Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Noir Watch: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)




Watched:  02/28/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Robert Wise

A year or two ago, twitter-friendly comics artist and classic movie buff Patch Zircher suggested the film Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) my direction.  This last weekend, the film aired on TCM's Noir Alley, so I was able to get the Eddie Muller discussion to frame the production and story.

The talent in the movie is undeniable - Signal Watch faves Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame star, along with Ed Begley Sr. and Shelley Winters, and Harry Belafonte, who I think Jamie was eager to see (me too, maybe for different reasons).  But the talent behind the camera is also entirely notable.  Expert filmmaker Robert Wise was listed as both Director and Producer, Abraham Polonsky was secretly the writer (but blacklisted at the time, did it under cover), Joseph C. Brun as cinematographer, and the great Dede Allen in an early job as editor.  

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Noir Watch: Native Son (1951)




Watched:  02/28/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Pierre Chenal

Look, there's easily a book to be written about this movie, not a blog post.  It's a remarkable bit of cinema for a multitude of reasons.  

Based on a novel by celebrated author Richard Wright, and *starring* Richard Wright(!), the movie is maybe the most surprisingly frank depiction of the world a Black American lived within in mid-20th Century America captured on film at the time that I've seen.  Now - let me also say: it is very true I watch studio movies of the era, and have not had access to, and am not aware of, much of the independent Black cinema of the the 1940's and 50's, which I am sure had plenty to say and show.

But, look, this movie was never, ever going to get made in America at a studio - at least until the 1960's.  And so it wasn't.  Shot in Argentina to get around the Hayes Code, the movie does feature a good number of American actors, but not all of them are... the best.  And there's some serious ADR work happening over some of the rest of the talent that must have been local.  But - just imagine in 2021 hearing "we had to leave the country because telling this story was so controversial, the US just couldn't handle it".  I mean - that is not a great thing to have to say in a supposedly free society.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Watch Party Friday: Body of Evidence (1993)



WARNING:  Jamie tells me I should say up front - there will be bewbs.  And butts.  And sexy times.  So, watch at your own risk, I guess.   

I saw this in the theater opening weekend in 1993.  It came out on the heels of the blockbuster Basic Instinct and around the time Madonna decided she was going to shock America's parents by saying the word "sex" a lot.  So much, in fact, she put the word on the cover of her goofy book.*

Day:  02/26/2021
Time:  8:30 Central
Format:  Amazon Watch Party

Link here for magic time

Anyway, the movie stars one person I was thrilled to see naked (Madonna) and one person I was less excited about seeing in the altogether (Willem Defoe).  And a pre-stardom Julianne Moore, Joe Mantegna (not naked), Anne Archer (always a good thing, but not naked), and Jurgen Prochnow (who seems like he'd be game for being naked, but I don't remember).

If memory serves, it's a warmed over Basic Instinct, only Madonna seems like she's trying so hard it kind of kills the mood.


*which you could not check out of the Houston Public Library, but could request to see.  And BOY were those librarians pissed when we found an 18-year-old in our group who DID ask to see it.  And, man, was that book boring AF.


Thursday, February 25, 2021

Retro Space Opera Watch: Flash Gordon (1936) - listed as "Rocketship" on Amazon



Watched:  02/14/2021
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  First all the way through
Decade:  1930's
Directors:  Frederick StephaniRay Taylor 

So, this was a truncated film that cut together the story from the famed Flash Gordon serial from 1936 into a single film.  For whatever reason, it was called Rocketship on Amazon Prime.  

And, frankly, I really can't recommend it enough.  

Monday, February 22, 2021

90's Watch: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)




Watched:  02/22/2021
Format:  Amazon Prime Streaming
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1990's
Director:  George Armitage

This movie held up better than I expected.  It's still the same mess of wanting to be too many things that it was when I saw it in the theater, but it's still charming and still works.  

Something about the movie feels like a studio editor, who didn't care, came at it super hard, or there were just too many competing things occurring in the script to make it really gel.*  But the two stars, John Cusack and Minnie Driver, are charming and, frankly, non-standard enough in their approaches that they do a lot of heavy lifting just by being the leads.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Musical Watch: The Band Wagon (1953)




Watched:  02/21/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Vincente Minnelli

This isn't the world's best musical, but it's also aggressively about not being about anything (by way of being a traditional, vaudeville-style Broadway show, and proving THAT'S what people really want).  

