Tuesday, December 27, 2016

RIP Carrie Fisher

I'm saddened to announce here that actress, author, screenwriter, and producer Carrie Fisher has passed away after having a heart attack a few days back. Born the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, she was best known for her role as Princess Leia Organa of the Star Wars franchise.

I remember seeing Star Wars for the first time, the real, original Star Wars, and Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia was one of the things I marveled at. Here was a princess, but breaking down all the stereotypes we thought of when we thought of princesses, and Carrie's attitude and gutsiness was no small part in that role. We loved her, and we loved her romance with Harrison Ford' Han Solo, and loved it even more when we recently found their affair on set was real. And even today, the day after I saw Rogue One, where she appeared as her young self to last year's triumphant return as the character in The Force Awakens, she is still perfect, and still beautiful, and now, more the template for a princess than the stereotype breaker.

I've loved Carrie in other films, especially one of my favorites, The Blues Brothers, and read a couple of her books, and always enjoyed seeing her participation in other film and TV projects. She had made quite a comeback in recent years, and become a crusader for mental health and drug recovery, and we still loved her. The outpouring of concern when she had her heart attack on board a plane last week showed that love worldwide. Carrie Fisher, our Princess Leia, will be missed.

The Dark Corner

The Dark Corner ~ I remember seeing this when I was a little kid, and of course then the whole novelty of seeing it was to simply see a movie with Lucille Ball. I grew up on Lucy as most of America did. I fondly remember afternoon reruns of "I Love Lucy," morning reruns of "The Lucy Show," and "Here's Lucy" running in prime time on CBS concurrently. She was a television fixture, so seeing this black and white detective flick on UHF was a treat of a different flavor.

Years later when I saw that this was running on board the Disney Fantasy in the Buena Vista Theatre as part of the 2016 TCM Classic Cruise, I had to check it out. The film was introduced by Eddie Muller, the czar of noir, and Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz - and really if I had to tell you that last part, shame on you, and I know how old you are. Either way, I bet you never knew Lucy made a film noir.

Made in 1946, this taut thriller gave the impression that it was time to poke a bit of fun at the genre. The Dark Corner has a few film noir clich├ęs that it turns on its head and laughs at. Add Lucy to the mix, even though she's the polar opposite of her comedienne character, and there's a lot of fun here. Sadly, she didn't have a lot of fun on set. She was on loan to Fox from MGM as punishment for trying to get out of her contract, and director Henry Hathaway hated her and thought she had no talent, and felt he was being punished by being saddled with her. So this was not a good experience for Lucy, but after hearing what Hathaway thought of her, she was determined to give her finest performance. Not only does she, hell, Lucy steals the movie.

Add in the possible fire between her and male lead Mark Stevens, the only man of whom Desi Arnaz was ever jealous, if that puts this potential onscreen romance in perspective, that makes this flick quite a footnote in Lucy's career. This story of a shady private investigator set up for murder, and his resourceful secretary who helps him out is classic noir, set apart by Stevens' wisecracks and Lucy's fast talking chutzpah, but rooted with Clifton Webb's evil baddie. Check this one out, it's well worth it, and you'll see Lucy through cool new eyes. Recommended.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

George Michael 1963-2016

Wow, 2016, you suck. George Michael, the singer-songwriter-producer born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, has passed away peacefully on Christmas Day.

Wham!, or Wham! UK as they were known when I discovered them, was one of my favorite groups, their blue-eyed soul blended with white boy rap was something I hadn't seen before and I dug it. I remember the duo, Michael combined with Andrew Ridgeley, and at the time, Pepsi and Shirlie, as their back-up singers and dancers, were one of my favorite acts. Long before the hit with "Bad Boys" and the megahit album Make It Big, I was a fan.

When George started to become the dominant solo act of the duo, and then went officially solo, I was still there. Songs like "Faith," "I Want Your Sex," and one of my personal favorite songs (and videos) of all time, "Freedom! '90" continued to hurl his star higher. Even sex scandals couldn't keep the man down. His "Last Christmas" is a favorite every holiday season, this one being no exception.

