Saturday, June 8, 2024

Astronaut, NASA Chief, Engineer, etc... William Anders Merges With the Infinite

Andres in more recent years

L-R:  Jim Lovell, Anders, Frank Borman

On Friday, Apollo 8 Astronaut William Anders passed when his T-34 aircraft crashed into the waters off Puget Sound.  He was 90 years old.

It is impossible for me to detail the incredibly accomplished life of Anders, but he was a nuclear engineer, pilot, businessman, government agency leader, ambassador to Norway and more.  He will be best remembered as one of the Apollo mission Astronauts, having circled the Moon with Apollo 8.  

It is unlikely you will recall, but in 2009, I attended a panel discussion featuring the Apollo 8 mission astronauts.  I consider that one of the great things I've gotten to do in person.

We're all in debt to Anders' courage as one of those astronauts who made the first journey to the moon and back.  And the wisdom he and the Apollo 8 crew showed in speaking to all of Earth from space, and showing us our small, blue orb, floating out there in the cosmos for the first time.

00's Watch: National Treasure (2004)

Watched:  06/07/2024
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jon Turteltaub

This is one of those movies everyone is shocked to find out I have not seen.  Which, you know, when that happens, y'all can all settle down.  Of all the movies in the world, I only watch a small portion, and this one had no apes, sharks or robots.

2004 is a time period I do remember, and I remember seeing the trailer for this and thinking "this is going to be a Dan Brown/ Indiana Jones knock-off, and it's going to just get a bunch of shit wrong."

And, friends, call me The Oracle, because I was surely correct, lo, those two decades past.

What I failed to predict was that this movie would be extremely boring, have plot holes you could lose a jumbo jet through, and be the last gasp of 90's-style gender politics in an adventure film.

Brought to us by the director of 3 Ninjas and The Meg, National Treasure (2004) is one of those things that could have flopped, but - instead - people decided it was great.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Mars Read: Thuvia, Maid of Mars (1916)


So, I'm back on my Mars thing.  

I'm picking up here with the 4th book in the John Carter of Mars cycle, Thuvia, Maid of Mars.  

I also just found out that there are not 9 books, there's 11.  That's okay.  I can do this.

One does not come to these books for complex characters and deep introspection.  We are here to kick ass on Mars.  We're going to wear BDSM gear and use swords and, when someone crosses our path, we are either going to fight to the death or swear a blood oath of eternal friendship.  And, on Barsoom, all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.  Or would be, if they didn't hatch from an egg in their teens.*

It had been a while since I last read a Barsoom novel (the good people of what we call Mars call their planet Barsoom).  And I'm always kinda sorta embarrassed to read them.  They're the nutrional equivalent of slamming a 2-Liter of Coke while gnawing on Lik-M-Aid and Pixie Sticks.  

But, boy howdy, once you've finished that first bottle and have a face smeared in Lik-M-Aid, you're going to reach for the Pixie Sticks and pop open another bottle  (ie:  I am immediately going into the next book).

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Doc Watch: Jim Henson - Idea Man (2024)

Watched:  06/05/2024
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Ron Howard
Selection:  Jamie

I watched The Muppet Show as a kid, knowing who maybe a 1/5th of the guests were.  I saw The Muppet Movie, Great Muppet Caper, Muppets Take ManhattanDark Crystal and Labyrinth in the theater.  I even remember as a kid wondering how Jim Henson and Frank Oz found the time - "how do they find time to do these things?"   Later, I watched The Storyteller and Jim Henson Hour - which were both given terrible timeslots (Fridays!), if memory serves.

And then one morning I woke up and someone in my house told me Jim Henson was dead.  It's one of my first moments of being shocked by a celebrity death.  It's not wrong to think of Henson in the same mold as Walt Disney, and I understand how the world reeled from his abrupt departure.  

The Henson family has never been terribly secretive, and I've read articles over the years, seen exhibits at the Smithsonian, etc...  so I'd pieced together a rough notion of Henson's life, but it really started with a puppet on one hand.  

