Sunday, June 30, 2024

Mars Read: The Chessmen of Mars (1922)

One thing I know about Edgar Rice Burroughs - he is very certain women get kidnapped every 20 minutes.  

We're here in the Fifth of the Barsoom novels.  The Chessmen of Mars (1922) takes place a few years after Thuvia, Maid of Mars.  For the first time in a few books, John Carter returns to Earth - but now appearing ageless and in his Martian harness and weaponry.  He sits to share a story with ERB, this time about his daughter, Tara of Helium.

This book feels better constructed than Thuvia, which had a sort of improvisational quality to it, like ERB was just stitching ideas together.  The Chessmen of Mars reads less like combined installments reprinted into a single volume.  Instead, the book seems to have better considered foreshadowing, laying foundations for later actions, etc... in a way that shows growth in ERB's writing.  

This book essentially breaks into a few sections.  There's some business in Helium at the beginning where we first meet John Carter's daughter, Tara, who seems to be described as astoundingly beautiful - just not as beautiful as Dejah Thoris (I appreciate ERB's own loyalty to Dejah Thoris).  She's got the fire of her parents, but is never described to have inherited her father's great strength the way her brother, Carthoris, did. 

When the story opens, she's understood to be betrothed to a young man of Helium - but the two aren't clicking.  At a party, she meets Gahan of Gathol, who she sees in the finery of his people, and decides he's a showy fancy-lad.  

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Giant Watch: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

Watched:  06/28/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Nathan Juran

If ever there were a movie ripe for a modern re-telling, it's Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958).  

The movie is likely now most famous from the title and poster art, with only a small percentage of people who've seen it or remember the actual film.  And the poster is killer, to be honest.  And in the best, shlocky 1950's sci-fi way, far surpasses anything on the screen.  

What's funny about this incredibly cheap (I read the budget was $88,000) film is that it's so different from the atomic scare movies of the era with giant ants, giant lizards, colossal men, etc...  The story plays on a completely different flavor of fear.

The film follows Harry Archer, a cad who is two-timing his wife, Nancy (Allison Hayes*).  Nancy has some emotional issues and problems with the bottle, but those seem to have started once Harry showed up and started catting around almost immediately.  On a night where Nancy has stumbled across Harry publicly fondling his latest squeeze, Honey (Yvette Vickers), she drives off in a huff, only to run into a UFO and the giant contained therein, who reaches for Nancy's gigantic diamond necklace, fumbling the attempt.  

Nancy returns to the bar to get help, but everyone thinks she's just wacky, drunk, crazy Nancy.  Sober and not-crazy, a gaslit Nancy heads out with Harry, with whom she's fighting, to find the spaceship - and succeeds.  The giant grabs her and Harry runs away like the shitheel he is.  

Soon, Nancy is found - but grows to enormous size, and attacks the bar.

Martin Mull Merges With The Infinite

Martin Mull, actor, comedian and entertainment personality, has passed.

I have no idea where I first saw Mull.  In the 1980's, he was just around, popping up on television or in movies.  It's possible it was Mr. Mom or Clue.  I do remember before I left high school, I knew enough that if he popped up in something, I would say "oh, hey!  Martin Mull!" and that was reason enough to give the show or movie a chance I otherwise wouldn't.

At some point, TV Land was playing re-runs of his 1970's faux talk show Fernwood Tonight, which co-starred Fred Willard.  The show was *nuts* and I'm surprised it's not more of a staple for comedy aficionados.  

He also appeared on Roseanne, did a ton of voice work for animation, and appeared on both Wonder Woman and Lois & Clark.  

He was so much a fixture, it's possible folks took him a bit for granted.  But he brought the world Gene Parmesan on Arrested Development, and that role alone should place him in the hall of legends.  

