Sunday, January 30, 2011

Jason goes to the closing night of Noir City

A week of insanity ends with a double feature showcasing the most insidious form of insanity ever--love.

First up, THE HUNTED (1948) starring the ice-skating noir queen Belita. Belita plays Ann Mead, a parolee after serving four years for her role in a diamond heist. She insists she's innocent, but that's no comfort to her lawyer Simon Rand (Pierre Watkin), whom she blames for cutting a deal to send her away. It's even less comfort to cop Johnny Saxon (Preston Foster), her former lover who arrested her. 4 years ago she threatened to kill them both. Maybe that was just an angry outburst, but she does show up in Saxon's apartment. For all the world she appears calm, simply protesting her innocence and wanting him to take her back. But maybe that's just the cold, calculating criminal she is. A fine story, and while Belita's not the greatest actress they do find a way to shoehorn in an ice skating scene for her (she becomes the main attraction at the local rink, doing her specialty act during intermission of the hockey matches).

And finally, Noir City ended with a bang with ANGEL FACE (1952). Behind the scenes, this film was made to torture British actress Jean Simmons after producer Howard Hughes brought her to the U.S. with designs to add her to his "harem." When she refused, he specifically hire Otto Preminger to direct with explicit instructions to be as cruel as possible to her. But on screen, she's the cruel one as angel faced Diane Tremayne. When her stepmother nearly dies of gas inhalation, Diane sets her eyes on ambulance driver/daffy chump Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum, possibly the coolest chump ever). She plays innocent beautifully, but manages to drive a wedge between him and his girl Mary (Mona Freeman). She even convinces him to become the family's chauffeur. Of course, you know it has to end badly, and this delivers the twisted ending in spades. An absolutely perfect way to say goodbye to Noir City.

Check that, I'm not saying "goodbye," I'm saying "see ya next year!"

Total Running Time: 179 minutes
My Total Minutes: 220,677

Jason goes to the penultimate day of Noir City

A four movie day. That might seem like a lot for some people, but it's my first of the year, near the end of January. I'm getting off to kind of a slow start. That'll pick up once Indiefest starts next Thursday.

We start with a Freudian double feature, starting with Fritz Lang's SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1948). Celia Barrett (Joan Bennett) takes a little trip to Mexico to clear her head after her brother passes away. She has an old friend Bob (James Seay) waiting back home with a marriage proposal, but it was actually his idea for her to take this trip, wanting her to be sure she isn't accepting while still grieving. Too bad for him that she meets and falls for Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave), and ends up marrying him. He's an odd man who excites her--an architect who keeps a collection of "felicitous" rooms (he just has a different definition of felicitous). The story sort of defies easy comprehension, it's almost surrealism at times. It's full of Lang's ostentatious set design and cinematography (courtesy of Stanley Cortez), and it's full of over-the-top Freudianism--domineering women, a scarf pullet taut that suddenly goes limp, a woman talking how she'll "fix" her husband while casually waving a knife And without giving too much away, I'll also say it's actually an old-fashioned romance, in that the, marriage is never really real until he carries her over the threshold properly. I know, I'm so old fashioned.

Then I saw BLIND ALLEY (1939), a movie where the Freudian bits were window dressing on a story that's really a simple (and very well done) story of an intellectual battling a psychopathic killer with nothing but his mind. Dr. Shelby (Ralph Bellamy) is hosting a dinner part with a few friends when they are rudely interrupted by escaped killer Hal Wilson (Chester Morris, doing something of a James Cagney impression, see!). To modern audiences, Dr. Shelby's Freudian analysis of Wilson's mannerisms and dreams inspires mostly eye rolls and an "Oh, brother!" (seriously, that's exactly what my friend said at the end). It's a shame that part doesn't date well, since the rest of it is a good, tight, suspenseful story and the 'brains vs. guns' angle works very well. This has been remade many times, and the program notes say this version is the best. I'm just thinking it might stand up to one more remake, with a more modern take on psychoanalysis.

Then after a break for a little wine tasting and a little dinner, I was back for two more, this time tales of love gone wrong.

