Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Western History | The West: Empire Upon the Trails


Since I've wrapped up the films about early European encroachment into the American West, it's time to look at the early nineteenth century and the United States' taking over the area. I watched the second episode of Stephen Ives' The West (co-produced by Ken Burns) and was shocked at how little time it took for the US to lay claim to the entire territory comprised by what's now the 48 continental states. About 20 years.

One big effort was the liberating of Texas from the Mexican Empire, followed by its admission into the United States. That finished off the area south of the Louisiana Purchase. 

The other was the spread of US settlers into Oregon along the Oregon Trail. Once those folks succeeded in bringing the Pacific Northwest under US control, they turned their attention south to California, which was itself separating from the Mexican Empire and trying to figure out what to do next. 

For this part of history, I'm going to start my movie marathon with Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, covering some of Crockett's early adventures before he heads to Texas and gets involved with the Alamo. I'll also sneak in The Mask of Zorro, about the heir to the Zorro legacy a couple of decades after the original was running around.

With those connections to earlier times done, I'll watch some movies about the mountain men who first traveled into Lewis and Clark territory to trap and trade in furs. I have my eye on a few of these that I'll reveal as we go along.

Then there are about a dozen movies that cover the history of Texas. A lot of those are specifically about the Alamo, but a couple go into more detail about Sam Houston and his role in bringing Texas into the US.

Sadly, I wasn't able to find any cinematic depictions of the Trail of Tears outside of documentaries. As Texas was becoming integrated with the US, the country was kicking out as many Indians as it could find, sending them west to be dealt with later in the undefined Indian Territory that would later become Oklahoma. It's a heartbreaking story and an important one, so I'll be watching a documentary about that.

After that, I've got several wagon train movies in the queue, including a couple about the Mormon move to Utah. And that'll wrap up this section. I won't circle back to California just yet. The West's second episode ends with the discovery of gold, but mostly just teases the ultimate fate of the region, which won't fully be decided until the 1850s.


Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Pretty in Pink: The TV Series | Junior Year: Isn't She...?



The third season of my hypothetical Pretty in Pink TV show would take place from Fall 1985 through Summer 1986. The only John Hughes teen movie to come out during that time period was Pretty in Pink itself, but that's plenty. Especially considering that we took the name of the series from it, but that does raise an issue with naming the season. Instead of naming it after one of the movies whose events it covers (like we've been doing), I'm calling it "Isn't She...?" after an iconic lyric in the Psychedelic Furs song that gave the film its name.

We don't have any new freshmen characters this season. From here out, we'll stick with the characters we have. Breakfast Clubbers John, Claire, and Andrew all graduated at the end of last season, so some of this season will focus on the remaining two: Brian and Allison. Allison's friendships with Andy and Claire last year had a big impact on her. She never became one of the snobby rich kids, but that group accepted her because Andy was dating her. They didn't fully understand it, but they didn't pick on her, either.

Things are hard with Andy as a freshman in college, but he was accepted to University of Illinois at Chicago, so at least he's still local and they're trying to make it work.

Brian's a different story though. He didn't get picked on as much with Claire, Andy, and Bender watching out for him, but he also never escaped being labeled as a nerd and was always sort of an outsider to the rest of the Club. He's still hanging out with younger students like Farmer Ted and Gary and Wyatt. 

Ferris and Cameron have more or less split from the rest of the nerd clique. They both come from wealthy families, so now that they're upperclassmen, the student population is starting to give them more respect. There's no dramatic split from the other nerds; in fact, Ferris is especially gracious and cool with them. It's just that he (and by extension, Cameron's) social circle is expanding. That puts Ferris in contact with Sloane and at some point in the season, they start dating. We'll also focus a lot on Cameron's home life: his increasingly shaky relationship with his emotionally distant father and his mother's inability to intervene.

Switching over to Andie Walsh, the first half of the season has her starting to get tired of Duckie, so she begins hanging out at an 18-and-older club where he can't get in. She also gets an after-school job at the record store TRAX. The big focus though - especially in the second half of the season - is on Blane's asking Andie to the prom. There's fall out with Blane's friends; there's fall out with Duckie. It's a whole big mess.

Monday, July 06, 2020

AfterLUNCH | Police Cop Super Squad


Adam Pope pitched the idea and I dug it, so we invited Chris Bailey, Rob Graham, Evan Hanson, and Christian Nielsen to help create teams of fictional police characters. Each team has a leader, a detective, a ballistics expert, a wild card, a scientist, an undercover expert, a dispatcher, and a beat officer. And as an added bonus, we had to record late at night for logistical reasons, so we're extra loopy.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Little Women (1970)


In 1970, the BBC adapted Little Women as a 9-part mini-series, which means a couple of things. First, it means more room for the story so we're finally getting away from the specific cuts made by the 1933 film and then copied by the 1949 remake. There's not only more of Jo and Amy's rivalvry, but also Meg's marriage and the adjustments that she and John Brooke have to learn.

The other thing about this being a BBC production is that almost everyone has English accents, so it feels like it could be happening in Dorset as easily as Massachusetts. The big exception is Pat Nye as Hannah, the Marches' housekeeper. Nye is working hard on a Southern accent that I'm not sure is that appropriate either. In the novel, Hannah has her own dialect, but if memory serves, she's supposed to be Irish. None of this is really a problem or made the show less enjoyable for me, but it's amusing.

What I didn't enjoy as much was that the adaptation uses so much of its extra time to highlight the conflicts between the characters in darker, unpleasant ways. Alcott doesn't write any of these people as flawless, but they're all aware of their faults and eager to improve. And more importantly, they all genuinely like each other. In this mini-series though, they're bickering and quarrelsome.

Laurie and his grandfather are a good example. In the novel, they fundamentally disagree about the direction of Laurie's life, with Laurie wanting to follow in his parents' musical footsteps, but Mr Laurence urging for what he believes would be a more useful occupation. Alcott has the two characters clash, but it's always clear that Mr Laurence loves Laurie and wants good things for him, while Laurie in turn respects his grandfather. In the mini-series, they get downright nasty with each other and there's a lot more sulking.

Hannah is another case. I don't know where this version's cantankerous, complaining, old grouch came from, but she's not from the book. She's meant to be lovably irritable, but I hated being around her.

Patrick Troughton's Mr March isn't grumpy or mean, but this version really emphasizes his absence and makes it not so much about duty to his country as just a general negligence of his family. 

You get the idea. If there are two possible motivations for a character to act badly in Little Women, this version chooses the more selfish. Everyone's just a little more despairing. There's less hope. Which is pretty understandable for a 1970s production. The world was a dark, uncertain place. It's just not going to be one of my favorite adaptations.

