Sunday, July 10, 2016
Show Boat (1951) is one of those movies you see classic movie buffs referencing a lot, but which I'd never seen and didn't know anything about. Except that it stars Ava Gardner (bonus!) who doesn't do her own singing (...yeah...).
It is, indeed, about a big paddle-wheel steamer on the Mississippi that acts as stage and home to a troop of river-bound performers in a sort of vaudeville show, and the story of the Hawks family that runs the show.
Familiar faces include the aforementioned Ava Gardner, Agnes Moorehead playing a tightly wound matronly figure (shocking, I know), Joe E. Brown as the ship's owner and stage producer, and Kathryn Grayson as the daughter of Moorehead and Brown, who wants to be a performer herself.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
I've seen this movie a few times thanks to the power of MST3K. And if you're ever curious to see one of the movies covered in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood, I strongly recommend this one.
But I am not spending time writing up this movie. We all have lives.
Friday, July 8, 2016
The first time I saw Oklahoma! (1955) was in Spring of 1994. I was sitting on my bed/ couch (it's hard to explain, but anyone who ever lived in Jester at UT understands), when my roommate, Peabo, burst in through the door.
"Oklahoma! is on TV! Right now!"
And we turned it on and watched the whole thing, complete with commercial breaks.
I don't know that I saw it again for a few years, but I saw a rendition of the stage play at the Paramount in Austin circa 2000, and we own the DVD and have seen it at least twice.
Jamie's actually from Oklahoma (the state, not the musical), and her mom was a big fan of the show, so when Jamie arrived, part of the package was a baked-in enthusiasm for the music from the Rodgers & Hammerstein production.
Tuesday night Jamie and I hit The Paramount Film Series for the first time this summer (along with Cousin Sue) to see the movie on the big screen.
Whether you've seen Oklahoma! or not, it's a bit like Westside Story or other big musicals - you've heard the big hits whether you know that's where they came from or not. And in the case of Oklahoma!, the big hits are nigh every song in the show. So, even as bits in a commercial or co-opted elsewhere, you've heard 'em. The album has been a #1 record in both the US and the UK (circa 1957), certified multi-platinum and is consistently in production. If you don't know the music, I assure you - your parents do.
A lot of it's pretty damn catchy.
What's weirdest to me about Oklahoma! is the utter disparity between the sunshiney image of the movie - complete with upbeat music, sweetly naive bumpkin characters, hokey imagery - and the really pretty dark story at the middle of the play, as well as some pretty adult content. In short, you absolutely could not perform this play in a middle school without a lot of cutting.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
I watched On the Town (1949) just last year at The State Theater downtown, so there was no good reason to watch the movie again. But, Ann Miller. Sometimes these things happen.
Here's my write up from last time.
|best not to think on it too much|
In some ways, all I want to write about here is how much I like Gwyneth Paltrow in movies and how at odds that is with what little I know about her from what we all get to hear about her real life. Pepper Potts I want to hang with. But Paltrow? It's hard to say.
When I went to see Iron Man III (2013), I was laboring under the misconception it was about Pepper Potts as much as it would be about Tony Stark, but, alas, that was not to be. It was just a few moments that they chose to use in the trailers.
While I really like all three Iron Man movies, gigantic flaws and plotholes and all (and Iron Man 2 has plotholes you could navigate in a steamliner), there's just no comparing what goes down in this movie - scale-wise - with, really, any of the Captain America movies or even Thor. Or Guardians of the Galaxy. It's a personal story for Tony, and that focus gives it a certain sense of a 90's actioner to it except in two or three big-scale sequences (like saving everyone who fell out of an airplane). The consequences of the story seem entirely tied to Tony, and that makes the movie all the more personal while also really making it seem consequence-free in a lot of ways that, say, The Winter Soldier felt like it mattered to everyone on Earth.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
In some ways it's a goddamn crime that the version of Tarzan that Millennials grew up with was saddled with Phil Collins music and Rosie O'Donnell's voice blasting like an air-horn throughout. I recently tried to re-watch the Disney version of Tarzan, and for all the technical achievements of the film, that "let's do things tied entirely to what's popular in the moment", upon reconsideration, makes the film a grating mess.