First up, THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945). How can I describe this oddity? Uncle Harry no one's uncle, really. He's Harry Quincey (George Sanders), an ultimate mild mannered bachelor, making pretty patterns for a textile mill and living with his two sisters Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester (Moyna McGill). The "Uncle" in his name comes from how non-threatening he is--the women in town call him uncle because he seems more avuncular than an eligible bachelor. But things change when he meets Deborah Brown from the corporate HQ in New York. He shows her around town, and they get along very well. Perhaps too well for his own good thinks Lettie. And there's where it gets weird. Harry has always lived alone with his sisters, and while the film couldn't say it explicitly (what with the Hays Code), it's pretty clear that Harry and Lettie have/had an incestuous relationship. And Lettie isn't ready to let Harry go. Allegedly there were 5 different endings written for the film (3 actually shot). I liked the ending we saw, but I can see many possible variations. Without explaining anything, there's a perfect crime and a bit of pleasant insanity.

And finally, the prize for the best title goes to SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948). It's also a fine film, though at 112 minutes it's kind of slow and tiring for the last film of the day. Widowed missionary Olivia Harwood (Ann Todd) returns to London. On the ship she meets Mark Bellis (Ray Milland), a painter and criminal (though she doesn't know it right away). He moves into her boarding house, and slowly they fall in love. But they need money, and he convinces her to join him in a plot against her best friend Susan Courtney (Geraldine Fitzgerald). An atmospheric gothic noir, it doesn't quite fit the traditional mold of noir, but Eddie Muller gave a great definition of noir--it has to do with suspect motives and people knowing they're doing the wrong thing but deciding to do it anyway. Well, that's certainly true of SO EVIL MY LOVE, and I certainly appreciate a movie where everyone who dies at the end--and deserves it.

Oh yeah, and it's supposedly based on a true unsolved murder.

Total Running Time: 360 minutes
My Total Minutes: 220,498

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Jason goes to Noir City--Friday, Jan 28

Two movies on "guys' night" in Noir City.

First up, CRASHOUT (1955), a tour-de-tough-guys that starts with a prison riot and breakout. Six inmates survive the escape, and are holed up in a cave, though the toughest (and therefore de facto leader) Vance Duff (William Bendix) is injured. He tempts them all with a share of his $180,000 bank job stash if they don't abandon him. So they're on the run, hiding from the dragnet, terrorizing innocent citizens, and double-crossing each other on their way to the prize. These are all bad guys--although the movie goes out of its way to show some of their humanity, so you know they have to get their comeuppance, but it's the journey that's the fun part. It does get slow in parts, but there are also great tense scenes and just watching the six guys joking around and out tough-guying each other is a blast.

And then the late show was a little masterpiece of larceny, victimization, and overzealous police tactics--LOOPHOLE (1954). Barry Sullivan is bank teller Mike Donovan. Con man Herman Tate (Don Beddoe) steals $50,000 from him, and when Donavon takes a weekend trying to figure it out rather than reporting it right away, he becomes the prime suspect--especially to bonding company investigator Gus Slavin (ultimate relentless tough guy Charles McGraw). Even without any evidence against him, Mike loses his job. And thanks to Slavin's persistence, every new job he gets doesn't last long, until he loses his house, and nearly his mind. It's a gripping, tense story that can be enjoyed on its own. But looking at it politically in terms of the era of McCarthyism can be even more rewarding.

Total Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 220,138

Jason goes to Noir City--Day...Thursday

I've missed too much, what with having my regular job. Anyway...

Thursday was a day of husband and wife insanity. First the husband, and the immortal Humphrey Bogart in THE TWO MRS CARROLLS (1947). Bogart plays Geoff Carroll, an American painter in England. He falls for hos sketch model Sally Morton (Barbara Stanwyck) while on a trip to Scotland. Only problem is he's married. But his wife dies, even though he took such great care of her, bringing her milk and everything. The new Mrs Carroll works out fine, until he starts acting weird. Maybe it's just exhaustion from his latest masterpiece, or maybe it's their new neighbor Alexis Smith (Cecily Latham), who flirts with him pretty hard. Bogart always bring something interesting to his roles, and dances across the line from calculating and insane fairly nicely (love the ending). In fact, all the acting is great, especially his creepily mature young daughter Bea (Ann Carter). It is more than a little daffy--it got many big laughs, not all of which were intentional. And it sometimes falls into self-parody, like when Bogart meets his wife's ex-boyfriend and announces "This looks like the start of a beautiful hatred." Fun for a laugh, but the uneven tone takes away from the greatness this story and this cast could've created.

