Category Archives: Movies

Streaming, copyright, gendercide and other writing/reading/viewing links

Are streaming services becoming increasingly like broadcast TV? And should Hollywood gloat too much about Netflix losing subscribers?

“Streaming shows compared with the era of (US) broadcast shows have fewer episodes, fewer seasons and a bigger emphasis on story arcs. ” — Camestros Felapton, who argues this has become a problem for streaming-era Star Trek.

The late George Perez planned to marry off Etta Candy and Steve Trevor at the end of his Wonder Woman run. Here’s why it never happened.

Mark Waid says the late Neal Adams “was a crusader for creators’ rights. He looked out for others and was fiercely protective of his colleagues. He was passionate, he was loud, and he didn’t like bullies. In fact, I say he never left a dollar behind, but that’s not really true — he left lots of money behind over the years because he wouldn’t betray his principles, an admirable trait.”

The Mary Sue and Vox ask whether “gendercide” stories such as Y: The Last Man are transphobic.

I’m inclined to agree with Brian Cronin that contrarian positions on movies (“X was the real villain of the story all along!”) are amusing but in most cases shouldn’t be taken seriously.

First they came for the school libraries, now they’re coming for the bookstores. Even so, Barnes & Noble is in resurgence with a philosophy that “nothing happens until it happens at retail.”

The Mary Sue argues that if Moon Knight is Jewish, he should be played by a Jewish actor. I don’t agree, but I’ll link to it.

NYC’s public libraries push back against book banners. Texas AG Ken Paxton is on the banners’ side.

Long before Maus, a 1945 comic-book gave readers visuals of the Holocaust.

How the Internet encourages plagiarism. And then there’s academic plagiarism

James Patterson insists it’s just soooo hard for white men to make it in publishing.

Winnie the Pooh is now public domain, but not 100 percent.

Here’s a bizarre take on character ownership: if you make your characters suffer you deserve to lose the rights to them.

I have no strong opinion on Charlie Jane Anders’ “sweetweird” genre theory but I do like this quote: “he world makes no sense, but we can be nurturing, frivolous and kind. We don’t have to respond to the ludicrous illogic of the world around us by turning mean and nasty, or by expecting everyone else to be horrible. At the very least, we can carve out friendly, supportive spaces in the midst of chaotic nonsense, and maybe help each other survive.”

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So I rewatched a lot of movies while on vacation …

Because sometimes it’s good to do so with friends.

THE MATING SEASON (1951) is a delightful comedy in which short-order cook Thelma Ritter decides to move in with son John Lund only to reconsider when she learns he’s a)newly married to Gene Tierney and b)hasn’t been honest about coming from working-class stock. When she shows up at the door, however, Tierney mistakes her for the employment-agency cook she requested, which, of course, complicates everything.

Will Tierney figure things out? Will Lund’s boss get to first base with the tart-tongued cook? A talented cast and a very funny film. “You’re utterly unequipped for such a marriage—does he know you were brought up in an embassy with twenty servants?”

THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1940) remains a favorite fantasy of mine even though it’s a European orientalist fantasy with a white cast in brownface. John Justin plays the well-meaning sultan of Baghdad, unaware vizier/sorcerer Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) has been subverting his rule and turning the people against him (it’s a staple of old swashbucklers—monarchy is not the problem, trusting in the wrong advisers is where kings go wrong). With the help of the titular thief (Sabu), the sultan escapes Jaffar’s plans to kill him, falls in love and finally frees his city from the sorcerer’s tyranny. I’ve written about the film’s characters before, but I found myself even more impressed with Veidt’s performance this time; when he finally gets to embrace the princess, he does it like he can’t believe he’s finally gotten the girl (spoiler: he hasn’t). “Allah be with you — though I doubt it.”

WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972) remains one of my all-time favorites as chaos-bringing polymath Barbra Streisand falls for perpetually bemused musicologist Ryan O’Neal, jolting him out of his comfort zone and into her arms. Plus we have multiple identical travel bags, jewel thieves, disgruntled hotel manager Jonathan Hillerman, academic fraud and Streisand singing. Always a pleasure. “I can take or leave your sedimentary rocks.”I only caught part of LOVE PUNCH (2013) which is one I haven’t seen before. Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan play a divorced couple who discover their retirement funds and their kid’s college fund have all gone south thanks to Brosnan’s company’s new owners sucking out all the money, rendering the stock worthless (yes, the couple made the big mistake of putting all their eggs in one basket). Can a middle-aged couple pull off a caper and recover the money? Amusing enough, and decently performed, that I’ll finish the rest of it eventually. “You know I would never ask you do to anything illegal but I was wondering if you might … stumble into it?”

A CHANGE IN TIME (2022) was a short I caught at ConCarolinas has a British teenager learn that due to someone tampering with his grandfather’s love life, he and his family no longer exist, will he please report for dissolution now? This leads to a desperate effort by him and one of his relatives to put things back on track. Not bad at all.

And as I mentioned yesterday, I caught the play DADDY’S GIRL on vacation. A sweet comedy, it has a Kansas City diner owner coping with his oddball regulars and a daffy new waitress, unaware his dead wife’s ghost and a giggling angel are arranging for the return of the daughter he gave up for adoption after her mother died. Is it the snotty food critic trying to figure out the secret of his special sauce? A biker babe’s daughter with a secret passion for singing? I figured out the answer ahead of the reveal but that didn’t hurt the show it’s funny, well-acted and of course well directed. “How do I know if her daughter can sing?”

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A vampire, a saint and a pear tree: movies seen

Very loosely based on J. Sheridan LeFanu’s “Carmilla,” VAMPYR (1932) has a young stopping in a rural village where he encounters animated shadows, sinister doctors, clocks without faces, suicidal young women and an elderly woman is more than she seems. Carl Th. Dreyer’s film is very strange, both as a vampire film (only one scene with any blood) and as any sort of film—as the commentary track points out, it’s full of weird visuals like a guy just walking around with a scythe, and strange noises coming from off-stage. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I like it. This edition was a reconstruction recapturing many elements lost in previous releases — I’m pretty sure the DVD I saw didn’t have the details of the evil doctor’s final fate. “It must be human blood. Will you give her yours?”

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928) is Dreyer’s other famous work (also in a reconstructed edition), relying heavily on faces against a white-wall background to provide the drama. Joan’s anguish and religious ecstasy as she insists her wearing men’s clothes and fighting for France were God’s will; the looks of the clerics interrogating her, including malevolent scowls and false smiles. More powerful than I expected. “I know the English will be chased out of France — except those that die here.”

At three hours, THE WILD PEAR TREE (2018) didn’t keep me glued to the screen but it did keep me watching all the way to the end. This low-key Turkish film has an aspiring author return to his small-town home after college, annoy a local celebrity writer by pushing for hints on how to get published and look down his nose at his hapless compulsive-gambler father. Well-done but I’d have been happier with it at two hours. “I thought artists were supposed to oppose everything?”

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African Americans battling dark powers! Books and one TV show

As Tracy Deonn is a friend of mine, I’m really glad I loved her YA fantasy LEGENDBORN: The Legendborn Cycle Book 1 (cover by Hillary Wilson).

Sixteen year old protagonist Bree starts the book in a crappy place. She’s attending some accelerated education at UNC (Deonn’s a graduate and a local resident) to get away from home because the trauma of her mother’s accidental death has become unbearable. One night, at a college party, she witnesses a supernatural manifestation; Selwyn, a teen mage, promptly wipes the witnesses’ memories, but Bree doesn’t wipe. Worse, she remembers a similar, more successful attempt to wipe her mind in her mom’s hospital room. What’s the connection?

