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C. T. Murphy

Part-time writer, sometimes blogger.

WB Top 100: The Big Sleep (1946)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


Another week, another movie, and another Bogart-playing-Bogart role to talk about. 1946’s “The Big Sleep” stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in yet another film noir, hard-boiled detective story. We preferred it to “The Maltese Falcon” but not enough to really love it.

For giggles, we watched the trailer for “The Big Sleep” as one of the bonus features on the DVD. It, along with the movie’s claims to being violent, are very out-of-date. With the amount of censorship involved here, this movie is about as sexy and violent as a high school play.

That’s not a detraction, per say, but after reading some of the changes from the book it is based on, “The Big Sleep” cuts out nudity and a homosexual relationship. Despite hard-boiled detective movies focus on greater grit, realism, and less savory (i.e. realer) people, it is important to still remember what was and wasn’t considered appropriate for films of the time. “The Big Sleep” is non-alcoholic beer: pointless.

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Yes.

The film opens with a great set of legs seen above. It is amazing how chaste older movies are when compared to more modern films. Seeing that much leg was both unexpected and blush-worthy despite being tamer than anything I could see going to the grocery store. It made me better understanding the marketing in the trailer.

Judging the movie on its own, it was okay. As confusing as it could be with the rapid introduction and departure of its characters as they weaved in and out of guilt or suspicion, I was never bored. I would place it second of all the Bogart movies we have watched thus far (behind “Casablanca”).

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I suppose these two have chemistry, or at least a kid’s chemistry set, together.

That said, it is hardly a compliment. As much as I like to hear him speak his peculiar detective jive, Humphrey Bogart’s range has been mostly non-existent so far. He is good at playing the detective, but I am bored of it. In a moment of subterfuge in “The Big Sleep”, he does put on glasses, adopt an accent, and pretends to be interested in non-existent rare books. I enjoyed those scenes far more than anything else he did in the film.

His co-star, Lauren Bacall, was similarly dull. I enjoyed that she didn’t seem helpless or like a damsel, for the most part. She does get captured but she turns it around on her own.  Other than her smolder and dark voice, she doesn’t inspire me to seek out some of her other work like past female leads in this project. Diane and I both preferred the book seller across the street from the film’s first murder victim. She was a sexy woman with glasses who knew how to close a shop in the afternoon when a strange man comes by with whiskey and mystery.

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Here’s bookshop girl after taking off her glasses. Obviously these two are going to bang.

I have heard of Lauren Bacall’s other films with her husband Humphrey Bogart – “To Have and Have Not”, “Dark Passage”, “Key Largo” – but they aren’t in this collection. From our enthusiasm, I bet you can guess if we will seek them out anytime soon.

I am unsure what else to say. “The Big Sleep” is action-packed and doesn’t seem to over stay its welcome. At the same time, Bogart plays it safe, Bacall plays it boring, and the screenplay is a wet rag twisted dry by its plot. I am hoping “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” redeems Bogart for me. It is the movie after next. Otherwise, for us, he’s a product of his time rather than a timeless star of the big screen.

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Every time Bacall’s character gets in a car, she rides like a sleep child. I know these cars didn’t have seat belts but good posture never killed anyone.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

 

Marvel’s Spider-Man, Spoilers Only (PS4, 2018)

If you want me spoiler-free post about Spider-Man on Playstation 4, click here. Otherwise continue on for a spoiler-filled take on the game.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Continue reading “Marvel’s Spider-Man, Spoilers Only (PS4, 2018)”

Marvel’s Spider-Man, 100% Complete (PS4, 2018)

I preordered Spider-Man late last year, but it was less because of hype and more because of necessity. Target was running their annual Buy 2, Get 1 video game sale and it applied to preorders as well. I decided to get God of War (for me), Kingdom Hearts 3 (for Diane), and I needed a third game to round out the deal. I went with Spider-Man because I loved the comics as a kid and I wanted to be positive about getting a good game for the property despite so many lackluster attempts over the years. As I am sure you realize from the title of this post, Spider-Man was totally my jam.

((No spoilers in this post other than general opinions.))

Insomniac Game’s Spider-Man takes place in its own universe which immediately resolved several of my initial concerns about the game. First, it isn’t an origin retread (thank God). In this game, Peter has been Spider-Man for eight years. Second, it didn’t place in any comic continuity where I would feel completely lost. Insomniac’s version of the character works as a “Best Of” album that assumes some familiarity but not so much that I ever felt lost.

