Saturday, February 20, 2016

Bond Watch: You Only Live Twice (1967)

We give You Only Live Twice (1967) the most prized of all Signal Watch awards: The Stefon (the award for the movie that has EVERYTHING).

After the frantic shenanigans of Goldfinger, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman clearly believed they were in some sort of race against The Devil who would consume their souls if they did not keep making bigger and crazier James Bond films.  Thunderball went all over the place, winding up in a massive underwater battle and then out of control hydrofoil battle.

You Only Live Twice has:

Friday, February 19, 2016

Harper Lee Merges With The Infinite

According to The New York Times, author Harper Lee has merged with The Infinite.

Of all the books I read in K-12 as assigned reading, To Kill a Mockingbird one of only two I picked up again and again after the assignments were over and done (the other being Fahrenheit 451).

The book is so profoundly and stunningly... American.  But, I assume, also universal.  And as important as it is, in general, its also so, so important to share with young people as they move from childhood onto the path to adulthood.

But I don't need to tell you about the book, or its impact.  Heck, it's written above the title in the image of the cover I've posted above.  And, it's assigned reading in every school district in the US, I assume.

For all the work so many authors put out there, it's fascinating to know Harper Lee released her one novel and then retreated, only releasing new material in the last year, and under shady circumstances.  And, yes, I have chosen not to read the other book, which i do not believe she would have intended to release while alive.

Geoff Johns Offers Vision of DCU "Rebirth" Didio will @#$% Up Before Issue 1

New day.  Same company.

DC Comics, in a sales death spiral, continues to not fire the people making the same terrible decisions they've been making for well over a decade.  On Thursday, DC Comics released a video of famed comics writer and live-action area liaison, Geoff Johns talking the mysterious "Rebirth" event hinted at by DC Comics Publisher Dan Didio via an obnoxious image released via twitter a couple of weeks ago.

this isn't even no data, this is negative data

This week is a sort of comics retailers meeting in Portland, OR, and DC has to say something to make retailers think the shoddy output and related plummeting sales of their company currently running comic shops right into the ground is due for am upturn.  Knowing that Dan Didio has about the same level of credibility as the Sham-Wow guy (and Jim Lee is, let's be honest, not great at this sort of thing), at least for the public face they put good ol' Geoff Johns out there in front with a video and some announcements about new price points, new #1's and a return to the numbering on Detective and Action Comics.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Disney Watch: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

On Nathaniel Capp's recommendation, I'm currently reading Walt Disney: Triumph of the Imagination, a Disney biography from a couple of years ago (and, spoiler: it's fantastic).  Naturally, part of reading the book is the reminder it is that I haven't seen a bunch of Disney films and cartoons in years and years.

The last time I remember seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) was during a theatrical run in summer of 1993 when I was working at The Disney Store and we were semi-required to go see the animated films so we could talk to customers about them.  Don't worry, they paid us to do so.  Terrific perk, and I would have been going, anyway.  And while it's likely I've seen it since then, it had to have been on VHS, to date the last screening I took in.

You guys can be cynical and weird about Disney's feature films, but I only feel that way about certain eras of their movies, and even then - not entirely.

But it all started, first, with a mouse.  And then with Snow White.

President's Day: Warren Gamaliel Harding, America's 29th President

Ol' Number 29
I've been trying to use President's Day to spend some time at least Wikipedia-ing the non-All Star Presidents of the United States.  As in any period, the pool of folks in play trying to be President and who actually win out (and what they do when in office) can tell us a lot about the times in which they lived.  So, with the batch of cartoon characters we've currently got gunning for Leader of the Free World, I really look forward to books written about this era, which will be called America's "WTF? Era".

In the wake of World War I and the iffy conclusion of the Woodrow Wilson presidency,* an unlikely Republican took the nomination on the 10th ballot of the GOP convention in the summer of 1920.  back then, party folks showed up at a real convention and really placed ballots.  The convention was not a televised advertisement.  A lot of dirty laundry got aired and political fortunes were won and lost overnight, and if I could reduce the election cycle to four months, I would gladly opt for the old-style form of corrupt politics over today's corrupt politics.

Once selected, Warren G. stayed home and ran a "front porch campaign", something I think 99% of America would fully back if it would mean the news cycle would stop shouting at us.

Coen Bros. Watch: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

As I said to Jamie when we left the movie "Normally I get annoyed when it's clear the filmmakers expect you to watch the movie more than once to 'get it'."  It's a ridiculous value proposition.  And I am not talking about returning to a mystery movie once you've seen how it all plays out so you can see the pieces working together before the big reveal.  I'm referring to a brand of filmmaking that works extra hard to show how damn smart they are that they forget to tell a compelling story and instead leave a breadcrumb trail for a message that, ultimately, you wonder why they felt they needed to make it so complex you needed a Lil' Oprhan Annie Decoder Ring to decipher it, and it still wound up being "Drink your Ovaltine."

