Thursday, December 18, 2014

Forget Crime, Business Is Where The Real Dirty Money Is

One more movie from the time at my dad's, Larceny, Inc. Edward G. Robinson as "Pressure" Maxwell, a small-time crook who talks big. He's fresh out of prison, and looking to rob a bank before an associate of his, Leo Dexter (Anthony Quinn), gets out. Pressure decides the best bet is to buy a leather goods store next to the bank, and go in the through the basement floor.

As it turns out, this is more complicated than he thinks. His two henchmen are no great shakes. Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford) is adamant they should just use dynamite and blow the wall. Considering how incompetent he is with a pick and shovel, the idea of that guy handling explosives is terrifying. The other, Weepy actually finds being a salesman rather enjoyable. The other shopkeepers on the block are worried the roadwork is killing their businesses. Also, they keep trying to include him in their get-togethers and sense of community. His niece (played by Jane Wyman) is disappointed he's not actually going straight, and is hellbent on making his store a success, whether he wants it to be or not. To that end, she ropes in a salesman for a leather goods making company to keep business booming (a scheme he's only to eager to take part in, since he's trying to woo her).

It's not a laugh out loud movie, but it's good for some chuckles, and watching Pressure gradually start to realize the earning potential of legitimate business is kind of clever, especially since he almost immediately starts thinking big in that direction. His shift in attitude towards the other businesspeople in the neighborhood feels less earned, but even there, the film expends a not inconsiderable amount of time showing the other businesses trying to involve him and befriend him. So we do at least see these people show genuine appreciation for Pressure's assistance, even if he wasn't actually trying to help them. It may just be that Pressure has never really felt looked up to. His niece worries about him, but is as exasperated by him as anything. His goons listen to him, but there's a lot of backtalk, he doesn't really respect them, and well, they are basically morons. Leo doesn't like him, is definitely sick of Pressure's attempts to be a silver-tongued devil. So the very real admiration of these small business owners may have been a new, welcome experience for him. It amuses me to think Pressure will probably be a more successful crook as a businessman than he ever was robbing banks, but I doubt a film would have been permitted to go that route back then.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Yard Dog - Sheldon Russell

Haven't done a book review in a couple of months, but you know how visits to my dad's lead to reading. So let's see if I can squeeze a few more books in before the end of the year.

The Yard Dog is Russell's first book starring railroad detective (or "yard dog", less favorably) Walter "Hook" Runyon. Hook lost an arm in a car wreck, then spent time wandering the country after his wife divorced him, and eventually became a yard dog. He's currently set up shop in Oklahoma, near the town of Alva, and a local fellow named Spark Duggan is found under the wheels of a reefer car. Everyone else is perfectly happy to write it off as Spark - who was a little simple-minded even before you factor in his love of the 'shine - falling asleep on the rails. But Hook isn't sure, and some people beat him up while he snooped around Spark's shack, and there is a German prisoner of war camp nearby.

Oh yeah, the books are set during World War 2. That's apparently a theme of the series, Hook moving from one rail yard to another, and coming into contact with different aspects of the war. The possible downside to this approach would seem to be it would cause a near total overhaul of Hook's supporting cast after every book.

Which is surprising, because Russell spends a lot of time building the cast in this book, from a love interest who is working on reeducating the prisoners, to his sidekick (who is also his 'shine hookup), to some of the railroad personnel. There seem to be a lot if disparate threads in the book, so much so that at times Spark's murder almost gets lost in the shuffle. I started to wonder if Russell was even going to explain it, or if was going to end up solving some other crime entirely, but finding no answer for Spark. Kind of doubted my dad would recommend a series that took that approach, but you can't rule it out.

They do all come together eventually, even if it doesn't feel entirely satisfactory.  Hook's relationship with Reina moved really fast, but beyond that, something about the solution to the mystery bugged me. Maybe it felt too big, like Russell felt he had to do something with the setting, but it didn't feel quite natural. Trying too hard, basically. Also, his dialogue is really stilted with most of the characters other than Hook. It tends to be too formal for certain characters.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Almost Bigamist And Child Abductor Is The Good Guy

I wouldn't have expected to see Gary Cooper in a romantic comedy. The few Westerns with him I've seen, he never seemed to have much chemistry with his female co-stars. He always seemed stiff too me. Which I don't think vanished when I watched Casanova Brown, but maybe it works it uses that to its advantage.

