Thursday, February 22, 2018

µ-Blog – Burned Popcorn and a Non-Credible Threat

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

So this really happened today at my daughter's school, Madison High School in San Diego. Apparently, there was a threat posted on social media. The school system determined that this was *not* a credible threat, but increased security/police presence was put in place at three schools including Madison as a precaution. Then at Madison, a fire alarm went off due to burned microwave popcorn. Now, according to my daughter, only about half of the students left their classes, because "I don't want to get shot by a motherf*cker." At this point, can we as a society just admit that we have a gun problem and that the solution to that problem is *not* more guns.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

µ-Blog – My Apologies, Mr. Spielberg

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

I'm sort of watching Ice Station Zebra, not a big favorite of mine. I have it on as background noise as much as really watching it. This got me to thinking about submarines and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Of course, this got me to thinking my favorite plot hole in any film ever, where Indiana Jones rides on top of a submarine that never submerges, and Indy doesn't die of exposure. 

Since I wasn't paying attention to Ice Station Zebra, I decided to do a little research. It turns out WWII-era submarines traveled faster on the surface than they did submerged. A German U-boat could do 17.7 knots (20.4 mph) surfaced and only 7.6 knots (8.7 mph) submerged. If speed was imperative, which seems plausible in the plot, the submarine might not have submerged the entire trip. Looking at the map in the film, Indy boarded the submarine in the Mediterranean Sea south and slightly west of the toe in the boot of Italy and is taken to an island north of the eastern shore of the Greek island of Crete, a distance of about 500 miles.  Assuming I'm off by say, 20%, and it's actually 600 miles, a German U-boat travelling on the surface at full speed could do that in about 30 hours.

You probably wouldn't die of exposure in 30 hours. Yes, it probably would suck. You might have a really bad sunburn and be pretty dehydrated, but I don't think you would die from it in 30 hours. I think I owe Steven Spielberg an apology. Maybe that's why he doesn't return my calls.  

Friday, February 2, 2018

Film Noir in Four Color: The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

I just read the graphic novel, The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips with colors by Elizabeth Brietweiser. Now, you might wonder why a review of a graphic novel would have labels for Classic Film and Film Noir. Well, set in the film industry of 1940s Hollywood and dealing with the death and cover-up of a murdered starlet, both fit quite nicely. If you want to know absolutely nothing about the plot, skip the next paragraph, but most of this info is what you would get in the first 20 or so pages.

***** Spoiler Alert *****

Charlie Parish is a screenwriter, returned from WWII so shattered by the experience that he can no longer write. He fronts for his writing mentor, a blacklisted screenwriter who can no longer work in Hollywood. He wakes from a blackout drunk to find the starlet he was with the night before has been murdered while was passed out in the next room. Guilt-stricken, he feels obligated to try to figure out what happened by sorting through the web of lies perpetuated by studio fixers, PR agents, and movie moguls.

***** End of Spoiler Alert *****

The Fade Out was a really good read and rings true from what I know of not just classic Hollywood, but the subtleties of the blacklist, poverty row studios, the fate of child actors, and the breakdown of the studio system, all seamlessly integrated into a compelling film noir inspired mystery. The story was largely inspired by writer Ed Brubaker's uncle, screenwriter, John Paxton (Murder My Sweet, Crossfire, and The Wild One). There's plenty of sex and scandal. Though published before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, the machinery that protects sexual predators apparently has long history.

The artwork is a treat. The backgrounds often have story-appropriate famous settings, a film premiere at the Chinese Theater, a clandestine payoff in the lobby of the Roosevelt, or the main character's apartment, almost in the shadow of Angels Flight. There are a couple cameos by real-world people, like Clark Gable and Dashiell Hammett, integrated into the story, but not to the point where it gets distracting from the main plot. One of the characters, a closeted gay heart-throb actor bears a striking resemblance to Montgomery Clift. I suppose that some people might think this is a cop-out, but for me, I thought it was a total nod to classic film geeks like me. 

Published as a 12-issue limited series between August 2014 and January 2016, technically, I guess you could say this is not a graphic novel, but a comic series. Me, I consider it a graphic novel because it is a single book-length story. It won an Eisner Award, the comics industry equivalent to an Oscar, for best limited series in 2016. You should be able to find The Fade Out at your local comic shop, bookstore, or purchase online. Though the original comic issues shouldn't be all that hard to find, it's also available in paperback in three volumes or in a deluxe hardback that reprints the entire story along with bonus material such as the original cover art, essays and illustrations, and behind-the-scenes looks at the production of the work.

