moon_custafer: (Default)
Waiting for a bus after seeing Wonder Woman with Andrew and the Diners. Andrew already wants to see it again on Sunday. I knew Gadot would be note-perfect, but I liked Pine as Steve Trevor much better than as Kirk; and the supporting cast were all fabulous, especially David Thespis, and Elena Anaya who seems to have been put there as a fic prompt for handful_ofdust -- she bears some resemblance to Rosa Steinberg of A Scent of New-Mown Hay. There's a great scene about three-quarters in, where Steve attempts to seduce her, and nearly succeeds, because he's clearly done enough research to know how to appeal to a genius chemist who's also fundamentally a pyromaniac.
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 1. Almost done the baby sweater I have to knit to prove I can knit so I can potentially get some piecework as a test knitter. I'll have it done well before the ten-day turnaround time they need, though I've come to the conclusion that the hood is the most voluminous part of the hoodie.

2. Watched the 1931 Maltese Falcon a couple of days ago. I prefer Bebe Daniels' Miss Wonderly (they never drop the alias in this version) to Mary Astor's. Dwight Frye as Wilmer gets less screen time than Elijah Cook, Jr., but is equally nervy; he apparently kills Gutman (Dudley Digges) and Dr. Cairo (Otto Matieson) offscreen as they head back to "Constantinople." Digges isn't bad; his Kaspar Gutman makes me think he would have played an excellent Mr. Pickwick or, in the villain line, Charles Augustus Milverton. Matieson's Cairo is basically the same as Lorre's, but he misses putting it over the top like Lorre.

As Spade, Ricardo Cortez (born Jacob Krantz) is a completely different character from Bogart's detective. I feel like Bogart is a 1940s character and Cortez is a 1930s one, if that makes sense. He swings wildly between suave and goofily, snappishly sarcastic. He might even have the tiniest touch of sentiment, but only the tiniest. He was definitely sleeping with his partners wife -- for one thing she's Thelma Todd as opposed to Gladys George, who seemed flaky enough to have just imagined his interest, and who did not, in 1941, leave a kimono at Spade's place. There is a neat twist at the end, as long as you don't understand enough Cantonese to have been spoilered back in the first few scenes.

3. I have deleted my LJ, though I think it takes sixty days to believe me. I've located most of my LJ flist on DW, and feel rather as though we ought to have some kind of site-warming party, though it's not easy across time zones. Feel free to post hellos in the comments, however.

ETA 4. Also rewatched Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle which, if you've never seen it, is a movie that has absolutely zero interest in subtlety or psychological realism. Its cartoonish grotesquerie is more touching than a lot of Oscar-nominated films, probably because of the sincerity of Chow's love for the Shaw Brothers, the Warner Brothers, the Peking Opera (I'm guessing from the soundtrack), unexplained heel-face turns and fairytale logic. I'd like to see it in a double bill with Galaxy Quest, because the former is about storytelling as the greatest human invention and Kung Fu Hustle is the kind of ridiculous cheese that could inspire naive extraterrestrials to acts of nobility and heroism.
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 Just accidentally discovered the existence of a novel in which 1930s Hollywood is hit with a plague of vampirism; and it's mainly told from the PoV of Oliver Hardy. Unfortunately the novel is in Italian, and the only English version appears to have simply been run through Google Translate, which does add to the weird dreamlike quality, but does nothing for the story's coherence:

The sound played by the orchestra light the dances' fuses. On the waiters' trays glass full of Gimlet and White Lady shined constantly.

...

Hollywood's most dangerous lips, housed between the nose and the chin of Louella Parsons, acted as the perfect gossip machine they were as soon as she noticed the presence of Mary Pickford, followed by her most gossiped brother, Jack.

"Interesting. Have you noticed her pants suit, Mr. Rock? It's black, a sign of mourning. I've heard from credible sources that our Mary is on the verge of retiring. And what do you say about the absence of her husband? A very bad move to swap him for that spineless brother of hers."

...

On the eve of her forties, America's former sweetheart had cut her blonde curls and dressed in black. She could be hardly recognized. Above her pale and rouge-touched face, she hid her darkly circled eyes behind a smoked glass. The fluid mess of her movements could have be deemed sensual, if it hadn't been so creepy.

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 Andrew recently acquired a copy of <i>Just Imagine</i> (1930), a movie he last saw in 1980, the years it is set. I can see why he's always going on about it - This movie feels like the perfect early-'Thirties movie: Singing! Dancing! Rockets! Art Deco sets! Comedy Swedish accents! Women in extremely pre-Code costumes! Props and FX scenes that would be re-used in every SF movie or serial for at least a decade afterwards! Cocktails in pill form! 
 