Trying to find out introduces Bree to the Legendborn, descendants of the Round Table (Selwyn is a “Merlin”). They form the Order, dedicated to fighting the forces of Shadow when they intrude into reality. Striking up a friendship with Nick, the descendant of Arthur himself, Bree winds up apprenticing herself into the order and competing for one of the coveted squire ranks. It’s not easy. Selwyn suspects she has a hidden agenda. Although Nick is charming, the order is very white and some of them don’t think Bree belongs. She also learns she’s inherited some form of Rootcraft from her mother, and the Order doesn’t like independent practitioners. The rootcrafters Bree meets don’t like them either, seeing their magic as a perversion of the natural order. Someone in the Order is unleashing attacks from within, putting Bree, Nick and Selwyn in peril mortal along with the others.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like but they were strictly personal taste. The Order’s magic, as one character notes, is so organized and orderly it’s almost science and that’s a minus for me (the root casting is less orderly and more interesting). And there’s a lot of “explain the magical world to the newbie” exposition which I only like in very small doses. Despite those the book is still very entertaining. At its heart it’s a character story — Bree starts with a boatload of pain and an uncertainty where she belongs in the world and ends finding a place and a role she couldn’t have anticipated. While I did half-suspect a key reveal, I did not realize the way in which Deonn makes it entirely plausible.  It’s also good on the ethnogothic elements as Bree grapples not only with the Order’s racism but North Carolina and UNC’s ugly history in that regard.

Like Abbott, ABBOTT: 1973 by Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivela works much better as a blacksploitation-style crime thriller than a fantasy. It’s a year since the previous book and Elena Abbott is living with her lover Amelia and working for the city’s top black newspaper. When someone launches a hardcore race-baiting campaign against black mayoral candidate Coleman Alexander Young (not named that I noticed, but he was real), Abbott goes into overdrive and discovers mobsters in bed with the current mayor want to keep him in office. She’s not down with that.

A further complication is that instead of dealing with the racist owners at her last job, Elena’s stuck with a new, sexist publisher. He doesn’t like that she smokes or swears, doesn’t think she dresses like a lady and in general she’s not “respectable” enough to suit him. Unfortunately that plotline gets changed by the fantasy stuff. In the first book, Elena discovered she’s the Lightbringer, a Chosen One destined to stand against the evil shadow entities known as the Umbra. It wasn’t that interesting in the first book; here it’s just plain bad. Umbra mage appears, gloating that his invincible power will crush Elena like a bug; things look grim for a couple of panels, then Elena gets glowy and blows up the bad guys. That’s all there is to it. I’m not sure I’ll try for V3.

The CW’s NAOMI (2022) stars Kaci Walfall as the brain and comic-book nerd Naomi McDuffie (the last name is a tribute to the late comics writer Dwayne McDuffie), who unusually for teenage superheroes is happy, well-adjusted and surrounded by friends and loving adoptive parents. But then things get weird — she sees what appears to be Superman flying overhead (annoyingly they never explain “the Superman incident”, a local tattoo artist turns out to be Thanagarian, and Naomi herself is manifesting super-powers. It turns out that on a parallel world her birth parents were among the 29, metahumans created by a freak cosmic accident; her adoptive parents took her to their current Earth to hide from Brutus, the evil meta who killed most of the others. But wouldn’t you know it, he hasn’t given up searching for Naomi, because as the child of two of the 29, she’s potentially a world changer.

This comic-book adaptation by show runner Averna DuVay was well done with some great one-liners but didn’t quite work for me. As I keep mentioning, teenage drama is a tougher sell for me than when I was younger and right after finishing The Aliens Are Here the trope of an alien chosen one in exile is too fresh in my mind (e.g., I Am Number Four).  I’m not personally disappointed it got the axe along with Batwoman, Legends of Tomorrow and Charmed, but at the same time it’s a shame a show with such a strong black cast couldn’t keep going (this relates to Warners looking to sell the CW network).

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Three foreign films for this week’s viewing.

