Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Friday Watch Party: A Christmas Melody





When it comes to people who have tried to make a career out of Christmas media, it's hard to top Ms. Mariah Carey and/or Ms. Lacey Chabert.  Way, way back in 2015, this power duo teamed up for a single Hallmark movie.  Hold onto your hats, because this one was also directed by Mariah Carey.  I'm pretty sure its about a kids' singing competition or concert or some nonsense. 

Anyway, this combo is like loading your 5 lb. bag of Christmas with like 100 lbs. of Christmas, and we're gonna do it, and we're gonna like it.  No, I have not seen the full movie, just parts of it, which seems impossible.  

We're gonna Holiday the @#$% out of this %$#@.

Day:  Friday - 12/09/2022
Time:  8:30 Central, 6:30 Pacific
Service:  Amazon Streaming
Cost:  $3-$4


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Doc Watch: Santa Camp (2022)




Watched:  12/3/2022
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Director:  Nick Sweeney


The basic concept for Santa Camp (2022) contains all the volatility you'd expect of a movie that decides to use the familiar cultural touchstone of Santa Claus and the people who play him in malls, parades, personal appearances, etc...  to explore modern social wars and challenges of diversity and inclusivity.  

The movie clearly has a POV, but it's also one that is never stated directly by the filmmakers - this is a doc that lets people be themselves for good or ill on camera.  So, it lives in editorial choices.  Who knows what was left on the cutting room floor?  Maybe some stuff was worse?  Maybe items that were innocuous are cherry picked for context?  But when you're letting Proud Boys speak for themselves, it's hard to say how much nuance you're losing.  

Opening with a meeting of a grand council of Santa's of New England, a role and career choice for aging white men who have a very certain look, we get an idea of who has been a Santa - who embodies jolly ol' St. Nick in our physical space rather than paintings and cartoons.  To my surprise, this group of very similar older guys have already decided that maybe Santa needs more options for the public than just older, white, paunchy men, and they're in agreement that they need to start diversifying by inviting new recruits to their annual weekend retreat known as "Santa Camp".  

Saturday, December 3, 2022

PODCAST 223: "The Nine Kittens Of Christmas" (2021) - a Hallmark Holiday PodCast w/ Maxwell and Ryan



Watched:  12/2/2022
Format:  Hallmark Channel 
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  2020's
Director:  David Winning




Maxwell and Ryan explore the concept of Hallmark Christmas movies via a single entry. How does it reflect the formula? How does it differ? What is the formula and why? And why so many cats? So think hard about your unshakeable Christmas traditions, grab a cup of cocoa and warm up in the cheery glow of a podcast that is alight with Christmas cheer.


SoundCloud 


YouTube


Music:
Jingle Bells - Jingle Cats
White Christmas - Jingle Cats


Holidays 2022

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Holiday Watch: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)




Watched:  11/30/2022
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Todd Strauss-Schulson

Look, I'd seen this once back in 2012 and that was it for me, but Jamie is currently dealing with COVID, and so we're not looking for movies that are downers or super complicated at the moment.  

And so it was that after approximately 45 seconds of looking, I tuned into A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas (2011) - a movie that a mere 11 years later could never be made.  It's still relatively funny, but I'm also far older than I was when the first Harold and Kumar movie hit in 2004.  So, you kind of have to put yourself into the mental state of the early 00's and then the shift to adulthood that this final installment reflects.  

But, yeah, its maybe the last gasp of a string of movies featuring dudes behaving badly for yuks and a pre-#MeToo worldview that impacts a lot of key punchlines.  Also:  baby doing drugs (this absolutely does not hold up).  And, of course, the charm of a stoner comedy doesn't necessarily hold up over time for reasons so complicated and out of the scope of this blog that I don't feel like getting into it - but I'll say "aside from their musical selections, stoners are mostly deeply boring and tedious IRL."

As left and right horseshoed into overlapping end-states driven by differing concerns, the movie landscape has become a very different and more...  concerned place, in a way not really seen since the early 1960's.  It's not that you can't make a movie like this - no one is stopping you, but it's often not seen as something for a general audience or theatrical release.  Stuff like this now feels like it's a Netflix or Hulu drop.  

It is also super weird that Kumar had spent a couple years in the White House and filmed this during a sabbatical.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Hallmark Watch: A Holiday Spectacular (2022)




Watched:  11/27/2022
Format:  Hallmark Channel
Viewing:  First
Director:  John Putch

It's easy to forget that before they had a cable channel and the need to fill programming 24/7, Hallmark started making movies for network television.  Back in the day, Hallmark used to deliver semi-prestige Sunday-night movies with name talent.  I don't think this happens anymore as they've moved these movies to The Hallmark Channel and the budgets have taken a hit of sorts, but the DNA of those "Hallmark Presents" movies still exists.  So, every Christmas, tucked amongst the usual low-budget fare of the Hallmark movie season, you do get a movie or three with name actors or big set pieces. 