It's been a long week, and I have a lot of things on the DVR, but Jamie didn't care what we watched, and I figured Cyd Charisse seemed like a great thing to watch.  

By the time this movie was filmed, Astaire was in his mid-50's, and the story seemed all but pointedly about him.  His character is a film song and dance man who has lost the spotlight.  By this point, musicals were far from dead, but maybe weren't at the height of their heyday.  He's playing someone maybe a few years younger than himself (convincingly) who returns to New York to work on a show with a husband and wife writing team (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray).  They get involved with the latest big-name of Broadway, who does *serious theatre*, but who wants to try a musical.  

You know he's fancy because he's doing that new-fangled Oedipus Rex show.  

They rope in a top-tier choreographer and his top-teir ballerina girlfriend played by Cyd Charisse.  

This isn't the only musical from around this time that feels like middle-aged people wrestling with the coming wave of American theater and dance and trying to take the piss out of it.  There's a kind of goofy number in White Christmas that's really the one that doesn't work trying to poke fun at what we now call "modern dance".  And, as I said up top, this one wants to remind us "please stop taking these new musicals seriously!  Your heart really just wants to see people dance for 90 minutes and end with a wedding!  Right?  RIGHT?"  

And, you know, sometimes that's true.  But you kind of want to say to the movie "my friend, you haven't seen *anything* yet.  Wait for the 60's.".  

The movie is probably most famous for its show-within-a-show-within-a-show interlude of Astaire playing a priavte eye in a sort of Chandler/ Hammer/ whatever mystery homage and an excuse for Charisse to sex it up a whole lot.  It's goofy as all get-out, and for the life of me, I can't figure out if it's full camp, a light spoof or someone trying to be quasi-earnest.  But... the "Broadway Melody" sequence it is not.  (By the way, this was written by the same folks who wrote Singin' In the Rain).

But, man, really, I'm not sure this sequence could have happened any earlier than 1953 or much later than '53.  Noir (not yet called noir) had been in theaters for almost ten years, and all I can think is that this was how it was interpreted by song-and-dance folks trying to be cool, daddio.  But... holy @#$%balls.



(also, look for when Julie Newmar walks right up to the camera!)

What *does* work, and beautifully, is the Dancing in the Dark number with Astaire and Charisse, which is the kind of number you want to see and remember with the talent they've lined up.  The pair are in amazing form, and it's the one time you kind of think "well... maybe" as you look at the romance they're trying to push between a man and a woman young enough to be his daughter.



That poor Cyd Charisse, such an ungraceful and plain girl.

On the flip side, there's this weird thing where they suggest that the writer-couple is on the skids and the wife has taken up with the big-deal actor/ director/ producer guy that never... gets resolved.  I guess we see a couple break up in slow motion, but just sort of from the edges?   Someone help me out here, because that was weird and dark and I can't find mention of it anywhere online.

Anyway, it's not my favorite film, but I was amazed how much of it I didn't remember.  A lot of people love this film, but... eh.  It's fine.  

RiffTrax Watch: Space Mutiny (1988)




Watched:  02/20/2021
Format:  Rifftrax on Amazon Prime
Viewing:  Oh, god... 4th?
Decade:  1980's
Director:  Let's let them live in peace

This movie isn't very good.  

Highly recommend checking out the RiffTrax version on Amazon Prime.  Watched primarily because JeniferSF had watched it, and it seemed like a good idea.  It was.


Friday, February 19, 2021

Noir Watch: Johnny Eager (1941)




Watched:  02/18/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Mervyn LeRoy

Summing up the plot to Johnny Eager (1941) would be extraordinarily difficult - but the short version is: ex-con pretends to go straight, meets Lana Turner, uses her and her step-father to get his new dog track open.  Poetic boozy pal plays Eager's conscience.  

Honestly, it's a hell of a movie, and it's likely the goofy title that's kept it from being checked out by enough people.  

I'm not a huge fan of star Robert Taylor - who is pretty rock solid here as a handsome, devil-may-care gangster with no refinement.  That's not a dig, but I think I'd only seen two or so Robert Taylor films previously.  But he's totally buyable as Johnny Eager.

The real hook is that Johnny can spot an angle, spot a dope, and has a mind perfectly set for operating in the criminal world - but he can't understand the straight world.  People with pure motivations are a mystery that gnaws at him.  More than that, his understanding of women is only as pliable tools, either as sexual playthings or as employees.  

