Friday, January 29, 2021

Friday Watch Party: Return of the Swamp Thing (1989)

Day:  Friday - 01/29/2021
Time:  8:30 Central
Where:  Amazon Prime

I've only seen this once. Back in high school, I think my sophomore year.

My mom was having some sort of gathering of her friends in our living room, so my dad and I got banished to the upstairs TV room (affectionately known as "Slippy Village"). My dad and I are a real braintrust when it comes to picking movies, and so it came to be that we settled on Return of the Swamp Thing. I recall we had to keep turning it down because of lots and lots and lots of machinegun fire, and we did not wish to upset my mom and her pals.

I also vaguely remember having to also explain to The Admiral, "no, Heather Locklear is a real actor.  No, seriously.".  

Anyway, let's all enjoy a talking salad and his friend.


Noir Watch: The Breaking Point

Watched:  01/28/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950
Director:  Michael Curtiz

Based on a Hemingway novel I haven't read,* To Have and Have Not, The Breaking Point (1950) stars John Garfield, Phyllis Taxter and a smooth as hell Patricia Neal - all under the direction of the great Michael Curtiz.  

I honestly thought I'd seen this one, so I let it sit on my DVR - but I hadn't.  It bares very little resemblance to the film that borrows the novel's name, the famed Bogart and Bacall vehicle, which I recommend.  You could double-bill them and it'd be an interesting ride.  

As I understand it, the movie strays from the novel in several key ways, but as a noir - it fits perfectly when it comes to theme and occasionally dabbles in the look and feel, which is a tough sell when you have a lot of daytime story on boats and piers.  But.  

Garfield plays the captain of a fishing charter who, paired with his pal Wesley (Juano Hernandez), is scraping by in tough times.  They pick up a wealthy client who ditches them and his lady-friend, Patricia Neal, in Mexico without payment.  Forced into a corner, Garfield agrees to take on a group of Chinese immigrants to smuggle into the country - but things go poorly.  From there, things just keep escalating.  Because: noir.

As a noir, it fits like a glove.  Our character is forced into a corner, gets in over his head doing something he doesn't want to do.  Neal isn't a femme fatale, but she's a fascinating distraction and her appeal demonstrates Garfield's duality, when he has Phyllis Thaxter at home, offering love, support and a way out.  

Honestly - it's just a damn good movie, surprisngly progressive with some of its characters, and has maybe one of the gut-punchiest endings I can remember seeing in a movie in off TCM in a long time.  The themes are absolutely universal/ timeless.  Garfield is so *human* in the film, his driving insecurities and stubbornness in the face of reality so relatable (at the expense of the people who love him), it's a remarkable feat of story, script, acting and direction.  

Highly recommended.

*I've only read a smattering of Hemingway, but I don't have time for the "he wasn't that good" chatter the kids are so fond of. Your inability to relate to any fiction where people don't have access to a television that is not YA fantasy is not my problem.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Cloris Leachman Has Merged With the Infinite

Very sad to report that Cloris Leachman has passed at the age of 94.  

The woman was an absolute delight and in too many movies that I liked for me to name all of them.  

Glad she was with us so long, and was on our screens for so long.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Musical Watch: Pal Joey (1957)

Watched:  01/26/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  George Sidney

So, sometimes you watch a movie and it doesn't work out.  I did take a note that this movie, on paper, seems to have everything going for it, but it isn't well remembered.  Which, you know, can often mean something.  Starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak, and from George Sidney who has a list of quality directorial credits as long as your arm, it shoud have been a cinch.  But.

Pal Joey (1957) could be retitled Pal Joey - A Study in The Male Gaze or That's Problematic!  And this is coming from the guy who stands on soapboxes about modern audiences learning from and understanding the societal frameworks of a year in which a film was released.  

But we don't get thirty seconds into the film and our hero is being accused of trying to both get a minor drunk and maybe sleep with her.  Another two minutes in and blatant racism.  And then 90 minutes of misogyny and every possible shot they can get of the female form.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Comedy Watch: Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

Watched:  01/24/2021
Format:  I lost my DVD somehow.  So, Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  2000's
Director:  Adam McKay

Maybe the best thing about Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), other than that Jamie - 17 years later still wanders around the house quoting the movie - is that it's a generous ensemble movie.  Heck, for the first time, I noticed Missy Pyle shows up for two seconds at the end and gets a line.  But, yeah, while the star is of course Will Ferrell, virtually every speaking role has someone who either was or became a person worth noting, and everyone is given something like an opportunity for a laugh and delivers.  