Cooper is a literature professor, all set to marry Madge Ferris in the small town of Rossmere, IL, despite his future father-in-law (Frank Morgan playing a loudmouth curmudgeon) advising him against marriage. The day of the rehearsal, Brown receives a letter from a maternity hospital in Chicago, requesting he come quickly, though the letter doesn't explain why. Brown reveals that a year or so earlier, when he traveled to New York to research a book he was writing on his ancestor, the famous Casanova. While there, he met Isabel (Teresa Wright), and they fell in love and got married.

Then he met her family, and her mother, in addition to hating smokers and liars (and especially people who lie about about smoking), believes in astrology. Going by when they were married, and when he was born, she proclaims the marriage catastrophic. Brown tries to remain polite, but finally loses his temper and unloads his feelings on astrological hokum. His point is somewhat undercut when the cigarette he tried to snuff out in his handkerchief lights it on fire. Then it lights his coat on fire, which lights the couch on fire. Meanwhile, the cigarette had been thrown in the trash can, and has started a fire there. Rather than letting it burn itself out, the idiots tell their butler to try and take the can outside, and he trips, starting a fire in their library. And the whole house burns down.

The marriage is annulled shortly thereafter.

Cass can't figure why he would need to go to Chicago, given all that took place in New York, but he goes, and learns Isabel had a girl, and she's planning to put the baby up for adoption. Cass, naturally, throws on some scrubs and steals the baby, setting up shop in a hotel room, where a maid and the doorman help him care for the baby. Meanwhile, Madge is trying to figure out what's going on, we learn Isabel never intended to give the baby up, but was only using the hospital as a way to get Cass there, Cass is convinced he has no parental rights and tries to convince the maid to marry him so he doesn't lose the child.

I recognize this is set in the 1940s, and that even today, courts tend to side with the mother when it comes to custody. But surely, if one parent wants to care for the child, while the other doesn't, that would be allowed, barring some definitive proof they were unfit? Admittedly, Cass is now guilty of kidnapping (his kid or not, I'm pretty sure you can't just yoink a kid from a hospital nursery). That aside, he seems a diligent, if somewhat overprotective, dutifully employed parent. It seems odd that the courts would actually say, "nope, go ahead and adopt the kid out". But the courts are a mess, and even if they wouldn't, I guess there's no reason Cass would know that.

The romantic aspects of the movie don't really work. We don't see Cass interact enough with Madge or Isabel to feel a real connection between either pairing. Cass/Isabel gets more time, but they spend a lot of it arguing, and given Cass' experiences at the maternity hospital (he gets the runaround from a bunch of nurses, then a bunch of procedures, and no one will explain what any of it is for until it's over), which he's put through because of her, it's hard for me to like her much. I don't think Cooper has great comic timing or anything, but I think he does alright playing a guy who's kind of befuddled by people. He takes the stiffness I see in him, and makes it into a sort of awkwardness, the well-meaning fool.

It's not a great movie, but it was worthwhile for me to see Cooper in a different role.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Calendar Turns Over Again

Don't be confused, we're operating on the Blog Calendar here. In case you were curious, Blog Calendar declares the Apocalypse will occur on the date of the 1st of Calvin Buys An Event Comic Written By Bendis, so set your schedules accordingly. It's the end of Year 9 at Reporting on Marvels and Legends. Just one more year to a solid decade. Crazy.

Let's see, what went on here this year? I decided not to wait for UnCalvin to show up after April Fools' Day, so we crashed her offices, with moderately hilarious results. Deadpool didn't invite Clever Adolescent Panda to his wedding, and they weren't able to keep me from being tormented by birders. UnCalvin built a really lame giant robot. A bear gave me my hand rake in exchange for a handkerchief. We found a cookie making factory in a tree that fed off happiness, and Deadpool shot me in the foot. That hurt.