One of this year's offerings is A Holiday Spectacular (2022), which has only two name actors, one of whom is Eve Plumb, which blew my mind, and Ann-Margret.  Ann-Margret mostly only appears in a framing sequence and probably knocked her part out in 2-3 days of shooting, but it's still a delight to see her.  

Santor Watch: The Key To Christmas (2020)

Approx. 100x more effort was put into this poster than the movie



Watched:  11/27/2022
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Director, Writer, Camera, Editor, Catering, Accountant, Set Decoration:  Jason Mills

Some pals seem to take exception to my practice of watching bad movies, riffing them, commenting upon them, etc...  The argument goes "someone tried, and it's not cool to make fun of them for trying".  To that I say:  if trying is your criteria, I welcome you to watch The Key to Christmas (2020).  Because that @#$% ain't happening here.

Look, I don't understand the market for ultra-cheap holiday movies.  There can't be that many Me and Doug's out there constantly looking for ways to torture each other with the worst in absolute garbage media.  Someone is out there buying the rights to these movies to distribute them with the idea that enough people will watch them that these movies will make money somehow.  I don't get the model.  I have to assume it's money laundering, tax fraud or something.  

Monday, November 28, 2022

Holiday Watch: Spirited (2022)




Watched:  11/26/2022
Format:  Apple+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Sean Anders

So, at our house, there are two very different stances on Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  To me, the book is a near-religious text and an annual reminder that one can make good on a life ill-lived, that every year is a chance for change and a reminder of how we can improve the lot of those around us.  We are a product of our lives, but at the end of the day, it's the choices we make daily that define how we impact the world.  To Jamie, it's this thing that's on at Christmas that people keep remaking as movies of varying quality.  I think both of these viewpoints are true.  

I'll need to give it another viewing, but it's possible Spirited (2022) will enter the very nichey canon of my favorite adaptations of the story, which include the George C. Scott version, the Patrick Stewart version, Muppets Christmas Carol and Scrooged.  Given the way this year's Thanksgiving has gone down, I may just be raw and in need of a boost that this movie provided, but here we are.

While I'm more than done with movies investigating the mechanics behind Santa's operations (Fred Clause and Arthur Christmas are maybe my highlight of that genre), no one had really taken on the same idea with A Christmas Carol.  And if I'm being honest with myself, I don't know if I'd put any thought into it other than it's a ghost story and this is how they work.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

PodCast 222: "Home Alone 1 & 2" (1990, 1992) - Holidays 2022 w/ SimonUK and Ryan


 

Watched:  11/05 and 11/12/2022
Format:  Disney+
Viewing: Second/ First
Decade:  1990's
Director:  Christopher Columbus




Simon and Ryan ponder two of the biggest money makers of the 1990's, a pair of movies that caught the world by surprise and took cartoon violence, family strife, abandonment, and hanging with old people and found their Christmas box office miracle. As the movies are now staples of the Holiday, we take a look to see what's under the tree. Will we get a sweet present or hit in the face with a @#$%ing bowling ball?

Fairy Tale Watch: Disenchanted (2022)





Watched:  11/24/2022
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Adam Shankman

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. - Orson Welles

There's a lot of good in Disenchanted (2022), but it's a weird film.  Perhaps it's an unnecessary film?  

As much as I, too, wondered how Giselle - she of the cartoon kingdom - was going to adjust as a fish-out-of-water in New York, a fairy tale princess who now has to live in the Big Apple in a place with varying races, religions, opinions, illness, war, injustice...   I'm kind of wondering now - Maybe we didn't need to check in?  Maybe "happily ever after" is the ending this story needed.  After all, this movie starts to push on the edges of what it means to live happily ever after as it continues the tale of Giselle and Robert as it asks "what next?  What about ennui?  What about missing one's homeland and the way in which they were raised?  Isn't life deeply imperfect?"

I don't think it's wrong to limit the challenges of the movie to teen-angst, mean moms, commutes sucking and other suburban and relatable concerns within the control and world of your average schmo.  We have enough to deal with when it comes to the magical challenges of the film that will fill the runtime and primary concerns of the movie's A-plot.  

Charles Schulz at 100




Today marks the 100th birthday of cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of pop culture force, comic strip and animation favorite Peanuts.  

The Peanuts characters are embedded into American and Western culture in ways that will mean they last for a few more generations at minimum - becoming indelibly associated with holidays thanks to cartoons playing each year for the past nearly 60 years.  These days, the cartoons live on over on Apple+, but there's also plenty of decoration and ornamentation that includes the staple characters, and who doesn't know the beats and moments of the specials, even if just by osmosis?

When Apollo 10 was mounting up, NASA asked to use Snoopy as their safety mascot.  Since, they've adopted Snoopy as a mascot for safety writ large and just kind of in general.  Even as we cross this 100th birthday, there's a Snoopy doll floating around inside Artemis as it circles the moon.  That's pretty amazing.  

Of course it all started with a comic strip, and Schulz drew almost 18,000 installments over 50 years.  He created household names, concepts (Lucy pulling the football away, kite-eating trees), brought diversity to the comics page and delivered a lot of joy into people's lives.  In an era of splintered interests, it's hard to understand how something like a daily comic strip could cross generational, geographic and sociological divides as a surprisingly smart reflection of the world.  

