Sep 19

I’ve seen this one! (Star Trek edition)

I went to the movies this weekend:

And I wrote about it here. Some excerpts:

I know I saw Wrath of Khan in theaters, but unless I saw it in a re-release I was six-years-old. And while I saw all the subsequent movies, even the lesser ones, in the theater, and I’ve seen The Motion Picture several times, I’d never seen this on the big screen:

While The Motion Picture is still a slogging sort of rough cut of a film, it has its place and it was worth seeing. There’s a group, Fathom Events putting nostalgic movies in the big theaters on slow days. So there’s often a throwback on Tuesdays and Sundays. This was the first I’ve heard of it, but I’ll be back for other select other films in the future. There was even a little mini-documentary before the movie — probably something produced to run before a DVD or some banquet event. Though this is a problem:

Aug 19

Getting out of Dodge

It was late. I couldn’t sleep. And, separately, I’ve been on the search for westerns lately. So late at night, early in the morning, really when I couldn’t sleep, I found the 1939 classic Dodge City. Let’s dive in!

The post-war Kansas setting trades on the pioneering west, cattle ranchers, big money, boom town, the legendary ruthlessness of Dodge City and a postbellum hot point. Also, there’s bad guys and the law. And it all starts because of this first shot:

The iron horse has arrived. The railroad has just crept into western Kansas, and destiny made this is a vital and valuable and rowdy national crossroads:

After watching some old men sit on the train and set all of that up with some only-slightly stilted exposition, we get into the open plain, and our first glimpse of our hero, that notable Cary Elwes lookalike, Errol Flynn:

This is Flynn’s first western. And he was a bit self conscious about it, and you can feel it in places. Here he was, the Tasmanian who acted with an English accent playing an Irish cowboy up out of Texas. The character, Wade Hatton, rode with J.E.B. Stuart during the war, so that part fits well. The man could ride a horse.

He’s facing off in a friendly conversation with the bad guy, here:

Bruce Cabot has 110 credits on his IMDb record. He’s playing Jeff Surrett, a rancher who runs the town. This little conversation isn’t about cattle, but about buffalo, and murdering the natives. Surrett gets arrested, and vows his revenge. So, really, this is all preface. In the background, above there’s Yancy, who is the big heavy. Bruce Jory was a success on screens both big and little. He appeared in projects from Gone With the Wind to Mannix. He also taught acting at the University of Utah. There’s still an active scholarship there in his name.

So here we are, a rousing speech from the back of the train, where Col. Dodge (this is a solid likeness, by the way) predicts a thriving city, right here, but what to name it?

Why, one of the other men on the car says, we should name it after the man who made it possible, Col. Dodge! Dodge City it is! (When, in fact, the nearby fort was named after Dodge, and the city took the name from there.)

Here’s a wide shot showing the rousing huzzah at the end of the speech. How can you not love Technicolor?

We flash forward with two more title cards. The rest of the movie takes place a few years on, in a notoriously violent 1872. There’s a montage showing it off. And every clip, gambling, a shootout and so on, in the montage is something we’re going to see again in the natural arc of the movie.

We meet this man and his son. And you’re going to hate the kid immediately.

But then his dad, who is a rancher, dies trying to get paid what he’s owed. It was the bad guy’s henchman that shot him down. So now you feel bad for the little boy:

That’s Bobs Watson, of the famous Watson family. He had an entire baseball team’s worth of siblings who appeared on screen. Bobs acted for 60 years, his last credit was in a Perry Mason movie. He was also a Methodist minister.

Oh, finally, a love interest.

Olivia de Havilland’s character is coming up from Texas with her brother to live with an aunt and uncle. They’re making the move with Flynn’s character, Wade Hatton, who is bringing up cattle to sell. On the way the brother, bored and drunk, gets killed by Hatton. There’s a shootout-in-self-defense and then a longhorn stampede. So you know she’s the lady, and we see her brother get killed by the hero. It’s an awkward start. They even talk about it later, unconvincingly.

Meantime, there are the occasional gorgeous shots like these. I always like to imagine a director or a cinematographer came onto the set that day, saw this and said “Get some horses in there. I’m about to frame the best atmospheric shot of the film!”

Our hero and his sidekick make it into Dodge City. And they’re immediately stuck up.

It’s that kid again. And he’s running a protection racket: a quarter to watch your horse. That’s about five dollars a horse today. And our hero, who is cash rich and sense-poor, gives him a dollar. The kid looks at it, agog. That’s about $21 today.

Also that boy is from the future. There were no rubber bands in 1872.

