There is Some Progress

Well, as you probably noticed from the last post, work is progressing on this year’s Hubrisween marathon. Progressing very well, in fact. Progressing so well that I briefly considered adding the more popular (and populated) Letterboxd event Hooptober (led by the redoubtable @Cinemonster, since there was the possibility of some overlap between the two lists…

And then I slapped myself back to sanity again. Because that would have been sheer madness. Hooptober does appeal to me, because it has a certain puzzle aspect to it. Here’s this year’s requirements:

That might have been fun – it was certainly fun coming up with a possible list that covered all those, but the overlap wasn’t big enough to make it feasible. There were a lot of movies on it I had intended to watch for some time, but I’ll have to find another way to force myself to find the time to watch them. Cinemonster’s full list is here if you’re on Letterboxd and so inclined.

The reason my Hubrisween stuff is going so swimmingly is twofold: first, I always try to write more on the lean side for marathons. I still find myself willing to go the blather route on some flicks, but overall I try to keep it brief. Add to that when I like a movie, I clam up even more. The discovery phase of a movie is very important to me, and it’s truly delightful when a movie surprises me, whether it’s by conceits or concepts or approaches or acting or imagery, so much so that I’ve started avoiding my beloved movie trailers (I had already been giving most production press a miss). I want you to have the same experience when I find a movie I like. And so far, I have liked almost every single movie I’ve watched.

Gosh, I wonder what movie it was that I hated?

In the interest of transparency, I should mention that’s only nine movies out of 26. Okay, so I only really liked six of those. Two were a “meh” and one I violently disliked. So a bit of truth-stretching is being engaged in here. But I’m ahead of my personal schedule, so much so that I’m taking tonight off because I scored a copy of the new Detective Dee movie, The Four Heavenly Kings, and I’m just

This is probably me and the rest of the movies on my list

going to soak in that. Overall, though, I’ve really enjoyed having structure applied to my blogging, so much so that, although I wasn’t stupid enough to do Hooptober, I’m looking at doing another marathon in December, and even considering bringing back March Movie Madness.

Yes, I really am that stupid.

The Horror of Boutiques 2018

After an evening of frustration dealing with a graphics program I only use once a year, and the program not willing to save the graphic in any form I wish to use it, then finding Facebook refusing to post this in any form for my fellow bloggers, or a link to a private page on this blog, I am finally forced to throw up my hands and say, here! It’s a preview! Coming your way in October! And then pour myself a double.


 

 

The King of Jazz (1930)

I always forget how hectic August becomes. Probably because I’m usually fixated on just surviving July.

Local Government: Artist’s Interpretation

As some of you know, I put a bit of bread on my table by working tech support at City government meetings, usually meaning sound, sometimes camera. August is the end of the fiscal year, so there’s a lot of budget crunching. Politicians like to be on the TeeVee, so damn near everything must be televised. Ergo, I get a lot of extra work in August. Whereas the money is extremely welcome, there is nothing that clears away the movie malaise I spoke of last time, like hearing a politician going off on the same subject a third time while the legal department tries once more to explain to them why something is being done the way it is being done.

Look, I already know I’m not going to get to watch every movie I want, or read every book, and I begin to actively resent anybody who willfully steals more of my dwindling hours on earth.

That is a major portion of the reason for my absence from this digital page; another is the approach of October, and the return of the traditional Hubrisween event. I am usually much further along on that project, and its time to buckle up, down, or under, or whatever the appropriate figure of speech might be. TL;DR: don’t expect anything on a regular basis from me until October, when you’re going to get heartily sick of me.

That being said, I actually managed to watch a movie! I did something!

Who…? What…?

Criterion recently put out a blu-ray of 1930’s The King of Jazz. Now, I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about film as I’d like to be, so Criterion putting out a movie I’ve never heard of is not unusual. On top of that, I’m not an aficionado of jazz, but I could have sworn that the King of Jazz was somebody like Duke Ellington. But, you know, it’s Criterion, so it’s going to be worth a watch on some level.

The King of Jazz, in this case, is Paul Whiteman. As mentioned earlier, I’m not a particular fan of jazz – I find it listenable, by and large, but other musical genres are closer to my heart. So I’d never even heard of Paul Whiteman. Since my viewing, I’ve done some research. He was quite popular in the 20s and 30s, where he picked up the sobriquet, and still has some renown as a band leader and musical arranger. His was the orchestra that premiered Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, and that orchestra was the farm team for musicians like the Dorseys, Benny Goodman, and and Bix Biederbecke. The aforementioned Duke Ellington speaks well of him. Jazz, as we have come to know it today, has a lot to do with improvisation; the jazz that Whiteman is monarch of is best described as “syncopated dance music”. Perhaps literally, white man’s jazz.

Not the King of Jazz I was expecting.

Hollywood had been trying to do a Paul Whiteman movie for years, with various starts and stops. This was apparently going to be a typical romantic comedy with musical interludes, but after many delays John Murray Anderson took over and made it a revue, complete with comedy blackouts and a cartoon. It’s an early two-strip Technicolor movie, and that opening cartoon is the first in that process; it’s made by Universal’s house animator, Walter Lantz, which animation mavens will instantly deduce from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s cameo.

