Friday, April 3, 2015

Noir Watch: The Killer is Loose (1956)

This was an interesting one, starting off pretty dark and then just careening toward a nice, abysmal, jet black.

I'd read about The Killer is Loose (1956) a few years ago - I think in the Eddie Mueller book Dark City - and was quite thrilled it made it to TCM this month.

A bank is ripped off in broad daylight and the bad-guys get away.  The detective on the case, played by Joseph Cotten, figures it had to have been something of an inside job.  Following a lead, the cops go after one of the tellers and, upon finding out he's caught, their inside man locks himself in his apartment.

A tragic mistake later, and Cotten has put a bullet in the wife of the teller, Poole.  But the cops have their man.  At the trial, Cotten's new bride, played by Rhonda Fleming, is spied by Poole who swears revenge.  A daring and grisly prison escape later, and the unassuming Poole, played by Wendell Corey, is on the trail for Fleming, and mounts a substantial body count along the way.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Movie Watch: The China Syndrome (1979)

Back around 1997-2002, I worked in an upstart multimedia production group within the UT College of Engineering, comprised of me and a bunch of pals, some of whom I still pal around with to this very day (what's up, JuanD!).

Anyway, as part of this extremely lucrative career (ha!), one day I found myself standing on a narrow bridge over the top of a big, metal tub of water.  I was, basically, atop a nuclear reactor - one that most people in Austin don't know is there - snapping pics like Peter Parker.

The engineers turned the reactor on and off for the pics, and I got really neat images of the thing glowing what I remember to be a shade of blue, but it's been a while.  Mostly I remember one Prof telling me "yeah, it's cool.  You could swim in the first ten feet of water or so."
"And at the bottom?"
"Uh... don't swim at the bottom.  You'd cook like bacon."

Walking out, they checked this little, plastic radiation detection badge you wear, and everyone was fine.  Except me.

You'll know when Pennsylvania gets a radioactive hole in it

"Is it bad?"
The two students checking us out kind of looked at each other.
"So... what do I do?"
They looked back at each other.
"I'm cool with a hose down or whatever.  It's not like I want to be radioactive."
Blank stares.
"Has this ever happened before?"
"We don't think so."
There was a buzz of activity as the students summoned someone older and wiser, as well as the faculty member and they sort of kibbitzed for a while.
"So," one of them said, "You can go."
"Yeah, I was about to do that anyway.  It's not like I was going to live here from now on and you're not police."
"Tell us if anything happens."
"When I turn into The Hulk, you guys will be the first to know."
No one laughed.
Tragically for me, for you and for science, I never did Hulk out, and as near as I can tell, if you ignore the fact I can now move objects with my mind, not much has happened since.  But let's just say the whole experience made me feel that, while nuclear engineers know how to nuclear engineer like crazy, some of them may not handle it super well when things get outside of the punchlist, and they might be the one standing between you and a decontamination hose.

It's a madhouse!  A madhouse!

So, that's more or less the perspective I came to the 1979 movie, The China Syndrome, a movie about nuclear reactors and the men who love them.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I am lousy at April Fool's Day pranks, so...

Don't come here expecting any April Fool's Day pranks.

I wish I could think of something so I could actively participate, but everything seems like it would be more effort than it would be worth or, at best, get me a "oh...  ha.  Well, happy April Fool's, I guess."  And that's a best-case scenario.

Rick Astley, patron saint of April Fool's Day

I'm afraid past attempts at April Fool's Day pranks online or in person have caused just simple confusion, which isn't necessarily hilarious.  It's just confusion.

But I LIKE a good April Fool's Day, and every year The Superman Homepage has a few good ones, so skip on over there.

Believe me, I wish there were some big twist, but I got nothin'.  Let's just be skeptical of everything for the next 24 hours, shall we?

Phil Jimenez proves once again he's the best - Wonder Woman 77 cover art

Too good not to share here.  Variant cover for Wonder Woman '77 Special.

We take exception to a poorly constructed Superman joke and, unfortunately, talk about how jokes work

this is not movie merchandise

I can't let this go.  Jamie would surely want me to.  She'd say "just let it go", but I can't, because lazy jokes bug me.  Especially lazy Superman jokes.

Above you will see a house-ad-link from the very popular website in their popular listicle format.