I guess Gen X may have been the last generation to be given Tarzan to enjoy in steady doses. I remember watching black and white Tarzan on TV as a kid, and I have to assume it was Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan with Cheeta. It's also possible we were watching later movies, the 1960's TV series... Who knows? Tarzan has known a lot of incarnations in film and television, including maybe the version that really informed me most about Tarzan, the 1970's-era cartoon show.
Before the release of 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, Marvel put out a Tarzan magazine comic which covered the first half of the first Tarzan novel.
And this was really what informed me as to the more detailed version of Tarzan's origin.
Like a lot of kids, we played "Tarzan", even if I can't really recall what that meant other than climbing whatever we could get a grip on around the yard and imagining we'd made friends and foes of the 10 or so jungle animals we could name. But being able to talk to monkeys and lions seemed like a pretty good deal to us. The 70's and 80's were still safely within the 20th Century, and the notion of High Adventure was still very much a marketable commodity at the time, across nearly all genres, and Tarzan was right at the center of that.
I finally watched the original Johnny Weissmuller movie and read the actual Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of Tarzan of the Apes just last year. The book is a book of its time, as is the movie, and both have their place in history. While the prose of the novel may be purple and many ideas in the book would now seem dated, the story still holds as an adventure and romance. And if we're looking for our own cultural DNA, both Tarzan and ERB's John Carter are vital to understanding what was to come with superheroes and superhumans in fiction and popular culture, and - of course - that's now escalated to culture writ large with fifth generation offspring of Burroughs' creations throwing shields in billion dollar movies.
All that to say, I was a bit pre-disposed to want to see a new Tarzan movie, and, yet, I've seen very, very few of them to date. Not even Greystoke, which I am told again and again is not worth seeing.
Sunday, July 3, 2016
The last time I remember watching The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) was during a summer sleep-over in middle school. At the time, my folks had a tent, and Peabo and I had the bright idea that we'd set up the tent in the backyard and sleep out there. Of course, this was summer in Texas, and about 9:00 someone figured out it was really hot in that tent, so we went inside to watch TV until it cooled off outside. The Man With the Golden Gun was just starting, we watched it, and then just slept inside, because camping in your yard makes no sense.
Flash forward to 2016: As the movie wrapped up this time, Jamie and I had differing opinions. This is more or less one of the better Moore movies, says I, and Jamie found it "very silly". I guess it boils down to how you feel about Sheriff JW Pepper, slide whistles and elaborate, carnival-like death traps. These things, of course, I take deadly seriously.
Bond is told a master-assassin, Scaramanga (Christoper F'in' Lee!) is gunning for him and is taken off his current case about a missing solar energy scientist. He goes after Scaramanga, tracking him around the planet, and it seems the two cases could be dovetailing.
The cast is an interesting ensemble. The aforementioned Christoper Lee, model/ actress Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize (Tattoo from Fantasy Island) and some Bond stalwarts like Lois Maxwell. And, of course, Roger Moore.
The locations include Hong Kong and Thailand, and more than one person I've met has been to "James Bond Island" in Phuket.
I kind of dig the change of pace in this movie - that it's an equal to Bond picking a fight with him to see who's the better man. Of course, that gets an echo of sorts in Skyfall, but Javier Bardem didn't have a shooting gallery with a Roger Moore life-sized doll, did he? No. He did not.
This one features karate schools, a half-assed boat chase, an amazing car trick (completely undercut with highly questionable sound effects), lasers, and lots of good stuff. Including a flying car. Like, a legit flying car.
I dunno. I enjoyed it.
Saturday, July 2, 2016
I was deeply skeptical when the Bourne movies were released. I don't know exactly why, but I used to find non-Bond espionage stuff a bit boring and I was a bit suspicious of Hollywood forcing Matt Damon on us all. But when the third one came out and everyone liked the first two, I borrowed some DVD's from a trusted source.
Fortunately, the Bourne movies wound up making a believer of me. Not only am I big fan of these films, but I finally came to accept that Matt Damon is one of my favorite actors working today (you guys saw The Martian, right?).
