Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Oddly Life Affirming Superman Toy

Saturday I had to go to Target to buy a new telephone.  Not a smartphone, just a $15 thing to plug into the wall.*  Whilst at the Target, I stumbled upon the latest Superman toy from Fischer-Price:

Hero World™ DC Super Friends™ VOICE COMM™ Superman™

The name your 3 year old is sure to share with you accurately as you head into the toy section.

I'm out of the action figure game unless its a Superman toy.   Despite the odd paint and plastic, this still qualifies as Superman, so I picked it up and looked at it, and this fellow, intended for kids 3-8, has kind of a weird, kid-friendly sculpt and a bunch of voice related features.   Basically, he's got some sort of chip and I guess he can interact with other figures in the line and it all seems a bit more complicated/ compelling than pulling a string and hearing the same phrase repeated over and over about a barnyard animal.

Neat enough.  But I was pleased to hear was what actually came out of Superman's mouth, so to speak.

"Why did I make these chains out of kryptonite?  OWWWWW!!!!"

This Superman doesn't talk about punching anybody or breaking things.  He's pretty much all about helping folks (quickly) and seems a bit alarmed about Lex Luthor and General Zod's whereabouts.  But, mostly, making declarative statements about leaping into action to help out at some specific emergencies and some less specific.

I like this.  It's a proactive Superman who isn't trying to teach kids 3-8 about dark vengeance or grim justice or some such.  It seems like it should be okay for superheroes to be as much about saving the day (our Superman toy blurts: "There's a truck in trouble!") as clobbering other action figures, but a lot of superhero toys don't seem designed that way.

Noir Watch: Over-Exposed (1956)

Back in the day there wasn't necessarily a concept of a "chick flick", but studios did produce something called "women's pictures".  Douglas Sirk made his name producing movies like Imitation of Life (featuring a lovely Lana Turner) that could be held up as the ideal of the genre of women struggling in a man's world, wrestling with romance or work, and often coming into conflict with their children (see:  Mildred Pierce - a movie I really dig).  

I'm not entirely certain how Over-Exposed (1956) made its way into a noir set, and like Women's Prison, it seems a bit of a stretch to find a place for this next to Double Indemnity or even The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers.  But given the turn in last third, it made be a matter of pacing that's throwing me off.  

It's an interesting mishmash of the money-driven, hard-scrabble girl from the wrong side of the tracks using whatever she's got to get ahead as in Baby Face (1933), but only able to hint at a dodgy past while assuming one could rise to fame and fortune taking pictures for the society pages.

It is 1956, so our leading lady pays and pays dearly for not jumping at the opportunity for marriage to an amiable guy with a good haircut (Richard Crenna).  

The star of the film is Cleo Moore - one of the platinum blondes Hollywood started cranking out in the wake of Marilyn Monroe's success and suddenly remembering Jean Harlow had been a pretty good idea.  She's all right, if a bit humorless, and lacks the punchy iciness of, say, a Joan Crawford (or, god forbid, Bette Davis at her best).  

Busted at a "clip joint" on her first night in a small town, Lily Krenschka falls in with the photographer who grabbed her shot outside the police station, learns his trade and heads to NYC where she tries to become a newspaper photog, and winds up a taking pictures for the society pages and personal portraits, which, according to the movie, makes you a celebrity yourself.  Eventually she gets pictures she shouldn't of had and things go badly for her.  

If only she'd just agreed to marry Richard Crenna.  She could have lived a life of adventure with Col. Trautman.  

I wasn't much of a fan of the movie.  You're on your own.

Noir Watch: Women's Prison (1955)

I think we're all friends here, and so it's in that spirit that I confess to a great love of the film Reform School Girls (1986).  It's high 80's cheese, completely self-aware, and has one of the most satisfying conclusions in cinema history.  If you haven't seen it, you likely believe it's some sort of pay cable late night hoo-hah, but it's a pretty straight up prison movie played for camp and some (intentionally) cheap thrills.

Man, someone was trying to sell a much racier movie than the one delivered.