George Michael will be missed, a loss to many, and another victim of an unforgiving year. Love you, man.




Friday, December 23, 2016

A Christmas Carol 1910

A Christmas Carol ~ This 1910 version of Charles Dickens' classic holiday story is part of the Thomas Edison collection. When Edison was pioneering the motion picture industry at the start of the 20th century, he made dozens of amateur films, among them the first versions of Frankenstein, and this, A Christmas Carol.

Scrooge is portrayed by Marc McDermott, a stage actor from Australia who was a featured player of Edison's. Even without sound, his Scrooge is very George C. Scott-like, and comes across well despite the audio handicap. The short features some of the first use of double exposure filming to create a 'ghost' as a motion picture special effect. As it's only ten minutes long, and in the public domain, you can see the whole thing below:



Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Strait-Jacket

Strait-Jacket ~ Like Santa Claus, this is one of those films that a fellow manager at my old video store used to run all the time, sometimes as punishment, sometimes for his own amusement. Just as Mommy Dearest was a video store favorite, and we knew all the lines (and some callbacks) just as well as some of us knew The Rocky Horror Picture Show, we also knew the real Joan Crawford films as well, and when I say 'real,' I mean real bad. And bad ranges from the unwatchable Trog to the height of mad horror What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, which is nearly as fun as the aforementioned Rocky.

Here in 1964's Strait-Jacket, directed by William Castle, Joan is just home from the asylum after serving twenty years time for taking an axe to her cheating husband. Now living with her daughter, played by Diane Baker, who introduced the film on the TCM Classic Cruise, when bodies start to pile up, guess who gets the blame? Crawford demanded that Baker play her daughter after the time they had together on The Best of Everything in 1959.

William Castle tackles this tight Robert Bloch story with apt terror and camp, with Joan Crawford dressing up like Mildred Pierce and trying to be a half-her-age seductress. It's fun and scary, with a wonderful plot that fits perfectly and shocks first time viewers. One can see Crawford's control freak hands on many parts of this film. In particular, I loved the big Pepsi advertisement on the table in one scene, a company she owned at the time.

Diane Baker is marvelous, a young George Kennedy is good too, and an even younger Lee Majors as Crawford's cheating husband disavows that he was ever in this movie, which just makes it even more priceless. I loved this, no longer a punishment, but a joy. As always, it is so fun to see these films, even these camp classics, up on the big screen, especially in a palatial theater like on board the Disney Fantasy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lost Hits of the New Wave #42


"2000 Miles" by The Pretenders

Back in the day, before A Very Special Christmas came out, followed by several sequel albums, there were virtually no holiday songs in the New Wave, maybe only a handful, including "Christmas Wrapping," "Do They Know It's Christmas," and this one.

Originally released for Christmas 1983 around the release of the Pretenders third album, the first with their new line-up after the deaths of band members Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott. As the years have gone by, it has become a new wave classic of the season.

Here's the music video that was made a few years after the song first came out.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Real Steel

Real Steel ~ I had seen parts of this one on television a few times and had never gotten to the theaters or had the time to see it all the way through. My bro-in-law insisted I had to see this one, and so lent me a copy. Now I'm kinda pleased he did.

Based on the old Richard Matheson story "Steel," which also inspired a "Twilight Zone" episode back in the day, this version is more of a father-son relationship movie than a 1950s speculative fiction romp, although that's not to say the special effects and science fiction aspects don't take center stage when they're happening.

It's 2027, and robot boxing is a thing, and has been a thing for a while, long enough for there to be has-beens in the game. Has-been boxer and robot boxer controller Charlie Kenton is played by Hugh Jackman, who while on the rodeo circuit trying to make a buck and running from debtors, learns his ex-wife has died and his son Max (Dakota Goyo) needs a guardian. To get back, Charlie makes a deal to watch his son for the summer in exchange for selling his parental rights, and buys a new boxing robot - Noisy Boy. He hopes to make all the money he needs with this robot, but his son insists that half the money is his. Yeah, road trip.