Schulz himself went by "Sparky", a name picked up from a comic strip, Barney Google (Spark Plug was the name of a horse in the strip).  He had comics in his blood and managed to keep his strip on track, and the translations of his characters to other media remarkably consistent.  It's hard to imagine fifty years of work, but he did it.  And the strips still run in papers across the country.

Schulz passed on February 12, 2000, but here we are, with Snoopy circling the moon.  Let's hope there's a Snoopy snack bar when folks are living up there.






Friday, November 25, 2022

Noir Watch: City of Fear (1959)




Watched:  11/19/2022
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Director:  Irving Lerner

A low-budget crime thriller noir for the nuclear age!  Now this would be stretched into eight episodes of prestige TV, but this taught 81 minute film uses short-hand and focuses on the minute-by-minute crisis that unfolds when a pair of prisoners use a riot as cover to escape, believing they've smuggled out a canister of heroin that they think was being used to experiment on prisoners (there's your exciting B-plot as a brave journalist blows the lid off this story!  But not in this movie.).  

But that ain't heroin.  Vince Edwards - our POV character and an all-around-heel - has accidentally grabbed a sealed container of the highly radioactive Cobalt-60.  

Vince Edwards was a pusher before he got popped, and now he's looking to unload what he things is a fortune in horse and make good his escape, and maybe have his frankly foxy and loyal-to-a-fault girlfriend (Patricia Blair) catch up with him.  

Meanwhile, the cops, FBI and various other federal agencies are on the hunt as Edwards has no idea what he has, or that if he manages to open the sealed container, he's going to wipe out LA (see that title, City of Fear).  

In general, the movie is better than a lot of poverty row pictures, and while it feels cheap for a movie, if this were TV in 1959, it'd look and sound swell.  It has a soundtrack by a young Jerry Goldsmith, and it is definitely Jerry Goldsmith, so it feels oddly highbrow if you've been trained to enjoy his scores.  

I don't know if this is a recommended film, but it's a great curiosity of a picture.  Kiss Me Deadly does the nuclear bit perhaps better, but this one gets the threat in front of you minute one and stays focused, making you cringe every time Edwards tries to crack the canister.  And you fully get why the cops agonize over what to tell the public as a public alarm seems necessary, but may also f'-up their search and cause undue calamity if they can find that canister first.

Anyway - not all bad!  



Monday, November 21, 2022

Fairy Tale Watch: Enchanted (2007)


Watched:  11/29/2022
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Kevin Lima

Jamie wanted to watch the new straight-to-Disney+ Disenchanted, and I said "I've never seen Enchanted (2007), though."   This led to some small debate.  Jamie had seen it, and thought that we'd seen it together (we had not) and so we had some comedic back and forth before she gave up and let me just put on Enchanted to see if it would ring any bells.  

I had not seen it.

Look, I don't care.  Amy Adams and Idina Menzel are in both movies, so I'd watch whatever.  But it's nice to start at the start.  I'm assuming Jamie saw the first one with her secret boyfriend.

I'm glad Enchanted was still a Disney movie and didn't feel like it needed to go "edgy".  I think I've kind of seen the joke of running sweet characters through a PG-13 meat grinder enough, and, instead, welcome bringing some of that Princess magic to the real world.  Sure, there's a version of this that's double-entredres and boner jokes that one could make and I might chuckle at, but - and maybe I'm a horrible person - but I never feel like they go dark enough if that's what they want to do.  And the results are usually kind of dumb.  As a result, I found charm in the high road version of this film (even if it absolutely winked at the audience on a key idea about the importance of a kiss).  

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Noir Watch: This Gun For Hire (1942)




Watched:  11/18/2022
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Frank Tuttle

It's probably the only Noir-vember watch party screening we were going to work in this year, but I'm glad we did this one for Veronica Lake on the week of her 100th birthday.  

Anyway, I'm positive we've written this one up before.  Go watch it.  It's ground zero for a lot of the "assassin who seems that way because he's detached from humanity" stuff you see in everything from Le Samurai to any number of American films where an assassin comes to grips with the fact they might be human.

Curiously, not many more movies where they decide "Gorton's Fisherman" is a hot look for a lady.

PODCAST 221: "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" (1993) - in memoriam, Kevin Conroy - w/ Stuart and Ryan



Watched:  11/18/2022
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing: Unknown
Decade:  1990's
Director:  Kevin Altieri, Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur



Stuart and Ryan get together to discuss the 1993 animated film that featured the voice talent of Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman to multiple generations. We talk about the performances, art, and craft of the 1990's animated Batman material, and the tremendous impact of the cartoon and Conroy.


SoundCloud 


YouTube


Music:
Main Title - Shirley Walker, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm 


DC Movies Playlist

Test 7


 Test 7

Testing 5


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Testing

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Friday Watch Party: This Gun For Hire (a Noirvember/ Veronica Lake 100th B-Day Celebration 2-fer)


POSTPONED TO Friday 11/18/2022

Noirvember is underway!  We'll have our first Noirvember screening by pairing it with a celebration of Veronica Lake, who would have turned 100 on November 14th of this year.  

