Saturday, March 12, 2016

Doc Watch: David Bowie - Five Years (2013)

This week I recorded David Bowie: Five Years (2013) off PBS and gave it a whirl after Jamie retired for the evening.

If I have one complaint about the doc, it's that the whole "Five Years" bit gets away from itself as the documentary tries to claim its about five specific years in Bowie's career, but really spans better than a decade between 1971 and 1983, and while they try to stick to five years of those twelve...  it's sort of distracting.  Just call it "Golden Years" and get on with it.

But, if you get past that minor hurdle, it's a pretty good doc, giving a history of a transformative period in Bowie's career from Hunky Dory to the Let's Dance era.  It's a great mix of interviews with producers, musicians and the occasional pundit (Camille Paglia) talking about the period, so if you want to see Eno talk Low, Robert Fripp talk about working on Heroes, this is your doc.  Nile Rodgers talk about China Girl?  Tune in.

The doc, released in 2013, wondered aloud about the sudden arrival of The Next Day and seemed to have Bowie's participation, not showing his face, but using audio and visual interviews from the past to piece together the story.  And, sadly, this version contained a very quick coda with birth and death dates for Mr. Bowie.

The primary concern of the doc is tracing the musical evolution/ transformations of Bowie, tagged to his personas associated with each album from Ziggy Stardust to The Thin White Duke - but none of that really takes into account the personal changes going on aside from fame and drug use.  Bowie had children, a wife, a movie career and a lot else going on, but remains laser focused on the music, which is narrow, but an acceptable angle to approach.  It keeps Bowie at that arm's length he always seems (to me), but it leaves massive gaps in a narrative of Bowie's life writ large.

Still, I enjoyed it, and would recommend it for fans looking for a bit of what went into the albums of the era, hearing from the collaborators who were putting in blood, sweat and tears alongside the man.

Disney Watch: Dumbo (1941)

"Get ready to cry your eyes out" I said to Jamie as I was putting the BluRay in the player.  The movies was Dumbo (1941), and, man, if you don't get a little choked up when Dumbo's mom picks him up in her trunk during the "Baby Mine" sequence, you may want to run a magnet over your skull and check to see if it attaches to your skull, in which case you are, in fact, a robot, you unfeeling monster.

As a kid, I had a fondness for Dumbo, but I couldn't tell you where or how I saw the movie.  The sharpest memory of the character from my childhood is (a) riding the Dumbo ride at The Magic Kingdom in Florida with The Admiral and (b) taking home a Dumbo stuffed toy from The Magic Kingdom.  So, I'm thinking, I had a pretty firm attachment to ol' Dumbo from back in the day.

Then, during my tenure at The Disney Store, we could borrow copies of the Disney movies from a lending closet (they wanted us to actually be familiar with the Disney cartoons.  Good on them!), and at 19 or so I was reminded of how much I liked the movie as I cried my way through a cartoon.

Poor lil' Dumbo.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Captain America III Trailer, Just Because

Of course I'm excited about Captain America: Civil War.  It's a new Marvel movie, so I'll go see it.  Plus, it's a Captain America movie, which means I'll see it opening weekend.  Plus, it has The Falcon, Black Panther, Black Widow, Iron Man, War Machine and more.  So, I'm seeing it opening day at 7:30.  Tickets are secured.

I was not, of course, a fan of the actual Marvel Civil War comics, and I am concerned I'd have the same issues with this movie.  If Marvel wants to pretend it has any attachment to the real world, yes:  superheroes kinda sorta seem like they need to be regulated folks under the supervision of some sort of legal authority.  Otherwise, it's "person with an agenda and a mask on the street with lethal force at their disposal".  What made the Marvel Civil War comics all the more ridiculous was that Cap, who was a working government agent with no secret ID at the time of the series' release came down on the side of anarchic superheroes avoiding legal repercussion.

We live in a country of laws, sir.

Bogie Watch: The African Queen (1951)

A year ago I likely would have watched this movie, enjoyed it immensely without a passing thought, recognized the brilliance of John Huston's direction in yet another movie, saluted Bogart and Hepburn for their genius, summed up the plot to about the 1/2 way mark, and called it a day.  Fair enough.

Nothing traumatic happened in the past several months, but a pal from high school watched the movie with his wife - a smart guy, highly educated, a guy with whom its a pleasure to have a beer or two - and commented on facebook about how ridiculous they found the acting in the movie.  

In 1952, when the Academy Awards were handed out for 1951, Humphrey Bogart took home the Oscar for Best Actor while Katherine Hepburn was nominated for Best Actress and John Huston was nominated for Best Director.  Of course, I'm not one to take the Oscars seriously as so much goes into both nominations and voting then and now, but it's a sign of something that all three were nominated and Bogart took home the statue.  

But I'm also not saying this guy and his wife (or the myriad facebook friends who piled on about "old movies") were wrong.  It's a fascinating bit of insight into (a) how acting styles change vis-a-vis what we'd expect and (b) a modern audience's ability - or lack thereof- to shake loose of the moorings of what they might consider "good" acting to see a dated performance - or one even reflective of speech and mannerisms of years past - and not find the whole thing a bit ridiculous.  It creates a high barrier to entry for the mass audience, I guess.

I wonder, in sixty years, what Leonardo DiCaprio will look like to space-suburbanites watching The Revenant on their Holo-Wall or projected directly into their optic nerve.  Someone's going to find all that grunting and shrieking just hilarious.  That's the nature of the beast.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Noir Watch: Gun Crazy (1950)

I've lost track of how many times I've seen Gun Crazy (1950).  And, in fact, over the past ten years its easily become one of my favorite movies.  Tuesday night JAL and I met up at the Alamo to catch a screening which was, it turned out, part of a series the Alamo was doing about social issues in movies.  And, of course, Gun Crazy is as good an example of how a good gun owner gets sucked into the issues of a bad gun owner as you're like to see.