Hence - we all get a 90 minute movie that never really gets dragged down by too much plot.  Everything is an opportunity to be silly.  Even a fight between Veronica Corningstone and Ron Burgundy that gets nasty (and probably some of the name calling would get cut in 2021) becomes absolutely absurd as Christina Applegate hurls a typewriter at Ron and Champ is holding the crowd back with "they're just talking...  they're just talking....".  It's good stuff.

I know it's been a while since I've watched the movie in its entirety - and in the intervening years, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.  And in Game 7 of that series, 1B Anthony Rizzo was famously caught saying "I'm in a glass case of emotion" to catcher (now manager!) David Ross and Tommy LaStella (who played everywhere, and whom I miss a lot).

So, yeah, it's still a lot of fun.  You forget half the people who are in the movie.  Danny Trejo, Kathryn Hahn (who actually rocks 70's hair), Fred Armisen, the great Fred Willard...  the list just goes on and on.

And, while we can all acknowledge the main four male leads, Applegate deserves a mountain of praise for the very specific take she brought to Veronica Conringstone that I find hysterical.  Were we ever to meet, I'd insist she tell me whatever I'm up to "is Grade-A baloney".  

PODCAST: "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982) - A Signal Watch Canon Episode w/ SimonUK and Ryan


Watched:  01/22/2021
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade: 1980's
Director:  Nicholas Meyer

SimonUK and Ryan boldly get into a movie about aging, space pirates, sacrifice and making grown men cry when their space pal is taken out. We're tasked with talking about what a big deal this movie is for us, personally, as well as what it meant for Star Trek as a franchise. 
Main Title - James Horner, Star Trek II OST
Epilogue, Closing Credits - James Horner, Star Trek II OST


Signal Watch Canon

SimonUK Cinema Series

Noir Watch: Witness to Murder (1954)

Watched:  01/23/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Roy Rowland

I think Jamie has become a full Barbara Stanwyck fangirl, and that's a feature, not a bug.  So, I used that to leverage spending our Saturday night watching Witness to Murder (1954), a great small-scale thriller with two terrific leads in Stanwyck and George Sanders - an actor I realize I may see in more movies by happenstance than anyone else.  

Our plot seems derived from Rear Window, but this movie came out just before the Hitchcock classic, and the structure is very different.  Before the credits finish rolling, Stanwyck awakens in the night and happens to look across the way out her window just in time to see a neighbor choking a woman to death.  Naturally, she calls the police, but the murderer, George Sanders, has figured what's happening and manages to stash the body when the cops drop by.

From here it's a game of cat and mouse, with Stanwyck certain of what she saw, but with no evidence to back her up and Sanders out-maneuvering her, and, in fact, beginning to plot against her.

The real villain of the movie is, curiously, 1950's attitudes about gender roles and women and their crazy lady brains not being good like man brains.  Curiosuly, this is focused through our upright cop/ love interest played by Gary Merrill (who never actually seems worthy of the attention of Stanwyck, but we'll just let that one go), as well as his parter played by Jesse White and the police Captain.  Sanders is able to leverage their "well, she has a crazy lady brain" predisposition against Stanwyck repeatedly and to to great effect.  

Muller took time in his post-movie wrap up to give modern critics a bit a knuckle-wrap for calling the movie "unrealistic", and I can't be sure how I would have thought of the film had he not made sure we thought hard on this before and after.  But here's what I know (SPOILERS) - putting inconveniently brash or argumentative spouses and children in psych wards was all the rage for a good chunk of the 20th century.  With psychology on the rise in post-war America, and using science as a blunt instrument, it didn't take much to get someone tossed in a hospital.  

It's played up for dramatic effect, I guess, but I think the most frustrating bit is that Stanwyck keeps cozying up to the detective who "wants to believe her", but just can't.  And, frankly, the script and Sanders himself do a great job of giving him the upper hand as the devious sociopath versus Stanwyck just being smart and plucky.  But, yeah, you want to have Stanwyck just give that cop the business, and it just doesn't happen.

IE: I agree with Muller that this movie is not "unrealistic" in how folks dismiss a single, late-night witness to a murder that doesn't appear to have happened to a body that no one has seen.

You don't need me to tell you Stanwyck is great in this, or that Sanders is terriific as the killer (and, btw, he's a Nazi, too!).  The direction is fine, but with John Alton as the DP, the movie looks like a million bucks based on some of those set-ups alone.  

I find myself digging thrillers like this.  This same script would have turned into something tedious by the late 1980's and through to today, with a post, Athony Hopkins killer and a chase scene that would go on for, like, a year.  I feel like Crawford's Sudden Fear is in a similar vein of small-scale thrillers from this era, or even Lupino and Ryan in Beware, My Lovely.  

Here's to hoping Jamie continues to volunteer her time for more Stanwyck pictures, because Barbara made, like, 100 movies.  I'm sure we'll keep finding good stuff.