And then it's the wife's turn to be crazy in MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945), sorta. It's more like fake crazy, which is okay because it's also a fake wife. Allow me to explain. Julia Ross (Nina Foch) is a young woman on her own in London. She goes to a secretarial employment agency where Sparkes (the odd-beaked Anita Bolster, also in THE TWO MRS CARROLLS) tells her she has a client who insists on a secretary with no attachments (nothing suspicious about that). See, too many of them have quit after just a few months due to family or boyfriend obligations. Well, she has no attachments, so she goes to work for Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Whitty, also in GASLIGHT). But she falls asleep after on cup of tea, and wakes up 2 days later, in a house by the sea, dressed and addressed as Mrs. Marion Hughes, the wife of Mrs. Hughes's son Ralph (George Macready). Wonderfully fast paced and tense, it packs a hell of a story into 65 minutes. The tension starts with her waking up, and the audience is just as trapped and bewildered as she is. Excellent story, and brilliantly executed.

Total Running Time: 164 minutes
My Total Minutes: 219,969

Friday, January 28, 2011

Jason donates to charity

But that's nothing, my bro-in-law is biking from Bellingham, WA to Roswell, NM to raise money for juvenile diabetes research (that's research in curing diabetes in juveniles, not juvenile research in diabetes). Information here:

Anyway, I told him I'd match whatever he raises by the end of January, up to fulfilling his goal of $1,000. I.e., everything up to $500 I match. Everything he raises above $500 means less I have to pay to meet the $1,000 goal.

As of this writing, he's at $432. So if you hate me and want me to suffer a little more, donate to raise that to exactly $500 and take more money from my pocket. If you love me and want to put money back in my pocket, donate even more!

Oh yeah, and also think about those sick kids. Maybe it's not all about me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 3

Trying to catch up, two more movies Sunday Night, a night of doubles:

First up, AMONG THE LIVING (1941). Albert Dekker plays a dual role as twin brothers John and Paul Raden. John's an industrialist and heir to the family fortune (their father just passed away). Paul is insane, locked in a room at the old family house (allegedly haunted), the victim of some apparent brain damage incurred as a boy when he tried to protect mommy from daddy. He's normally very sweet, even mistaken for a gentleman. Just so long as nothing reminds him of mommy's screams. John doesn't even know Paul is alive, but that soon changes after he escapes. The plot is kind of silly. Some of the double scenes are clever, making up in smart editing what they couldn't do with CGI. And Susan Hayward is adorable and sexy as love interest Millie Pickens.

Then there was A DOUBLE LIFE (1947) with the fantastic Ronald Colman. A couple of years back I saw William H. Macy at Cinequest, and he said in regards to "method" acting that if you really believe you're the character, that's not acting that's mental illness. Well, A DOUBLE LIFE is just about that, as Colman plays Anthony John, a highly accomplished actor. In the opening scene something is clearly odd--as he walks down the street and greets those people he knows, about half of them recall him as a great, engaging man and half recall him as a total monster. It's like no two people know the same Mr. John. A later bit of exposition between himself and his ex-wife/co-star Brita (Signe Hasso) sheds some light. Turns out when he's doing a comedy he's delightful. When he's doing a tragedy or dark drama, he's a beast. and, I suppose, he's everything in between. That's all fine and good, as his latest hit is a comedy, but know he has an idea to take the lead role in Othello. A fantastic take on acting as a mental disease, plus a breakout role for a young Shelley Winters.

Total Running Time: 171 minutes
My Total Minutes: 219,805

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jason goes to Noir City, day 2

I missed opening night because I was flying back from Hawai'i. I know, my life is soooo hard. Anyway, I caught a mid-afternoon double feature, one excellent and one embarrassingly bad. First up, the good one:

GASLIGHT (1944): It opens like so much good noir--with the aftermath of a murder. Paula's (Ingrid Bergman) aunt was just murdered. She goes off to Italy to study under the same music teacher who had made her aunt a star. But 10 years later, she can't focus on her singing because she's in love. She returns to the scene of the crime with her new husband Mr. Anton (Charles Boyer). But wedded bliss quickly descends into torture and madness. The twist is pretty predictable, but getting there was a lot of fun. And while Bergman took home the Oscar for her performance of a wife being driven insane (it also took home the Oscar for art direction and was nominated in pretty much all major categories), for me the real treat was a young (19 years old) Angela Lansbury making her film debut as the maid. She was a saucy little scene stealer back in the day!