But complexity in messaging has always been the case with the Coen Bros., going especially back to Barton Fink and playing out in even some of their most commercially viable films.  There's always a Mike Yanagita scene, a curve ball leaving you with more questions than answers or at least begging to make you look deeper, and, if you sort it out, it unlocks the picture.   After all, the Coen Bros. do not make mistakes.  They do not do extraneous.  That scene is saying something.

Now, I have my ideas about what the final scene means in Barton Fink, but I would always, always be willing to hear someone else explain it to me, because as much as I like that movie and like what it has to say about the assumptions and pretensions of the creative person, I can't quite nail that last scene on the beach.  I have my ideas, but I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

Sometimes I have a lot of patience for what the Coen Bros. are up to (Inside Llewyn Davis), and sometimes I don't (The Man Who Wasn't There).  And, frankly, while I enjoyed The Big Lebowski's screwball atmosphere the first time I saw it, it was the second time I watched it that the pieces fell in place and I felt like I actually "got it".  Which, of course, makes me want to re-watch The Man Who Wasn't There despite the fact I can't really seem to find it.  Maybe I forgive them because it doesn't feel so much like pretension as a solid movie they're putting out there, one where they offer everything up, and you can try to keep up.  And it's okay to have that nagging feeling that maybe you just saw something that you didn't entirely get on the first round.  With them, I really don't mind giving it another shot.

Hail, Caesar! (2016) was marketed as a sort of slapsticky comedy, something the Coens certainly did back in the Raising Arizona days and which they embraced mightily in The Hudsucker Proxy (a movie I will defend with punches, if necessary), riffing on post WWII-era Hollywood and the innate charm, goofiness and endless scandal that were part of the era.

But this is not that movie.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Having a Rough Valentine's Day? You Got Nothing on Theodore Roosevelt

Just a few years out of Harvard, Theodore Roosevelt was living in New York City in the Roosevelt family home with his mother, his father having had passed just a few years before.  He was an incredibly young, brash and vocal member of the New York State Assembly and so was in Albany when he received word his wife had gone into labor with their first child.

He raced home, and en route received word his wife was gravely ill.  By the time he arrived home, the child was born and his wife was comatose.  She passed on the 14th.

At the same time in the same house, his mother also died of typhoid.

This is the entry from Roosevelt's diary on that terrible day.

goddamn, that's heartbreaking

Roosevelt responded to all this by quitting politics, buying a ranch in South Dakota and becoming a cowboy.  That is, until the call to New York politics became too much and he went on to become the TR we all know and love (and fear).

The baby survived, becoming the completely out-of-control Alice Roosevelt, about which TR, as President, once said "I can either run the country or I can control Alice, but I cannot possibly do both."

So, as you throw your pity party for yourself that you're not having a good Valentine's Day, remember - you could have gotten on Tinder today and resolved your issue.  And, you're certainly not responding to any of this in ways that are generally recognized as totally bad-ass, a la President Roosevelt and his cowboy-solution.

Valentine's Day - Let's Talk Romance!

Ah, romance.  Specifically, the kind we think of when we hit Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day is, let's be honest, for people who are a-courtin' or long-time couples to jump through a few hoops so it's clear they're still engaged and interested in each other and the fire hasn't totally died out, but at a reasonable cost (Christ, you just bought them a Christmas present, like, 6 weeks ago.  You're not made out of money and you're still paying off those credit card bills.).  On Valentine's, single people will start to conspiracy theory minded, insisting those coupled-up folks are rubbing it in the faces of those who don't have someone with whom they readily swap spit.*

No one is going to accuse me of being the world's most romantic-type person.  Sentimental, sure.  But as "romance" is so ill-defined outside the cover of novels which are usually just set-ups for Cinemax-late-night action for people to read like its classy, I'm just not clear on what "romance" is supposed to be.  When I buy flowers, I don't really know why I'm doing it.  It's because I can read a calendar and I can replicate both human emotion and expression of emotion when given access to a website and functioning credit card.

It's probably also instructive to mention that I haven't been on a first date since 1995, and I've never seen The Notebook.  And, I have had to be instructed to please not pause movies and point out why two people supposedly in love are acting like complete morons.

So, what do I find A-OK when it comes to romance?

Let's take a look at some examples of some ideal romances in media.