Saturday, July 13, 2024

Western Watch: Colt. 45 (1950)

Watched:  07/13/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Edwin L. Marin

I'm not a proud man, and so I cop to watching this movie to catch Ruth Roman in another flick - especially something like a fairly short western action film.  Plus, I get a kick out of both Randolph Scott and Austin's own Zachary Scott (no relation to Randolph), who plays the villain in this movie.  

The basic set-up is that Randolph Scott is a war veteran and salesman for the new Colt .45, which he used in the Mexican-American War to great effect.  He's now selling them to law enforcement on the frontier, which has not previously seen a repeating, multi-shot handgun - ie: a revolver.  The tactical advantage of 6 shots over 1 is pretty obvious, I hope.    

While showing off his wares, the idiot sheriff (who doesn't get the value) picks a handfight with his prisoner, Zach Scott, who handily wins the fight, grabs the .45s and kills the Sheriff before running off, leaving Randolph - who the townsfolk decide is an accomplice.  Zach Scott goes on a rampage, founding the .45's gang, and raiding wagons carrying gold from a mining town.

Ruth Roman plays the wife to an early-career Lloyd Bridges, and the two are essentially hostages to Zach Scott's gang - except, Lloyd has realized farming doesn't pay as well as stealing gold, so he teams up with Zach Scott while tell his wife that they're biding their time and playing it safe.

80's Watch: Electric Dreams (1984)

Watched:  07/12/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Steve Barron

I have a memory of watching this movie during a family road trip.  I watched it in a shitty motel room with my dad after my mom and brother fell asleep.  Primarily, my memory was "it wasn't very good, and it didn't feel like a comedy, and it seemed like it was supposed to be a comedy but also wanted to be taken seriously, but was dumb."*

That was probably 1986 or so, and here in 2024, my thought is:  it wasn't very good, and it seemed like it was supposed to be a comedy but also wanted to be taken seriously, but was dumb.  But, in 2024, I also think the movie is oddly prescient - predicting some things that would have seemed ridiculous just 3-4 years ago, but now seem like they've entered the conversation.

Electric Dreams (1984) is a Futureshock movie, taking place what, I'd guess, is supposed to be a few years after its release, 1984.  That's just about the time computers started making their way into suburban homes.  The parents buying these infernal machines were hoping their nascent Gen-X'ers would be able to understand computers, but didn't know what the hell they were spending their beer money on.  In this era, computers were full of mystery and magic as far as the news and movies were concerned.  We're coming off WarGames - that posited a teen almost destroying the world by hacking into the US missile systems.  Tron was a neat analog of computer stuff, but people thought it meant computers were full of elves.  Superman III, thought computers would control the weather.  

Dr. Ruth Merges With The Infinite

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, celebrity sex-therapist and 80's TV icon, has passed at the age of 96.

It's hard to measure the impact of Westheimer on a couple of generations of Americans.  For Boomers, she was a clarifying voice for adults who had grown up in an era where the best hope for sex advice was friends and magazines featuring iffy articles (yes, I'm including Cosmo).  For Gen-X, she was there as that generation was exploring sex for the elder part of the generation, and if you were younger, like myself, opening our eyes that all kinds of sex was normal and we shouldn't treat it like a dirty secret.

For a while, Westheimer was on talk shows and she had her own talk-show where people would call in, and you'd hear their hang-ups and issues, and Westheimer would walk them through their feelings and make some suggestions.  

During her time on TV, I recall her mentioning her time in the Israeli army and that she could still disassemble and re-assemble a machinegun with her eyes closed.  This is because Westheimer was born in Germany in the 1920's, was one of her family's only survivors of the Nazis, and an early arrival foe what would become Israel - serving in Haganah.  

It is true that Westheimer, who was small (under 5'0"), adorable and motherly, plus she had the accent Americans already associated with European scientists, she became easy to caricature, and she became bigger than life.  She's even a character in the OG Dark Knight Returns comic in one of the darkest passages of that graphic novel.  

Westheimer co-existed with the Jerry Falwell's and the last gasps of the Catholic League having any say-so or strength in American cultural conversations.  But in a period where televangelists and politicians were getting busted for their shenanigans (all of which is way darker than you knew at the time) at least Dr. Ruth had bold-faced honesty on her side.  

Arguably, Dan Savage picked up Westheimer's torch, but throwing the gates open to all kinds of sex and a few campsite rules.  But Westheimer was a sensation for a bit there.  That said, she seemed to arrive very suddenly, was constantly on TV for a bit, and then somehow vanished while I wasn't looking.  And over the years, I've wondered what the hell happened to her as she just disappeared from public life.  For at least 10 years, I wasn't sure if she was live or not.

I find it fascinating how much impact this one person - with just the right credentials and persona - did have on America.  Sure, we kids watched out of prurient interest.  But we did watch!  And we accidentally learned stuff along the way.  

Friday, July 12, 2024

Silent Watch: Diary of a Lost Girl (1929)

Watched:  07/12/2024
Format:  Kino Lorber BluRay
Viewing:  First
Director:  Georg Wilhelm Pabst

I'd been meaning to see this movie since about 1999, so no time like the present.  

This was the follow up to Pandora's Box for the actor/ director duo of Louise Brooks and GW Pabst.

There are certainly parallels to the two movies as a seeming innocent is manhandled by fate, society, bad-actors and is beset by innumerable misfortunes.  There's a sort of Tess of the D'Urbervilles-like series of horrendous people doing bad things to our hero, and her enduring as best she can as currents carry her along.

I don't know what people assume about film before their own era - that discussion seems out of scope for this post.  But the silent era was far from squeaky clean in the US, and in Germany, they were certainly pushing boundaries visually, figuring out how to expand the language of cinema and telling stories that were dealing in mature themes.  

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Shelley Duvall Merges With The Infinite

Most folks from my generation first saw Duvall in Popeye, before we stumbled upon other Robert Altman movies and, of course, Kubrick's The Shining.  Duvall also produced children's shows - I remember stumbling across them in high school, but she left Hollywood by 2000.  

Duvall was a fellow Texan, and grew up in the Houston area.  Most recently, she lived in Blanco County, which is a short drive west from Austin and due north of San Antonio up 281.  

