Saturday, April 20, 2024

J Lo Opus Watch: This Is Me... Now - A Love Story (2024)

Watched:  04/19/2024
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  First
Director:  Dave Meyers
Selection:  K

One of the things they'll tell you in some creative writing classes is "write what you know", but they'll also tell you "don't write a story based on your life and just swap the names out, because now people reacting to a story are reacting to you".  JLo did not receive this advice.

So, what happens when a person who has been wildly successful for decades for things she got good at in her mid-20's, and who lives mostly surrounded by sycophants, decides they want to pen a not-at-all disguised analog of their autobiography as a sort of Moonwalker-esque extravaganza?  

There is *a lot* going on in This is Me... Now (2024), the sort-of-film/ musical video montage/ visual media spectacle which is 100% the creative product of Jennifer Lopez and everything that suggests.

Spoilers:  It will not make you walk away thinking "wow, she's a humble, grounded person" in any way.  And not even really in the fun way that you watch Mariah Carey passing through this plane.  But the thing is absolutely, mind-bogglingly engaging.  You simply cannot believe this thing exists, and with all the resources (her own money!) spent on it, that this is what JLo decided to do.

And I cannot recommend it enough.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Noir Watch: Panic in the Streets (1950)

Watched:  04/18/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Eliza Kazan
Selection:  me

Well, this was more fun before we actually had a pandemic.  

There are two movies I can immediately think of that are about plague carriers and which fit into the noir genre.  There's likely more, but the first is the Evelyn Keyes-starring thriller The Killer That Stalked New York (released this same year) and then Panic In the Streets (1950).  

This film is about a guy smuggled into the country who finds he's feeling horrible and tries to leave a card game, only to be bumped off by the guys running the game (including Zero Mostel and Jack Palance!).  What they don't know is that he's carrying the pneumonic plague.  

Richard Widmark plays a doctor in the employ of US Health and Human Services, who teams with the New Orleans PD to try to find out who the body was they find washed up, and who that guy might have been in touch with, spreading the disease through out the city.  

I wouldn't say the movie is uneven, but it pulls three separate directions:  the hunt for who may be contaminated, the domestic life of Widmark's character and him realizing that under pressure he takes it out on the ones he loves, and then the story of Palance as a would-be criminal mastermind who is reading all the signs wrong.

In the wake of the spread of COVID, it can be a little unnerving to watch a movie that's essentially about how no one will help, and no one trusts a doctor coming with bad news - and that even the bad news has to be contained - or people will do the worst possible thing.  

This is directed by Elia Kazan looking for realism, and so the casting isn't even from central.  It feels like real people straight up telling Widmark where to get off.  This isn't a stage set of New Orleans, they're running along the waterfront and walking the streets of the Crescent City.  However, it's also a New Orleans largely devoid of Black people, which...  is insane.  

But Kazan does manage to get some stark photography out of his locations, making for some great scenes and capturing of a time capsule - but really setting the noirish mood - curiously setting the final actionish sequences as Palance is taken down in broad daylight.  Sunlight a cleansing agent and all that.

On this go-round (this is my second time with the film), I was really struck by the domestic scenes with Barbara Bel Geddes and Widmark, and how delicately those scenes play out.  And how real it feels to get called on your @#$% in the middle of something else that's important as you do the wrong things with the people who actually do care about you.*

I do want to go dig up The Killer That Stalked New York.  It's been a good long while, and I no longer get an eye twitch just thinking about the reality of a very bad situation from screen winding up as a reality.

*not that I would ever

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

TV Re-Watch: The Expanse, Seasons 1-2

Like a lot of people, I tried to watch The Expanse twice before a third attempt got me hooked. 

I believe it was just before the 6th and final season of The Expanse debuted that I gave it that third shot, and I think through the power of subtitles and being told I needed to power through a few episodes, I'd be richly rewarded, I made it to the fourth episode and was all-in.

