Saturday, January 16, 2021

Noir Watch: The Glass Key (1942)




Watched:  01/16/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  Not sure
Decade:  1940's
Director:   Stuart Heisler

Measured by the fact I think this is the fourth time I've seen this movie, you can take it at face value - I think pretty highly of The Glass Key (1942).  But, it is based on a novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, co-stars Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and has a large supporting role for William Bendix - w, yes.  I'm pre-disposed to like the film.  

We're going to cover Miller's Crossing on the podcast at some point, an early 90's Coen Bros. film, and one of my personal canon.  I think I was in early college when I read my first Hammett on JAL's recommendation and got a few pages into Red Harvest before saying "wait a minute, maybe the Coen Bros. weren't so darn clever after all...".   Because, honestly, Miller's Crossing is the love child of The Glass Key and Red Harvest, both Hammett books.*

I did read The Glass Key before seeing this film (and just learned via Eddie Muller there's an earlier version starring George Raft - which may lead to me skipping it) - and, sure, the book is better, yadda yadda.  But, the film is terrific all on its own - a twisting, double-double-crossing political/gangland yarn that adds up perfectly, but the first time through can be hard to keep track of all the parts of the equation.  

Ladd plays the lieutenant to a political boss who, upon meeting the daughter (Lake) of a reform candidate  decides to back the reform candidate.  This gets his boss crosswise with another, shadier, political boss, and all of a sudden Lake's brother winds up dead on the street.  

The movie has a similar tone to a Hammett novel when it comes to casual brutality and unsavory characters.  That includes our lead, who never really throws a punch, but he's not exactly a knight in shining armor as he works angles, falls out with his boss, and tries not to fall for Lake.

The movie is difficult to discuss, but the characters in it are terrifically drawn, each instantly knowable in broad strokes, even if in the framework of the story, they're all capable of anything - which is part of what keeps the mystery of the story rolling.  

Frankly, this is a "could be a TL;DR post" kind of movie, and I'm not going to do that.  Maybe I'll podcast this movie one day instead.  But in the meantime, I highly recommend the film.  Just go with that. 


*and a bit of visual flavoring from The Conformist

Pirate Watch: Against All Flags (1952)




Watched:  01/15/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1950's
Director:   George Sherman

I have previously discussed this movie, including just last year.  

I believe that right up properly expresses my appreciation and major points I'd make about the movie.

Noir Watch: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)



Watched:  01/15/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR (Noir Alley)
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Robert Siodmak

I'd been wanting to see this one for a while, so I'm glad it came on Noir Alley.  Directed by Robert Siodmak (one of those names that means this should be, minimum, pretty good), starring George Sanders, Ella Raines and Geraldine Fitzgerald and - a more recent interest - produced by Joan Harrison - it had a lot of elements that made it worth at least a look.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) centers on a man aging into permanent bachelorhood as he pays the way for and cares for his two sisters - one a widow and the other an invalid.  The family fortune disappeared in the Depression, leaving the siblings scraping by in the rambling house that is a reminder of better times.  "Uncle Harry" (Sanders) meets a co-worker in from New York (Ella Raines) and the two spark an interest.  

However, one of the sisters isn't quite ready to let Harry go.  And things get weird.

The movie was made at the tail end of WWII (released pretty much the weekend after VJ Day), so it's got some similarities to other WWII-era films in that the cast is female-centric and the dashing male lead is George Sanders.  It takes place in limited spaces (based on a play, so there's that) and overall feels initimate and somewhat scaled down.

It's as easy to call this a melodrama as a noir, but I can see why Joan Harrison would have been interested in the script.  The characters are interesting and imperfect - no one (not even Raines) is a saint, and there's some genuine weirdness going on that goes beyond just sisterly affection.*  But, at the same time, Raines' character feels shockingly direct regarding her interest in Harry - she's no coy young lady, even when asked specifically to play that role.

As I thought - direction and performances were terrific, Sanders is in great form, and Geraldine Fitzgerald is note perfect.  But despite the actual warning not to spoil the ending they literally tag onto the end of the movie, I'll say:  the studio enforced ending that led to Harrison's parting with Universal and Siodmak shooting the bird at the studio is... awful.  The movie builds and builds to something absolutely mind-scrambling, and then... we get this cheesy ending.  But, you know, when they were wrapping this thing up, we were still fighting in Japan.  I get that maybe they wanted something that wasn't so depressing.