Outside of that, it's a good cast. It's certainly fun seeing Doctor Who as the father. Angela Down plays Jo with a perfect mix of well-meaning and shooting-her-mouth-off. Janina Faye is lovely as Amy even if this version never quite matures the way the literary one did. (When Faye was ten years old she had a part in Hammer's Horror of Dracula, which makes me want to go back and watch that again now.) Stephanie Bidmead is a great, matronly Marmie. And I really enjoyed Jean Anderson as the thin, prissy Aunt March, maybe because that character is already pretty disagreeable in the book and translates easily into this version.

Two out of five languishing Lauries.


Monday, June 29, 2020

Mystery Movie Night | Batman (1966), RoboCop (1987), and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)


It'll take the detective skills of Batman, the persistence of RoboCop, and the endurance of a Terminator to figure out the connection in this episode. Join David, Erik, Evan, Dave, and I for sensational repartee about sinister riddles, savage robots, and sassy ragamuffins.

00:01:28 - Review of Batman (1966)
00:15:34 - Review of RoboCop (1987)
00:26:09 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
00:46:38 - Guessing the Connection

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Super-Blog Team-Up | The Treasure Island Expanded Universe

One of the best things about hosting the Fourth Chair Army Invasion podcast and now AfterLUNCH is all the great people I've met and get to have cool discussions with. One of those is Chris (aka Charlton Hero) from the Superhero Satellite blog who invited me to participate in this month's Super-Blog Team-Up, a blog crossover project where a bunch of different bloggers all talk about different aspects of the same topic on the same day. 

They do this a few times a year and this time it's about the concept of Expanded Universes. I'm a big fan of the idea. When Star Wars came out in 1977, I immediately started dreaming about sequels and craved more adventures with Luke, Leia, Chewie, and Han. And I was able to get them through Marvel's comics (and Pizzazz magazine), newspaper strips, and novels like Splinter of the Mind's Eye, Brian Daley's Han Solo trilogy, and L Neil Smith's Lando Calrissian series. Those died down after a while, but came back in a big way in the '90s thanks to Dark Horse Comics and Timothy Zahn's hugely successful Heir to the Empire sequels. Suddenly, the Star Wars galaxy was wide open for exploration again. But I didn't stop there. The concept of Expanded Universes got me interested in exploring the comics and novels of other favorite things like Star Trek and Planet of the Apes.

For the Super-Blog Team-Up though, I want to talk about an EU that I've only discovered relatively recently: the surprisingly large number of prequels, sequels, and crossovers related to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. I'm mostly going to talk about English language spin-offs here (or at least ones that have been translated into English), but the novel has inspired stories in various languages, including at least one Russian sequel and a Dutch prequel. 

I feel like I should mention, though it probably goes without saying, that most of these prequels and sequels were created independently of each other. So not only do they not reference each other; most of them will directly contradict. It's not an Expanded Universe in the sense that a central publisher or studio has exclusive rights to manage and curate a cohesive continuity. But that doesn't make it any less exciting to revisit these characters and their adventures as imagined by many, many different artists.

The novel was published in 1883 and almost immediately inspired spin-offs (though the authors of those first works wouldn't have thought of them that way). One of them was by Stevenson himself: a play he wrote with WE Henley called Admiral Guinea. It was published in 1892 and is about a meeting between the eponymous "admiral" and three other characters. Admiral Guinea was once the commander of a slave ship, but has given that up and now calls himself Captain Gaunt. He's remorseful about his past occupation, which complicates his feelings about his daughter's wanting to marry a former pirate. And while all of this is going on, a former crew member of Guinea's shows up to extort money from him. This past companion is a blind beggar named David Pew, whom Treasure Island readers know as Blind Pew, the sightless vagabond who delivers the Black Spot to Billy Bones at the Admiral Benbow Inn.

A couple of decades later, Peter Pan's creator JM Barrie worked Treasure Island characters into the backstory of Captain Hook and his crew. Barrie had published the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up in 1904, but in 1911 he published a novelization of it called Peter and Wendy. In the novel, Barrie adds details, including references to Treasure Island's Captain Flint and Long John Silver. One of the pirates who sets up the plank for the children to walk is named Bill Jukes, whom Hook says served on the Walrus with Flint. And Hook himself claims to be the only man feared by Barbecue, a reference to the sea cook Long John Silver.

Treasure Island got its first full-on spinoff novel in 1924 with Porto Bello Gold, a prequel by AD Howden Smith. I haven't read or seen all of the Treasure Island EU that I'll talk about, but I have read Porto Bello Gold. It's told through a new character named Robert Ormerod, a merchant's son who also happens to be the nephew of the notorious pirate Captain Murray (not a Treasure Island character as far as I remember). Murray forces young Ormerod to join a scheme to liberate a ton of treasure from the Spanish for political purposes and piracy ensues.

The connection to Treasure Island comes from Murray's partner, the infamous Captain Flint. And Flint's crew of course includes Long John Silver, Billy Bones, and Blind Pew. Ben Gunn is also a character, but he works for Murray as a steward whose great goal in life is to escape having to wear a uniform.

It's a great, fast-paced novel about the capture of the treasure that everyone's looking for in Treasure Island as well as the conflicts that need resolving in Stevenson's tale. It puts all the proper pieces in place, but avoids feeling like that's it primary purpose. It's very much a story about Ormerod and his allies (a mountainous frontiersman and the daughter of one of Murray's conspirators) trying to survive the schemes and shenanigans of the cutthroat crew they've been forced to join. The prequel stuff happens in the background, which is great. And it's all spiced up by a brilliantly faithful characterization of Long John Silver who's just as cunning and flattering as Stevenson wrote him. I highly recommend it.

In 1935, HA Calahan wrote a sequel called Back to Treasure Island. I haven't read it, but it's about the recipients of the earlier treasure who (all except Jim Hawkins) have lost their shares in bad investments and want to return to the island to collect the other treasure. Silver finds out and the adventure continues.

The adventure also continues in the 1954 film Return to Treasure Island, which has Tab Hunter and Dawn Addams as contemporary (that is, 1950s) treasure hunters looking for Flint's other treasure. I haven't seen this yet, but don't be surprised if I watch and blog about it soon. It's summer and I'm in the mood.

Also in 1954, producer Joe Kaufman decided to piggyback on the success of Disney's 1950 Treasure Island adaptation with his own sequel. He brought back the Disney film's Byron Haskin to direct and the iconic Robert Newton to play Long John Silver. They filmed in Australia and called it simply Long John Silver, although it was released in the UK as Long John Silver's Return to Treasure Island, creating some confusion with the Tab Hunter film. The plot is about Silver's attempt to rescue Jim (recast with Kit Taylor, instead of Bobby Driscoll from the Disney film) from another pirate who's kidnapped Jim along with a governor's daughter. And if they end up getting that legendary second treasure, then that's good too.