With son in tow, Charlie takes Noisy Boy to the underground robot boxing circuit. A cross between "Robot Wars" (or for those late to the party, "Battlebots"), the WWE, Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, and Fight Club, Charlie, against his son's protests, takes the main event bout against a robot called Midas, the 'gold-blooded killer, programmed for pain.' Anthony Mackie (the Falcon to all us Marvel fans) is a master fight master and a joy as Charlie takes his medicine like a bitch.

After getting robots of his own destroyed, the kid finds his own, a sparring robot called Atom. More adrenaline pumping robot fights follow from the bottom to the top, a pounding soundtrack and 1980s style training montages included. All through it, the bond and relationship between Charlie and Max become stronger. We all know what's going to happen when the summer's over, but still we're digging the robot fights.

In the end we're treated to a battle with the world champion 'bot Zeus reminiscent of the best of the Rocky fights and don't be surprised if you get a bit misty. Also props to Evangeline Lilly as Jackman's sparring partner, and of course to Hugh and Dakota Goyo for terrific performances. This may have been a predictable drama, but the high spx action and happy ending bring it to another level. Excellent flick, recommended.

Monday, December 19, 2016

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ~ For a kid, tales of Jules Verne, and especially Captain Nemo, just fire the imagination, and this film has always been a grail for me in this way. I of course had read the books, but I had seen the movie Mysterious Island, with its great Ray Harryhausen effects, first, with Nemo as a peripheral character and yet so large - I wanted more. When I finally saw the 1954 Disney version of the real Nemo saga, I was thrilled.

Originally imagined as an animated feature over a decade before, Walt Disney eventually decided to make the move to live-action with this story, investing much in special effects, and winning Academy Awards for the effort. Coupled with an all-star cast - James Mason, Peter Lorre, and Kirk Douglas - this was a sure-fire hit, although the truth is it took several re-issues to get its money back. Either way, it remains a pinnacle of the genre, inspiring generations, just as the source material of Jules Verne did.

I got the chance to see this on the big screen recently at the 2016 TCM Classic Cruise, and it was introduced by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt, two of the men behind the special effects on the Star Wars movies, who were also spurred by this film to become the SPFX wizards they are today. The boys gave a 30-minute presentation about the making of the film, the special effects, and the miniatures, which was fantastic, featuring footage from the Disney vaults never before seen.

The cast is simply stunning, with James Mason as the prototypical Bond villain a good decade before they really hit the screen, as Captain Nemo. The camaraderie between Douglas and Lorre, and Douglas and Esmeralda the seal too, as a matter of fact make this a buddy movie before its time as well. Kirk Douglas' Ned Land is flamboyant, loud, and lovable, and we do love him, and root for this hero throughout the movie. We love him so much that the wonderfully addictive and simultaneously obnoxious "Whale of a Tale" song is even excusable. You will be humming it for days after seeing it.

Highly recommended, a classic Disney adventure that we have rarely seen since.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Zsa Zsa Gabor 1917-2016

The 99 year old Hungarian born actress passed away earlier today after a heart attack. Zsa Zsa was noted for her numerous marriages, nine in total, that included the actor/director George Sanders and hotel billionaire Conrad Hilton. Often confused with her sister Eva, Zsa Zsa was not on “Green Acres.” She was however in Moulin Rouge in 1952, Touch of Evil, and the cult classic Queen of Outer Space, among others.

