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 will 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.