Long John Silver spawned a TV series the following year, The Adventures of Long John Silver, also starring Robert Newton and Kit Taylor. It only lasted one season, but there were 26 episodes.

Everyone's favorite crazy pirate hermit Ben Gunn got his own novel the year after that in 1956 by RF Delderfield. It's called The Adventures of Ben Gunn and describes his career (as told to Jim Hawkins). Which makes it also a prequel to Treasure Island since Gunn talks not just about his becoming a pirate, but also the specific events that led to his being marooned on the island.

A couple of decades later, Leonard Wibberley wrote a Treasure Island sequel in 1972 called Flint's Island. It's about another ship that accidentally stops at the infamous island to repair some storm damage, but then Silver shows up looking for that second treasure again.

In the mid-'80s, the Return to Treasure Island name got another go on a mini-series with Brian Blessed as Long John Silver. The official name was John Silver's Return to Treasure Island and while I call it a mini-series, it was ten episodes long. And they were fairly episodic installments, as opposed to a strong central story that just needed ten parts to tell. It took place a decade after the events of the novel. Jim has just graduated from Oxford and is returning home to the inn where his mother throws him a party with his old adventuring friends, including Ben Gunn. But then Long John Silver shows up, still thinking about that second treasure.

In 1996, there was yet another Return to Treasure Island via a movie starring Stig Eldred (Dick Tracy) as Long John and Dean O'Gorman (Fili in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movies) as Jim. In this one, the now adult Jim has a fleet of merchant ships that have come under attack by a pirate named Captain Savage. While trying to work through this, Jim falls in love with a woman who turns out to be Silver's daughter. And you better believe that second treasure on the island plays a part.

In 2001, Frank Delaney wrote a sequel called Jim Hawkins and the Curse of Treasure Island under the pseudonym Francis Bryan. It takes place 12 years later and Jim now runs the Admiral Benbow Inn. When a woman shows up with her young son, looking for one of the pirates marooned on Treasure Island, Jim decides to help her even though there are powerful people trying to stop her. 

In 2007, French comics writer and editor David Chauvel commissioned a pirate volume in his Seven series. The concept of the series is that each volume features a team of seven people, all from differnent time periods. Seven Pirates is by Pascal Bertho and Tom McBurnie, and it has grown-up Jim Hawkins as a struggling merchant who puts together six of his former treasure-hunting partners to (you guessed it) return to Treasure Island for the other part of that booty. This one is French language and to my knowledge hasn't yet been translated into English, but it's made the rounds into some other translations and the publisher Dargaud has translated some of their other comics into English, so my hope is that we get an English version soon.

Speaking of French comics translations, Xavier Dorison and Mathieu Lauffray's four-volume graphic novel Long John Silver was published (also by Dargaud) in 2007 and is available in an English translation. I've read this one and it's gorgeous. And it's a great sequel to Treasure Island. Lauffray's artwork is incredibly detailed and immersive. Dorison's plot introduces a fascinating character named Lady Hastings, who is as different from Jim Hawkins as can be. She's delightfully wicked, cunning, and courageous; a worthy foil for Silver and the perfect person to bring him into a new treasure-seeking venture. And Silver himself is as charmingly crafty as ever. Once they set sail, the voyage is filled with politics and scheming. It's the same tactic that Stevenson used in Treasure Island, but to very different results. Treasure Island has its moments of darkness, but this is a scarier version with rougher stakes.

Once the characters arrive in the New World, the adventure becomes a Heart of Darkness-like psychological thriller as the crew heads upriver into the jungle in search of a lost, gold-filled city. Doubts arise in some of them about the wisdom of the venture, so things get tense. And while I always worry about how well these things are going to end, Dorison and Laufray do a nice job with a conclusion that's both epic and emotionally satisfying. They have pirates fighting Aztecs with shades of Lovecraft looming over all of it. The whole thing is a great read on the character of Long John Silver and what drives him. 

In 2008, John Drake wrote a prequel trilogy starting with the novel Flint and Silver. I've read it and loved it, though I haven't yet checked out the other two volumes: Pieces of Eight and Skull and Bones. The only reason is that I listened to Flint and Steel as an audiobook and was waiting for the other two to be adapted that way. But I've since fallen out of love with audiobooks and I'm planning to buy the physical copy of Flint and Steel and then complete the series. 

It's a fantastic book. Even though it's a prequel, like Porto Bello Gold it never just checks boxes and connects dots to get to Treasure Island. Drake has so fleshed out his characters - not only Joe Flint and John Silver, but also Billy Bones, Israel Hands, Silver's wife Selena, and others - that they and their relationships are what I care about. Discovering islands and burying treasure are awesome when they come up, but those are fun additions to the story; not the point of it.

Something that I don't always like in novels is that the plot meanders and there's not a clear resolution by the end. Since it's the first in a trilogy, readers who are adamant about getting a complete story in a single volume may be disappointed and I'm usually disappointed in that, too. But again, it's the characters who are most important in Flint and Silver and I was emotionally satisfied with the way Drake leaves them at the end, even if there are still major plot points to be resolved. It's well-researched both for historical accuracy and consistency with Stevenson's novel, but Drake is a great writer who knows to let that be background to his world and not just dump it all over the reader. I highly recommend Flint and Silver to fans of Treasure Island or just great pirate stories in general. 

Return to Treasure Island was too easy a title to let sit, so in 2010 we got another story with that name, this time a novel by John O'Melveny Woods. This one takes place just three years after Treasure Island and has Jim learning that Long John Silver has been captured and sentenced to hang. Jim decides to rescue his problematic pal, which leads the two of them back to Treasure Island for something called the Pharaoh's Gold. I don't know if that's the notorious "second treasure" mentioned in Stevenson's novel or something all-new, but I'd like to find out. 

In 2011, John Amrhein Jr wrote a book called Treasure Island: The Untold Story. It's not really a prequel or sequel to Treasure Island, so I hesitate to mention it, but it's a cool and unique idea. Amrhein has done a ton of research into actual historical events that he claims inspired Stevenson's story. There's a buried treasure and a map to an unnamed island and even a one-legged sailor. I think I could skip it and still call myself a completist, but it sounds fascinating enough that I'd like to read it anyway.

Not to let that Return to Treasure Island title sit too long, English poet Andrew Motion wrote Silver: Return to Treasure Island in 2012. It takes place 40 years after Treasure Island, so Jim and Long John have long since retired from treasure-hunting. But their kids... I mean, that second treasure is still just sitting there.

