Category: Movies

Brainiac On Banjo: New York, Naked

“It trails me and it tails me down to Central Park. Even after dark, New York is my home. New York is calling me, and now I find the city never sleeps… it’s my state of mind.” New York Is My Home, written by Dion Di Mucci, Scott Kempner, and Mike Acquilina, 2016

Like many pop culture enthusiasts – we used to be called “fans” before cosplay became a big deal — my “top ten favorite movies” list runs a bit heavy. I recently took to creating an actual written-down list and, as of this typing, this effort has engorged to 66 films. I’m sure it will lengthen.

Among those works on film to which I am most endeared is a 1948 flick called “The Naked City,” directed by Jules Dassin and starring Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, and Dorothy Hart. Despite its title, this brilliant and authentic action movie is not the least bit salacious. It most certainly is naked, in the sense that The Naked City is the most poignant portrait of New York City I have seen.

This is the New York City of legend, filmed on location. Well, 80% of it was filmed on location, and that certainly fits the definition of unique. No other movie had so much Manhattan footage, and the performers and crew were not limited to the types of cover shots we are used to seeing on shows like N.Y.P.D. Blue.

We are thrust into the real, heroic city of legend that is no longer with us, but unlike Camelot or Brigadoon this place was real and that is the stuff of this movie. It was the town many of our ancestors first saw when they came to America, the portal to a new world that offered the promise of fair play, opportunity, equality, and democracy. Those values may be fading rapidly as well, but that’s for another time.

As much as I love the work of Damon Runyon, the New York City seen in this movie is the real thing. There are no singing and dancing gangsters in this production. You can almost smell the sidewalk hot dogs, the sweat of the workers, and the stench of the tenements on a hot summer day — The Naked City was filmed in the very, very hot summer of 1947, and it shows.

Long gone are the Manhattan elevated trains and the Essex Street Market, the old Staten Island Ferry terminal and the real Penn Station, the ramshackle and often dangerous subdivided apartment buildings for those who dream, and the mom-n-pop stores that met their needs. Big-box chain stores and franchise fast food were almost unheard of. It was America’s portal to the rest of the world and, more important, it was the portal from the rest of the world.

The movie most certainly suffers from some of the constraints and attitudes of its time. There’s plenty of white ethnic diversity, and that’s about it. New York City is and always been a lot more than that, but in 1948 I suspect a lot of people wondered why they ever would be interested in seeing a movie about a bunch of Irish, Italians, and Ashkenazi… let alone about New Yorkers. The Naked City does not portray a lot of high falutin’ swells living in the vertical gated communities that line Central Park; this is the people of New York whose heads would explode at the thought of paying today’s $3,500 a month rent.

The original The Naked City movie, later remade as several television series and movies, is a breathtaking, highly detailed and emotionally appropriate record of the city that defined America. It is a 96-minute time machine that nails down the roots of our cultural heritage.

It’s also a damn good cop movie.

The Naked City is on HBO Max and, better still, the 23-minute Criterion documentary Uncovering The Naked City is there as well, although I do not know how long either will be streaming from that venue. Talk about Brigadoon… Of course, both are available from Criterion on home video and on the Criterion Channel. I say “better still” because The Naked City is shown on TCM with some regularity but the documentary is a mere seventeen months old and not quite as accessible. It’s a love letter to both the movie and to the city that made it… and, of course, to the people who made it as well.

As they said in this movie and its subsequent adaptations, “There are eight million stories in the naked city.” This has been the best of them.

The author dedicates this column to Howard V. Chaykin, the source of several of those eight million stories.

With Further Ado #145: Guest Column Winner “Men Direct Feminist Films Too”

With Further Ado #145: Guest Column Winner “Men Direct Feminist Films Too”

We have made it to the final installment of the Ithaca College Writing Assignment awards. The students in the class that helps run Ithacon were tasked to submit a guest column entry for this space and we have a winner. You can see the previous runners up on this site from the past two weeks here and here.

The winner is Caleigh Clarke who took on a pop culture accepted opinion and challenged it. What really set her over the top is that not only did she take issue with prevalent take on movie making, she presented an alternative example of what she was looking for from feminism in pop culture movies.

