Friday, May 27, 2016

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Sundance Channel viewing

The first witch I ever met wasn't what I expected. Let's call her Barbara. She was in my Playwriting class during my junior year of college. I didn't know about her occult proclivities at first. She was short, with long, scraggly hair and big round glasses. I don't recall what drew me to her. She was not a great beauty, as much as it bothers me to say because I adore her regardless, and she tended to keep to herself for the most part. Maybe it was something about her writing. The point is, though, we became friends.

One day she invited me over to the room she rented out at the Y across town. I always called it the shoebox on account of it was so tiny. That's when she let me in on her little secret, though as far as witchcraft in general goes, she was no Elizabeth Montgomery. She had a few boxes full of rocks and crystals, some books on the history of arcanum and occult lore, and a few "spells" she picked up from her mother that were more of the old-wives-tale variety. Barb was basically a New Ager who dabbled in what she called witchcraft for fun.

Thing is, though, I still found it unsettling at first. Like many people, I grew up believing all the things people say about the occult and its adherents, and while I didn't seriously believe that Barb was Evil and was gonna go to hell - I didn't really believe in heaven or hell anymore by this point in my life - I still had a hard time shaking my conditioning. It's not even like she was a hardcore pagan or anything - I've known people like that, too. Barb was simply a quiet geek girl from a small town who enjoyed the trappings of Wiccan culture. And anime.

I visited Barb at her childhood home on several occasions, where she lived with her parents. They were no Gomez and Morticia Addams; quite the opposite, in fact. More like Ma and Pa Kettle! They were as sweet and wholesome and down-to-earth as you can imagine, and they certainly weren't Satan-loving leaders of any secret coven bent on humanity's subjugation. They would've laughed at the thought.

I still had my instinctive fears, however. Through conversations with Barb and her mom, they set my mind at ease about their dabblings in the occult and convinced me it was harmless, at least as far as they were concerned. Eventually, I was able to relax around Barb and enjoy her company much more.

Over time, though, we fell out of touch. She never came back to New York as far as I knew; indeed, I think she preferred small town life - and I can't imagine her on social media. She never seemed the type for that sort of thing, though I could be wrong. I still think about her now and then, though... when I watch movies such as Rosemary's Baby. The remarkable thing about this story is how mundane the supernatural elements tend to be presented, at least within the real world. (Rosemary's dream world is another matter.) The film is almost totally unreliant on special effects, and even the atmosphere seems remarkably ordinary on the surface. Perhaps the original novel was written with that in mind; I don't know. (And don't ask me about the recent television remake with Zoe Saldana; I didn't see it.)

I imagine this movie probably drove people bananas when it first came out, but today, it kinda comes across as a little campy - but in an endearing way: from Mia Farrow's la-la-la theme song in the beginning to Ruth Gordon's over-the-top performance to the general look and feel of the iconic Dakota Building in which it was shot, all the way up to the "Hail Satans" at the end. There's something a little kooky about the whole thing that seems more obvious now, but then, this movie is a William Castle production, so maybe that's not too surprising!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Errand of Mercy: Lin brokers Axanar settlement

...A few months back there was a fan movie, Axanar that was being fan made, and there was this lawsuit between the studio and these fans. And [Star Trek Beyond director] Justin [Lin] was sort of outraged by this as a longtime fan. And, we started talking about it and realized this was not an appropriate way to deal with the fans. The fans should be celebrating this thing, we all [as] fans are part of this world. So he went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit and now within the last few weeks it will be announced that this is going away and the fans will be able to [continue] their productions.
This is a surprise. I imagine most people expected the Axanar lawsuit to get dragged through the courts for quite awhile, especially given executive producer Alec Peters' defiant attitude towards CBS/Paramount. On the one hand, I am glad a reconciliation of some kind is pending, more for the sake of other Trek fan films than for Axanar specifically, but what did Justin Lin - and JJ Abrams too, probably - say that led to this ceasefire?

I believe CBS/Paramount had a case. The suit was not about fan films in general, as believed by some, but about Peters and Axanar allegedly using Trek-specific concepts for their own profit, including the funding of their own studio. The Axanar legal team continues to maintain that no copyrights were violated, and in fact they filed a countersuit days after the announcement of the settlement, so who knows where things will go from here?

I was excited about Axanar at first, but I gotta admit I'm much less enthused about it now. Peters raised a million dollars to fund his not-a-fan-film (by his admission), yet he dragged his heels on the actual production, having nothing to show for his efforts to date but the "Prelude to Axanar" short and a single scene. Meanwhile, others have accomplished more with less, and in a shorter span of time. Check out this recent feature-length fan film made by a former Axanar FX guy who did much of the heavy lifting himself. Makes you wonder why Axanar has taken so much less longer by comparison, doesn't it?

