Saturday, March 25, 2023

Watch Party Watch: A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Watched:  03/24/2023
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Charles Crichton

Well, this week is Jamie's birthday and this is one of her favorite movies, and it's also still adjacent to Jamie Lee Curtis winning an Oscar, so it seemed like a great chance to celebrate Jamies, so our Jamie picked this film to watch.

It was funny - we generally watch a certain grade of film for watch parties because we're all chatting, but the chat was pretty quiet as everyone was engrossed with the film.  In general I knew it would be a challenge as (a) it was a movie someone genuinely loved (b) it's a comedy, which is hard to comment on and (c) it's actually good, so what does one say?  

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is hysterical.  And as followers of this blog and podcast will note, we love JLC here.  But, also, a while back, we recorded a whole podcast on the film.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Friday Watch Party (Jamie Edition): A Fish Called Wanda

My favorite Jamie's favorite movie stars one of my other favorite Jamies.  And that's how we'll be watching A Fish Called Wanda for Jamie's birthday.  No, not that Jamie, this Jamie.

Anyway, I like this movie quite a bit, so it's not a tough sell.  I no longer yell "asshoooooole" at people on the road, but there was a time.

It is like an hour and 45, so we'll need to get going pretty quick.  

So, here's to Jamies with oval faces and good cheekbones, Oscar winners and birthday girls alike.

as a JLC fan, this brought me great joy

Day:  03/24/2023
Time:  6:30 Pacific, 8:30 Central
Cost:  I think it's free on Prime

Join us for the heist of the century!

(link live 10 minutes before showtime)

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Yeoh Watch: Heroic Trio (1993)

Watched:  03/20/2023
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Johnnie To

As far as I know, I hadn't watched Heroic Trio (1993) all the way through since some point in college.  I know I saw it in the theater with JAL during a student sponsored film series where we'd all go to the old Hogg theater in the middle of campus and ignore the bats flying around overhead and throwing little batty shadows onto the screen.  I recall watching part of it with The Admiral and Steanso on broadcast TV in about 1996.  And I'm pretty sure I saw it again on VHS at some point.  Jamie tells me we watched at least part or most of it in Phoenix, which I don't remember - but apparently happened.  

The film has been very hard to find in the US for years now.  Or I would have bought it on disc - DVD or Bluray.*  But now it's on Criterion Channel as part of the "Michelle Yeoh Kicks Ass" collection that spotlights her pre-US produced films as well as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which took her Bond-based running start and made her a full-fledged star in the West.

Heroic Trio is more or less a fantasy comic-book movie with some post-Burton vibes in set design, but nuttier and occasionally much grimmer than Marvel or even DC fare, featuring a story that would need tweaking to be remade in the states.  It's mostly vibes, and those vibes will change at the drop of a hat throughout the film as it can't decide if this is tragedy, comedy, horror film or what.  And a movie can contain all those things, but sometimes those movies also need to find a ramping up and down into the change of tone.  This movie is slapping down moods like playing cards.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Doc Watch: Money Shot: The Pornhub Story (2023)

Watched:  03/19/2023
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Suzanne Hillinger

This was.... fine.  

Like it or not, Pornhub was the 12th most visited site in January 2023 (as of this writing), and when people had some time off, maybe the 3rd most visited site in December 2022.  In an era where we've shattered the monoculture, it's possible Pornhub is the great denominator.

A few years ago, I listened to a podcast that discussed the history of Pornhub, how it impacted pornography distribution, how that impacted performers, etc...  I won't get into it here, but that podcast was 2017, and this doc more or less blows past *all* of that in about twenty seconds to cover more recent history.  Given the title and stated agenda of the doc, it's a wild choice.  This doc is in no way a complete history of Pornhub, it's a dissection of a specific moment for Pornhub that is already fairly well known, was covered in the press, and which receives minimal new insight into the events probed, the inner workings of Pornhub, or much else.

Brooks Watch: History of the World - Part 1(1981)

Watched:  03/15/2023
Format:  Hulu
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Mel Brooks

Hulu now has a series running called History of the World - Part II, which has participation from the 96-year-old Mel Brooks.  Jamie mentioned she'd never seen the movie, and I said "well, we can't have that" - even though I hadn't seen it since college - and so I put it on.