Men Direct Feminist Films Too

By Caleigh Clarke

When I think of female-directed films with a superheroine, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman comes to mind. It is the first of its kind, with Captain Marvel and Black Widow following and trying to erase the previous sexist works of Catwoman and Elektra. It follows Diana Prince, an Amazonian goddess, as she joins American spy, Steve Trevor, to fight in World War I as she believes it is a result of the Greek god of war, Ares.

This movie was definitely marketplace feminism. They wanted to appeal to the little girls who would go on to buy the lunchboxes, t-shirts, and costumes after watching the movie, like with most superhero films. However, does this have to be the case in our modern world saturated with superheroes? Are superheroines just there to be a “look, feminism” moment? Or are executives starting to break the mold?

I thought of comparing Wonder Woman to a superhero film that I personally loved and was critically praised- Black Panther . Released just one year after Wonder Woman , the movie follows the titular character who is crowned king of Wakanda after his father’s death, but is challenged by a man who seeks to use the country’s resources for a world revolution. Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther is filled by many women, mainly Nakia, Shuri, Okoye, and Ramonda. These female characters are integral to the story and success of T’Challa. Nakia is not merely his love interest. She holds a lot of agency. Her goal is not to become queen of Wakanda, but rather convince T’Challa to reveal Wakanda as a country and open its gates to help people with their advanced technology. She is also a spy fighting for enslaved women, she is expertly trained which we see in her first appearance on the screen. Continue reading “With Further Ado #145: Guest Column Winner “Men Direct Feminist Films Too””

With Further Ado #143: Guest Column Contest Second Runner-Up – Make Mine Marvel Movies

With Further Ado #143: Guest Column Contest Second Runner-Up – Make Mine Marvel Movies

At Ithaca College, the class Promoting and Managing ITHACON was presented with an assignment. They were challenged to write a guest column for this space. The submissions were varied and showed that the student writers gave the assignment a lot of thought and effort. Some of the topics that were tackled were surprising and made the reviewers challenge some of their own perspectives.

In the end, we found that there were three spectacular entries that we will post over the next three weeks. The second runner-up entry will be published first. It is by Jordan Green and it made our little old fanboy hearts well up with joy.

 

With Further Ado Writing Assignment

by Jordan Green

Marvel Entertainment has a special place in my heart. When the first Iron Man movie was released, I was nine years old. Today, I am 22 years old and cannot think about my life without reflecting on the impact Marvel Entertainment has had on me. My father used to read Marvel comic books growing up, but that love for reading comic books was not passed on to me. Marvel Entertainment found a way to close that gap between my father and I by creating so many amazing movies and series that have created long lasting moments in my life. Marvel Entertainment has created numerous fantastic projects that have impacted my life in ways both in and outside the movie theater.

The first Marvel movie that I remember watching was Captain America: The First Avenger. It is a fantastic introduction to Steve Rogers and how he became an American hero. History has always been one of my favorite classes in school, so having a story based in the second World War immediately grabbed my attention. Chris Evans was perfect for the role of Captain America, getting better with each new movie that incorporated my favorite Avenger. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of my favorite movies of all time, not just Marvel movies. Joe and Anthony Russo perfectly brought Captain America into the present day and made a then 15-year-old Jordan love Captain America even more.

Starting the movie off with the “On your left” scene was fantastic at setting the expectations of fans everywhere and introducing fans to a new Avenger, one that will have a [current] Disney+ series. The elevator fight scene from Winter Soldier is one of the coolest action sequences I have ever watched. I was on Captain America’s side in Captain America: Civil War and further loved what the Russo Brothers did with his character arc in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The Russo Brothers were able to show how a military hero lost faith in authority. I loved the ending Captain America was given in Avengers: Endgame. Every time I watch Captain America dance with Peggy Carter, I tear up. Steve Rogers finally got to have a dance with the love of his life after being denied that opportunity for so many years because of his heroic sacrifice. This was the ending to his story arc that I wanted for him. I truly loved Captain America’s character arc throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Entertainment has helped grow many of my relationships with family and friends. I remember seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron with my father and older brother in theaters. I remember the group of friends I saw Infinity War and Endgame in theaters with, and how much closer it brought us. Both movies were released on Fridays, and once all of us finished classes, we drove as fast as we could to the movie theater to get afternoon tickets to see these blockbusters. After seeing Infinity War, I frequently heard my friends quoting funny moments from the movie when we all spent time together. One of my best friends that I saw these movies with is incredibly tall, so we nicknamed him “Groot” based on the character from Guardians of the Galaxy. That made “I am Groot, I am Steve Rogers” even funnier every time that quote was referenced. This was one of the many moments that Marvel Entertainment helped strengthen my relationships with family and friends.

