Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Birthday to Jane Russell

Born this day in 1921 in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Sci-Fi Watch: The Thing From Another World (1951)

I'm a big fan of the 1982 John Carpenter sci-fi horror flick, The Thing, but I'd never seen Howard Hawks produced The Thing From Another World (1951) - the movie upon which the Carpenter film was based.

I recorded it off TCM at some point and finally got around to watching it, which was well timed as I'd been having a twitter-convo with some of y'all about whether remakes and sequels were really out of control.*

Screwball Watch: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

So, we started watching a different movie last night, gave up, and when I was about to start up Monkey Business (1952), Jamie mentioned she'd never seen Bringing Up Baby (1938).  Which...  we've been together for 20 years, so I'm not clear on how that happened.  I know I've seen it a couple of times, but I also remember watching it with my roommate back in film school, so that accounts for at least that screening.

So, we fired up the Roku and Amazon streaming services and watched the Katharine Hepburn/ Cary Grant, Howard Hawks-directed comedy.

if you ever want to see the world's worst Katharine Hepburn impersonation, I'm your man
Very much of the school of both Hollywood screwball comedies and the Broadway domestic comedies of the 30's and 40's, Bringing Up Baby is not, as you would expect, about a young couple fumbling with an actual baby.  It's about a daffy paleontologist who meets an even daffier socialite who immediately falls in love with him and isn't going to let the fact he's supposed to get married the next day slow her down.

As rings all too true from working at a university, Cary Grant's scientist is in pursuit on $1 million for his museum, plus he's receiving the final bone for his brontosaurus in the mail.  Golfing with the attorney of his potential patron, Grant meets Hepburn (or, David meets Susan), there's some confusion, destruction of a car, etc..  Susan, deciding she's in love with David, involves a tame leopard her brother has sent her from South America - a leopard who happens to be named "Baby" and who really likes the tune "I Can't Give You Anything But Love".

Anyway, just watch it.  As with many screwball comedies, describing it will make you feel like a lunatic.

I have some very favorite scenes from the movie, including the dinner sequence.  For whatever reason, this sort of comedy really works for me.  Sure, I love a good Mel Brooks movie with the cheap gags and all, but there's something pretty great about original formula for situation comedies that rely more heavily on absurdity and character-driven gags, and it's not necessarily the set up/ laugh/ set up/ laugh of the television sitcom.  It can be as complicated as keeping up with a Raymond Chandler story to keep the threads straight, even as characters are very clear about their motivations.

It's a pretty darn good movie, and there's a reason people keep coming back to it well after 1938, whereas, I'm not sure we'll still be revisiting the American Pie franchise in 20 years.  Then again, the kids keep surprising me when they're building the mythology of their own definition of classics.*

*@#$%ing Space Jam?  Really?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Comedy Watch: Caddyshack (1980)

I'm not a die-hard Caddyshack fan.  As much as I enjoy pointlessly killing time in ugly pants, I don't play golf, but the movie doesn't require any tremendous knowledge of the game to enjoy it, nor must one find themselves playing golf in order to find opportunity to quote the movie.

I really don't know when the last time I watched Caddyshack, but it's been at least a decade.  Possibly two.

The movie offers up a great snapshot of comedy in the US circa 1980.  Chevy Chase at his Vacation-era best, Bill Murray doing that thing, Ted Knight as Ted Knight, Rodney Dangerfield as Rodney Dangerfield, Harold Ramis directing, Bryan Doyle Murray playing Bryan Doyle Murray and also lending his talents to the script.  And let us not forget Cindy Morgan, who totally made sense in context.

Musical Watch: West Side Story (1961)

the plot in a nutshell

If you haven't seen the 1961 film, West Side Story, coming into it cold in 2015 will feel like you're watching a movie about an alien world, but it's a musical that comes from a time and a place, and I'd hope that at least the music, choreography and cinematography would work for you.  Maybe not.  The oh, so clever audiences of the modern era have cleverly deduced that people don't actually sing and dance spontaneously and have rejected the genre.