My library had a foreign film display when I went by recently. Of course, I couldn’t resist.

THAT MAGNIFICENT CAKE (2018) is a strange Dutch/French stop-motion film in which the Belgian King Leopold’s lust for a piece of the African “cake” leads both Belgians and Africans to tragic ends — my goodness, it’s symbolic and allegorical! But it didn’t work for me. “You’ve got to be careful where you put your feet.”

DHEEPAN (2015) is a Sri Lankan who becomes a refugee in France by agreeing to pose as a family with an unrelated woman and “her” child. Settling into an apartment complex they have to adjust to the  stresses of the arrangement, the usual refugee traumas and then an erupting gang war adding to their PTSD. This was grim enough I’m astonished the family came out to a happy ending, but the film worked for me. “Everyone burns down schools.”

COURT (2014) is one of those films that show some things are universal. The story of a left-wing street poet hauled into court on trumped-up charges, backed up by lying witnesses, could easily take place in the U.S. or the U.K. and probably multiple other countries. Although I’m not sure most U.S. films would be as scathing toward the prosecutor who at one point strains the law to justify charging the man under WMD laws. While the ending lost me (not that it’s bad, I think I missed something and couldn’t figure out the point), this was overall a solid film.“There is one song by the accused that encourages manhole workers to commit suicide.”

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Spider-Man, a Hero and an avenger: movies

SPIDER-MAN: No Way Home (2021) surprisingly resolves the cliffhanger of the previous film — Mysterio framing Spider-Man as a murderer — within a few minutes. However as Mysterio also exposed Spidey’s secret identity, this proves a problem for Peter and his friends (“MJ, are you carrying his spider-babies?”) so Peter enlists Dr. Strange to erase the world’s memory of the reveal. Unfortunately things go wrong and the spell opens the multiverse, bringing the puzzled villains from the Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield films to the MCU (as Disney already has Tom Hardy for Venom, we didn’t get Topher Grace). Can Peter stop them? Can he send them home? Can he avert the deaths he learns they’re all facing? I didn’t like the ending (too similar to the comics’ One More Day — and Peter makes a promise he doesn’t keeep) but nevertheless this was immense fun. “Are you going into battle dressed as a cool youth pastor?”

Bollywood icon Uttam Kumar plays THE HERO (1966), a superstar much like himself (I gather the Hollywood equivalent would be Cary Grant playing a movie star) who takes a train to a movie award ceremony so he can brood about the possibility his new film will be a major flop. The train trip also has him dealing with assorted hustlers, a starstruck spouse, a sick teenager and an ambitious women’s magazine publisher. This film by Satyajit Ray is a mix of character study (possibly influenced by Fellini’s 8 1/2) and Grand Hotel set-up (i.e., watching the interactions between lots of people suddenly thrown together); interesting, though probably more so if I knew Indian culture better. “’Catch fish but don’t get your hands wet’ is my motto.

LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973) is a cult classic—it’s supposed to be an inspiration for Kill Bill—about a child of rape trained into a deadly martial artist to avenge herself on the quartet who killed her mother. Gory to the over-the-top point it;while not bad, I’m not joining the cult. “The vagina goddess has graced us with a visit.”

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Two classic Hitchcocks: North by Northwest and Psycho (with spoilers)

(Re) watching Alfred Hitchcock’s films makes me appreciate why so many critics and Hitch himself saw NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) as a film that expresses the essence of Hitchcock movies. Yet it was the next film he made, PSYCHO (1960) that came to define him: he’d be Alfred Hitchcock, direct of Psycho from that moment forward.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) stars Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive who through blind chance is mistaken for Kaplan, an American agent hunting enemy spy Vandamm (James Mason) and his right hand Leonard (Martin Landau). Vandamm mocks Thornhill’s denials, declaring that his performance makes the room a theater; this theatricality crops up over and over, for example when he later sneers American agents should get training from the Actor’s Studio.