This is sort of proto-noir, but plays with a lot of the ideas that would inform characters and movies after the war.  It also has so many great talents, from Lake to Ladd to Cregar.  Also, a cat.  You'll be glad, I tell you.  GLAD!

So join us for some WWII-era moralizing, bare witness to the first pairing of Lake and Ladd, and see what the fuss was about Lake.*  And what a hundred movies and pulp novels would borrow when it comes to loner hit-man types in the years to come.

Day:  Friday 11/18/2022
Time:  8:30 Central/ 6:30 PM Pacific
Service:  Amazon
Price:  $4

(link live 10 minutes before showtime)



*she is very, very, very good looking

Noir Watch: Tension (1949)




Watched:  11/15/2022
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  4th?
Director:  John Berry

I've already seen this and written it up a few times, including in 2021.  

So here's several pictures of Audrey Totter in the film.









Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Holmes Watch: Enola Holmes 2 (2022)





Watched:  11/14/2022
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Harry Bradbeer


One of the side-effects of streaming 99% of what I see is that movies are far less of an event.  There is no comparison between what I would do and think about en route to see Avengers: Endgame and choosing Enola Holmes 2 (2022) as prime time viewing on a Monday night.  

It is unlikely I would see a spin-off Sherlock Holmes movie on my own dime, but I did watch the first Enola Holmes, enjoyed it enough, and was game for the sequel.  Had I returned to the original and were my memories of it particularly intact?  Absolutely not.

But it is interesting to have a 2-hour option with a considerable budget, a solid cast and whatnot when the movie was never released theatrically.  It's not merely content - it is a movie into which care and love was poured.  It could have been released to screens and drawn some small box office (and I wonder sometimes if Netflix will one day partner with AMC or something and just make releases like this a thing they do as a matter of course to earn a few extra bucks).  It has actual stars.  Henry Cavill probably should have been a bigger big screen star than the DC movies and pandemic allowed, and it's time for Millie Bobby Brown to be tested as a young woman on screen. 

But those theatrical models may now be completely exploded and irrelevant.  So this is sort of the face of what movies are now.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Veronica Lake at 100



Today marks the 100th Birthday of Veronica Lake, actor, singer and performer.  

Though her career in Hollywood was brief, and - by all accounts - something she was never all that interested in, Lake starred in and helped make a handful of films that are considered among the canon of Hollywood classics, including Sullivan's Travels, I Married a Witch, This Gun for Hire, The Blue Dahlia, The Glass Key and others.  

It's highly likely that even if you never saw any of those movies, you've seen Veronica Lake's picture included in some constellation of 1940's-era Hollywood stars or mentioned here or there.  Or recall that Kim Basinger was supposed to resemble her closely in the film LA Confidential (ymmv whether this is accurate).  You may only know the swooping blonde wave that was her trademark, partially obscuring her face, which has become a curious and continuing symbol of sexiness that's endured well past Lake as household name.  I mean, of the Voltron-like assemblage of 1940's sex and glam ideas that informed Jessica Rabbit, that swoop was there.  

In the films in which I've seen Lake (all of those lifted above) you immediately understand how she became a star.  Physically, she's the combination of beautiful and striking that the camera tends to love and, the moment they enter the frame, you know something about the character.  There's not really a thread for you to say "oh, that's a real Veronica Lake-type role", but the sly smarts she brings to each character, and wise-to-the-world knowingness works exceedingly well in her noir appearances.  In the two comedies, she's absolutely game for some heavy lifting to get the job done.  

For a brief time, Lake was very popular.  So much so that the government asked her to change her hairstyle to encourage young women to follow suit as - and as far as I know this is true - they were getting their hair caught in the machinery they were now working as part of the WWII industrial machine.  


Lake's life was deeply complicated by virtue of a controlling mother and the studio trying to run her life.  The best way to hear about it is via the You Must Remember This episode on the the topic.  After leaving Hollywood, she disappeared into obscurity only to be re-discovered by an intrepid reporter who found her working as a cocktail waitress.  Following this, she did see an uptick in public sentiment and was promoting her memoirs when she was diagnosed with issues stemming from her years of alcoholism and passed in 1973, at about 51 years of age.  

Some talent want the Hollywood life and stardom, some want to work as much and hard as they can, and some wind up in front of the camera seemingly by mistake and indifferent to the whole affair.  And all of them can be amazing on screen, and all of them can vanish on different timelines and a variety of reasons.  I don't think there's any particular motivation or background that matters much once the klieg lights are thrown on and the camera is in focus.  In the case of Lake, everyone but her may have wanted to see her on screen.  But once there, she had the charisma to make up for anything she lacked in theatrical training and the natural energy that the audiences adored.  

Anyway, we'll be watching one of her first big roles on Friday with The Gun For Hire, her first of several pairings with Alan Ladd, and a great crime film.  