I really don't think I need to sell a huge blockbuster that spawned four sequels (one, inexplicably, starring Jeremy Renner, and, no, I didn't see it, either). Likely you've all seen the movie, so I don't feel a particular need to say much about it.
It seems to me that the movie brought a few things to the big screen.
It's been years since I watched After the Thin Man (1936), which is kind of funny, because I have the poster for the movie hanging on the wall of my house. I'd also gotten some of the details of the movie criss-crossed with other Thin Man films as I'd watched most of them in a blitz several years ago, and hadn't watched any of them but the first one again in a while.
I'm currently reading Return of the Thin Man, which is a fairly recent release as far as Hammett writings go. It's not a book or short story, but the film treatment he worked on for the second and third Thin Man films, along with historical material for context. While I remembered parts of the movie, most of what was in the treatment jived with what I could recall from the movie, so I was curious to see what was different.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Sometime in the long, long ago I read the Warren Ellis/ Cully Hamner comic, Red. I've lukewarm on Ellis, feel he's pretty good but feel like he's a guy who always thinks he's smarter than he actually is and writes better than he actually does, and I think his ability to form an online cult in the 00's made him lazy. Hamner, however, I think is one of the finest comics artists of his generation, so he's got that going for him, and it really made Red a better comic than it had a right to be.
I probably wouldn't have bothered with the movie, but it featured Helen Mirren in classy vixen mode with machineguns, and I don't know why you say no to a movie with that combination.
It doesn't have that much to do with the comic, which is pretty thin. 3-issues of pure action, if I recall. Not much character development. But the movie expands on all this, inventing a whole cast, gags, etc... really not losing anything, but building a full 1.5 hours of movie on a skeleton frame.
The movie stars Bruce Willis as a retired CIA assassin who is targeted by the CIA and has to retaliate. His HR rep (Mary Louise Parker) gets involved, and he goes about recruiting his old network to help him figure out what's going on/ get some help/ keep folks like him from getting whacked.
The film is a chance for actors to get together and play action hero - something The Expendables turned into a franchise overnight, only to burn through that fuel a bit too fast. The difference here being - aside from Willis - I really don't think of Freeman, Malkovich or Mirren as action stars in any era. But that's part of the gag as the movie trots out assassins that look more like average people than, say, Dolph Lundgren.
But it also follows the pattern of the older, more experienced folks having to show these kids running things now how things are done. And, you know, there's a place for movies that pull that trick, and I don't mind. Especially as I realize I'm now well past the 18-35 year old demographic.
The movie doesn't have much new to offer plotwise or tricks wise, and it's mostly relying on the charm of the actors they've assembled. Which, you know, when you've got these folks, Brian Cox as a former foe, Richard Dreyfus in a key but small role and Ernest Borgnine showing up in a walk-on, mission accomplished.
Really, it feels weird that I didn't watch this with The Admiral. Maybe one day.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
It had been some time since I'd watched the 1973 sci-fi classic, Westworld. I'd rented it with Jason some time back in the late 80's, and I think we both really liked it (but, if memory serves, he'd seen it before). I've only seen it again once in college somewhere along the line, enjoyed it, but not watched it again anytime in the last 16 years at least. I've tried to watch the sequel, Futureworld, but just couldn't watch the 1976 film. Something about the pacing lost me the one time I tried to give it a whirl.
It seems HBO is launching a TV series also titled Westworld which will greatly expand on the ideas presented in the movie. It's got an all-star cast and looks to be the sort of thing I find interesting in science fiction.* I'll be checking it out, certainly, and have high hopes. Anyway, it got me fired up to review the original film once again.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
I'm currently listening to a Michael Caine autobiography, The Elephant to Hollywood, narrated by Michael Caine. I don't want to tell you people how to live your lives, but I highly recommend spending your commute each day with Michael Caine.
The thing about Michael Caine is that he's made approximately one movie per week for the past 50 years, so no human in recorded history has seen every Michael Caine movie, especially Michael Caine.
But the book did get me interested in several Michael Caine movies I had not yet seen. And I figured I should probably start with Alfie (1966), one of the movies that broke Caine as a name talent (I'll be tracking down Zulu next).