In the last decade, Duvall had been known to have issues with mental illness, and was known to the folks of Blanco.  In recent years, it seemed she had received some help and appeared in a film in 2023.

We'll miss knowing Ms. Duvall is out there, either as an actress or just living in Blanco.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Super Watch: "Superman: The Movie" (1978) in San Antonio w/ NathanC

Tollin, NathanC and yours truly

Watched:  07/02/2024
Format:  Theatrical/ Santikos/ TPR Cinema Tuesdays
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Richard Donner

For years, our own NathanC (the famed Nathan Cone of Texas Public Radio/ TPR's Cinema Tuesdays) has been trying to secure a print or digital copy of Superman: The Movie to include in the annual summer classics film series he hosts via TPR.   

Travel and other challenges have beset our ability to pull this off, but this year the stars aligned and Nathan was able to get WB to send a copy.  On July 2nd, 2024, I was able to attend the screening and help out.  Nathan asked that I help intro the film, and then stay for a Q&A.  You can visit the Q&A as both audio and transcript here on the TRP website.

Unsurprising to me is that Nathan is a great host; professional but warm and fun.  Clearly the crowd that came out is enthusiastic - they were there a good hour before curtain and buzzing.  The Santikos theater in Northwest San Antonio was nicely appointed and had primo seats with nice side tables for popcorn and - for me - to quickly jot some notes.

I was incredibly nervous about the Q&A as (a) I have a tendency to over-answer any given question, and (b) I was concerned I would not be able to answer a question thrown my way.  

Prior to showing up, Nathan mentioned that a former DC Comics staffer, Anthony Tollin, was going to be in attendance.  Anthony was at DC during a fascinating period of transition, when the original old guard was silver-haired but still around and the next generation was coming in and bringing new ideas to comics.  Folks like Kirby were mailing in work, but working for DC, you might see Siegel and Shuster come into the office.  He knew Julie Schwartz!  He colored Gil Kane!

To someone like me, this is like finding out that you're going to be talking to Gene Kranz or an equivalent.  Especially when I found out Mr. Tollin had been assigned to Christopher Reeve to shepherd him around DC Comics when Reeve came in to do some research.  

I couldn't help it, so I jumped the gun and immediately included Mr. Tollin in the Q&A, and, after, I asked him to sign some comics which he'd worked on.  As a side-note, Mr. Tollin also works on The Shadow novella reprint collections and has written a lot of those Smithsonian mini-books you may have seen associated with CD releases of radio programs.

As a point of Mr. Tollin being kinda extra cool, if you look at the first picture, he's wearing the rings worn by The Phantom in the comic strips.

The questions were insightful and on a level interested in narrative more than the technical achievements of the film - and maybe that worked well for me.  I have *thoughts* on Superman, and I think I was able to answer folks' queries - and loved one woman's questions about the nature of our secret heroism.  I wanted to high-five her so bad.

Anyway, thanks to Nathan and Texas Public Radio for such a great night.  And to Mr. Tollin for showing patience with a fanboy.  Oh, and I got to see San Antonio-based pal, Courtney M!  Always a delight.

Depending on a few factors, I really want to slip down to San Antonio for the screening of Pandora's Box starring Louise Brooks.  

Texas Watch: Dallas (1950)

Watched:  07/09/2024
Format:  Amazon 
Viewing:  First
Director:  Stuart Heisler

Full disclosure, I was just looking to see what else Ruth Roman was in, and this came up.  And, as a long-time Texan, I was curious how a movie about Dallas, the most Dallasy city in Texas, was going to work.  Plus, Gary Cooper.  And Steve Cochran in facial hair!

Dallas (1950) takes place shortly after the Civil War, so Dallas is a small, growing western town (it was founded in the early 1840's).  Gary Cooper plays a former Confederate colonel who is sought by the law.  A young Bostonian of means has become a US Marshall to impress his fiance, and come west to prove he's no shrinking violet.  He stumbles across Cooper - a fugitive, and after finding out the situation is not so clear as his orders suggested, he and Cooper ride to Dallas together.  Cooper hears three brothers are there, and he'd like to help take them down.  

There's some frankly unnecessary identity switching as the two enter town, and we learn that the Bostonian is engaged to the daughter of a local Don, which, yes, means Ruth Roman is playing a Mexican-American.   Which...  there's a lot of Hollywood history why this was probably true.  Is Roman, of Jewish-Lithuanian heritage, a good candidate for a Latina?  Uhhhhhhhh...  man, that's a loaded question I asked myself.  

On the flip side, I don't remember too many movies from this era that include Hispanic characters quite like this, shown to be very successful ranchers (or even more so, if these criminals weren't so busy being criminals at them and taking their cattle).

In a lot of ways, this is a pretty typical Western, where some shady dudes are going to take advantage of the lawless nature of the new town/ land and exploit that weakness to steal property and land from others, and the promise of civilization coming is welcomed.  It's also likely an early of an example of the mastermind bad-guy with the loose-canon sibling he's trying to wrangle (Cochran!).  

In the course of events, Roman's character falls for Cooper, who looks old enough to be her father (she's 27-28 and he's probably 49 here).  And, man, Hollywood.  They couldn't stop pairing Cooper with women who look way too young.

There's not much to actually report about this one - other than that the terrain and town look nothing like Dallas or North Texas, which IRL is hilariously flat and so visually uninteresting that Dallas architecture has been weird since the 1970s in an effort to combat this problem.  But this movie is shot in typical ranchland outside of LA, so... behold!  The rolling hill country of Ft. Worth!  The deep valleys outside of Dallas!

If you're looking for more Ruth Roman:  good news.  She's in this.  But I'm not sure this movie is terribly ground-breaking.  It is, however, fairly entertaining and a reminder how cool vaqueros looked in their jackets and on Mexican-style saddles.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Horsey Watch: National Velvet (1944)

Watched:  07/08/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Clarence Brown
Selection:  Jamie

It's unlikely I would have picked National Velvet (1944) for myself.  It's a movie about a 12 year old girl who loves horses.  But, Jamie mentioned it a while back, and she's sick right now, and when you're sick in our house, you get to pick the movie/ show/ etc...  Plus, it *is* a bonafide classic, and I had not seen any of Elizabeth Taylor's work from when she was a kid.*

It's good!  This is a solid, fun, sweet movie.  The cast is terrific, the sets and matte paintings and locations all very pretty.  We get Angela Lansbury as a teen, Liz as a pre-teen, Mickey Rooney in his 20's, Juanita Quigley (one of the Our Gang kids), Donald Crisp as the father and Anne Revere is phenomenal as Liz's mother.

