Five Cool Things and The Rise of Skywalker

Here's some cool things I saw this week.
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For reasons I won’t get into here, I’ve decided to shut my little music blog down.  Probably permanently.  There are a lot of emotions involved with that.  I’ve run The Midnight Cafe since 2004 and I’ve been talking about live music since 2008.  That is more than a decade of my life.  For most of that, I have writen at least one post every day.  The blog had become a part of me.  It was in my DNA.  To walk away from it feels like losing something essential.  

The emotion I wasn't expecting from this was a sense of relief.  I spent, on average, about two hours every day working on it.  That's a lot for what was essentially a hobby.  That thing that started out as something fun had become like work.  I still loved it.  It brought me and many others lots of joy.  But it was definitely work.  And now that I don’t have to blog everyday I suddenly have more time.  I can actually sit back and enjoy the music and not worry about servicing my blog.  It's kind of nice.

And with that free time I’ve managed to watch more movies and TV.  Which is pretty cool.  Here’s five things I thought were pretty cool this week.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

I love me some '70s paranoid thrillers and this Phillip Kaufman's remake of the 1956 Don Siegel classic is one of the best.  It stars Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland as two San Francisco health inspectors who start to suspect something very strange is happening after her husband begins acting weird.  Soon enough, they find aliens have invaded the planet, creating duplicates of humans through their pods.

Kaufman does a magnificent job of slowly ratcheting up the tension as we realize more and more people have been turned.  Through a really unusual soundtrack by Denny Zeiten, excellent use of shadows, and off-kilter camera angles we are constantly put on edge.  The cast, which also includes Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartright, and Leonard Nemoy are uniformly excellent.  Sutherland is magnificent displaying a range of emotion with that magnificent head of his.

The practical effects are terrific and really effective.  We see the full transformation of the pods into people and it totally works for me in all its gooey glory.  It is exactly what you want from a film like this, tense, suspenseful, and truly frightening.

Blade

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Though it is right in my wheelhouse I somehow managed to have never seen any of the Blade films.  After getting my eyes dilated during a doctor's visit, I needed something silly to watch and Blade fit the bill.

It stars Wesley Snipes as a half human/half vampire hybrid bent on wiping out all full vampires from the face of the Earth.  He wears an all-black leather suit, carries an assortment of sharp weapons and guns that shoot silver steaks or silver bullets.  He’s aided by a long, gray-haired Kris Kristofferson with a limp who acts as the weapons builder, nurse maid to Sniipes ass-kicking hero.  N'Bushe Wright  is our audience surrogate; she plays a doctor who gets slightly bitten at the beginning of the film and is taken in by Blade.  She introduces us to the world and becomes the love interest.

Stepen Dorff is the big bad.  He’s a vamp that got turned later in life which puts him at odds with the vampires who were born that way (I guess that means vampires have sex which makes little vamp babies).  He’s a mudblood you could say, but a powerful one who wants to do away with the whole hiding in shadows things and figures humans are food so why not treat them as such.  He’s also trying to bring down a vamp god to rule the universe or something.

There is a lot of mythology going on and not much of it is explained well. But it's still pretty cool and I hope they dig into it more in the sequels.  What we do get is some pretty impressive fight scenes, some pretty ok digital effects, and quite a bit of fun.

The Criterion Channel

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I was pretty bummed when Filmstruck shut its doors a few months back but hopeful when Criterion announced they would be opening their own streaming service in its wake.  Well, now it is here and it is pretty glorious.

They don’t have everything I was hoping for.  Their classic TCM style selection is pretty slim.  Right now, it seems to be mostly Criterion-style choices with lots of independent, art-house films. This is awesome but I really liked the fuller selection of mainstream classic films that I had gotten used to on Filmstruck.  But it's early yet and it took Filmstruck a few months before their selection was a little more rounded.

Not that I’m really complaining I’ve already got 50 or so films in my queue.  Like Filmstruck, they are really working on building not only a really interesting film collection but are adding in all the Criterion extras including behind-the-scenes features and cinematic essays.   They are also curating the films so that it's not just a bunch of random films in a list but films collected into a variety of categories to help you decide what to watch.  I’ve not had a ton of time to go through it all yet as my to-review stack has been high, but I’m really looking forward to digging my teeth into it.

Human Desire

human desire poster.jpgIt's not that the Criterion Channel doesn’t have some classic Hollywood films in its roster, it's that that side of things isn’t too robust at the moment.  One of their collections is called "Columbian Noir," which is a selection of films by Columbia Pictures (not from the country of Columbia as I first thought) that fall somewhere into the noir genre. I allowed my first film on the service to be a Columbian Noir from Fritz Lang.  Human Desire stars Glenn Ford as a Korean War vet who returns home and wants only to return to his job at the railroad, and live out his life peacefully.  He quickly becomes involved in an affair with a married woman (a delightful Gloria Graham) whose husband has murdered a man he was jealous of.  For most of its running time, it's pretty standard noir stuff with a murder, a femme fatale, and a dupe she tries conning into some dirty deeds.  It works pretty well doing just that but I appreciate that by the end it had turned some of the tropes on its head allowing for some interesting character decisions.

Resurrection of the Daleks

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Since their creation in the second serial of Doctor Who, the Daleks have been the Doctor’s most prominent, famous, and deadly villain.  They have become cultural icons in their own right.  Trouble with them as characters is that they just aren’t that interesting.  They are clunky robots who so often have but one goal in life, to EXTERMINATE!  They speak in loud proclamations and try to destroy the universe.  They aren’t nuanced or the least bit subtle.

With the invention of Davros, the Dalek creator, in Genesis of the Daleks, they had something to work with.  Davros is devious and intelligent.  His plans are complicated and cruel, worthy of a great villain.  Though he looks half Dalek himself, he has a face which can convey some emotion and his voice isn’t always a scream.  It is usually Dalek stories that contain his character that I like the best.

Resurrection of the Daleks should have been a good story.  It has both the Daleks and Davros and is full of interesting ideas..  Too many, truth be told.  The Daleks are trying to stop a rare disease from infecting themselves and wiping out their race.  They are also trying to duplicate humans and infiltrate the highest levels of Earth society.  They are also trying to clone the Doctor and have him return the Time Lords.  All of these are interesting ideas in themselves but put together and there isn’t enough time to fully develop any of them.

Tegan, in her last full story is given very little to do.  For most of one episode she’s in bed, injured.  Eventually, she tries to fool her captors by putting something in the bed to resemble herself but that idea is tossed out pretty quickly and instead she just runs away.  Her decision to leave the TARDIS at the end comes quickly and without much thought put into it.  Much of the story is like this - half baked.

It is redeemed somewhat by the conflict between Davros and the Daleks.  Davros created them and has always felt he is their true leader.  In many of the stories containing them both, the Daleks acts as Davros' minions, but here they split into warring factions - those with Davros and those against.  That’s another interesting idea and at least this one is somewhat fleshed out, even if it is ultimately a little confusing.  In the end it is a bunch of interesting ideas that nevr get fleshed out and we're left with a stack of what might-have-beens.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars Celebration, the annual fan convention, has just started in Chicago and this teaser trailer for Episode IX has landed. I won't spoil any of it here, and in truth there isn't much to spoil anyways (not that this will stop the countless articles on websites and blogs speculating on what every tiny detail means). What is shown is thrilling and slighly heartbreaking. I've been a fan of all the new films, more or less, and I'm now super excited to see this final episode in the Skywalker saga.

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