To that end, I have notes for any new show-runner on what is a turn-off on a very good show and why they should not do the things that the pilot for The Expanse did, even if I know perfectly well why it did those things in retrospect.  

Based on a series of novels by two writers working under the shared pen-name of James A. Corey, the show follows the events surrounding the introduction of a new technology to an all-too-buyable vision of the future in which humanity has not yet left our solar system, but has made it to the edge of the solar system, driven by the needs of humanity and the joys of commerce.  

Essentially, three populations are of concern 
  • the Earth of about 300 years in the future
  • Mars - a now semi-self-sufficient entity, highly militarized and suspicious of Earth
  • and the Belt - now hundreds of years old, a series of huge space stations, small stations and colonies clinging to asteroids and mining the asteroid belt for the materials needed by Earth and Mars to advance and survive
This year I did try to start reading the novels, but all it made me want to do was re-watch the series.  Well, Jamie's brother and dad had been watching the show, and my brother's family named their dog after one of the characters (Drummer) and Jamie was finally of a mind that she'd wade through those first episodes and see what the noise was about.

Like the best sci-fi, the world-building the of the series is so well done, it feels intuitive.  This is a deeply used future, and mankind is still mankind.  This is no Star Trek future where there's a bunch of reasonable species being reasonable.  And while not technically dystopian, there's a certain... inevitability to the future imagined.  Clearly the novelists understood what capitalism tends to do, what governments definitely do, and what it means to be born into systems that seem fundamentally fucked, and you have more or less no say in it.  Which, despite what the kids on social media think, is more or less the operating model for humanity.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Noir Watch: The Sleeping City (1950)

This poster is a liar, and sells a movie that this movie is not

Watched:  04/15/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  George Sherman
Selection:  It is I

This has the feeling of an article or short story ripped from the headlines and turned into a movie, but I guess was an original screenplay.  Curiously, Richard Conte starts the film by  directly addressing the camera as himself, explaining that they had actual access to Bellevue Hospital where the filming occurred.

Admittedly, the location shooting provides a certain believability and grit to the movie, as does the look inside how hospitals were functioning in 1950 - with direct throughlines to how they work today.  

The film opens on a young doctor murdered by an unseen assassin as he paces near the hospital, clearly distressed.  Unable to find a motive for the murder, a suspect, etc...  the cops decide to plant their own inside the hospital.  And, here, you need to suspend disbelief.  Conte, 40 here and looking at least that old, plays a cop posing as an intern.    The hospital lets him come in as a doctor with a couple of years of "Pre-Med" under his belt and having had served in medical units during the war. 

Placed in the Trauma Unit, he partners with Coleen Grey, the head nurse, and the two hit it off romantic-stylez.

Apparently doctors would room *inside* the hospital, which seems problematic for any number of reasons, but must have been a real thing.  Conte's roommate first says he's leaving medicine and marrying Peggy Dow, which sounds like a plan, but he soon winds up dead.


With the new angle, Conte digs into what's happening, and figures out that the wacky elevator operator is actually front man for a bookie.  And being a clever fellow, he knows how to set things up so that the doctors get in over their head, and have to start stealing drugs in order to pay off debts.  Once that starts, he squeezes them.  

Oh, and Coleen Grey is in on it, using her cut to pay for a sick kid's treatment and then getting in over her head.

The movie itself is... fine.  It's helped immensely by the location shooting, borrowing from The Naked City's concept of you are there! to lend credibility to the proceedings.   And the actual architecture of Bellevue is put on display.  

Buying that a hospital would allow a cop to pose as a doctor is a monumental leap of faith - the liability seems insane, not to mention the ethical lapse.  And that no one sorts out the fact he doesn't quite know what he's doing...  Like, seems folks would notice that.  Or you'd hope they would.  But Conte is a favorite around here, and I liked him in the part.

Peggy Dow is only in the film for a scene and change, but she does make an impression, and I was impressed with Grey's entire portrayal, especially her final scenes. 