Liz plays a girl, one Velvet Brown, in that horse-crazy phase who stumbles upon two things at the same time - a hard-travelling Mickey Rooney and a lovely new horse one of her neighbors has purchased, but can't tame.  She loves the horse immediately.  

Her family definitely has echoes of the Smiths in Meet Me In St. Louis, which has to be a coincidence given their production schedules and years of release, but one also can guess the studios were providing scenes of domesticity during pre-war years to give their war-time audiences something to remind them of normalcy.   Velvet's elder sister is boy-crazy, her younger sister a bit of a scold, her baby brother, an absolute weirdo.  And mom understands and dad does not.  

Also, it turns out that Mom once swum the English Channel for a cash prize (which was not accomplished til 1926, about when this movie occurs.  However, the film Million Dollar Mermaid is about Annette Kellerman, who tried in 1905).  

Through a series of hi-jinks, the horse, named The Pie or Pie comes into Velvet's possession, and she and Mickey Rooney work to get the horse into England's premier horse race, the Grand National Sweepstakes, which is five miles of obstacles/ jumps.  

Along the way, Mickey Rooney must determine what sort of fellow he is, the family has to come to believe in Velvet's dream and Velvet embraces what it means to take that one big shot in life.

By the time this movie was shot, Mickey Rooney was a very established star and about to ship out for war.  And Taylor was becoming established as a young star - and it's clear to see how very good she was going to be, even here.  Her role could have been saccharine or twee, but somehow she manages to make it sympathetic - helped along by the ensemble.  And, yes, Angela Lansbury is terrific, too.

I dunno.  I liked it.  There's few surprises.  And it's funny to see Rooney play another former jockey in 1979's Black Stallion (I genuinely looked up if that movie is an unofficial sequel and I just missed something.  It's not.).   But the movie is sweet, hits all the right notes for a wartime family melodrama, and takes the feelings of the young characters seriously (except for bug-collecting Donald).  

If you've got kids, I think they'd dig it.  But I'm a 49 year old dude, and I was a fan.

*I know!  You'd think I'd have watched some Lassie movies.

Christmas in July Watch: Miracle in Bethlehem, PA (2023)

Watched:  07/07/2024
Format:  Hallmark
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jeff Beesly

So, someone in our house is sick, so I was trying to make her fall asleep by putting on the soothing screen-saver that is a Hallmark movie (no, really, this works like a damn charm).  It's currently the annual "Christmas in July" deal Hallmark does where they say "ah, we know what you really want", put the Golden Girls reruns on pause, and roll out their Christmas line up for a while (I have no idea if it's a couple of weeks or all month).  

But, yeah, along with Canada Dry, saltines and grilled cheese, when you're not feeling great, I can't recommend these movies enough.

I'd actually meant to watch Miracle in Bethlehem, PA (2023) last year. One of my criteria for actually putting one of these Hallmark holiday films on is if it stars anyone related to Superman media, and - lo and behold - this one stars former Smallville actress, Laura Vandervoort.  

One must bust out a very specific rubric to discuss a Hallmark movie, and among these movies, this one was not a complete trainwreck.  It has some things it keeps harping on that make it... creepy?  But our lead is charming enough and is a better actor than the material probably called for, that she basically papers over some faults.

Oh, to kick off the movie, our male hero is getting yelled at by the girlfriend who breaks up with him because he seems happy sitting on the couch with his large yellow dog (Donkey), playing video games instead of whatever nonsense she thinks he should be doing.  He picks the dog.  And they finally made a Hallmark male lead I could find buyable.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

80's-Sequel Watch: Beverly Hills Cop - Axel F (2024)

Watched:  07/07/2024
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Mark Molloy

Back in 1984, my mom - KareBear, a world-renowned loose-canon - took my brother and me at ages 11 and 9 to see Beverly Hills Cop in the theater.  There's probably a whole separate post on what Rated-R movies were like in the 1980's and how the culture of suburban latchkey kids and HBO meant we were all watching those movies without anyone's permission, so it was not my first Rated-R film by a long shot.

But, yeah!  That was my first parental-sanctioned Rated-R flick, seen because my mom heard you got to see Detroit in a movie, and we'd lived there for a bit in the 1970's.  I believe her takeaway was "that Eddie Murphy is a stitch" and that's all she cared about.

I did see Beverly Hills Cop 2, but aside from Brigitte Nielsen in haute couture, I don't really remember anything else about it.  Bananas likely found their way into tailpipes.

The only reason Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F (2024) exists is because Netflix has the data to prove that people alive in the 1980's will give a modern sequel a whirl, whether it's a Star War or a Top Gun.  Countdown to us all sitting through a Goonies reunion.*

This movie follows the now proven formula of 

Disney Watch: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Watched:  07/05/2024
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  Second
Directors:  Ron Clements, John Musker

At long last, the Disney parks have refurbished "Splash Mountain" (based on Song of the South.  I know.) in Florida and California and are replacing it with "Tiana's Bayou Adventure" (based on the 2009 movie, The Princess and the Frog) and re-themed and built associated restaurants and gift shops.  

There are many reasons, big and small, that this is a good idea.  But it *is* basing a whole part of the park on a movie I'd seen only once, and which left me with no particularly strong impressions, so Jamie and I gave the movie a whirl.

My understanding is that The Princess and the Frog is very important to folks younger than myself, and I get it.  It's cute, it's got a few memorable characters.  And kids like stuff they watch over and over.  You go, you little numbskulls.  