Neither prison movies nor women's prison movies are something I seek out, and I was surprised that Eddie Muller had included a whole section on prison flicks in his book, Dark City.  I'm not going to argue with Muller over how or why prison films are considered part of the genre, so there you are.  And as this film was included in a set of "Bad Girls of Film Noir", I'm just going to deal.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Maureen O'Hara

Friday was the birthday of Maureen O'Hara.  We missed it.  Oh, well.  Happy Birthday to Ms. Maureen O'Hara, one of Ireland's finest exports.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

35 Years Gone By, Elvis Aron Presley Merged with The Infinite

Eat it, every single other performer who ever fancied they had stage presence

Elvis gone 35 years ago, August the 16th, 1977.

I don't remember the death of Elvis.  I was two.  However, I grew up in a house where my mother played Elvis music on the turntable and hummed Elvis tunes while driving me to soccer practice.  A great gift once received was a bottle of "Elvis White Wine" which nobody ever drank, and eventually it got gross and was tossed away in 2010ish.

Like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean or Bogart, Elvis passed into the twilight realm of American Mythology, a demigod who didn't just sizzle in popularity for a short time after his death, but who attained legendary status once his life itself was no longer there to decry what could be and what could be believed.

Phyllis Thaxter (Superman: The Movie's Martha Kent) Merges with The Infinite

Actress Phyllis Thaxter, the actress who so wonderfully portrayed Martha Kent in Superman: The Movie, has passed at the age of 92.

She is preceded in death by actor Glen Ford who played Jonathan Kent, and Christopher Reeve, who played Superman.  However, Jeff East, who played a young Clark Kent is alive and well.

I have not seen much of Thaxter's work, but, oddly, last night I began watching Women's Prison with Ida Lupino and Audrey Totter, and the film's major character is played by none other than Phyllis Thaxter.  And she's really very good in what I'd seen so far.

Thaxter's portrayal of Martha Kent contained a stunning and instantly motherly quality that surpassed surprise at the strange manner in which she finds the boy, and his odd abilities, and cut straight to the need to love a little lost child when reason may have told her to do otherwise.  In the few lines and scenes she had in the movie, she and Richard Donner presented Martha Kent as a very real mother experiencing both the blessing and pain that comes with bringing a child into your life and then realizing you have to let him go.

Honestly, the wheat-field scene between East and Thaxter in the film was when I realized (way, way back in high school) what an extraordinary film Superman truly is.

Here, however, is that scene of discovery in a Kansas field.

The Comics Haul: 8.15.2012

So this is what I picked up after 2 weeks away from the shop.

2 issues of Atomic Robo (ongoing series and a mini), Popeye ongoing #1, a Daredevil Annual, Saga #6, the new Allred project - which is an old Allred project, It Girl!  I have no idea what It Girl! will be about, but I'm betting that at least I'll like the art.

And I came across Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #30 in pretty iffy condition, but it's a book I've been lacking from my Jimmy Olsen collection and one of my favorite Jimmy covers, so there you go.

The Phantom Eagle I picked up on a whim, but it's a Marvel war book from the 60's-era Marvel and obviously meant to grab some of that sweet, sweet Enemy Ace money.  Several years ago Garth Ennis used the character in his book War is Hell: First Flight of the Phantom Eagle.  I hadn't thought much about the character since, but the cover jumped out at me and I figured it was a good addition to my aviation comics.

Yes, I sort of buy and collect military aviation comics.

Shut up.

I also put a few sheckles down on my lay-away copy of Action Comics 101, a comic that I will one day actually have in my home.

Digitally, I've picked up the one-shot Busiek and Lieber comic, Thoughts on a Winter Morning, published here by MonkeyBrain Comics.   It's a lovely slice-of-life story, and makes you wonder what else Busiek would be writing about if he walked away from superheroes and whatnot for a bit.  It's a nice meditation on time and perspective, and uses the medium of comics beautifully.  At least, it seemed so on my laptop on guided view.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Lady In The Lake (1947)

Released about 3 months after 1947's Dark Passage*, this movie also employs the first-person-perspective camera-work that somebody must have been wanting to play with at the time.  Where Dark Passage abandons the conceit fairly early in the movie, Lady in the Lake (1947) uses the trick more or less for the duration of the film except during a few, brief framing sequences during which Robert Montgomery, as Philip Marlowe, addresses the audience before merging with them in a spot of cinematic magic during which the audience is given a sort of thrill-ride like experience of seeing the film from Marlowe's perspective.

