Friday, August 09, 2019

Media Notes: Roundup for July 2019

This is a somewhat random selection of the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during July 2019.

Movies and films (links to for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise). In addition, I will try to add other trivia notes, such as when a film is based on a book adding the information about the book (at least the WorldCat record if available):

  • Fort Apache (1948. Western. Drama.). The John Wayne film part of the John Ford Western Trilogy. Here, Wayne portrays Captain York, who held command of Fort Apache until its new commanding officer, Lt Colonel Thursday, portrayed by Henry Fonda arrives with his daughter, portrayed by Shirley Temple. Unlike the practical York, Thursday is a by the book stubborn man who while a stickler for strict rules is not necessarily endowed with common sense. This all leads to the eventual confrontation with the Apache Indians.  Aside from the plot, I find classic movies like this interesting for their combination of romance, light humor at selected times in the film, and let's be honest, the scenery is still beautiful. Plus these movies often had a nice musical number or two, so overall you get a lot of entertainment for the two hours or so. Overall, this is still a good movie worth watching. The performances are very good, especially Fonda as the stubborn and proud Lt. Colonel Thursday. On a side note, Pedro Armendariz plays one of the sergeants in the regiment, and naturally, he is the translator between the Americans and Cochis, the Apache chief, because even back then, Americans need Latino translators into Spanish (Cochis speaks Apache and also Spanish, plus in the film, as if to make sure we know, Armendariz's character, Sgt. Bufford, toast to "la tierra de mi madre," the land of my mother. He may be Latino, but he does not even get a Latino last name, just saying). Some things have remained the same. Via DVD from the Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017. Science Fiction. Adventure).  Not going to comment much on this since people have made a fuss one way or another. On the plus side, it was not as bad as a lot of people made it seem. It had good moments. On the negative, the good moments were very few. I think the main issue is the makers are trying to hold on to and recycle the past as much as possible (certain tropes, formulas repeating. You get a lot of heavy deja vu) and also trying to add new things to keep the story going. The result is a film that is not really consistent, and while it has some entertainment value, it just does not seem to be sure what it wants to be: pass on the legacy or not. Pass it on they will since, if nothing else, they are running out of original cast members. So not bad, but not great either. To make it worse, the movie does drag on a bit too long (Two and a half hours give or take, and at least an hour too long). To be honest, at this stage, I find the standalone movies like Rogue One and even Solo to be better, more entertaining, and just a better thrill (not great, but better than this). I will likely watch the last one just to finish out the trilogy (I've followed Star Wars since the opening of the very first film, so I am invested) but like this one, keeping expectations low for the next. Disney overall is not really doing well by the series (to put it mildly). On a side note, some of the new novels are OK, so I may just read more of those and see what happens, and hope for a new standalone movie or two (although it is Disney, so expectations low). Overall, the wonder is just not really there. I am glad I waited to watch it at leisure at home because I do not think the movie was worth the price of admission (despite the hardcore fans who go in no matter what). Via DVD from Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library.
  • Narco Finance: How Cartels Have Taken Over The World Banks (2014. Documentary. Crime. Finance. 2 episodes of 52 minutes each). A look at how Mexican cartels, and other cartels, have infiltrated and used the banking systems to move their money. However, this French made documentary is so much more. For example, the key role Texas played (unwittingly or not) in making things easy for the cartels ranging from being a place cartel members can move in, buy properties and business, and settle in to get away from violence in Mexico to lax regulation of guns that allowed the cartels to basically have an arsenal at their disposal from Texas any time they wanted thanks to things like lax gun shows and the expiration of regulations on assault weapons. Houston is highlighted as a particularly good place for the cartels to do business.Wonder about the so-called "Texas miracle"? (how they managed to fare well in the Recession in mid-2000s. Well, the cartels were not all of it, but they did help Texas out infusing money there in various ways). What is fascinating is the cartels' ability to adapt and diversify as governments, especially in Mexico, crack down on them. Overall, an interesting documentary that covers a lot of ground. Being a foreign film, it looks at as many sides as possible, even talking to a real estate agent in Houston making a fortune selling mansions to "nice people coming to Mexico" to areas like The Woodlands (a very posh area of the city. That one I know personally as I lived in Houston for a while). And that is just barely the beginning as the cartels (Mexican, Colombian, so on) and their money moves around the world, often with very willing help from big banks. If the topic interests you, worth a look. Via TubiTv.
  • Sands of Oblivion (2007. Fantasy. Adventure. Action. Made for TV movie). The plot description: "A replica of ancient Egypt was rebuilt in 1923 for a movie [the original The Ten Commandments] and then mysteriously burried when the filming stopped. Now a soon-to-be-divorced archaeologist couple and an Iraq War combat veteran have uncovered the secret DeMille could not keep hidden." This is a take on the ancient Egyptian curse coming to life in modern times genre. Film features Adam Baldwin, one of the lesser Baldwins, and yes, that is George Kennedy in there too (briefly). The concept had potential, but in the end, just a typical B-Movie you'd find on the SyFy Channel. It was OK. Via TubiTv.
  • Ron White: A Little Unprofessional (2012. Comedy. Stand up comedy). Ron White's special performed live at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas.  This is one of the stand up comedians I enjoy, and this performance was pretty good. Not as great as his older material, but it is still amusing. This special may be a bit more raunchy or risque, or at least seemed that way. Via TubiTv. 
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005. Documentary). Considered one of the better documentaries on the rise and fall of Enron, it details a story that basically boils down to this: the so-called smartest guys were a bunch of greedy, unethical, immoral assholes who were only interested in one thing, and that one thing was making money for themselves without regard for who they fucked over. It was not just Enron by the way; banks, investors, auditors, accountants, and other companies abetted and made money off the Enron schemes that in the end left thousands of employees on the street with nothing and left a lot of devastation for regular people. Meanwhile, said assholes got off relatively light if they even got punished. Catch is the U.S. just does not learn as other corporations and individuals, gaining benefit from lax to non-existing regulations that said con men worked to get legislators to remove (this is where the legislators abet companies like Enron even today) continue getting bigger until they blow up. Worth a watch but depressing when you recall or realize the U.S. as I said has learned nothing from this. For me, I remember the fall of Enron, and I even vaguely remember small attempts that were made to warn about it that no one listened to. Go figure. Documentary is based on the book by the same title. Via TubiTv.
  • Primary Colors (1998. Drama. Politics. Comedy). The film based on the book of the same title by Anonymous (well, Anonymous at the time. Since then it has been revealed Joe Klein wrote it) that is a very thinly disguised as fiction look at Bill Clinton's first run for the presidency during the primary season.  I had seen this a while back. It has aged a bit since then, specially in light of how things have changed for the worse in American politics. Yet it captures a lot of how U.S. politics and media really work, often more into the spectacle and what sells than what is right. For me, it was the characters of Libby Holden (Kathy Bates) and Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) who really speak to me in the movie. They both speak to parts of me, Libby the younger idealistic part and Richard the more cynical part of me who really knows how things work. The rest of the cast do great work here too. I did enjoy watching it. Via TubiTv. 
  • Mad Dog Morgan (1976. Action. Drama. Adding Wikipedia link for a bit more information on the film). A young Dennis Hopper portrays the Australian bushranger (outlaw) Dan Morgan. Film is an example of Ozploitation films, the Australian form of exploitation films of the 1970s. Once the story starts, it keeps going onto the very end. Morgan is romanticized somewhat in the film, but he is also shown as a bit erratic. Film is based on Morgan - the Bold Bushranger, by Margaret Frances Carnegie.. An interesting film to see now. Via TubiTv.
  • Indigenous (2014. Horror). Another entry in the genre of "U.S. college kids who travel abroad to get drunk and laid only to find the local horror creature after them." The local creature this time? El Chupacabra. Fact the film starts with a found video that mostly implies most of them if not all are killed is not too encouraging. From the found footage, we go to two days earlier where the story begins as part of the group is already in Panama, and the last two members arrive. So now becomes a matter of how they all die. The twist on this one is that one of the tourists manages to get a phone video on social media while trapped in the jungle, and the video goes viral. So the real question is will they get rescued in time? In the end, as one of the local says in the film, the foreigners never respect the legends, and legends are there for a reason. Overall, the movie is seriously slow. The characters are pretty much your run of the mill stupid gringo kids who should have stayed in their nice resort instead of going into a jungle they were warned about, basically characters you could not care much about. The scares are actually pretty tame too. Overall, there are better entries in this genre. This movie is pretty forgettable. Via TubiTv.

Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via YouTube, which, as noted before, I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes:

  • Mobsters (Documentary. true Crime. biography. 2007-2012). I continue watching episodes of this series via YouTube here and there. See the June 2018 roundup for previous commentary on the series overall.  Episodes watched:
    • "Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo." A violent man who rose to be boss of the Philadelphia Mob more by chance than skill. What he had going for him was his propensity for violence, but that also came back to bite him as he was paranoid, and his underlings all feared him. The result was when the time came, those closest to him became government witnesses just due to fear Scarfo would turn against them. 
    • "Joe Bonanno." He died in 2002, living well into his nineties. He led his Mafia family through some hard times, had to put up with internal insurgencies from his subordinates, and yet managed to survive. In fact, he even wrote his memoirs back in the 80s or so, something no other Mafia boss has ever done or is likely to do. Then again, he is the rare mob boss who managed to retire and die in relative peace (granted, of a heart attack if I recall, but I mean his business did not kill him). Unwittingly, his book did serve him as a form of revenge as prosecutors like Rudy Giuliani used it as material to help them prosecute the mob back in New York (in his later life, Bonanno had retired to Arizona). If anyone is curious, the book is A Man of Honor: the Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno (link to Worldcat, where you can find various editions).
    • "Family Secrets." A look at the "Family Secrets" FBI operation that brought down major members of the Chicago Outfit, mainly through the story of the dysfunctional Calabrese family: Frank Sr, his son Jr, and Junior's Uncle Nick. Their dysfunctional dynamic meant Junior could not get out of the mob no matter how hard he tried due to his father's insistence his son stay inside, including outright abuse. Junior eventually turns state evidence in one more attempt to turn his life.  
    • "Jimmy Hoffa." Interesting episode. They did make him look a bit more sympathetic than he probably was in real life, but still a good look at his life. 
  • C.O.P.S. (1988-1989. Animated series. Police. Action. Humor. Children and Young Adult).  See my comment on this in the May 2019 roundup. Watched (3) episodes.
    • Episodes 8 and 9 actually give the origin story for the C.O.P.S. organization. The story is framed as a police file that was kept secret "until now." Otherwise, this would have been the "pilot." Federal Agent B.P. Vess (later known by his codename "Bulletproof") is called in to Empire City as the local police can't take the Big Boss on their own due to Big Boss hiring a scientific genius and launching a high tech crimes spree. Vess comes in, and he eventually puts the team together to bring order to the city, though he pays a price as he is wounded on duty severely. However, in good science fiction fashion (these are future cops after all), Vess is healed with a good amount of cybernetics and making him a great crime fighter, ready to eventually lead his team. Like other episodes, a blend of light humor, action, and a little silliness here or there, yet as mentioned, even a little science fiction blended in. After all, it is a kids' show but entertaining.

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