Five Cool Things and a Murder Most Foul

Another week of self-isolation, another week of cool things.
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This month's theme was movies in which one character or multiple characters were going mad.  I called it March Movie Madness. I did pretty well for the first couple of weeks, and then the virus came and scared the crap out of everybody.  Naturally, I turned to apocalyptic movies then. Turns out, zombies and viral outbreaks also tend to star folks who are going quite mad.  So all and all, it hasn't been a bad month, theme-wise. But it wasn't as good as it could have been.  What I've learned is that choosing a theme that involves something slightly intangible like madness, or at least something that's not as easily categorized by streaming services makes it difficult to gather and watch within a limited time period.

Before March began, I made a list of films that dealt with madness.  I looked to see if they were on streaming services or in my DVD collection.  I watched some of those but as it turns out my viewing still relies mostly on me turning on the TV and browsing through the streaming services I subscribe to.  This means my best bet going forward is choosing films that these services naturally group together or that can easily be searched.  So I'll likely go by genre or films made by a particular person going forward.  For April, I'm thinking seriously about choosing a specific year or decade which should also be fairly easy to find. Anyways, here are the things I enjoyed this week.

True Grit (2010)

Over the last few weeks, I've read the Charles Portis novel, watched the 1969 film adaptation starring John Wayne, and now I've watched the Coen Brothers version of the same.  I think it is fair to say I've fairly well consumed this particular story.

I can't rightfully say which one I liked best.  The book is delightful and I can see why it has now been adapted twice.  It is full of action and adventure and is very funny.   The 1969 version is very faithful to the book but is a little hokey.  The Coen Brothers made a few changes and added a scene or two.  They've given it an artfulness and depth that is lacking in both the book and the 1969 version. 

They are world-class filmmakers and I'd put them pretty high on my list of favorite directors.  The filmmaking in their version is miles above the 1969 version but it lacks the charm of the original.  Jeff Bridges is a great actor and he tears into the role.  John Wayne won an Oscar for his portrayal but that's generally thought of as an award for his long career in film rather than for that particular role.  He overplays the part quite a bit but remains ever the icon.  Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie in the Coens' film and she's much closer in age to the book character than Kim Darby was in the 1969 version (Darby was in her twenties while playing the part of a young teenager), but Darby really gets to the spunky spirit of the character.

I guess I'm saying both versions are quite good and the book is well worth reading and I'm glad I've been able to visit them all.

Popeye

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I loved this movie as a kid.  I remember watching it a lot which means one cable channel or another must have played it over and over.  While I did love it, I still seemed to have known something was odd about it.  That was too long ago and my memories have faded to be able to accurately tell you what that something was, but it is a feeling that has stuck with me.  The film did not do well financially and the critical reception was pretty mixed when it was released.  I didn't know that then, of course, but I know it now. I also know how a lot of people think it is one of Robert Altman's worst films. 

This has kept me from watching it for many years but the other night I was looking for something different, and also something my kid to watch and I landed on Popeye.  I wasn't sure if my daughter would care for it at all.  In fact, I was pretty sure she would hate it.  But then I was pleasantly surprised as she seemed to delight in it.  Which reminds me of what I loved about the film.  There is a lot of physical comedy in this film.  Popeye engages in numerous fights and they are all filmed in a cartoonish way that delights children (and adult me).  Popeye punches a guy like a boxing punching bag moving up and down his face very quickly.  He makes people fly through the air.  When he fights Bluto the first time, he gets knocked down the hill rolling like a piece of string.  That stuff was catnip to my daughter and delighted me.

The songs, by Harry Nilson, are odd and funny and sweet.  Robin Williams mumbles his way through the entire thing while Shelly Duvall is as perfect as Olive Oyle as a person could be.  The sets (which still stand as a tourist attraction in Milan) are extraordinary.

This is a miracle of a film.  That Robert Altman was able to make a musical version of a comic strip with Harry Nilson songs, elaborate staging, a huge set, and a nearly incomprehensible Robin Wiliams boggle the mind. That it's actually quite good is extraordinary.

