Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy Liv Tyler Day

My beloved is 40 today.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen the past two weeks or so.

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR (2016)
You may remember that I really liked Snow White and the Huntsman. This part-prequel, part-sequel is utterly terrible. I guess they really wanted to keep Kristen Stewart out of it badly enough to make this half-baked, overproduced, forgettable trash that feels like someone really wanted to make an episode of Shelley Duvall's Fairie Tale Theatre, but has no idea why that show worked. (Hint: it's emotional sincerity.) Chris Hemsworth is fine as the Huntsman (the role's in his wheelhouse, and he's a charming guy), and Jessica Chastain is okay even with her variable accent (to her credit, she seems to think it's all bullshit, too). The movie brings back Charlize Theron as evil queen Ravenna, and this focuses on her heretofore unmentioned rivalry with her sister, the Snow Queen (Emily Blunt), who lost a child and now hates love itself and has dedicated her life to proving love is a lie, and yes, this whole subtext-as-text thing is really that dumb and plainspoken in the movie. It's just... not smart. And it's not fun, either. I liked Theron, but only because she's slipped her chain and gone so over the top in this one, like Frank Langella in Masters of the Universe. Blunt tries, bless her, to imbue her role with some kind of believable pathos, but the role is just so stupidly written that she can only do so much. It's unwatchable, and the big twist is totally predictable. Lots of talent wasted on this. *

DODES'KA-DEN (1970)
Akira Kurosawa film about the residents of a tenement and how they go about their lives. Keenly observed. I don't know why this isn't better thought of, because I really found myself wrapped up in the lives of people who are hopeless, and yet continue to dream. ****

CONFLAGRATION (1958)
Kon Ichikawa directed this film about a young man with a stammer who becomes a student acolyte at the Golden Pavilion. Haunted by the death of his father and the infidelity of his abusive mother, the young man struggles, but is overwhelmed to be studying at the place his father thought the most beautiful in the world. Reality, however, can be cruel and disappointing, and there's some interesting symbolism going on that speaks to Japanese culture and the preservation of its natural character post World War II. ***1/2

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 (1986)
Gonzo sequel to one of the greatest horror flicks ever made. I actually dug this, although I see it's not very well liked. It is much more over the top, mixing extreme gore with wacky humor in a way I found especially interesting. The mix of extreme styles is the kind of thing I don't always think horror directors get right, but this one worked for me as almost a spoof of the original movie. Hard to explain, but I liked it. ***

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016)
I love Tarzan, and this is definitely one of my favorite interpretations of him. I honestly don't think the character always works well on film, but this one has a real Edgar Rice Burroughs feel (thank you for remembering that Jane is American and that the Mangani aren't gorillas) and interestingly places the story within a historical context, dealing with real people like Leon Rom (played by Christoph Waltz) and his role in the terrors of the Belgian Congo, and George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and his role in exposing the slavery that ran rampant there. So, it's a pulp adventure with some serious touches that come both from ERB's novels and from history. Alexander Skarsgaard was not my first choice to play Tarzan, but he's very good, particularly with his physicality. He really seems apelike, wearing a suit comfortably, but not naturally. So much of his civilization is learned behavior, which contrasts with Rom and his utter (ironic) faith in the trappings of civilization. It's a surprisingly thoughtful movie, and I just really enjoyed it. ***1/2

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015)
Not as terrible as its reputation suggests, but not a movie that really works, either. I like the mythology of it, I just wish the movie had done something with it. Too bad; it could have been the John Wick of Hellboy wannabes. **1/2

GLOW: THE STORY OF THE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING (2012)
My sister and I used to watch GLOW when we were kids. I was one of those "ugh, this is for girls" boys, but my sister absolutely loved the cartoony and exaggerated wrestling show. (I liked the WWF, which was no less cartoony and exaggerated, so no judgments.) Really interesting to get the oral history of how and why that show was put together, and what about it made it so special to the people who were into it. I love that we're getting these histories now on the sometimes ill-remembered pop culture of my childhood. ***1/2

ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS (2014)
Fast-paced, fascinating documentary of how Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus took on Hollywood with cheap films and made a killing, before reaching too far and bankrupting their business. One of the things I like about this is that it's entertaining as hell whether you like Cannon's product or don't (and it is hit or miss, to be generous). ***1/2

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016)
Beautiful stop motion-animated film about a young boy who journeys through the Far Lands with a monkey companion and a cursed samurai to piece together a suit of enchanted armor to fight his grandfather, the Moon King. Laika has made nothing but great movies, but this is the studio's most delicate and lovely so far, a tale of the powers of love and understanding and how seeing the world through in that way can be more powerful than magic weapons. ****

THE WITCH (2015)
Excellent horror film about a Puritan farm family in 17th century New England. I don't want to say too much about it, because I think not knowing much about it really helps the experience (it was acclaimed, but I avoided reading reviews and thinkpieces about it because I didn't want to know too much). It's not gimmicky and gory, but more of a reaction to Puritan repression. And the ending... I'll leave you to decide for yourself, but I have ideas about the ending and the price of freedom. A visceral movie that gets to its horror with much of the frills of fantasy sanded down, making it more real and, I thought, more involving. Artful, thoughtful, and a triumph of tone. ****

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part VII: Holidays '77

Heading into November 1977, we open with me playing with... pegs? with my Grandpa Sage. On November 3, Aria Giovanni was born. I just mention it because my wife loves her. On the 8th, a Greek archaeologist, Manolis Andronikos, discovered the tomb of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, and Harvey Milk was elected City Supervisor of San Francisco, the first openly gay elected official of any large US city. Quite a historical day.