I read far too many books about World War 2. Read several detective stories, watched a few good movies, and plenty of bad ones. I played a half-dozen games this year, none of those were bad, though in several of them, I found myself frustrated by the parts of the game I didn't like that I had to do to reach the parts I did like. Tales of Vesperia was very good, though. I made roughly 5 times as many jokes or snide comments about Hawkeye's release schedule as issues of the book actually shipped, but was surprised to realize Dan Slott had become my least favorite/most frustrating writer at Marvel these days.

I wrapped up the Burn Notice reviews, and started in on The Invisible Man. I expect that to continue for another couple of months (there are about 8 episodes left), but I don't know what I'll watch next. I actually got off the stick and did the posts about my Favorite Characters. I enjoyed that, except for the part where it was exhausting. I still plan to touch on the characters I'd consider putting in instead, but I don't know when I'll muster the drive for it.

Looking ahead to Year 10, I don't have any overarching plan. The usual mostly, review this, rant that, hopefully some more stories. Besides the Addendum to the Favorite Characters, I have a couple of ideas. Scans Daily has been doing this "31 Days of Scans" thing, with a different category for each day. I might adopt that, not as something I'd do for a whole month, but just pull one out when I need something to post on for a given day. Also, I've been thinking about reviving that "Build Your Own League of Extraordinary Gentleman" idea from the summer of '06 I stumbled across at Bully's/ I've been meaning to do versions for all my different video game consoles, but I never get around to it. Perhaps this year I'll manage a couple.

I'm also thinking I need to go back and start adding creator name labels to more posts. I have a few, but not nearly as many as I probably ought to. I might also need to work on some of the character names. Like I have Carol Danvers' posts under "Captain Marvel", "Ms. Marvel", and "warbird". And now there's Kamala Khan to consider. Probably ought to simply that and just use "Carol Danvers". It's funny, I always used to wonder how much longer the blog would continue. I still know it'll happen someday, but at this point, it's difficult to picture. I can see the posting rate slowing, but I can't figure I'll ever completely run out of things to talk about here.

I sure hope not, anyway.

I'm going to include some links to posts from the last year that I like for one reason or the other at the bottom of the page. I haven't done this in a long time, but what the heck. These are posts that mostly wouldn't fall into some of the broader labels the stuff I mentioned above would (books, movies, diversions, video games). So before I get to that, let's wrap up any formal chat with me thanking you, the audience, for taking some time out of your day to read this blog and comment, if you do. I'd still post otherwise, but it's nice to know someone notices, so thank you.

I know it's just a few days old, but I like the idea: Ghostbusters meet the MiB
Carol's cat isn't a cat: I had some questions about it
It had been 7 years, so why not: The Soundtrack Of My Film Life!
Marvel won't do a Black Widow movie: Not sure why they hate money
Sometimes I talk about sports: I still contend a horse is a better manager than Mike Matheny
Dan Slott's done a lot things recently I don't enjoy: I'll limit myself to the Felicia post
I like Wolverine, generally speaking, but man: His place in the Marvel U. was a problem
This wound up being totally wrong, but heck: I still think it was a good theory
I hope to be there again this spring: The Annual Cape Con Recap!
With a year's worth of issues, I can conclude DC is making Harley like Deadpool: In January I talked a little about how I thought they were different kinds of crazy
50 Things I Love About Comics: 'Nuff Said
I did a couple of posts on Longshot after his mini-series ended: One on if luck powers tend to be assigned to women and one on the weight Longshot bears
The people in charge of the Baseball Hall of Fame are morons: That is all

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Invisible Man 2.15 - Three Phases of Claire

Plot: Claire has been working with Thomas/Augustin to recreate a drug Augustin had been making back in the day. At the moment of success, the Official immediately swoops in and takes it, so he can sell it to the CIA for some money to pay the Agency's skyrocketing electric bills. Claire only learns of this because Darien noticed she was down when he came for a shot, and went snooping.  As it turns out, Beta-C is supposed to make people want to talk when asked a question, and the CIA have a traitor they've been interrogating for a long time (years?), but haven't gotten anything out of him yet. Claire is understandably concerned there's been no human testing, but says if she is allowed to adminster the drug, she'll go along.