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I was also worried about it being open world. Yes, the game suffers from a lot of repetive content (same models, same animations, same quips, etc.), but it stays fresh enough. What makes it all work though is the movement, controls, and all the animation work that goes into making this the most accurate depiction of Spider-Man yet. I didn’t care about repeating the same car chase a couple dozen times when it meant more time swinging freely through a photorealistic version of New York City. The combat also borrows heavily from the Batman Arkham series with a greater emphasis on stealth and dodge mechanics which keeps it from feeling too much like a button mashing action game (though ultimately that’s all it is).

I am rarely a completionist, but Spider-Man scratched the same itch that Horizon: Zero Dawn did before it. From the very beginning, you have access to the entire map and total freedom in regards to swinging. As the story progresses, new activities unlock. Each of these activities rewards unique currencies which are then used to buy new suits with special suit powers or upgrade gadgets. In addition, you level up by gaining experience which provides for progression through the game’s skill trees.

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Every time an activity unlocked, I only did that activity until I had cleared it in all sections of the map. This made things feel a lot more repetitive but it was a strangely satisfying kind of grind. It also takes nearly the entire story for all activities to be unlocked, so it isn’t the kind of game where you will be able to do all of the side stuff within the first five hours. Everything is gated but remains useful (in terms of rewards) throughout the game.

All of the side quests were forgettable give or take a couple. Some activities I hated (research labs and superheroic environmentalism nonsense). The challenge activities were all fantastic though. I also loved all of the crime activities, despite their repetition, just because it never got old swinging to the scene, dropping from the sky, and dropping some bad guys.

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Finally, and most importantly, the absolute best thing about Spider-Man is its story. I won’t spoil it here (stay tuned for another post) but rest assured that this game understands Spider-Man, creates a branch of his universe I want to revisit, and freshens up the relationships with all of the characters we expect to be in a Spider-Man story. Overall, the story stays true to the essence of the characters without feeling stale or dated. It is superb and I recommend you at least watch a playthrough if you don’t want to play it yourself.

With another platinum trophy added to my list, I still want to play more Spider-Man. I haven’t committed to preordering the DLC, especially at $24.99 spread over the next three months. I am hoping it is worth it but the problem with most DLC these days is they don’t have the budget/attention to add more story, which is what I really want. I may hold onto my copy of the game to see what comes of the new content but at this point, I am more hyped for a sequel than anything else. Too bad it will likely be on the next generation of systems, if it happens at all, so there will be a long wait!

 

Donut County (PS4, 2018)

This review is going to go differently. I bought Donut County for Diane and she recently finished it. Since she doesn’t like to write these posts for me, I decided to interview her instead.

Q: What is Donut County?

Umm … it is a game where you swallow everything with holes. And that is all you do.

Q: Seriously, that’s it?

Well there’s a catapult sometimes so you gotta launch shit, to choose to swallow more things with the hole. But the controller – literally – joystick and one button.

Q: What did you like best about Donut County?

Sometimes you swallow stuff that causes explosions. Or the part with the Ferris Wheel where we launched a Ferris wheel at a castle. It was also kind of satisfying to swallow up the characters themselves. Hmm. And the dialogue, especially the Trashopedia, was pretty entertaining.

Q: What’s a “trashopedia”?

It teaches you what each item in the game that you swallowed up was (except for the characters). It is very educational if you take the time to read it.

Q: Did you like the characters? If so, why?

Yeah, I did. They … they are a group of characters that seem very comfortable with each other so there are a lot of friendly insults thrown at one another and no one really took offense. It’s kind of how I am with my friends. So it felt like, despite the predicament they were in, they were still a good group of friends.

Q: Other than swallowing everything with holes, would you say Donut County is really about friendship then?

I would say it is more about redemption. There is a pretty good redemption arc in there. And education courtesy of the trashopedia.

Q: Was there anything you didn’t like?

Not really. I can see some people finding the whole all we are doing is swallowing things in a hole repetitive, but there are a variety of puzzles that add to the game. And it is not terribly long, as you probably expect, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Q: Favorite scene, character, or level?

I thought that the game over screen was a nice touch. I wasn’t sure where it was going to go and then it leads to a surprise cutscene. I am not sure if it is actual canon or not, but I feel it adds a little layer by potentially breaking the fourth wall with it. It felt like a nice surprise. As surprising as a game over screen can be in a game where you swallow things in a hole.

