Saturday, October 10, 2015

Ed Watch: Ed Wood (1994)

Really, Ed Wood (1994) could not have come out at a better time for me, personally.  I was 19ish and headed into the production track for Film at Univ. of Texas.  The movie landed with a thud in theaters (less than $6 million at the box office on an $18 million budget), but I think found its audience on home video.  Maybe not a huge audience, but I'm not really sure what anyone expected from a biopic about an unknown figure of questionable contribution to humanity, shot in black and white, that involved staunch support of cross-dressing, and, arguably, it's biggest star circa 1994 was Bill Murray who was in a smaller part.

The movie meant a lot to me at the time as a wanna-be filmmaker - especially as I realized I would always be one of questionable talent and choice-making, and even today I rank it pretty highly not just among my favorite Tim Burton movies, but among movies in general.  And, as we went through film school, it basically gave us a script to quote from, not the least being "Let's shoot this @#$%er!"

If you haven't seen it, and don't know what I'm talking about, Ed Wood tells the story of Writer/ Actor/ Director/ Producer of B-pictures, Edward D. Wood, Jr., who was considered, for many years, the worst director to ever make movies.  And if you've seen his most popular offerings, Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space, they make a pretty strong case for that supposition.*

Ed (Johnny Depp) is a man of big Hollywood dreams, who wants to create the same movies that inspired him, like Dracula and Citizen Kane, but his stabs at creative work via live theater aren't really panning out, and he can't get funding until he hears about a small studio thinking of making a biopic of Christine Jorgensen, one of the first Americans to undergo gender re-assignment surgery.  Ed lands the job by revealing he understands Christine as he, himself, likes to dress in women's clothing.  Of course, Ed's actually a cross-dresser, not transgendered in the same way, and so he delivers a completely different movie with Glen or Glenda?, which is basically his own story.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Full Review of Kino Lorber's "Phantom of the Opera" 2-disc BluRay collection

Lon Chaney, man of 1,000 faces, as The Phantom of the Opera.
Credit Kino Lorber

Preamble:  This review was originally released at Texas Public Radio.  As I'm a bit obsessive about losing columns at other sites, I'm archiving it here.  But, if you haven't read this one yet, I recommend clicking the link back to TPR and giving them a hit rather than reading here.

Full disclosure - The disc was a review copy provided by Kino Lorber to Texas Public Radio, and this column was edited with the generous help of NathanC of TPR.  

2015 marks the 90th anniversary of the release of seminal American horror/thriller, The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney. The film stands as a hallmark of both horror film and silent cinema, and as a survivor of the many mishaps and hardships that befell many other films of the era. Today, it continues to thrill audiences.

This fall, Kino Lorber delivers a terrific two-disc Blu-ray set which fans of the film will enjoy as they dig in to the treasure trove of special features, and those newly arrived to the film can enjoy for the magnificent presentation and contextualizing available in the special features.

Lon Chaney, in both his make-up and performance as Erik, remains such a recognizable concept that The Phantom of the Opera has endured in the popular imagination while the film’s contemporaries have faded, surviving mostly in the domain of serious film buffs and historians. The film stamped itself onto the zeitgeist thanks not just to the film’s perennial Halloween showings, but because it brought audiences something both novel and universal in its shadowy tale of outsiders and the chilling wonder of the unknown.

What About "Dark Knight Strikes Again"? - a follow up to the Frank Miller post

Someone online rightfully pointed out that in my previous post on DC Comics as a flat circle and why we should both be delighted and horrified by a new Dark Knight installment by Frank Miller, I forgot to mention the Dark Knight Strikes Again fiasco.  Their phrase, not mine, but, perhaps apt.

Let's discuss, shall we?

And, of course, that's right.  I literally forgot.  I knew what I planned to say, but I forgot to write it in there.*  So, look, here's a whole post, so I don't want to hear from any of you that I don't take feedback or get inspired by folks who do look at the site, Randy.

But, if I were to talk about Dark Knight Strikes Again, I'd have to do so in context.  So, here goes:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Flash Watch: Season 2 - Episode 1 "The Man Who Saved Central City"

Last year I tuned into the CW hour-long superhero action/drama The Flash expecting the same crippling disappointment I've found with most things DC Comics in recent years, Dark Knight Trilogy aside.   At my core, I always want these things to work, so you got to show up and see what they do.  And, in this case, I think The Flash is doing it right.

Sure, the show dabbles in some of the angst and romantic melodrama you've come to expect from the network that turned Superman into a weepy teen for a solid decade with Smallville, but unlike doe-eyed Superman, this show understood that a program needs momentum, not endless circling of the drain when it comes to character and plot development.