The ends up being a mistake, because Stanhope pretends to be muddled from a head injury sustained while trying to escape a few days ago, but quickly takes Claire hostage, with the needle jammed in her neck. Darien has a brief chance where he could have stopped them, but has to turn around and stop an agent from taking a shot. Stanhope injects Claire and drives off with her. And once he realizes the effect of the drug - because he asked her - he is, unfortunately, smart enough to ask her the most important question: 'What is the most classified secret you know?' Which means he knows about Quicksilver, and so does his handler, and bulbous-nosed Russian named Dmitri, who Hobbes says must have faked his own death 5 years ago.

While all that has been going on, Thomas has explained that excessive talking in response to questions is only the first phase of the drug. In the second, Claire will begin talking to an inner voice, and in the third, she'll lose all inhibition, become self-destructive and violent. There is no antidote as of yet, but Thomas might be able to make one with access to Claire's computers. Meanwhile, Alex - still sporting that cast, though at least they explained it was from punching a wall - is called on to use her contacts to locate Stanhope, which leads to her walking into a steam room of fat Russians while an accordion plays in the background music. She gets the info, they find Stanhope, just as Dmitri goes inside, so now our two plotlines are even.

Dmitri immediately betrays Stanhope. Fawkes gets the drop on Dmitri, but somehow it gets screwed up and the guy escapes. But heck, Fawkes and Hobbes have Claire, that's the important thing, right? Well, Claire's into Phase 2, even though she knows the voice isn't real. And the voice reveals that Claire is very aware of how Bobby feels about her, which gets Bobby riled up, which gives Darien a headache, and then Claire has to pee, so they stop, and Dmitri tranq darts Hobbes and Fawkes, captures Claire, and stuffs her and Darien in the van. By the time Alex finds Hobbes, they're 30 minutes behind. Oh, and Darien is starting to go Quicksilver Mad. Which is a bit of a surprise for Dmitri when they reach the docks and he opens the van, not that it slows him down much, but Claire escapes, and forces the old guy to chase her up onto a catwalk. Claire is fully into Phase 3 now, so she's pretty much fine with throwing herself off the thing which Dmitri doesn't want. No worries, here comes crazy Darien, so the only one falling to their death is Dmitri. Of course, that leaves a woman with no regard for her safety up there with a crazy murderer, so naturally they start making out and oh god, why are they playing saxophone music?! Naturally, Hobbes and Alex find our two looney birds under a tarp back on the ground, which is crushing for Hobbes. But Fawkes gets his counteragent, Claire is returned to the lab where they attempt Thomas' antidote, and it works. In the aftermath though, everything is very awkward between Fawkes and Hobbes, and between Fawkes and Claire, and Claire and Hobbes. And that's where the episode leaves it.

Quote of the Episode: Darien - 'You actually care what an invisible voice inside her head is saying?' Hobbes - 'I know about invisible voices, all right? I know all about them.'

The "oh crap" count: 2 (30 overall).

Who's getting quoted this week? Voltaire, who said the great consolation in life is to say what one thinks. Mark Twain, who said man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to. And I think it's Shelly Chisum, who noted when morality comes up against profit, it is rarely morality that wins.

Times Fawkes Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 1 (6 overall).

Other: We never did learn why the Agency's energy bills have suddenly risen so dramatically. Perhaps Chrysalis bought their power company and jacked up the rates.

It was nice to see they didn't just forget about Thomas. I'll admit I thought at first he and Claire were working on something to restore his senses to him. Somehow, it's hard for me to picture Claire working on something like Beta-C, considering the latter two phases. It feels like she should look at the potential damage that would do to people and say, "No thank you." But I guess "Germ Theory" demonstrated that Claire is one of those scientists who gets excited about learning something new, without necessarily stopping to consider the implications of learning it.