Some Cracked Writers are better than others (I highly recommend Seanbaby and David Wong), and some of them are hacky dudes who can't bother to make the premise of the post work.

For five whole items on a 6 item list, writer JM McNab sticks to his premise and rightfully points out some oddball merchandise tie-in's to motion pictures of years gone by, some more successfully than others.  And then in the final item, the one that - by many years of's hallowed tradition - is supposed to be the best for last - he apparently got either tired and couldn't complete his work or he couldn't be bothered to understand how Google works.

As goofy and stupid as it might be, the Super Powers Collection Justice Jogger has nothing to do with a movie.

the defense does not disagree with the prosecution's assertions of the goofiness of this item, we simply submit this is not, and never has been, tied to a movie

Monday, March 30, 2015

WWKKD? So many many #1's, so many mash-ups and watching the parade go by

San Diego Comic-Con has been ceded to movie and television hoopla, which has meant that big announcements tend to arrive in two forms now - if you're DC or Marvel, you find an actual press outlet like USA Today with which you apparently have a corporate symbiotic relationship and friendly mouthpiece to do your announcing - or you announce at a more comics-centric con like the just completed ECCC.  Here's coverage from The Comics Beat talking about new stuff from Valiant and Dark Horse announced at Emerald City Comic-Con.

We'll raise an eyebrow at the formerly legitimate-ish press carrying comic book news and the downfall of modern society some other time, but for today, let us consider the actual news about new comics about which I should be getting excited.

In a very weird way, all new comic series basically look the same to me.  And The Steam Man #1 solicitation copy is a pretty good example.

The Old West (but not as we know it): Giant robots that run on steam power are created to take down invading Martians and armies of killer albino apes in an all-out brawl. The Steam Man, a giant metal man operated by a team of monster hunters, seems to have the town protected and the West under control, until a crazed and powerful vampire comes to town to bring forth the apocalypse.
So what are we getting in this solicitation copy and that of so many other #1's?

1.  setting that is not here and now
2.  wacky overarching concept that's been done before, often endlessly
3.  with mash-up conflict from another recognizable but previously unrelated familiar thing
4.  extensive mythology in place from issue 1

you would not believe how many images come up when you Google "Robot Abraham Lincoln" to help illustrate your point

So, this comic looks to me to be:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Doc Watch: Salesman (1968)

Salesman (1968) is one of those films that got referenced a bit in texts I had back in film school, and has certainly endured, but not with the same level of notoriety as the Maysles Bros. most famous film, Grey Gardens.  But, dang, if this isn't a pretty amazing bit of film.

A documentary following a team of door-to-door Bible salesmen working first in New England and then in Florida, it feels like the predecessor to not only reality TV shows covering people at work (and I don't mean "unscripted" shows, but the more documentary approach that seems to have fallen by the wayside) but also to the world of films like Glengarry Glen Ross, complete with the archetypes that would fill that movie and others like it.

You can't figure why some guys can close a sale and some guys can't, and you're always asking people who don't have money to hand over what they've got for something that's a luxury item, or at least maybe not a practical necessity.  In this movie we're seeing Bibles going for $30 - $50 in 1968, when the customers on camera are obviously doing the math regarding what the impact of the expense will have on the weekly budget.  They aren't in the homes of high-rollers, they're in middle to lower middle-class homes of working people of the era.

The salesmen are selling the book of faith, but the religion is the sale.  The supervisors expect sales slips, they don't want any backtalk, and they gladly point out how they've cleared out a few people for their attitude alone.  At night in depressing motor-lodge rooms, the salesmen come back to drink and smoke and sort out what's happening - they require the faithful as a customer base, and they know what buttons to push, but they're not selling with the zeal of evangelists - they're looking to see what it will take to put you into a new Bible today.

The movie is a fascinating record of a particular time and place and what people were like.  But it remains relevant as the pressure to produce, to deliver of anyone who ever had a job, and you see how different personalities approach the same problem with varying results - but there's no real clarity to why "The Bull" succeeds where "The Badger" can't get a break.  The desire to get ahead and to dream of doing well gives way to worrying about survival in a world where success or failure are mercurial even to the people in the thick of things.  

It's powerful stuff, and neither begins nor ends neatly.  I can't really recommend the movie enough.  Give a chance if you have the opportunity.