I try to write little pieces of this article as I watch, read, and listen to cool things throughout the week. If I do it right, then on Friday morning all I have to do is assemble the pieces and write an intro. Sometimes that actually works, other times no so much. Last week was one of those times that I was scrambling to put all my thoughts together about all the five things before my deadline. In that rush I forgot to write an intro. Then I got sick. It was a weird sickness. One moment I felt fine and then the next I was sitting on the bathroom floor. By the next morning, I felt fine again. So apologies for that.
This week it's been cold. Damn cold. So cold you can’t ever get warm. Best to stay inside and watch movies and read comic books. Which is exactly what I did.
April and the Extraordinary World
After Napoleon III is accidentally killed in an explosion in his secret lab (where he was trying to make super soldiers, but was only able to create talking Komodo dragons), somebody begins kidnapping the world’s leading scientists. Decades later, science remains stagnant creating an alternate steam-punk world.
It is this world that our hero April has her adventures. Her parents were scientists and after discovering a super serum, they were killed while trying to escape some nefarious doers. She spends her days trying to recreate the serum so that she might heal her talking cat (unlike a lot of animated films animals aren’t naturally able to talk but some can do so when given a certain formula). Much excitement ensues when a bumbling policeman tries to apprehend April, sending her off on an adventure that might just save the world.
The film is a delight to watch, beautifully conceived and animated. It is now streaming on Netflix.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
John Huston’s Oscar winning classic turns 70 this year. To celebrate, TCM and Fathom Events put it on the big screen for a limited run. I got to see it and wrote a review.
A good seven months ago I wrote about American Gods, the Starz series based upon the beloved Neil Gaiman book. I caught the first couple of episodes back then and then, well, I got distracted by many dozens of other cool things. In my regular app shuffle on the Amazon TV, I finally signed up for the Starz free trial and binged the rest of the show (I’m still reading the book however, which just goes to show how terribly slow I am at consuming all forms of pop culture).
The series is fantastic. It's got all those great Bryan Fuller visuals we’ve come to love from his shows, it's loaded with fantastic actors, including Ian McShane, Gillian Anderson, Crispin Anderson, Emily Browning. and Pablo Schreiber is a revelation as a hard drinking, foul-mouthed leprechaun. I really enjoyed how it kept in many of the (tangentially related to the actual plot) excursions in the book and added in a few of its own. In lesser hands this might feel like padding the story out to get in more seasons, but instead it helps expand this fascinating universe and develops its larger themes.
So often in these articles I talk about a series I've just started (and in truth I have a bad tendency to start shows and never finish them). It's nice to complete a full season and be even more in love with it than when I first discovered it.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (The Rogue Cut)
The X-Men cinematic franchise has always been a bit hit and miss to my way of thinking. I’ve grown to appreciate the films more as I’ve read more and more of the comics, but they are still problematic. I had just about given up on the franchise when they rebooted it with a prequel series starting with First Class, but then Days of Future Past came out and I absolutely loved it. It's got some great action sequences (that Quicksilver sequence is a stunner) some really interesting visuals and while it should be a little too crowded with loads of characters, including many who have both past and future selves (played by different actors), it totally works. The story is great and it is probably my favorite film in the franchise.
When director Bryan Singer mentioned that they had shot a longer scene for the character of Rogue (who only has a cameo in the film) but had to cut it out for pacing issues, fans demanded to see it. Eventually the studio relented and now we have The Rogue Cut of the movie. It adds 17 minutes of additional footage including a scene in which Rogue is rescued from imprisonment inside Cerebro plus a love scene between Mystique and Beast and a couple of other smaller scenes. While it's interesting to see those bits, they don’t really add anything to the larger story and do slow things down. I was happy to see them, but I suspect subsequent viewings will find me going back to the theatrical cut.
In 1939, Alfred Hitchcock signed a contract with mega producer David O. Selznick and moved to America. His very first American film was the very un-Hitchockian melodrama Rebecca. It stars Joan Fontaine as a young woman who falls for the handsome, aristocratic Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) who is still emotionally raw from the death of his first wife, Rebecca. It is the dead wife’s shadow that falls ominously upon the new wife (who is never given a proper name), the sprawling mansion in which they live, and the film itself.
It was one of the very first Hitchcock films I’d ever seen. I first caught it almost by accident. We were visiting my grandparents in Tennessee when I was 15 years old or so. It was one of those lazy summer afternoons, too hot to play outside and nobody around to play with anyway. Grandma had a VHS copy of Rebecca that someone had given her for Christmas and as there was noting else on television, I put it in.
I had probably seen something by Hitchcock before then, Psycho or North by Northwest probably, and my mother says I’d watched The Birds as a kid (though I have no recollection of it). I’d surely seen some of his television series. Certainly I knew him as a cultural icon, and knew his reputation as the Master of Suspense. Still, it seems strange to me that Rebecca would be the first film of his that I remember watching. I remember really liking it too, though that sort of melodrama was very much not my cup of tea at the time.
All these years later, it holds up remarkably well. The performances are terrific, especially that of Judith Anderson as the sinister housekeeper. Hitchcock keeps the pace brisk, the imagery delightfully gothic, and the over-the-top melodrama down. Criterion recently released it in Blu-ray and it looks stunningly gorgeous.
Heathers is one of my favorite films from the '80s. It's a pitch-perfect satire of the horrors of high school. Of course, they are reimagining it as a new TV series for the Paramount Network. Apparently, it will be an anthology series so they'll be a whole new cast of Heathers each season, which is kind of brilliant. Anyways, the trailer just dropped and it looks interesting. I'm witholding judgment because it feels like it's trying just a little too hard to be edgy so it could either be really brilliant or a total trainwreck. Either way, it's got me intrigued.