I've had some fun pointing out the similarities between titles and plot points in these sequels, but the truth is that I'm eager to read all of them. There are infinite ways to tell stories about the same basic plot, so it doesn't bother me at all that the second treasure is the focus of so many sequels. After all, Stevenson left that detail sitting there just begging for writers to follow up on it. I'm glad that so many have.

One last prequel novel before we get to the TV show: In 2014, David K Bryant wrote Tread Carefully on the Sea. It focuses on Captain Flint and a scheme to kidnap a governor's daughter, but also deals with Long John Silver and how that treasure got on that island.

Of course the big thing that happened in 2014 was the premiere of the TV series Black Sails on the Starz network. I've only seen the first season, but I loved it and need to go back for the rest. The concept is brilliant: It's not just a prequel to Treasure Island with Captain Flint, Long John Silver, and Billy Bones. It also has Stevenson's characters interact with actual, historical pirates like Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Woodes Rogers, and Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. And of course Israel Hands, who was not only the real-life second-in-command of Teach, but was also a character in Treasure Island.

It would take a whole series of posts to cover Black Sails the way I want to. And now that I've done this post and reminded myself of all of this extra Treasure Islands material, I'm gonna. So thanks again to Chris and the rest of the Super-Bloggers for letting me join in for this. I've added a bunch of books and movies to my reading and watching lists as a result.

And if you'd like to read about the other Expanded Universes the Super-Bloggers are talking about, here's the whole list:




Monday, June 22, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | Red River (1948)


Pax and I watch the Howard Hawks / John Wayne classic Red River featuring Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, and Joanne Dru. 

Also: Comics! Pax reads Wild West, Book 1: Calamity Jane by Jacques Lamontagne and Thierry Gloris. And I read IDW's collection of Doug Wildey's Rio: The Complete Saga.




Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Far Horizons (1955)


I've finished the Zorro section of my Western History movie project for now, exploring the time of the Spanish occupation of California. Meanwhile, back East, the barely-30-year-old United States is concerned that their new country is surrounded by not just the Spanish, but also the French. That's what sets into motion the events of The Far Horizons.

Thomas Jefferson (Herbert Heyes) has just pushed through the Louisiana Purchase, acquiring a bunch of French-controlled territory as well as France's promise that they won't compete with the US in taking a lot more uncontrolled land from the Indians who live there. Jefferson is eager to get the land explored and surveyed to cement US control over it. He appoints Army Captain Meriwether Lewis (Fred MacMurray) and his buddy Lieutenant William Clark (Charlton Heston) to do this.

The film never mentions Manifest Destiny. Jefferson's stated concern is that he wants to protect the US from the European powers that currently surround and threaten it. In Jefferson's opinion, the US will only be safe and prosper if it extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so he orders Lewis and Clark not to stop their exploration at the border of the Purchase. They're to keep going until they reach the Western coast and claim it for the US. So while Manifest Destiny never comes up as a concept, it's there in practice with the US and European powers assuming that they have the right to take whatever they can get their hands on through negotiation, trickery, or outright violence.

I'm not an historian and can't comment much about the accuracy of this or really any of the films I'm watching for this project, but I assume that all of them are willing to sacrifice historical fact for good drama. That's not even a criticism; I would too. But I've done enough reading about the Lewis and Clark expedition to be surprised by the romance that Far Horizons forces between Clark and the Indian guide Sacagawea (Donna Reed). That didn't happen. 

But again, no judgment. I'd be okay with the fiction if the relationship actually worked in the context of the film. It doesn't though, and that's my big problem with the movie. There's no sweetness to the relationship or any other reason for me to root for the couple. In fact, there's every reason not to want to see them together since Clark is already engaged to a perfectly likable woman (Barbara Hale) back East. 

Another huge barrier to the Clark/Sacagawea romance is the casting of Reed. She's a fine and charming actor, but she's in no way the right person to play this role and it's painful to watch. They have her in thick, brown makeup and a bad wig and she's not for a second convincing as an American Indian. Not that the big issue is how convincing she is. She never should have been cast, period, even if the makeup had been better. But on top of that, her appearance is a constant reminder of how artificial the story (and its central romance) is. 

A third thing that keeps me out of the relationship is Clark's giving Sacagawea the nickname "Janey" because her actual name is "too long" for him. That's apparently historically accurate, but my understanding is that the real Clark called her that as slang for "the girl" and not as a European-sounding pet name for someone he's supposed to be in love with. It irritates me both ways, but it's especially damaging to any investment I might have in Clark and Sacagawea's relationship.

As far as I can tell, the romance is there for two reasons. First, it creates tension between Lewis and Clark. Lewis is in love with Clark's back-East fiancée and doesn't want her to be hurt by Clark's dumping her for someone he met on the trail. Despite the difference in Lewis and Clark's ranks, Lewis had promised Clark an equal position as co-leader of the expedition, but Lewis forgets all of that and orders Clark to sever his relationship with Sacagawea. This could have been a great dilemma if I cared about Clark and Sacagawea staying together. But I was more upset about Lewis' going back on his word and pulling rank.

The other reason for the romance is to sort of comment on the differences between Clark and Sacagawea's worlds. Everything is hunky dory out here in the Wild West, but what will happen when Sacagawea returns to Washington at the end of the journey? There could be something there if the film cared to dig into it, but it's only superficially interested. Or again, maybe I'm the one who's superficially interested, because I don't really care whether or not Sacagawea is able to fit in and stay with Clark. Instead, I'm rooting for him to honor his commitment to Barbara Hale.

On the positive side, the movie was shot in Paramount's VistaVision and there's plenty of gorgeous widescreen photography of beautiful country. And the score by Hans Salter is appropriately sweeping and epic. And there's also a lot of buckskin jackets and fur caps. Visually, it's a feast. 

It just needs a better story to drive it. I wish someone would make a mini-series that deals with the expedition more honestly while also exploring the various Indian perspectives on it. The Far Horizon does a little with the Indian point of view, but those who cooperate with Lewis and Clark are clearly the Good Indians and those who are suspicious of the explorers are clearly the Bad Ones.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Pretty in Pink: The TV Series | Sophomore Year: The Breakfast Club


The second season of my hypothetical Pretty in Pink TV series would take place from Fall 1984 through graduation in Spring 1985. That's the time period when The Breakfast Club and Weird Science came out in real life, so the season will cover those events. Not to the same extent though. I'll talk about the issues with Weird Science in a minute, but The Breakfast Club will get most of our attention and will provide the title of the season.

First though, we need to introduce a couple of new freshmen characters. Starting at Shermer High this year are Sloane Peterson and Jeanie Bueller, both from the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Jeanie of course is Ferris' sister and Sloane will go on to be his girlfriend in later seasons. 

