Monday, July 20, 2020
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: John Sturges
A sort of gothic noir, The Sign of the Ram (1948) is a peculiar film. Set in a sprawling English countryside home, a seemingly happy family welcomes a new secretary into the fold (Phyllis Thaxter). She's to be the aid, in particular, to the beautiful, young, wheelchair bound stepmother to the family.
The film is a showcase for actress Susan Peters who had screen success until a hunting accident left her in a wheelchair. She's actually fantastic in the role, which is that of the antagonist. This is, apparently, the screenplay she finally accepted after being asked to play a chipper Pollyanna overcoming adversity in offer after offer. I'll not play armchair psychologist, but it's a hell of a heel turn for Peters to take on - but she nails it, showing tremendous range in the single role (young actors, take note: you can play all sorts of things with an angry character and none of them have to read "angry").
That said, there's something both entirely believable about the tension at the center of the film - a family completely dominated by the iron willed matriarch who plays everyone like puppets without them ever noticing it - and a sense of melodrama that skews a bit too much toward telegraphing where the film is headed.
It's well shot, Peters and Thaxter are great, but I can't say it was exactly my cup of tea. It was clearly made in the shadow of stuff like Rebecca, but never quite hits those notes. But for a solid melodrama, you could do worse.
Watched: July 3, 2020
Decade: 2020/ 2010
Director: Thomas Kail
Certainly the most discussed musical in decades - and with far better reason than most (whether you like it or not) - Hamilton had become a cultural event well before Disney+ released a recorded version of the show on the platform on July 3rd. This was not a film adaptation like we've seen in the last few years - like Les Miserables or even Cats. Movie stars who can carry a tune were not swapped out for the Broadway cast, and we're not decades away from shows debuting, making a splash, touring and becoming so ubiquitous, you might as well make a movie because why not?
Instead, Hamilton (2020) as released is the version shot on stage roughly four years ago, starring mostly the original cast, which - since 2016 - has since scattered to the four winds, seeking their Hamilton-derived fortunes (I actually like Leslie Odom Jr's new record, Mr., for whatever that is worth to you). The film existing is a wonderful change for Broadway, who has told themselves lots of stories about the need for the immediacy of theater's live experience and has usually only dropped original cast recordings as documents of how a show was conceived and presented. Directed by the show's actual director, Thomas Kail, the "film" of Hamilton is thoughtfully, and, indeed, artfully shot. Heck, last week "One Perfect Shot", a twitter account with the best in cinematography, included a shot from Hamilton.
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: Louis Malle
Look - I'd never seen this movie, thoroughly enjoyed it, and would quickly recommend. But I can also imagine it hits the buttons of every pretentious film dork out there.
A shining example of (a) made in the 1950's, (b) being French (b) more or less New Wave (c) noir, (d) with a fatalistic, downbeat ending and (e) the soundtrack is by Miles Davis. Ferchrissake - I can just see my film school instructors getting the vapors talking about this one.
And, you know, deservedly so.
Friday, July 17, 2020
I can't begin to sum up the importance and achievements of John Lewis, and what he has meant to this country. He has passed at the age of 80, still calling for a better way, every day, to the end.
From the New York Times
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: Billy Wilder
I found this movie some hard going, but given it starred Monroe and was directed by Billy Wilder, I'm going to give it some grace. It's not just a product of its time, it's a distilled crystallization of its time. Add in that it's been so copied from, borrowed from, and it's novelties have been so co-opted and, in fact, are a mainstream method of visual comedy for the past 20 years, it's a bit odd to see it in its nascent form.
Based on a stage play, The Seven Year Itch (1955) is a movie about a married man who sends his wife and young son out of New York City and into the country during the hot summer months so he can get some work done, kick cigarettes and lay low. Until he returns home the first night and finds Marilyn Monroe living upstairs, sub-letting his neighbor's apartment.
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Viewing: Third or Fourth
Director: James Gunn
For more ways to listen
It's Family Issues in Spaaaaaace! Join Jamie and Ryan as we consider the second installment in the unlikeliest of the Marvel movie sub-franchises! After a ragtag bunch of misfits comes together, what's next? And what makes this series different from other Marvel films? It's all here! Check it out!
The Signal Watch PodCast · 111: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" Avengers Countdown 15 w/ Jamie & Ryan
Brandy (You're a Fine Girl) - Looking Glass
Father and Son - Cat Stevens
Director: Max Barbakow
To get it out of the way: this movie featured a song I used to love but had not heard it in 30 years, and it kind of freaked me out. So here's to The Brazilian, from Invisible Touch by Genesis.* Middle School Me was delighted to hear it again.