It's an oddball stunt, one easier to pull that the matinee jazz of 3D pictures or smell-o-vision, but Montgomery's direction definitely gives the effort a sort of "check this out!" quality, drawing attention to itself with awkward use of mirror shots that don't accomplish much but remind the audience that we're all watching a movie here - and, boy, isn't THAT cool...?

Maintenance: Jamie's Mom's Health, The Olympics

Between the Olympics, travel and now Judy's health issues, we haven't been making much time for movies, comics, Superman or the usual malarkey.  When I have sat down with my computer, we've not had the usual to write on.

We'll see what the next few days and weeks look like, but, you know... priorities.

Judy Update:

Jamie's mom is improving bit by bit.  She's eaten a few bites, said a few words, stood up for a few seconds...  all pretty good for someone who had brain surgery on Thursday.  She's, of course, exhausted.  And she still has a greatly impaired ability to communicate, so we kind of guess what to do and not do for her by giving her options and seeing if she indicates a preference in any way.  She's not glassy-eyed and uncomprehending, but between the original issue, the surgery, and the meds, we're just glad she's waking up on a regular basis.

Jamie's  family has really done a great job, to the point where I'm not in my usual role of bed-side guy helping out, and have been taking over roles like laundry and house maintenance and whatnot.  All necessary, but not quite the crisis-side of this that I'm used to dealing with.  My own family and our pals have been terrific.  So, thanks to everyone.

The Olympics:

Once again the US dominated, enough so that the narrative should be getting dull.  But it's a lot of fun watching our teams win in Track & Field events, Beach Volleyball, and other sports.  Heck, I even enjoyed the inevitable victory by the US Men's Basketball team.  Not as much as hearing about the US Women's Soccer Team winning in a storybook finale.

I'll miss team May-Walsh in Beach Volleyball.  By 2008, we were over the bikinis and focusing on the sport and by 2012, it was all about the amazing feat of three-peating in an incredibly difficult sport.  And not just winning, but only losing one set in 3 Olympics.  Absolutely astounding.

Someone at NBC got the memo, I might add, and the interviews with athletes never turned accusatory, whether athletes placed or not.  And most certainly nobody was asked if they were disappointed at getting a Bronze or Silver.  Now, if the guy covering wee women's gymnastics could learn to dial it down about 11 notches, he might make the sport a lot more tolerable to watch.  Ie: It's weird that you're a grown man and unironically a total fanboy of these weird little 16 year old girls who don't go to school so they can do cartwheels all day.  I would be terrified to see your apartment.

The closing ceremonies were fine.  The usual mish-mash of good and bad ideas.  I understand that part of the theme was the passing of the torch, but don't have recent bands come on and sing standards for absolutely enormous artists.  I don't want to see a teen heart-throb covering Pink Floyd or Johnny Rocker Random cover The Who.  Especially when you have the The Who.  Or half the Who.

Special note:  I keep reading that Daltry and Townsend were there and played, but I somehow missed that as part of the telecast or else I left the room when Daltry was not the one who started with "Pinball Wizard".  Whatever.

And if you're not going to deliver Bowie, stop playing his music.  Bush league.

Anyway, we'll be watching again in 18 months when the Winter Games show up in Mother Russia.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Joe Kubert Merges with The Infinite

Comics legend Joe Kubert has reportedly passed.

I point you to the obit run at The Onion AV club, as it's a pretty damned good summary of Kubert's bio and will hopefully explain to those of you who don't follow comics who the man was and how he stood in the pantheon of comics heroes.

Kubert was at DC Comics for most of his career, first arriving in 1943 and holding positions as a writer, editor and artist, depending on where the winds blew.  Today's fans like myself are mostly familiar with his co-creations like Sgt. Rock, or his own creation, Tor and the stunning artistry he brought to the page.  Where Kirby was volcanic energy in need of an outlet, Kubert was an illustrative master capturing the world-weary faces of Easy Company, battle-worn soldiers of Earth and beyond, but a master of perspective and detail.

...and I like his Iris West.