Saturday, March 9, 2024

Musical Watch: The Color Purple (2023)

Watched:  03/09/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Blitz Bazawule

You know, if the world doesn't need something, it's a white dude from the Texas 'burbs sliding in and commenting on The Color Purple (2023).  I mean, the novel is an American classic, the Whoopi Goldberg/ Oprah Winfrey/ Spielberg movie is a classic, the play has run forever...  I got nothing.  This is a great and important story at its core, or it wouldn't still be around.

I will say - the cast is mind-boggling, but that's going to happen.  And I couldn't believe the money clearly behind this thing.  Huge cast.  Period settings.  Choreography, etc...

Anyway.  I really, really liked it.  If your biggest problem is "Fantasia Barrino isn't funny looking enough for what people keep saying" (she isn't funny looking at all), that ain't bad.  Also - I now know why Domingo Coleman has been all over the place at awards shows.

I'm not sure it replaces the Spielberg movie in anyone's mind, and certainly not the novel, but it's great it exists.  It kinda got screwed at the Oscars, yeah?

DCEU Watch: Blue Beetle (2023)

Watched:  03/08/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Angel Manuel Soto
Selection:  Me

I was a reader of the Bwah-Ha-Ha era of Justice League and Justice League International when I got into comics, and had an affinity for Ted Kord as Blue Beetle, perhaps even more than his pal in the title, Booster Gold, who I liked just fine (and I'll read Booster solo stuff from time to time).  But the Blue Beetle of the eponymous film is not Ted, but a Blue Beetle I came to like quite a lot back in the 00's via comics, starting with his Infinite Crisis appearances and then into his own title.  

And, so, Jaime Reyes is probably the last character DC spawned from a big crossover event that has received any traction over the longterm.  Or, possibly, one of the last new characters created by DC to last and carry their own title from time-to-time.  And appear in non-comics media enough to get recognized.

As a plug, the Blue Beetle comics written by John Rogers are phenomenal, and I highly recommend them.

Our version of Blue Beetle here is a recent college grad, who is returning to his family after getting his diploma.  He swiftly learns things are bad at home - the rent went up, they lost the family garage, and Dad recently had a heart-attack.  Plus, it's indicated, he's wildly in debt thanks to student loans.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Noir Lupino Watch: Road House (1948)

Watched:  03/07/2024
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Jean Negulesco
Selection:  Me

I'd seen this movie before, about seven years ago now.  

All I remembered from the movie was Lupino bowling and Widmark cackling, that they had a really good exterior set for the hotel where Lupino is staying, ad that the back half got real, real dark.  All of these things were correct/ memorable.

Re-reading my original post, I could easily echo back pretty much the whole thing here again, but I won't, so go read it before continuing on here.

New items:
  • Lupino gets top billing.  I don't really have a feel for Lupino's overall popularity, but she was riding pretty high in '48.  I feel like she's had a resurgence in popularity with noir and classic film buffs, in part because we know her career arc, but also because she translates very well to our sensibilities for what good acting looks like now.
  • There's a throughline that Lupino's character used to have a good voice, but she lost it, and is doing the best she can.  She really sounds like a 3-pack-a-day smoker through the whole movie, and her (actually Lupino's!) singing voice is better than expected, and she's got charisma to spare.  She does smoke like a chimney through the movie and I wonder if she did off camera as well to get that sound.
  • I think we're supposed to make something of the Madama Butterfly reference, but I would need to do logic pretzels to figure out what that is, other than perhaps Jefty's regressive attitudes about marriage?
  • Widmark's character is named "Jefty", which is supposed to be a clever take on the fact his name is Jefferson T. Robbins.  You will hear the name "Jefty" approximately every 20 seconds during the runtime of this film.
  • This movie led to some speculation at our house about whether people just bowled more in the 1940's so they knew they could get the shots they needed at the bowling alley (you could film me all day and I'm not sure you'd see a strike.  I suck.)
  • The drunken shooting stuff at the end of the film is unhinged.  Just terrifying.
  • In some ways this movie is about a guy who is driven to insanity by Ida Lupino existing in his orbit and one could write a thesis based on the gender roles in this movie, expectations, and class systems, and how that makes Jefty snap (and use his power to manipulate everyone).  There's a lot to dig into here.
  • I'll argue that the right thing to do at the end of the movie is for Pete, Susie and Lily to form a throuple.  Susie seems game for just about anything.
I like this movie, as simple and straightforward and with at least two major plotholes as it is.  I would have liked more papering over the flimsiness of the case presented against Pete, but I do like the execution of where the movie is headed after.  

A fun, dark romp that feels like a melodrama and then gets real weird, real fast.  Plus, Lupino in gowns, singing is not horrible.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Superman 2025: Climbing the Story Mountain and the Soft Application of Dunning-Kruger

You can follow along with this series under the label for Superman2025, a series of posts leading up to the release of WB's new movie in 2025.  All Superman posts since the start of this blog can be found under the Superman label.

With James Gunn's recent social media posts about the start of principle photography on Superman (2025), we now enter into one of the curious aspects of Superman as a character and property:

Everyone has an opinion

Folks have ideas about what the movie should and should not be.  They have bold ideas that haven't been tried before.  They have ideas about period settings, and what would *finally* make Superman click with a wide audience.  They have opinions about why Superman doesn't work for them, but *could* if they just did X.  Folks demand they not do an origin.  Or, they demand Superman dies.  And so on and so forth.

There are the occasional think-pieces and social-media threads arriving in various levels of provocativeness and consideration.  These are usually more focused on the characterization and actually worth glancing at as the writer is often someone working through a thought experiment of the challenge of writing for a guy who can bend steel with his pinky finger and melt a tank with a hard stare.  