What makes the movie curious - and maybe different from other gangster films with bent leads - is the presence of Van Heflin as Jeff Jartnett, a drunk and seemingly a man of education, who hangs around Johnny as pal, enabler, and because he sees the greatness within Johnny and wants to bear witness to either the rise or fall of a great mind.

Out of prison, Johnny has put everything he's got into a dummy organization trying to open a dog track with no permits, but meanwhile it seems his control on the city is slipping.  Others may be moving against him. 

Annnnd in the middle of all this, he meets Lan Turner, who more or less throws herself at him.  But winds up in way deeper than she barganined for, and it takes a toll on her psyche.

This is very early to be considered true noir, but not so as a gangster picture, which this most certainly is.  And Turner is a femme fatale only in that she leads Johnny toward his downfall because he actually does come close to understanding sacrifice via whatever passes for love in his heart.  It absolutely is a man making bad decisions (that, I mean, get him dead) over a woman, but they also redeem him, which isn't very noirish.  But that he goes down throwing a hail of bullets and popped off by the cop who married his first girl?  That's some symmetry there.

And that's the interesting thing about the movie, really.  It's a down-in-the-streets gangster picture about a guy trying to build an empire, and sees the poetry and literary mythology in it all - right down to pointing out "he's just some guy" who dies badly in the middle of the road.

Anyhoo... I enjoyed the heck out of this movie, and not just because Turner had amazing hair through the whole thing, even when we were told she looked "awful".*



*she did not



Thursday, February 18, 2021

Not My Demographic Watch: To All the Boys - Always and Forever (2021)




Watched:  02/18/2021
Format:  Netflix?
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Michael Fimognari

Look, this movie was never aimed at me, is not now aimed at me, and is not for me.  I have many questions, concerns and complaints, mostly around the fantasy imaginary boyfriend who celebrates every choice the lead character makes. But - also - the movie feels remarkably... lazy and toothless.

Previously, I'd only ever seen the first half of the first of these movies, and the lead's obsession with 80's movies felt kinda goofy and broke the "do not show a better movie inside your movie" rule.  This one decides to reference The Big Lebowski, and I hope the director was just doing this for fun, because a 20-something year-old dope-heavy satire of Chandler mysteries spoofed here is... man, it's kinda wild. 

Musical Watch: Swing Time (1936)



Watched:  02/17/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1930's
Director:  George Stevens

What with the freeze on here in Austin, Jamie requested we watch something we didn't have to follow closely and wouldn't be depressing.  Well, I happened to have recorded Swing Time (1936), a famed Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers collaboration.  

We did NOT have to pay much attention to the movie to follow the film.

just a couple of Hollywood hoofers



Uh, look.  I just don't have the time, energy or headspace to give the movie proper consideration.  It has a cute, very 1930's plot about plucky underdogs finding their way to the big time and glamour through dance.  Unfortunately - the big show stopper number they give Astaire to show off his talents is a minstrel number in black face, and... you know... sometimes dealing with the racism of our forebears is a real fucking bummer.  Like, you're just going about your business and cheering on the two lovebirds of the picture, and then Astaire turns around and starts slathering on blackface, and you're like "COME ON, MOVIE."  

Anyway - already exhausted and not wanting to deal with nonsense, it was not welcome and kind of threw me off from the admittedly lovely final dance sequence ending.  The movie is a good, light-hearted musical romance.  I very much enjoyed the lead and supporting characters, and it was fun.  Oh, and, yes, I hope you like the song "The Way You Look Tonight", because this movie loves it.

I've seen other Astaire movies, but few Ginger Rogers films, and she really was perfect for the screen for what they were doing.  Lovely, all the grace you read about, and perfectly paired with Astaire.  

and she knew how to wear a gown


And, hey, she was pretty funny, too, in her own right.  

Anyway - its' worth watching at some point from an historical and entertainment persepctive, but be aware of the "oh god, this is super racist" 10 minutes or so that I would more than understand would be a solid reason not to watch the film.



Sunday, February 14, 2021

Frozen-In Watch: Frozen II (2019)



Watched:  02/14/2021
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  I'm not sure
Decade:  2010's
Director(s):  Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

The weather in Austin is historically cold and we're having a winter storm like we normally only ever see on television in other states.  It just doesn't do this in Texas.  Or, at least, it didn't tell global warming.  These polar vortexes are a real sonuvabitch.

Anyway - we're all super stressed hoping the power stays on and our pipes don't burst and we don't freeze to death in our own homes.  But, ha ha, we probably won't.  So we watched a movie with an ironic title.

