Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar Weekend! I Love the Oscars!


The Sting and Five Against the House

Last night we watched The Sting (which I'd never seen) and then, after Jamie had drifted off to Sleepytime Junction, I watched a an ostensibly noir flick called Five Against the House

There's not a whole lot to be said about The Sting.  It's already a popular movie and I'm late to the game on the discussion.  I always like Paul Newman, and Robert Redford was most definitely, as always, Robert Redford.  I guess I was a little surprised to find the impetus for the characters setting up "the sting" was pretty much the "young handsome male" has his "aging black mentor" killed off by the movie's villain, ie: The Simpson's Mendoza.

The first meeting of The Handsome Men's Club

George Roy Hill was a talented director, and I think all of that's on display here.  But aside from Robert Shaw as the movie's villain, it sometimes - especially in the first act - it feels a bit like "hey, we're modern actors having fun playing as if we're in an old timey movie!" rather than just playing it straight as a period movie. 

I don't want to say I didn't like The Sting, but its not going to find its way to the top of my list.

For Christmas, I received two different collections of film noir from Jason.  Its pretty neat, as I really don't know many of the movies, so every time I put one in, I don't know what to expect.  Last night, because it featured Kim Novak, I pulled Five Against the House from the selections.

It's a heist flick, and more along the lines of a B-Noir than something like Out of the Past.  The set-up is that, basically, four college buddies get bored and decide to see if they can rob a casino they visited once.  Now, two of those buddies are law students who've served in Korea, so they're a bit older.  And Kim Novak is a nightclub chanteuse girlfriend of the one who isn't suffering from PTSD.

While the movie is enjoyable enough, and the actors and plot more or less engaging enough, somebody knew the movie had one big selling point:

well, it got ME to watch the movie
It is a bit unusual in that its not a movie about guys pushed to an extreme, seeking revenge, etc...  quite literally, it starts off as a movie about four fun-living college buddies who decide to rob a casino because they're bored and they'd like to try to do something they think can't be done.

The movie is fun enough, but I'd mention it for two reasons.

1)  There's a shot very, very similar the one used in The Graduate; the famous "Dustin Hoffman framed by Anne Bancroft's leg" shot. Its almost hard to believe someone didn't remember that one.  Kim Novak, ya'll.

I'm not crazy, right?
The movie is oddly frank about sex for a 1955-era flick.  It seems Novak has been with a few dudes prior to meeting our hero (to his credit, he's pretty open minded on that score), and Brian Keith flat out announces "hey, I had sex" in an early scene after meeting a casino patron. 

2)  Soderbergh is a really smart guy, and I have to believe that when he was prepping for a big budget remake of the goofy-fun Ocean's 11, he also checked out a huge number of other casino heist movies to get inspiration.  I can't help but think that part of his inspiration for Yen's part of the plan was inspired not by what actually happens in Five Against the House, but by what they tell other people they're doing, which is smuggling an ex-jockey into the casino in a box (which they've rigged up with a tape recorder and speaker).

While its not what Soderbergh did, its not too hard to make the leap.  Then again, how many ways can you really get an inside man into a casino, I guess.

I am in favor of a good heist movie (see:  The Killing), but this one is set up a bit oddly in that it all seems to lack real motivation, and that the stakes are non-existent for our leads.  The most dramatic tension occurs between the romantic leads, and whether Kim Novak will flake on our baritone-voiced hero.  The heist feels a little gimmicky, and there's not a lot of the usual fun in understanding the set-up, which... after watching The Sting, which is all set up, it just felt wrong.

5 Against the House is not going to go down on anyone's list as better than The Big Sleep, and were it not for the slow roll out of the PTSD storyline and its conclusion, I'd have a hard time labeling the movie as noir at all (not all heist movies are noir movies.  See:  Ocean's 11 and its remake,  Ocean's 11).  But it was okay, I suppose.

