Saturday, December 23, 2023

G Watch: Godzilla - King of the Monsters (2019)

that's a spicy meatball!

Watched:  12/22/2023
Format:  Bluray
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Michael Dougherty

I'm slowly making my way through Apple+'s Monarch series - more on that in a future post - and was curious how it was matching up to the 2014 Godzilla movie, the foundation of Legendary's Monsterverse franchise.  And then I saw the BluRay for the follow up was on sale for cheap when I was looking for Godzilla vs. Kong on disc.  And, so it was, that I watched 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  

Here's my theory about this very long and subpar movie:

They started with the title and reverse engineered everything from there.  

I have no real evidence to back this up, but it does seem that with the success of 2014's Godzilla, Legendary decided that they would move forward with a "Monsterverse" which would include Kong: Skull Island and then a slate of other films, arriving periodically and nowhere near as aggressively as Marvel.  I can imagine the braintrust at Legendary saying "so, the American title for the original Gojira was Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Can we re-use that?  And, if so, what does that mean?"  Americans love to eliminate ambiguity and poetry in favor of being very on-the-nose.

So, you'd have to have a movie in which Godzilla subjugates the other monsters, and is shown to be their "king".  I guess.  But Godzilla movies always had this one monster that I think we can agree was the biggest asshole of all the Godzilla monsters, King Ghidorah/ Monster Zero.  So now you have two "kings" and you have your fight all set up.  

Write in some scenes that will look rad in a trailer, come up with human characters that will crack wise and add the element of human drama, and there you go.

80's Watch: Gung Ho (1985)

Watched:  12/21/2023
Format:  YouTubeTV
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Ron Howard

You're remembering this movie a particular way because you haven't seen it in three decades and we've all grown up since then.  I hope.  But, I am happy to say - for a 1980's movie about Japanese executives coming to revive a Pennsylvania auto-plant, it's far less racist than you're assuming, while also being standard 1980's racist.

All I knew was that last night, Jamie looked at the menu on our TV said "Gung Ho?!  Let's watch that."  And we did.  Like myself, Jamie is often curious about how things hold up, and where they fit as cultural artifacts of the era.  And, first and foremost - if I needed to explain mid-80's America and what it was kind of like, especially what people looked like, I'd probably point them in the direction of Gung Ho (1985).  

The 1980's are remembered by the people who weren't there as a period of fun and excess.  It was Reagan-time, and we were feeling great as a nation!  We had action movies and cool pop music.  We had an existential threat of nuclear war, so we might as well wear huge clothes and watch shows about super-vehicles.

But, hey, we also had a few recessions.  We were coming off of the 1970's recessions/ malaise.  Manufacturing in the US was on the downturn and careers people thought would last a lifetime were ended as work went overseas or to Mexico.  I sincerely don't think The Kids(tm) know this sometimes.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Holiday Watch: It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Watched:  12/21/2023
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Frank Capra

A few years ago, we covered this movie on the podcast.  I think Nathan and I did a lovely job of discussing the impact of the film on us as viewers and why it works.

Re-watching the film this year, I'm once again amazed at how well so much information - both plot and emotional - is conveyed in the movie and it never feels rushed or crammed.  It's only after you've seen the movie multiple times that you really process "wow, George had a whole lot happen to him on very specific days of his life", but that's also part of what makes it work.  Getting married during the week of October 28, 1929 was just a horrible time for someone in the building and loan business to have such a big event, for example.

And we aren't given a St. George for our George Bailey.  He's a normal guy with dreams that he can't pursue, and the only thing keeping him sane is probably Mary.  He's holding a lot in and holding a lot back every minute of every day, which all comes spilling out when Uncle Billy loses the money.  "Why do we have to have all these kids?" is maybe the craziest line in the movie.  But he's also already had it with Billy 15 years ago - he should have been at college if the guy could have taken over for his father.  And so-on-and-so-forth.  

It's the rare movie that acknowledges that people can break from giving up their dreams - or that they'd be put in an awful place for doing what seems right.  Hallmark movies have made a mint off selling the idea of giving up your dreams for small town domesticity - or at least shifting the dream that way.  And it's even less so that a movie allows a male character to snap after landing the house, wife and kids, especially in this era.*  This was post-war America, and we were winners!  