And then there was STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944). A WWII soldier travels to California to meet the girl whom he corresponded with overseas. Upon arriving at the house on top of the cliff, it's clear that something is amiss. The girl is not there, but her mother and her friend are there to greet him, get him settled in, and show him the painting of the lovely Rosemary he's been dying to meet. It's a bit of a trip back in time to see a film that makes such a big deal about a woman doctor (of course, during wartime women have to do men's jobs!), and the ending is completely ridiculous. While GASLIGHT had some excellent points of comic relief, as far as I can tell all of the (abundant) laughs from STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT were unintentional.

Total Running Time: 170 minutes
My Total Minutes: 219,634

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for comedy shorts night--Jan 15, 2011

The first comedy shorts night of the new year!

POLICE (1916): Chaplin's final Essanay film, and quite a far ranging madcap adventure. Here's what I said when I first saw it at Niles back in December 2008.
Charlie plays an ex-con released back into the cruel world. He's swindled by a fake parson, fired by a cook, nearly robbed in a flophouse, and finally runs into his old cellmate, who convinces him to help him rob a house. The house happens to be home to the hard-working girl from the kitchen where he worked briefly (Edna Purviance, longtime Chaplin leading lady). She recognizes him, and after convincing him to go straight and chasing off his cellmate, she helps him out with the police.
Yup, that's pretty much it.

LONG FLIV THE KING (1926): Charley Chase in another film that I've seen before at Niles (this is getting more common, like I've been going here a lot). I saw this in November 2009, and at the time I said:
Charley Chase stars, as a condemned prisoner who marries the visiting princess of Thermosa so she can inherit the throne. But when the governor grants him a pardon, he becomes king. So he travels to Thermosa (with his sidekick Max Davidson) to claim his throne. Hilarious. I love Charley Chase.
What I fail to mention there, is the devious prime minister who plans to kill him and steal the throne. Or his henchman, Oliver Hardy. Or that my only complaint is Max Davidson's unfortunate portrayal of a Jewish stereotype (had he just been an ordinary greedy bastard with no reference to race or creed, it would be plenty funny, and that anti-semitic stuff just doesn't play anymore).

Then a brief intermission (I won't get into the burning popcorn and the fire alarms going off. Needless to say, it was an exciting night to be short-handed with a sold out show) and back to the movies.

THE BOAT (1921): Buster Keaton in yet another movie I'd seen before at Niles. Here's what I said in August 2009:
Buster Keaton's classic of destruction. Just trying to take his boat the Damfino on it's maiden voyage, he destroys his house, his car, the dock, and more. He ends up soaked, the Damfino does somersaults on the waves, and when he sends an S.O.S and they ask what boat is calling, answering "Damfino" doesn't result in help.
Yup, that sums it up pretty well. Plus there's a treat at the end for any lip-readers.

DOUBLE WHOOPEE (1929): Finally, a movie I hadn't seen before. Laurel and Hardy plus Jean Harlow! Stan and Ollie show up at a fancy hotel at just the right time to be mistaken for visiting royalty. In fact, they're the new doorman and footman, ready to start work. And of course their usual hilarious mayhem ensues. The visiting prince routinely falls down an open, muddy elevator shaft. And a swanky blond (Harlow) gets her dress caught in the car door and enters the hotel in her undergarments.

Total Running Time: 101 minutes
My Total Minutes: 219,464

Jason slips into a Vortex and sees WHISKEY MOUNTAIN

Catching up on my >1 week old reviews

Hicksploitation month at the Vortex continues. Bikers vs. psycho pot farmers (they must have the reefer madness!) A treasure hunt for rare old rifles. And music and lyrics by Charlie Daniels. Good times.