As the first sound SF film, it's..... kind of a cross between <i>Metropolis</i> and a Marx Brothers comedy, with maybe a bit of <i><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bedbug">The Bedbug</a></i>. Single-O/Ole Petersen (El Brendel) is a man revived from a state of suspended animation that was somehow induced by a lightning strike in 1930. El Brendel's Swedish-immigrant schtick ought to be annoying, but somehow, maybe through sheer goofy good humour, it works. Unfazed by his situation, he is befriended  by J-21(John Garrick) and RT-42 (Frank Albertson), who want to appeal the Marriage Tribunal's refusal to let J-21 marry LN-18 (Maureen O'Sullivan). Somehow this leads to the three of them going to Mars, where the natives are friendly but all have evil twins. No, I don't get it either. There is a drinking song on a dirigible. This movie may have been filmed especially for <lj user="sovay" />.
 
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So, I finally read Experimental Film: A Novel, today, and it's great, but a very weird experience. Apparently it's a truism that female writers have to cope with everyone assuming their work is autobiographical; except in this case it's partly right -- Gemma's made no secret that Lois, the narrator, is based on herself (or how she feels about herself when it's four in the morning and she can't sleep), and Lois' family are based on hers. Which, since I've met them all, makes it read sort of like fanfiction about real people I know. The first act, especially, is like everything I've heard her talk about in the past five years, condensed into a hundred pages. The big difference between Lois and Gemma is that the former doesn't have a career of fifteen-odd years as a fiction writer on her resume, and consequently with her other careers (film critic, teacher) having gone under (through no fault of her own,) feels like a failure.

I'd been looking forward to this book for a while, because I'd suspected that Gemma's horror and fantasy works aren't so much divergent streams of fiction, but the outcome of different story lengths: her short stories are horror because they end just as the protagonist sees what they're falling towards, while the Hexslinger trilogy gives the characters time to hit bottom and start climbing out of that hole and redeem themselves. I don't think Lois needs as much redemption as she thinks she does; unlike some other Files protagonists, she's never killed anyone.(1) Anyway, I still need some time to process this latest novel before I decide if my theory holds; also I don't want to spoil it for anyone.


1. She's not even involved in an underground necrophiliac puppetry ring (and I did wonder if "Ding Dong the Derry-O" is a children's show in this book's universe, but probably not, since Lois never lists it among the tv shows that filter into her son's echolalia.)
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Andrew's copy of Sherlock Holmes (1916), starring William Gillette, arrived today. I'll probably need to watch it at least once more before commenting in detail, but I'm sure Andrew will watch it many times again so that shouldn't be too difficult. Things that come to mind:

First off, the digital restoration and the blu-ray transfer has made the sets and costumes look sort of hyper-detailed. I can't guess if this is how the film looked in 1916 (or rather in 1920, as this is the French serial cut), but it gives the piece the feel of an engraved illustration.

I had never seen Gillette except in stills, but his face felt immediately familiar. I suggested he looked a little like an older James Marstairs; Andrew thought he looked more like George C. Scott.

The movie is adapted from Gillette's stage play, and has the faults of its script. It's *very* loosely based on "A Scandal in Bohemia," but with a virginal heroine guarding her deceased sister's love letters, both from political envoys and from the blackmail ring trying to torture the papers out of her for their own devious ends. It's not really played as a mystery or an action movie, but a psychological drama -- Holmes locates the girl so easily the screen doesn't even bother to show the search, but he's got to persuade her to work with him. This so far as I can reason, are the heroine's motives; they weren't that clearly evident from watching, but that may have been my lack of attention and not the actress' fault.

The supporting actors were generally excellent. The villainous Mrs. Laramie was evidently having great fun; she was like an evil Margaret Dumont. The Watson was good, but mostly sidelined.

