Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Signal Watch Reads: Hero of the Empire - The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill (by Candice Millard, 2016 - audiobook)
The study of history in practice can be maddening if the bar you hold up is trying to read up on every single thing anyone ever did before this very moment. If that's your standard, then I'm a little behind in developing my all encompassing eye into the past. Example: I'm a publicly educated kid from the burbs who focused on North America in obtaining his history undergrad degree. Aside from the bare-bone basics, I know very, very little about Winston Churchill, but I figured I had to start somewhere. But, why not with a book by a terrific author and starting at the beginning?
I'd previously read Candice Millard's two prior full-length books, The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic, and I can honestly say they were some of my favorite books of the last decade. Both books covered events which usually appear as footnotes or brief interludes in other historical retellings, diversions in the telling of longer, more expansive stories. Yet, Millard managed to craft one of the most harrowing stories of real-life adventure you're likely to read in the Theodore Roosevelt starring The River of Doubt, and in Destiny of the Republic, she sets out to set you weeping about the unjust passing of President James Garfield, shot by an assassin and victim of the limitations of his times, just on the precipice of modern knowledge we now take for granted.
I would argue that, by zeroing in on a specific time, place and people, she was able to say more about those people with a greater degree of eloquence - using historical fact, reconstructed timelines, letters and post-facto primary sources - to shed light on moments and giants of our history.
Here in her third book, Millard demonstrates why she's becoming a favorite of many more readers than just myself. Whether you're a history buff who's already schlepped your way through a number of Churchill biographies or - like yours truly - you find yourself embarrassingly ignorant in regards to the biography of one of the modern West's greatest leaders, Millard's spun Churchill's life as a young man into a narrative in the mold of epic adventure, all while reporting the facts.
Monday, October 17, 2016
For years I'd heard of the James Whale movie The Old Dark House (1932), and seen a few seconds here and there in documentaries and whatnot, but I'd never come across a copy of the film itself. So, anyway, as captain of my own destiny, this October, I finally bought my own DVD of the film.
If you're a fan of what James Whale brought to the screen in Frankenstein and, in particular, Bride of Frankenstein, this is a pretty darn good supplement to those movies. Not exactly a haunted house movie so much as a "maybe we shouldn't have stopped here" movie, like Frankenstein in particular, it feels almost more like a filmed stage play than a modern film from the blocking to the set design. It's got some great talent in the movie from Karloff to Ernest Thesiger to a very young Charles Laughton.
This movie is batshit. Batshit in the best way possible, but batshit.
In short, I'm a fan.
Sunday evening, SimonUK and I went to an Alamo Rolling Roadshow presentation of An American Werewolf in London (1981) - one of Si's top movies (like, he would watch this every day if you let him), and certainly one of my favorite films. It's just fun, chaotic, werewolf-laden mayhem with a nice bit of really dark humor winding through it. And, of course, Jenny Agutter.
I'm pretty sure I've written this movie up before, so no real point in doing so again.
The Rolling Roadshow is a series The Alamo Drafthouse offers wherein they bring an inflatable screen to an outdoors location and show a film. They do lots of types of screenings from themed-location screenings (Jaws on the water) to showing kids' movies in the park for the whole family. Tonight's theme was Halloween Horror/ tonight was the Super Hunter's Moon - a very bright full moon. So: werewolves.
Si and I arrived a bit early, and Simon got a nice fellow to take our picture.
Happy Birthday to Ms. Margot Kidder - the person who brought Lois Lane to life for four Superman films.
She's tops in our book, and part of why Lois Lane has become as important to our appreciation of the Superman story as capes and x-ray vision.
We're hoping Ms. Kidder has a fantastic year ahead of her.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
The third Frankenstein movie in the Universal Monsters line of films is not terribly well known among the normals but it's a staple for monster kids. People who don't know the movie often ask "why is Frankenstein wearing that furry shirt?" when they see pictures from the movie, and - honestly, it's a legit question.* Son of Frankenstein (1939) picks up a generation after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, when the literal child of Henry and Elizabeth Frankenstein returns to Frankenstein castle to reclaim the family homestead, and, as it turns out, help restore The Monster to fighting form after finding him in a catatonic state.
The movie is not directed by James Whale, and of the original cast, only Karloff returns. It lacks some of vision of the prior installments, but picks up on and expands some elements, visual and otherwise. It also softens the story a bit more, providing us with a more sympathetic Dr. Frankenstein in the son of the good doctor.
Overall, it's fairly watchable with some pretty great bits, and at least tries to maintain some level of A-list distinction before the Frankenstein movies would descend down the slope to matinee material. It's not exactly the world's best movie, but it's still a Halloween-worthy treat.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Back in the 1980's, I remember seeing a lot of movies like Critters (1986) on the shelf at the local home video rental shoppe. The boxes would show you a goblin sort of creature, and promised a certain level of horror that wasn't necessarily going to go in for splatter and gore of a Chainsaw variety or even a Freddy Kreuger level of scare. Maybe some broad humor in there, plots as basic as a Dukes of Hazzard episode. It was always maybe a little gorier than a modern PG-13 film, but, in retrospect, there's no question that these movies were basically aimed at kids with VCR's.
There's nothing wrong with it, but I wasn't a fan of the sub-sub-genre.
