Five Cool Things and Annihilation

This week's cool things include Body Double, Cafe Society, Wilco, and more.
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My wife had a birthday this week.  I don’t want to complain that my wife’s birthday screws up my ability to consume pop culture, but it kind of does.  Don’t get me wrong, if given the choice between spending quality time with my family and watching a show or movie, I’ll always choose the family (though if possible I try to enjoy the two things together) but when you are trying to write a weekly article on the pop-culture things you enjoyed this week, it's hard not to wish (just a little bit) that there was less cake and more TV time.

The Glass Key

I am a very big fan of Dashiell Hammett.  He is one of the all-time great crime writers.  His books also make pretty good movies. The Glass Key has been adapted to film at least twice and had a great influence on many more (including the Coen Brother’s Miller’s Crossing and Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo).  I watched the 1945 adaptation this week and it's a really nice bit of film noir.

The story involves Ned, the right-hand man of a criminal political boss, Paul Madvig.  When the boss falls in love with the daughter of a corrupt (and by Ned’s feeling weak) senator, the two have a falling out.  When the girl’s brother winds up dead Ned suspects it was the boss who did it.  Investigated he gets entangled with a second gangster who is ready to go to war with Paul.  He is then locked up in a sleazy…ah hell, its a Hammett plot which means its plenty convoluted and wonderful.  

Director Stuart Heisler does a nice job moving things a long pretty quickly.  The secondary cast is terrific with William Bendix doing a marvelous job as Jeff the big, dumb, ox of a ganster who likes smacking Ned around.  Veronica Lake is gorgeous as the dame, though she mostly coasts along on those looks without ever feeling too involved.  Alan Ladd does less well as Ned.  He’s just too slight and pretty to be the tough, hard-boiled detective of Hammet’s novel.  Still, it's a fine piece of cinema and well worth checking out.

Body Double

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A continuation of my new obsession with Brian De Palma (I’ve recently watched The Fury, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out) Body Double is yet another of his modern (i.e. filled with more graphic violence and nudity) homages to Alfred Hitchock.  This one takes on plot structure from Rear Window and obsessive themes from Vertigo.  It stars Craig Wasson as a struggling actor who is house-sitting in an ultra-modern home in the Hollywood Hills.  It has great big windows, a telescope, and a sexy neighbor who does a striptease every night.  

He quickly becomes obsessed with her, and then in a very Brian De Palma way, he becomes obsessed with the creepy dude who he catches spying on her as well.  They both follow her around for a day and then our hero witnesses her attacked the next night in her home.  Investigating that mystery takes him into the porn industry where he meets Melanie Griffith (who I seem to have a recent obsession with having watched five of her movies in the last few weeks) who may be involved.  

Like so much of DePalma’s '80s output it takes some plot concepts straight from an older movie and turns it up to 11.  He deliberately takes the subtext of sex and violence in the old films and shoves them graphically in your face.  It can be a bit off-putting at times like in the multiple long shots of the woman dancing in nothing but her underwear (which is clearly based on the dancing girl James Stewart watches in Rear Window, but with more nudity, masturbation, and close-ups).  But De Palma is such a master technician its easy to overlook these things and enjoy the film.

Wilco

It just so coincided with my wife’s birthday week that our favorite band came to town.  We’ve seen Wilco a half dozen times or so live and they never disappoint.  They’ve consistently made great albums over their long career, and they always take it up several notches live.  It probably goes without saying but guitarist Nels Clines is a freaking beast.  

Chew

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I tend to read comics digitally then buy the paperback versions of the ones I really like.  Then once I’ve collected several of the books I wind up going back and re-reading.  Such is the case with Chew.  Written by John Layman with art by Rob Guillory, Chew is about a detective with a special gift - he gets psychic impressions from anything he eats.  If he eats a hamburger, he sees where the cow lived, how it was taken care of, etc. If he eats the corpse of a murder victim, he might get a flash of who killed them.  Chew is the sort of comic where there is a lot more munching on corpses than hamburgers.

It's profane, disgusting, and hilarious.  I started reading it a year or two ago, got through all that was available at the time and then forgot about it.  I’ve been buying up the books again and it's been a lot of fun reliving this world.

Cafe Society

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Woody Allen movies are kind of like Doctor Who to me.  They aren’t always good (and sometimes they are really quite bad) but I always enjoy watching them..  This one stars Jesse Eisenberg as a Bronx kid who moves to Los Angeles where he meets Kristen Stewart and falls in love.  Trouble is she's in love with Steve Carell.  Mild humor and even milder drama ensue.  This is light Woody Allen made enjoyable by another great jazz score and some beautiful cinematography by the great Vittorio Storaro. 

Annihilation

Writer/director Alex Gardner's (Ex Machina) new movie has a teaser trailer.  I have no idea what it's about and the trailer doesn't really give a lot of clues other than some mysterious something has appeared on Earth and Natalie Portman was sent to investigate.  But the visuals are really interesting and I'm a big fan of Ex Machina so I'm definitely psyched for it.

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