The sheer shock and awe in the theater during each of these movies are experiences I will never forget. Some of the moments I remember the most were Thor’s entrance in Infinity War, Captain America hoisting Mjolnir in Endgame, and the emergence of the blipped heroes from portals before the final battle in Endgame. It was too perfect that the Russo Brothers referenced Winter Soldier with Falcon saying “On your left” to Captain America. People in the fully packed theaters started clapping during these moments, which usually is highly disliked, but felt acceptable at the time. I look back on these experiences with a great deal of fondness, thinking about these moments as all-time life experiences I will tell my future children. As I write this during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wish I could relive these experiences again. I grew up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and my life would be drastically different

 

Editor’s Notes:

This type of fandom and excitement about pop culture is what we strive to support here. Thank you to Jordan for sharing your feelings about the MCU.

Also, Jordan submitted this before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiered on Disney+. We are very interested in what they think of the show. Maybe Jordan will come back with a guest review column if we can convince them. 

Brainiac On Banjo #109: What Jessica Walter Means To Me

Brainiac On Banjo #109: What Jessica Walter Means To Me

Don’t you ever miss your house in the country, and your hot little mamma too? Don’t you better get a shot from the doctor, for what the Road Ladies do to you? – Frank Zappa, Road Ladies, 1970

I was just 21¼ years old. Old enough to know better. And, well, I did know better.

I had started on the radio about two years earlier, doing freeform “underground” shows overnights on Chicago FM stations. Back in those days, FM wasn’t on most car radios and station owners bought them just so that their competitors could not. At that time, nobody made money on overnight FM except for those slots that were purchased — brokered — by churches, far-right-wing political howlers, and foreign-language shows. That is, nobody made money until we came along.

In short order, my peers warned the 19-year-old me that, from time to time, women would call the studio in the middle of the night and make it clear that a personal appearance need not involve guitars and amplifiers. Remember, this was during that hallowed time between the invention of the birth control pill and the onset of HIV, and it was a wonderful period to be a 19 year old with Y chromosomes that screamed louder than a pack of shock-jocks.

My peers pointed out that these ladies had never seen me, and that I had never seen them. All they knew was I was on radio which, admittedly, can be an intimate experience at 3 in the morning. According to my instructors, other than an hour’s pleasure nothing good could come out of such parlances… and quite often there’s a world of hurt around the corner.

Yeah. Right. I was pushing 20 and I was full of three things… one of which being myself.

I had just started at a station in Evanston, Chicago’s northern neighbor and their studio was along the Chicago River about two miles from the fabled “L” trains. As is wont to happen, one night my car broke down in their parking lot and I had to choose between a long walk or an even longer wait for repair. I was three hours into my five-hour shift and I knew that walk would be annoying. I mentioned my situation on the air. At three in the morning. Sadly, my “Uh-Oh Sense” declined to stop me. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #109: What Jessica Walter Means To Me”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #072: The Good, The Bad, and the Synder Cut

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #072: The Good, The Bad, and the Synder Cut

I wanted to extol the virtues of Wanda Vision this week. Truly. I wanted to expound and extrapolate vividly how Marvel was able to slow down their relentless phase-after-phase serial storytelling to truly stop and explore the power of grief in the superhuman world. It was 9 episodes of brilliance capped off with a decent-if-by-the-numbers finish. Ultimately though, I made the mistake of following the zeitgeist over the last two nights and watched Justice League, as envisioned by its original helmsman, Zack Snyder. And now, all I desire to share… is my snark and malaise. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #072: The Good, The Bad, and the Synder Cut”

Brainiac On Banjo #107: This Is It! The Knight of Knights!