Also - to get it out of the way: SPOILERS
I highly recommend watching this movie with zero spoilers, including skipping the trailer.
Join us this Friday as we check out the 1975 classic, The Stepford Wives! I've never seen it, but I bet it'll be a good model for Jamie to watch so she can be a better wife and I can be a better husband.
Day: Friday - 07/17/2020
Time: 8:30 PM Central
Amazon Watch Party Link
We really liked Amazon Watch Party last time we gave it a go, and we think you'd like it, too!
So, join us, chatter along, and we'll talk about the movie as it unfolds!
Format: Criterion BluRay
Director: Byron Haskin
War of the Worlds (1953) the movie and the Mercury Theatre radio play from 1938 are so baked into my formative years, they're alongside Superman, King Kong, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and other popular fictions that make up the mythology and common language for a lot of born in the shadow of the mid-20th Century.
I saw the movie after buying and listening to the Orson Welles radio program when my dad found out I was interested in the radio show and the events surrounding it that I'd read about in a magazine. My dad, always one to say "if you liked that, you need to check out this", got me to the video store within a few days and we sat down and watched it together.
What's remarkable is how genuinely *thrilled* I was by the movie, in both senses of the word. The movie only has one or two quasi-jump scares, but - as was the novel (which I finally read about 15 years ago) and the radio show - the movie is so relentless in putting all of Earth on its heels, from the moment the three pals approach the ship waving a white flag onto get atomized, it's some weird viewing. There's no brilliant but dangerous plan to be enacted that defeats the aliens - humanity loses this one.
As I've pitched the movie - in the middle of a pandemic, it's a lovely reminder of the time germs were our friends.
Lovingly restored by Paramount and just released by Criterion, War of the Worlds is a movie geek's dream. There's so many technical aspects to the movie worth discussing, from the original three-strip technicolor to the construction of the Martian crafts, to the myriad visual effects, matte paintings and absolutely perfect sound effects - an army of character actors, and two leads who've somewhat otherwise fallen through the cracks of film nostalgia - it's an amazing technical achievement, done so well it holds up as a visual masterpiece. And, in fact, with this restoration, is just an astonishingly crafted, visually beautiful film.
If the last time you've seen the movie was from the 2005 re-release, run (don't walk!) to watch this version, which recovers the original color palette employed in almost punchy candy colors, restores the visual effects to maximum effectiveness, and has cleaned up audio and re-created sound effects by no less than Ben Burtt.
The movie features the typically generous collection of extra features that get me to pay the entry fee for Criterion discs. There are a few documentaries, the 1938 radio drama, an interview from San Antonio's KTSA with Orson Welles and HG Wells, and more.
The movie itself is just as gripping as ever. From small town America to the final scenes in the fall of Los Angeles, it's anchored by focal characters Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) - a scientist and professor of Library Science, who happened to be there when one of the initial craft came down and are there throughout. And, of course, there's a romance a-bloomin' between the two. Through Barry and Robinson, we get the realization of the horror of the situation, but the still very human need for connection in the darkest hour. A parable for any time, really.
If you've never seen the movie - now is the time! This restoration is utterly remarkable. If you have seen it but it's been a while - do it for the same reason and to remind yourself of one of the md-20th Century's finest technical filmic achievements, and to get all the bonus materials from Criterion.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Last night the news hit that Grant Imahara, one of the main cast members of Mythbusters, had passed at the age of 49.
This one shook me.
The Mythbusters cast never came across as celebrities - they came across as people you might know who someone had bestowed a budget and granted time to answer all sorts of questions you might think about but never be able to pursue. To this day, I can't tell you how many times per month I still say "I think Mythbusters covered that" when we're pondering a question. And those questions are not just whether and to what degree something might explode.
Imahara was the purist engineer of the crew, and seemed genuinely more interested in the process and data than being on TV. He made a great third side of the triangle for "the build team", ensuring engineering and data driven practices were part of what they were up to. And he did it with a joyfulness that was positively inspiring. We should all strive to have Grant's excitement about opportunity and discovery.
The cast seemed to be roughly of my generation, and so of course it's a shock when someone your own age suddenly goes. We aren't really there yet. But especially someone who had become famous somewhat by accident, who never became a jerk or let it go to his head, and never seemed to lose his curiosity. We *liked* Grant.
I can't imagine what his family and friends are going through. It seems incredibly unfair.