Q: Any final thoughts or anything else you would like to add?

Quack.

WB Top 100: Mildred Pierce (1945)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


After a long hiatus, we pick up again with 1945’s “Mildred Pierce”. Winning Joan Crawford an Academy Award for Best Actress, “Mildred Pierce” follows the titular character after she marries, remarries, and murders her way to her evil daughter’s own self-destruction. It is two hours of whining about status in a story stripped of its Prohibition context when compared to the novel on which its based. As a film noir, it enthralls from the outset and sets a mood counter to its California setting to keep you on edge while you watch strong female characters do what thus far in this series they haven’t been able to do: be the sole focus.

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Wally Fay (played by Jack Carson) acts as some kind of family friend, but he really just wants to sleep with Mildred. It is hard to read him as charming with a modern ear, as he frequently seems one roofy away from rape despite also having kinder moments.

Our largest critique of the film was its use of class in a less than convincing way. In the chronological beginning of the movie when Mildred begins to tell the police her story, we learn that her husband Bert was financially well-off but they had since fallen on hard times. What hard times, dare you ask? How about a nice suburban California home, a car, and piano and dance lessons for the kids. Starving! Bert walks out after Mildred let’s him know the children will always come before his jobless, deadbeat ass.

That is where Mildred ultimately sets herself up for her own failure. As soon as she tells Bert who comes first and he leaves, we are introduced to their oldest daughter, Veda, who is an insufferable brat who seems to have delusions of having a Nigerian prince send her millions of dollars. (Please excuse the anachronism – this is the 40’s and the African American characters are still just the help, not princes or princesses.) Her mother sold cakes and pies to buy her a dress, but Veda calls it cheap just by its smell and has zero appreciation or respect.

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Veda, seen here with the love of her life, money.

Veda is equally the best and worst thing about this movie. She’s the prime cause of most of its melodrama. Joan Crawford’s Mildred is a mother, conflicted by a justified loathing of her own daughter, who repeatedly fails to break her of her spoiled habits of insubordination. For all her trouble, Veda is a spoiled heiress despite being heir to nothing, and chews on scenes like a villain twice her age and experience. Early on, she says her younger sister looks like a peasant and she puts on other airs throughout the rest of the film.

If Veda made sense, then her turn as the movies antagonist and chief cause of mischief would be a worthwhile reason to return to this film. Instead, the movie does little to explain why she is such a bitch all the time to everyone or how her nose got stuck up quite so high. As her counterpoint, her mother is a woman who makes it in a man’s world by starting a business where there was none, all while she bats off suitor after suitor who cannot take no for an answer until they themselves tire of the chase.

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Eve Arden’s character, Ida, was a standout due to her spunk. She plays the spurned tomboy best friend role but that only makes her more endearing.

I absolutely loved that women were front-and-center in this film even if there’s little worth celebrating of either character. They both, for me, represent the toxic extreme of mother and daughter taken to an illogical conclusion. Despite her daughter’s horrible, borderline psychopathic behavior, Mildred continues to baby, spoil, and ruin any hope of Veda becoming a capable, independent adult. At the same time, Veda expects the world to be handed to her for zero effort and isn’t afraid of doing whatever it takes to support her own self-interest and ego, including lying about a pregnancy to a dullard with money stupid enough to marry her in secret.

“Mildred Pierce” remains immensely watchable due to its acting and some solid cinematography. The writing is a product of its time, but the whole affair moves at a brisk pace, never lingering long enough to overstay any welcome. Yet, upon further reflection, the film feels more like a daytime television soap opera condensed to a rapid-fire two hour format. There’s murder, lying, divorce, poor rich people, rich poor people, and a suspension of disbelief that let’s it all happen. The film noir overtones maximize the intrigue and help fill in the gaps in what is otherwise a straightforward melodrama.

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Zachary Scott’s character, and the film’s murder victim, plays creepy far too well. Several times his attractiveness is mentioned but no.

With all that in mind, I still feel a little trashy having watched this movie. It isn’t risque or disturbing, mind you, but it is sleezy all the same. A soap opera with great acting, “Mildred Pierce” is what happens when white people fret over how high up the middle class ladder they are standing while nothing else in the world is important enough to even register. The film has a timelessness to it since it feels so far removed from its context but more emphasis on the Great Depression and its direct impact on these characters might have shored up the only real flaws I found in the movie.