To play Jeanie, I'm casting Olivia Edward from the FX series Better Things. Over the last season, Ferris will have risen to the top of the nerd clique. This season, he'll start making friends in other groups, though still keeping Cameron as his best friend. Jeanie enters high school already resentful of her brother and she'll work hard to distance herself from him. He may not be the most popular kid in school yet, but people (including Ferris and Jeanie's parents) love him and she feels deprived of attention. She has a chip on her shoulder and can be something of a bully, but she builds a circle of friends over this season. Sadly, they're headed towards being the Mean Girl variety.

Olivia Edward

One of the early members of the circle is Sloane, played in our show by Modern Family's Aubrey Anderson-Emmons. Sloane quickly resents the group's negativity and starts looking for other friends, which she finds in the sophomores of an AP class she's in. One of those sophomores is Amanda Jones (introduced last season), but Sloane's success with the older kids make Jeanie and the rest of the new Mean Girls want to target Sloane even more. By association, Sloane comes to dislike not just Jeanie, but her brother Ferris as well. 

Aubrey Anderson-Emmons

Jeanie and Sloane's drama isn't actually a major focus of the season though. We'll check in on them from time to time and maybe we dedicate an episode or two to them, but they're mostly working to the sides of the bigger stories.

Another group that will fade back is the Sixteen Candles characters. Last year's seniors have graduated, of course, including Samantha Baker's boyfriend Jake. We'll do a little with her trying to keep a relationship with him going while he's away at college, but absence does not make the heart grow fonder for him and he'll end up breaking things off with her. We could probably deal with all of that in a single episode and Samantha becomes less of a presence in the show as the season starts focusing on other characters. But the theme of rocky high school-college romances will bookend the season when we wrap up with other characters headed towards similar situations.

Andie Walsh and Keith Nelson already broke up last season, but they're still main characters this season. As are Ducky and Watts. Keith continues to be interested in Amanda (which ties into Sloane and Jeanie's story), but Andie is turned off relationships for the moment. Which in Ducky's mind makes her available, so he becomes bolder in his attention to her. Andie reacts by retreating from Ducky and hanging out more with Watts, who resented Andie last season, but likes her now that she's not dating Keith anymore.

Sharing time with all that drama are the Breakfast Club characters: Claire, Andy, Brian, and John. They were all introduced last season and are part of different cliques (well, Claire and Andy hang in the same circles), so we'll spend the first half of the season getting to know them and their friends (also introduced last season) better. Allison is still lurking around the background by herself and not speaking to anyone.

Heading into the mid-season finale though, Claire, Andy, Brian, and John will all do things that get them detention. We'll pay special attention to the peer pressure leading Andy to tape another kid's butt cheeks together in the locker room. And to the parental pressure Brian is feeling and his failure in shop class. At the end of the mid-season finale, all four will prepare for a Saturday detention at the school.

Then coming back from the mid-season break, things have radically changed for the four characters and also for the mysterious Allison, who was never mentioned as going to the Saturday detention. Claire and John are dating now, as are Andy and Alison. The second half of the season will largely be about figuring out how - or even if - that's going to work, including the four's relationships with the still single, still nerdy Brian.

We have to work Weird Science into all of this somehow, but the problem with that movie is that it's so tonally different from the other Hughes teen movies. They all have their silly moments, but Weird Science is a whole other genre with its wacky science fiction story. 

I think the best thing to do is to have it happen, but in the background and with enough question around it that viewers can decide for themselves how much of it really happened. At some point, there will be a couple of episodes where Gary and Wyatt are suddenly hanging out with this mature, beautiful woman and start dressing and acting much cooler. But then abruptly, in the very next episode, they're back to being outcasts again, although they now have a couple of really cool girlfriends.

We never get into Gary and Wyatt's heads about any of this. It's just stuff that's happening around our main characters and the only insight we get to any of it is the gossip and speculation going around the school. Everyone's talking about an insane house party that took a weird turn, but no one knows anyone who was actually there, so no one knows what really happened.

The main drama, especially heading towards graduation, is going to be around the Breakfast Club quintet. Claire and John are both graduating and headed in very different directions. I want their relationship to work for the rest of high school, but it's very uncertain that they'll survive Claire's going to college. I'm more hopeful about Andy and Allison, but the problem there is that Allison will still be in high school next year. Andy is considering not going to college so that he can stay close to her, but there's no way his parents are going for that plan. It's something he's going to have to figure out over the summer, which leaves a nice question mark heading into the show's Junior Year.

Monday, June 15, 2020

AfterLUNCH | Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)


While AfterLUNCH is officially a monthly show, I've been thinking about how to have fun things to listen to in the weeks between episodes. One has to do with the short-lived podcast that David and I did called ‘Casting Off, about nautical adventure stories. I'm not going to rerun the whole series on AfterLUNCH, but there are a couple of episodes with guests who’ll be familiar to Nerd Lunch listeners.

This first one is a deep dive into the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl. There’s already been an official Nerd Lunch drill-down on the first four movies of the Pirates series, but this conversation is different enough that hopefully it's be worth listening to. In addition to David and I, the panel includes Nerd Lunch Fourth Chair Army members Lizzie Twachtman and Mike Westfall, as well as comics writer Ron Marz.

The plan was always to have this same panel come back and talk about the rest of the Pirates movies, but that never happened. Part of the reason for sharing this episode now though is to set the stage for finally continuing the series, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | Rio Bravo (1959)


Pax and I hop into some Howard Hawks and John Wayne with Rio Bravo, also starring Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Angie Dickinson. 

I wrap up my Zorro project (for now) with the '80s sitcom Zorro and Son, the '90s Zorro cartoon, and the recent CG show Zorro: The Chronicles. And Pax checks out the film that started the '80s 3D craze, Comin' at Ya! (1981).






Thursday, June 04, 2020

Zorro: The Chronicles (2015)



Who's in it?:
Johnny Yong Bosch (Akira, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) as the voice of Zorro.

What's it about?: Re-imaging of the Zorro legend with Zorro as a teenager.

How is it?: After watching so much Zorro for this project, the stories in this French-produced animated series felt very familiar. The evil captain has the typical tactics for oppressing the people of Los Angeles and Zorro uses his customary methods of fighting back. I only watched a few episodes before feeling like I had a good handle on what the show has to offer.

There are some new elements though and things it does well. Don Diego is a teenager in this version, as are his allies. He still has a mute servant named Bernardo (who also pretends to be deaf, as in the original Disney show and some other versions), but they're more like best friends than employer and employee. And like the 1997 cartoon, there's also a female ally.