Friday, February 25, 2011

More Signs I'm an Idiot: Alison Brie

Despite the fact I've seen every episode of Mad Men, and I've seen NBC's Community about a half-dozen times now, somehow I'd never put together that both Mad Men's Trudy Campbell and Community's Annie Edison were played by actress Alison Brie.

Alison Brie

also, Alison Brie

Maybe all you white people look alike to me or something.  I have no idea.

I was watching the election episode of Community, and some facial tic or line delivery Brie delivered was 100% Trudy Campbell, and I sort of froze like a deer in the headlights, opened my laptop, looked to IMDB and then told Jamie of my revelation.  Jamie was, of course, perfectly aware of Brie's dual roles and confirmed, yes...  it is very weird I never noticed that before.

I do seem to have a sort of blindspot when watching TV and movies, and any actresses under the age of 30 all sort of look the same to me.  Jamie can confirm that I have no idea what the difference is between virtually any of the popular starlets at any time (I only know who Amy Adams is because she was in Talladega Nights.  Which is kind of sad for Amy Adams), and that I routinely say "who is that?" about the same actors five or six times.  This is true for young male actors, as well.

In general, I kind of rely on actors or actresses having unique characteristics to remember them.  Elisabeth Moss has the icicle eyes and, let's be honest, a pretty specific look.  Christina Hendricks has, um...  Christina Hendricks.  But if you asked me to pick say, Rachel McAdams out of a line-up, I would give up before starting. 

So, I often wonder if I do this with people in everyday life.  Do I walk past the same people at the grocery and not notice them even though they're there every single time I'm there.  Is there a librarian at the reference desk I've somehow never realized was always there when I pass in and out of my building?  I have to assume the answer is yes.

I'll also note that, yes, not only are Community and Mad Men very different programs, shot differently, with different tones, different make-up on Brie, etc...  and Brie does, in fact, handle the two characters a bit differently, and maybe she's just that brilliant of an actor.  But, she is just one person, so... you know...

I also once spent an entire weekend in Vegas with someone two years ago, and only realized I'd known him before when he put on his glasses the last day.  So, yes, apparently I would be the guy who would be all "Wait...  Clark Kent is actually who?"

Mayor Leffingwell accurately geeks out on Austin as "Green Lantern" of cities

Over at Newsarama, Austin's own Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the guy I actually voted for in our most recent mayoral election, compared Austin to superhero Green Lantern.  And he did it with surprising accuracy fit for a comic geek.

Click here for Newsarama's take.

And our local NBC affiliate

"Austin is the Green Lantern," said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. "We are a city without fear. We are a city that can create anything we can visualize, through sheer force of will. We are a city with a special charge to shine a light into the darkness and lead the way to a new and better day."

one way to beat I-35 traffic

I now expect to see t-shirts reading "Keep Austin Oan".*

"Lawyers-are-Pigs Guy, you have been determined to possess great will..."

*in the wake of crushing suburbanization and a massive jump in transplants to Austin who were surprised by the laissez faire attitude of our fair city when it comes to letting folks be folks, Austin adopted a "Keep Austin Weird" slogan to encourage and support the creative and technological arts. the slogan has since been endlessly co-opted.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lady Movie Stars in Interesting Hats

Its been a long week, so let's agree to take it easy and see if I can't do better next week.

Sirens of the silver screen of yesteryear.  Period and costume specific hats.  Lets take a look.

Here's Marie Windsor in a decidedly non-Noir get-up.

an odd answer to "I'm going to slip into something more comfortable"
Maureen O'Hara as a PIRATE

Veronica Lake goes militaristic

if this had been on a recruiting poster when I was 18, I would have been career military
Ingrid Bergman as Joan of Arc

only Bergman could work a suit of armor
Jane Russell goes out west

I'm sure we had a theme but I've quite forgotten what it is right now
Gene Tierney pioneers the tiny hat

well, it does match the coat
And, of course, Dietrich in the hat she made famous

special bonus picture: Sophia Loren in a hat

I'm sorry.  Google made me do it.