Running Time: 95 minutes
My Total Minutes: 219,363

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Jason explains the tides

I'm not really that interested in piling on Bill O'Reilly's patently absurd argument that the tides can't be explained and therefore are proof of God's existence (or for that matter, his apparently odd observation that tides requires communication. Is he claiming that the only way water can move around in a regular, predictable manner is if someone is communicating with the water? Or was his "no miscommunication" statement an attempt at poetic language?) I can refute it pretty quickly:
  1. Yes, science can explain the tides*
  2. Even if science can't explain something, that doesn't mean God exists. Nor does it mean the existence of God is a satisfactory explanation. It just means science hasn't finished explaining everything it can, which is a natural result of humans being imperfect, and therefore having an imperfect understanding of our world. In fact, giving all the imperfection of humanity on display on a daily basis, it's pretty remarkable that science explains as much as it does.
But what I really want to talk about is the response. For all the 'Ha ha! BillO doesn't know the Moon exists, derp!' and 'High school science students know how tides work, LOL!' I haven't seen anyone respond (not that I've searched all that hard) with a satisfying explanation of why there are two tidal cycles every day (if you doubt that, spend 24 hours at the seashore watching the tide come in, go out, come in, and go out...or just peruse any tide table). A facile explanation like 'the Moon exerts a gravitational pull on the Earth, raising the water levels while the Earth rotates underneath' would only explain one tide a day. You see...because the Moon is only on one side of the Earth at a time...because there's only one Moon orbiting the Earth. Anyway, the typical high school science student probably can't explain two tides a day, but a typically weak "explanation" looks like this:
I don't know the original source, I plucked this off a thread which, in typical fashion, immediately devolved into childish name-calling.

The problem is this diagram does a horrible job of explaining the two-tides-a-day phenomenon. The picture on the top seems to suggest either that there are two Moons (or the Moon revolves around the Earth twice a day?) or that the Moon is responsible for one high tide and the Sun is responsible for the other. I've already dismissed the possibility that there are actually two Moons. The Moon revolves around the Earth every ~27.3 days, not twice a day. And if the Sun were responsible for the second high tide, it would be at noon (Sun directly overhead) every day. It isn't, the assertion that the Sun causes the second high tide every day is absurd (the alignment of the Earth, Moon, and Sun does determine how high and low the tides are every day, though. The Sun has a very much secondary effect).

The text is not much more helpful either. I quote:
Roughly every 12 hours, the oceans on each side of the globe rise a little and then fall back. These tides are caused by the varying gravitational pull between the spinning Earth and the Moon and the Sun.
What the hell? Did this just bring the "gravitational pull [of] the spinning Earth" into this? Okay, the rotation of the Earth has nothing to do with it's gravitational field. Or at least, the Earth would continue to exert a gravitational pull even if it wasn't spinning. The rotation of the Earth is important in the tides, as the Earth rotates under the two tidal bulges once every day, leading to the two high tides per day at a given point on the Earth. But this seems to suggest that either the spinning of the Earth creates its gravity, or that the spinning of the Earth is somehow responsible (e.g., through a centrifugal force**) for the second tidal bulge. The problem with this is obvious--the Earth rotates around its axis, and the centrifugal force is roughly equal no matter which side of the Earth you're on. There's certainly nothing about the spinning of the Earth around its axis that would preferentially increase the centrifugal force on the side opposite the Moon.

However, centrifugal force is part of the answer. For the full answer, I have to refer back to a deliberate and probably undetected error. I have referred to the Moon either orbiting or revolving around the Earth at least three times so far. However, that's not absolutely correct. The Moon doesn't orbit the Earth--in fact, the Earth and the Moon both orbit the common center-of-mass of the Earth-Moon system (this is the classic two-body problem.) That center of mass is actually inside the earth, about a quarter of the way from the surface to the center of the Earth, and on the side facing the Moon. The Earth and Moon orbit this common center once every lunar period (~27.3 days). So while the Earth is rotating about its axis every ~24 hours (ignoring the small difference between sidereal and solar time, which is unimportant in this explanation), it's also wobbling about this center-of-mass point every ~27.3 days. This orbit also imparts a centrifugal force on the surface, and since the distance from the center-of-mass to the surface of the Earth opposite the Moon is greater than the distance to the surface nearer the Moon, the centrifugal force is greater on that side. And this centrifugal force creates a second tidal bulge on the side of the Earth opposite the Moon. Ta daaaaaa!