In this one, her name is Ines and she's Diego's sister. And unlike 1997's Isabella, Ines doesn't have to figure out Zorro's secret identity, because Diego lets her in on it pretty much as soon as he creates the Zorro persona. I like her and Bernardo both, but the show's still called Zorro and he gets all the best stuff to do.

The animation is fine. Characters don't always move naturally, but the faces are pretty expressive. What the art does super well though is character design and backgrounds. The costumes are all highly textured and detailed, with Zorro's being especially cool with kind of gold-brown piping and accents as well as cool, scarlet highlights on his collar, sash, and cape. 

And someone spent a lot of time on the environments that the characters move around in. Every scene has a great sense of geography with wide shots that establish where everything is and the camera freely moving around to show where everyone is in relation to each other. That's especially helpful in big action pieces set around a fort or house or a remote location out in the country. Even if I'm not wild about the stories in Zorro: The Chronicles, I'd love to play a video game set in this world.

Rating: Three out of five rooftop leaps.



Monday, June 01, 2020

Introducing the AfterLUNCH Podcast | Elevator Pitches and Studio Notes


A couple of years ago, when the Nerd Lunch fellas started talking about being fatigued with the responsibility of putting out a weekly show, I pitched them an idea to help relieve some of that burden. I volunteered to coordinate and edit an episode every month made up of just members of the Nerd Lunch Fourth Chair Army. It's a large group of around a hundred people, many of whom were already my friends and people I've recorded with.

It turned out that the Nerd Lunch crew already had ideas for filling up a couple of weeks in the month with other material that wasn't Nerd Lunch Prime (as it came to be called). But there were still those odd months with five Tuesdays, so I created Fourth Chair Army Invasion to fill in those fifth Tuesday holes.

Every other podcast that I've helped create has been focused on a narrow topic: Western films, Tarzan movies, Christmas movies, Thundarr the Barbarian, etc. Even Mystery Movie Night has a structured movie-review format even though we talk about a wide variety of movies. What I loved about Invasion was that it opened the doors wide to talk about anything. I'd never managed a general-interest podcast before and it was super fun. So when one of those other weeks in the Nerd Lunch schedule became open, I was invited to turn Invasion into a monthly show and I jumped at it.

A little over a year ago, Nerd Lunch announced that it was going to be ending. There were a lot of moving pieces around that decision, so no one knew at the time exactly what it meant for Invasion, but I knew that I wanted to continue doing some kind of all-purpose podcast with a lot of variety. Maybe that would be my own, completely independent, new show. Maybe it would be more closely tied to the Nerd Lunch legacy. But either way, I was going to do it.

As the last year of Nerd Lunch went on, plans solidified and conversations were had and we all decided that it would be cool if the new show was actually on the Nerd Lunch feed. That would let the existing Nerd Lunch episodes stay archived in the same place, while also hopefully bringing some of the Nerd Lunch listeners to the new show. I tossed around a few different name suggestions, but it was Paxton Holley who came up with the AfterLUNCH name. I love that it's descriptive, but also self-deprecating in being adapted from a crappy sitcom spinoff. Legendary Fourth Chair Army member Mike Westfall created an awesome AfterLUNCH logo and we were off to the races.

So now the first episode of the all-new AfterLUNCH podcast is here. Pax himself pitched the idea for the episode in which he, Adam Pope, Shawn Robare, and I each try to sell an idea for a movie, TV show, or product, then modify that idea based on notes from the other panelists. It's a weird and funny episode; the perfect way to kick off the new show.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Pretty in Pink: The TV Series | Freshman Year: Sixteen Candles


I think it would be fun to name the various seasons of my hypothetical Pretty in Pink TV series after the John Hughes movies that inspire them. So since the first season takes place over the school year starting in Fall of 1983 and ending in Summer 1984, which is when the movie Sixteen Candles was released, Season One is called "Sixteen Candles." And it'll focus a lot on the events of that movie.

As I've already outlined, one of the main characters is Andie Walsh (Sophia Lillis), a 15-year-old sophomore at Shermer High School. She’ll turn 16 over the course of the season, but so will a lot of the rest of her class, including Samantha Baker (Lulu Wilson). Hence the title of the season.

Andie's best friend is Duckie Dale (Hayden Summerall), another sophomore who clearly has a crush on Andie, but she pretends not to notice, because he's her friend and she doesn't want to hurt his feelings. Andie's attention is all on a freshman named Keith Nelson (Jacob Tremblay) in her mixed-grade biology class. They'll eventually get together and date briefly over the season, which of course creates tension for Duckie. But it's also hard on Keith’s best friend, another freshman girl named Watts (Mckenna Grace).

Keith is a good guy and tries to be an attentive boyfriend, but Andie eventually learns that he's still nursing a childhood crush on another freshman named Amanda Jones (Austyn Johnson) from Keith's neighborhood. Andie's patient about it at first, but eventually she'll get tired and break things off with Keith, much to the delight of Duckie and Watts.

Sadly for Keith, Amanda is into another freshman named Hardy Jenns (Julian Grey), but Hardy is a rich kid and doesn't notice working-class Amanda. So while things aren't going anywhere between Amanda and Keith, nothing's happening for her and Hardy either.

Andie and Duckie have classes with Sam Baker and some kids jokes that Andie and Sam are twins, even though they don’t run around in the same circles and only superficially resemble each other. Kids can be weird. So while Andie and Sam's paths cross every once in a while, Sam is dealing with her own stuff, supported by her best friend Randy (Dafne Keen).

A big part of what Sam is dealing with is her crush on popular senior Jake Ryan (Emjay Anthony). Jake already has a rich and popular girlfriend named Caroline (Storm Reid), so Sam's dream about dating Jake doesn't seem very realistic. Of course, as the season progresses, Sam will accidentally reveal her feelings for Jake through a sex quiz that she intends to give to Randy, but Jake unintentionally intercepts. Jake starts having some issues with the super shallow Caroline and takes an interest in Sam. This all leads to the season finale in which Jake finally approaches and kisses Sam the day after her birthday.

Jake's rich friends form the popular clique at Shermer High. He and his fellow seniors are at the top of the group, but right behind them are juniors Claire Standish (Sadie Sink) and Andrew Clark (Oaklee Pendergast) and sophomores Steff (Sunny Suljic) and Blane (Nicolas Bechtel). 

Hardy Jenns may only be a freshman, but I've decided that he's Jake's cousin, so he's more accepted by the upperclassmen than a freshman normally would be. And Hardy has another freshman friend named Ian (Robert Downey Jr in the movie Weird Science) who's sort of a supercool, but jerky New Wave god that all the upperclassmen girls are into.

While dealing with her Jake drama, Sam will also have to handle a freshman nerd named Farmer Ted (Ian Chen). He’s creepy at first, but he mellows out as the season goes on and becomes her friend. And Ted's an important guy because he introduces us to the various nerdy characters at Shermer.