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“You’re also to blame for me killing someone, mom. Help me hide the body.” – Worst Child Ever

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

N-O-L-A NOLA, No No No No NOLA

Apologies for my delay in a new post! After posting every day for Blaugust and my recent change in positions at work, I needed a vacation from everything. That said, let’s talk about my vacation to New Orleans.

Neither Diane nor I had ever been the New Orleans, despite not living very far away. I don’t think we knew what to expect either. We planned very little in advance, preferring instead to go in whichever direction our adventure took us. We had a few things we wanted to do though: we both wanted to eat something good and Diane wanted to take us on a ghost tour.

On our way to Louisiana, we stayed overnight with Diane’s cousin in Alabama. Nothing noteworthy happened, though it was a pleasure seeing family. I like her cousin a lot. She has a gigantic POP! Figure and movie collection, which was fun to peruse. She also made us a delicious rice dish which I gratefully ate two bowls of before taking a few more bites out of Diane’s.

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Did you know about Jefferson Davis’s dog, Traveler? He was later reborn as a giant sphere in the hit game Destiny.

Driving into Louisiana the next day, we knew we were heading in the right direction when we spotted an alligator dead on the highway. Talk about roadkill! In the South, we worry about hitting deer since they are numerous, roads are especially dark, and most of the state is un(der)developed wilderness. I cannot imagine what it would be like to hit something as low and heavy as an alligator.

We arrived too early to check into our hotel, so I drove down toward the French Quarter instead. That was a mistake. I wanted to visit the hat store (spoiler, I didn’t buy a hat) right away, but the streets there are narrow, there is no parking available, and people were constantly walking back and forth across those narrow streets. I hate driving in that kind of environment, especially when I do not know where I am going, so we quickly turned around and found the first paid parking lot ($15!) and just walked.

The first big surprise for me was the number of people walking around with an alcoholic beverage in hand. I suppose I am far more conservative than I realize because the sight was quite shocking. I am used to drinking being limited to socially-acceptable drinking spaces; not drinking as you wander from bar to bar or kitsch shop to kitsch shop. The number of places advertising “cocktails to go” in absurd sizes (fishbowls, as an example) made me immediately think that New Orleans is Disney World for alcoholics.

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Mmm, hurricanes!

Beyond the free flow of inebriants, the French Quarter was quite beautiful. I loved the Old World architecture, especially as it was blended in with new stores and store fronts. I have never been to Europe (or France specifically), but I still got that vibe from the images/movies I have seen.

After parking, we wandered around on foot until we found the hat store. All weekend long I had trouble using Google Maps for walking. The internal compass of my phone always seemed askew and every time I thought we were going the right way, we weren’t. When we finally found the place, I was first elated with the selection and then I became disenchanted with how everything looked on my head. For years I wanted a beard but it never “looked right” and now that I do and it does, I remain hopeful that my same want for a proper hat and my similar inability to get one that works will one day be a thing of the past. For now, I range anywhere from douche, to old man, to cheesy tourist depending on the hat. Never do I look cool.

After our sneak peak, we went to our hotel to check in and get ready for dinner. The hotel was nice, which was a plus, because we mostly got it for a) free parking and b) its proximity to where we wanted to go. I was a little concerned when we first got there because it is immediately next to/behind a small hospital, but it was quiet.

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I am a sucker for a good soft-shell crab and this one was delicious!

Our first meal was at Gabrielle’s, a restaurant resurrected after its destruction by Hurricane Katrina. It was a small but intimate place not too far from the hotel. The meal came with free bread. Each time they brought us a loaf, we’d devour it and each time the waitress would ask if we wanted more. The couple next to us barely touched theirs but it was too delicious not to keep getting more. I kept giving them a side-eye for being bread-ignoring weirdos.

Overall, the meal was good, but I doubt I would go back or recommend it to anyone else. Of all the places we would eat, it was easily the most “frou-frou”. As such, it came with small portions and big price tags. We were both disappointed in the bread pudding. It had enough alcohol left in it to still burn as it went down your throat. It tasted more bitter from the booze than sweet from anything else. I am sure some people enjoy their desserts the same as they like their shots of bourbon, but I have always avoided those kinds of desserts. It reminded me of my Aunt’s rum balls she brought for Christmas: pleasant only if you like the challenge of eating enough of them to get a buzz.

