We are right smack in the middle of Noirvember and it has been super fun reading everybody's discussions on the various film noirs they've been watching. My own experience has been pretty good. I've seen some excellent noirs, some not so excellent, and I've gotten distracted by films that aren't noirs at all. I finished a couple of horror films that I didn't get to during last month's 31 Days of Horror film watch. Also cool this week, I am joined by a guest and fellow Sentry, so let's get started.
The Blob (1958)
The wife and I started this 1950s sci-fi “classic” just before Halloween. We were too tired to finish it, so we went to bed about halfway through the film. Then we got distracted and watched other things and forgot to get back to it. I finally remembered a couple of nights ago and finished it up.
There were a lot of low-budget science fiction films with howlingly bad monsters in them being made in the 1950s. I’m pretty sure this one has been elevated (it even has a Criterion edition!) largely due to a young Steve McQueen appearing in it. While definitely not a great film, it has that so-bad its good appeal.
Chuck Russell remade it in 1988 and I have fond movies of watching it as a kid. Even then, I knew the story was ridiculous, but I still had a blast watching it. I need to rewatch that one as my memories are very vague of the details. This was my first time watching the original. It is super cheesy fun.
McQueen plays a teenager who is out necking one night with his girl when they see something fall from the sky. An old man gets there first and when he pokes the meteorite, a gelatinous blob squirts out of it and attaches to the old man's hand. The teenagers find him and take him to the doctor. But soon enough, the blob engulfs the man and starts attacking the town. The film is an interesting mix of teens versus adults and goofy '50s sci-fi. The blob is often hilarious looking as it changes size, consistency, and color from shot to shot. The plot is slipshod and the ending comes really quick. Not that any of this matters. It is too fun to watch to bother with deconstructing it.
The Curse of the Cat People
This sort-of sequel to the absolute horror classic The Cat People follows Oliver, one of the main characters from the first film, his new wife, and their daughter Amy. She's a bit of a dreamer who often gets lost in her own fantasy world which causes her to have a hard time in the real one. She begins experiencing visions of Irena (the great Simone Simon) the cat lady from the first film. At the same time, Amy befriends a strange old lady living in the big house a few doors down.
There really isn't much more to it plotwise. The Curse of the Cat People is all about setting a mood. It is full of creepy shadows, and fog-laden woods. The set design is fantastic giving it an eerie fairy tale feel. It isn't nearly as good as The Cat People but it is well worth watching if you need a little more of this strange world.
Dolemite is My Name
What the heck has Eddie Murphy been doing over the last decade or two? He was such an enormous presence in the 1980s where he made a string of terrific (and let’s be honest here, not so terrific) films and comedy specials. In the 1990s, he slipped into mostly family-friendly dreck and stayed there through the early 2000s and then he nearly disappeared. Looking through his filmography of the last decade finds a few films that I’ve either never heard of or that bombed completely and a whole lot of Shrek sequels.
With Dolemite is My Name, he is back and better than ever. Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, the real-life entertainer who created the iconic Dolemite character in the 1970s. The film charts Moore as a down-in-the-dumps schlub whose fame rises as he creates the character out of jokes he hears on the streets to his attempt to make the Dolemite film in 1975. The cast is a who’s who of African American actors including Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, Tasha Smith, Snoop Dogg, Chris Rock, and a brilliantly funny Wesley Snipes.
It is pretty light on real drama, but it is a hoot to watch. From the ‘70s styles to Murphy at the top of his game, this is a terrific comeback piece for him and so much fun.
This is the second book in Ben H. Winter’s Last Policeman trilogy. In the series, an asteroid is headed directly towards Earth which, when it collides with the planet, will destroy all life as we know it. The larger story is about how the impending apocalypse creates the gradual break down of society. The smaller story is about how Police Detective Hank Palace does not allow this to break him. In the first book, he set about solving a murder case that looked like a suicide which no one but him seemed to care about. In this one, he is no longer on the force because the local police department has essentially disbanded but when a woman asks him to find her missing husband, he sets about it in his own meticulous way.
In both books, I have preferred the larger story to the smaller one. Winters digs into what would happen to society if we all knew that doomsday literally approached. The local government apparatus breaks down pretty quickly but the Feds keep things moving relatively smoothly for a time. Various shops and restaurants remain open as best they can, relying on black markets for their goods. In Countdown City, Hank visits a university where the students have created their own society, formed their own government, and spend way too much time arguing about the rules. By the book’s end, things break down even further and it becomes every man for himself.
The mystery part of the story isn’t nearly as interesting, but it keeps the plot moving. Hank is a man driven by a code and a sense of duty even he doesn’t fully understand. The prose is workmanlike without a lot of flair, but I'm loving this world he's created and looking forward to seeing how it all ends.
Martin Scorsese on the Marvel Cinematic Universe
While doing interviews for his new film, The Irishman, Martin Scorsese was asked about his thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He said he’d tried to watch a few, but that they just weren’t for him. Then he made the mistake of saying that they weren’t cinema but rather amusement parks. To me, it sounds like a pithy remark made off the cuff. To the Marvel fanboys, it sounded like an indictment. Their fury was swift and furious.
Later, Scorsese qualified those remarks and recently he wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times. His beef isn't so much with the Marvel films themselves, but how those types of films have made it even more difficult for filmmakers like himself to get screenings in movie theaters. I have no intention of debating whether Marvel films are cinema or not. I’ve grown rather exhausted just reading the debates on Twitter over what Scorsese wrote. But I do think his column is well worth reading. Scorsese is a master filmmaker, and as this article proves he’s a pretty good essayist too.
Shawn Bourdo: Watchmen - "She Was Killed By Space Junk"
HBO doesn't have any qualms about telling some genre bending stories. The network isn't scared to throw out shows that don't make sense for long periods of time too. The network that pulled together Leftovers and Westworld into fan favorites despite convoluted stories with casts that can't all make appearances each week is now airing another show that threatens to take that to another level. Watchmen is really an adaptation of the comic book and not a rehash of the film of the same name.
This week we get a large dose of Jean Smart as Agent Laurie Blake. She earned my love in an equally convoluted comic book TV series Legion. Smart has a wry sense of humor that really fits the tone of this series so far. Her role as Agent Blake / Silk Spectre will do much to bring in fans of the comic book series that have been the few but most vocal critics of this series so far. There's a dry sense of humor and ironic view of the world in the Watchmen Universe. I've enjoyed the way that the producers are building the world around the characters. For those who come at this from a comic book fandom, think more Astro City than Alan Moore.
The show has potential to create a world where episodic stories rule over a singular-season long tale. There's a feeling of pedigree here from shows that I've really enjoyed like Lost, American Gods, and Carnivale. Don't come at this show with preconceived notions from the movie and comic. If you let the show unfold, you're going to really enjoy this. The interactions between Adrian and Mr. Philips are starting to link together themes between the three episodes and I'm really enjoying the ride.