The screening was either sold out or nearly so, which, even in a small theater at The Alamo on a Tuesday at 7:30 - for a movie that's now 66 years old - is a pretty good thing.  What was truly surprising was that the screening was of a 35mm print struck in the 1960's, as near as I could tell.

Collecting Memories Project: You Were Into Superheroes, Fantasy and Sci-Fi Before It Was Cool

If you're over a certain age, you remember a dark era in the long, long ago when superheroes were not cool.  Reading science-fiction, fantasy or comics got you labeled a "geek" and "nerd" in an era when those words were legitimate slurs, not a comment vis-a-vis "I have an interest outside eating and breathing".  There was a time when the average person on the street did not know the name of the company that published Spider-Man comics, was pretty sure there were only four super-heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Spider-Fellow) and they had never heard of The Avengers.  Many people found it inconceivable that all comics were not just published by one company.  

Reading an article in was actually a pretty good reminder of what it was to bear the secret shame of your hobbies.  As I begin so many posts here:  "The kids will never know..."

When I came back to The Signal Watch after a hiatus, it was, in part, because I realized that when I felt like talking about comics and pop-culture, it was from a perspective of an elder statesman.  It's one thing to be young and full of excitement about comics and movies.  It's another to be older and have been around the block a bit.  And, of course, remember the time before a Comic-Con in every city, when being seen with a Superman comic would get you assigned "permanent virgin" status, when you only let folks in an elite inner circle know about your extensive knowledge of X-Men trivia, and - really - in a time when comics had no internet, and it wasn't necessarily a very social thing to do.

As much as I think of my experience as typical of comic nerds, there really isn't a typical experience.  Everyone's story is unique.  Not everyone was a straight white dude living in North Austin pedaling their bike to Ballard's gas station to grab some funny books, candy and soda on a summer afternoon.

Here's the thing:

I want to hear your stories.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Harvey Watch: Blue in the Face (1995)

After Teen Witch, I needed to cleanse the pallet, and the first thing that popped up in my years-old Netflix queue was the 1995 kind-of-odd movie, Blue in the Face.

If you've never seen it, it's a sort of sequel to the 1995 drama, Smoke, which I haven't seen in forever, but which I highly recommend.  It's 90's indie film making at its purest and best and stars Harvey Keitel and William Hurt, too of my favorite guys from that era.

When the movie wrapped, they had the location and - as has never happened before in the history of film, extra budget - and apparently Harvey Keitel was around, anyway, so they made up an entirely secondary movie on the spot.  Director Wayne Wang and Paul Auster - who wrote the novel upon which Smoke was based, thought up some scenarios, put out a call, and, like, tons of folks showed up to be in the movie.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of "Fargo"

We love ya, Marge.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Magical Watch: Teen Witch (1989)

A while back I became aware of the 1989 low-budget, more or less straight-to-cable movie, Teen Witch, that was not then, nor is it now aimed at me in the slightest.  I would have been a 14 year old boy at the time this movie came out, likely in my freshman year of high-school, and while I can imagine the scenario that would have occurred where I'd have watched this one (stumbling across it on cable and force-feeding it to a friend), that never happened.  Had I stumbled across it myself, I would have been far, far too embarrassed not for me - but for everyone involved in the movie - to stick with it.

Luckily, that's no longer a problem.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

This Moment in History: Astronaut Scott Kelly Returns to Earth! and the Impact of Social Media on Space

Here's one of the great things about social media:  Broadcast media and the press in general have done a ludicrously poor job of covering the work of NASA.  I don't know if Broadcast Journalism majors are too thick to get why this is important stuff, or space exploration and science is too unweildy for the public.  But, we no longer rely on that media to get the info our eyeballs and ears.  There are dozens of NASA twitter and facebook outlets.  Many of them twitter and fb accounts held personally by the astronauts themselves.  And its not just limited to NASA.  Want to know what Canadian Astro-hero Chris Hadfield is up to?  Check his twitter!

NASA - an organization that has felt the government squeeze more than any that I've seen in the past decade - has had to rethink and refocus their outreach approach.  Since the 1990's, the internet  has made the world more aware of the successes of both manned space flight and our rover missions to Mars.  Television can't seem to be bothered with much more than a 30 second puff-piece about landing a robot on Mars or the final flight of an American space shuttle, but there are lots of us huddled around laptops or abusing our office projectors and killing a few minutes to watch a rocket launch.  I don't know how SpaceX would have evolved without the internet (and it's a work stoppage at my office almost every time Musk's company has a launch or landing).

Through the various channels I follow, I became aware of the Scott Kelly story a while before the launch.  I was aware that Mark Kelly, husband to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona, was an astronaut - and vaguely aware he had a twin brother.  But, yes, when I heard an American was going to follow in Russia's footsteps and place one of our own in space for a year, I got very excited.  Russia does an amazing job with its Cosmonaut program, and even in years of faultering economy has remembered the national pride they can have in engineering, science and rocketry if they keep their program going.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan Merges With The Infinite

Former First Lady, 80's fixture, anti-drug advocate, Mr. T snuggler, astrology enthusiast and spouse to President Ronald Reagan - Nancy Reagan - has passed at the age of 94.

The kids will never understand what it was like having Nancy Reagan as First Lady in the White House.  We haven't since had a First Lady who demanded the same sort of attention and her piece of the spotlight as Nancy, in a sort of WASPy, 20th Century social-rules, imperious sort of way.  The Ronald and Nancy Reagan relationship was one of true mutual adoration, but you sort of got the feeling President Reagan was more than happy to let Nancy dress him and tell him how to cut his hair, and it worked out well for both of them.