Also, it was nice to see that Thomas wasn't unaware of the fact he's being kept in a cell, and I think he's starting to sense they're lying to him somehow using Augustin as a spectre to keep him scared. That's his own doing, he won't accept he is Augustin, but I like the sense it's a slow-building pressure. It made me nervous when he was granted use of Claire's computer banks, because of what he might find in there. I don't know if he did find anything - Eberts was supposed to be watching over him - but that's going to linger with me until they pick the thread up again.

I didn't quite understand the sequence with the antidote at the end. They inject Claire, Hobbes seems concerned it isn't working, though how can he tell? Claire isn't talking, nor is she flirting with him. Thomas says it's not neutralizing the drug or something, but then it works after all. So I don't know. It was a little sloppy, like the writers didn't want it to just work smoothly, but didn't have time to really do anything with that.

Hobbes ditched the suit jacket this week for denim. It's not a bad look on him.

I know Dmitri was a bad guy and all, planning to take Fawkes and Claire back to Russia to pry all the secrets out of their heads, but still, shouldn't Darien be a little more bothered he kill a guy? I thought going Quicksilver Mad and killing people was a troubling thing for him, but we don't see any indication of it. Maybe because they wanted to focus more on the awkwardness between he and Claire over their escapades, and Hobbes being so hurt by it, but then, they really didn't take time to do anything with that, other than have everyone stand around avoiding eye contact. That's perhaps not out of line for those three; Claire tends to play things close to the vest, Darien has repeatedly - as recently as last week - worked hard to avoid talking about his feelings, and Hobbes, well Bobby tends to hide everything behind bluster. None of them are good at discussing their feelings, but I wouldn't have minded a few small scenes. Claire and Darien try to apologize to each other, and then each reassure the other it wasn't their fault. We got a little bit of Darien apologizing to Hobbes, because he knows how Bobby feels about Claire, but maybe something where Claire considers talking to Hobbes about his feelings for her, but pulls back, because she isn't sure what to say, because she's not quite sure of her feelings for him (or else she's worried about putting those feelings out there).

I guess they could be saving a big Claire/Hobbes conversation for somewhere closer to the finale. Those two need to get honest with each other at some point, though. Watching Hobbes try to disguise it, especially now that it's clear Claire is completely aware of the torch he's carrying, is painfully maddening.

In general, not my favorite episode. Claire working on an interrogation drug still seems off, and I find I don't like stories where the characters escape confinement, only to almost immediately get captured again. It's tedious wheel-spinning.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's Dangerous To Ride Alone, Take Buchanan

Buchanan Rides Alone is a peculiar little Randolph Scott Western. He plays Buchanan, and rides into the border town of Agry on his way back to West Texas. He's made a healthy sum fighting in Mexico, and he's headed home to set up a ranch. But first he has to run the gauntlet of this incestuous little town, established and run by the Agry family. Simon is a judge running for Senator. Lou is the crooked sheriff, and Amos is the most inbred goofball of the bunch, who runs and inn, when he isn't running back and forth between his brothers, trying to play them against each other. Problem being, he's too much of an idiot to do it in a way that really nets him much of anything.

Buchanan just tries to get a steak and whiskey, but Simon's son takes his liquor, and vows to kill Buchanon when he finishes drinking it. Yeah, it's dumb, but the bartender was told not to give the loudmouth anything, and when Buchanan stepped in to order, the guy tried to pistol whip him, so Buchanan decked the twerp. Anyway, Buchanan ends up having his confrontation short-circuited by a young man named Juan, here because the loudmouth dishonored his sister. Said loudmouth is shot, Buchanan tries to keep Juan from being beaten by the constabulary, and they both wind up in jail, on trial for murder.