The DVD extras included an oddity -- Gillette, in his retirement, had a half-scale train and track built on his property, and some time in the early 1930s a film crew set out to do a documentary on the old actor's hobby; the footage on the blu-ray, though, was unedited: between chatting about his train Gillette relaxes and chats with someone behind the camera. It was a curious slice of a day eighty-five years ago.
moon_custafer: (acme)
Watched a copy of the Monster that Challenged the World on YouTube, after seeing it get some recommendations from [livejournal.com profile] sovay. It's a fairly generic but above-average 1950s monster movie. It is difficult to make snails really frightening, even if they are giant man-eating ones, but Hans Conreid tries hard and the special FX aren't bad. Where the movie earns points is the little details that make the naval base and surrounding area seem like a believable community rather than a list of plot devices: the base commander's secretary, perpetually on the phone to her mother; the pregnant wife of one of the officers, who babysits the little daughter of the scientist's assistant; the awkward curator of the local museum, who takes a while to find an important historical map because, as he keeps pointing out, the proposition to fund a document room was rejected. Tim as is heroic but not square-jawed, and at first his junior officers see him as a petty martinet the World on YouTube, after seeing it get some recommendations from Sovay. It's a fairly generic but above-average 1950s monster movie. It is difficult to make snails really frightening, even if they are giant man-eating ones, but Hans Conreid tries hard and the special FX aren't bad. Where the movie earns points is the little details that make the naval base and surrounding area seem like a believable community rather than a list of plot devices: the base commander's secretary, perpetually on the phone to her mother; the pregnant wife of one of the officers, who babysits the little daughter of the scientist's assistant; the awkward curator of the local museum, who takes a while to find an important historical map because, as he keeps pointing out, the proposition to fund a document room was rejected. Tim Holt, as Lt. Commander "Twill" Twillinger, is heroic but not especially square-jawed, and at first his junior officers see him as a petty martinet. Widowed Audrey Dalton, on the other hand, likes him even before he rescues her and her kid from a giant sea snail in the last ten minutes. Their romance has been fairly underplayed, but the last shot is of the three of them walking together.
moon_custafer: (acme)
Andrew's been screening a lot of Marx Bros. movies this week, and yesterday, while A Night in Casablanca was running, I began looking up some of the supporting cast and fell down a rabbit hole of character actors that's had me on a mini Laird Cregar binge. This morning I watched Hangover Square (1945), and have so far processed the following:

1. In most Hollywood movies, writing popular songs for a sexy music-hall performer would be a step in the right direction for a classical composer -- she'd be bringing new blood to his art and dragging him away from his stuffy conservatory background and fiancee. This is not that type of movie, so Netta (Linda Darnell) actually despises George and is just using him. Actually watching the scenes of them working on a song together sort of undercuts this narrative, however -- they seem happy and engaged; in George's case, more so than in any of the scenes where he's working alone on his concerto. Yet another movie could probably have been made about how sometimes people are great creative partners but lousy romantic partners. This is not that type of movie either.

2. There's really a whole subgenre of Victorian/Edwardian noir, which doesn't seem to be much written about. This movie, The Lodger (1944), and The Suspect (1944) are all examples.

3. Except Hangover Square is arguably also a werewolf movie. Laird Cregar even has the same sort of hulking sadness as Lon Chaney Jr. in this picture; some of it perhaps due to being physically messed-up from amphetamines, crash dieting and surgery. Like his character, composer George Harvey Bone, he put his art before his own life. Unlike Bone, he seems to have only been fatal to himself; but it's still a tragedy.

4. George Sanders (Inspector Middleton) plays a much more sympathetic detective here than he does in The Lodger. Apparently he hated the line he was to have delivered, as Bone dies playing his final concerto in a burning building: "He's better off this way." After much arguing, he got it toned down very slightly to "It's better this way."
moon_custafer: (acme)
Rewatched Howard the Duck last night. I'm not sure why this movie gets so much hate -- were audiences at the time hoping for more Star Wars and disappointed by this slice of good-natured 'eighties camp? The effects are well-done, the songs are by Thomas Dolby, and the premise that Howard is the one normal person stranded on this crazy planet where everyone's descended from apes is served by the performances: Chip Zien (voicing Howard) gives a conventional (yet wisecracking) performance, while around him Tim Robbins is manic, Jeffrey Jones alternates between deadpan and possessed, and Lea Thompson does this weird over-and-underacting thing that I'm still trying to process, but which has to have been a deliberate choice as I don't recall her being like that in the Back to the Future movies. There's a hilarious moment towards the end where she shouts a warning regarding the possessed scientist (who by this point has kidnapped her, sucked the electricity out of a dashboard cigarette lighter with a long proboscis, drained a nuclear plant of its power, and stopped her to a giant space-laser-thingy):

Look out! He's really mad!

It's not without its flaws: Beverley (Thompson) is in a rock band called Cherry Bomb, but the other members hardly get any screen time, which could be handwaved, except that she briefly mentions that Blumburtt (Robbins) is dating one of her bandmates (so why doesn't they have any scenes together?) Also, the aircraft chase scene towards the end goes on a couple of minutes too long. Overall though, this movie is of a piece with other zany comedy/fantasies of its time (Buckaroo Banzai, Tapeheads, Real Genius, Adventures in Babysitting) and ought to get the same kind of love. OK, Tapeheads mostly gets ignored, but that's a rant for another day.
moon_custafer: (acme)
This morning we watched Public Enemy (1931) again. Things I picked up on this viewing:

1. Tom's father who beat him as a kid seems to have been a cop, or at least wore a policeman's helmet when he administered the beatings. This probably didn't help Tom's attitude towards the rule of law.