For anyone still reading this, I want to assure you that I didn't have a political reason to write this. Nor do I have a philosophical motivation to wade into the Atheism vs. Religion debate (I know what side I'm on, and am not all that interested in arguing about it). Nor am I trying to prove I'm smarter than everyone else (I'm lucky that this was covered in my physics classes at college, and that it stuck in my brain). My only point is that if you're going to mock someone for not knowing how something works, you better make damn sure you know how it works, or you're going to look mighty foolish when someone else corrects you.

No...that's not it, either. That's part of it, but my real point is "Isn't it cool that something you thought was so simple is actually kind of complex in a way you haven't thought about before?" So I guess if your answer is "No" then my work here was for nothing. Sorry for wasting your time.

*Science can explain the tides on some level, although of course if you dig deeper there are more fundamental questions. You can explain the tides if you accept as given concepts of gravity and inertia (as well as the rather remarkable fact that gravitational and inertial mass are exactly the same), but if you get down to what causes gravity, mass, momentum, inertia...well, pretty quickly you get into some of the hardest cutting edge areas of both theoretical and experimental physics. This aspect of science--rewarding the curious mind by uncovering three new questions in response to every answer--is the very aspect of scientific inquiry that antagonists use to "stump" science and prove how little we really know (as if abandoning scientific inquiry with a shrug and a "God did it" somehow means you "know" more).

**For you high school science students and teachers who just freaked out that I referred to the centrifugal "force" (which isn't a real force, but a pseudo-force) when I should have instead referred to centripetal acceleration...get a life. When you live in an accelerated reference frame, "pseudo-forces" have real effects, and the math works out the same whether or not you refer to centrifugal forces.

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a Laurel and Hardy afternoon

It's our monthly presentation from the local tent of Sons of the Desert--the official Laurel and Hardy Film Appreciation Society. Today we celebrated the changes of new year by showing the changes from silent to sound. Early Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang talkies.

SMALL TALK (1929): The Our Gang kids are in an orphanage when little Wheezer is adopted by a high society lady. As nice as that is, he misses the gang, especially his sister Mary. He's so homesick he actually falls ill, so the gang tries to rescue him and they all end up getting adopted.

UNACCUSTOMED AS WE ARE (1929): Ollie brings Stan home for dinner, but Mrs. Hardy is upset he didn't ask her. So she leaves for her mother's place and leaves them to make their own dinner. Of course, they destroy everything and it only gets worse when Ollie's neighbor Mrs. Kennedy offers to help and ends up catching her dress on fire. So she's in Hardy's apartment in her underwear when Mr. Kennedy (Edgar Kennedy) comes home. More wackiness occurs. Of course, it all felt really familiar...because it was re-made as the second half of BLOCK-HEADS just 9 years later.

Then a quick intermission and the final two shorts

BOXING GLOVES (1929): Our Gang puts up a heavyweight boxing match between Chubby and Joe (the two big fat kids). They fight over a girl, and the clever kids convince them both to fight by telling each that the other will take a dive in the second round. When neither does, the fight gets pretty wild. There's also a bit of a mystery with the film, as most of the long shots of the boxing scene are silent (later versions dubbed in children's cheers). An official MGM press release claimed the children cheered so loudly that it blew out the tubes in the microphone. Whether that's true or just a clever cover story for a lost soundtrack, who can say?

THEY GO BOOM (1929): And finally, Laurel and Hardy try to have a quiet night's sleep, but Hardy has the sniffles and can't stop sneezing. Laurel's attempts to help him have predictably chaotic effects, ending with an angry landlord and a blown up room. Hilarious!

Total Running Time: 75 minutes
My Total Minutes: 219,268

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for THE LOST WORLD

But first a few shorts:

THE CARTOON FACTORY (1924): Koko the clown does his stuff with master animator David Fleischer. Fleischer was hands-down the most inventive animator of the era, if not all time. David draws Koko, and brings him to life with an electric current. Koko finds the titular Cartoon Factory, with a wild machine that automatically draws food, girls, etc. but erases them before Koko can enjoy them. Then it gets weird--Koko finds a machine that makes toy soldiers...that are played by David Fleischer (live-action characters in a cartoon world created by a live action character). Koko torments the toy soldier David Fleischer who retaliates by (wait for it...) drawing soldiers on the walls who spring to life and attack Koko. That would be animated soldiers created by a live action character inhabiting a cartoon world created by the same live action character. Take that, INCEPTION!

