Saturday, September 3, 2016

We're Back From Seattle - here's some more vaycay pics


We're back from vacation.  In the meantime, here's some photos you may peruse.

-Twin Peaks locations
-Museum of Flight

Murphy Watch: Coming to America (1988)



Back when I was 13 or so, Hollywood was doing pretty darn well.  It was pretty common for middle-class folk to load the crew into the family truckster and go on down to the local mall or wherever and catch a movie at the cineplex.  I saw Coming to America (1988) on opening weekend, and what I remember is: so did everyone else.

This movie was absolutely huge with me and my friends, but my parents watched it more than once (once it hit home video), and it still gets a lot of play on basic cable.  In fact, we parked ourselves on the sofa after getting home from vacation and watched the movie just to give ourselves some decompression time.

At this point, the movie has grossed almost $130 million that Box Office Mojo knows about, which isn't bad for a movie that likely cost about $20 million to make.

In the manner of the best 1980's comedies - from Ghostbusters to Naked Gun, it's an imminently quotable movie, or seemed so at the time.  At least it became that through repeated viewings.  Not that surprising from a movie put together by Eddie Murphy and John Landis, I suppose.

I don't just think Coming to America is a funny movie (I think it's hilarious), I think it's a fantastically written and perfectly executed all-ages movie, from direction to performances to editing and music cues.  And all that's a reminder of what a set of talents we had in Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, John Landis, John Amos, James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair and Eriq La Salle and everyone else (Louie f'ing Anderson is in this!).

I also think it's really funny that Black Panther will need to really think think about about what it's doing for a script and abandon the original Black Panther trope of King T'Challa to the U.S. undercover as a student lest we end up with a suspiciously familiar story.

Maybe most remarkable is that the movie has such an overwhelmingly Black cast and then and now it's not discussed in terms of being a "Black" movie, and not because it was white-washed.  I'd argue it's a movie that - while it has a lot of edges knocked off to reach an all-ages audience - makes no bones about being by and about Black people, and it's hard to say exactly why it was massively successful across the planet (the movie has a very large international box office).  Maybe it's the fairy-tale nature of the story?  Prince Hakeem and Semi's familiarity as protagonists?  I dunno.

Anyway, what's to say? If you don't like this movie, you're a little dead inside.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Seattle VayCay - Star Trek, Sci-Fi, Horror, Fantasy and more at the EMP

GORN FREE!!!

We're in Seattle for a week of vacation.  We've seen the Space Needle, Pike's Place and a few other things as we caught up with old friends who've relocated to the area.

Today it was just me and Jamie, and he headed down to the EMP.

The EMP is a museum that was set up by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and was originally going to be all about music.  Well, half of the museum is - and we went to that, but this isn't a music blog and it's weird to take pictures of certain kinds of exhibits or art.  But the EMP is now also home to Paul Allen's other collections, I guess.

Above, you see me freaking the hell out about the Gorn costume from the Star Trek episode Arena, the episode that first piqued my interest in Trek as a kid and - in my humble opinion - one of the finest hours of television ever produced.

But, I was basically just freaking the hell out through the whole museum as it was truly an amazing spectacle of genre movie and TV props and FX items.

You can view my stash of photos here.


This is exactly the sort of stuff I'd wind up owning if I had billions of dollars

Monday, August 29, 2016

Gene Wilder Merges With The Infinite



Gene Wilder has merged with The Infinite.

Included in everyone's list of favorite movies, you'll find Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.  Like you, I watch both with alarming frequency, just dropping in for 30-45 minutes or more when I see them on cable.  We watch Young Frankenstein a day or so before Halloween every year as a break from actual horror movies.

What to say?

There really wasn't anyone who was like him before and there certainly isn't anyone like him now.  Who else brings such a thoughtful, skilled, deftly nuanced approach to comedic roles in quite the same way - the punchlines sometimes going by so quietly you almost missed them on the first go-round - or delivered with such staccato bombasity you barely have time to register what's happening before you find yourself laughing.  And that's part of what makes the movies work so well on watch after watch after watch.  He managed to wrangle the cartoony freneticism Brooks brought to the screen in Blazing Saddles, but he was never the straight-man.  He was just funny in his own right, and he knew how to make a scene work far better than it should, even when the jokes were so broad you could drive on them.