2. For such a "tough guy who sees what he wants and goes for it" antihero, Tom actually seems to meet a lot of women (and arguably some men) who make the first move on him. The alternate title of this movie could have been "everyone hits on James Cagney."

3. A woman getting a guy drunk and then getting into bed with him, while he protests in a slurred voice that she shouldn't because she's his boss's girl, may not have legally qualified as rape in 1931, but the movie seems to grasp how wrong it is -- when Tom sobers up and realizes what happened, he's upset enough to leave the not-so-safe house and risk being killed by the rival gang (which eventually is exactly what happens.)

4. The actresses in this movie give some *really* odd (at least to my 21st-century ears) yet effective line deliveries. I think I noticed Jean Harlow last time -- when she first picks up Cagney her patter is sassy but relatively natural -- but the scene where she seduces him features a weird, robotic performance, which may have been meant to hint that she's kinky: she alternately calls him "my bashful boy," and thrills about how wild and brutal he is. Or maybe this scene was shot first and she wasn't yet used to speaking in camera, I don't know. Later, Mia Marvin, as the gang boss's girlfriend, says all her lines in a sweet girl-next-door manner, which just makes her actions all the creepier. By the end I was even weirded out by "Ma" Powers, who, where her younger son is concerned, seems to be passing through in-denial and heading for psychosis: "I'm almost glad it happened," she weeps, after Tom is shot, "Because it means I'll have both my boys at home again."

ETA:
5. I think this might be the only time Robert Emmet O'Connor ever played a gangster instead of a cop.

6. At first I was amazed the pawnbroker didn't recognize the customer who asked to look at a gun as the notorious gangster Tom Power -- but on second thought the pawnbroker was coded as Jewish while everyone else in this movie was Irish, so probably Tom was just smart enough to go to a business outside his own neighbourhood to steal a piece.
moon_custafer: (acme)
Did not get much rest last night. Just before going to bed, Andrew discovered he couldn't find our copy of the most recent restoration of Metropolis -- I told him to hold off until the next day and I'd help him search again before we took the step of buying a replacement copy. He agreed but was so restless I got up and we searched -- I eventually found it, and he was happy, but the relief caused his mood to escalate and he couldn't sleep because of racing thoughts. I gave him an ativan -- at this point I can't recall if this was the first or second ativan of the night; I know there were two panic attacks, anyway. Then during the middle of the night he fell out of bed and bruised himself and for a while I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get him up off the floor. Gave him percoset. When I fell asleep I had exhausting dreams in which I was part of a group of people, led by Samuel L. Jackson, who were trying to evacuate a giant, futuristic hotel before some disaster befell it. There may also have been intelligent dinosaurs.

Anyway we're now watching Metropolis. Fritz Rasp is playing essentially the same character he would later do in Woman in the Moon; his ability to look like a shark with legs is amazing.
moon_custafer: (acme)
Andrew put on the movie of Moby Dick the other day, and for (embarrassingly) the first time it occurred to me that Queequeg not only foresaw his own death, but the sinking of the ship; he commissioned the water-tight "coffin" not for himself, but to save Ishmael.
moon_custafer: (acme)
Seeing an actor who normally plays villains in a hero role is actually much *less* jarring than seeing him/her in a neutral supporting role. With the latter I keep waiting for the character to suddenly turn out to be unexpectedly important to the plot.

This thought brought to you by "OK, so Roger Delgado really is just the hotel manager and not masterminding the kidnapping," and "Henry Daniell is a lawyer, but he's just a solicitor, not a gleefully malicious prosecuting attorney -- what's wrong with this picture?"
moon_custafer: (acme)
Lately I've been thinking about how there's a type of movie trailer that you don't see much anymore -- maybe it was rare to begin with -- that emphasizes the movie as creation rather than the movie as story. Let me take another run at that. If the "In a world...." movie trailer shows you the world inside the movie, the kind of trailer I'm thinking of takes place firmly *outside* the movie: frex, the 1954 trailer for Rear Window starts with a short of Hitchcock and his camera crew, and later Jimmy Stewart breaks character and addresses the audience as himself; or Humphrey Bogart walks into a library, asks if they've got any good mystery thrillers "kind of like The Maltese Falcon" and is handed a copy of The Big Sleep. It probably matters that both these examples are thrillers -- this style of trailer is good for indicating the genre and the stars (and usually the studio/director) without spoiling the plot. Hitchcock did a lot of these, but then he was the director famous for making cameo appearances in his own films, and Psycho was made around the time of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," so his hosting of the trailer might be a continuation of his role in the tv show. He walks us around the Bates' house like the world's worst real-estate agent, misdirecting us at every turn even before the movie opens...
moon_custafer: (acme)
Damn. Perhaps for copyright reasons, YouTube doesn't have the last part of Ruggles of Red Gap. May have to buy it from iTunes or someplace.