Brainiac On Banjo #107: This Is It! The Knight of Knights!

“Overture, curtains, lights / This is it, the night of nights / No more rehearsing and nursing a part / We know every part by heart / Overture, curtains, lights / This is it, you’ll hit the heights / And oh what heights we’ll hit / On with the show this is it / Tonight what heights we’ll hit / On with the show this is it.” This Is It, Theme from The Bugs Bunny Show, 1960, by Jerry Livingston and Mack David

Oh, boy! Those of you who have been waiting with bated breath to see Zack Snyder’s “version” of the “original” Justice League movie can thank your lucky stars for the Covid quarantine. Otherwise, it might be difficult to find 242 consecutive minutes to watch the thing uninterrupted… although your bladder might have other ideas.

In the spirit of that observation, the question is “Is Zack Snyder’s “version” of the “original” Justice League movie worth the additional bladder control?

Snyder: No, really! Look! Up in the sky!

You might have seen this production by now. Seeing that I’m writing this yesterday and I was Covided out of any screening, I have not. I probably will – for several nonsensical reasons. First is that I like Darkseid and even the mandatory guest appearance of the Joker doesn’t countermand that. Second, someday I’ll see humans once again and I like offering an informed opinion. Third, I remind myself that even in the worst possible case I do slow down at Gaper’s Blocks to see the accident that has reduced my life to still another challenge of bladder control.

I have read several reviews from those who were so committed to their jobs they risked life and limb to see a screening. I figure that’s the least I can do. I know it’s the least I’m going to do. Many note that this movie follows nicely in Snyder’s DC chain of duels, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Well, that’s nice but in my book, it’s hardly a compliment. There are things I like about Man of Steel, but neither are good movies according to my personal taste. I came to the opinion after watching Watchmen – also directed by Zack Snyder – that superhero movies are best directed by people who seem to enjoy the superhero milieu.

This is the man who, after making Watchmen, said “if Superman really existed, he’d grab all the world leaders together in a room and say, ‘Behave or I’ll kill you.’” Yup, Zack misses the point of the whole thing.

I have read even more reviews that state, quite early on, this is a movie superior to the version that escaped to the theaters a few years ago. Again, to me, this is not praise. Offhand, I can only think of two movies I’ve seen that are worse than Justice League – The Release Cut, and those are Skidoo and Myra Breckenridge.

Please note I did not say Plan Nine From Outer Space. That was a more enjoyable experience than Justice League – The Release Cut. Not only did I want my money back, but I also wanted them to pay me for my time, my gasoline, and my popcorn. To be fair, the popcorn was far better than this insult to my DNA.

By and large, those reviewers who did not compare Snyder’s marathon to its disgusting predecessor thought the movie to be… okay. Not great, not horrible. “Okay” is a word commonly used in summing up many of the DCU films of the past decade or so.

I am concerned that Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah was deployed as a theme song within the film. Yeah, that’s gotta be the feel-good tune of the 20th century. Perhaps suicide hotlines should be alerted for a potential upsurge in business.

OK. Now that I’ve got all that out of my system, I’m ready to see Zack Snyder’s “version” of the “original” Justice League movie with a propped-open mind. If it’s at least as good as the 1997 movie, I’ll be… vaguely content. As Mel Brooks sang, “Hope for the best…”

Actress Sasha Calle Will Debut As Supergirl In ‘The Flash’ Movie 

Image from Warner Bros.

The Young and the Restless Daytime Emmy nominee Sasha Calle has scored the feature role of DC Universe’s new Supergirl. The actress plays Lola Rosales on the long running Y&R soap. She is the first Latina to be cast in the role and will soon join the production of the Ezra Miller led Flash movie.

What do you think of this news? We think she is a terrific actress and are happy for her getting the opportunity. Let’s all hope the film is good and she is not wasted in it.

It’s about time we believed a girl could fly again on the big screen.

Check out Deadline for the full details.

Source: DC’s New ‘Supergirl’ Is Actress Sasha Calle; Will Debut In ‘The Flash’ Movie – Deadline

Brainiac On Banjo #104: The Great Buck Rogers War!

Brainiac On Banjo #104: The Great Buck Rogers War!