A bit later we meet the local newspaper editor, in one of this film’s many great three-shots.

Just outside, the editor runs into the bad guy. The Jeff Surrett character is played with a bit of villainous charm, a sort of “It’s only evil if you don’t look at it from my point of view,” or an atmosphere of “It’s only bad if I don’t get my way,” and a strict “Don’t ever write with your eyes closed” sensibility:

They use the paper nicely to advance the plot: Hatton, having seen that boy killed as a by-product of a shoot out, decides to honor the town fathers’ request and put on the sheriff’s badge. He’s going to clean up this place.

And that editor’s paper has never met a slammer it didn’t like. At least we get different shots. There’s a paper on a desk in the newspaper’s office:

Here’s one coming right off the press:

This isn’t dummy copy, but it is repetitious. And the ad that keeps appearing for carriages is from a real business, but one in Vermont. Spencer S. Bedard was born Canadian, moved to Vermont and got in the harness and carriage business with a brother. He became a town official, and it looks like he died in 1897. Some 42 years after his death, perhaps his three children, or grandchildren, saw his name in print on the screen. That must have been a surprise.

This last paper, we’re looking over a resident’s shoulder, and the Bedard ad is there for a third time.

There’s also a bicycle ad on the lefthand column. That seems unlikely for a wild 1872 Kansas, but I could be wrong there.

Anyway, Flynn and de Havilland are going on the foodless, pointless picnic trope. They ride out to this place, climb down from their horses, have a few sentences of painful dialog and then decide it is time they head back. It advances the plot, they probably thought to themselves.

This is their fifth movie together. The first western for both. Maybe that’s why it feels like they have, well, the critics call it chemistry, and who am I to argue that point? She was apparently also in a rut with the roles she was receiving. Or maybe that kid with the anachronistic rubber bands has replaced Errol Flynn’s sheriff character with an alien who rips people’s faces off:

Soon after, the newspaper editor gets killed, and she could be a target. When you count her brother, the bored guy Hatton killed at the beginning of the film, the little boy who was dragged to his death by runaway horses … Just knowing this man is a hazard.

Here’s the dramatic finish:

The sheriff is trying to take Yancy out of town to avoid mob justice, but Surrett and his gang chase down the train to break out their man. There is a shootout, and the train catches fire. Then there’s a shoot out on the burning train! It’s a marvelously well done piece, perhaps even more so since we’re talking the 1930s.

If your train is on fire and the good guys are in the next car up, there’s only one thing to do. You get off the train. And if the train is still moving you have to take the plunge and hope that your fellow cowboys, and stunt people, are good horse handlers:

We saw three people escape the burning train this way, each exit more thrilling than the last. This one is the head bad guy and, below, Surrett for a moment has his hands on the saddle and his feet on the ground, pogoing up into the seated position:

Immediately after that Hatton and his sidekick, who escaped the burning train car and worked their way up and over the coal car, shoot and kill all the bad guys. Admittedly I have the advantage of 80 years of hindsight here, but this was, to say the least, a bad tactical move by the bad guys. All three had gotten off the train, and then continued to ride, in parallel, with the still-moving locomotive. Turn around! Live to set up the possibility of a sequel! This is a classic and important film in many ways, but imagine if Surrett escapes, skins out of town and they started teasing the possibility of sequels in 1939!

At the end of the film Col. Dodge returns. He’s grateful that Hatton has saved the city named after him, so now Dodge tries to convince the sheriff to come out and clean up a new burg, Virginia City, in Nevada. But I can’t do that, sayeth the swashbuckler, I have a 17th century British drama to make next. (But he would soon be in a movie set in Virginia City, Nevada, albeit the action takes place a bit earlier.) Also, me and the lady are to be wed and are honeymooning in New York. But then, after a great deal of emoting-upon-eavesdropping from the hall, she comes into the room and says “When do we leave?”

And so they climb on a wagon and head west:

Which is good, it gives us the iconic last shot. They’re literally riding off into the sunset:

Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland made eight movies together. A veteran of 61 films and TV shows, a winner of two Oscars, and could count plenty of time on the theatre stage. She was still being asked about her time with Flynn on her 100th birthday.

Edit: She’s 103 today.

Aug 19

Thought bubbles, I really disliked the thought bubbles

Wrote a letter today. Who does that anymore? Well, I did, that’s who. I wrote and re-wrote and then proofread and then saved the file and uploaded it. But it was a letter! There were paragraphs and a salutation and everything!