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From there, we walked back to the more fun parts of town. Most of the weekend, we opted to walk at least to where we were going and Uber back to the hotel when we were done. That way, we avoided going down unknown streets late at night. My dad, who admits to being a New Orleans fan who lived nearby for many years, made it clear to me that we should be very, very careful late at night. I felt less worried when we arrived, couldn’t remember where we parked, remembered it was near a police station, googled for the nearest station, and found at least six. There were police everywhere we went including some on horses, some on bikes, and some in SUVs.

Despite doing a ton of walking (we hit 25,000 steps one of the days), it was a lowkey weekend. We enjoyed wandering around all day and night. On Sunday, we got trapped in by a gay pride parade, which was great because we eventually found a place to stand and watch. With that going on, it was easily one of the gayer weekends of my life. I always thought of New Orleans as a place to see lots of boobs. We walked by Coyote Ugly and there was a white girl poorly dancing on the bar top to an empty room. Instead, we saw a lot of butts and, if the butt wasn’t exposed, then it was a bear in short-shorts.

And it was so much fun! A gay man hit on me, err, hit at me. He told Diane, “Honey, you better keep him close”. I was exhilarated. No one ever hits on me and I have never had a man hit on me. Sure, it was a little scary to be checked out by a hairy, shirtless man drinking on a stoop late at night in a strange city. Still flattering. I think the world would be a better place if unsolicited flirtation was more equitable for both sexes (and any other persuasions). In a single moment, my straight white male self gained a much better understanding of the paradox of how a compliment can be both welcome and unwelcome.

The parade itself was, to be cliched, fabulous. There were belly dancers and gay luchadores and Elvises and elves and other costumes I cannot explain. For the S&M portion, I felt like I was watching Beast Master only on a broken television where blacks and grays were turned to all the colors of the rainbow. I loved watching Beast Master as a kid and I imagine some of those fellas did too, albeit for slightly different reasons.

There was an anti-homosexuality group marching as well, but they were small. They also got booed like heels at a wrestling event. There was another hate group with a bullhorn on a different day, but we let them be and kept going our own way.

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I have to hand it to hate-mongering bigots, they are comfortable being outnumbered.

Later the same night, we did our one and only walking ghost tour. Diane was most excited for it, but I was less so. The big draw for me were the BOGO hurricanes for going. I have to say though, after having done it once, I would go again. Less a “haunted hay ride” with jump scares and more a history/folk lore lesson, it was a ton of fun. Our tour guide was very nice and informative, but the biggest highlights for me were all the drunken crazies that kept interrupting us.

For instance:

  • When she was explaining she could lose her tour guide license if we didn’t stand on the side walk, a fake fight broke out across the street where one drunkard broke a bottle and brandished it at another drunkard. Our tour guide let us know not to do that as it would be an easy way to get arrested.
  • We were twerked at by a very drunk man.
  • Another individual called us a bunch of fags as he rode by on his bicycle.
  • A drag queen interrupted us to talk about a famous man who lived across the street from where we were standing. I hadn’t heard of him and do not recall his name.
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LaLaurie Mansion

I learned a lot about voodoo and vampirism and how they relate to New Orleans. I snapped a few photos to see if I could get any “orbs” (I am not too up to speed on the ghost hunting thing) but no luck. At the end, the tour guide advised us to remove our wristbands since they were clear indicators that we should be mugged so we did.

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As wholesome as New Orleans gets!

Beyond the walking and discovering my bicuriosity, we also ate great food. Diane is less familiar with Cajun and Creole cuisine – I more or less grew up eating this kind of stuff – so we stuck to the staples. We got a debris po’boy from Mothers, a popular spot that had a long line. It was delicious. Think roast beef but more intense and served on fresh bread. We also tried New Orleans coffee (a crushed ice, milk, coffee, and chicory blend that was pretty tasty). Finally, we sampled several gumbos at several places, as well as an etouffee and a jambalaya. The weather was drizzling off-and-on, so all the warm rice dishes were welcome despite it being a hotter/more humid time of year.

As much as I will forever treasure the experiences we had, I don’t think New Orleans is the place for us. I’d love to stop by again, but I doubt we ever directly go there. I would do more ghost tours and other walking tours, but the city’s focus on drinking and nightlife is less what I want in a vacation. I never was a big partier, not even in college, and it was hard finding some of the quieter, calmer spots to relax. I loved a lot about the city and am grateful it exists, but visiting once is all most people will ever want to do when it comes to New Orleans.

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