(update:  02/16/21 1:35 PM - it did, indeed, freeze.  We lost power.  It's been rough.  Power is back for the moment.)

Noir Watch: Born to Kill (1947)




Watched:  02/14/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  Unknown.  At least 3rd.
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Robert Wise

Some time ago, when I was first exploring noir, Born to Kill (1947) was included in one of the box sets I picked up to try and learn more about the genre.  Honestly, if I wanted to blow the doors off the expectations I think a *lot* of people have about Hayes Code-era film, this is the movie I'd show them.

Our leads are a psychopath and sociopath, divorce(!), a brutal murder, one of our most virtuous characters is a lush, and a PI who is mostly there as an equal-opportunity grifter.  Heck, there's an Elisha Cook Jr. lurking around for good measure.  It's a dark, nasty little film with no POV hero - just characters who cross paths and feel a mutual appreciation and attraction, even as they're connection is going to burn them both out.

This was the movie that showed me what films of the era were really capable of when it came to stepping into the shadows.  You might get sexy obsession in penty of other films, but there was always an obvious line that the characters crossed that was going to be their downfall, the thing that made you want to do the equivalent of "don't go in the basement!" as our protagonist decides to risk it for a nice set of legs or a smokey voice.  Born to Kill doesn't bother with all that  - these characters were going to hell, anyway.  They're just speeding each other along.

Starring Claire Trevor - someone I flat out did NOT appreciate enough for several years but whom I've come back around to and adore - and the notorious Lawrence Tierney as our leads, we've got a pair with some amazing presence.  Tierney's low-key menace and chiseled jaw works phenomenally well as the handsome psychopath who attracts women, but becaomes infuriated at the slightest hint of slight.  Trevor manages to find a delicate balance - we know she's play-acting to certain parties, and we know better to buy it, but it's absolutely seemingly sincere.  

Other players include Walter Slezak as the PI of iffy moral character, Elisha Cook Jr. as a longtime friend of Tierney's who's been maybe the only force on Earth keeping him in check.  Audrey Long is Trevor's wealthy but naive foster-sister with a fortune.  And, notably, Esther Howard plays a rooming house owner with more heart than you'd figure.

There is a character who is murdered with the name "Laury Palmer", and much of the mystery for the other characters is who killed Laury Palmer - and I can't help but think Lynch was winking at this character with Twin Peaks, til it was, you know, magic dream goblins or what have you.

Anyway - "wow, this things DARK" is not really much of a selling point, I suppose, but the execution of the movie, the performances and the winding story are all masterfully handled by director Robert Wise (yes, the man who brought you films as diverse as The Set-Up, The HauntingThe Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture).    

But if you want to see what Hollywood could pull off (and Claire Trevor plotting in some excellent outfits), highly recommended.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Watch Cattrall Party Watch: Split Second (1992)




Watched:  02/12/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1990's
Director:  Tony Maylam


I picked this movie as a Watch Party because it looked like exactly what it was - a 1990's sci-fi Rated-R actioner that wasn't taking itself very seriously, but mostly because it co-starred Kim Cattrall, and after last week's Mannequin 2 viewing, I was like "we should have watched the one with Cattrall", so here we are.

Split Second (1992) is not a good movie.  A quick check after the film finished confirmed what I suspected - the movie had multiple voices seemingly at battle with one another, including star Rutger Hauer having input as they went along.  So, because the story is all over the place - and the story is basically them trying to figure out who (and then what) is killing people, nothing makes sense and nothing matters.

The answer is:  it's a big, Giger-Alien knock off that is maybe invisible, or moves very fast, or something.  They never really say.  I do know they hide the monster till the very end of the movie, but it's featured on the poster?  

We have an odd-ball pairing of the bookworm cop who has credentials that make him seem like maybe the police is a weird place for him to wind up, and Rutget Hauer, who is a loose cannon cop with self-destructive tendencies who clearly needs to be on leave, but they keep him on the streets because... well, in 2021 it'd be because the police unions will be damned before they suggest maybe someone isn't fit for duty.  Here we get a police sergeant just yelling at Hauer and telling him he's dangerous and whatnot, and then handing him back his badge.

Forget to Mention It Watch: Return of the Swamp Thing (1989)




Watched:  01/28/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Second?
Decade:  1980's
Director:  Does it matter?

We did this one as a watch party, and I often forget to write up watch party movies.  But, yeah, this movie isn't very good.