Friday, November 11, 2022

Kevin Conroy Merges With The Infinite




Here at The Signal Watch, we're absolutely heartbroken to hear that actor Kevin Conroy has passed.  

Conroy voiced Bruce Wayne/ Batman across innumerable cartoons, video games and other projects.  For generations of Bat-fans was the definitive portrayal of the character.  

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Noir Watch: Call Northside 777 (1948)




Watched:  11/08/2022
Format:  Criterion Channel
Viewing:  First
Director:  Henry Hathaway

Criterion Channel is currently featuring a load of films they're calling "Film Noir" from 20th Century Fox, and I wanted to finally give Call Northside 777 a whirl.  

As much as I enjoy a film noir from a poverty row studio, Tuesday we made the conscious decision to see something a bit more prestige, and which had been on my punchlist for a while - a noir that starred Jimmy Stewart, who I usually associate with noirish-thrillers later in his career when he shows up in Vertigo, etc... under Hitch.  

The thing, though, is that despite the fact that I've seen Call Northside 777 (1948) referred to as film noir for two decades, much like The Damned Don't Cry, I don't think this movie actually qualifies as film noir.   It certainly *looks* like noir.  Cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who also shot one of the noir-iest noirs - Pickup on South Street - gives John Alton and James Wong Howe a run for their money (My Darling Clementine similarly has some noir-ish stuff for a western).  But...  there's no femme or homme fatale.  There's no one in over their head because they followed an ill-advised path/ chased a skirt.  There's no one who has crossed paths with the wrong person and is now in an existential crisis.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Al Watch: Weird - the Al Yankovic Story (2022)




Watched:  11/07/2022
Format:  Roku Channel
Viewing:  First
Director:  Eric Appel

Is this the greatest rock biopic ever made?  Or simply the greatest film ever made?

I literally have no idea how to discuss this movie.  To discuss it is to explain the joke, and explaining a joke is... a bad idea.

All I can tell you is:  watch this movie.  If you ever had any love in your heart for Al Yankovic, this feels like somehow you get the giddy chaos of Al's greatest work distilled, amplified and refracted back at you in the form of a 2 hour movie that stars Daniel Radcliffe as Al, Rainn Wilson as Dr. Demento and Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna.  I've seen Radcliffe do comedy, and he's really solid.   Seeing ERW turn her considerable talent to comedy was an absolute delight.

If there's no other reason to watch the movie - and there are literally hundreds - watch the movie for the pool party at Dr. Demento's house.  

The movie never loses steam, which is just kind of what I assume will happen as comedies eventually need to trade gags for plot to have a satisfying narrative conclusion.  It never takes its foot off the gas, gripping your hand like a Thelma to the audience's Louise and heads right for the cliff.  

It's a thing of beauty.  We're lucky to have it.

Anyway, I guess I'm saying: watch this movie

So it Begins Watch: We Need a Little Christmas (2022)



Watched:  11/6/2022
Format:  Hallmark
Viewing:  First
Director:  Kevin Fair

I watched this because it stars Erica Durance, full stop.  This is an Erica Durance stan site.  

Look, if all goes well, we're going to podcast a Christmas movie or two this year and I'll talk more about Hallmark Christmas movies.  They're not something you watch or discuss individually, but watching them is a longterm investment in observing an ever-evolving living organism of Christmas cheer.  Collectively, they're something that mutates to respond to the environment and to best dominate the landscape.  Thus, talking about any individual Hallmark movie is missing the point - you have to be talking about all Hallmark Movies or none at all.  

We also will talk about what the movies are for, and how you watch them.  And this movie served that purpose pretty well this weekend.  

To that end, I had it on, I put on the movie and occasionally looked up to see what was happening as it unspooled.  I performed household tasks in need of doing  - like changing lightbulbs and cleaning and doing dishes and dealing with recycling.  I was in and out of the house during all of this, and thanks to ample commercial breaks (this was recorded off cable) and the friction-free plot that just kept happening with no real conflict to mar the story, I'm pretty sure I followed the movie just fine.  I saw a lot of great, large kitchens and Erica Durance in a wide-array of outfits.

In these films, characters always state their motives and feelings in clear terms, including "I don't know what I'm feeling".  Because these are movies about things that cause feelings.  Sadness.  Melancholy.  Stress.  But always curving toward happiness and joy derived from Christmas, new friends, and new love.  

As I say - I watched this because it stars the lovely Erica Durance, who played Lois Lane on several seasons of Smallville.  Here, she's a recently widowed woman who has moved she and her young son to a new town to open a new interior design business (away from friends and family?  Now?  It doesn't all add up.).  And - showing that Hallmark movies have dared to make the formula a bit different - it's about Durance meeting a new neighbor who went through similar (or worse) experiences decades prior, and how Durance and the neighbor - played by Lynn Whitfield, who you've seen in like 15 things at least - find friendship and mutual understanding despite their lack of any differences of opinion on anything of consequence.  

The drama plays out in microbursts, which seems to be the new thing for the Hallmark movies.  There's no single issue or misunderstanding, it's more like little episodes as characters get to know each other.  It's kind of a weird style of storytelling that I can only really point to older novels or a few 80's or 90's movies to compare it to.