But.  It is not Disney Animation's best.  I'm sorry.  I want it to be.  It's the final hand-drawn movie , I think, before they went full CGI (late edit: it's the penultimate movie.  There's a Winnie the Pooh movie that was the last one).  It's the first majority-minority feature film, and with a Black lead who has an interesting geographical and historical context.  And yet.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

JLC Neo-Noir Watch: Blue Steel (1990)

Watched:  07/06/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Kathryn Bigelow

Criterion Channel is showcasing Neo-Noir films this month, and I absolutely remember this coming out and not understanding what it was at the time, and then never hearing from anyone who ever saw it.

But here at The Signal Watch, JLC is one of our patron saints, and I was curious.

The movie is a curious mix of genres - certainly an homme fatale noir, but 100% a thriller.  And sets itself in the New York of the late 1980's where finance-dudes were of interest to audiences, as were blue-collar types.

Jamie Lee Curtis plays a young woman literally right out of the police academy who, on day 1, stumbles onto a hold-up occurring at a grocery, where she's forced to shoot the gunman.  Which she does in 1980's style, emptying her gun and sending the guy reeling through the front window.

Unfortunately for her, the gun the guy had goes missing, and no witnesses say they saw a gun.  And there's no tape?  In 1990 in New York?  But ok.  

She's on administrative leave when she meets a commodities exchange fellow who woos her.

But, uh-oh, he was at the scene of the crime, took the gun, and is now murdering people with the gun after carving her full name into the casings, that he leaves behind after killing innocent people.

One good cop (Clancy Brown) believes her while everyone else just wants to fire her or make her go away, but Eugene (Ron Silver) ups the ante, and eventually she figures it out just pre-coitus.  And then things get really nuts as she fights for anyone to believe her and he lawyers up while also murdering her friend (Elizabeth Pena, RIP) in front of her.  

On the whole - my take is this: 

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Happy Fourth of July, Pals


Everyone get out there, eat some potato salad and beans, and try to stay hydrated.  

I don't think Vanessa Williams is hosting A Capitol Fourth this year on PBS, which makes this year less good than prior years.  But let's not cry that it's over, let's be happy it happened.  And may Vanessa Williams fill you with patriotism.

God bless America, I say

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Doc Watch: Burden of Dreams (1982)

Watched:  07/03/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Les Blank

As I mentioned when discussing Fitzcarraldo, as good as the movie is, it's probably more famous for the impossible conditions around the production of the movie - which was shot on location in the Amazon with a crew and cast comprised of indigenous locals and Klaus Kinski, famously one of the least agreeable actors to have ever walked the face of the Earth.

Burden of Dreams (1982) documents the production.  

I won't say the documentary fails to convey the catastrophe that was the production, but if you also saw Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse, a documentary chronicling the epically horrendous filming of Apocalypse Now, everything else is going to suffer by comparison.

Hearts of Darkness was originally captured by Coppola's wife, Eleanor Coppola, and so there's an intimacy to the conversations and scenes shown that Burden of Dreams is unable to achieve.   Burden of Dreams seems shot like a respectful third-party observing with the good-graces of Herzog and crew, and while it's a catalog of many of the miseries of the set - and there were innumerable setbacks and problems - it's not a camera rolling during conversations that feel private or raw, until maybe the end, where Herzog is clearly at his breaking point.

And while the emotional intensity and feeling of creeping dread is not there while watching Burden of Dreams, it's still an absolute ride watching events unfold, and the very obvious problems baked into what Herzog seemed hellbent on doing, against reason and logic.  And I wish the movie had been willing to be less dispassionate about how Herzog's weird hubris fucked with the lives of thousands of people, and got people injured and killed and disrupted multiple native tribes and the massive impact he had during his relatively short stay.  

Part of the problem is that a lot of what happened seems to have happened when the filmmakers weren't around, and so it's being reported to them when there's spats with or amongst the locals.  We never really see the rainy season, and they missed the whole part where Jason Robards shot weeks of film before taking ill and quitting the movie - meaning the movie also lost Mick Jagger.

Equally odd about the doc is that only Herzog and a few locals get real interviews.  We don't hear from Kinski, co-star Claudia Cardinale (I would love her version of events) or Miguel Angel Fuentes, who seems like he'd have plenty to say as a young actor.  

But what is abundantly clear is the recklessness and naivete with which the film was mounted, and the trust and hope the locals put in Herzog that doesn't seem to really pay off.  They're not dumb, and they know that, for example, if the boat's pulley system breaks and people are hurt of killed, it will not be Herzog who gets hurt - and they seem very unsure why they're supposed to be taking this risk.

Managing the long shoot - which has full stretches where nothing is shot - is insane, and it seems like a lot of trouble could have been managed with a better producer or production manager to ensure boats were where they needed to be, people were where they needed to be - but it's also clear if anyone tried to control this chaos, they'd have gone crazy while failing.  This is a movie that went up against the jungle and - much like Fitzcarraldo - maybe barely got what it wanted out of all the trouble it went through.

But, yeah, when you see Herzog sort of shrugging off his discomfort about hiring a prostitute for his film set to keep the peace - on the advice of a priest - you've gone through a rabbit hole.

Further - you may have seen memes or clips of Herzog's meditation on the jungle and what it represents, but it is - by far - the most powerful moment in the film, and by that time, you're inclined to agree with Herzog's take.

Anyway - I do feel like Fitzcarraldo is a richer experience for having had seen the doc and having some "how did they do that?" questions answered in this film.  I just wish they'd been able to get some better access.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Herzog Watch: Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Watched:  07/02/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Werner Herzog

Fitzcarraldo (1982) is not necessarily famous for being a great movie, although some certainly have considered it to be so.  Instead, it's mostly famous for being the most notoriously difficult movie to ever make, including having to start over well into production because the original star fell ill and they had to find a new star and then start over.  Also, they really did move a massively heavy metal boat over the top of a hill.

I'd been wanting to watch this movie for a while, then whilst writing up 8 1/2, I figured out Claudia Cardinale is in this movie, and that was, apparently the item that tipped me over.  

As a story, this movie will remind you of a few other things from the era.  Perhaps Mosquito Coast.  For me it was The Mission.  But it's the general idea that someone is going to go into the wild to go do something that seems foolhardy on paper, and, indeed, it turns out to be super hard.  And in the jungle.*

There's a poetry to the mad man with a vision disappearing into the jungle to try and achieve that crazy goal, witnessed by only a few from home, and surrounded by indigenous people.  And, because this is a post-1970/ pre-1990 movie, we're fine with showing them totally failing.  Because they challenged the world and the world pushed back.