So, it makes it hard to actually recommend the movie.  It's a solid film right until, literally, the last minute, and then everything falls apart.  Did not like.

During the intro and outro, Eddie was joined by scholar Christina Lane - who has too many credentials for me to get into here - but she's an accomplished film academic.  I just picked up Lane's book on Joan Harrison and plan to crack it this weekend.  So - while I've seen a lot of Harrison's movies over the years, I'm looking forward to reading about the actual woman who made them happen (I also recently picked up Phantom Lady on BluRay and keep intending to show it to Jamie, and then I forget).


*that lady in the negligee is not the romantic subject of the film

Friday, January 15, 2021

Watch Party Friday: Against All Flags




Day:  Friday 01/15/2021
Time:  8:30 Central
Where:  Amazon Prime Streaming


Yar.  I'm making an executive decision, and watching pirates in glorious technicolor, we will be.  

Errol Flynn!  Anthony Quinn!  Maureen O'Hara becoming the living embodiment of "get you a girl who can do both"!

No swash shall go unbuckled!  No Roger shall go un-Jolly'd!  We're taking to the piratey seas!



Thursday, January 14, 2021

Fran├žaise Regarder: Amelie (2001)




Watched:  01/13/2021
Format:  Amazon Streaming - CBS All Access
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2000's
Director:  Jean-Pierre Jeunet

I think if I'd seen this when it came out, I would have been in my 20's, the techniques used would feel fresher, the gnome thing would not yet have been co-opted by a travel company and become a well know spokesperson, and I would have also walked out of the cinema dazed and delighted, feeling like I'd seen *something*.  Alas, now I am old, and my heart turned to stone.  The whimsy of youth is not what it was, nor the CGI of yesteryear.  

Amelie (2001) is very, very cute.  I bare it no ill will - it sets out to do a thing - a sort of almost magical realism thing - and incorporate CGI and other visual effects to give us picture-book insight into what the characters are going through.  And, in a very weird way, it's like a better version of some goofy 90's stuff like The Butcher's Wife where a particular person in a neighborhood makes all of the kooky characters go through a change before that character goes through a change themselves and we all learn a lesson about love/art/being silly.  You also get similar characters in, say, Batteries Not Included*, but no magical fairy girl to make it all happen.

The movie is not about falling in love.  Like most movies that pitch themselves that way, it's a movie about infatuation that kinda works out.  And that's okay - there's a place for that.  THAT it does very well.  It's two whack jobs circling each other until they finally collide.  Not my cup of tea, but it didn't fail.

It's genuinely better than most of the "neighborhood" movies in technique, ideas, visuals, etc...  but I just didn't really ever care about anyone on the screen.  Including Amelie.  And we are supposed to adore Amelie.  And, at age 26, I would have been *very* into a lovely girl with a Louise Brooks bob and who was demonstrably, cripplingly quirky.  Now...  eh.  

And, per the movie, I need a little bit more than a well edited beginning where they're literally telling as much as they're showing.  At the end of the day, you're telling a story or stories, and, aside from Amelie's father, I didn't get any sense of *closure* with the other characters.  Things happen, yeah - but we have whole storylines started that don't really go anywhere.  It feels like glimpses of anecdotes you never quite get to hear completed.  We spend so much time setting them up, and then... 

That said - I know people are bananas for this movie, so I'm missing something.  


*which has little mechanical aliens and is just adorable

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

WW2 Watch: Where Eagles Dare (1968)




Watched:  01/13/2021
Format:  TCM on my DVR (where it had been languishing)
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1960's
Director:  Brian G. Hutton

While these days certain people would raise their hands and complain this is cancel culture, sometimes it's a good move to just watch a movie where we blow up a bunch of Nazis.  

Seemingly torn from one of those men's adventure magazines of days of yore, When Eagles Dare (1968) follows the completely insane mission of Richard Burton in a rare action role as he pairs with a "in his prime" Clint Eastwood and with a handful of other people, invade a mountain castle Nazi fortress and then blow it the hell up.  