From the 1950s through to the 1990s she appeared in dozens of film and television productions, from drama to comedy, and as time went on, frequently appearing as herself or a parody of herself. Sadly her claims to fame since that time have been legal, financial or medical. Through it all, Zsa Zsa was inpenatrable, and was given last rites back in 2010, but stayed with us another six years. She will be missed by many, not by some, but remembered by all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Alan Thicke 1947-2016

While I was never a big fan of his most famous claim to fame, the TV series "Growing Pains," I'm going to miss Alan Thicke, who passed earlier today. The actor, writer, and TV host was known to me for other reasons. As a game show geek, I knew he had composed the themes to such shows as "Joker's Wild," "Celebrity Sweepstakes," and "Wheel of Fortune," among others. He was huge in his homeland of Canada, and was the father of Robin Thicke, but that's not what I remember him for either.

Two accomplishments made Thicke loom large on my radar, first as a writer on the hilarious and sadly forgotten "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" spin-off "Fernwood 2-Night," and then as the host of the late night American talk show, "Thicke of the Night." The latter exposed me to many bands, that today I still love (Midnight Oil springs to mind), and Thicke's insistence on giving viewers what they weren't getting from Johnny Carson made it all stand out. I was in the minority, but I loved it, and was sad to see it go.

I'm even sadder to see Alan Thicke himself go. I just recently saw him in a horrendous film parody called RoboDoc, in which he was the best thing. No matter what he was in, and he was in everything as he never stopped working, he was always great, and never lost his sense of humor. Alan Thicke will be missed.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Arrow S05 E09: What We Leave Behind

One of the things I found interesting in the aftermath of the Heroes V Aliens Invasion! Crossover was the way it seemingly ended or at least chilled ongoing plots and subplots in the individual shows. "Supergirl" tied up most of its loose ends, "The Flash" had an Alchemy and Savitar free week, the Legion of Doom took the week off from "DC's Legends of Tomorrow," and the cast of "Arrow" literally dreamed Prometheus and Artemis away. It's nice to get back to normal, almost without missing a beat.

Interestingly we open on the big mayoral holiday party a surprisingly stable Thea has thrown, where she and Oliver discuss agreeing to not talk about aliens and yet do anyway for a good few minutes. Oliver's date arrives, Susan Williams, who I predict will betray him worse than Artemis, and we get small talk and character advancement until Prometheus attacks Curtis and his husband Paul as they leave.

Paul is introduced to 'the gang' just as Billy Malone, Felicity's boyfriend is. If the DCTV shows have proven nothing, they've definitely demonstrated how outdated the secret identity concept is. Jeez, just tell the truth. If you can't tell the person you love the truth, that relationship is doomed. Curtis lies right up to and through his beating at the hands of Prometheus, and continues while hospitalized. I'm shocked, and my respect for Curtis has dropped.

Even when Paul confronts Curtis outright, he still lies. Paul knows that was the throwing star killer, knows Curtis has become a better fighter, can't he put it together? I was happy however that Billy wasn't falling for any bullshit. He figures out Curtis is Mr. Terrific pretty easily, now knows Prometheus is targeting Team Arrow, and wants Felicity protected. Billy should have a real chat with Paul.

When Curtis does confess, after basically being cornered, Paul is angered by being lied to all this time. He gives Curtis an ultimatum, the marriage or being a vigilante. Yeah, Curtis chooses the latter, and is crushed when Paul leaves. On the other side of the coin, Felicity is showing the same resistance to Billy, but that takes more dangerous consequences when he's kidnapped by Prometheus.

Some convoluted clues lead Team Arrow to trap set by Prometheus, where Artemis finally shows her hand. The clue comes from a dead man on The List, Justin Clayborne, mentioned in the series pilot, but never seen until now. Flashback Island this episode takes a break from the Bratva to concentrate on this untold case. Nice to see Oliver in the old Hood togs, and highlighted by appearances of younger Diggle and Felicity.

Is there any way we can get more of the new guys, Wild Dog and Ragman? I loved the gift giving bit at the Arrowcave, and the continuing bonding between the Dog and Diggle. I dug the stockings. Anyone else notice that no one got Artemis anything? No wonder she turns on them. And is weirdly not seen again. Did Prometheus kill her too?