But I think George Bailey is all of us on some level.  Unless you're, like, Madonna, and only *think* giving your servants a second thought is magnanimous.**  There's a lot more George Baileys walking around out there than those who made it where they'd hoped, who gave up who they thought they were and dreams of where they'd be than any rando living at the top.  Even George's little corner of the living room, which goes unmentioned, where he's plugging away at drawings of bridges and buildings, still wanting to be an architect...  it's just kind of funny and sad.  And, God, that's too real.  It's no shock that he smashes it.

But at the end of the day, the movie works because the real message is just, if not *more* true - that all that matters, really, are the folks in your life and how you can help them.  It's not to say your dreams don't matter - but we also have to appreciate what we do have, and the people around us, and know that we matter to them, just as much as they matter to us.  And believing that we're not replaceable cogs is a very hard thing to process.  I imagine it was even more so in 1946, when you saw your friends drafted and shipped off.

Ironically, Stewart was a war hero, but wouldn't ever discuss it or use it in promotion.  He'd been drafted well before Pearl Harbor and exited the service as a Brigadier General.  During the war, he piloted 20 missions I believe flying B-24's.  But he also served as in command, and would remain in reserve until 1959.  He was as much Harry Bailey as George Bailey.

*I know - controversial!
**But Madonna gets a pass for whatever she's up to, here at The Signal Watch

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Happy Birthday, Audrey Totter

Today marks the 106th anniversary of the birth of screen star Audrey Totter.

Longtime readers know she's one of the patron saints of The Signal Watch - see the image from High Wall in the banner at the blog - and one of the best in noir (and beyond!).  

You can always see prior posts on Totter's films at our Totter label here at the blog.

Now, here's a collection of Audrey Totter pictures for her birthday.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

180th Anniversary of "A Christmas Carol"

Turns out today, Dec. 19th, 2023, is the 180th anniversary of the publication of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, arguably one of the most important works of English-language fiction.  Thanks to writer Neil Gaiman who pointed this out on social media, and who is currently doing his bit where he dresses up and reads the book, cover to cover, to a live audience.  

I'd love to see someone film that sometime.  The only audio book I've ever listened to was performed by Patrick Stewart, and, pals, I cannot recommend it enough.  I also recommend the film version he did.  

And that's really the thing.  Most of us come to A Christmas Carol through a movie or TV special, cartoon adaptation, puppet show or what-have-you.  And that's actually great.  I know mine was the Disney version with Scrooge McDuck and Mickey in key roles.  But I also grew up in the wake of the George C. Scott version.  And hit Scrooged at a key point in my teen-hood where it really landed, and not just because Karen Allen.*

I think I finally read the book in 8th or 9th grade.  What I really remember is that I was supposed to read bits at a time, and I did not.  It's short - Neil Gaiman can read it all in one shot, and Patrick Stewart's Audible version is like an hour and forty-five minutes - a fraction of your average Marvel film.

And, you know what?  The book is great.  I re-read it every decade or so. 

I don't need to explain it to you, which is a nice time-saver in writing about the thing.  You know there's a first ghost who warns about the other three.  You know there's some light time-travel and walking around as a phantom.  There's love lost and bitter childhood memories.  And there's social commentary aplenty, which has remained relevant year-over-year for the past 180 years.

In many ways, recognizing the echoes of the pre-reformed Ebenezer Scrooge's dialog is a shockingly easy way to spot a terrible human.  And yet, no matter how many times people see the movies or read passages or see plays, and, or. etc...  here we are.  

And so, the book remains endlessly relevant.

Movies may change things up - cosmetic bits like changing the look of a ghost.  Or minimizing or eliminating bits.  And the book's core remains intact.  Because it's a fantasy that those with no motivation to change their ways will somehow, through the hand of God where their own conscience failed them, be moved by humanity to be human, and not just an engine for generating wealth.  At the end of the day, how you'll be thought of in this life will be multiplied the moment you pass.  

Here's to another 180 years more.