It turns out Ron Howard, who directed this film, has a good sense for documentary.  If the movie is a bit of pro-Henson propaganda, there's literally nothing wrong with that.  If Jim Henson had a human side which was imperfect, fine.  The movie does try to give us an idea of some of his blindspots and foibles, courtesy his family and co-workers.  But this film is about how he got to where he was, what his work was like - and how it was done.  And, of course, the impact, which is hard to measure.

With so much time since Henson's death, which was in May of 1990, it's amazing to see so many of his collaborators able to come speak about him, from Muppet costumers to Jennifer Connolly.  And to be taken on the journey from Missouri to DC to London, via clips and video of various efforts.  

I'm not sure there's a ton here for the person who is deeply into The Muppets and appreciates them on a much deeper level than I do, but it's a terrific document.  And for folks who only have heard the name Henson, and did not know him as a friendly face on talk shows or media presence that was generally well-liked across the board - this is a great way to know the man.  And, you'll get a great experience seeing Henson's material all in one place, from his first work on DC to his funeral, which he choreographed.

It's a wonder seeing the Henson kids, now all older than their dad when he passed.  And to hear them speak about him lovingly, but honestly - and I think it's in this realm that I felt Howard's hand.  He knows how to craft the image on a genuine hero.

The documentary is currently available on Disney+.


Angry Animal Watch: Alligator (1980)

Watched:  06/06/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Lewis Teague

I very much remember, sometime in elementary school, a week or so when Alligator (1980) was going to show as a movie on TV.  Possibly even just late after I was going to bed.  But the commercials looked terrifying, and I found out about the urban myth of the sewer alligator.  

Anyway, somehow, I'd never seen this one.  Which is odd.  Y'all know alligators eating people is a favorite theme around here.  And this is maybe one of the first all-alligators/ all-human buffet movies.  

If you're me, you'll also be delighted to learn John Sayles wrote this.  Like, John Sayles...   you mad genius.  (I currently have a shiny new copy of Lone Star sitting on my table waiting to be watched.)

Director Lewis Teague has a checkered history of films, but this is from one of his better periods, and launched him from TV to features for a bit, where he'd go on to do Cujo and other pics before returning to TV and TV movies.

This movie *is* a horror film, but it also knows: this is insane, let's treat it that way.  It occasionally delves into comedy and camp, and even moments of "terror" are pretty wacky (thinking of our scaly pal bursting out of the sewer into the game of stickball).  The only scare I got out of the film was when Forester and his partner go into the sewers and a flashlight falls briefly on the giant croc in what was a shadow.  Like - man, that worked.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Angry Animal Watch: Under Paris (2024)

Watched:  06/05/2024
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Xavier Gens

It is summer, and, thusly, it is time for me to watch movies about animals attacking/ eating people.

As of last night, I knew what my first two films would be, and who am I to say *no* to a movie about sharks in the Seine?  Yes, this is a French shark movie, and, ooo la la..! vive la difference!

Under Paris (2024) seems to be a not-good movie for most of its 1:45 or so runtime.  There's a pretty great scene around the 56 minute mark, and then it slows down again.  And then the ending is absolutely baller, and that's where the budget went.  

Here's the thing: the ending honestly surprised me - in a good way.  If you can hang in there, I think there's an interesting movie here, but it's not the one you're watching for the first 85 minutes or so.  

The basic deal is an intensely tropey set-up if you've ever seen a monster movie or shark movie.  

A scientific expedition at the Pacific Garbage Patch which is looking for a particular shark goes sideways when it turns out there are many sharks, and they are hangry.  Sophia, our lead, is one of two survivors, and, gang, it will surprise you to find out she is haunted by what happened.

Noir Watch?: Bad For Each Other (1953)

Watched:  06/05/2024
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Director:  Irving Rapper

Well, this was on Noir Alley, so I gave it a spin.