I...  I don't really think it bears much discussion.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Friday Watch Party: Split Second (1991)


Well, this looks like something I cannot believe I didn't see in 1991 when I was the exact audience for the movie.  But there you are.

It's the edgy future of 2008!  Rutger Hauer!  Kim Cattrall in a sassy brunette bob!  a monster!   A ridiculous gun!  Let's get 90's mid-budget actiony! 

Day: 02/12/2021
Time:  8:30 Central
Where:  Amazon Prime Watch Party

Link here to watch


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Disney Watch: Treasure Island (1950)

 

Watched: 02/20/2021
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  unknown, but first in a while
Decade:  1950's
Director:   Byron Haskin

To give you guys an idea of the difference between kids movies of the early 1950's (that I watched about 30 years later) and what comes out these days - Walt Disney's Treasure Island (1950) features a guy ordering a "double rum" in the first scene, an old pirate drinks himself to death in the first ten minutes, and then there's cold-blooded murder, mutiny, and people shooting each other and a kid who shoots a guy in the face after getting stabbed with a dagger.

I mean, we saw this movie at school.  

I also checked the novel out of my elementary school library, and it makes the movie look like a walk in the park.  

Now THAT'S adventure!

It's a fascinating movie as Jim Hawkins, our 12-year-old avatar, is a kid caught up in a *very* adult adventure, complete with both the violence and risk of a pirate story, but - watching it as an adult - I'm reminded how flawed the protagonist-type characters are as well.  But, more than that, it walks a gray path for Jim as he is genuinely befriended, to the best of his ability, by Long John Silver - who clearly has a soft-spot for the kid, but will also cut his throat to save his own skin.  

This was one of the first movies I ever saw that included this sort of betrayal, and it was all the weirder to parse watching as a kid, because Jim and John do have a weird buddy-ship even though they're locked in mortal combat, and LJS's minions are *always* ready to gut the kid.  But I do like that Hawkins sees both sides of the coflict, and has complicated interactions with the adults around him.  It's a heck of a way to illustrate a young man discovering the world beyond his door.  



Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Finally Watched It Watch: The Last Picture Show (1971)


Watched:  02/09/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR (from, like, April)
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1970's
Director:  Peter Bogdanovich

So, I always knew this movie had a stellar reputation.  And, it's totally earned.  So earned, I'm not going to talk about it here.  Maybe on some future viewing.  

I *do* find the fact the father of a girl I dated in college was really, really pushing me to watch this movie to be a curious choice in making suggestions for the beau of your precious darling, but good on you, sir.  Good on you.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Accidental Watch: Keep Your Powder Dry (1945)

the tagline is not remotely what this movie is about



Watched:  02/08/2021
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Edward Buzzell

Knowing it was Lana Turner's 100th birthday and TCM was running a marathon, I flipped over to TCM on the cable dial, and was just putting on this World War II movie about women in the WACs starring Turner, Laraine Day and Susan Peters... and then the movie ended and I realized I watched the whole thing.  

Anyway.  I guess that happened.  It was not bad!

Watch Party Watch: V.I. Warshawksi (1991)




Watched:  02/08/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Jeff Kanew

When V.I. Warshaswki was advertised in 1991, I remember thinking "but... what is the hook?"  Like, I wasn't all that much into detective movies, and by 1991 already, the notion of a woman in an ostensibly male-oriented job wasn't... all that novel.  Especially when you had a big-ticket actor like Kathleen Turner showing up.  If she wanted to be a lady sous chef or neurosurgeon, okay.  

By hook I mean: I couldn't tell you much about the actual crimes or mysteries of the Lethal Weapon franchise, but I could talk about the cast and the character interactions.  I didn't pay money to see Mel Gibson solve a crime - I had detective and cop shows on every night of the week.  I paid money to see Mel Gibson and Danny Glover be pals and do their thing.  I hate to say it, but in 1991 and 2021, "but she's a lady!" is not much of a hook. Maybe in 1981?   

Sunday, February 7, 2021

PODCAST: "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) - A Signal Watch Canon episode w/ Jamie and Ryan


Watched:  02/06/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly



Jamie and Ryan sing the praises of an American classic! It's pouring superlatives and compliments as we take a look at a movie that really speaks to you, even if it's not with its own voice. Join us as we talk through the technical achievements, phenomenal performances and great fun of an American classic!

Signal Watch Canon Playlist
Jamie's Cinema Classics