Of course, his Willy Wonka came seemingly out of nowhere, a manically perfect performance not intended to comfort children but there for them to understand when, maybe, they got a little older.  That weariness and dissatisfaction of the genius among mortals, that keeper of the faithl in the land of the wicked, just brilliantly played.

I'll always like Young Frankenstein best, but that won't come as a surprise.  There's nothing in the film he does I'd say doesn't work.  He's in perfect sync with everyone in the cast, holding all their various tones together and making for one of my favorite comedies in any medium.

I'm very sorry to hear Mr. Wilder has passed, but am so grateful for what he brought us, and I'm cheered by the massive outpouring in social media.  I hope he knew, and I hope his family knows, how much love people had for him and his work.




Super Krime Double Bill: The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)



The Alamo is an interesting place because they do show exploitation films, they do show controversial material, and at those special screenings, they usually have a host put a frame around what you're about to see.  This movie was shown as part of the "Super Krime" series which also contained last week's Danger: Diabolik, but was the riskier showing, certainly.  For pop-cultural anthropologists, there's a lot to chew on here from the casting to the racial issues to the pre-code genre-ambiguity and content and - for modern pop-culture which so often includes super-villains in the mix, Fu Manchu lays out the blueprint for so much of what would come afterwards.

By today's standards, your grandparents were racist as hell.  Even if they were hip, bohemian folks - by the rules of what non-awful people consider decency and mannered public discourse, what you'd hear come out of Grandma and Grandpa's mouths was likely to get them the side-eye at Thanksgiving - but we're all a reflection of a time and a place.  Attitudes change.  Society, hopefully, advances.  Insert your own election-related joke here.

I am not a paid or professional film historian or scholar, but I have an interest in the history of pop culture and the film industry as well as genre film and whatnot.  A few years ago, I came across a picture of Myrna Loy playing the daughter of Boris Karloff in a film I'd never seen.  The catch: they're both in yellowface as the nefarious Fu Manchu and his daughter.

A bit more digging told me that this movie was once a favorite, included in some circles as a premier classic horror film of sorts.

But you can't get access to a Fu Manchu film all that easily (and there are many), and it's something that doesn't screen all that often - a bit like the President's Day sequence in Holiday Inn (which they simply excise when they show it as it doesn't advance the plot, but it does feature a whole lotta your beloved Hollywood favorites in black face*).  And, yeah, I saw the movie featured yellowface, and cast most of the Eastern hemisphere in a nasty light, so it made a bit of sense to me that the studio was in no big hurry to remind the world they had the film in the collection.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Yesterday was the 70th Anniversary of "The Big Sleep"


I missed this until just now, but The Big Sleep, one of the best noir films and probably one of the best adaptations of a Raymond Chandler book, turned 70 on August 23.  So, my Dad shares a pretty good week with Bacall and Bogart, this being his 70th B-Day and all.

Here's to a hell of a movie and to two terrific actors in one complicated film.


TL;DR: "Stranger Things", "Suicide Squad" and Storytelling in the 21st Century

I had to have a picture, so... here you go, Barb-Heads


It's funny.  Way, way back when I was a young Signal Watch back in film school, one of my instructors proposed the idea that, in the very near future, story would not matter.  This was, of course, preposterous, but something that has come back to haunt me over and over again in the years that have followed.

It wasn't entirely clear what my instructors meant by "story will not matter", and so it became easy to dismiss, even as people lined up for Michael Bay movies and we were all vaguely aware that one does not show up for, say, a Kung-Fu movie specifically to see how events will unfold so much as to see Jet Li perform aerial stunts and kick people in the sternum for 90 minutes.  The change was blamed a bit on video games which, in the mid-90's, had yet to really evolve much past Doom or side-scrollers.  And, frankly, were thought of quite differently from movies in the zeitgeist - although that quickly changed (I guess) with games like Wing Commander (which I never played but people seemed to love) and certainly with the early 00's-era Grand Theft Auto.