THE GIRL AND HER TRUST (1912): An early short from D. W. Griffith at Biograph, an action film about a telegraph girl who is robbed of a $2000 train delivery. But she wires ahead to the next station and the robbers are duly captured. It's actually a remake of Griffith's film THE LONEDALE OPERATOR, which he made just a year before. An interesting look at the master Griffith honing his craft.

ORANGES AND LEMONS (1923): Stan Laurel, well before teaming up with Oliver Hardy, and really playing a Chaplin-inspired character (not surprising, as he was Chaplin's understudy in the Fred Karno music hall troupe), causes an extreme amount of chaos in the orchard where he works.

Then after the intermission, the feature. I actually saw this for the first time a few years ago when it played at the SF International Film Festival with live music by Dengue Fever. What I wrote at the time was:
The movie was the stop-motion animated breakthrough THE LOST WORLD. Willis O'brien (who went on to make a little movie called KING KONG) did the effects for this story of explorers and a lost world populated by dinosaurs and ape-men, based on the book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Danger, action, romance, Wallace Beery as a crazy scientist! Awesome.

Would've been awesome enough, but this night was also about the music. And that was provided by Dengue Fever, a Los Angeles based Cambodian pop/psychedelic band. They were the subject of the documentary SLEEPWALKING THROUGH THE MEKONG, which I saw at Indiefest last year. Their soundtrack gave the perfect exciting, other-worldly touch to the movie, and seeing them live gives me a new appreciation for their music. Awesome.
Ummm...yeah, I think the first chapter sums it up pretty well. As for the second paragraph, Bruce Loeb also provided awesome accompaniment.

Total Running Time: 101 minutes
My Total Minutes: 219,193

Saturday, January 8, 2011


And the story continues. Harry's in danger, Voldemort's getting ever more powerful, Ron, Harry, and Hermione fight...again. And then reunite...again. I don't know about the wisdom of breaking the last book into two movies. It leaves this movie with too much setup and not enough payoff. And there's a big stretch in the middle (at least 30 minutes, but felt like a solid hour) that was just boring.

I can't wait for part 2, so this will finally be over. And I'd be a little curious to see a fan edit of the last two movies into one movie, taking out all the unnecessary crap.

Running Time: 146 minutes
My Total Minutes: 219,092

Jason falls into a Vortex and see THE MOONSHINE WAR

Oh yeah, I'm back at my favorite underground movie club, and I kept my new year resolution by not drinking a Martini (I had Manhattans instead. They were delicious, I would like to visit this "Manhattan" place someday, anyone know where it is?)

Anyway, this was the kickoff of hicksploitation month at the Vortex. I didn't stick around for the second film, BIG BAD MOMMA, but the first one was certainly...something.

Alan Alda stars as moonshiner John W. (Son) Martin and Patrick McGoohan plays Prohibition Agent Frank Long. They seem to know each other, and while Frank is the type of Agent who isn't above sampling the local moonshine, he's still got a job to do. There's some standoff and nothing really comes of it. Then it turns into a completely different movie. A "doctor" (claims to be a dentist, but that's immaterial) and his adult son rob a couple in a restaurant, stealing all of their clothes. For some reason they team up with Agent Frank, but soon the doctor goes too far and the final standoff is actually Frank and John against the psycho doctor and his son. It doesn't make a lot of sense (although I love how the whole town comes out just to watch the standoff, not to intervene in any way), it's not really exploitative enough to be hicksploitation, and I will never be able to forget Alan Alda attempting a southern accent--and that's a bad thing.

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 218,946

Monday, January 3, 2011

Jason watches TRUE GRIT

Confession time, I've never seen the original John Wayne version of TRUE GRIT. It's now top of my Netflix queue, and I suppose that's praise enough for the Coen Bros. remake starring Jeff Bridges. Mostly I'm curious whether I liked it for the story (which was engaging enough) or Jeff Bridges' gruff sense of humor (which was awesome).

Go somewhere else to find a synopsis of the film, I'm tired. Or better yet, go to the theater and just see it. Be content just knowing I liked it.

