Friday, May 22, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

I stayed out of this week's fan outrage, this time about Game of Thrones, but two writers have really put into words how I felt about the whole thing. I never really want to debate with the fans anymore, because it all devolves so quickly, and I also felt like, as a man, it wasn't my place to really get into the rape culture conversation the way it was being presented. Amanda Marcotte and Alyssa Rosenberg both had some very interesting things to say about it, and I highly recommend both pieces.

:: I enjoyed Taylor Swift's new video. I honestly thought "Bad Blood" was going to be a lame choice for a next single, but I didn't realize it was going to be remixed. Great cameos and genre references.

:: I also enjoyed this Bhi Bhiman video, "Moving to Brussels," which features Keegan-Michael Key doing a riff on JK Simmons' performance in Whiplash. Key is kind of one of my favorite people alive right now.

:: John Seavey has an idea for a sitcom that I would watch the hell out of.

:: The longer trailer for Pixels. I feel a little better about how stupid-fun I think it looks now that I know Chris Columbus directed it. I know he's made some real garbage, but to me he's still the guy who wrote Gremlins and The Goonies. Plus, this trailer gives me a glimpse of Ashley Benson, and I do love my glimpses of Ashley Benson.

:: Some light animated fare: the trailer for the Shaun the Sheep movie, from Aardman. I used to love that TV series so much. Aardman is the best.

:: Yeah, the Batkid Begins trailer worked on me.

:: The genre news sites are pretty polarized on the trailer for Scream Queens. I hope it's second season of American Horror Story crazy and not fourth season of American Horror Story tedious.

:: Wow, do I hate that new Hamburglar.

:: Roger has some interesting thoughts about libraries and file-sharing. I've been a little curious about how it works when you check out an e-book.

:: The Groundbreaking History Of Star Wars Toys

:: My god, yes! A definitive oral history of Industrial Light & Magic!

:: Simon Pegg clarifies his thoughts on science fiction in an insightful blog post.

:: Here's What Sharks Do When You Give Them Cameras

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

THE WHALES OF AUGUST (1987)
Lillian Gish and Bette Davis play sisters living together in a summer cottage. There's no real plot to speak of; it's a character piece in which these two elderly women rehash old rivalries and parse old hurts and old conversations, and maybe make some peace with lost time. Mainly, it exists as an excuse for two great performances by two of the greatest actresses of all time, and in that capacity, it's a delight to watch. Also good in the movie: Ann Sothern as a friend of theirs, and Vincent Price as an old gigolo who still observes Old World manners. A very nice movie. ***

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (2014)
The head of a Jewish family dies, and his wife and children sit shiva and go through their catalog of how life hasn't turned out the way they hoped it would. There's potential here, but it would rather be safe, obvious and gentle, and so it falls back on jokes about masturbation or how mom has a new set of tits. Pretty good cast moving through this, and they're the only reason to see it one time: Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Driver, who I love. Connie Britton appears, but is wasted. And Jason Bateman stars; I find it pretty much impossible to root for his characters, because he just comes across like such a tool. A firm meh. **1/2

MEGACHURCH MURDER (2015)
Pastor Malcolm Jamal-Warner is killed; his daughter suspects it wasn't an accident. This is easily one of the most enjoyable Lifetime movies I've ever seen, because it starts over-the-top and quickly goes off the rails the way you always hope these things will. No self-important moralizing, just pure soap opera hysteria. **1/2

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)
Surprisingly enjoyable movie, but the ending is so nonsensical and disappointing that it made me resent it. I loved how it worked on video game logic, and how funny it was, but in the end I think they sacrifice clarity to have a happy ending, and it just makes the whole thing fall flat. That ending should have been where the whole thing was made worthwhile, and it looked like they were going for some kind of cool mindfuck twist, but instead it just falls apart. It retroactively ruins all of the stuff that actually worked, which is about nine-tenths of the movie. All of the sacrifice, all of the heroism, all of the character growth, none of it matters now. And if you think about it too much, the set-up for the situation comes out of nowhere and makes no sense, either. I thought the movie would eventually make sense of that, but no. So in the end, it's just an exercise, and the sharp, witty movie that exists for most of its running time is just completely ruined. Disappointing. **1/2

BESSIE (2015)
A flawed biopic of Bessie Smith, which falls into a little too much of the rush and focus on big moments a biopic often does, but Queen Latifah's performance as Smith is so poignant and powerful that I was riveted to her. It works better as a character piece, and this performance deserves its showcase. The film isn't bad, by any means, though; it's a stylishly made film about a woman who didn't take shit and sometimes overpowered everyone else in her life, perhaps because she saw vulnerability as a weakness. No one--not even the film itself--really gets into Bessie Smith in a revealing way, but maybe that's part of the movie's point. I've always like Queen Latifah as an actress, but here she goes beyond anything she's ever done. Great cast, including Michael K. Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps and Tika Sumpter, and Mo'nique as Ma Rainey proves that her Oscar wasn't a fluke. What impressed me most about the film is that it treated its character and her complexities and contradictions with integrity, and that's powerful. Too often, biopics just go with the hagiography and legendarium. Queen Latifah's Bessie Smith is a woman who knows people but can never quite be a part of them. I found that moving. ***1/2

Monday, May 18, 2015

Muppet Monday

I've said that I love Muppet commercials so many times that it's lost all meaning. But I really do love Muppet commercials, so here are some more: a few Purina Dog Chow commercials from 1962/1963 starring my favorite Muppet, Rowlf (newly built by Don Sahlin--the first Muppet he fabricated!), and Baskerville the Hound (also built by Sahlin). These two were specially created for these commercials, but Rowlf would go on to greater stardom as Jimmy Dean's sidekick and one of the main Muppet stars from The Muppet Show onward. Baskerville... would appear on The Muppet Show sometimes. Look, they're not all breakouts, but they're all part of the family.

There were seven commercials ultimately produced; this clip has two of the sixty-second spots, with an interlude of two 10-second product IDs.


A little Henson history: Purina (or another advertiser) once offered Jim $100,000 to own Rowlf outright as an ad mascot. His agent, Bernie Brillstein, was thrilled at the offer, but Jim immediately refused and warned him "never sell anything I own."

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Song of the Week: "Overjoyed"

Like anybody, I find Stevie Wonder's 60's output magical, his 70's output transcendent, and his 80's output... uneven. "Overjoyed," from his 1985 album In Square Circle, was (to date) the final number one hit of his career (adult contemporary chart), and it's easy to see why: it sounds so much like his dreamy 1970s music. Of course, that's because it is; it was written in 1979 for his fascinating The Secret Life of Plants soundtrack album. It was re-recorded for the new album, but even the production, with sounds reminiscent of flowing, dripping, and raining water, is reminiscent of that earlier album. Stevie Wonder turned 65 this week, and this jazzy song just suddenly poured right into my head.