*but also not not because of Karen Allen


Monday, December 18, 2023

80's Watch: Better Off Dead (1985)

Watched:  12/15/2023
Format:  Paramount+
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Savage Steve Holland

In so many ways, it's a minor miracle that Better Off Dead (1985) exists at all.  Let alone in the shape in which it was delivered to audiences.  You can easily see how it could have had the edges knocked off and been made into something far less memorable if the studio felt they'd sorted out the teen-movie formula by 1985.

It's probably been 20 years since I last watched the movie, but something got me thinking about the Christmas morning sequence last week, and it turns out it's living on Paramount+ right now, so you can watch it.  It's a quasi-Christmas movie, starting in December, passing through Christmas and into New Year, so the season is right.  

everybody's going to be wearing one of these

Usually I say "you couldn't make this movie now" with anything remotely morbid, but I expect we're hitting a point where the pendulum is about to swing back hard and fast regarding what we can do and put in movies again as we've all stepped away from the pearl-clutchers over on Twitter as that site tire-fires it's way to irrelevance.  We'll see.  I imagine the patience with the bipartisan puritanism is starting to wear a bit thin.

But, yeah, Better Off Dead is a teen comedy about a young gentleman wanting to kill himself because his girlfriend dumped him for a richer, handsomer, more dickish guy.*  Attempts to do so go afoul as our hero (John Cusack) can't even really work himself up to do it properly.  But, really, it paints a near-perfect picture of what it's like to be 17 and just trying to get through your day and how utterly absurd the world can feel at that age (or any age).  

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Christmas Watch: White Christmas (1954)

Watched:  12/17/2023
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Michael Curtiz

I have seen and written this movie up endlessly.  This year, I just leave you with the black dress from the Carousel Club number.

Anyway, Edith Head was a genius.

Christmas Watch: Elf (2003)

Watched:  12/14/2023
Format:  Hulu
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  John Favreau

Not too long ago on the nu-social medias (BluSky, maybe?) I opined that Elf (2003) is the last generally agreed upon holiday "classic".  

While there's plenty of good Christmas movies that have arrived in the past two decades, it's hard to find one this many people have seen - which maybe isn't the best endorsement, but it is a fact.  Elf was the last holiday movie to land in regular rotation on basic cable (as in "24 hours of Elf!"), and it's hard to imagine that in our splintered way of viewing media and smaller and smaller shares of audiences that a movie will be able to get much traction as part of folks' holiday habits.  And, even now, the classics of a decade or so ago have been pushed aside for 1980's Gen-X nostalgia and the endless Die Hard debates by people young enough to have their own movies.

It's not hard to see why Elf has earned it's place, though, and why it's imitated with movies like Noelle.  It's a great concept to imagine a North Pole elf loosed in the big city, trying to connect to the rest of us and missing.  There's an innocence and joie de vivre ascribed to children that it's fun to see a 6'3" guy embracing.

The "elf culture" gags are fantastic, and - while I know Will Ferrell's energy isn't for everyone - but it seems to be coming from a place in this one.  And, really, the whole cast in this thing is great.  Casting James Caan as Buddy's father was absolutely inspired.  Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Michael Lerner, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter and Kyle Gass, and, of course, Peter Dinklage.  

It fits neatly into a space where we've already seen innumerable movies about how Santa is de-powered because there's not enough Christmas spirit... like, that's a major plot point and they never really get into it.  We just look around and say "yeah, fair enough, I guess".  And it knows we've all seen the stop-motion Rankin-Bass specials enough, it just overlays that world over the North Pole.  

Anyway, you've seen Elf.  I don't need to belabor the point.  The only real thing that sticks out in 2023 is - why on earth does Zooey Deschanel's character fall for Buddy?  Inquiring minds want to know.  He's a grown man who acts like a hyper 7 year old, has no job, and is insane/ obsessed with Christmas.  Which is going to feel weird in July.

I mean, yes, he helped encourage her to sing, but.  Look, people encourage me to do stuff all the time, but I am sorry - I do not start making googly eyes at you as a result.  Googly eyes are reserved for Jamie.