We'll miss you, sir.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Shhhhhh Watch: A Quiet Place - Day One

Watched:  06/27/2024
Format:  Alamo
Viewing:  First
Director:  Michael Sarnoski
Selection:  SimonUK

I had not seen the two prior installments in the John Krasinski-led A Quiet Place franchise.  From the trailers, it had real "I get it, I'm good" energy.  But I was aware that this one is a prequel to those two prior films, with an all new cast, including the radiant Lupita Nyong'o.  Left to my own devices, I would have maybe seen this in 10 years on streaming.  But I hadn't seen Simon in *forever* and he suggested A Quiet Place: Day One (2024), and, thus, I was like "yeah, sure".

It can be a good experience to do something you're mostly ambivalent about.  And this was a good experience.

Finally seeing one of these movies did confirm my feeling, when seeing the trailers for the two prior films, that the movie is a sort of cinematic parlor game to be played with the audience..  I imagine Krasinski came up with it after trying to play The Quiet Game with his children.  

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Superman 2025: A Whole New World - And A Pre-Populated DCU

You can follow our posts on Superman at this link, and our posts on the new movie, Superman (2025) at this link.

This week, set-photos started trickling out onto the internet from the shooting locations for Superman (2025).  

Reactions have been fairly enthusiastic from the Super-folk I've seen online, with some notable exceptions (you know who you are).  Rather than the somber, "getting ready for work before the sun comes up" look we initially saw, we're getting David Corenswet's Kal-El in his four-color glory.  

Yeah, they did the trunks, and they let Superman's colors *pop*.  No more somber tones.  I'll hide the rest of the pics below "Read More" for the folks trying to avoid spoilers.

RiffTrax Watch: Suburban Sasquatch (2004)

"it'll look great on camera"

Watched:  06/21/2024
Format:  YouTube
Viewing:  First
Director:  Dave Wascavage

I watched this over 4 days, finishing just moments before putting on Ember Days, and could not muster the energy to discuss both movies too close to each other.  It was too much for any one man.  But here we are.

What stirs the visions of would-be writer/ directors?   Is it the story they must tell that drives them so?  The need to express themselves?  A dream of becoming part of the Hollywood establishment?  A dream to work as an outsider?

What keeps them going through the long days and nights of pre-production, shooting and then editing?  What is the motivator to make a film when it requires expensive FX they simply cannot afford?  What convinces the actors to show up every day of that shoot, put on their "costume" and read clunky dialog?

Simply, I cannot imagine.  This is, like, time and money out of someone's life.  It's a real "maximum effort for minimum return" proposition.

And yet, every day there's someone out there who has convinced people in their lives that: what we all need to do is make a movie.  How hard could it be?  

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Spite Watch: Babette's Feast (1987)

Watched:  06/24/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Gabriel Axel

People lash out at their circumstances in a variety of ways, and your blogger is no different.  I am acting out by choosing to watch a staple of arthouse from the 1980's and 90's, Babette's Feast (1987).  

While I wait for La Dolce Vita to make it's way to my local library branch, I've been filling the time with what has turned out to be absolutely terrible movies.  And, so, I needed a palette cleanser.  So, one part of this spite-watch was to get hostile to the idea of bad movies and watch something so utterly different from, say, Shazam 2 and Ember Days, that it doesn't feel like the same art form.  And, maybe that's a real discussion to be had.

The second part of my spite stems from a dinner conversation which occurred about four years ago, when an art-film minded pal (who shall remain anonymous) was comparing something to Babette's Feast, and I admitted I'd not seen it.  He stated that Babette's Feast was not the type of thing I watch.  And so, just to spite him, I planned to watch the movie.  And here we are.  

See, I DID WATCH YOUR DUMB MOVIE,* anonymous friend!  HA HA.  Who's the Godzilla-watching dope NOW?**

So, Babette's Feast.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Can I Please Be Done With the DCEU? Watch: Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)

Watched:  06/22/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Some guy
Selection:  Jamie

I had no notion of ever watching Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023).    I really thought my journey through the DCEU was done, but for some reason, Jamie wanted to watch this unseen, unloved unwanted sequel, and reminded me the film features Helen Mirren (always a delight) and I folded like a camping chair.