Yeah, a possible suitor for Durance is introduced, but the movie also knows it is *too soon* for romance to be more than a possibility by movie's end.  Thus, he's an endlessly polite and patient dude who also does the things dudes do when they hope it will get them in good with Erica Durance - like dropping all of their Christmas plans to do a 5 hour turn around trip.  It's a shocking amount of restraint in comparison to how these movies worked a decade ago.  Like I said - evolving organism.  

So it includes Hallmark staples

  1. Single Mom
  2. Kid unnaturally concerned with the feelings of adults
  3. Attempt to recreate Christmases past
  4. Weird Christmas events that don't happen in nature (Christmas camp for kids?)
  5. Local man who everyone in town adores but who is unattached
  6. Solider/ Veteran 


Sunday, November 6, 2022

Checking In and Sportsball Happenings

your world champion Houston Astros!



Hi all. 

With Halloween over and the World Series now concluded (featuring the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies), Longhorn football in late season, AND the Major League Soccer Cup match... we've been TV busy this weekend.  

At League HQ, Halloween is a marathon as we queue up movies starting in summer - resulting in 9 episodes discussing at least 12 movies covered on Ye Olde PodCaste.  You're welcome.  On top of that, we also watch other Halloween movies during October, including hosting a few Friday Watch Parties.  

There's also Halloween TV things to see, and increasingly YouTube videos, so much media has been consumed.

All of which is weird - because I'm actually not a huge horror nut.  It's just how things seem to play out.

These days I generally don't post much about TV and sports here, but with Halloween on Monday - this week we watched new episodes of one of my favorite shows,  Documentary Now!, and the surprising return of Sherman's Showcase, which I assumed was canceled as it had been a while since new episodes appeared.  

One thing I checked off on Saturday was the MLS season.  Major League Soccer is, of course, fairly new to me.  Last week, Austin FC - my entry point to the league - lost to LA FC in the Western Conference Championship.  While of course one hopes that that your team will win, Austin FC's second season went shockingly well, and I'm new to all this, so how upset can you be?  

The MLS Cup, which was Saturday afternoon, is essentially the Superbowl for American soccer.  And as it's soccer, I think I saw one ad for it?  LAFC wound up beating Philadelphia in a penalty kick shoot-out.  It was a great game, and it was nice to watch one where I wasn't pulling super hard for anyone.  If you were looking to check out a game this year, it was a good one!  

Anyway - I guess I'm into soccer now?  

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Halloween Double Feature: "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1931), (1935)




Watched:  10/30 and 31/ 2022
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  James Whale

This is now my movie Halloween tradition.  If I haven't already watched them elsewhere, watch Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein to wrap up the spooky season and before my thoughts turn to sweet potatoes and turkey.  

I don't necessarily always watch with zero distractions - these are movies I've seen over a dozen times each.  I can put them on and do other things and look up for key scenes.  

Anyway, here's a podcast Simon and I did on the films.  

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Halloween Watch: The Blob (1958)




Watched:  10/30/2022
Format:  Criterion Channel
Viewing:  second?  third?
Director:  Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. / Russell S. Doughten Jr.

I am 95% certain Simon and I are podcasting the 1950's and 1980's version of this film next Halloween.  But here's some early thoughts.

  • Pictures for teens may actually provide a more realistic portrayal of cops than 95% of movies (ie: they walk in with a thousand assumptions, ignore all evidence in front of them, and there's a non-zero chance they're going to arrest the very people who were asking for help)
  • There are numerous lengthy and pointless scenes in this movie
  • Apparently just anyone can get to an air-raid siren
  • The instinct to shoot at a gelatinous monster is prevalent and wild
  • This movie is terrifying
  • The FX are absolutely insane.  I need to read up on how they did all of this.
  • That poor nurse.
  • In some ways, this is a movie about a little dog no one can keep track of.
  • In other ways, this is a movie about the world's shittiest first date.
  • The job of a teen girl in this movie is to silently stand there and be forgotten but absolutely be in scenes standing  there hoping Steve McQueen can do something.
  • Everyone in this town shows up for midnight movies.  Young, old, rich, poor.
  • Weird flex to predict global warming, movie
Anyway, love The Blob.  So good.

Hammer Horror Halloween Watch: Lust for a Vampire (1971)




Watched:  10/30/2022
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Jimmy Sangster

So, way back when I was first getting familiar with Hammer, I watched Lust For a Vampire (1971), and wound up with one of those absolutely wild experiences you get once in a while on the internet.  Admittedly, I'd not *really* been watching the movie - I was online and just watching the movie with one eye and I dashed off a jokey, jerky write-up.  But I was so much not paying attention that I mistook a completely different actor for Christopher Lee, which should tell you how much I was *not* watching.  

Within 24 hours, actor Judy Jarvis (nee Matheson) - who plays Amanda McBride in the film - spotted the review and *rightfully* called me out.  My review was stupid.  I'm lazy.  It happens.  But it was also a reminder that I should actually pay attention to a movie and give it a fair shake if I'm going to criticize the film as a viewer.  And real people do work on these films.