For those of us who kind of grew up with the play and/ or movie (I saw it the first time at a local theater in Austin when I was about 13, the movie at least twice in high school and have seen the movie now about five or six times by my reckoning), it can be easy to take a lot of the actual story for granted.  I know I was shown the movie in high school alongside Romeo and Juliet as we compared and contrasted the two stories as a class, and that's a good starting point.  But I can't help but notice that being 40 and watching a story about the passion of teen-aged romance is a whole other burrito from watching the movie when your hormones are firing a million miles an hour and wanting to talk to girls and punch things are the two driving factors in your teen-age brain.*

Friday, June 19, 2015

Noir Watch: Nightmare Alley (1947)

I like a movie that starts at the circus, and especially anything that starts on the Midway.  Probably because I know that if I were born 100 years prior, I'd have been some roustabout working behind the scenes of a freak show and hanging around the pinheads.

Nightmare Alley (1947) stars a whole lot of people I'm not overly familiar with, from Tyrone Power (who I think of as being a pirate-y and shirtless), and Colleen Gray.  The movie also stars a 41 year old Joan Blondell as a formerly hugely successful mentalist now working the circus sideshow circuit with her former partner assisting (now a shambling drunk) and Tyrone Power flirting with her/ trying to figure out her angle for his own gain.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Tragedy in South Carolina

What can you say in the face of this kind of horror?  

Today is a day to mourn.  Tomorrow and afterward, we need to be better and to never, ever take another excuse nor tolerate the terrorizing and murder of our fellow citizens by anyone.

Speak up.  Say something.  We're a better nation than this.  Humanity is better.

Remember Charleston.  Remember every injustice.  No more excuses.  No more silence.  We shouldn't have returned to the methods and hatred of the 1960's in our lifetime.  Make it a better tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Justice League TV Show - Secret Origins

I don't know what the hell is going on with my cable at home, but it isn't good.  Likely a mixture of the fact that we haven't updated our boxes or our modem in years and the technology has obviously continued to change.  So, we're basically cable-less until we get a technician out sometime next week.

In this spirit, Jamie got into the DVDs, and popped out with Disc 1 of the first season of Justice League, the 2001ish launch of the DC Heroes team-up show featuring "The Magnificent Seven":  Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl and The Flash (traditional magnificent seven swapping Aquaman for Hawgirl, but I get the motivations behind the swap and, frankly, it worked beautifully).

We watched the first three episodes, also known as the Justice League movie, "Secret Origins", wherein some pretty well designed aliens invade Earth and the seven disparate heroes team up as a unit for the first time, at least in the world of the Timm-verse that started with Batman: The Animated Series and continued with Superman: The Animated Series, both series legends in superhero animation in their own time and something I can't believe people don't talk about more instead of praising the just seriously gawdawful 90's X-Men and other cartoons.*

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Noir Watch: Gun Crazy (1950)

This is, I believe, the fourth time I've watched Gun Crazy (1950), a movie about a guy, a girl, their guns and how it all gets a smidge out of control.  It's a movie both entirely of its time, but points the way for movies that would come along within 20 years from studios who learned to take chances as the 60's steamed along (Bonnie and Clyde), and maybe reached it's wildest point with Natural Born Killers (1994).

I'd label the movie safely noir.  Two people that can't control themselves who, through their actions and inactions, get in way over their heads with no path out.  When Bart Tare (John Dall) meets Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), it's the worst possible combination for both of them as their obsession with guns gets mixed up in greed, sex and an inability to find a groove in square living.

Blaze Starr Merges With The Infinite

Famed lady of Burlesque, Blaze Starr, has passed.

I have no idea how Blaze Starr first entered my consciousness, but no doubt it involved the internet.  She was of the era of Bettie Page, Tempest Storm, Lilli St. Cyr and Irving Klaw, but was more a part of the burlesque circuit than the "mail order photo" industry.  It's unlikely most of polite society in the 1950 and 60's either knew of her or would admit to knowing of her.  And that's with affairs with folks like Louisiana Governor Earl Long that led to a movie biopic containing her name (Blaze from 1989).

But the internet and public memory is a funny thing.  Despite having a path that would leave most folks an anonymous cypher, Blaze Starr has managed to permeate the edges of the American psyche for at least a half-century.  It takes all kinds (and we're all here - as my grandmother used to say).

Here's to a trailblazer of sorts, and an underground icon.

Thanks to Victoria for the link.