For more than three decades now, “people” have been trying to figure out what to do with Buck Rogers, America’s first major science-fiction hero. Buck, then named Anthony, first appeared in Philip Francis Nowlan’s novella “Armageddon 2419 A.D., as published in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The story was noticed by National Newspaper Service syndicate president John F. Dille, who hired Nowlan to turn it into the first major science-fiction newspaper comic strip. The strip debuted on January 7th of the following year, some six months after the initial pulp magazine appearance.

Buck Rogers was a hit. An enormous number of merchandising and licensing deals ensued and Buck was seen in toy stores, a movie serial (starring Buster Crabbe), a radio serial, several television shows, and comic books. The other newspaper syndicates jumped on the Buckwagon, offering us Brick Bradford, Don Dixon, Drift Marlo, Space Cadet, and the spaceman whose fortunes eclipsed them all, Flash Gordon. Buster Crabbe starred in the three Flash Gordon serials as well.

As the realities of the real space program captured the world’s attention, spaceman stories began to look naïve; their sense of wonder was co-opted by reality. Buck’s adventures were drawn by some truly top-notch artists, including Frank Frazetta, Howard Chaykin, George Tuska, Gray Morrow, and Murphy Anderson, following in the footsteps of the originating artists, Dick Calkins, Russell Keaton and Rick Yager, but by the time we tossed beer cans on the moon Buck was but a cultural memory. A vaguely successful television series started up in 1979 and lasted two years.

This has not kept people from trying to bring Buck back. Not at all. But such efforts were hampered by recent lawsuits claiming Buck Rogers had lapsed into the public domain. The Dille Family Trust had gone blooie, and a judge ruled they were not eligible for bankruptcy relief.

After three years of listening to the crickets chirp, Legendary Entertainment said they were doing a movie, and Flint Dille, an accomplished television writer and grandson of John Dille, got on board. Brian K. Vaughan is writing the script. And, lo and behold, George Clooney is an executive producer — prompting rumors that George would play the lead. As much as I like Clooney, this is nearly laughable. Dr. Huer, the not-mad scientist of the series, would be more acceptable but I doubt George is likely to shave his head for the part. Bill Murray might, but he rarely returns phone calls. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #104: The Great Buck Rogers War!”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #071: 84 Questions I Have About WW84

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #071: 84 Questions I Have About WW84

The other evening, with nothing better to do… I put WW84 on while I drew comics. Suffice to say, I wasn’t exactly in love with Patty Jenkins and Geoff John’s script. The overlong-underbaked flick drove yet-another-nail into the coffin of the Extended DC Universe of gritty, sappy, crap-fests. And while it had a handful of high spots… WW84 ultimately left me with more questions than answers. So here’s 84 of them.

Spoilers abound. You’ve been warned. And I apologize that these questions will be out of order of the sequences of the flick. I’m shootin’ from the hip.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #071: 84 Questions I Have About WW84”

With Further Ado #128: That Comic Book Movie Starring That Statuesque Raven-Haired Beauty That Stumbled

With Further Ado #128: That Comic Book Movie Starring That Statuesque Raven-Haired Beauty That Stumbled

So that statuesque, raven-haired beauty makes the leap from comics to a big time movie! And the leap, by most accounts, lands with a resounding thud.  How could it be? The actress was perfect for the part. The public adores her. The camera loves her too.  And there’s a real fondness for the comic/source material. But still fans are unhappy with it.

I’m talking, of course about the comic-to-cinema movie, Tamara Drewe. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t remember this picture.

A decade ago, I wasn’t familiar with the UK strip, Tamara Drewe or the creator Posy Simmonds.   But Simmonds’ art looked engaging and I thought the movie might have a Love, Actually vibe to it all.  Meaning: both my wife, Kathe, and I might enjoy it. Inviting her to see a comic movie that is kind of like Love, Actually is easier than dragging her to…for example…Marvel’s Captain Marvel.  Although she’s patient and open-minded, I remember her eyes glazing over when I tried to explain, in preparation for Captain Marvel, about the Skrulls and the Kree. Continue reading “With Further Ado #128: That Comic Book Movie Starring That Statuesque Raven-Haired Beauty That Stumbled”