The bad guys’ first attempt on Thornhill’s life fails, as does the second; however they unintentionally frame him as a murderer, forcing him to flee cops as well as crooks, traveling across country to track down Kaplan. Thornhill doesn’t know Kaplan doesn’t exist; it’s a non-existent man created by spymaster the Professor (Leo G. Carroll) to distract Vandamm from the real agent in his team. During his travels, Thornhill gets help from Eve (Eva Marie Saint), a beautiful woman who turns out to be Vandamm’s lover. Thornhill, having fallen for her, isn’t happy (“What makes a girl like you a girl like you?”), then he learns she’s the Professor’s agent on the inside. Unfortunately Leonard has figured that out too …

North by Northwest is a spectacular thriller with some great set pieces, from Grant being targeted by a crop-dusting plane to the climax on Mt. Rushmore. It carries over elements from multiple previous films including The Thirty-Nine Steps, Notorious and Saboteur. As The Hitchcock Romance says, it captures Hitch’s repeated theme that love and marriage is the happy ending for most of us. Thornhill starts out twice divorced and something of a ladies’ man (we see him dickering with his secretary about the right gift for one of his girlfriends), then he meets Eve and everything changes. Vandamm intends to kill her for betraying him; the Professor is willing to accept her death for the greater good. Thornhill loves her and he’s going to save her in spite of all of them. It’s a great film. “War is hell, Mr. Thornhill, even when it’s a cold one.”

I would really love to have seen PSYCHO (1960) at least once not knowing what was coming but a friend told me the details in high school (I wouldn’t catch it until college). In the opening, Marion (Janet Leigh), frustrated that her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin) doesn’t have enough money to make a home for both of them, succumbs to a moment of temptation and drives off with $40,000 of her employer’s money. It’s a classic film noir set up that turns into an Old Dark House story when Marion ends up at the Bates Motel, where Norman (Anthony Bates) runs the largely unoccupied business and cares for his sour, bedridden mother. And then, of course, comes the infamous shower scene in which Mrs. Bates stabs Marion to death in the shower (future slasher films owe a lot to this and the later deaths). Can Sam and Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) figure out the truth?This film has a very strange structure, switching from genre to genre and protagonist to protagonist. It’s amazing visually and absorbing to watch even when I know what’s coming. That said, it’s a film that like Vertigo, I admire more than I enjoy. While in many ways it’s much more atypical of Hitch than North by Northwest, though Hitchcock Romance argues the film is a perfect example of Hitch’s tragic romances. When we catch up with Sam after the opening he’s writing to Marion to say that he’ll marry her, despite his poverty; if she’d only waited instead of acting, she’d have gotten her HEA. Like Vertigo and Rebecca, the past chokes the present. Sam’s struggling to pay off his father’s debts and support his ex-wife; Norman is dominated by his dead mother. It’s a remarkable achievement. “I’m not a fool and I’m not capable of being fooled.”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders. For extra interest, check out the great title sequences for Psycho and North by Northwest by the great Saul Bass.



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Robin Hood and the evil rich

“In times of economic downturns, in times of tyranny and oppression, and in times of political upheaval, the hero Robin Hood makes his timely call.” — from a history of Robin Hood discussing why the legend stays strong, even attaching itself to other people. For instance, the article notes, Jesse James was often portrayed as a Robin Hood figure who’d help out the poor — though I’ve read elsewhere that was a conscious Southern effort to hold him up as the enemy of Northern banking interests after the Civil War.

Part of that, perhaps is that the image of the corrupt rich, trampling are rights, is just as eternal as Robin of Sherwood. As the TV series Leverage put it, “The rich and powerful take what they want — we steal it back for you.” The series showed a team of crooks using their skills as modern-day Robins, providig the poor and pushed-around with “leverage” against the oppressor.

