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A few reviews
Had been meaning to watch this old Craig Brewer film, and when I realized that he'd also done the recent Dolemite Is My Name, I decided to do them as a pair.
Black Snake Moan (2006)

Horribly mis-marketed.  Christina Ricci wouldn't have agree to put herself on film in such a vulnerable way unless there was a deep and kind of beautiful theme the story works through.  Unfortunately, the producers seemed to lose their nerve and decide they could only make money by marketing the story as "Black man chains up naked sex kitten!"  Full review here: https://letterboxd.com/nottheacademy/fil...nake-moan/

Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

A good movie, but I've liked all Craig Brewer's other films more, actually.  I didn't laugh at any of the stand-up in this, though Wesley Snipes was A-MAZ-ING.  Worth watching for him alone.  Full thoughts here: https://letterboxd.com/nottheacademy/fil...s-my-name/

also watched the Netflix series:
The Movies That Made Us (2019)

45 minute episodes doing a "how did this get made" for Dirty Dancing, Home Alone, Ghostbusters, and Die Hard, respectively.  The host has a cheesy, annoying voice and really the overall style of the presentation screams “network TV”… it’s like an ‘E! True Hollywood Story” only not as good.  That said, the nuggets they dig up and the way they reveal the behind-the-scenes events is pretty compelling.  For me, the best stuff is the behind-the-scenes footage of the stars and big names behind these films, and the on-set stories about them.  That represents only about 20% of the episodes though, with a lot more of it being spent on the story of drumming up interest, getting financing, promotion, and all the other much-less-sexy parts of film-making.  They actually got recent footage of Ivan Reitman and Dan Akroyd talking about Ghostbusters, though!
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starring Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke
directed by Peter Berg

I was a big Robert B. Parker fan. Through the 80s and 90s I pretty much devoured everything he wrote. In particular, his Boston private eye Spenser series was an absolute favourite of mine.

Spenser For Hire (1985-88), starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks, was, is, one my favourite detective tv series. And while it took some liberties with the source material, it was very faithful to the essential core elements of all the characters. Urich and Brooks would reprise their roles in four tv movies between 1993-95.

Between 1994 and 1997 Joe Mantenga portrayed Spenser in 3 tv movies made for A&E. They were not very good. While Mantenga does a great Spenser for Audio Books, he lacked the physicality to convincely play the role.

And now we have Marky Mark playing the role.

And it was.... okay?

The relationship of Spenser and Hawk has been reinterpretted/modernized as an action comedy buddy mystery. The broadstrokes of Spenser and his world are there, but it lacks all the fine detail, nuance and poetry that made the book series a great read for over 40 years.

The character has been seriously Wahlberged. His backstory has been completely altered. Hawk is unrecongizeable. And Susan Silverman is completely missing and has been replaced by a foul mouth Southie dog groomer named Mona.

I dunno. If this had been just a Wahlberg movie with different character names, I might have enjoyed it more. But since I am very familiar with the source material, all I could see were all the unnecessary changes or things it got completely wrong.

5 out of 10 for me.
"... let's go exploring!" -- CALVIN.
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^Woah!  I remember a bit about the Spenser For Hire series.  The new film seems so different I didn't even connect the two.  It does look like an exceedingly typical actioner.

With Netflix hiking their prices (meanwhile other services are snapping up better and better content and charging less) I decided to end my membership.  So I'm watching a few of their Originals this month before membership expires.  First up:
Altered Carbon Season 2 (2020)

Ugh.  Okay, so I was already wary about this since I loved Joel Kinnaman in the first season and I knew he wasn't coming back.  I tried to keep an open mind, though.  But literally every single aspect of the series is a big drop from Season 1.  For those who don't know, S1 was a neo-noir sci-fi detective mystery with an aesthetic strongly inspired by Blade Runner.  Add in a wealth of heady concepts, heaps of sex and nudity, and a healthy amount of visceral ultra-violence, and it made for one of the best seasons of TV I've ever seen.  Kinnaman played "Takeshi Kovacs", an Asian special ops agent with 100s of years of experience in a future where his essence has essentially been downloaded into a new body: this tall, lethal Swedish brick shithouse.  We follow Kinnaman's hardboiled detective for most of the season, later flashing back more to his backstory where he's played by ethnic Korean Will Yun Lee.  They're meant to be the same person, and though Lee's Kovacs is technically the original, we don't see him all that much so I forgave that Kinnaman's Kovacs doesn't seem to act particularly identical.