Set in the early 20th century, our movie is about an Irishman in Peru, Fitzgerald (who goes by Fitzcarraldo) played by the very not-Irish Klaus Kinski.  Fitzcarraldo sees himself as a man of culture as he loves opera, and he wishes to bring that to the town he's watching grow.  We know he's delusional as he describes his small town as a growing city on par with the finest in Peru (it is not) - and he wants to bring opera to his town.  But to do that, he needs money.  

He stumbles upon a plan, which is financed by his friend and lover played by Claudia Cardinale, a local madame.  He's going to exploit a whole new part of the Amazon jungle for rubber - it's a section that even the biggest rubber concerns haven't hit yet as there are troublesome rapids on the river connecting that area to the port town.  

His plan, as you will have guessed, is to pull a boat over the hill separating the traversable parallel river and connect with the other river upstream of the rapids.  It's what we in the plan-evaluating business called a "hare-brained scheme" but, also "so crazy, it just might work".

The staff he brings on his boat is irksome, and the crew is initially threatened by locals, but the locals discover what he's up to (charmed by his playing of Caruso opera tracks) and assist him in his plan to move the boat.

Watching the film, it is absolutely an unbelievable spectacle by 2024 standards.  Herzog famously did go into the jungle, he did recruit locals to act in the film and work on the set.  And there's enough drama there to have spun off a whole two documentaries, The Burden of Dreams and My Best Fiend (neither of which I've yet seen).  But the results are there on film.  You can see a movie in which a 350+-ton boat is moved up a hill, bit by bit, with an army of extras.

Kinski as Fitzcarraldo is manic and absolutely believable as someone who thinks building a jungle opera house is a phenomenal idea.  His character isn't stupid - and Kinski manages to thread the needle of his character's obsessions and when he gets overclocked, and his awareness of the real danger he's in from time to time.  It's an ecstatic performance.

Anyway - at this point I'm mostly looking to watching Burden of Dreams to see how this thing was put together.

Do I rank it as highly as, say Roger Ebert, who placed this in his Great Movies list?  I'm going to sit with it a while.  It is certainly one that will stick with me, and I see myself thinking on it in the future.  We'll see.  For now, I'll say it was well worth the watch, and I would give it another spin.  And I think it has almost mythological components that make it worth seeing as a cultural touchpoint.

*It reminds me of the placard I saw that says "We do not do these things because they are easy, but because we thought they would be easy."

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Mars Read: The Chessmen of Mars (1922)

One thing I know about Edgar Rice Burroughs - he is very certain women get kidnapped every 20 minutes.  

We're here in the Fifth of the Barsoom novels.  The Chessmen of Mars (1922) takes place a few years after Thuvia, Maid of Mars.  For the first time in a few books, John Carter returns to Earth - but now appearing ageless and in his Martian harness and weaponry.  He sits to share a story with ERB, this time about his daughter, Tara of Helium.

This book feels better constructed than Thuvia, which had a sort of improvisational quality to it, like ERB was just stitching ideas together.  The Chessmen of Mars reads less like combined installments reprinted into a single volume.  Instead, the book seems to have better considered foreshadowing, laying foundations for later actions, etc... in a way that shows growth in ERB's writing.  

This book essentially breaks into a few sections.  There's some business in Helium at the beginning where we first meet John Carter's daughter, Tara, who seems to be described as astoundingly beautiful - just not as beautiful as Dejah Thoris (I appreciate ERB's own loyalty to Dejah Thoris).  She's got the fire of her parents, but is never described to have inherited her father's great strength the way her brother, Carthoris, did. 

When the story opens, she's understood to be betrothed to a young man of Helium - but the two aren't clicking.  At a party, she meets Gahan of Gathol, who she sees in the finery of his people, and decides he's a showy fancy-lad.  

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Giant Watch: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

Watched:  06/28/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Nathan Juran

If ever there were a movie ripe for a modern re-telling, it's Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958).  

The movie is likely now most famous from the title and poster art, with only a small percentage of people who've seen it or remember the actual film.  And the poster is killer, to be honest.  And in the best, shlocky 1950's sci-fi way, far surpasses anything on the screen.  

What's funny about this incredibly cheap (I read the budget was $88,000) film is that it's so different from the atomic scare movies of the era with giant ants, giant lizards, colossal men, etc...  The story plays on a completely different flavor of fear.

The film follows Harry Archer, a cad who is two-timing his wife, Nancy (Allison Hayes*).  Nancy has some emotional issues and problems with the bottle, but those seem to have started once Harry showed up and started catting around almost immediately.  On a night where Nancy has stumbled across Harry publicly fondling his latest squeeze, Honey (Yvette Vickers), she drives off in a huff, only to run into a UFO and the giant contained therein, who reaches for Nancy's gigantic diamond necklace, fumbling the attempt.  

Nancy returns to the bar to get help, but everyone thinks she's just wacky, drunk, crazy Nancy.  Sober and not-crazy, a gaslit Nancy heads out with Harry, with whom she's fighting, to find the spaceship - and succeeds.  The giant grabs her and Harry runs away like the shitheel he is.  

Soon, Nancy is found - but grows to enormous size, and attacks the bar.

Martin Mull Merges With The Infinite

Martin Mull, actor, comedian and entertainment personality, has passed.

I have no idea where I first saw Mull.  In the 1980's, he was just around, popping up on television or in movies.  It's possible it was Mr. Mom or Clue.  I do remember before I left high school, I knew enough that if he popped up in something, I would say "oh, hey!  Martin Mull!" and that was reason enough to give the show or movie a chance I otherwise wouldn't.

At some point, TV Land was playing re-runs of his 1970's faux talk show Fernwood Tonight, which co-starred Fred Willard.  The show was *nuts* and I'm surprised it's not more of a staple for comedy aficionados.  

He also appeared on Roseanne, did a ton of voice work for animation, and appeared on both Wonder Woman and Lois & Clark.  