Of course, the creatives behind The Flash was never embarrassed of the source material to begin with, but then they went ahead and just swung for the fences, because Barry Allen does not do "slow burn".  In Season 1 we got a huge amount of the Flash's Rogues Gallery on screen, up to and including Gorilla Grodd (and I got Captain Cold, who is secretly one of my favorite villains anywhere in comics).  And we saw a lot of other DC heroes running around, like Firestorm.  All of that would have been a lot of fluff and of no consequence, if, at the center of it, we didn't also get a pretty solid story about a kid who saw his mother die in a blur of mysterious red and yellow, and saw a man in yellow kill his mother right in front of him.

TL;DR: Dark Knight III, Dan Didio's DC Comes Full Circle and Being Okay with Frank Miller in 2015

To recap, the three tricks in Didio's book have been (1) to revisit already well-established and popular works in comics and (2) the universe-wide reboot.  The third (numero three) trick is one Marvel has taken a real shine to, and that's keeping one name on the marquee with replacing the character that built the brand and/ or completely changing that main character.  But I'm not getting into that one today.*

We've seen tricks numbers 1 and 2 over and over in ways I cannot believe haven't become a punchline on the internets, but the contents of the actual comics isn't really what's on the minds of the comics internets on any given day.

Bam!  Zap!  Pow!  Comics aren't just for kids!

DC Comics has been trying to plug the dam when it comes to sales since about 12 months after the New 52 reboot, the atomic bomb version of the trick #2 rebooting, revamping, universe retouching he'd been doing since Infinite Crisis led to One Year Later just over 9 years ago, and which he just revisited with Convergence and the seemingly disastrous "DC YOU".**

In the 1980's, DC's bold direction under Jeanette Kahn and Pual Levitz allowed for a creator-driven environment to produce a few seminal works of comic-dom that truly did alter the landscape and bring capes and tights comics along with the audience as they should have aged out.  Superhero comics weren't in college classrooms as assigned material in 1985, but by 1995, at least Watchmen was known worldwide, and for more than 20 years, the comic was held up in "best books of the last X number of years" lists and found mentions in magazines your parents would read when doing that sort of thing was something humans still did.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reeve Watch: Somewhere in Time (1980)

It's not always easy living with me.  Jamie has to watch a lot of movies that she might not really care to see.  So, trying to be nice, I selected the Christopher Reeve movie Somewhere in Time (1980), a movie I had seen only one time before circa 1994, and didn't remember particularly well.  But, you know, it was supposed to be romantic and have no monsters or superheroes anywhere in sight, and it has that dreamy Chris Reeve, so I figured I was doing her a solid.

It turns out Somewhere in Time is kinda boring.  It's beautifully shot, and you can't complain that Reeve and his partner in the film, Jane Seymour at her loveliest, aren't doing their jobs.  But...  the script is weirdly hung up on the concept over character.  If I were to be unkind, I'd say that Seymour's entire role in the movie is to be pretty and to stand as still as the photo Reeve's character falls for in the first act.

Signal Watch Reads: Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous with Rama" (1973, audiobook)

After listening to the audiobook of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I got a rec from one of you (I'll assume it was CanadianSimon, as he reads 3 books a week, it seems) to read Arthur C. Clarke's novel of alien contact in our solar system, Rendezvous with Rama (1973).   In my old age, this is exactly the kind of book that is bringing me back to science fiction after a long, long time of not reading the genre.  But, then again, I was always more of a Asimov-Robot-Novel kind of sci-fi reader and felt like I was really pushing the limits of fantasy with Martian Chronicles by Bradbury.

No one is going to accuse Clarke of writing character-driven science fiction, but in imagining both a world in which space travel has become commonplace to the point of interplanetary colonies are treated like nations and how we might react to a truly alien craft entering our solar system (and what it might be like as the crew tapped to take on that challenge) all feels remarkably relevant in 2015 as I am sure it did in 1973 when the book hit shelves.

Follow PaulT as he watches 31 horror movies in 31 days!

PaulT (aka: PlacesLost) is watching and commenting upon a horror movie a day all October.  

Halloween Watch: The Mummy (1932)

Hot on the heels of the success of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), Universal wanted to catch lightning in a bottle for third time, so they threw in the Egyptology craze that was still echoing a bit after the King Tut discoveries of 1923.*

if the poster makes you think this movie is about a dead guy and a gal in slinky dresses, you are correct

The Mummy (1932) isn't my favorite Universal horror film, but every time I watch it, I like it a bit more.  It's part Dracula, part Jack Pierce make-up genius, has loads of Karloff, a mythology that's been ripped off so many times it feels almost bland in 2015, and Zita Johann, who is busily trying to compete with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford for most memorable eyes in a Hollywood film, 1932.