In S2 however, Kovacs is recast again in Anthony Mackie's body, and we see more of Lee as well.  There are actual several body-swapping scenes where you'd expect to see different mannerisms and behavior from Mackie, but we get none of that.  He's just Anthony Mackie.  We don't get any of the hardboiled detective vibe either, from his performance or the show in general.  The Blade Runner-esque streetscapes give way to a more generic sci-fi futurism for much of the show.  The nudity and ultra-violence is dialed way, way back.  The fight scenes especially are disappointing.  Kinnaman tried several different martial arts for the show, eventually becoming a daily practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  That meant that there were glorious closeups of Kinnaman pulling off titanic chest kicks or holds, whereas every fight scene has to take place in incredibly dark places here, where they hope the audience won't notice Mackie isn't fighting and it's almost all stunt doubles (we noticed.)  

In S1, the story mostly kept to the books (which I never read) although apparently with 2 changes.  One of them was a stroke of genius: adding Kovacs sister into the series.  The other was the weakest part of the series: a whole backstory of Kovacs falling in love with this scientist-terrorist figure.  Unfortunately, S2 focuses almost entirely on this second part and draws little from the novels apparently.  They also lost the great creative team of writers and directors from the first show, except for one of the co-showrunners who acts as executive producer here.  Instead, the new showrunner is Alison Schapker, known for cheesy network TV.  And boy does this feel like it.  S1 had so many fresh surprises and interesting ideas.  S2 is chock full of tropes and coattail-riding, with too many "seen it better somewhere else" story elements to repeat here.  There's a huge push to add in lots of actors of color and women...great.  But honestly their performances aren't that great.  They don't hold a candle to Dichen Lachman and Martha Higareda from S1.  The story is shorter, too, and appears to have a smaller budget.  It's just depressing all around.  If you watched this season first, maybe it'd seem pretty good, but as a follow-up it's such a letdown.

Marriage Story (2019)

Noah Baumbach gets to cast himself as a 6'2" ex-marine who can get up and impromptu belt out Sondheim to a stunned bar and is also a "brilliant, genius" theatre director.  I'm sure Adam Driver's "Charlie" would be a lot less reasonable and sympathetic in this story if Baumbach's ex-wife was the writer.  Fantasy aside, if you can get past some incredibly stagey and transparent writing by Baumbach (his Woody Allen crush is always grating to me) then the performances here are riveting.  Full thoughts: https://letterboxd.com/nottheacademy/fil...tory-2019/
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(03-08-2020, 04:48 PM)mnkykungfu Wrote: Noah Baumbach gets to cast himself as a 6'2" ex-marine

I realize this is persnickety of me, but, as a former US Navy Sailor, I'd like to note that "ex-[branch]" technically implies a non-honorable discharge. Adam Driver was medically discharged, with an almost certain Honorable status, making him a "former Marine." Heck, most service members themselves probably don't know this bit of terminology, but, as someone who corrects anyone who calls me "ex-Navy," I feel bound to extend the same consideration on behalf of others. Carry on! And thanks for the detailed and thoughtful reviews from this post. Smile
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Filmed in Supermarionation (2014)

A superb documentary charting the evolution of Gerry Anderson's various puppet shows, in order, from wonky early black & white kid shorts, through to much higher gloss stuff like 'Captain Scarlet'. It's gamely presented by Lady Penelope and Parker themselves. Some of the original crew demonstrate how the puppets worked and the doc makers stage some pretty elaborate recreations of the FX techniques. The interviews are packed with memorable anecdotes and the clips from the shows are in glorious HD.