I promised Judy Jarvis I would rewatch the film, but, honestly, that's a *lot* of pressure.  Now I didn't want to embarrass myself if Judy Jarvis was still patrolling the internet, and I absolutely wanted to give the movie a fair shake this time.

Suffice to say, I am now more familiar with Hammer, what was going on in 1970's British film, and know how to watch these movies from a better perspective.  I've read Carmilla and become more aware of what Hammer was doing with the Karnsteins (a family of vampires they employed as Dracula wound down and based on the novel Carmilla).

I am not just saying this:  I loved the movie this time.  

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Pumpkin Carving Watch: The Haunting (1963)




Watched:  10/29/2022
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1960's
Director:  Robert Wise

Every year, we carve a couple of Jack-o-Lanterns and this year is no exception.  And when we carve pumpkins, we put on a movie we know well so we only have to partially watch.  The Haunting (1963) was Jamie's suggestion for this year's carving.

It's been a little bit since I watched this Halloween favorite, and, dammit, is this movie good.  Having now read the novel upon which it is based, it's even better.  But what is in the movie has always been there, so take off your "spooky movies didn't get sophisticated until the 1970's" glasses and soak it in.

I like vampire movies, werewolf movies, etc...  I get the actual willies from haunted house movies and Michael Meyers.  Probably because The Shape is basically a stabby, unknowable ghost.  

Anyway - borrowing heavily from Shirley Jackson's text, leaning on stellar performances across the cast and Wise's smart direction and some off-kilter/ really creative camera and lighting work, it's just a delight to watch.  When I'm not gritting my teeth.  

Here's the jack-o-lanterns, by the way.  Jamie used a cookie cutter and hammer to get her pumpkin's eyes done.  I think it looks cool!



PodCast 220: "Halloween Trilogy" (2018, 2021, 2022) - a Halloween PodCast w/ MRSHL and Ryan




Watched:  10/20 and 10/22/2022
Format:  HBOmax and Peacock
Viewing:   Second/ First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  David Gordon Green





To wrap up Halloween 2022, Marshall and Ryan take on the more recent trilogy of sequels based upon John Carpenter's 1970's ground-breaking classic, that spanned 2018-2022. We drive relentlessly through three movies, slashing our way through narrative complexity, taking down the multitude of ideas presented, slaying any questions about what the movie is trying to do, and staring into the abyss as we try to figure out what, exactly, is staring back.


SoundCloud 


YouTube


Music:
Halloween Theme - John Carpenter 
Halloween Ends - John Carpenter 


Halloween 2022 Playlist



All Halloween and Horror PodCasts

Halloween Watch: Elvira - Mistress of the Dark (1988)




Watched:  10/27/2022
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  1,000,000th
Director:  James Signorelli

I watch this every Halloween season.  One day we'll podcast it and I'll talk about it more fully, but for now, it's up to you to go watch it and read old posts on the movie.  Also, go read Cassandra Peterson's memoir, Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark.  

Halloween Watch Party Watch: House of Dracula (1945)



Watched:  10/28/2022
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Erle C. Kenton

I'd seen this before and couldn't really remember it.  But when I saw "Hunchback" on the poster, I was like "oh, yeah.  This one."  

Dracula (John Carradine) goes to a Dr. Edelman trying to figure out if he can be "cured".  Edelman being a movie scientist/ doctor is like "why not?"  The same day, frikkin' Larry Talbot shows up *also* looking to be cured of being the Wolfman.  And in the cave below the house?  Frankenstein's monster.  Because why not?  

Whether Drac was serious or not about his cure and whether he was overwhelmed by his own innate evil or not is never explained as he throws the plan out the window to get un-vamped in exchange for trying to turn one of the two nurses into a new bride.  Along the way, Dracula turns the doctor into a sort of quasi-vampire.  Shenanigans ensue.

We have to talk about Nina.



Look, this whole movie is not about Nina, but she's in, like, 1/3rd to 1/2 of the shots the movie.  And I do not know why.  She's set up as a major character, but is not.  She's just... there.

Nina (Jane Adams), the dutiful nurse to Dr. Edelmann, is the poster-specified a hunchback, which is mentioned like once, but otherwise goes unremarked upon.  So she's, visually, always there in bright white nurse-gear and trying to be helpful and has an obvious difference.  

Actress Jane Adams was not a hunchback, and whatever prosthetic they put on her seemed to really bend her over and make her arms hang a certain way.  The character has not a negative bone in her body.  She's sweet and helpful and literally everything points to things working out well for Nina.  Like, they introduce a potential cure for Nina's bone difference - which she gives up to help the frikkin' Wolfman instead.  That's Nina!  Always helpful.  

But at the movie's climax, Nina is just thrown in a pit to her death as a bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Which...  weird flex to suddenly go dark in a movie that feels very much aimed at kids.  