He was so much a fixture, it's possible folks took him a bit for granted.  But he brought the world Gene Parmesan on Arrested Development, and that role alone should place him in the hall of legends.  

We'll miss you, sir.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Shhhhhh Watch: A Quiet Place - Day One

Watched:  06/27/2024
Format:  Alamo
Viewing:  First
Director:  Michael Sarnoski
Selection:  SimonUK

I had not seen the two prior installments in the John Krasinski-led A Quiet Place franchise.  From the trailers, it had real "I get it, I'm good" energy.  But I was aware that this one is a prequel to those two prior films, with an all new cast, including the radiant Lupita Nyong'o.  Left to my own devices, I would have maybe seen this in 10 years on streaming.  But I hadn't seen Simon in *forever* and he suggested A Quiet Place: Day One (2024), and, thus, I was like "yeah, sure".

It can be a good experience to do something you're mostly ambivalent about.  And this was a good experience.

Finally seeing one of these movies did confirm my feeling, when seeing the trailers for the two prior films, that the movie is a sort of cinematic parlor game to be played with the audience..  I imagine Krasinski came up with it after trying to play The Quiet Game with his children.  

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Superman 2025: A Whole New World - And A Pre-Populated DCU

You can follow our posts on Superman at this link, and our posts on the new movie, Superman (2025) at this link.

This week, set-photos started trickling out onto the internet from the shooting locations for Superman (2025).  

Reactions have been fairly enthusiastic from the Super-folk I've seen online, with some notable exceptions (you know who you are).  Rather than the somber, "getting ready for work before the sun comes up" look we initially saw, we're getting David Corenswet's Kal-El in his four-color glory.  

Yeah, they did the trunks, and they let Superman's colors *pop*.  No more somber tones.  I'll hide the rest of the pics below "Read More" for the folks trying to avoid spoilers.

RiffTrax Watch: Suburban Sasquatch (2004)

"it'll look great on camera"

Watched:  06/21/2024
Format:  YouTube
Viewing:  First
Director:  Dave Wascavage

I watched this over 4 days, finishing just moments before putting on Ember Days, and could not muster the energy to discuss both movies too close to each other.  It was too much for any one man.  But here we are.

What stirs the visions of would-be writer/ directors?   Is it the story they must tell that drives them so?  The need to express themselves?  A dream of becoming part of the Hollywood establishment?  A dream to work as an outsider?

What keeps them going through the long days and nights of pre-production, shooting and then editing?  What is the motivator to make a film when it requires expensive FX they simply cannot afford?  What convinces the actors to show up every day of that shoot, put on their "costume" and read clunky dialog?

Simply, I cannot imagine.  This is, like, time and money out of someone's life.  It's a real "maximum effort for minimum return" proposition.

And yet, every day there's someone out there who has convinced people in their lives that: what we all need to do is make a movie.  How hard could it be?  

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Spite Watch: Babette's Feast (1987)

Watched:  06/24/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Gabriel Axel

People lash out at their circumstances in a variety of ways, and your blogger is no different.  I am acting out by choosing to watch a staple of arthouse from the 1980's and 90's, Babette's Feast (1987).  

While I wait for La Dolce Vita to make it's way to my local library branch, I've been filling the time with what has turned out to be absolutely terrible movies.  And, so, I needed a palette cleanser.  So, one part of this spite-watch was to get hostile to the idea of bad movies and watch something so utterly different from, say, Shazam 2 and Ember Days, that it doesn't feel like the same art form.  And, maybe that's a real discussion to be had.

The second part of my spite stems from a dinner conversation which occurred about four years ago, when an art-film minded pal (who shall remain anonymous) was comparing something to Babette's Feast, and I admitted I'd not seen it.  He stated that Babette's Feast was not the type of thing I watch.  And so, just to spite him, I planned to watch the movie.  And here we are.  

See, I DID WATCH YOUR DUMB MOVIE,* anonymous friend!  HA HA.  Who's the Godzilla-watching dope NOW?**

So, Babette's Feast.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Can I Please Be Done With the DCEU? Watch: Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)

Watched:  06/22/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Some guy
Selection:  Jamie

I had no notion of ever watching Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023).    I really thought my journey through the DCEU was done, but for some reason, Jamie wanted to watch this unseen, unloved unwanted sequel, and reminded me the film features Helen Mirren (always a delight) and I folded like a camping chair.

I know people love the first Shazam! movie.  I liked it okay the first time, but I was pretty lukewarm on it with a rewatch.  When the trailer hit for a second installment, I just couldn't get excited.  The DCU was a mess by this point, and the trailer just looked like...  I dunno.  Nothing about it grabbed me.  

One of the things that really stuck with me from the first movie was that they'd deviated from the traditional depiction of Shazam/ Captain Marvel in the comics, letting the movie do it's own thing, and that thing wasn't as much fun as the comics.  And, I think on my re-view of the movie I was really turned off by the decision to insert Billy's rejection by his mom as unnecessary to the story (and a new feature, afaik), and the scene with monsters annihilating a roomful of people for no real reason.  It felt out of place for a character I think of working for very young kids.

This movie was a *family* movie, in theory, which I tend to think of these days as something akin to Despicable Me or most of Marvel's output I think is pretty safe for pre-teens.  Shazam, as a concept, seems like it should skew closer to Despicable Me. It's a fantasy of kids getting to be adults with super powers and fighting goofy villains like an angry, talking worm and the Sivana Family.

Instead, Shazam! Fury of the Gods bravely chose to start by murdering a room full of innocent people in a couple of fairly horrific ways, so all I could do was buckle in.  

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Pain Watch: Ember Days (2013)

Watched:  06/21/2024
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  First
Director:  Sean-Michael Argo

Where to start?

Since high school, intentionally watching bad movies has been a routine part of my film viewing.  I couldn't count how many bad movies I've watched with the aid of MST3K, RiffTrax, Dug, etc... or just putting a bad movie on myself and giving it a go with no professional support.  But the number of these films watched has been... astronomical.  And, in fact, my guilt regarding watching so many bad movies is part of why I've recently taken on my homework task of watching movies by the big name directors I've previously avoided.

