Thursday, August 30, 2018

Too Many Husbands

The Fred MacMurray Blogathon is an event in tribute to the life and career of the actor, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site at the link.

Too Many Husbands
YouTube viewing

Fred MacMurray is best remembered as a comedic actor and a good guy, but I tend to think of him, in cinematic terms, as a bad guy. It's all Billy Wilder's fault, for casting him in two dramatic films, Double Indemnity and The Apartment, where he plays scumbags.

The latter film in particular is a good example. He takes advantage of both Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, less as a sneering villain and more with a deceptive charm. He uses them to serve his own ends and he comes across so reasonably in the process; his perpetual nice-guy image is turned inside out. Double may be his most popular film role, but I think The Apartment is his best.

And then there's My Three Sons. The early TV sitcom gave MacMurray's career a second wind, lasting twelve seasons. There's little more than snippets of the show on YouTube, but I watched them for this blogathon. The impression I get is Sons was warm and gentle. The kids seemed unrealistically well-behaved, but gosh, maybe MacMurray's character was just that good a father. A single one, no less.

Perhaps you know MacMurray played the saxophone. He played in a few bands while attending college in Wisconsin. He also sang a little. Here he is in 1930, singing with Gus Arnheim and the Coconut Grove Orchestra.

And I would be remiss if I forgot the comics connection. Remember Captain Marvel? Little kid says "Shazam," turns into an adult superhero? (Perhaps this trailer for the forthcoming Shazam film will jog your memory.) Creator CC Beck modeled CM on MacMurray. Once you see it, you can't un-see it.

Today's subject, Too Many Husbands, is an early MacMurray comedy that's more of a vehicle for the delightful Jean Arthur. Drowned at sea and believed dead, MacMurray survives and returns home a year later only to find Arthur, his wife, moved on without him and married his best friend, Melvyn Douglas.

Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt needed less than ten minutes to settle this problem in Cast Away. Arthur and company take an entire movie, though in fairness, the whole thing is as fluffy as a pillow.

It's watchable, thanks to Arthur; MacMurray and Douglas just bicker and make goo-goo eyes at her. Would you believe Irene Dunne and Cary Grant made essentially the same movie, My Favorite Wife, in the same year, 1940?

--------------
Other Fred MacMurray movies:
Remember the Night
Double Indemnity

Monday, August 20, 2018

Requiem for the video store, part 4: Blockbuster

...Pick up. Drop off. It was, for many, a daily experience. Blockbuster made it easy for you, with mailbox-like units that you could deposit your used movies in like letters. You didn’t even have to get out of your car. You pulled up, rolled down your window…
And in writing this, I realize how absolutely ancient that must seem to a teenager.

It's true, there was a time, not that long ago, when Blockbuster Video stores were as ubiquitous as Starbucks cafes. Hard to believe that time has passed, but how can you compete with online streaming? Still, I never thought the day would come when BB would generate not only nostalgia, but sympathy.

BB as the underdog, the analog lone wolf struggling to survive in a digital wilderness? Under other circumstances, I might be more  sympathetic. Fact is, though, my history within video retail gives me a different perspective, because for many years, BB was the enemy.

I worked at three independent video stores from 1996-2003 (plus a six-month stretch at Tower Records in 1995, where I split time in the video and music departments), and one thing the customers at each indie had in common was their gratitude we weren't BB.

I'd hear it all the time. Maybe it was  because it was New York City, and we tend to get indie and foreign films before most places (and for a longer time), but I dealt with customers who demanded more than just mainstream Hollywood cinema — and BB didn't supply it as much or as often as we did.

That made a big difference in all three indie stores in which I worked, though in the end, BB won out through sheer strength in numbers. When I worked at the Third Avenue store, a BB opened on Second Avenue, on the same block as us, but I don't remember feeling seriously threatened. I believed we could compete with them, in large part, because so many of our customers hated BB and wanted nothing to do with them.

Oh, yeah, that's another thing: BB, like other national chain businesses, set up shop in locations where their (smaller) competition, like us, was already established, so that they could be top dog in time. They could afford to wait, too. Funny how none of the articles I've seen about the last BB standing mention little details like that.

And y'know, props to the Bend, Oregon BB for keeping their doors open this long and surviving in the age of Netflix, but as someone who actively worked against them for eight years, I can't forget the old days that easy. One day, sooner rather than later, the last Blockbuster Video will die, too... but the end will come far, far too late for me.

----------------
Previously:
part 1
part 2
part 3

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Oscars and the art vs. commerce debate

Okay, I read all about this lame new Oscar category for "Best Popular Film" or whatever it'll be called, and I've given it some thought. I get that the Academy and ABC felt they needed to do something to make the Oscars relevant again, and I get that it's called show business for a reason, but this was not the answer. Columns like this reflect my position well. That said, I wanna examine this from a more personal angle.

In my former life, within the comics industry, I had begun my activity at a time, the early 90s, when what was popular truly was mediocre at best. I was in college, and my classmates and I were frustrated at this because we were getting lessons in the fundamentals of art and comics storytelling from industry veterans who didn't fall prey to trends.

Movies like Black Panther would be
a shoo-in for this new Oscar category.
Some of us young turks worked within the system, at Marvel and DC, to help bring about change. Most of us, like me, worked from outside by self-publishing our work or hooking up with small press publishers.

I didn't want to compromise my art by being a slave to trends, but you can bet your ass I still wanted to make money. I believe in the 21st century, it's rare, though not impossible, to find creative people who don't want or expect compensation for their work, but much depends on the audience and what they (think they) want.