In addition to Ted's best friends Bryce and Cliff, there are freshmen Gary and Wyatt (from Weird Science) as well of course as Ferris Bueller (Caleb Brown) and Cameron Frye (Cooper Dodson). There's also a sophomore named Brian Johnson (Noah Jupe) who hangs out with the younger students because he doesn't have any friends his own age.

One final clique is the Freaks, but they're mostly on the edges of the other stories this season. There's Duncan (Bryson Robinson), a funny, but rough kid who keeps hitting on Watts. And he sometimes hangs out in the smoking area with a junior named John Bender (Elisha Henig). 

And while she's not really accepted by any clique, we'll also keep seeing this girl named Allison Reynolds (Farrah Mackenzie) who has no friends. She probably doesn't even have speaking lines all season long, but she'll become a major character in a couple of years.

Next Time: Sophomore Year.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Little Women (1949)


Who's in it?: June Allyson (The Three Musketeers), Janet Leigh (Holiday Affair, Psycho), Elizabeth Taylor (Jane Eyre, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Margaret O'Brien (Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden), Peter Lawford (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Mary Astor (Don Q Son of Zorro, The Maltese Falcon), and C Aubrey Smith (Tarzan the Ape Man, Rebecca).

What's it about?: A lavish, Technicolor remake of the 1933 version.

How is it?: Because it's based on the same script as the '33 version, the '49 Little Women makes the same cuts to Alcott's novel (no Amy burning Jo's book, for example) and finishes on the exact same note. June Allyson even seems to be borrowing some of her line delivery from Katharine Hepburn as Jo (including a bona fide "reaaallly I do"). 

But Mervyn LeRoy's '49 version improves on the previous one in a lot of ways. It's beautiful, to start with. It's got extravagant and highly detailed sets as well as gorgeous matte paintings and backdrops. And it looks glorious in Technicolor. It's an epic production.

But Allyson is also much more natural in the role of Jo than Hepburn was and the rest of the cast is just as good. I grew up associating Janet Leigh with Psycho, but have been watching more of her early work lately (Holiday Affair with Robert Mitchum being a special favorite) and she's a beautiful, wonderful Meg. Margaret O'Brien is a sweet and sympathetic Beth, showing that she has some range from her brattier character in Meet Me in St Louis

Casting 12-year-old O'Brien as Beth though makes it tough to cast Amy, who's supposed to be the youngest sister. LeRoy went with 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, a strange choice in some ways, but also very good in others. She's clearly playing younger than 17, but there's no universe in which she's younger than O'Brien's Beth. It works just fine though if you throw out fidelity to the novel and just imagine that Beth is the youngest sister. 

In the novel, Amy is beautiful to the point of being spoiled about it and Taylor brings that out of the character perfectly. But while she ends up being a fine choice to play Amy, the script takes out so much of her relationships with Jo and Laurie (Peter Lawford) that I never warm up to her like I do in the book. 

Mary Astor is a wonderful Marmee. I wouldn't want to choose between her and Laura Dern from Greta Gerwig's adaptation, but Astor is almost exactly what I imagine when I read the novel: kind and wise and wanting nothing so much as to see her daughters grow into healthy, moral, and happy people.

Special points as well to C Aubrey Smith as Laurie's grandfather. If the script gave him more, he'd be up there with Chris Cooper in terms of heart-breaking likability. Though I oddly didn't enjoy his Mr Laurence as much as I did Henry Stephenson's in 1933. The difference is in the directors, I think. In '33, George Cukor paid attention to some subtle touches that really emphasized the deep relationship between Mr Laurence and Beth. Smith's version is super lovable, but LeRoy leans too heavily on that and doesn't give us much else.

Finally, Rossano Brazzi (The Italian Job) is a much less creepy professor than Paul Lukas was in '33, mostly because he's a lot closer in age to Jo. He still calls her "my little friend," but he gets away with it.

Rating: Four out of five letters from Father.



Monday, May 25, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | Jane Got a Gun (2015)


Pax and I watch Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, and Joel Edgerton in Gavin O'Connor's film about a woman defending her home from a gang of ruthless killers.

Pax also talks about Yul Brynner and George Segal in Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964), while I watch more Zorro and read the collected webcomic High Moon by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis.







Friday, May 22, 2020

Greystoked | Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949)


Download MP3

Noel and I watch the last Tarzan movie of the 1940s, in which Johnny Weissmuller has been replaced as the ape man by Lex Barker. We discuss Barker's alarming post-Tarzan behavior and how knowing that affects viewing his work, including Tarzan's Magic Fountain. And we also bid farewell to Brenda Joyce in her last appearance as Jane.

In the episode, we also mention a publicity photo in which Sol Lesser took a picture of his new Tarzan with the original movie Tarzan, Elmo Lincoln, who had a tiny role in Magic Fountain. Here's the photo that Noel found.




Thursday, May 21, 2020

Zorro and Son (1983)


Who's in it?: Henry Darrow (Filmation's The New Adventures of Zorro, the '90s Zorro TV series), Paul Regina (Frank Nitti on the '90s Untouchables TV series), and Gregory Sierra (Sanford and Son, Barney Miller).

What's it about?: Disney makes a half-hour Zorro sitcom while still including some swashbuckling adventure elements.

How is it?: I wasn't going to include Zorro and Son in this project, frankly because Zorro as a sitcom sounded ridiculous. But after talking about the Filmation cartoon and The Family Channel's version, it seemed a shame not to at least check out Henry Darrow's other stab at Zorro. I did, and I'm surprised that I actually liked it.

It wasn't a big hit and only lasted five episodes before being cancelled by CBS. All five episodes are currently available on YouTube though, complete with the announcer asking you to stay tuned for Square Pegs and Magnum pi over the closing credits. I get why it didn't catch on. It's a weird combination of the adventure of the classic Disney series from the '50s and a situation comedy complete with laugh track.

But the jokes are only forgettable at worst, and often either not half bad (a friar is arrested for "selling wine before its time" and Zorro's nickname as "the Curse of Capistrano" is mistaken for a digestive condition) or actually made me laugh out loud (often involving a recurring gag around people being strung up in chains, but not too upset about it, or even just the way Darrow and Sierra deliver lines). 

The premise is that when Zorro misses a jump from a balcony to a chandelier, his faithful servant Bernardo (played by Bill Dana as neither deaf nor mute) is concerned that Zorro is getting too old to continue fighting for justice. So Bernardo sends for Diego's son Carlos (Paul Regina) to come home from college and take over the family business. Carlos agrees, but Diego isn't ready to give up his job, so unlike other versions that make Zorro into a legacy hero, this series now has two Zorros running around. 