I can't really say why the movie wasn't my favorite - maybe it takes too long to sort out what's happening and the mystery wasn't all that gripping.  But the location and the back 1/3rd of the movie make it worth checking out as more than a curiosity.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Indefatigable Watch: Showgirls 2 - Penny's From Heaven (2011)

Watched:  04/14/2024
Format:  Amazon 
Viewing:  First
Director:  Rena Riffel
Selection:  me.  And Jamie did not watch.

Okay.  So, a couple of years ago I became aware of the existence of Showgirls 2:  Penny's From Heaven (2011).  But finding information about the movie was pretty difficult.  

The film was made a good fifteen years after the release of the actual Showgirls, and is - legally - not associated with that film.  It was, however, written, produced, edited and directed by Rena Riffel, who played a supporting part as "Penny" in the original film.  You will remember her as the girl with the blonde bob at Cheetah's.  

In olden days, I would have live tweeted the film, but I chose not to subject anyone else to my curiosity about this mysterious artifact as I didn't know what I was walking into, so (a) no watch party, and (b) no live tweeting the film.  

Aside from Riffel's involvement, I knew nothing before hitting "play".  Here are my notes.

  • Oh no.  This is shot on regular HD video circa 2010.  There was no sound mixing.  They're using a room mic of some kind.
    • Yup, that's Penny and Jimmy from the original film.  Actors Rena Riffel and Glen Plummer.
  • She's... still stripping 15 years after the original movie.  To her credit, she looks exactly the same.
  • This strip club is clearly not a strip club.  She's dancing in a bar and grill against a pole attached to a carousel horse shaped like a duck.
  • Ah, the plot:  apparently a movie producer is offering "Penny" a job in a movie called "Showgirls 2".  Meta.
  • The camera work is on a par with A Talking Cat!?!
  • I can't explain the weird Wizard of Oz thing this movie is about to try to do, but it is going to try
  • We're doing an homage to the OG Showgirls out of order
  • It just occurred to me, she abandoned her kid and husband
  • The sound is so good, you can hear the insects in this night scene and cars passing nearby
  • Oh no.  This is 2 hours and 25 minutes.
    • Oh no.
    • no no no no
    • why?

The Weird Phenomenon of Movie Reaction Videos

Over Lockdown, Jamie and I started watching a few different YouTube reaction channels, starting with music and eventually branching out into movies.  I'd say I watch 1-2 movie reactions per week.  

But I always walk away with the thought:  what am I watching here and why?

For those who don't watch them or are unfamiliar, the basic set-up is:
  • One or more people sit down to watch a movie they at least claim they've not seen, or it's been a very long time since they've seen it
  • With a split screen showing themselves and the movie as much as they can, given copyright law, they talk over the movie, reacting to it in real time
  • They cut the video down to about 30 minutes of highlights
  • The film itself is shown in short clips, often blurred.  It's hard to describe, but a lot is done to make sure they aren't going to get hit with a copyright violation.
  • It's basically personality vlogging as folks have their catch phrases, somewhat predictable emotional responses, etc...
  • There's usually a very brief preamble and a very short actual reaction to the film

The popularity of the concept mostly relies on the notion that you get to see someone react to a movie you've previously seen.  And to ensure the number of viewers is high, they more or less watch gigantic movie after gigantic movie - because what fun is it to watch someone watch some esoteric movie for the first time if you don't already know it?

The movies are often decades old, things Gen-X came up on which have persisted because of Gen-X's movie obsession and the 1980's - 1990's boom in cinema.

Sometimes the reactors haven't seen the movie because they're younger than the intended audience from the release date of the movie.   Sometimes it just wasn't on their cultural radar.  But for a lot of them, it just seems like movies were not a thing they did before they got a YouTube channel, which is horrifying to the film industry, but also not that uncommon.  Why these people decide to give up their day jobs and do this for a living, I cannot begin to guess.  But there's certainly people out there who are now making a living "reacting" to very popular music, movies and television shows on the YouTubes.