I don't think I was exactly aware the movie was aimed at me as a 12 year-old-or-so as I was when I saw this movie the first time at someone else's house. My recollection is that the kid was very excited about the movie Critters, and his dad showed up with the movie in hand "hey, I rented CRITTERS!" and I was like "y'okay..." whereas my pal couldn't have been more jazzed had we just been given a stack of fireworks to shoot off all night. He loved the movie, and I just settled in, because... what are you gonna do? So, I've seen it once before.
Point of fact - Jamie and I have been together 21 years this month, and I can't tell you how many times she's mentioned liking Critters as a kid. Or, I guess, watching Critters as a kid.
And so it came to pass that when I said "well, we need to watch something Halloween-ish", she tossed out Critters, and as she has never, ever previously stated a desire to watch any Halloween movie but Young Frankenstein, I just said "y'okay..."
So, we watched Critters.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Back when I was a little kid, Jason and I had a few books on movie monsters, and among them was the book Super-Monsters by Daniel Cohen.
On the cover of the book was a really pissed-off looking monster that I kind of assumed was an off-brand Godzilla-type thing (I didn't know the word "Kaiju" until college), and didn't think much about it except that I wasn't sure what movie this monster was actually associated with. Also, I don't know why my folks were like "hey, look, a snarling hell beast! The kids'll love it!", but this was the 1970's and back then we were still raising our kids to be ready for anything.
The book had short entries about the plots of various monster movies, and I can trace my interest in those strange creatures to this book. Even if this same book led me to believe Young Frankenstein was a very odd, badly made Frankenstein movie until I finally saw it and clued into the Mel Brooks canon.
But I had no idea who the monster was on the cover of this book until about 5-10 years ago when I stumbled across some information about the British horror film, alternately titled Curse of the Demon and Night of the Demon (1957). Last year I tried to watch this movie on or around Halloween, but realized I was exhausted and didn't pull it off. And then my DVR went crazy and I lost the recording.
But this year, SimonUK brought it over, and with Steanso in tow, we all gave the movie a whirl.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
|Javier Baez pic from Chicago Tribune|
If my movie and TV watching has slowed, the Cubs have been playing the San Francisco Giants for the National League Division Series, and that's taken up some time. This evening they won the game 6-5, winning the series in four of five possible games.
I'm tired as I stayed up to watch the Cubs lose in the 13th inning last night, giving up in the middle of the 13th as it was past 1:30 AM.
But, tonight, when it looked like all was lost, in the 9th inning they came back with 4 runs and won the game!
I've selected a pic of Javier Baez, 2nd base for the Cubs, as he's been a superhuman this whole season, and his powers seem to just be growing in the post-season. The guy is incredible on both offense and defense.
All right. Bed time for me. Go Cubs!
Here's the link to the Tribune story on the game. The game was one for the ages. Seriously.
This was about an hour after the game ended in San Francisco...
Most of this crowd still here cheering. pic.twitter.com/i9DcbhnAhX— Colleen Kane (@ChiTribKane) October 12, 2016
Monday, October 10, 2016
I remember coming back to school after the summer of 1985 and a good chunk of my classmates were nuts over Back to the Future (1985). I'd seen it in the theater, but even of our own family, I think I liked it the least of the four of us. But I was a little surprised how much my peers liked the movie, and over the past ten years I've been even more surprised to find how much not just my own generation still celebrates the entire trilogy, but Millenials love the movies, too.
I won't say I didn't watch it over and over in the 1980's when it was on VHS or on cable. I've seen it at least 6 or 7 times. But it's been a long, long while.
The movie was on cable last weekend, and I gave it a spin for the first time in a long time, more or less to figure out what I'm missing when I watch the movie that everyone else is seeing. I want to make it clear: this is my deficiency, not anything I think all of you people are stupid for liking. As near as I can tell, there really isn't anything wrong with the movie. And Lea Thompson's many, many iterations of Lorraine over the trilogy - heck, within just this first movie - is pretty impressive.
This Moment in History: Trump is Basically the Bad Guy from "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo", Except Worse, and Trying to be President
This isn't a political blog or news blog. In general, I don't talk sex, religion or politics here because - while this is my personal website and journal and I reserve the right to write about whatever strikes my fancy - I've done this long enough to note what's worth it and what isn't, where I have something to add, or where I don't when it comes to putting things out to the public.
This year has been one for the record books, but it's also been one that's been coming for a long time. I see a lot of friends on Facebook saying "more people need to say X" or "be vocal about Y", and, yeah, I basically don't do that. Not on Facebook. Anyone who actually knows me knows where I stand on issues that are sometimes considered political and I hope they know where I stand on moral issues. But I'm about as likely to talk about my political preferences on Facebook as I am in mixed company at work.
I hadn't planned to write anything on this until the days just prior to the election while early voting was still underway. But, at long last, after two Presidential Debates in which a candidate for the dominant party of my state and who could, conceivably, take office, has proven he has no shred of decency, is likely to abuse his power, endanger my fellow countrymen and certainly the lives of anyone outside our borders - who has now sworn he would seek to put his political opponents behind bars - now seems like a damn good time to say something. I am disheartened by anyone who feels the need to impress Billy Bush with language reserved for 19 year-old virgins lying to their dorm-mates, but... c'mon. Trump's record to date has been one of hating everyone who wasn't a white male or a model who was willing to let him "move on her".
We're in an election cycle that, if you'd asked me in 2008 what I saw as a worst-case scenario for the election and we'd used a bracketing system to determine who I really didn't want to see running against each other - this would have been my doomsday scenario. But it's also the endgame of the trends in American politics that have been bubbling since before 2000, the longtail effect of splintered media and the echo chamber of social media.