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 218,634

Jason watches THE KING'S SPEECH

I have to admit that no matter how many great things I heard about this movie, I wasn't all that excited about it from the trailers. I knew there would be great acting (Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush wouldn't disappoint), but there's a scene in the trailer with Rush sitting on the throne and Firth yelling at him for it. Rush asks him why he should even listen to him, and Firth yells "Because I have a voice!" to which Rush smiles and says calmly, "Yes, you do."

Usually trailers are supposed to have the best scenes in the movie. And certainly this was supposed to be dramatic, but every time I saw the trailer it struck me as annoyingly, glibly over-written. Well, there's a little more in that scene that takes some of the annoying glibness out and makes it a bit more natural, but it's still not my favorite scene (same goes for the "You're peculiar"/"I take that as a compliment" scene). And I found the continual anti-smoking message equally annoying. But focusing on those scenes alone takes away from an otherwise exceptional movie. Yes, Firth and Rush are amazing in their roles, and it's quite an accomplishment to make audiences sympathize with the problems of a privileged royal.

Running Time: 118 minutes
My Total Minutes: 218,524

Jason goes to bad movie night and watches SNAKES ON A PLANE

And I'm sick and tired of this motherfucking movie in my motherfucking brain!

I simply can't say more than that. At least, not without saying something ridiculously racist, and I did plenty of that last Sunday night.

Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 218,406

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for THREE WORD BRAND

First a few shorts

FELIX MINDS THE BABY (1922): Felix the Cat, one of the earliest cartoon stars, is starving. He tries to steal a fish from the market, but is kicked out. He finds a dad who is tearing out what hair he has left trying to entertain his baby. The baby likes Felix, so Felix has a babysitting job that will get him fed. Of course, the baby is a little tough to handle, and wackiness ensues.

THE PERILS OF PAULINE, EPISODE 4: THE DEADLY TURNING (1914): I've seen this one a few times at Niles. Pauline enters an auto race, her enemies plot to make her crash, but of course she turns the tables and escapes while they crash.

I'M ON MY WAY (1919): Another Niles favorite. Harold Lloyd is about to marry Bebe Daniels, but spending a little time with Snub Pollard, his heavy-set wife Margaret Joslin (both of whom worked for Essanay here in Niles), and their unruly children drive him crazy and cure him of the marriage bug.

Then a quick intermission, and on to the feature.

THREE WORD BRAND (1921): The iconic square-jawed William S. Hart plays a triple role in an exciting western drama. Early on, he plays settler Ben Trego. As he's set upon by Indians, he sends his young twin sons off, where they end up in an orphanage. Years later, one of the twins is 'Three Word' Brand (Hart), a cowboy who operates a simple ranch. His nickname comes from his tendency to speak little--he's the "listenin'est man in the county." His neighbor is an unscrupulous rancher, rustling his cattle and conspiring with the powers that be on a water deal that would bankrupt the other ranchers. However, there's a new Governor named Marsden (Hart) coming into power, and in the super-coincidence world that so many silent films take place in, he happens to be none other than Brand's long-lost twin. And when he finds out, rather than introducing himself and expecting brotherly love and help, he hatches a plan--his ranch hand will take Governor Marsden on a hunting trip that will show him the devastation of the water deal. Meanwhile, Brand will go to the capitol and pose as the Governor, vetoing the deal. A little illogical, but a whole lot of fun nonetheless.

Next Saturday, one of my favorites--THE LOST WORLD. Wallace Beery in a thrilling adventure based on an Arthur Conan Doyle novel and featuring the pre-King Kong stop motion animation of Willis O'Brien.

Total Running Time (estimated): 103 minutes
My Total Minutes: 218,301

Jason watches MEGAMIND

It helped that I was drinking a beer and eating nachos at the time, thanks to the Bear Tooth Theatre in Anchorage, AK. I went with my brother, but his daughter/my niece was too much of a pill to come along, so rather than having a fun family movie event, it was just two late 30-something dudes watching a kiddy cartoon. Awesome

Anyway, as for the movie, there were some amusing moments. I can't say I was greatly impressed or disappointed. It didn't even crack the top three wide-release children's CGI cartoon I saw in 2010 (TOY STORY 3, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, and DESPICABLE ME).

Running Time: 95 minutes
My Total Minutes: 218,198