Saturday, January 28, 2012

Movie Watch 2012: The Dirty Dozen

It's not that I hadn't seen The Dirty Dozen (1967).  I watched it on VHS back in 7th grade or so, and I remember sort of liking it, but the fact that its paced a bit slower than action movies of the 1980's meant that it didn't engage me as much as, say, Commando.  Since then, I've seen bits and pieces of the movie on cable, and, of course, the premise of the movie has been copied and borrowed from so often, as well as the idea of a rag-tag-bunch-of-ne'er-do-wells-think-outside-the-box-and-that's-why-they're-successful has been copied in everything from Suicide Squad comics to the Police Academy series.

this is not dissimilar to how I deal with new employees

Watching the movie now is fascinating as I know a bit more of the talent in the movie.   Not just Bronson, Borgnine, Telly Savalas and Lee Marvin.  Robert Ryan, Donald Sutherland, John Cassavetes, Jim Brown and others are in the film.  Its a real all-star fest.

As far as war pictures go, its a product of its time, reveling in the scrappy outsiders, but not quite celebrating them in the way we'd see in Kelly's Heroes by 1970, who were in the war for fun and profit.*

With such a large cast of soldiers, some played by stars, some not, all convicted criminals (not a spoiler, ya'll), it also fits in neatly with the sort of movie where anyone could go at any minute, which ups the ante when it comes to the tension of the flick.  Sure, some of these guys you aren't going to feel too badly if they go, but it all feels a bit like a suicide mission from the outset, so....

*I'm a Kelly's Heroes fan, by the way.  Terrific movie.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: Superman #5

Superman #5
writer - George Pérez
penciller - Nicola Scott
inker - Trevor Scott
colorist - Brett Smith
letterer - Rob Leigh
cover - George Pérez & Brian Buccellato
associate editor - Wil Moss, editor - Matt Idleson

It seems like its been a good long while since I've talked Superman.  Not that anyone cares, but...  anyway.

Movie Watch 2012: The Trip

I'd been recommended the movie The Trip (2010) by a good pal who doesn't actually read this site, and so I should lie and say I selected the movie on my own.  We started watching the movie at his place two weeks ago, but I finally finished it last night on Netflix streaming.

Its a small, inexpensive movie from the UK featuring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and frankly, despite the fact that Mangum has very good taste in movies, I was skeptical.  The movie is about two actors named Steve and Rob (ahem) who go on a road trip through northern England.  The set-up is that Steve is writing an article about his trip for a UK publication, intending to bring his American girlfriend, but who departs for the States just before the trip (possibly ending their relationship).

Its a movie of First World Problems, and those of successful entertainers, but it still manages to keep the protagonists sympathetic both by making their problems sympathetic and basically relatable (and doesn't suggest Coogan, in particular, is exactly a victim).    Most curiously, the movie manages to balance out how the same things that make the two as popular as they are is both hilarious at times and flat out irritating at others, as is spending time in such close proximity for such a long time to someone you know so well.

The movie has large swaths of what I assume was improvised.  Its worth noting that the crew on this has worked together before, and clearly felt comfortable pushing one another both for better content and for some awkward moments.

Coogan's grappling with what is seeming like a near-miss of a huge career is contrasted against Brydon's apparent contentment, and what could have been a bit of oddly self-serving narrative actually works better than you'd think.  Coogan has had a less than hugely successful career in the US, including a smaller role in Tropical Thunder and in his starring turn in the not-great Hamlet 2.  One can't help but wonder exactly how much of this movie is just... is this just these two guys hanging out and letting someone film them in various scenarios?

Whether that's the focus of the movie or if we're to simply enjoy the banter, I'm not entirely sure.  Its not a life-changing film, but its very clever and occasionally outright funny.

I don't usually talk endings of movies, and I won't here other than to say that if you're going to make a movie about First World Problems, make sure it at least feels as if there's a point by the end.  This movie actually pulls that off pretty well, I think.

Noir Watch Extra: Tension

Between movies, we had a bit of downtime, and so Doug and I joined Jenifer at her swanky apartment where we watched a B-Noir, Tension (1949).

Before we get any further, I had never been less sympathetic to any noir character than I was to Richard Basehart as Warren Quimby, a man who has a dilemma at one point in the movie of picking between Audrey Totter and Cyd Charisse.  Go to hell, Basehart.