This evening I went for a bike ride today, and once again my mind’s eye was stronger than my legs. I could blame the hills, I suppose, but the route I choose is about the flattest batch of roads available to me. And, even still, if I had the opportunity to ride tomorrow I’d think the same thing: I’ll do the usual and then add on the other usual for a super usual! But then I’d be out there and suddenly that doesn’t feel practical for any number of reasons real or imagined.

My speed has improved a little bit again, so back to average I guess, even as my left foot protests against the effort. The goal, as ever, is to build up many more miles. The usual is fun, fast, conveniently located and (mostly) flat. But it doesn’t add distance. And since I’m using all the flat roads, that means it’ll soon be back to the hills.

Here’s a bit of video from today’s ride. It’s of a new road we tried last week.

It is a lovely little neighborhood. Seems quiet and uneventful. I bet they don’t even need a Spider-Man.

I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse today. Let me just say that Spider-Man was never my favorite. Peter Parker was always wrestling with his conscience and that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to see in the limited amount of time I spend reading comics. (I was more of a Tony Stark comic fan. Before Robert Downey Jr. made it real, flying from your hands and feet was just cool. Plus the pulp version of Stark always played as more vulnerable than a worrier.)

And while Spidey was never my favorite, and I don’t normally watch a lot of cartoon movies, this was such a great story. It was just as good or better as every one had said. It is hip, it moves fast and it feels like a comic. It doesn’t insult the audience at all. The characters that are supposed to be likable are lovable. The villains are ill-defined, but that’s a complaint you probably never said about them in print, and seems very much a Cinematic Problem. But all of the usuals make an appearance, however brief. There’s some sort of understanding that you already have the gist of the bad guys, but let’s be realistic and acknowledge that people don’t come to these things as a blank slate. Even if they did: bad guy is bad.

Perhaps most importantly, it re-sets Spider-Man as a young character again. The new guy is back in high school, with some new new skills. Surely Sony will be looking to capitalize on this. Assuming they even have the rights, this week. Who can keep it all straight?

Even better, it introduced me to Spider-Noir. Give me a semi-fourth-wall-breaking 1930s Nick Cage Spider-Man show and I’d faithfully watch every sardonic adventure.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with the letter I wrote today. The marginalia was filed with dangling webs. A sticky stationary makes for a letter that is hard to put down.

Mar 18

No wendigos allowed

Here is today’s podcast. And if you’re hungry before you listen, we’ll either solve that problem or give you some ideas. It seems there’s a new kind of meat that may be making its way into your grocery shopping list. I doubt, very seriously, that it will happen, but it is fun to contemplate, as you will soon see.

I went for a run after work, sneaking in a quick four miles around the neighborhood before our dinner with friends. And I told them about this episode. Everyone agrees it is an unusual one, even the guy sitting at the table next to us.

We were at an upscale fancy kind of place, our friend who suggested it promised the best burgers in town. And that’s always one of those things you should follow up on. Because it would be a shame to not know where the best burger in town is, first of all. Plus, the previously nominated best burger in town was merely pretty decent. There was nothing wrong with it, but we went the one time and haven’t been back in 15 months, for whatever reason.

But this place, maybe we’d go back. The burgers were certainly good, if a bit overpriced. But you’re paying, you see, for the pleasure of sitting quite close to the next table over. And those people are paying for that same privilege. So it only seemed right that I should talk about recording a podcast where we discussed what is called clean human meat.

The guy at the next table was a little put off by this. Probably because I was talking about it. Definitely because I was talking about it with a little volume. Hey, these podcasts don’t publicize themselves, you know.

Anyway, we probably stayed at that places for about three hours, on the strength of burgers and fish. And everyone had a lovely meal and time. Our dinner dates work in the library and the art museum, so they have plenty of interesting things to tell us about. And we decided in the course of all of that that there are movies we all haven’t seen, but should.

How do you know which movies those are? It seems like we’d all need the input of someone else on this. But who knows all of the movies you’ve seen? No one, really. So it is down to self reporting. And so we decided on a methodology — because this is what you do on a Friday night in a college town. After much debate and thought, we figured we would self-nominate five films each from the Oscar nominated Best Screenplay and Best Film categories dating back to 1980. So you have to go over those and find five movies per. Mine were:

Grand Budapest Hotel
Lady Bird
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
The Savages

In The Bedroom
The Theory of Everything
Get Out
The Post

Next, someone is going to gather all of those in a spreadsheet and we’re going to start watching the common overlaps. There will be popcorn and merriment and, I’m sure, endless critiques.

There will be no human meat.

Happy weekend!

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Dec 17

And now a few Twitter notes about different mediums

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