Gregory Sierra plays the villainous Commandante Paco Pico who controls the village. And Richard Beauchamp (who played a recurring character on the TV show Hunter) is Pico's sergeant. Sgt Sepulveda is different from the traditional Gonzalezes and Garcias in that he's not overweight or even especially bumbling, but he's still very funny as a foil for the commandante. 

Probably my favorite gag in the whole show is when Commandante Pico orders Sepulveda to play Good Cop to Pico's Bad Cop with a prisoner. Sepulveda doesn't understand, so Pico explains that his job is to cozy up to the prisoner and make him think that Sepulveda is his friend. Sepulveda of course takes it too far and begins insulting the commandante as a way to ingratiate himself to the prisoner. 

The weekly adventures aren't meant to be that funny. The plots could have fit into a straightforward Zorro series pretty easily. For example, in "A Fistful of Pesos," someone else commits crimes while dressed as Zorro, undermining the community's trust in their hero. That's something that's been done in pretty much every TV version I've watched. Other episodes deal with a character's potentially learning one of the Zorros' secret identities. And since Disney produced Zorro and Son, they were even able to reuse the theme song from the '50s, modified slightly so that it refers to two Zorros instead of one (eg "The foxes so cunning and free; they make the sign of the Z.") 

So while I think that the combination of humor and adventure works, Zorro and Son is neither hilarious enough nor thrilling enough to be compelling or memorable as anything other than a weird experiment that I'm glad I got to watch.

Rating: Three out of five dad jokes.



Monday, May 18, 2020

Mystery Movie Night | This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Maximum Overdrive (1986), and Mystery Men (1999)


Dave, David, Erik, Evan, and I muse about metal, machines, and metahumans and the mysterious matter that melds them together.

00:02:12 - Review of This Is Spinal Tap 
00:19:28 - Review of Maximum Overdrive 
00:31:01 - Review of Mystery Men
00:45:59 - Guessing the Connection

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Pretty in Pink: The TV Series | Freshman Year Cast


Combining the six John Hughes teen movies into a single, hypothetical TV series is challenging for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest hurdles is figuring out how to balance all of those characters. In a world where the cast of The Breakfast Club is interacting with the casts of Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles and all the others, it's easy to get overwhelmed.

So I decided that for each season of the show, we would focus primarily on eight characters. That's a good number for an ensemble cast. It won't necessarily be the same eight characters getting the attention each season, so that'll help keep the show interesting. And of course there will be a ton of recognizable supporting characters interacting with the main cast, some of whom will become main cast members in future seasons.

But here's my main cast for Season 1:

I already mentioned in an earlier post that the main character will be Andie Walsh from Pretty in Pink and that she'd be played by Sophia Lillis (ItNancy Drew and the Hidden StaircaseGretel & Hansel). I'm not starting the series with her as a freshman though. The concept of the show is that it covers all six movies in the same four year period in which they were released. The first John Hughes teen film was Sixteen Candles and it came out in 1984, so the series starts in 1984. The movie Pretty in Pink came out in 1986 and Andie was a senior in it, which means that she would have been a sophomore during the events of Sixteen Candles

[This post is going to be very image-heavy, so I'm putting the rest of it behind a break.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters (2016)


Who's in it?: Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never DiesPirates of the Caribbean) plays the Brontë dad. I wasn't familiar with the other actors, but they're all amazing.

What's it about?: As Branwell Brontë slides into alcoholism and depression, his father and sisters grow concerned about the financial future of the family once Father dies. That's when oldest sister Charlotte starts thinking about publishing.

How is it?: I'm not normally crazy about biopics, but really wanted to see more about the Brontë siblings after reading Glass Town and Infernal Angria. It's possible to make a good biopic though, usually by focusing on one, crucial part of the subject's life and using it to summarize what the film wants to say about the person. I hoped To Walk Invisible (or just Walk Invisible, as it's sometimes called) would do that. And it does.

It opens with some cool shots of the Brontë children on the verge of inventing their Glass Town/Angria/Gondal world, but the film isn't about that. The childhood world they created says something about their creative spirits. And there's also some early mention of how addictive that world became, especially to Charlotte (Finn Atkins), as explored a lot in the Glass Town graphic novel. But To Walk Invisible is less concerned about the creative spirit itself than about what the siblings do with it.

In Branwell's (Adam Nagaitis) case, the answer is, "Not much." He attempts a trip to London to sell himself as an artist, but becomes overwhelmed by the idea and chickens out on the way there. Instead, he spends the time - and all of his money - getting drunk in a village along the road. (Infernal Angria relates this event, too.) Branwell's cowardice and other moral shortcomings send him into a spiral, which spells trouble for the rest of the family. 

They're not particularly concerned about scandal. They're not wealthy or well-placed enough for that to be an issue. The problem is that Patrick Brontë, the family's patriarch, is an elderly, Anglican priest who owns no land nor the parish house that the family lives in. When he dies, according to English law and custom of the day, it will be Branwell's responsibility to support the sisters financially. But Branwell is both unwilling and unable to do that. Which sends eldest daughter Charlotte scrambling for ideas about how the sisters can support themselves.

I won't outline the whole story, but the short of it is that Emily (Chloe Pirrie) needs some convincing about Charlotte's publishing scheme while Anne (Charlie Murphy) is pretty game for it. Emily is angry and resentful about Branwell and the situation he's created, but she's not crazy about sharing her poetry, which is extremely personal to her. And that's a problem because Charlotte's plan is to publish a book of poetry written by all three sisters, but with Emily's as the foundation, because she's the best at it and there's no book without her. If the poetry collection is even moderately successful, Charlotte hopes to parlay it into a book deal where each sister can write her own novels.

So the film is a commentary on gender issues, but it's also about unconditional love (as the family tries to figure out the best way to help Branwell) and various commercial and personal motivations for creating art. The Walk Invisible title comes from Charlotte's plan to use masculine pseudonyms so that the authors' true gender is undetectable and so not an issue for publishers or readers. And I love Emily's suggestion (or maybe it's Anne's, I forget, but it sounds like an Emily idea) to make the gender of the pen-names ambiguous, but masculine-sounding. So Charlotte, Emily, and Anne become Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.  

This all leads to my favorite moment of the film when Charlotte and Anne have to travel to London and reveal their true selves to their publisher in order to correct a misunderstanding with potentially catastrophic repercussions. I don't want to spoil it, but it's so good.

As is the rest of the film. It's all expertly crafted from the story and the acting to the photography and art design and a closing sequence that seems like it should be nothing, but is extremely emotional and powerful considering all that's come before. 

Rating: Five out of five badass author sisters




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