At which point the scheming between the Agry's comes to the forefront. Simon starts trying to delay Juan's hanging (he freely admits he killed the man, but won't explain why, so there's no doubt he's guilty), and extort his wealthy father (who may have been a big hero in the Revolution). Lou gets wind of it, and tries to move Juan someplace else, so Juan's father will give him the money. Lou also stole Buchanan's money, then had him escorted out of town and tried to have him killed (surprisingly, the jury listened to Buchanan's story and found him innocent. I hadn't expected that, but I guess it's only the Agrys who are crooked). When the murder fails, you have Buchanan running around, trying to get his money back, and also, eventually, to help Juan.

At that point, circumstances start changing so rapidly it gets silly. Every couple of minutes, somebody else has the upper hand, someone is in jail, or not in jail, someone is getting shot, or not. Hard for anything to have an impact, because nothing sticks long enough to set in. Plus, it makes everyone look kind of stupid, locked in a race to see who makes the fewest mistakes.

The more I think about it, my favorite character is Craig Stevens, who plays Carbo, Simon's right-hand man. He seems like the standard hotshot hired gun you expect Buchanan will have to kill eventually, but it never goes that way. They're on opposite sides of a large shootout once, but otherwise, they never face each other in the middle of a dusty street, in the classic manner. Which means Carbo is the smart one. He knows better than to fight Randolph Scott if he can avoid it. I really like that, the guy who sits back and watches these brothers and their stupid fights and struggles, and steps in when he has to for appearances' sake and to protect his position, but doesn't do anything out of anger. He might fight Buchanan, but only for the ransom money, not to build his rep or out of revenge. He might work with Buchanan, if Lou is the bigger problem at the moment. Carbo has a clear idea of his priorities, and acts with them in mind at all times.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Would The Ghostbusters Demand Tax-Exempt Status As Payment?

The series of late night took their toll. By Monday night, I was under the weather, and I spent most of Tuesday under a heated blanket, drifting in and out of consciousness. At least there was no puking. Operation: Fence Builder is officially on hiatus, until at least the next time I come to visit.

Two nights ago, I was watching Ghostbusters II, and it gets to that sequence where things are going crazy, and the Mayor looks out the window to see an eerie purple light in the sky, and asks what it is. My thoughts went to Men in Black, the "light from Venus reflecting off swamp gas" stock explanation for weird stuff.

Which made me wonder if they've done a MiB/Ghostbusters crossover in the comics. The Ghostbusters had (have?) a comic with IDW, and I know they did some universe-spanning zombie crossover with the Transformers, Ninja Turtles, and maybe G.I. Joe? I didn't read it, I'm going off vague memories here. I guess it's more likely that in a universe where there's already a distinct government agency to deal with extra-terrestrials, there'd be a different agency to contend with supernatural problems, so the equivalent of that - Mages In Black? - would probably be the ones to meet Egon, Ray, Winston, and Peter.

But setting that aside, and sticking to known quantities, in the event the two groups were brought together to deal with some immensely powerful alien ghost, I doubt it would be a friendly meeting. Peter Venkman's too much of a disrespectful smartass to avoid getting them in trouble, and while Ray's a well-meaning goober, and Winston is usually the voice of reason, Egon can't always avoid explaining things in a hostile fashion to people he thinks are idiots. Plus, they haven't exactly had great experiences with the government sticking its nose into their business previously.

I'm sure the MiB guys have plenty of experience with hostile civilians/ enthusiastic amateurs (I know the Ghostbusters are about as trained as you can be, but I feel like Agent K would probably still look at them as being rookies), but that experience leads to them using the Neuralizer, which isn't the sort of action that builds trust. I feel like Egon, at bare minimum would somehow recognize his memories had been tampered with. He just strikes me as the sort of guy who has such a particular set of thought processes that, whatever story the Agents came up with, it wouldn't mesh well with everything else in his brain.

There is a chance maturity would rule the day, and the two groups would just do the work and go their separate ways peacefully, minus a few loud arguments. Egon and Ray would probably be itching for the chance to see some alien science, and MiB might see something useful in studying the Ghostbusters equipment. If Star Trek's taught me anything, it's that there are a lot of alien species that have transcended their physical bodies and exist as pure energy. Which doesn't mean they've transcended crime or mischief, and Ghostbusters do have a lot of experience capturing immaterial beings.