In the book, Caine mentions that his former drinking partner, Terence Stamp, had originated the role on the London stage and did not want to movie role after trying to bring the show to the U.S. where it was badly received. And, yeah, I can see Broadway audiences finding the character and play a bit... confusing? Baffling? Not all that intriguing?
I don't ever like to bag on a movie that's fifty years old for being outdated, because I suspect that in some ways, Alfie opened a lot of doors about what could and couldn't be in a movie and to a bit more honesty on screen. The film is about our titular, fourth-wall breaking character who is a bit of a cad and lives his life entirely to be a ladies man. He goes from woman to woman, having a few regulars, picking up a few along the way, married or not, never looking for commitment, just a good time. And while Alfie is a charming character, he's got his own code for looking out only for himself, something he feels works very well, indeed.
Monday, June 20, 2016
At the risk of sounding super creepy, what I really remembered from this movie was Jane Seymour. I knew I hadn't seen this one during my Bond-sprint post 7th Grade because I was totally shocked to find out, in high school, that Paul McCartney and Wings had offered up a song for a Bond movie when Guns N' Roses covered the song on Use Your Illusion I. While I'm certain I'd heard the Wings version, I don't think I'd ever quite put 2 and 2 together (because I could not have cared less about Wings until about that point).
When I was in college I lived in a dump of an apartment that happened to be (a) close to campus, (b) furnished and (c) featured cable. And, in that year ('94-'95), TBS started showing Bond movies on an infinite loop, and it was then that I finally saw Live and Let Die (1973). And, as a 19 year-old, it was kinda hard to ignore Jane Seymour, who I was mostly familiar with from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Somewhere in Time.
|"It shall be I and Yaphet Kotto that you will remember from this movie, for very different reasons!"|
But, as they say, I showed up for the Jane Seymour, I stayed for the bat-shit plotting and boat chases.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
I guess my biggest question about this movie is why it's called "Zootopia (2015)" to begin with when the name of the city in question is "Zootropolis". Further confusing the point, I think that in England the movie was released as "Zootropolis", but I'll let someone from across the pond confirm or deny that notion.
We're a number of years on from Disney's Home on the Range, the worst Disney film I can remember ever seeing, and the one that threw the future of Disney animation into question. No, there's no glorious return to 2D hand-drawn animation, and I suspect we've seen the last of that artform on the big screen from any major studio. That's okay. Walt would have wanted innovation and character. And gags. And, Zootopia delivers on all fronts.
What's different now is that, I think, you can feel the impact of John Lasseter's influence spread from Pixar to Disney, and not just in animation technique. He's as much Disney as Pixar these days, and I can only think it's helped put Disney on a better track, and the sensibility of story coming first now lives at Disney as well as their cousins in San Francisco.
I've written here and there about my love of the Talking Heads. I don't know exactly when I decided I liked them, but my interest in them goes back to middle school, and I started picking up an album here or there in high school, really becoming interested my Senior Year when Sand in the Vaseline hit the shelves and gave me more of an overview of their "greatest hits". I've seen both Byrne solo and "The Heads".
My first memory of the existence of True Stories was a subway poster for the film I saw hanging in a deli in Dallas while on a church youth retreat when I was 15, but I never came across a copy of the film (kids, there was a time in the long, long ago when all media was not instantly available just because you thought about it). But circa 1996, I located and rented True Stories (1986) and gave it a whirl on the ol' VHS player I shared with my two roommates at the time.
Living in a place, sometimes you have a hard time knowing what it is that makes that place unique or special. It can be the outsiders perspective, what they see as the difference that can really resonate in its own peculiar way. I don't think a non-local could have made Slacker and captured the particulars of Austin in summer in the late 1980's, but it's hard to imagine anyone local to Texas seeing Texas in the light True Stories captures - a ridiculous cartoon of a film that still, somehow, seem absolutely true.