Birdemic + Rifftrax = I'm Gonna Need a Drink

Rifftrax is ready to go with its commentary track for the recently released Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Really, RiffTrax and Birdemic are a marriage made in heaven.

thx to KDB for posting to fb

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

One more post about Dwayne McDuffie

I was surprised by how down I got when hearing about the untimely passing of Dwayne McDuffie.

As I said, I haven't read all that much of McDuffie's work, but I did like what I did read (I wish he could have gone on forever once they handed him Firestorm).  And somehow many of us who were fans of the Justice League Unlimited TV show knew that McDuffie's hand with the show as writer, producer, etc... I wasn't really into superhero comics during the period when the Milestone titles hit the shelf the first time, but I absolutely remember looking at the books on the shelf when they debuted and thinking "well, obviously.  Good."

McDuffie's passing as Static gets his own title within the DCU proper is, in some ways, a painful reminder that DC once again took too much time, even after acquiring the Milestone characters, to deal with valuable properties that gave the DCU a more diverse representation and, of course, were actually pretty good ideas.  He should have been here to see DC make something of the promise of Milestone.

Its also a tragedy that All Star Superman was released on Tuesday, with McDuffie passing before seeing it released.  While only Morrison could have written the original series, those of use who follow these things knew McDuffie may have been the only person who could have brought the series to the moving picture and done it justice.

But, man...  Its been a couple of weeks, hasn't it?

Between Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and whichever other places flaring up...  things are getting a little creepy working for the State of Texas and we're kind of watching the yahoos in the Capitol and hoping providence leads to solutions rather than posturing...  add in Wisconsin, the tragedy in Christchurch....  it all just feels like a lot.  And only the passing of a writer I like (heck, a writer I respect) maybe that's on a scale I can understand.

Just one more thing, you know?

There are now posts out there about how we need to respect creators now and let creators know we love them now.  Fair enough.  I agree.   The internet, this site included, too often goes for the low-hanging fruit and spends its time finding ways to complain about creators (loudly). 

What I'm kind of curious to know:  is this what it takes for the major publishers to realize what they squandered?  Or, more likely, what could have been had DC spent more time looking to McDuffie for answers instead of insisting on whatever editorial mandates came from top down in just the last few years?  Is this a discussion happening at all in the industry?

Weren't fans initially happy to hear about characters like Static making their way to the DCU from Milestone's walled-off world?  Weren't we all a little giddy when we heard the same Dwayne McDuffie who steered the JLU ship to greatness was coming to DC to write JLA?  And even inbetween all the mucking about with the JLA, weren't those issues still something pretty impressive, with a bold and exciting new cast sliding into place?  And what would have happened had they simply treated McDuffie with the same gravitas afforded other writers, and, frankly, often far lesser talents?

Maybe the comic money didn't matter to McDuffie.  After all, I have to assume the work on shows like Ben-10 and others had to have been a decent living wage.  But who can doubt that he loved those characters, and wouldn't have wanted to do right by them on the page?

Obviously I have no idea what DC's policies were toward McDuffie, character management during Batman RIP, New Krypton, etc...  but I can also guess, given how things shook out.

What makes me wonder is:  how is that good editorial policy?  How does it help to paint a writer and creator like McDuffie into a corner?  And who at DC or Marvel (or any company with a shared universe) is dealing with that situation even now?   And who knows what could have been...

Its an odd way to commemorate a writer, by wondering what else could have been, or perhaps that's exactly the point when someone goes too early.  But I don't think it should go unnoticed by DC that its not just an artifact of social media - your audience is universally mourning the loss of someone they liked, they admired and who told stories they loved and would have told more. 

Its not a secret that something seems a bit broken at Marvel and DC these days in how they've worked with creators and who they've chosen to work with.  I just wish it were not the unfortunate passing of someone who should have had decades ahead of him to shed light on how the creators that make the stories are appreciated by the people who read them, and when they've earned that trust that its the job of editorial not to direct but to steward and support.