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Last week, my wife asked me what my favorite TV show of all time was & I answered ‘Thunderbirds’. I rewatched the entire series on blu-ray, plus the films, a couple of years back and I still loved it. I think it still holds up. If I’m not mistaken, I believe Kubrick was interested in having the Andersons work on ‘2001’ he was so impressed.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page or on Facebook or Twitter
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(03-08-2020, 04:48 PM)mnkykungfu Wrote: In S1, the story mostly kept to the books (which I never read) although apparently with 2 changes.  One of them was a stroke of genius: adding Kovacs sister into the series.  The other was the weakest part of the series: a whole backstory of Kovacs falling in love with this scientist-terrorist figure.  Unfortunately, S2 focuses almost entirely on this second part and draws little from the novels apparently.  

You know, my wife and I watched the first episode or two of season 1, went "wow this is something" and then went and read all 3 books before returning to the show. The first half of season 1 is spot on for the first book. But the moment that the sister showed up the entire show jumped the shark ten ways to Timbuktu and I gave up entirely.

I'm going to spoiler tag the following, but I don't think anything is really a spoiler so much as a summary of worldbuilding backstory:

Now to non-book viewers, I get it. The world and the ideas are cool enough that it being true to the book or otherwise doesn't matter. But here's why it bothers the crap out of me:

The books have a ton of world building, including the idea that there was a rebellion long ago, led by Quell, a lady who used the sleeve tech to keep the movement going over lifetimes. The rebellion starts to lose? Everyone goes back to their normal lives and waits as long as it takes for the message that they should start up again. And many, many, many years later you end up with a character who WAS NOT involved in the original rebellion, but who perhaps shares some sentiments with the movement, and who had some traumatic experiences while serving as a foot soldier at some point across his lifespan. And you see him in 3 situations, one per book. The first he acts as a detective on Earth, just like in the first season of the show. In the second it's him on some planet in the middle of nowhere as a soldier dealing with a civil war, leading to some truly bizarre and wonderful twists. And the third book features him returning to his homeworld of Harlan's World to deal with stuff. And in that third book, just BARELY, does it begin to play with the idea that there are people left over from this rebellion who may still be alive and ready to take up arms, including the extremely unlikely possibility of Quell, the rebellion leader, existing in some form.

The show goes "what if we swapped out a character in book 1 for the mostly-nonexistent sister!" Ok fine, whatever, but we don't need the sister character whatsoever. I could accept that to a certain degree. But then the show goes "Oh and the main character's military experience was actually the Quellist Rebellion! And he knew Quell personally! And they were in love! And she wanted to destroy the sleeve tech rather than use it for her rebellion!"

They collapsed multiple eras of world building timelines into one, completely reversed Quell's entire reason for existing and motivation (she wasn't a scientist either and did not invent the tech she does in the show), and added an insanely stupid timeless-love bullshit arc. And now in season 2 they appear to have combined elements from book 2 (dark-skinned soldier sleeve, civil war) with book 3 (Harlan's World, returning home, AngelFire). Honestly I enjoyed the first episode of season 2 far more than anything in the second half of season 1 because I was able to stop caring how much they'd butchered the plot and could take it at its own face value.
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Contagion (2011)

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I watched the Steven Soderbergh film Contagion last weekend. Why, you ask? Simple: I'm considering putting on a personal Marion Cotillard film festival, and I'm sure as heck not watching The Dark Knight Rises again. Anyhow, this film about a global virus outbreak originating in China and spreading with alarming speed is, I'm afraid, terribly unrealistic. There isn't a single scene of government officials discussing how to appease their head of state's ego while mounting a professional response.

As this was a rewatch, I found the first 20 minutes a bit slow, since it just seemed to be summarizing the last few weeks of actual life. Happily, however, it got much more dramatic and interesting from there. There's a few mentions of Twitter early on, but none of Facebook, YouTube, social networks, etc. At one point, there's a months-long quarantine across the United States, but barely any discussion of how online culture is reacting beyond one sleazy conspiracy-mongering Brit (Jude Law) posting videos from San Francisco. It feels almost quaint in that respect, but only in retrospect; in the moment, it's a gripping example of what I like to call a "process movie," which isn't about characters or story in the classic sense (in which plot is heavily influenced by character), but rather focuses on the nuts and bolts of, well, a process. Other examples include United 93, 127 Hours (and survival movies in general), HBO's Florida 2000 election drama Recount, Downfall, etc.