One such thought-exercise which made the rounds this week was from writer Michael Chabon.

The ideas thrown out there by social media users and the deeper thinking is welcome.  It's engagement.  It's people with feelings about one of the original superheroes and an American icon.  It's sometimes quality writers pondering the challenges of writing for a character who has been around since 1938 and which seems stuck in place - and so we want to throw an idea or three out there.

It's nice that we *want* to like Superman, and we are being helpful.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Neo-Noir Watch: Sexy Beast (2000)

Watched:  03/05/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jonathan Glazer
Selection:  Me

I had a budding interest in noir and neo-noir when this movie came out, but I remember having no interest in the film.  I suppose it was a trailer or write-up or word-of-mouth that did the trick, but I couldn't say.  Now it's on Criterion, and my tastes have ebbed and flowed over the years, and as I couldn't recall why I didn't want to see this movie, I gave it a shot.

In some circles, this movie is a bit of a classic, enough so that there is a television show coming in short order (or arrived already in England, I don't know) that tells the story of the early lives of the main characters of the movie.  

The movie is a weird mix of a single-location character drama and crime movie, and I... didn't think it worked.  Which is a tough thing to say about a beloved movie with famed actors like Sir Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone and Ian McShane and which still gets referred to a lot.  But I just... didn't buy it.


Tuesday, March 5, 2024

SNL Watch: Please Don't Destroy - The Treasure of Foggy Mountain (2023)

Watched:  03/04/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Paul Briganti
Selection:  Me

SNL has always been a weird beast.  It's not just stand-ups asked to do their bit to audition, I suppose.  Since Andy Samberg brought along the Lonely Island guys and made shorts for the show, it seems like SNL has been looking to recreate some of that magic.  A few years ago, they recruited Please Don't Destroy, three comedy writers/ performers who usually do one pre-recorded sketch per episode.  They were making videos in their apartment during covid, and they were actually pretty good if you find them in YouTube.  

The videos, which work very well in SNL's current format of trying to find viral success on social media more than they seek to earn Saturday night viewers, live, have been popular, I guess, as they keep making them.  But these guys seem to have some chops, and I imagine they'll be in the comedy game for a long time.

They're also self-confessed nepobabies, which explains some of how they wound up rocketing to success, and, possibly, part of how they wound up with a movie by the age of 27.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Leone Watch: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Watched:  03/03/2024
Format:  Paramount+
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Sergio Leone
Selection:  Oh, definitely me

It had been a few years since I'd last watched this movie all the way through, and it's funny to go back see my concern in that write-up that I'd watch the movie too much and it would lose some magic.  Well, I took about 8 years off between viewings, so there you go (I also wrote the film up briefly in 2015).  

This time I was very, very interested in the movie's not exactly subtle analogy for "the end of the West" as rail threatens to bring civilization and that will end the days of the gunslingers and a way of life that's maybe not lasted all that long, but long enough, and can't be a part of the world.  And what happens to the archetypes as the future rolls in.  None of these men are going to change - but the woman can bring civilization.  

As some pals would say, the movie is "vibes".  The plot is pretty easily summed up, and it has long, drawn-out scenes with characters watching and looking, and only speaking as needed - something I associate with Leone films in general.  

But, yeah, I was pretty tired, and pretty raw I guess when I put the movie on, because I got a bit choked up watching some scenes.  Not sad scenes.  Like, literally just watching the shot from the train, to the station to the crane up to the whole town, and Jill moving forward purposefully - and paired with the incredible Ennio Morricone score.  We just don't get that swing-for-the-fences stuff in movies anymore, if we ever did.  

But this movie goes wide as needed, and close-in as needed.  It's a movie where eyes tell the story as much as words. And, man, does Claudia Cardinale's slightest expression carry an ocean of meaning.

Anyway, if you've never seen it, it remains one of my desert-island movies.  There's so much that's great in the movie, and I think people who know about it, know.  But it still seems to fly a bit under the radar. 

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Russell Watch: The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)

Watched:  03/02/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Raoul Walsh
Selection:  Pretty clearly it was me

Criterion Channel announced their lineup of "collections" for the month, and among them was a series of films starring Hollywood legend Jane Russell.  I count myself as a fan of Russell - she's got a certain fire and intelligence I always dig in her roles - and took a peek at what was offered.  Having seen half of the movies on the list, and not wanting Jamie to have to watch a western, I clicked on The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) as it promised DeLuxe Color, widescreen photography and Hawaii.   

I can't say this was my favorite movie, but it was certainly *interesting* - for a medley of reasons.  It's a movie made post war about Hawaii in 1941, which gave the movie a framing I did not expect.  The basic story sounds like maybe the B or C plot to a more modern movie, but I do wonder if this movie didn't set that possibility of a plot into motion.

Mamie Stover (Russell) is a prostitute getting put on a boat to get her out of San Francisco (ie: she's getting run out of town by the cops, which makes you wonder what she'd gotten up to).  En route she meets a writer, Jim (Richard Egan), and they strike up a friendship as he considers her as a subject for his writing.  He's aware of her prior occupation, and he's pegged her story as one old as time.  The relationship turns romantic (I assume sexual, but 1956), and while Mamie offers to straighten up for him, Jim flat turns her down.  He's got a square society-dame girlfriend at home.

Jim isn't crazy for side-eyeing Mamie - she's clearly money-hungry and makes mistakes.  

Mamie lands a job at a club that's a clip joint/ brothel and does well.  Jim pops in to say hi, and they rekindle their romance (and assumed sexual relationship).  The classy girlfriend bails.