Weirdly, it's only really book-ended by thrills at the beginning and end of the film, and the rest of the movie is sort of a slow, mystical boil.  For my dollar, one of the creepiest things in a Universal Horror film is the opening of The Mummy's eyes in the first few minutes of the movie.  It's everything you absolutely do not want to see happen around a guy who has been dead for 3 millennia.  And all of that works thanks to the astounding conception of the scene in lighting, make-up, direction and Karloff.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Colonialism Watch: Dark of the Sun (1968)

For some time, SimonUK had been insisting I see this movie after we'd watched Wild Geese (1978).  He assured me Dark of the Sun (1968) would be manly, but I also knew it would have some fairly serious overtones as, like Wild Geese, it's a movie about the end of colonialism, in this case, it's in the revolutionary period in The Congo.  As the colonists gave up and lost power, locals who were trying to maintain their place all across the continent were surprised to find that maybe the locals had taken exception to being under the European boot heel, and maybe that meant, well...  Fast forward to 2015, and check in on the Congo now.

The movie was made when people weren't really sure what would happen, and so takes place as a new President has taken power, but lost the backing of European banks and other supporters.  He calls in a mercenary, played by The Time Machine's Rod Taylor in a role that could not be more different from his starry-eyed scientist, who arrives with Jim Brown, playing a Congolese native who has been educated in the US but is in The Congo trying to lend support where he can to the right causes.

All of this takes a bit to sort out, as our mission is to board a train, get to a mining colony a day's-plus ride away, and get back to the Capital in 3 days with $50 million in diamonds (that's about $340 million in today's dollars).  Oh, and bring back the colonists safely, too.

He recruits a German ex-Nazi soldier working Congolese security and his forces, and a drunkard doctor for color, and they're off.

The movie doesn't pull punches with the risks, the moral compromise or the bodycount.  It also looks both backward at the patriarchal society crumbling and burning (and doesn't seem to have a positive opinion of those stewards), and forward toward the potential for The Congo through the eyes of Jim Brown's character - even as he sees the chaos all around him.

So it's an interesting film for what sometimes wants to be an action film, but at the end of the day has a conscience and a heart.  Curry, Taylor's character, has been taking from the situation for so long, profiting as a mercenary, that when he's asked about how he actually sees the situation around him, you get the feeling he really hasn't thought on it, not in those terms.  He's always had the ability to walk out and go live anywhere else when he wants to, there's nothing at stake for him here.

All this, and gun fights with Spitfires, fistfights that involve trains and chainsaws, and drunk doctors to sober up.  It's a heck of a movie, really.  Highly recommended.

Halloween Watch: Trick 'r Treat (2007)

Well, this was a nice surprise.  I think a few of you had suggested this one to me over the years, but I'd always look at the poster and think "eh, this is one of those movies with a 'scary' antagonist that's more visually interesting than actually all that scary".

I watched the movie with pal SimonUK, and as the WB logo went up, he said "You know, I think this is going to be one of those movies people wind up watching every Halloween."   Which, about 2/3rds of the way into the movie, I paused the movie and said "yes, I can see why you'd say that, and I think you're right on the money."

The Flash, Season 2 debuts Tuesday!

I don't talk about the character as much as Superman or Wonder Woman, but I think it's been pretty clear to longtime readers that I'm a fan of DC's speedster dynasty and the whole Flash concept.  From when Carmine Infantino drew his first strobe-image of Barry Allen in motion, this was a book that looked pretty straightforward, but which got really weird, really fast way back in the Silver Age, and it never turned back.*

And, lest we forget, the whole concept of a multi-verse in comics was spawned in the classic "Flash of Two Worlds" story in The Flash #123, back in 1961.

Speaking of, Tuesday sees the season premier of The Flash as it enters its sophomore year.  And, look who shows up:

hell, yes
Jay Garrick has been vital to the Barry Allen Flash comics since that 1961 issue, and it's awesome to see he'll get screentime and, I hope, a recurring role.

Last season was the most fun I had watching any one TV show.  Maybe it's not as intricate and adult as Mad Men or The Americans, but it does exactly what I want a Flash TV show to do - be super weird, have lots of fun twists and turns, use super speed in new ways all the time, and make Barry Allen an all right kind of guy.

They threw everything at the wall last season, and it mostly worked.  Now we see what happens when they don't just worry about time-travel, they worry about the multiverse.  Let's hope this isn't the season where they drop the ball.

Here's some posters:

That's So Craven! We watch "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "The Hills Have Eyes"

When Wes Craven died, I realized I'd only seen a portion of his filmography.  Sure, I'd seen Scream and a few Freddy movies, but I'd never seen his two earliest hits, The Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left.

It had been 20 years or more since I'd last seen A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and I am pretty sure the last time I watched it all the way through was in high school.  There's no question there is genuine horror and a great bit at work in this movie, but there are also some clunky moments, and we're far from thinking of Freddy as the wise-ass franchise character he'd become in subsequent movies.