Go back 100 years and George Allen England’s The Air Trust isn’t that different. A grasping millionaire, bummed out that he’s gotten his hands on everything possible, thinks of something he doesn’t own yet — air. He establishes a series of oxygen extraction factories that provide pure, bottled oxygen for people who want it to pep them up. Nobody’s going to realize the amount of oxygen he’s extracting will eventually make air unbreathable — at which point we’ll have to pay any price for his oxygenators if we want to survive. It’s a great concept though heavy socialist exposition undercuts it (there’s even socialist poetry!).

Move to the 1940s and Leading Comics #5 (author unknnown, art by Ed Dobrotka) gives us the heartwarming story of “The Miracles Money Can’t Buy.” That is, I thought it would be heartwarming (“With all my money what I really want is love — a miracle money can’t buy.”) but the miracles in this case are things like the world’s largest diamond and the world’s greatest racehorse. The Skull, world’s wealthiest man, can’t buy them simply because the owners won’t sell. His solution is to bust five criminals off death row and send them out to bring in those wonder items. You could update that one easily, just give the Skull a made-up name — hmm, how does Elon Bezos sound?

Jump forward to the Silver Age and we have another timeless rich dude, Gregory Gideon (whom I wrote about recently at Atomic Junkshop). Gideon is a gazillionaire on the brink of total control of the world’s economy. When his three closest competitors beat back his takeover attempt he proposes a wager: set him any task and when he succeeds, they sell out. The trio come back with something they imagine not even Gideon can achieve — destroy the Fantastic Four! Gideon comes closer than you might expect (details at the link) before learning that yes, the best miracles are those money can’t buy, like the love of his son. Schmaltzy, yes, but Lee and Kirby make it work.

The idea of the rich screwing us over has lasting power because it’s so often true. So it’s not surprising we fantasize someone — the FF, the Seven Soldiers, Robin Hood — who can give us that leverage.

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Hollywood women, modern art: two documentaries

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING (2019) is a documentary on sexism in Hollywood, taking its title from the repeated declarations that the spectacular surprise success of Movie X — Thelma and Louise for example — is a game-changer that guarantees Hollywood will have to take women-led films/female directors/the female audience seriously … and somehow it never happens.

As someone who writes about both movies and sexism, there’s not a lot here that’s new to me, but that doesn’t make this a bad film. The most interesting parts were the personal stories — a woman director watching Mel Brooks call out the Directors Guild for not giving women more support, or one black woman’s awe at seeing Diahann Carroll as John Forsythe’s half-sister on Dynasty — a black woman who was wealthy, held her own with white people and could slap Joan Collins without getting arrested. “If you open yourself up to it, the work gets better.”

MY KID COULD PAINT THAT (2007) is a documentary about a four-year-old art prodigy whose abstract paintings became hot commodities on the New York art scene until Charlie Rose did a 60 Minutes piece claiming (rather dubiously from what we see here) that her dad did most of the work. This killed the kid’s  career until the family released a DVD showing her doing all the painting herself. However the subject is less the girl than the perennial question of how we evaluate, interpret and understand art (the paintings becoming less valuable when “she didn’t paint them herself” was the story) and whether abstract modern art has any meaning. Good job. “It’s never just about art, it’s about the story art tells.”

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Troubled teens and a pissed off old fart: movies

BETTER LUCK TOMORROW (2003) focuses on a group of Asian American teens who turn to shoplifting as a break from their rigorous academic lives. From there they jump to drug-dealing, selling cheat sheets and then … Competent but this never clicked with me.  “It’s literally a full-time commitment just to make people believe you’re the person you’re supposed to be.”

Stephen Soderbergh’s THE LIMEY (1999) stars Terence Stamp as a tough British thug, just out of the jug. His daughter, living in LA, has just died in what Stamp suspects was no accident, which is very bad news for the people responsible. This co-stars Lesley Anne Warren as a friend of the daughter and Peter Fonda as her ex-lover; the story is slight but the performances are strong.  “That’s usually what senseless violence comes down, to isn’t it? Bad loans, bad judgment, bad faith.”

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