Tension probably has its roots in someone reading or seeing The Postman Always Rings Twice and the pot boiler melodramas of the era.  Postman had been adapted in 1946, and while there are limited similarities, you can see that the characters are sort of pushing around what the characters did when and why.  The movie also lifts from Superman comics and Charles Atlas ads, and so one must tip their hat to the writers and director for borrowing from the best.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Noir City Special! "Laura" and "Bedelia"

On my final night in San Francisco I joined Lauren (a trooper for making it out though still weak from several days of illness), Doug, Kristen, Morgan and (of course) Jenifer for a double feature of Laura (1944) and British noir film, Bedelia (1946).

It was an interesting contrast between the two movies, and I haven't seen all that much British noir.  Really, aside from Brighton Rock a year and a half ago, not much else pops immediately to mind.

Laura, of course, I'd seen before a few times (I own it on DVD), and I've covered it here before in brief.

On this viewing, I particularly appreciated Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker.  Webb plays the role pitch-perfect as the effete, urbane and witty sophisticate, perhaps at home at the Algonquin Round Table.  With a house full of fans of the film, it was a lot of fun.

It still feels like a rather small movie, and there's no hint of the war-time release, but its still an effective picture.  Further, its not a movie that leans too heavily on Laura's place as a woman making her helpless from a financial perspective, which seems right for the time.  She may have received a break from Waldo, but she earns her place in the advertising world, and, in fact, its the towering Vincent Price who weasels for money, unable to support himself.

Noir City Special! Noir Watch: "The Killers" and "Point Blank"

On Saturday night, the Noir City festival scheduled two films from the 1960's, both starring Angie Dickinson and Lee Marvin.  Angie Dickinson appeared as a special guest and we all got to enjoy Eddie Muller's interview conducted on stage.  I am happy to say that Ms. Dickinson lived up to the hype.

This year's Noir City programming strayed into (gasp) some color-era films, which immediately raises eyebrows and draws some suspicion regarding whether its true noir, at least partly because the societal forces that drove the era most thought of as noir were now passing into the rearview mirror.  By the 1960's, we'd had World War II and Korea, and were headed for Vietnam, but the US was firing on all cylinders economically.  But the underlying questions of the corruption caused by wealth (or opportunity for wealth), and the irrational things a guy will do for the wrong girl seemed as universal as ever.

The Killers (1964) is, ostensibly, based upon the Ernest Hemingway short story of the same name, but is really based upon the 1946 film starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.  Only the barest hints of the original short story remain, and the template of two intimidating thugs shaking down unprepared chumps wasn't exactly fresh by 1964.

Still, the movie works in all the ways it should as a competent heist movie.  As mentioned, the film stars Marvin as one of the pair of contract killers and Dickinson as the love interest of John Cassevetes as the film's protagonist.  In the world of seeing things you thought you'd never see, the first shot of Ronald Reagan* as Jack Browning (Reagan's final film role) paired with a pre-Mr. Roper Norman Fell as his thuggish companion drew an audible reaction from the audience at The Castro.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Someone at DC Comics realized you can use the images of heroes to do more than sell t-shirts

Something that has long bothered me about superhero comics and their fans (and very often their creators) has been how disconnected the industry is from doing anything that isn't completely self-interested.  Its an oddity of superhero fandom that this genre, which began with the concept of someone using their talents altruistically so infrequently seems to capable of leveraging the ideals of their characters in either their own business or in public dealings.

Of course the media-saturated generation of which I suppose I am a part has decided the way to help is to become a costumed crime-fighter/ person who wears a costume and parades around (aka: The Reals) instead of just cutting a check to the Red Cross.

The only person I have personally met who has merged the two ideas is Austin's Jarrett Crippen, aka: The Defuser, who used his win on Stan Lee's Who Wants to be a Superhero? to promote his charity work with groups like Scare for a Cure.

Well, DC Entertainment apparently has signed on to work with a program called We Can Be Heroes that is an umbrella project to work with several groups fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa.  You can see the site, but be aware that music will play automatically (and, curiously, not the Bowie song).

Giving now will mean DC Entertainment will match your donation by 100%.  I tip my hat.

Yes, cynically you can say that DC is looking to promote their characters, but whatever the case, they are trying to do something other than just turn a dollar.  Its a step toward remembering that these are characters who represent goodwill and assistance for others, and that you don't just punch away every problem.  If putting Superman and Aquaman on a coffee mug is what it takes to promote awareness and drive funding for the organization, I'm all for it.

Noir City Guest Post! Jenifer talks "Gilda" and "The Money Trap"

Hey Signal Corps!  Jenifer has offered to provide commentary on films during the remainder of the Noir City Festival.  I'll be posting her musings as she sends them in.  Hope you enjoy.