Muddying the waters, "it lacks a story" was often the vague criticism of the tastemakers from the 70's through the 90's.  Nothing took the wind out of your sails quite like watching something you'd enjoyed only to have either a tweedy-type or someone whose opinion you cared about come along and say "well, it didn't have much story now, did it?" and you'd be considering "well, it had characters, a beginning, middle and an end.  There was an arc or two in there."  And, man, "lack of story" was a favorite dig at superhero faire at one point by folks with jobs at newspapers, and that was where I learned to more or less understand.  Because it often meant "it didn't have a story that resonated with me, a person who doesn't think a story about a mad scientist needing to be stopped by the swift right hook of justice is equal to a story about people very politely going through a divorce while wearing tweed coats and having a humiliating and/ or unlikely sexual encounter or two."

And that's okay.  It just means you need to look at "it doesn't have much of a story" as a criticism as sort of a smoke screen unless we're getting specific.

I can name many things which lack story that seem to nonetheless delight people, often earning a rabid, nigh-manic fanbase who is immune to your accusations of lack of story (hello, Dragonball Z fans!).  And there are lots of folks who are really, really into, say, Mario, despite the fact that his storyline is "plumber who does very, very little plumbing".  And that all feels to me a bit like getting really into, say, Tony the Tiger because every commercial has a fifteen second story arc where a kid masters a sport thanks to Tony and sugar.

But I digress.

In a very short window I watched both DC's third entry in their superhero universe, Suicide Squad, and Netflix's summer darling, Stranger Things.  In varying ways, both made me wonder if my instructor back in film school had a point.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

More About Bees and the 1970's

So, Nathaniel asked me why I forgot to mention the giant, hallucinatory bees in 1978's The Swarm.   And, he's right to ask, because it's probably the most stunning/ least magical visual special effect in the movie.


What's most interesting is that the bees inject a venom into their victim that make them not just hallucinate, but hallucinate a very large bee.

Now, as a kid I saw an ad for The Swarm on TV as the Late Late Movie on local UHF, and they kept showing the clips of the hallucinations.  Unfortunately, at age 11 or so, I was not qualified to stay up for the midnight to four AM shift, so I missed the broadcast and never saw the movie I assumed was all about giant bees.  At some point when SimonUK suggested we watch this movie, like, two years ago, I eagerly said "you mean the movie about the giant bees?"
"No, the one with Michael Caine."
"Right!  With giant bees!"
"Well... no."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Caine Watch: The Swarm (1978)



No one is going to accuse The Swarm (1978) of being a great movie.  Or, really, even a good movie.   Or, you know, a movie.

It may be a bit odd the movie isn't that good as it it's directed by producer of disaster-porn Irwin Allen, but maybe he should have stuck to producing.  The movie follows the logic of many-a-disaster movie,  which people my age know mostly from Independence Day.  Multiple storylines.  Scientists trying to understand what's happening.  Lots of people die.  Lots of famous faces in roles big and small.

Our disaster here?  BEES.  Which, I really shouldn't make fun of, because this is the kind of shit that is, in fact, going to take humanity out.  But... BEES.  SWARMS OF KILLER BEES.

Our all-star cast is anchored by Michael Caine who plays The Scientist, or - more specifically - the bee scientist.  Other honest-to-god big names include Katherine Ross as The Doctor, Richard Widmark as The General, Richard Chamberlain as The Other Scientist, Cameron Mitchell as The Pentagon Official, Olivia de Havilland as The Aging Beauty, Fred McMurray as deHavilland's SUITOR #1 and Ben Johnson as SUITOR #2.  Jose Ferrer as the manager of a nuclear power plant.  Patty Duke as a waitress.  Slim Pickens as a sad city worker.  And a clearly very deaf Henry Fonda shouting lines as YET ANOTHER SCIENTIST WHO DOES NOT KNOW THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD OR BASIC MEDICAL PROTOCOLS.