Green Lantern Animated Film Coming in June

WB Animation previously released a Green Lantern movie (Green Lantern: First Flight) which I'd give a solid "B" (they forgot to ever show the actual lanterns at any point in the movie, etc...). With the coming of the live-action, Ryan Reynolds-centric Green Lantern big 'ol Hollywood wanna-be blockbuster en route, WB and DCE are finding all kinds of ways to exploit a supposed GL mania.

One of many outlets will be the upcoming feature-length video coming from the Bruce Timm wings of WB Animation, and it appears to be a sequel of sorts to that GL movie mentioned above. It looks like they are much closer to understanding the GLs on this go-round.

Pretty good post on "Why Superman?"

Superman writer Chris Roberson points to an article on "Why Superman?"

I feel I've reached my bi-annual quota of writing such pieces myself, so I'll link to somebody else's column, instead.

From the column:

Superman isn’t a Jesus analogue because, unlike Jesus, his moral vision is not imposed. The word of Jesus is the word of God2 and therefore what he says goes, dictation straight from the Almighty. Superman is the exact opposite: a man whose moral vision comes not from a source exterior to humanity but from humanity itself, via Ma and Pa Kent, who are themselves immensely decent people. He ultimately isn’t a received savior, regardless of the origin of his powers; he’s Superman, the apotheosis of what human virtue can be. He’s an aspirational figure first and foremost.3 There’s a reason people get S-symbol tattoos; they have meaning in a way that other superhero images just don’t.

And Sometimes Superman Went Crazy and Became King of the World: Action Comics 311

Oh, comics.

I first saw this cover years ago, and only recently obtained a copy of Action Comics #311, the one where Superman becomes a despotic tyrant over all the Earth.  Only, you know, in the kind of goofy way Superman would have become a despotic tyrant during the Silver Age in comics aimed at kids.

I like that he added the fleecing to his cape.  You got to class it up as king.
Key to making sure you're king?  Demanding trays full of jewels.  I will need to remember that.

Superman does nothing by half-measures, so you should expect none of that here.  The story in brief: Superman gets exposed to Red Kryptonite, which splits him into two sides, one bad and one good.  The bad side remains Superman, but the other becomes human-strength Clark Kent. Bad Superman decides there's no good reason to help people, and so he decides to just lord it over them.

No, no it doesn't make any sense.  But where have we seen this good/ bad split before?  Well, not exactly before...  you saw it in the Star Trek episode The Enemy Within. Also, we see good/ bad Superman as Superman/ Clark in...  SUPERMAN 3 where Red-K was also to blame!

So, yeah.  Red K.  Its a real problem. Avoid it.

I'm going to editorialize like crazy here, but there's also an ad run in the front cover of the comic, featuring Bob Hope teaching kids about loving their neighbor, religious tolerance, wrestling with singular world viewpoints, etc... all in 5 panels!  And it is seemingly sponsored by the US Govt.

clearly, Bob Hope was a sleeper agent for Al Qaeda
Quite a few of these pop up in these Kennedy-era comics.  It's oddly kind of stunning.  These days, this sort of hopeful, "it's a small world" talk would get you a 24 hour news cycle on Fox accusing you of hating the troops.

Also:  apparently kids were still into Bob Hope in the mid-60's.

But it's not that, nor the suggestion the comic makes that China built an entire replica of New York City (to scale, btw) just to blow it up for atomic bomb tests that I want to point to.  No, its exactly the manner in which Superman demands the nations of the world crown him Head Cheese.

He heads to the United Nations general assembly, takes the podium, and...

I invite you to click for full-sized madness
 Right on.

For those of you who didn't look...

We will SUPER bury you!
Pretty good stuff.

Of course, the actual pounding of shoe to podium associated with Krushchev may be Cold War myth, but it was taught to me as fact. I am betting that was one of the more fun panels these guys put together.  No idea what readers, their parents, or the CCA said about this one.

And I particularly love that Superman is still going to town, menacing the General Assembly with a bright, red boot as the cameras roll.

at this point, I imagine Superman has broken out into song

This, by the way, is a two-parter!

And if you missed it:

You can drop the "tator" part, Olsen