forward to it.  Somehow, Jamie and I have never been able to work in a normal vacation like humans are supposed to, especially if they've been together since the first Clinton Administration.  I know, it sounds weird, but we've had lots of extenuating circumstances and Jamie does not travel easily.  However, this year we made it a priority, and so off we go to The Windy City.

Anybody else have this poster?
My plan is to basically see a lot of museums and go to a Cubs game.  We've also got a Fodor's guide, and I have a couple of recommendations for some stuff to do at night.  We'll see.  But it does mean that early next week we'll be posting in an extremely limited capacity unless I decide to bother to bring my laptop (I probably will).

The 1908 Cubs look forward to what will surely be an endless string of pennants

Jamie has just informed me I cannot buy us tickets to see Ministry, who is playing while we're there.  Which shocks me, because I thought those dudes hung it up eons ago.  No rockin' out to "Stigmata" for us, I guess.  Nor is playing clips of Ministry from YouTube really winning Jamie over.

I may try to talk her into going to The Green Mill.  We'll see what happens.

So if you're in the Chicagoland Area and feel like coming pretty much to the dead center of town (we're staying right across from Grant Park, I think), give me a buzz.

Really, I don't know anything about Chiacgo.  I went there some as a kid, but we were mostly out in the suburbs.  My ideas about Chicago are formed by:

  • The Untouchables
  • The Chicago Cubs
  • The Chicago Bulls
  • Superbowl XXV
  • Ferris Bueller
  • John Hughes movies
  • Mr. T
  • street scenes in The Dark Knight
  • viewing WGN as a kid to watch cartoons
  • The Blues Brothers
  • I once watched "ER"
  • and their history of putting their politicians in jail (in Texas we just make whatever politicians do legal)

I am perfectly aware that Chicago is a great American city, and I look forward to gawking around like the idiot tourist I shall be.

Also, I'm totally looking up the "1920's Gangsters Tour" I've heard they've got.

Cubs Win!

Your Mid-Day Stanwyck Moment

Barbara Stanwyck is going to punch you right in your stupid face.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Superman Bio and Interview on NPR's "Fresh Air"

The word you're searching for when pondering this image is "awesome".

I spent the evening listening to Terry Gross's excellent interview of Larry Tye, who has written a sort of biography of Superman and the character's history across multiple mediums.  Thanks to Nathan and others for the link (Nathan alerted me to the interview bright and early).

It may be some time before I read the book.

Not to sound super-snooty, but I spend a lot of time reading about Superman, and have done so for quite a while.  All this fandom means that on top of the hundreds and thousands of Superman comics I've enjoyed, I've also read multiple histories of Superman - the media property, and check in daily with The Superman Homepage (an amazingly thorough web resource).  I've also read more than one comics history that used Superman as its fulcrum*.  I have seen all the Superman movies multiple times, watched every episode of the the 1950's TV series, watched the Ben Affleck movie about George Reeves, watched the Superboy TV series in small bits, have watched Lois and Clark, watched most of Smallville, listened to episodes of the radio show, watched the original movie serials, the 40's cartoon, the 60's cartoon, the 80's cartoon and the 90's cartoon.  Am hoping for a new cartoon in 2013.

In short, there's very little in the way of new information for me in the way of Superman.  Which is why I may actually read the thing.  It's always great to find out something new and interesting.  I confess to being a little concerned with the usual trotting out of Superman as stand-in religious figure.  It seems like a post-facto reading of the actual Superman comics until maybe the late 60's or early 70's, so you're talking 30 years of initial stories that I don't think really suggest any conscious parallels, but, whatever.  It doesn't mean the character isn't heavy with cultural fingerprints.

I still have a few Superman novels to read (both by Elliot S! Maggin), and there's plenty to know and learn about the upcoming Superman movie.  But I'm also not averse to checking out Tye's book at some point.  I still genuinely enjoy Superman fandom, and I'm not letting a little New 52 reboot get in my way on that front. After 75 years, its just a small patch in the middle of everything else.