A good film; recommended. Grade: A-. Notable for being a rare film to spotlight my beloved Golden Gate Park generally, and its Music Concourse specifically, as seen at 2:28:

(03-08-2020, 09:15 PM)Gaith Wrote: I realize this is persnickety of me, but, as a former US Navy Sailor, I'd like to note that "ex-[branch]" technically implies a non-honorable discharge.
Not at all!  Happy to learn something new.  I will from now on refer to Driver as a former Marine who can belt out Sondheim.  Smile

(03-10-2020, 09:10 AM)Siliconmaster Wrote: You know, my wife and I watched the first episode or two of season 1, went "wow this is something" and then went and read all 3 books before returning to the show. 

Oh my god, why!?!  Ha ha!  I know of almost no better way to surefire RUIN a visual presentation of a story than to go read the original printed word first.

From your spoiler tag comments, it seems like you mostly agree with what I was saying that the elements shoe-horned into the first season that were not in the book are mostly the weaker things there.  (That said, not knowing how the book story compared, I was actually fine with them in the show.  They just weren't nearly as tightly-plotted.)  The reason I loved the sister element is

for most of the story, you have a hero who honestly doesn't care much if he lives or dies.  Yeah, he's starting to get feelings for the cop, but he knows the relationship isn't right and he should eventually try to find her real boyfriend's stack.  He's not initially thinking about his "long lost love", and that's a story we've seen before anyway.  What I haven't seen so much is the brother-sister separated in childhood story, and the level of obsession and dedication they have for each other was very touching for me.  It doesn't hurt that I absolutely love Dichen Lachman.  So in the later episodes of S1, Kovacs is trying to do the right thing and fight for principles, but he is totally at the mercy of his heart.  There are now real stakes and personal sacrifice that wouldn't be there without the sister.  And it's not as simple as saving a stack or sacrificing your life for someone.  He needs to save his sister's soul.  And he just can't do it.  It's gone.  It's such a tragedy how it plays out in the final episode, I won't lie, I was bawling when they decided to die together.
  Such a pity that you weren't able to enjoy that element of the story (although I totally understand how familiarity influences the effect of a later version.)
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Superman: The Movie (1978)
I haven't seen this all the way through for ages, this time I went for the Theatrical Cut. Even in that shorter version, wow does this feel slow and dated (I'm yet to see the HD remaster of the extended TV cut). It's maybe 25-minutes 'til we see our main character (not our lead actor), 50-minutes 'til we see the suit and another 15-mins before the first rescue. Some of the FX shots absolutely hold up, some look laughable and most are of inconsistent quality. The humour is often goofy and misjudged and what the hell is that poem Lois recites to herself, I'd clean forgot about that bit. Every time we cut to campy Gene Hackham and his two painfully unfunny sidekicks I'm outta the movie and it seemed like half the scenes were about them.

However, these problems melt away when you've got Christopher Reeve's presence, John Williams' soaring music, Richard Donner's heartfelt Direction and a note-perfect translation of the character (Clark and Superman). You can believe that nobody notices they are the same person because Reeve shape-shifts his body between the two. That moment when Lois' back is turned and he drops his disguise for a moment is amazing. He appears to grow in stature, straightens his posture and relaxes his facial muscles. Slipping seamlessly back and forth between fidgety nebbish Clark and the serene stillness and assured air of Superman. The in-camera flying shots are something special that'll never be recaptured. The key scene is when Superman rescues Lois and you can see it's really Reeve there catching a full-size helicopter in one hand. Of course you know he's not actually holding the weight but it feels like magic. I love the montage where we are shown that Superman cares as much about rescuing a little girl's cat from a tree, as he does about saving the world. That's how the character should be, not an all-powerful god of destruction. Is it really beyond the wit of man to do a modern Superman film that nails the character, has a sensible tone, a coherent story and gets the FX right. With the advances in wire work and the ability to easily paint those wires out, you could do so much in camera.

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