Tonight, Noir City offered the best of Rita Hayworth, in Gilda (1946), and her not-so-best, The Money Trap (1965). Both pair her with Glenn Ford, and show the chemistry the two had on screen even after 20 years.

Gilda is well known and documented, but for those who don't know, Gilda was a vehicle for Rita Hayworth that established her as a love (sex) goddess. It's an example of how producers worked around the strict Production Code enforced on movies at the time. In Gilda, the sexual symbolism is everywhere, and the innuendo beautifully done.

The Money Trap is an odd little film starring Glenn Ford. He plays a cop married to the young, beautiful, and once-rich Elke Sommer. They aren't rich anymore, but they "live rich". Investigating what looks like a burglary where the home-owner shot the burglar, he is tipped off to a safe full of money. Encouraged by his equally money-driven partner, Ricardo Montalban, the two plan to break into the safe themselves. 

Rita Hayworth plays a long-time childhood friend and girlfriend of Ford's, married to the burglar who was killed. Though shockingly presented, it's clear that her character is meant to be run-down and aged, drinking too much, married to a crook, and waiting tables in a bar. She was 47, practically an elderly woman by movie and social standards of the time. It's a shame she wasn't that age now, when women in their forties are still seen as beautiful and even sexy.

Innuendo does not exist in this film. Everything is stated plainly, as that had become more acceptable in film. Rita has the best line. While she and Ford reminisce in a car, he tells her the time they were together on the roof of her building was his first. She says, "I know. You acted like you just discovered America." Later when they reconnect she calls him Columbus. 

It may be time for creators to push back a bit against the bosses at the Big 2

Before the new year, I had been pondering a bit upon the power the internet has placed in the hands of comics creators.

Since the 90's, creators have had the forum of the internet to reach and build small communities around themselves.  And, also since the 1990's, the creator has become arguably as important in the day-to-day world of superhero comics than the characters themselves, and outside of superheroes, creator is king.  Its a massive shift from the Silver Age during which most stories didn't receive an attribution of artist or writer.

I am not certain all creators have used the web terribly well.  Its pretty clear some creators just didn't and don't get how far their comments can spread, or understand that what they say is semi-permanent, once its out there.  And, of course, some have chosen to hole up and build an online cult of personality, and that's just weird, John Byrne.

The comics industry is a very, very small world, especially once you're working for the Big 2.  And, of course, once you're at the Big 2, there really aren't a lot of places to go where sales will be as high based solely upon who is publishing your book.

I'm thinking today, specifically, of an article posted at Comics Alliance (but something I'd heard from Jordan Gibson via Twitter), about how Static Shock, a book I was thrilled to see coming, arrived with such a lead thud and how writer John Rozum seemed to blame until he decided to go ahead and clear the air and tell the public what had occurred behind the scenes.

Rozum's post is a good read, if you've the time.

I hadn't liked the issue of Static Shock I read with the New 52 relaunch, and I can see now how a lot of what I found lacking occurred.

This is the second event of this sort this year that I can think of wherein a writer did not follow the script we usually see.  The script is usually either silence or a statement about bad luck, unfortunate circumstances, etc... but few will flat out say what has gone wrong.

I am returned (and discuss a bit about why this was fun)

No matter what they do to make flying better, its still stressful.  I am well aware they put bars in airports for a reason, but I never drink while flying, just in case they need me to take over in the cockpit.

I had an absolutely terrific time in San Francisco, helped along by Jenifer, Doug, Kristen, Lauren and non-Signal Corps member, Morgan.  I am not sure if I mentioned the SF Sketchfest, but Doug got us to RiffTrax Live, and it surpassed any expectations I had.  Our hosts were Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy, but we also had guests such as Eugene Mirman, Bruce McCulloch, David Cross and Paul F. Tompkins.  Not bad.

I am still pondering many of the geographical, historical and cultural differences between San Francisco and Austin.  I have to tip my hat to the city, but I have always been most comfortable here in Waterloo, warts and all.  But we could certainly learn from San Fran.

I've been thinking a bit about the difference between something like the Noir City Film Noir Festival and the fact that Austin has SXSW, and the difference is that Austin's festivals, Fantastic Fest included, are really industry shows.  You can buy a pass for SXSW, but its a pass to get into things that people with the industry badges won't fill up.  Consequently, you tend to hear people telling you about this great documentary they saw about Peruvian peanut farmers or whatever, but there's not much in the way of just celebrating film.  Its all about selling films.