And so it is that, thanks to Dug, I've now seen a movie that was not just bad for many of the reasons a movie doesn't work out (flat acting, a wandering script, horrendous editing...), but Ember Days (2013) pioneered new and innovative ways in how it chose to be a very bad movie.  It's one of those movies where you'd love a whole other movie to cover what went into this movie, what the filmmakers were thinking, and how they think of their product now.  

I do not say this lightly:  this is possibly one of the worst movies I've ever seen.  That's a spot which is, honestly, pretty hard to reach (and I'm pretty sure is usually occupied by Monster-a-Go-Go).  And I say this in the same year I watched Showgirls 2: Penny's From Heaven.  

If I have any sympathy for the film, it is most certainly due to the zero-budget nature of the production.  And, yes, I appreciate that a bunch of people outside of Hollywood decided to make a movie, and you shouldn't bag on people trying.  

But I watched it, and I'm here to tell the tale.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Robo Watch: M3GAN (2022)

Watched:  06/21/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Gerard Johnstone

I don't jump on too many new horror movies.  If they're still in the zeitgeist a couple years out, sure.  

M3GAN (2022) did a very respectable box office of $180 million, bringing in a younger crowd with a PG-13 rating and a premise I think would appeal to a wide age range.  As pal Michael would point out, not bad for a movie that cost about $12 million before marketing.

If I had any spark of interest, it was to see how the performer(s) handled M3GAN as a character, and how they'd think about robots, AI, logic leading to mayhem, etc...  Things handled pretty well in Ex Machina and Westworld in recent memory.  As a product of Blumhouse,* this was going to need to fit a certain mold, so we know where it's headed to a degree before we even flip the movie on.

I'll start at the end - and that's to say, this movie's last third is exactly what you expect.  The AI goes crazy, gets quippy, and mayhem ensues.  For your kid's first horror movie, it's good stuff.  For everyone else, it's a bit of a letdown, even if it's well executed.  But we've also seen it before.  And that's a bummer because the first half or more of this movie is really pretty interesting.  


Fellini Watch: 8 1/2 (1963)

Watched:  06/20/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Federico Fellini

I was unable to find La Dolce Vita streaming, so I had to skip ahead to 8 1/2 (1963) as I continue on my "finally watch a handful of movies from name directors" homework that I've assigned myself.  Obviously I'm checking out Fellini at the moment.  Commenting on my post for La Strada, StevenGH effused a bit about this film, so I didn't mind jumping into the deep end.  

This screening was not taken on due to the passing this week of co-star Anouk Aimée, but the cosmos aligned, and so it's with a farewell salute to the actor that we dove into this movie for the first time.  

Prior to watching this movie, I didn't, honestly, know anything about it other than that it had Mastroianni in the role for which he's best known in America.  So, despite knowing this was a "Top 50 Movies by Critical Consensus" type of film, no one had brought it up with me other than asking if I had seen it - maybe once every few years - and then moving on upon learning I hadn't seen it.

For me, what you may have heard about the reputation of 8 1/2 bore out.  It's both incredibly simple and so complex it's worthy of the endless conversation 60 years of this film existing in critical circles will tell you.  It is about what it is about, while also being the thing that can't be made by the characters in the film.  I'm getting now why a thousand bad films have been made by filmmakers who tried to recapture the lightning in a bottle.  

I don't know if I've ever seen a film this *honest*, where - knowing Fellini was writer, director and ring master of the film - there's no doubt that what we're watching in the screen is a transposition of the real onto celluloid.  Past, present and fantasy mix within the film, and the film seems to play all of these parts for Fellini - down to recasting himself as Marcello Mastroianni (no doubt one of the best male faces to cross the screen) as a true fantasy.  And, look, I don't know how much of this is true - I don't assume this is a 1:1 to Fellini's life, but I do think it taps into something that manages to show a portrait of a character and his challenges and inner-life in a way that is both unique and comes from a place both specific and universal-ish.   

I won't get too much into the cast, but it also includes British actor Barbara Steele, which surprised me when she walked across the screen.  Claudia Cardinale plays more of an idea than a character, and who better to play a concept, really?  The forementioned Anouk Aimée is stunning as the long-suffering wife of Mastroianni, her rage turned into a steely armor.  And dozens of others, none of whom I know as they're Italian actors from 60 years ago.  And I am not here to talk about performances on this one, but there weren't any wrong notes, which I think likely goes without saying.

To be honest, most of the time, it's my feeling that when writers and directors think they should delve into their libido, their strings of romantic and sexual partners and be honest about it, the results are cringe-worthy.  If this movie has a knock against it, it's only that others think they can pull this off and remain interesting and/ or sympathetic.  There are a few that do work (All That Jazz is really something), but a lot more that don't.  Why this works in 8 1/2 is an alchemy of execution of story beats, the use of his past, present and fantasy structure, and that Fellini is clear-eyed about his fictional director.  He sees how people hurt each other, recognizing humiliation for what it is rather than as a comedic crutch.

Like a lot of the films I'll wind up discussing in my Movie Homework Series here on the blog, I don't think I'll have anything new to say.  We're going to be touching some of the most famous, well-regarded cinema on planet Earth, and that means it's been written about in magazines, reviews and academic treatises when it hasn't been the subject of interviews, both primary and secondary.  

What I don't want to do is give these movies short shrift, nor cover well-trod territory, especially when other folks know these movies well.  And, certainly, I'll be returning to this movie, which I'm sure will have deeper impact in new ways when I know where this is going.  But I do appreciate coming in cold, and just sorting out what I was watching as a somewhat pristine experience.

I'll save further commentary on the imitators for another day, for a future re-watch.  There's plenty to discuss in structure, camera work, style, religion on film, libido on film and Claudia Cardinale.  So, perhaps in the future we can return to this movie again.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Donald Sutherland Merges With The Infinite

I remember becoming aware of Donald Sutherland via the 1985 film Heaven Help Us, although it's likely his ubiquity in movies meant I'd seen him in something prior (I'd seen Max Dugan Returns at the movie theater, so there, certainly).  And, a quick glance at his IMDB page tells you what you already know:  the man was constantly working.  200 acting credits to his name.  