Yes, I wrestle with what's happened with the Siegel estate, but I have hope that both the law and justice will prevail, and we'll see a sound resolution to the ownership of the character, publishing rights, copyright and trademark, and everything else that's not in the comics, but which has driven the comics for the past year, all shake out and disappear into the background.

We can hope.

Give the interview a listen.  It's a nice, brief overview of some of the highlights of Superman's history and the folks who've been involved with the character.

* check out Men of Tomorrow.  It's an amazing book, and sometimes I think I'm the only one who has read it.

MonkeyBrain Comics - The Time in Nigh

Coming soon (July 2, 2012) from the fine minds behind MonkeyBrain Books.

Signal Watch Watches: Mothra (1961)

Well, of COURSE I watched Mothra (1961).  It came on right after Rodan, so I recorded it to my DVR and watched it later.


So, I don't know how many Toho Studios Kaiju movies you've watched.  I've seen about 10-15% of their output, and I've always liked "the twins", the two mysterious faeries that popped up and sang and seemed to be friends with all the giant monsters on Monster Island.  I had never seen the original Mothra movie, but had seen the giant flying bug in other Godzilla films, and not found her without her charms.  But after the super rampage that was Rodan, something about this film seemed a bit too tame, and sort of pre-sages the era of movies wherein we'll lose focus from steely-jawed scientists, wise-cracking journalists and other adults in the lead and devolve into an endless sea of kids in bad shorts named "Kenny" as the protagonist of the film.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Chronologically Amiss Discussion of Mark Waid's "Irredeemable" and "Incorruptible"

Hey, have I mentioned my enthusiasm for Mark Waid's Irredeemable and Incorruptible?  I have?  Ad nauseum?

Oh, well.

Both series have drawn to a close in the monthly installment format, but that's not how I've read either comic.  Sure, I started with monthlies on Irredeemable, but Boom! met me where I lived and began releasing trades immediately after the conclusion of arcs, something DC and Marvel grew keen to about the same time, but it seemed part of the Boom! DNA from the start of the series.

However, as the series have each drawn to a close, I am still behind.  I finally was able to catch up on the narratively driven Irredeemable/ Incorruptible cross-over I saw appearing on the stands for a couple of months, and which I've finally been able to enjoy for myself.

And I do mean "enjoy".  The series manage to do something which seems to obvious from even a quick glance, and that's allow Waid's voice to be the only voice guiding the single world shared by both books, and plot out the two books as counter-measures to one another, with one book following a Superman-like hero gone not so much comic book evil as omnicidal, and a stone cold, amoral villain gone so straight he's now the alien walking the earth.

It says much that the world seems more confused by the transformation of villain Max Damage to hero than the impotent inevitability of humanity's destruction at the hands of a hero who turned.

Waid could have told the story of just the Plutonian and that would have been more than enough, but the addition of the story of Max Damage, unbending hero from just a god-awful, horrendous villain (a guy bad enough that his sidekick was an underage girl he flaunted by naming her "Jailbait".  I mean, yikes), gives both stories resonance, not just about the lead characters - which it does - but about how we really feel about someone trying to do good, and our expectations of those people.  And, frankly, how alien a concept it is to see someone perform acts of selflessness.

Even the power set granted Max Damage (super strength and invulnerability that becomes stronger the longer he stays awake) has a heroic bent to it that just seemed like a minor liability as a criminal.  Max has to intentionally remain sleep-deprived for days to operate on a serious scale, staggering around with the power of a god at his fingertips, but almost out of his mind, just looking for a place to lay down, and all the craziness any of us get when we haven't gotten our forty winks.  Brilliant stuff.

There's one more collection left for each series.  I'll miss it, but I'm glad Waid has had an opportunity to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end that commented and meta-commented, and in the tradition of novelistic storytelling, it's fine if we don't get a second installment or more of the same.  I wouldn't say no to more (from Waid), but if we don't return to these characters... thanks for the series.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Happy Father's Day to The Admiral, The Old Man, Pop, Paterfamilias, Lord of the Manor, Founder of the Feast, the Progenitor, Dad.

I shall cut to a scene from a recent dinner party at which a friend was experiencing trouble, and I related an anecdote about my dad and his outlook upon life.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!