Saturday, June 11, 2016
|If Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle with dinosaurs gets you going, I have great news for you|
One phrase I usually roll my eyes at when folks try to use it as a criticism of a fictional film is that it was "manipulative". Fictional stories are made up tales that, by design, manipulate the audience to sympathize with characters, worry for them, etc... While the best directors, writers, actors and Hollywood talent in general have a knack for this and make it happen organically, studios spend a tremendous amount of energy getting good at pushing all the right buttons for audiences despite the raw materials they're working with. A combination of brand identity, pre-awareness, familiar faces and providing absolutely no surprises along the way seems to be the most profitable of movie formulas, if the roaring success of the Transformers franchise is any indication.
Anyone who shrugs off Spielberg as a commercially successful director is missing the point, film snobs. Spielberg has got his technique down, winning both the organic, artistic argument as well as the crowd-pleasing popcorn crowds, balancing one against the other with only the occasional misstep. He's going to have to be long dead before we treat him like a rich, fun guy in a baseball cap, but the man can direct the living hell out of a movie. And part of that has always been that Spielberg's attention to detail is astounding. From his 1970's and 80's scenes of domestic life that ring with the cacophony of exhausted parents raising children (E.T., Close Encounters, Jaws) to the nuance of character he gets out of his actors in everything from Lincoln to Bridge of Spies.
When Jurassic Park arrived in theaters, it was a fun-park ride about a Disneyland with no rides - but, rather, living attractions, a fantastic zoo where science had not stopped to wonder if: just because they could, whether they should. For all the wonder of dinosaurs, there were a million details that were right: vehicles on tracks, contingency plans, a controlled environment overseen by an experienced crew including a big game hunter to make the calls on how to manage the deadly denizens of the park. No thought was spared when it came to how such a park would work.
In fact, the movie takes place prior to the opening of the park as "the blood sucking lawyer" is brought in to review whether or not the park is fit to open, if it's safe, if they know what they're doing. Of course, this came not just from Spielberg, but from the novel by pop-science-fiction author Michael Crichton (no, I never read it), who understood that sometimes if an idea is pretty fantastic, it can work as just a single point of fiction in an otherwise tangible universe. So, of course, lawyers would be pretty interested in figuring out what sort of liability their eccentric founders were asking InGen to take on putting delicious humans anywhere near Tyrannosaurus Rexes. And, of course, a major plot point is that the two paleontologists asked to look it over and give the thumbs up see danger everywhere despite the precautions taken.
Which is weird, because Jurassic World seems intent on lifting scenes and shots from Jurassic Park, but it's steadfastly disinterested in the logic and tone of the world of the first two movies. It's a movie about dinosaurs eating people and that makes families find each other again, and two people with absolutely no chemistry fall in love. Ready to the sacks for money!"
Friday, June 10, 2016
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) isn't just one of my favorite Spaghetti Westerns or Westerns, it's one of my favorite movies. I try not to watch it too often as I'm afraid I'll reduce something about the film by making the viewing of the film rote (I've come dangerously close to this with Superman I and II). Instead, each time I watch the movie, I feel like I get something more out of it, see some detail, appreciate some nuance a bit more. If you ever want to see my ideal for combination of camera work, design of scene, score, acting and blocking to drive story and ideas - look no further.
The film features a tremendous central cast. Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson of course. Jason Robards.
Woody Strode and Jack Elam have guest spots as gunmen.
And, of course, we have Claudia Cardinale as Jill.
I wrote up this movie in August of last year. You can read my write up there with many loving screengrabs I stole from the internets.
SimonUK and I took in a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Wednesday evening. It was the second time I'd seen the movie on the big screen, the first being one of my first trips to The Alamo Drafthouse at its original location on Colorado Street. This time we didn't get the large theater, but the projection was phenomenal. I assume it was s digital projection, as we weren't told otherwise.
While I don't have anything particularly new to say about the movie itself, I have been thinking about one aspect of the film in relation to current trends in how we interact with media in 2016.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
I didn't grow up in a baseball family. We never watched baseball on television, and my baseball career lasted one season of T-ball. I did make it to an Astros game and saw Nolan Ryan pitch, both a great memory and maybe the single most common experience in baseball as the man pitched for about 8 decades.
During high school I returned to the Astrodome to catch a game, and it was there where I internalized that I really didn't know a damn thing about baseball.