Right out of the gate, it's amazing how much this movie would not be made today.  I know that's something you see in every post or article about a movie made during a certain window, but the self-censorship (not enforced by a code or Breen office) that's crept in during the past 10-15 years is somewhat shocking to some of us who lived in the long, long ago.  That's not to say every joke can or does still land the way it would have 42 years ago, there's some that were not great in 1981, and there's some that just haven't stood the test of time.*  

That said, as a satirist, Brooks' "ain't I a stinker?" delivery still cuts remarkably well.  Whether you're taking the piss out of the self-seriousness of historical epics, actual history and historical figures, the folly of humanity through the ages from stone-age to French Revolution...  Brooks' eye for the absurd still works.  

My favorite bit remains the Spanish Inquisition, which - for a period of absolutely horror - has really managed to capture the imagination and create not one but TWO bits of classic comedy between the stunning musical sequence here and, of course, Monty Python.

I mean, there's so much to unpack here in commentary and the general "fuck you" baked into every moment is incredible, robbing the Catholic Church of its power and reminding people that Jews survived this bullshit, too.  Maybe I grew up on too much Bugs Bunny, but this kind of thing is a 1000x more effective in communicating truth to power than yet another shame-troll reminding you "actually" something is bad.

It's also a delight to see Gregory Hines having a grand time in this movie, Dom Deluise, the beloved Madeline Kahn at the top of her game, Sid Caesar, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Harvey Korman, Pamela Stephenson (of Superman III fame), the voice of Orson Welles and @#$%ing Shecky Greene.

No one is going to accuse Brooks of not playing for cheap laughs, but it's the cumulative affect of what he chooses to cover and how that 

It doesn't work as well as some of his other films.  But it works on that High Anxiety level, which is "enjoyable, insightful, but not as sublime as Young Frankenstein".  

Anyway, the new series is on Hulu.  I watched the pilot.  It was hysterical.

*it's also depressingly necessary to note that showing a character (especially one who isn't our hero) engaging in bad behavior is not the same as endorsing that behavior. But that doesn't mean that the jokes don't feel a bit tired or still work

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Chiroptera Watch: Bats (1999)

Watched:  03/17/2023
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Louis Morneau

So, I like a good movie about people being attacked by animals.  This is that.  It will not surprise you that Bats (1999) is about bats.  Attacking people.  And the people who are quite cross that they are being attacked by bats.  

Mutant bats, but bats.

So, anyway, it's about pretty much nothing else.  There's no real sub-text.  It's just a movie about trying to stop bats from eating you and the medley of challenges that arise in the pursuit of stopping bats.  No intentional analogies, but it IS about bats with a weaponized virus that is accidentally released, and threatens to doom humanity if not contained and.... ehhhhh.....  that reads pretty weird here in 2023.  

It borrows heavily from Alien and Aliens from sound FX to character choices.  The bats are shown in close-up, they are terrific puppets, and I have no notes.  Love the bats.  Well done.  The movie never lets itself think it needs sub-plots, so expect no romance.  But I do think they must have decided to do some green-screened insert shots in a few dialog bits, because it really seems like the lighting is weird and the characters are shot in a weird single mid-shot dead center of the frame dropping jokes or whatever.  Maybe the first go-round was too grim for what it was?

This isn't a criticism, but Lou Diamond Phillips was featured less prominently than I'd figured or hoped for - he's in it, but he's featured supporting. Our star is Dina Meyer, who was having a moment in Hollywood, but they chose to straighten her magnificent curls, and I am against that decision.  

she's lovely here, but just sort of bleeds into the wall-paper of 1990's young female white-girl actors

just look at those spectacular locks

Anyway - I actually liked the movie!  It did what I hoped it would do.  It didn't weigh itself down with misguided moralizing, and it set up an internal logic and stuck to it.  Animals got the upper hand for a while and the puppets were neat.

There's probably more to say about Dina Meyer as a star, but we'll save that for another day.  And certainly LDP, who is always good.  And there's a dissertation worth of discussion about the mononymous Leon playing "Jimmy" and the role of African-American males in horror and horror-adjacent films, especially in the late 90's as audiences expected tropes to be addressed.


Thursday, March 16, 2023

Friday Watch Party: BATS

So.  I've never seen this.  But it's 90 minutes, stars Lou Diamond Phillips whom we all love, has Dina Meyer which you will not hear me crying about, and is about (a) mutant bats (b) in a small Texas town.  

Texas does, in fact, have a ton of bats.  So will this movie make me fear them?

"hi!  how ya doin'?"

those are not birds

Anyway, let's check in with Lou, see what's what, and how one deals with mutant bats and why they're a problem.