There's a hell of a lot more to the movie - it's really an espionage caper - but I don't want to spoil it if you've not seen it.  But expect lots of machineguns, an unreasonable amount of dynamite, and the unlikely prospect of Richard Burton physically outperforming a 1968 Clint Eastwood.  It had some astounding scenes on some cable cars, a bus ride you won't forget, and lots and lots of uses for a rope with a clip on one end.

In addition to Burton and Eastwood, the movie also stars Mary Ure, and has Ingrid Pitt in a smaller role.  In fact, Pitt appears on screen for several scenes in the back half of the movie, but for some reason, she has no lines and is given nothing to do.  It's honestly kind of weird.  I half think they forgot to write her character in, and then someone thought "we actually need to logically have her here, but we don't want to pay the writer for more scenes" or something.I've certainly heard of similar things happening.*

The *lack* of screentime for Ingrid Pitt in this movie is maybe my only real beef with it.  But that's a beef with all movies, but, like, two.

let the St. Pauli Girl speak!

Anyway - this movie is all plot and action with a minimum of character.  It's a super-tight thrill ride kind of flick, and delivers on its promise.  

*apparently a big driver for why you don't hear someone tell Capone about a character dying in Untouchables in one of the most famous scenes in that movie is not artistry - that's a glad happenstance.  Rather, they couldn't get David Mamet back to write that scene when they knew they needed it.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Watch Party Watch: Evil Brain from Outer Space




Watched:  01/11/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1960's 

So...  this movie starts off weird as hell, which I salute, then goes to goofy fun and TONS of action.  All of which I salute.  

Apparently this is the third in a series of Japanese kids movies about a fellow name of "Starman" who hails from "The Emerald Planet" and is here to save humanity from interplanetary threats via kicking ass and taking names.  He doesn't have a secret identity, even though he changes from his work-a-day coat and tie into a pretty terrific super ensemble that has a kicky antenna and "not a cape" attached to his arms for added flair.

The effects are better than you figure, the stunts out of this world, and while the movie makes little sense, at least it moves fast and is cool as hell.

Count me as a convert to this whole Starman scene.

Oh, and, yes, there's an evil brain.  from outer space.

 



Monday, January 11, 2021

PODCAST: Aliens (1986) - a Signal Watch Canon episode w/ SimonUK and Ryan


Watched:  01/06/2021
Format:  DVD (Legacy Edition)
Viewing:  lol
Decade:  1980's
Director:  James Cameron


We're talking the movies in our personal canon - the movies that opened our minds, expanded our horizons and maybe helped inform who we are. And what better way to reflect upon oneself than with a rip-roaring sci-fi action horror yarn about motherhood, alienation, personal interconnectedness, unexpected surprises and who will stand by you when life really tears you apart.



Music: 
Bishop's Countdown - James Horner, Aliens OST

SimonUK Cinema Series

Julie Strain Has Merged With the Infinite



Actress and model Julie Strain has passed.   As Strain had been ill for some time, false reports of her passing circulated last year, but it seems to now be true.

If you don't know who she is - she was a B-movie actor who also modeled.  At 6'1", she was very popular as the subject of fantasy and sci-fi artists, and was a con fixture not so long ago.  She was married to Kevin Eastman for a spell (yes, that Kevin Eastman) and was the model for the lead in Heavy Metal 2000.


best to Ms. Strain's family and friends.

It snowed in Austin on 01/10/2021

the logical conclusion to a snow day in the ATX


It doesn't snow very often in Austin.  I don't think we got any last year at all.  But every once in a while, conditions are just right, and we get a light dusting.  I've lived in Austin for something like 30 years, and this is the most snow I remember arriving in a single blast (ice is another story.  Janaury of 1997 was bananas).  

It was raining when I woke up around 8:45, and was sleeting around 9:45.  But at 10:30, Jamie was running around looking out windows proclaiming "it's real snow!".  And then it proceeded to snow all day.

I'm aware that for many of you, snow is nothing exciting, but in Austin it's always a quiet day of chillaxing as everyone stays in, yells about it on social media, takes walks outside, and we just stare at this thing that is kind of a wonder when you're way more familiar with "10 days over 100 degrees" or whatever we get in August.

Scout ponders why ground is soft-crunchy-cold