I don't know if I have a favorite Sutherland performance, but Kelly's Heroes often pops to mind.  I only recently watched Klute, and he's clearly great there.  But you can say that about Sutherland in movies I liked far less.  And, of course, he was doing good work well after the era in which he played younger men.

Here's to Donald Sutherland, who always brought something extra to his roles, and who managed to seem cool as hell off and on the screen.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Sci-Fi Watch: "The Expanse" ReWatch, Season 5

One of the most insane things you can do is recommend someone watch multiple seasons of TV more than once.  But here we are.

The first time I watched The Expanse, I watched it entirely by myself* as a binge-watch.  I think I made it through the first five seasons in about three weeks (the sixth had not started yet), which is simply not a thing I do.  

Spoiler - my least favorite season of the show was the fourth season, which I still liked, but felt like the one season where I felt I'd seen this same sort of thing elsewhere.  On a rewatch, I better appreciate how the Western-like settlement and tensions between moneyed and non-moneyed pioneers informs the overall arc of the show.  

The Fifth Season, which brings the character, political and story arc threads of the show to a head, while simultaneously splintering our Rocinante-based space-fam, was one I'd quite liked the first go-thru.  On a second viewing, I liked it even more.  

The issues our characters brought into the series at its start finally have time to get some spotlight, all against a backdrop of the inevitable consequences of the centuries of exploitation of the Belt (for whom you can apply a dozen real-world analogies) coming to bear.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Willie Mays Merges With The Infinite

American legend and baseball player, Willie Mays, has passed at the age of 93.

Mays was, statistically, one of the best to ever pick up a bat and put on a glove.  His career started prior to the advent of the Golden Glove, and he still won 12 of them, consecutively.  He had 660 career home runs and a .302 career batting average.  And, frankly, it's exhausting to think about telling you people about every single one of his records and achievements.  Here's Wikipedia.  

I'm not sure we'll see his like again as a player.  Most baseball folk have him in company with Babe Ruth.  But, if the MLB can learn anything from Hays, I'd tell them:  let your players love the game the way Hays did.  Before I'd read about what kind of player he was - heck, before I knew about baseball - I knew him as a larger-than-life personality who took joy in people and his sport.  The game needs that, and is at its best when you've got those players.

We're sorry to see him go, but as long as people talk about baseball, folks are going to talk about The Say Hey Kid.  

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Fellini Watch: La Strada (1954)

Watched:  06/16/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Federico Fellini

Back in the 1990's, I managed to escape film school without much in the way of a "film studies" background.  I was a "production" guy, so I was taking classes that required hauling around equipment and working with fellow students to try and get shorts made - and there weren't credit hours or time for me to also take the classes offered on Fellini and others.*  

At the mercy of the syllabus for the classes I did take, I saw a wide variety of film, but we weren't shown some of the giants, which I now find... odd.  Because in the mid-90's, people still cared about European film and the work of folks like Bergman, Fellini, Godard and others, both inside and outside of academia.  It would be like securing an English degree, but they assume you're reading Shakespeare on your own.

As a result, some of this became so monumental in my head as "challenging viewing", I just never took the Pepsi Challenge.  

But...  then, I realized as I turned 49 -  why not?  So.

Anyway, I am currently on a quest to make the most of my Criterion subscription by checking out a few movies from name directors, especially non-American directors.  You may have noted my recent four movie sprint through some Akira Kurosawa.

Mentioning Fellini on facebook, our own NathanC, who tends to dip into these kinds of film better than many, recommended I start with La Strada (1954).  My only prior exposure to Fellini had been randomly watching Roma back in college.**  So, La Strada it was.  

I have zero complaints about this movie.  I get it.  I know that's not much of a review, but this is what had been advertised to me about Fellini since college, complete with circuses, clowns and sadness.  This is not a complaint.  It's like hearing "well, Dr. Seuss features a lot of Loraxes" and there you are, spotting a Lorax.  

To me, the remarkable thing about the film was that La Strada is the art that a post-WWII Italy was producing.  While certainly not directly commenting on the war, I can only imagine the mood of the post-Mussolini Italians climbing out of the rubble after the Allies bombed and shot their way across the country.  Of *course* the need to tell stories about the people living on the edge of society, the misfits, and making the cruelty casual no matter what love you throw at it came from this era and this place. 

I also understand how folks trying to imitate what is on screen here could go very, very badly indeed.

I was confused and delighted that this movie starred Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart, both Americans, and my eyes about fell out of my head that Dino De Laurentiis was a producer.  

Anyway, the movie is one of the most written about in cinema, and I don't think anyone will gain much from my scribblings, so I'll cut it short here.  But thanks to Nathan for the suggestion!  I'll be seeking out La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2 and Amarcord soon (with a possible check in with Nights of Cabria).  

*I'll talk about the abortive Bergman class I took, soon
**which I need to rewatch as I think Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson is in it as a young woman after reading her memoir

Neo-Noir-Comedy Watch: Hit Man (2023)

Watched:  06/15/2024
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Richard Linklater

As a good Austinite, I feel extra pressure to watch Richard Linklater movies, and still miss half of them.  But this one took literally no effort to watch as I have Netflix thanks to my T-Mobile service.  

Reviews were initially pretty good for Hit Man (2023/24?), as near as I can tell.  But I think the wider audience response has been more mixed.  And I get it.  The movie feels like it has a bit of a genre pivot or thematic pivot half-way through, and that's a pretty good way to lose people.  Arguably, it goes from a sort of goofy comedy to a dark-comedy neo-noir.  And that turn in the middle is some YMMV territory.

The basic set up is that we have our public college prof (people keep saying Community College, but he seems more adjunct at a full university.  TERMS MEAN THINGS.), teaching philosophy and psychology.  But - He moonlights for the New Orleans PD making surveillance equipment for catching people who are trying to hire a hit man,  So, when the NOPD gets a tip someone is looking for a contract killer, they send in an undercover cop posing as a hit man.  

One day, the main undercover cop can't do his thing, so they (Retta!) send in the tech, Gary Johnson (Glen Powell).  Turns out he has a real knack for sliding into the role, and as he tries again and again, finds he can be the hit man to meet the profile of the contractee.