Day:  O3/17/2023
Time:  8:30 Central/ 6:30 Pacific
Cost:  $0, I believe

(link live ten minutes before show)

PodCast 237: "Drive" (2011) - A Neo-Noir PodCast w/ SGHarms and Ryan

Watched:  03/01/2023
Format:  BluRay
Viewing: Third
Decade:  2010's
Director:  Nicolas Winding Refn

Steven and Ryan will give you an hour and twenty-two minutes. For that time, you're theirs as they talk a fairly divisive bit of neo-noir from a curious inflection point in cinema. Join us as we put the pedal to the metal and get under the hood of a cult favorite that dares to ask if you can really hammer home an idea, and is Albert Brooks just a cut up?



Nightcall - Kavinsky
A Real Hero - College w/ Electric Youth

Noir at The Signal Watch PodCast

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

WWII Watch: Watch on the Rhine (1943)

Watched:  03/12/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Herman Shumlin, Hal Mohr (uncredited)

I had never seen Watch on the Rhine (1943), which is a bit odd.  It stars Bette Davis, who is tops in my book.  But, the real reason is: back in the early 1990's I was a high school drama kid.  In the spring of 1992, I worked tech support and understudy on Watch on the Rhine, which my school took to UIL One-Act Play competition.  We trimmed the show down to a 40 minute version of the 1941 stage play,* which I guess I ran through dozens and dozens of times.

The play was a formative experience  for multiple reasons, not least of which included pondering the content of the play every day for months on end.  But, still, I was sixteen when I read the play and just turned 17 when the experience was over.  So my perspective was widened but life hadn't come at me.  I didn't yet fully grasp the forces at work, what had happened in the decade or more before the war, how WWI led directly to WWII, and that the world is not a simple place and always 100 times more complex than you believe at first blush, ways that inform the movie and play.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Noir Watch: The Killers (1946)

Watched:  03/10/2023
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Fourth?
Director:  Robert Siodmak

Way back sometime in high school I read the short story The Killers by Hemingway, and like most 17 year olds reading Hemingway, it hit me over the head like a sledgehammer.*  It's a taught bit about the nature of the inevitable - by those who dole it out, those on the receiving end, and those caught up in its wake.  

About twenty years after publication of Hemingway's story, it was adapted into a film starring a fresh-faced actor by the name of Burt Lancaster.  Lancaster hadn't really acted before, but he walked into movies with a natural talent, charisma and muscley torso that kept him working long enough that I knew him as one of the retirement age gangsters in Tough Guys released 4 decades later.   

The movie also introduced Ava Gardner to mass audiences, and broke her as a major star for decades to come.  Bonus: If you need to get an idea of what to put next to "femme fatale" in the dictionary, Gardner's Kitty Collins is a phenomenal example (then put Jane Greer next to her).  

But the movie opens on an empty small-town street with two men in the forms of William Conrad and Charles McGraw entering a cafe and - for the next ten minutes the movie mostly re-creates the scene from the short story, nearly word-for-word, minus some racial slurs and some logistical stuff.  And, if you were a 17-year-old once who read Hemingway, its wild to see Nick Adams as a minor supporting character in a movie.

It's a hell of a scene.  Taught stuff that movies have been trying to recreate now for almost 80 years - almost 100 if you count back to the release of the short story.

The rest of the film has the tough chore of going back and starting at the beginning and working its way back to the opening sequence.  Eventually, it earns the sequence, but the tone never quite matches the first ten minute again.  Using the flashback-via-investigator framing made famous by Citizen Kane (released 5 years earlier) the movie relies on Edmond O'Brien to play an insurance investigator trying to find out why a man set up a woman he met once as his life-insurance beneficiary.  But I'll be dipped if I can say what he's actually investigating and why.  It seems like he answers work-related questions by the film's halfway point.  I don't know if he was looking to deny the payout or recover the money the Swede took.

What the film does do is create a good detective story infused with what would become hallmarks of noir.  Femme fatales.  Flashbacks.  Disposable hoods.  Character actors being characters.  A scramble for money.  Low-level gang bosses with more hair tonic than brains.  And all the secrets to come spilling out in the final reel as no one escapes their fate.  The only thing it's missing is Elisha Cook Jr. 

Anyway, I very much enjoyed a rewatch.  It's a kick of a movie.

*my understanding from social media is that Hemingway is no longer fashionable with the kids because (gestures at everything about Hemingway).