It was the definition of "fine".  I don't really have much to say about it.  

A young Charlton Heston plays a doctor on leave at the end of the Korean War (after having served in WWII and Korea).  He comes back to his hometown, one of the coal mines outside of Pittsburgh.  

He meets Lizbeth Scott, who wants to be on Chuck, and he reciprocates after trying to resist her charms and offer of entree to cafe society.  

He soon finds himself just treating rich old ladies and young ladies who hope he'll make a move.  

Eventually his hot nurse convinces him he's not doing medicine, and then he has to help miners out, and the movie ends with him bailing on Lizbeth Scott and opening a practice in Coalville.  The End.

I mean, it *is* interesting to see a movie about a doctor deciding if he wants to live large while selling pills to rich people, or doing real medicine for people who need it.  And lord knows Heston could throw himself bodily into such a role.  

I'm not a huge Lizbeth Scott fan.  She's good, but there's a sort of detachment to how she plays things that makes it hard for me to click with what she's doing.  She's as good as ever here, but she and Heston just lack chemistry.  I believed his relationship more in The Omega Man.  

The best scene in the thing comes toward the end when Heston has to help the miners.  It's genuinely good stuff.  Well shot, etc...

Were Heston and Scott bad for each other?  Yes.  The movie told us that they would be, and, indeed, they were.  I do like her character's blunt honesty and, man, she got some nice gowns in this.

Muller programmed this, I think, to talk about writer Horace McCoy, who also wrote They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, which is the goddamn most depressing way you can read a fictional book in, like, four hours.  (It's good, but.)

Is this movie noir?  I mean, no... I don't think so?  It just feels like a melodrama.  And yet, it was on Noir Alley.  So I'll give it the tag and shrug and move on.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Superhero Fatigue Watch: Madame Web (2024)

Watched:  06/03/2024
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  SJ Clarkson

The best part of Madame Web (2024) is that Dakota Johnson never looks like she wants to be here, either.

Let me start with:  this movie was insanely hard to finish.  It took me two days and hours and hours, during which I paused the movie, picked up my phone and then had to rewind the movie because I realized I'd stopped watching it in favor of seeing what was up on social media, etc...  It is boring and tedious and unlikable on almost every level.  I wouldn't even do it as a fun bad-movie watch party, because it's over-arching feature is that it's dull af.

I almost gave up, but, no, pals, your faithful blogger perseveres.

TL;DR: Six Months Later - DC Movies are Dead (Long Live DC Comics and Movies)

Friends.  Nerds.  Blogger-folk.  Lend me your eyeballs.

I come here to bury the DCEU, not to praise it.  

I love DC Comics.  I have a collection of around 5500 DC Comics - and that's what remains after multiple cullings of the collection over the years, selling off dozens of long boxes and whole runs of JLA, The Flash and Green Lantern.  I have a room in my house largely dedicated to Superman and Wonder Woman, featuring knick-knacks, statues and toys, where I keep those comic books.  I have walls of graphic novels, and DC reference books.  My dog wears a Superman collar sometimes (he's currently wearing a Chicago Cubs collar).  I have attended the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois.  If there is a DC based TV series, serial, movie, cartoon, etc...  there's a good probability I've seen it or have a functioning awareness of it (not everything is for me and I've passed on a lot of animated features the past decade).  

All this is to say, when I discuss DC's movie efforts, it's from a place of love of the source material, of other DC media, and that I'm not coming in as a film-guy who never lifted a comic.  

None of this is to require anyone else to have this background, and you're entitled to your opinion.  But fan entitlement is a thing to behold, and so I feel some credentials are in order.   To conclude a clunky preamble, I say everything I say from a place of genuine love for the characters and their universe.

Thus, let it be known that the DC Comics movie experiment, that began in 2011 and which wrapped-up a decade later with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom at the end of 2023, is done.

And that is to say, I did not love what DC did with its movies, starting with Man of Steel in 2013.