I can't recommend The Fade Out strongly enough. If you are a comic fan, you'll love it. If you're a classic film geek, you'll love it, and if you're a fan of film noir, you will love seeing the genre done so skillfully in a different medium. If Billy Wilder was alive now, I could see him writing something like this.

Monday, January 29, 2018

TCMFF 2018, Top Five So Far

So far the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) has announced 13 films for the festival to be held April 26 to 29, 2018. I thought I would announce my top five picks of the films announced at this point. I'm doing this partly because whenever I do a post like this, TCM usually announces new info that totally negates what I just posted. Thus, in hopes of getting a new announcement about TCMFF that will render this post moot, I give you my top five picks. You're welcome.

Films announced:
  • The Black Stallion (1979)
  • Bullitt (1968)
  • Hamlet (1948)
  • His Girl Friday (1940)
  • Kramer vs Kramer (1979)
  • Places in the Heart (1984)
  • The Producers (1968)*
  • The Sea Wolf (1941)
  • The Set-Up (1949)
  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
  • Throne of Blood (1957)
  • To Have and Have Not (1944)
  • Woman of the Year (1942)
* The Producers is the opening night red carpet screening and my pass doesn't include it, so it's off the table, for me anyway.

5. Bullitt

4. The Black Stallion

3. The Set-Up

2. To Have And Have Not

1. His Girl Friday

My logic is pretty simple. I've seen 10 of the 13 films, but none in the theater. His Girl Friday is a huge favorite of mine, and one of my go to, I'm bored, what am I going to watch now, pop in the VCR movies. To Have and Have Not is just a great movie, and to see Lauren Bacall in her movie debut with Bogart and a great supporting cast including another huge favorite Hoagy Carmichael, that is a must for me. The Set-Up is an outstanding film noir, that I only saw for the first time a few years ago for TCM's Summer of Darkness festival/class. One of my only problems with noir films is that many have similar storylines and themes, and they tend to blend together. The Set-Up is enough different that is stands out from the pack.

Slots 4 and 5 were a lot tougher, as I had a four-way tie among, Woman of the Year, Throne of Blood, Bullitt, and The Black Stallion. Though I love Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, Woman of the Year is probably my least favorite of their pairings, at least of the ones I've seen. Katherine Hepburn's character comes off poorly in the way she treats their adopted son and when she tries to become domestic. I also eliminated Throne of Blood, because the local art theater will sometimes include a Kurasawa film when they do their week of classic films three or four times a year. I hope it shows up there.

This leaves The Black Stallion and Bullitt. Frankly, I think The Black Stallion is a way better movie. Bullitt, though very cool, I have a number of issues with the plot, but the coolness factor is strong enough to just squeak into the top five. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Armegeddon, Not with a Wimper, but Lots and Lots and Lots of Bangs

I don't know how this happened, but I got sucked into watching Armageddon. It's a really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really stupid movie.

Everything blows up in ArmageddonThe drilling rig blows up. New York blows up. Hong Kong blows up. Paris blows up. The Russian space station blows up. One of the space shuttles blows up. The characters all seem to be blowing up at each other all of the time. When they're drilling the hole in the asteroid, everything is fine until they're almost done. Then all of a sudden, there's a meteor shower, and everything starts blowing up. At one point, Bruce Willis goes into a Starbucks, orders a latte, and it blows up. The only thing in the entire movie that doesn't blow up is the nuclear bomb which was designed to blow up. But when they need the thing to blow up, they have to do it manually.

Could somebody explain why they have miniguns? Were they expecting to run into predators on the asteroid? There's a minigun mounted on Ben Affleck's space drilling rig SUV thingie, so presumably there would be one on Bruce Willis' space drilling rig SUV thingie. I guess that's the one that Steve Buscema fires late in the film because he thinks it would be cool. Maybe, they should have left the miniguns behind and doubled up on the nuclear bomb detonators, so that Bruce Willis didn't have to stay behind to push the button.

Every time, you turn around, there's another Aerosmith song playing for like 15 seconds. I swear the soundtrack could be used as a box set for the band. I'm sure that some record company guy told Micheal Bey that if they used a lot of Aerosmith, the soundtrack would blow up, and he assumed he meant it literally.