But when I'd go see movies as a kid, baseball was no different to me than law-enforcement or flying an airplane - it was just something I hadn't learned about yet. So why wouldn't I go see movies about baseball?
I did see Field of Dreams (1989) during its initial theatrical run. Aside from a general appreciation for the movie, I'm somewhat surprised at the movie on this review, that audiences filled cineplexes to see it and it was a big enough movie that it became cultural shorthand, leaving us now only with the misquoted bit of "If you build it, they will come" (it's "If you build it, he will come." And it's weird that should be misquoted given the underlying tension of the film.). But that's comparing today's audiences to audiences of 2016 who wouldn't stand for this sort of thing. Or, rather, wouldn't show up in droves for a movie about mysterious voices instructing people to build baseball fields.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
With a Monday afternoon off for Memorial Day, Jamie and I weighed whether we'd be seeing X-Men: Apocalypse versus anything else. Jamie, a solid fan of Cap and luke-warm on X-folk, pushed for Cap as she wanted to see it again on the big screen, and as I thoroughly enjoyed myself on the last go-round, I was more than happy to agree. We'll catch X-Men soon enough, and I have a post brewing as to 'why' when we're kinda not huge X-nerds in 2016.
There isn't much to say that I didn't already say, except that on a second viewing, when I wasn't just trying to keep up with the rocket-propelled trajectory of the movie, a lot of things that felt like bullet-point plot points as they went along suddenly felt much more organic. Cap's arguments for non-compliance not only held up better on a second-viewing, but the death of Peggy, which I took as mostly an emotional beat in the first viewing, I now could see how that scene was really about Sharon quoting Peggy and giving Steve the resolve he needed in his moment of crisis. The best person from the point in his life where he found his true self was speaking to him via her niece.
And, speaking of that niece, there's a lot more goo-goo eye stuff going on between Sharon and Steve - and, in fact, her very cooperation with Steve suddenly doesn't seem so much like a "doing a pal a solid" as her clearly breaking protocols for this guy. They just don't actually say anything before that first kiss, and so it is a bit less jarring once you catch the interplay a bit better.
But the race to save Bucky feels far more grounded on a second viewing as well. Steve's intentions felt more clear, and his insistence on saving Bucky somehow feels less like "well, because he's the good guy" and because of that shared history, even as he seems to know Bucky may actually be guilty and may actually kill him this time.
Anyway, I highly recommend catching the movie again. I watch all the Marvel movies more than once not just because - hey, sometimes I pick up things I missed before - but it's fun stuff to see again, especially in the theater. It's really amazing how well Marvel has managed these movies, film after film, finding just the right talent for each role and directors to fit the film.
More on what I'm getting out of these movies in a future post.
Monday, May 30, 2016
For some reason, prior to Saturday evening, I had never seen the 1980's romantic hit comedy, Mannequin (1987). I wasn't much of a fan of The Brat Pack in the 1980's, and didn't really care much about whether or not Andrew McCarthy would or would not find love in a movie about Mystic Pizzas or Real Dolls or whatever.
However, here in 2016, Jamie and I were at dinner, and somehow it came up that I had not ever seen this 80's staple, and she pointed across the table and said "when we get home, we're watching Mannequin". People, if you knew how many movies I've made Jamie sit through because I found some inherent value to that movie which she had not seen or which had escaped her (and, often, by movie's end would continue to elude her) - you'd understand, I didn't really feel I could say no.
If Jamie can sit through Conan (again), I can watch Mannequin.
In the 1980's, the first generation of the channel Nickelodeon had a show for little kids on during the day called Today's Special. Really, the only time you'd catch it was during the summer or if you were sick. But the show ran for 7 years and was about a lady who - each night - brought a mannequin to life after a department store closed, and they'd do the kinds of kind-of-fun-but-educational stuff you'd see on TV for kids back then.
For some reason as a kid I was very aware the show was made in Canada. I have no idea why that seemed important to me. But it made me think Canadians had weird ideas about entertainment.
But, for years, I assumed Mannequin was a rated-R version of the same basic concept, but instead of learning about spelling or how a garden hose works or whatever, there was sexing going on in housewares.