The King of Jazz cost $2 million to make – and that’s two million in 1930 dollars – and was a colossal flop. After The Jazz Singer broke movies’ silence in 1927, there was an absolute glut of musicals. By this time, ticket buyers were sick of them, and apparently they absolutely hated revues. Which is too bad, because – much as I hate musicals – I actually wound up enjoying King of Jazz. The music is quite good, but it’s the audacity of the visuals – most of them quite trippy to my jaded eyes – that take it over the top.

Wait… where’s the King?

The first big number is “My Bridal Veil”, where a young bride, on the eve of her wedding, witnesses a costume parade of brides from every period of time. This is some gothic romance woman-in-nightgown-running-from-spooky-manse-with-one-light-on-in-the-upper-story stuff, but it’s played for pure spectacle and sentiment. One reviewer has mentioned it primarily exists for the elderly people in the audience. On the cusp of elderly myself, I can safely say that what 1930 needed was either more heavy metal or more techno.

One of the prize gems in Whiteman’s crown, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is introduced by several men playing a giant grand piano; the lid raises, and the orchestra is lifted up from within the piano (there is a lot of that 2 million on the screen).

“Ragamuffin Romeo” is an impressive contortionist dance number with a beggar putting together a girlfriend from scraps of fabric. It impresses mainly as a tribute to dancer Marion Stattler’s acrobatic abilities and flexibility.

John Boles was Universal’s big male vocalist at the time, and he gets a couple of solos, but the singer you’re going to notice – if you didn’t notice him in the Rhapsody clip above – is in Whiteman’s vocal trio, The Rhythm Boys – a very young Bing Crosby. In fact, Crosby was going to get one of what was ultimately Boles’ solos – “The Song of the Dawn” – but der Bingle was in jail for drunk driving at the time of filming.

The big final production number is perhaps the most egregious to modern eyes – every single form of white music in the world – from Scottish bagpipes to Spanish flamenco to Russian balalaikas (and their associated dancers) are lowered smiling into an enormous boiling cauldron and out of that soup Whiteman conjures – jazz music.

I am frankly skeptical of this origin story.

(The color here is sadly inferior to the new remastered version, but what do you want from YouTube?)

It’s 1930, and though Whiteman wanted to use black musicians, this was not allowed. There is only one person of color in the entire movie, a little girl in traditional pickaninny garb who is used, not actually as a punch line, but more a punctuation mark (There is one dancer used to illustrate African rhythm who is not actually black – it’s Frenchman Jacques Cartier, wearing a black lacquer of his own invention). Whiteman though, is so affable and self-effacing throughout, it’s hard to hold this or that odd misbegotten musical ancestry number against him.

Walter Brennan, comedian.

The comedy blackouts are mercifully brief (the comic songs are longer and much worse) but the best things about them is one of the actors: If you thought he was perpetually a dried-up old coot, here’s Walter Brennan at 36 years of age:

Okay, one last clip. If “My Bridal Veil” was for the elderly, “Happy Feet” was for the kiddos, featuring the Rhythm Boys and Al “Rubber Legs” Norman:

To show how spoiled I was by Criterion’s blu-ray, I feel like I have to keep apologizing for the quality of those clips – for a movie I didn’t even know existed a month ago. Before, they would been delightful to run across, a “huh, wow” experience. Instead, I’ll just leave you with this New Zealand preview for the restoration, which gives you a far better idea of the quality of Criterion’s blu-ray.

Distractable Me

The word “distraction” has been getting a workout in the last year or so, generally applied to actions of a *harrumph* certain administration. And I’m all like, dude, distractions is how I’ve been surviving that administration. Even when I’m properly medicated, I need something to keep my mind off the impending Second Civil War, in which I am probably going to die, because I’m on the side that hasn’t been stockpiling guns and ammo for the last umpty years in the hopes of someday shootin’ me some fellow Americans.

After the last few weeks, I found myself oversaturated with movies, so my usual distraction, watching movies while acting as a pillow for the Monkey Dog, was a non-starter. Don’t get me started on MoviePass, either. Oh, look, I just got myself started on it.

Good times, good times.

I admit, it got me into a movie theater more than any other year; I saw some movies on the very big screen that normally would have waited for home video. But corporate’s sudden decision that it could only be used once on any given movie went into effect just after Infinity War opened, and that was one I actually wanted to see again. Don’t @ me that I could have just paid for the extra ticket, I’m on a limited income, which is why MoviePass was ideal for me.

Apparently there’s a price increase coming in addition to blacking out movies for the first two weeks of release, so I’m pondering if I can manage five bucks over the new MoviePass charge for AMC’s subscription plan, which doesn’t have all the petty limitations of MoviePass. Maybe if I ditch that impulse-buy Shudder subscription. Though I’m really enjoying that…

In any case, Infinity War has hit digital, which means I finally have a shot at seeing it again. By Friday I may be over my movie malaise enough for the death of half a universe. That might cheer me up.

OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH

So, absent movies, what’s for distraction in my tiny life? Podcasts are, sadly, of limited use to me, though I enjoy them. Can’t listen to them while I work, my job involves sight and sound. My commute is not lengthy enough to justify booting one up. No, I generally listen to them at bedtime, which means I have to rewind the next day to see what I missed. In the current play (or as I said, replay) list: 80s All Over, The Projection Booth, No Budget Nightmares, LRC presents All The President’s Lawyers, Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man, Apocrypals, Uplifting Trance Sessions.

There’s my old friend, reading. Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, which was a fast, fun read. Picked up James S. A. Conroy’s Leviathan Wakes, the first book in The Expanse series, which is good, but is illuminating to me mainly to see how well the TV series opened up the stories and added a ton of depth to the characters. Maybe those things are harvested from later books – guess I’ll find out. Eventually.

The best thing about the Kindle Fire is having a book you can read in the dark. Yes, I use the Blue Shade setting.

Which I guess leaves games.

LINE UP TO DIE, MOTHER HUMPERS

I been reflecting what a difference a decade and more (almost two) makes. At the beginning of the century I was heavily involved in developing several video games, and I was playing the damned things near constantly just to keep up with trends and possibilities. Okay, truthfully, I’d been playing them since the Atari 5200, but that was the first time I’d been paid for that knowledge and experience (though my abilities as a storyteller helped, too).

I’ve left consoles far behind me – too expensive. My tastes have aged along with me, too, or perhaps they just got fossilized in those early days. My favorite flavor is still JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games). The RPG is going to be a given for me – my first insane gaming obsession was Dungeons and Dragons back in the mid-70s, when they were still just three cardstock-bound booklets. My next obsession was on the first Nintendo Entertainment System, Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. Although, I’m not a big fan of button mashing combat in the long run; I prefer turn-based combat, where everything stops while you issue commands. This means that slowly but surely the Final Fantasy series left me behind as they moved toward a more action-based combat system. This also explains why I absolutely freaking loved Battle Chasers: Nightwar last year. Characters I loved, turn-based combat.

Ah, so dear to my superdeformed heart.

There are a lot of JRPGs out there, most made with the RPG Maker software, and some of them are really good, and best of all, cheap. Almost all of them have the failing of a final Boss battle that is beyond ridiculous in difficulty. That’s a failing in professionally-developed games, too – I’ve abandoned more than a few when I hit a wall, and checked online reviews to find out that yes, Boss battles throughout the entire game were way overpowered. I don’t mind a challenge, but artificially lengthening your game time through opponents with a hundred thousand hit points and one-hit kill attacks is not something I’m looking for in my entertainment.

This desire for turn-based combat also means that my nemesis among game genres is real-time strategy games, where you have to manage a variety of systems at the same time while the game is actively trying to kill you. I can’t even do that shit well in real life, I’m not going to pay money to do it for supposed entertainment. The antsy little sidekick to that nemesis is platformers – I’m too easily frustrated by them.

Poking my head back into gaming after leaving that hornet’s nest alone for so many years has been a fun voyage of discovery. There’s been new terminology to learn. “Rogue-like” is pleasantly vague and seemingly applied to almost everything. “Bullet Hell” and “Metroidvania” are charmingly self- explanatory.

NOT CURRENTLY SUPPORTED

The downside to abandoning consoles and relying on my PC is twofold – one, keeping a PC up to spec to play games with gosh-wow technology. Not too big a problem, given my prejudices listed above. The other is when the faithful PC fails completely and I have to revert to a dumpster-dive model that can’t even accommodate my old mid-level graphics card. At least I can use my work laptop, which is also devoid of graphic muscle, so I’m limited to older, less-demanding games. No giving myself over to the occasional hack-and-slash adventure game.

Which leaves, hm… solitaire games. I wrote about those before, during my last period of having-no-movies-to-blather-about, almost exactly a year ago. So… puzzle games? I do enjoy a good puzzle.

So let me end this interminable ramble with my current distraction, a bizarre little, yet totally endearing, Czech puzzle game that’s as much interactive cartoon as game.

As you can tell from the above, Chuchel is some sort of hairy dust bunny creature with the top of an acorn for a hat, who is going to spend the game trying to get a nice cherry to eat. He has some sort of purple cat/dog/otter thing (who I am told is named Kekel), who either aids or hinders him in this quest. And if all other obstacles fail, there is always the Hand of God to come down and snatch the cherry, depositing it in the middle of another puzzle.

Chuchel has an astounding variety of alarm devices, and an endless supply of crap to throw at them.

It’s all non-verbal, in the great tradition of animated shorts from (just off the top of my head) the Croatian outfit Zagreb Film, utterly beguiling, and, as I am into approximately the twelfth puzzle, starting to get challenging. Still fun and hilarious, but challenging.

And just in case you didn’t know what I was talking about viz Zagreb Film, here’s a sampling – the last short even has a sort of proto-Chuchel:

There. We finally managed to make it back to movies after all.