My Birthday

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I turned 44 this week. Birthdays are never a really big deal to me. I'm not really a party person. At most, we'll invite a few friends to dinner.  Usually the wife and I will go to a nice lunch somewhere and then she'll make my favorite foods for supper. We'll have cake and open a few modest presents (that I often buy myself).  This week, due to the virus outbreak, was even more subdued. I worked. We stayed in for lunch. And for dinner. The pork roast my wife put in the crockpot wasn't done so we called an audible and had a simple curry dish. For dessert, we had a lovely cheesecake and we watched a movie. It was nice. It wasn't what I had hoped for but I'm glad to still be healthy and to have a loving family around me.

X-Men / X2 / Logan

logan blu-ray cover.jpgWith everyone on Earth more or less housebound, my Internet has been rather slow.  I guess everyone is streaming Netflix all the time. Luckily, I have a pretty good DVD/Blu-ray stash and I've been revisiting random movies of late.  This week that means working my way through a few X-Men films.

I started with Logan, a film I really enjoyed in the theatre but hadn't seen it since.  After the huge success of Deadpool, the very R-rated superhero film, director James Mangold (who also directed The Wolverine) was given the go-ahead to make a R-rated Wolverine movie.  It deserves every bit of that rating as it is filled with graphic violence and adult language.  All of the other films that feature the Wolverine character have shown him using his knife-like claws to kill all sorts of villains but it has always been rather bloodless, with the camera positioned to not show the true carnage.  Logan delights in the gore, showing numerous closeups of those claws ripping through flesh and slicing through bone. 

But it is a film that isn't about having an R-rating for the sake of it.  There is a real purpose behind it. Set a couple of decades behind the original X-Men trilogy, Logan exists at a time when all other mutants are seemingly dead.  New mutants have stopped being born.  He is now taking care of a very old and very sick Professor X.  Life is hard and the film reflects that.  It isn't just a physically violent film, but a psychically violent one.  Logan, always hard battered is dying, the toll of his life has brought him low.  We feel that weight.  We feel a lot of things as this is the most emotionally effective film in the franchise.

After Logan, I returned to the beginning with X-Men and then its sequel X2.  I don't own X-Men: The Last Stand so I didn't catch it. Those films alongside the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies redefined comic book movies as we know it and laid the groundwork for the over-saturated superhero land we now live in.

When I first watched them, I'd hardly read any comic books let alone the X-Men series. I probably had a vague notion of who Wolverine was, but the rest of them were a mystery.  Watching them now, having read quite a few X-Men comics I feel much more at home in this world.  Those films were some of the first comic book movies to really understand why we like the comics in the first place. As cinema, they have their flaws, but as big-budget superhero movies they are quite fantastic.

Clue

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I loved this movie when I was a kid. I never saw it in theatres so I didn't get the experience of only one ending, but I remember discussing which ending I would have preferred to have seen with my friends. I thought the whole thing was hilarious with all the slapstick humor and double entendres. I was probably a little scandalized (and more than a little turned on) by all the sex jokes and ample cleavage. I watched it a couple of years ago by myself. This was the first time I'd seen it since I was a kid and I found it overly silly. Like, I was very disappointed in how un-funny it was.

Today is my birthday and we are stuck inside due to the Covid-18 virus. Clue is streaming on Amazon Prime and I wanted something light and that we could all enjoy as a family. I liked it a lot more this time. I think it is a movie that is best watched with others. Especially the ones who also enjoyed it as kids. It is still very silly and the jokes are very broad. But there are some good jokes and you can trade quoting lines with your friends and have a pretty good time at it.

Bob Dylan - "Murder Most Foul"

On Friday, Bob Dylan dropped this track onto Youtube.  It is a 17-minute dirge about the JFK assassination.  It is beautiful.  I listened to it twice in a row.  I cried both times.  Because this is Dylan, it is about the assassination and it is about so much more.  It begins with the assasination, with lyrics that are not at all Bob's best:

It was a dark day in Dallas, November '63
A day that will live on in infamy
President Kennedy was a-ridin' high
Good day to be livin' and a good day to die

But then it moves through the '60s to the modern era.  The music is slow, pretty, and repetitive.  His voice is clear and steady as he sings out this epic poem about America.  As the minutes roll on, the words take on power. There are so many of them, it's like a religious chant.  In his release notes, Dylan says that it was written some time ago.  From the sound of it, good money says it was written during the Modern Times sessions or possibly Tempest.  Its lyrics don't get up to modern times but it sure feels completely of this moment. 

Only Bob Dylan would release such a long, tuneless song about JFK during this time where we are all so fearful and stuck inside our own homes.  Only Bob Dylan could pull it off so beautifully.

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