Little details come out throughout the episode as to Prometheus' identity. He might be Claybourne's son, or he could be someone completely out of left field - I'll get to that in a moment. Prometheus stages a crime scene exactly as the Hood left it when he killed Claybourne the senior, then allows Oliver to kill a helpless Billy dressed as Prometheus. Oliver is crushed and defeated when he returns to the Arrowcave.

So that's Quentin down, Artemis, and Curtis effectively, and Felicity now. Also, as a seemingly afterthought, Diggle gets captured by the authorities. Oliver goes to drown his sorrows with Susan, which will surely come back to bite him in the ass. And then he goes back to the Arrowcave for the shock ending to end all shock endings. Laurel is there waiting for him.

Not so much her possibly being alive, it's the possibility she might be Prometheus that startles me. With hints dropped last week during the invasion and in this episode, I have to wonder how much traction the showrunners will be giving Flashpoint as a plot device and reality reset. Could Laurel really be alive? Could she be Prometheus?

This was an intense episode, with many potential dead ends for characters and plotlines. It's going to take a lot to keep this all together. Hell, it's going to take a lot to hold Oliver together.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Moana

Moana ~ The Bride is a theater rat, and it's one of the few things we don't share often. I find Broadway dreary and boring. Oh sure, there are quite a few songs, even a few shows that I dig - West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar come to mind, but that's really it. I slept through Starlight Express, Les Miz made me want to claw my eyes out, and Cats made me question my love of those fuzzy felines. I'm not a Broadway guy.

However, there's one show I really want to see, and yet The Bride refuses, touting her dislike of rap as the cause, and that's Hamilton. I love it and would pay top dollar to see it. Of the only five albums I purchased this year, two were the soundtrack to Hamilton and the Hamilton Mixtape. I'd hoped this would bridge the gap, but the only show I want to see is the only show she won't see.

Then came Moana.

We both share a love of Disney, so much so we do a semi-regular podcast about all things Disney called The Make Mine Magic Podcast (and keep an eye out there as we'll both be reviewing Moana on the 'cast sooner or later), so we were seeing their newest animated feature the first weekend it was out. Much to my delight, and her surprise, the film featured more than a few songs by Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda. That said, the music is amazing, and we both loved it – the soundtrack another purchase for 2016.

The film itself has its origins in the animator/directors researching Polynesian mythology and history (both of which Moana is a gateway drug to), from which Maui the demigod emerges. Played flawlessly by The Rock, Maui is a very different kind of Disney hero. He considers himself almost literally the gods' gift to mankind as his theme song, "You're Welcome," deliciously illustrates. Originally conceived as a tale of Maui, it soon transformed into a more traditional journey for a more traditional Disney princess, Moana. Together, though at first in conflict, they save her people's way of life.

The story is not so different, but the animation improves as it always does from flick to flick, but let's be real – the music is the real star here. Several songs are written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and even a couple sung by him. As a bonus for folks who buy the soundtrack, there are also demos of these tunes and even a couple outtakes of songs not used in the movie. I loved this film, I loved the soundtrack, and maybe now I might be able to talk The Bride into Hamilton. And Moana is highly recommended.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Heroes V Aliens Crossover

You probably have been looking for the review of this week's episode of "Arrow" here at Welcome to Hell, but because of the massive crossover this week, that review appears over at Biff Bam Pop!, along with the other parts of that event.

For the first part, which is really only the last moment or two of the "Supergirl" episode "Medusa," along with some comics background on the Invasion, can be found here.

The Invasion starts full force in The Flash the next night, as the heroes of Earth, and even other dimensions, gather to battle the threat of the Dominators. You can read that review right here.

The third part coincided with the one hundredth episode of "Arrow," and while the Invasion continues, the showrunners also do something special for this landmark episode of the series. Captured by the Dominators, and trapped in a psychic hallucination, members of Team Arrow learn how things would be different if Oliver Queen never became Green Arrow. You can read my review of that here.

The conclusion to the Invasion happens in the Thursday episode of "DC's Legends of Tomorrow" right here. Awesome.