I have no ideas or no theories as to what happened here.  Was there supposed to be another fate for Nina?  Was Nina always doomed?  Was she accidentally in more of the movie than they intended thus drawing focus?  Why take a super cute actress and suggest she needs work and then bump her off with her storyline unresolved?  

It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma and smothered in secret sauce.  But what reading I did do tells me that this movie was on a conveyor belt through pre-production to post-production and while Adams had a swell time working on it, the veteran actors were less than impressed with the industrial approach to movie making that they compared to how TV would be made in a few short years.

Anyway - Nina going down into the pit will now haunt me forever.  

Adams' career in film and TV was not terribly long.  She showed up in 1942 and sort of petered out in the 1950's, finishing with an appearance on The Adventures of Superman in 1953.  It looks like she did a lot of B's, monster and cowboy movies.  She was kind of short for Hollywood, I guess, at 5'3" (which doesn't seem that short), but she attributed that to how she wound up in less than glam-girl roles.

We think she's peachy.

So here's Jane Adams without her prosthetic.  Lovely girl.  Not exactly in the Dwight Fry in weird make-up mode.








Friday, October 28, 2022

Friday Watch Party: House of Dracula




I asked Jenifer what she wanted to watch, and her instructions were to find something with Dracula meeting another monster.  Which is harder than you'd think.  Anyway, here's House of Dracula, one of the movies so late in the original run of Universal movies that I've never seen it.  

Dracula (John Carradine), the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.) an Frankenstein (Glenn Strange) meet a mad scientist and his nurse.  Even if it's bad, it's only 67 minutes.  Sure to include some serious monster-mashing mayhem!

Wait, no.  I've seen this.  ha ha ha. Ok.  This movie is goofy as hell.

Day:  Friday 10/28/2022
Time:  8:30 Central/ 6:30 Pacific
Service:  Amazon
Cost:  $4

link live 10 minutes before showtime

Hammer Watch: Blood From the Mummy's Tomb (1971)




Watched:  10/26/2022
Format:  AFS Cinema
Viewing: First
Director:  Seth Holt/ Michael Carreras

Well.  This was 40 minutes of movie stretched out over 96 minutes.  

I'll defend the last 30 or so minutes of Blood From the Mummy's Tomb (1971), but the first hour of the film is weirdly plodding for a Hammer, with long stretches of the movie that feel like filler to hit an unnecessarily long run time.  This whole thing could have been 70 minutes and lost nothing.  

Example:  We see 85% of the moments leading up to an Egyptologist's demise and can infer he dies off-frame.  It's not great, but a workman-like scene.  We then then watch Our Hero look for the guy for what has to be a full 2 minutes of screen time, retracing the path we just saw just seconds before.  Look -  all we needed was Our Hero walking up on the dead body and showing his horror and revulsion.  That's like 10-15 seconds, easy-peasy.  

So, yeah, it's a weird movie and falls in a lot of traps I usually associate with indie-schlocky levels of movie-making where there's pressure to reach a minimum runtime and no one working on the movie understands pacing or narrative economy.  This is a movie made by actual professionals from a real studio.  It's weird.  When you see the slow-moving dad, partially paralyzed from mummy-attack, realize his daughter on the 3rd floor is in danger and he rushes to help her from the basement, I let out an audible groan.  We're going to see a lot of awkward stair climbing.  

What the film does have going for it is Valerie Leon, but YMMV here.  She's not an amazing actor, but she ably fills the role of Hammer lead.  

Valerie Leon takes a hard look at herself



Stylistically, the film has one foot in modern 1971 and another in pre-WWII movies of mummies and even archaeology.  But throws in odd bits like Our Hero's car is an MG TA from the 1930's, I believe, while keeping the wardrobe for the young leads hip and modern.  

The plot, based upon a Bram Stoker horror novel with which I am unfamiliar, does inform how we wound up with so much reincarnation jazz in mummy films starting with Karloff.  On the very moment of discovery of a sarcophagus containing a perfectly preserved Egyptian queen/ priestess, an archaeologist's daughter is born and his wife dies in childbirth in London.  As she approaches her birthday (they never say which one...) it seems the daughter, who exactly resembles the "mummy", is becoming possessed by her. 

The movie becomes a plodding "gotta catch 'em all" of the artifacts of the queen, scattered across London in the homes of the archaeologist's team - who don't stay in touch.  Why no one destroyed the artifacts is never stated.  Or why they didn't, like, put the in a vault or mail them to relatives or basically do anything to actually stop this... never comes up.  

There's also a Dr. Pretorious-type imported from Bride of Frankenstein in James Villiers' Corbeck.  It's such an obvious swipe, it's kind of adorable.  And aside from Leon's wardrobe, the best part of the film.

I suspect Hammer probably knew this movie wasn't great, but they had also hired a down-on-his-luck Seth Holt to direct, and the guy died ON SET the last week of filming.  They soldiered on and made a movie, but - man.  This is not good.  It's not even "fine".  It's just mind-numbingly dull for vast stretches and it absolutely didn't have to be.  There's plenty to talk about vis-a-vis how it relates to modern mummy films, old mummy films, the Hammer canon, etc...  but I can't do it.