ETA: Anyway, further thoughts:

I'd noticed last night that the film briefly touches, via a brief gag, on the fact that Ruggles is the only white servant in the Floud's household (presumably their other employees would *not* get mistaken by the townsfolk for houseguests) and wondered if their (African-American) maid and (Chinese) cook would appear again, but so far they haven't. We do learn that the building where Ruggles eventually plans to start a restaurant has been empty since the owner of the previous, Chinese restaurant was shot because "he couldn't do ham and eggs." Apparently even Red Gap has limits to its tolerance.

Despite my watching it in sections, this movie flows really well -- it's only 90 minutes long, apparently, with a lot happening (and from the summaries found online, a fair bit still to happen in the about two seconds. missing segment), but it never seems rushed, although there are one or two moments where I thought afterwards: "well THAT escalated quickly." Frex, I'm still not sure how Laughton and Zazu Pitts get from arguing to waltzing within the space of about two seconds. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief, though, be cause they are so freakin' adorable. Like, Christopher Lloyd and Mary Steenbergen in Back to the Future III (which is probably no coincidence) adorable.
moon_custafer: (acme)
I seem to have fallen into a need to obsess over Charles Laughton this month. Last night I found Ruggles of Red Gap on YouTube and watched the first half or so; will likely watch the rest tonight. Thoughts so far:

On the odd chance you've never heard of the movie, Laughton plays an English butler whose master loses him in a poker game to an American millionaire couple. In its way, the movie addresses the fact that the American class system, being more fluid, is also much trickier to deal with: poor Ruggles, who was reasonably content in a system where the rules were obvious, is now caught in a situation in which Effie Floud is delighted to have a status-symbol butler, but also expects him to nanny her husband and keep him out of trouble; meanwhile Egbert Floud treats Ruggles as a buddy that he can pull rank upon when he wants to get way with something. This limnality backfires on the flouts (to Ruggles' benefit) once they take him home to their frontier town: the townspeople mistake him for an houseguest of the Floutd, who have to play along because the distinguished English visitor is getting them more social invitations than they'd receive on their own.

This was directed by Leo McCarey, who also helmed Duck Soup, and, I think, some of Laurel and Hardy's comedies. What I'm getting from him so far is a sense of good will without naivete -- the Flouds, despite my description above, aren't actually awful -- the only unsympathetic character so far is their snobbish Boston-Brahmin brother-in-law. Laughton spends much of the first reel wearing a terrified smile, but it's endearing rather than painful to watch, because when he and the Flouds realize the implications of the townspeople's error, it does a wonderfully subtle segue from terrified to slyly pleased.

He had yet another kind of smile in an earlier bit in which Egbert Floud and another American make him get drunk with them -- drunk!Ruggles is consistently associated with animal imagery ("it brings out the beast in him") and there's a wonderful moment where the three of them end up on a carousel -- the American men cavort on their horses like cowboys, but Ruggles reclines gracefully upon the carousel's tiger as if he's part of it, smiling serenely. I've never seen anyone look more like the Cheshire Cat in human form (This was three years after his turn as Dr. Moreau in Island of Lost Souls). ETA -- Looking at it again, I think it's Dionysian imagery, actually.

High hopes for more of this.
moon_custafer: (acme)
Good news – Benedict Cumberbatch to play Alan Turing.

Bad news – according to rumour, Turing will be, like, 80% more heterosexual in this movie than he was in real life. As in, his love interest is Kiera Knightley . OK, so he and Joan Clarke were engaged for a while but it’s my understanding they figured out it wasn’t going to work and broke off the engagement, although they stayed friends. Which sounds like some kind of Will & Grace meets The Big Bang Theory sitcom. Which I’d probably watch, actually.

Wished-for news - Bletchley Park britcom. There’d be a running gag about Alan chaining his tea mug to a different unlikely item each week.
moon_custafer: (acme)
There's apparently a Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film called Desk Set, which until about a week-and-a-half ago I'd never heard of. Since then, I have stumbled across two entirely separate online references to Hepburn's character ("Bunny" Watson, supervisor of a TV network's research department). Did this movie just get a DVD/Blu-Ray release, or shown on TCM? Is Bunny Watson a new iconic heroine, or something?

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