I know people love the first Shazam! movie.  I liked it okay the first time, but I was pretty lukewarm on it with a rewatch.  When the trailer hit for a second installment, I just couldn't get excited.  The DCU was a mess by this point, and the trailer just looked like...  I dunno.  Nothing about it grabbed me.  

One of the things that really stuck with me from the first movie was that they'd deviated from the traditional depiction of Shazam/ Captain Marvel in the comics, letting the movie do it's own thing, and that thing wasn't as much fun as the comics.  And, I think on my re-view of the movie I was really turned off by the decision to insert Billy's rejection by his mom as unnecessary to the story (and a new feature, afaik), and the scene with monsters annihilating a roomful of people for no real reason.  It felt out of place for a character I think of working for very young kids.

This movie was a *family* movie, in theory, which I tend to think of these days as something akin to Despicable Me or most of Marvel's output I think is pretty safe for pre-teens.  Shazam, as a concept, seems like it should skew closer to Despicable Me. It's a fantasy of kids getting to be adults with super powers and fighting goofy villains like an angry, talking worm and the Sivana Family.

Instead, Shazam! Fury of the Gods bravely chose to start by murdering a room full of innocent people in a couple of fairly horrific ways, so all I could do was buckle in.  

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Pain Watch: Ember Days (2013)

Watched:  06/21/2024
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  First
Director:  Sean-Michael Argo

Where to start?

Since high school, intentionally watching bad movies has been a routine part of my film viewing.  I couldn't count how many bad movies I've watched with the aid of MST3K, RiffTrax, Dug, etc... or just putting a bad movie on myself and giving it a go with no professional support.  But the number of these films watched has been... astronomical.  And, in fact, my guilt regarding watching so many bad movies is part of why I've recently taken on my homework task of watching movies by the big name directors I've previously avoided.

And so it is that, thanks to Dug, I've now seen a movie that was not just bad for many of the reasons a movie doesn't work out (flat acting, a wandering script, horrendous editing...), but Ember Days (2013) pioneered new and innovative ways in how it chose to be a very bad movie.  It's one of those movies where you'd love a whole other movie to cover what went into this movie, what the filmmakers were thinking, and how they think of their product now.  

I do not say this lightly:  this is possibly one of the worst movies I've ever seen.  That's a spot which is, honestly, pretty hard to reach (and I'm pretty sure is usually occupied by Monster-a-Go-Go).  And I say this in the same year I watched Showgirls 2: Penny's From Heaven.  

If I have any sympathy for the film, it is most certainly due to the zero-budget nature of the production.  And, yes, I appreciate that a bunch of people outside of Hollywood decided to make a movie, and you shouldn't bag on people trying.  

But I watched it, and I'm here to tell the tale.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Robo Watch: M3GAN (2022)

Watched:  06/21/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Gerard Johnstone

I don't jump on too many new horror movies.  If they're still in the zeitgeist a couple years out, sure.  

M3GAN (2022) did a very respectable box office of $180 million, bringing in a younger crowd with a PG-13 rating and a premise I think would appeal to a wide age range.  As pal Michael would point out, not bad for a movie that cost about $12 million before marketing.

If I had any spark of interest, it was to see how the performer(s) handled M3GAN as a character, and how they'd think about robots, AI, logic leading to mayhem, etc...  Things handled pretty well in Ex Machina and Westworld in recent memory.  As a product of Blumhouse,* this was going to need to fit a certain mold, so we know where it's headed to a degree before we even flip the movie on.

I'll start at the end - and that's to say, this movie's last third is exactly what you expect.  The AI goes crazy, gets quippy, and mayhem ensues.  For your kid's first horror movie, it's good stuff.  For everyone else, it's a bit of a letdown, even if it's well executed.  But we've also seen it before.  And that's a bummer because the first half or more of this movie is really pretty interesting.