A less historic occasion that same day: Suzi Quatro makes the first of her 7 appearances on Happy Days as bad girl Leather Tuscadero. I like that she got to be a pioneer of women in rock both in reality and on television. I don’t know exactly the process, but somehow Leather Tuscadero became my ideal type of woman, especially when I was a little kid. I loved the tough girls in leather who loved to rock. Didn’t see much of them in the suburb where I grew up, except for one high school girl I met at a birthday party when I was about eight… Anyway, Leather Tuscadero is where it started, and then Joan Jett was the promise fulfilled. (And continues to be.)

Here's a link: Bernadette Peters singing "Just One Person" from Snoopy: The Musical on that weekend's The Muppet Show. A favorite TV moment of mine.

Here's another: the Saturday Night Live soundtrack came out on November 10. It's just a great soundtrack, man. I like disco just fine. Here's my favorite song on the album, "More Than a Woman," by the Bee Gees. It might seem cheesy, but I genuinely find this beautiful. Overshare: I once saw a woman strip to this onstage, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I had pulled into the place to get a cold beer and a burger on a very hot and bright day (I have some photosensitivity), and it was like this little piece of magic in the middle of the mundane. Those kind of experiences are all you can hope for in life sometimes.

Actually, here's something really cheesy that I'm into:

I grew up on the album Folk Songs of Our Time by Roger Whittaker. My Mom always had it, and when we first got a car with a cassette player in it, she recorded her vinyl record onto tape and we listened to it so many times. Years later, she bought the cassette. And we listened to it even more. This album makes me so impossibly happy and fills me with such good memories. I seriously want this song played at my funeral. I remember a time when people used to look at me like I was crazy for digging Roger Whittaker. Now people barely know who I’m talking about.

Sadly, this album has never been available on CD. No one who has it has even put mp3s online. It’s a shame it’s not available digitally, because I’d love to have it to stream and keep listening to it forever and ever. But for now, I have my closely-guarded cassette. Which I stole from my Mom. And my closely-guarded vinyl. Which I also stole from my Mom.

Sorry, Mom.

(I’m not sorry, Mom.)

November 16: One of my favorite movies ever, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Back when we used to have such a thing as hope in the way we imagined our first meeting with aliens. I liked this movie from a very early age; when I was a kid, I was so fascinated with the idea of meeting aliens. I used to stay up late and read books about UFOs, and they would always terrify me as much as they compelled me.

On the 19th, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to make an official visit to Israel. On the 22nd, the first internet protocol happened. On the 27th, The Hobbit aired. This animated TV special from Rankin/Bass (animated by Topcraft) is an early adventure for me. It aired around Thanksgiving this year, but they must have aired it a number of times after, because I remember watching it on TV with my Dad when I was about four. I like Peter Jackson’s movie, but this is seminal for me. Whatever the limitations and twee touches, I still think of this as great fantasy. Of its time, perhaps, but still great.

Huh, I have no pictures of me from this Thanksgiving.

Well, here's a picture from HR Giger's Necronomicon, a great art book from 1977. It's prettier than me, probably.

And hey, here's a picture of the sheets I always wished I had. Lots of cool Star Wars merchandise was coming out at this time... the cards, the iron-on book, and of course, those great action figures from Kenner. I still have some of them to this day.

December 2: the episode of The Muppet Show with John Cleese airs (season 2, episode 23). Just one of my faves.

Also Muppet-related: in late 1977, Fisher-Price started making a stuffed Kermit doll.

And would you look at that? I've still got mine! One of actually three stuffed Kermits from various eras that I've got here at the Swamp.

This Christmas season brought me some more great TV. Jim Henson's neat special Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas aired for the first time. All in the Family had an episode I still watch at Christmas, "Edith's Crisis of Faith." Once again, All in the Family nails it with a Christmas episode that forces you to think about the spirit the holiday is meant to embrace, and the way we actually are capable of treating each other. This is the episode where Edith’s friend, female impersonator (as the episode uses the phrase) Beverly LaSalle, is beaten to death during a mugging, leading Edith to question the existence of a God who would allow someone so innocent to die in so violent a manner. It’s especially hard to see Edith--a character who defines the entire family’s sense of gentle decency--suffer with her grief; so much so that it nearly tears the family apart. Just a powerful episode of television.

And here I am, in my Christmas '77 portrait, apparently wearing a leisure suit.

Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas day this year. Thanks for that, Captain Bringdown.

Well, since I am incapable of forming memories yet, that's all the Wikipedia helps me to know about this time period. And since I don't have any Christmas commercial faves from this year, allow me to place this earworm in your heads.


Hey, I loved these commercials when I was a mere babe.

Anyway, we rushed through the season, but not much is going on! Let's rush into 1978 in the next installment!

Run, run, run as fast as you can! You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man! See you next time!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Song of the Week: "Sowing the Seeds of Love"

Tears for Fears, 1989. Ran across this yesterday and the nostalgia kind of hit. A bright spot on the radio during one of the shittiest years of my life.