Liv Tyler, for some inexplicable reason gets to hang out in the control room the entire movie with Billy Bob Thornton. Oh wait, they explained that. She said, she had nowhere else to go. And I guess Billy Bob Thornton figured, "Okay, that's cool by me. Why not have this woman who's emotionally involved with not one but two of the astronauts when we are trying to save the world." I guess they need to keep her there, so they can have her be at Edwards Air Force Base when the shuttle lands to hug Ben Affleck.

Bear in mind that this is a military installation and a top secret space craft, so sure, while we're at it, let's fly in that one guy's estranged wife and son, because he gave the kid a two-dollar space shuttle toy. And we might as well throw in Steve Buscemi's stripper friend. Now, that's a phone call I want to hear. "Yeah, hi. My name is Molly Mounds." [That was the only name on IMDB that sounded like a stripper name. [She says, snapping her gum.] I'm convinced that all strippers chew gum when they talk on the phone.]  "I'm one of your astronaut's stripper friends. He bought a lap dance from me with $50,000 of a loan shark's money the night before he went up, and I didn't get a chance to finish it, because he got arrested. So anyway I wanted to come out to where they land the space shuttle, you know that top secret one, so I can finish it up right there on that tarmac." Maybe, Harvey Weinstein was one of the producers.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Not on My Beach You Don't

Last week, President Trump and the Department of the Interior proposed the largest ever expansion of off-shore oil and natural gas drilling rights, effecting every coastal state in the continental U.S. The initial plan exempted only Alaska’s Bristol Bay (protected by former President George W. Bush) and existing marine sanctuaries. President Trump claims the plan is necessary to achieve energy independence, but the plan was met with opposition from environmental groups which deemed it a potential environmental disaster and a give-away to the fossil-fuel industry.

Fortunately, the Department of the Interior has granted an exemption for the state of Florida, at the request of Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott. The Interior justified this action by saying Florida is unique and relies on the tourism industry. Now, I live in California, and I seem to remember that we have beaches and a tourism industry here as well. In fact, I'm just guessing here, but I would think that every coastal state has beaches and something of a tourism industry based on access to beaches and the ocean.

Still, there must some reason that Florida is conspicuously excluded from the plan. There must be something that makes Florida more unique than every other state affected by this. Let me think, Rick Scott is contemplating running for the U.S. Senate. This definitely is not going to hurt him in a potential Senate bid at a time when Republicans may be scrambling to maintain control of Congress.

But what else makes Florida unique. Doesn't President Trump have a house in Florida or something? Wait, it's not a house. It's a resort, Mar-a-Lago. Funny, that the Trump administration wants to exempt the one state where the president owns a beach-front resort. This reminds of something else. Before the election, I read the Wikipedia page on Donald Trump. Yes, I know it is not the best source of information, but it is where I usually go. 

In addition to learning of his multiple bankruptcies, his use of illegal immigrant labor in building of Trump Tower, and how in the 1970s, he and his father were accused by the Justice Department of systematically discriminating against African-American who wanted to rent apartments, something else jumped out at me. Donald Trump had previously sued the government of Scotland because the turbines from a windfarm he claims spoiled the view from one of his golf courses. Trump lost this suit.

President Trump is all for energy independence, provided it doesn't affect his political or personal business interests. God forbid that the president or guests at his tremendously expensive resort might have to have their view sullied by an off-shore drilling rig or risk a spill on his pristine beaches. Yet, the rest of the country doesn't get afforded this courtesy. It makes me wonder how Robert Mueller and his FBI investigation are coming. Any chance he could pick up the pace? As much as the thought of a Mike Pence presidency scares me, it's looking better every day.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

µ-Blog – Naked Leonard Nimoy First Thing in the Morning

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post


I woke up this morning and put on TCM like I do many mornings. The film was the western, Catlow (1971). Yul Brynner played an outlaw. Richard Crenna was his friend whom he served with in the Civil War, now a Marshal bringing him to justice, and Leonard Nimoy played a gunman hired to kill Yul Brynner. They were in a hotel in Mexico, and Nimoy was taking a bath. Yul Brynner burst into the room, and a fight ensued. Leonard Nimoy stood up and sure enough, there was Leonard Nimoy, stark naked. It all happened pretty quick, but we definitely had full monty. Or at least, when his back was turned, you could see monty bits, dangling around. 

I can't say what happened next. Right in the middle of the fight, the screen went black, and my cable company did their weekly test of the Emergency Broadcast System. By the time it came back, it was a completely different scene. I don't know what I expected this morning when I woke up. I only know, I wasn't prepared for naked Leonard Nimoy over coffee.