"Best Popular Film" could have
benefitted recent blockbusters like Avatar.
With movies, a lot of the time they settle for what's most easily available, true, but these days, it's not uncommon to see a popular indie film playing alongside the latest blockbuster at the multiplex. (Over the past few weeks, I've seen Three Identical Strangers playing in small town, three-screens-or-fewer cinemas.)

Does that mean we, the audience, have become conditioned to choose the popular over the unpopular? Probably. If TCM is on, I'd sooner watch a Jack Lemmon flick over some B-movie starring actors I've never heard of. If I'm in the supermarket, I'd sooner buy a familiar brand name product than a generic version of the same thing. I think it's an inherent aspect of consumerism: the product that advertises better sells better.

As I learned with comics, however, popular doesn't always equal better, a mentality I had adopted for years and have found difficult to shake. In the mid-90s, I watched more indie films, in part, because that's what my video store co-workers, whom I was trying to emulate, watched. They tended to scorn Hollywood and I copped that attitude too.

Will future films like the new Star Wars
films profit from this category?
Most moviegoers, though, aren't like that. If they were, films like Spotlight and Lady Bird and Won't You Be My Neighbor would each make $100 million — and it's not like these films are inaccessible, artsy-fartsy meditations for aesthetes.

The Academy continues to honor these "art" films with Oscars over the "commercial" ones, though, and while we may wish this false dichotomy didn't exist, it does — and not just within the film industry.

Can the playing field be leveled so that all films, large- and small-budgeted alike, compete as true equals? Online streaming could hold the key to the answer. It may mean tearing down the old distribution model, which would make me sad — I enjoy seeing a movie in a theater — but maybe that's what it'll take. In the meantime, I don't see the art versus commerce struggle changing much.

Hard (getting to) eight


...and it has been hard getting to the eight-year anniversary — at least this year! At the pace I'm on, I may not crack 100 posts in 2018, but that's okay. I've had other things to occupy my time lately, not the least of which includes meeting Virginia and falling madly in love with her. You're probably sick of hearing me mention her by now, but she's made all the difference to me this year — and it's not over yet.

Anyway, thanks once again for sticking around here, sporadic as I've been. I appreciate it, and all of you. Hey, I'm getting pretty close to double digits, aren't I?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Re-engage: Stewart to return as Picard

"With overwhelming joy, it's a privilege to welcome Sir Patrick Stewart back to the Star Trek fold. For over 20 years, fans have hoped for the return of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and that day is finally here. We can't wait to forge new ground, surprise people, and honor generations both new and old."

I've already provided my assessment of Picard, so let's talk about the man behind the character. I think Sir Patrick has, in his own way, become as representative of Trek as Bill, yet he never became tied down to it; he has been Professor Xavier for so many X-Men and Wolverine movies, it's easy to think of him in that context as well (Logan might have been his best movie as Xavier).

His theater and other TV work, his close friendship with Ian McKellen (another geek icon), his occasional ventures into comedic videos such as this, not to mention his talk show appearances, all have helped make him a legitimate celebrity that non-geeks know and respect. Even my sister liked the Facebook post that carried this announcement!

I think it's a foregone conclusion this new show, like Discovery, will be on CBS All Access. What was that I said recently about how I may need to think twice about getting it? An issue for another time, for now, but damn, a new Trek series with Picard would be incredibly tough to resist. I think there was a TNG episode where somebody said something pertaining to resistance...

-------------------
Related:
Enterprise-D
Star Trek TNG: The Best of Both Worlds
Star Trek: Discovery

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Link: impossible

Here's something I haven't talked about yet: the Disney/Fox deal. Last month it was approved by the shareholders, and now I gotta believe Disney won't be satisfied until they own all of Hollywood. This is kinda disturbing. Should one studio have this level of power? If it's not a monopoly yet, it's beginning to feel like one.

One wonders what Unca Walt himself would have made of all this. It's a cinch he wouldn't recognize the business he started so long ago. Maybe I'll do a post on him.

-----------------

It occurs to me I haven't been to any outdoor movies this summer. This is unusual; it's something I've indulged in for as long as WSW has been around, but not this year.

Meeting Virginia has meant doing different things with my spare time, so there's that. She's actually not a big moviegoer (I had to remind her who Tom Hanks is), and as you've read, we've been doing things like going to plays and concerts instead.

I don't mind; she's exposed me to new stuff I wouldn't have known of before, and being with her has been more than worth it, even if the play or concert bored me on occasion.

Perhaps going to outdoor movies was a way to occupy my time in the absence of someone like her in my life. Don't know — but I find I haven't missed them much. Hope you haven't either.

----------------

So Spock is gonna appear in Discovery; this does not surprise me in the slightest. As soon as I saw in the first half of the pilot that Cmdr. Burnham was raised on Vulcan and conveniently knew Sarek, I knew it was only a matter of time before they figured out a way to work Spock into the series. That's not what I wanna talk about.

I read the news on a Star Trek Facebook group. I'm not part of the group; I was just lurking. Ever since I chose not to subscribe to CBS All Access to watch Discovery, I've shied away from the fan groups, blogs, and news sites because I knew Discovery would be a big part of their coverage. I looked at this group, though, because I missed being part of the fandom.

The Trek canon (not owned by Disney) is growing, and will continue to grow in the near future —maybe not in all the ways I want it to, but it is happening. Will it follow the Discovery model and be part of the streaming service? Unless someone says otherwise, I can only assume so, which means I may have to reassess my anti-streaming stance. I know I said Trek fandom no longer needs to rely on CBS or Paramount, but things have changed in a big way since then. Maybe I need to get with the times?

----------------

Starting to pick up a little around here; we got some more blogathons scheduled for the coming months, and some good-looking movies are on deck. Hope you'll stick around.

Links after the jump.