The whole affair has made me more skeptical of crowdfunding projects in general, which is unfortunate, but maybe it's necessary. Who are these people whose Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns we support financially? Earlier this year, I plugged a Kickstarter project, but that was run by a friend I know and trust in real life. Maybe there should be stronger safeguards against people who misuse crowdsourced funds, but I wouldn't know where or how to set them up. For now, I guess you have to trust your judgment and take your chances.

As for Axanar, like I said, I think there's more to this pending settlement than meets the eye. Whether or not the whole truth will come out is a matter of time.

Axanar and fan fiction
William Shatner's 'Leonard'
Two Nimoy docs

Monday, May 23, 2016

Born Yesterday

The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social is a blogathon devoted to feel-good movies that can be enjoyed by all, hosted by Movies Silently. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

Born Yesterday
TCM viewing

The "Born Yesterday" Happy Holliday Ice Cream - a recipe

Blues got you down? Pick yourself up by making this delightful confection guaranteed to put a smile back on your face! You won't have to worry about watching your waistline with this fabulous flavor, either - it contains zero calories, is fat-free, all-natural and tastes great! Here's what you'll need:

1 quart Judy Holliday, actress
1 quart William Holden, actor
1 quart Broderick Crawford, actor
2 cups Garson Kanin & Albert Mannheimer, writers
1 cup George Cukor, director

Take Holliday and let simmer in a variety of 40s stage plays and bit parts in films. Add Kanin and mix into his Broadway play Born Yesterday, about the ditzy fiancĂ©e of uncultured businessman who gets an education in life and love from Washington, DC reporter. Run for 1,642 performances from 1946-48. 

Gently remove Holliday from Broadway and place back in Hollywood for supporting role in Hepburn/Tracy comedy Adam's Rib. Collect rave reviews.

Sprinkle in Cukor evenly and adapt Born Yesterday for big screen for him to direct. Carefully pour in Kanin and Mannheimer to write screenplay. Add Holden and Crawford to play the two male leads and fill out supporting cast and crew. Shake well and serve.

I like to serve myself a helping of Born Yesterday whenever I'm in the mood to enjoy a great big scoop of my favorite comedic actress. I've talked before about why I love Holliday so much - her comic timing, her gift for mimickry, her singing ability, her looks - and while I find it a great tragedy that she died so young (only 43!), I'm also amazed that she made such a strong impact in the brief time we had her.

She won the Best Actress Oscar for this film, beating, among others, acting heavyweights Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson in iconic, larger-than-life roles, and while you can argue one way or another whether or not she deserved to win, there's no denying she deserved to be in the running. Give this cinematic treat a taste today!

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Meddler

The Meddler
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

So let's talk about Susan Sarandon for a few minutes. Still incredibly sexy at age 69. A New York fixture; in fact, I think I might have seen her once in midtown Manhattan near 57th Street, but I wasn't completely sure. I heard recently that she's gonna play Bette Davis in a TV mini-series. That sounds exciting. Shame that she and Tim Robbins didn't work out. I always thought they made a cool couple.

I vaguely remember when Thelma & Louise came out and what a big deal it was, but I wasn't terribly interested at the time. I was not yet what you might call a discerning movie-goer. I used to watch The Witches of Eastwick when it came on cable. That might have been the first movie where I became aware of her. Sadly, I missed out on Bull Durham when it blew up, although I've seen it since, of course. By this time - late 80s, early 90s - I started noticing her name popping up in grown-up kinds of dramas and romance films. Not exactly the kind of stuff that appealed to me yet. And it would be another decade before I would see her in Rocky Horror. (Everybody's gotta start somewhere, right?)

By the time Dead Man Walking came out, I had just started working in video retail, and I was beginning to take more notice of these grown-up films. I remember reading about it in Premiere and how it was supposed to be an "important" film, so I went to see it. Wasn't bad. It held my attention. Not exactly the kind of movie I'd want to revisit again and again, though. Funny how someone will win an Oscar for an "important" movie, but rarely does it become a film they're remembered for most. I mean, when you think of Susan Sarandon, which movie comes to mind first: Dead Man Walking or Bull Durham?

I saw the trailer for The Meddler in front of Sing Street and it looked like it might be good, so I took a chance on it. Once again, I regretted seeing this without Vija and the others in our movie club. They might have appreciated this more than me, I think. Not that I hated the movie, but it didn't grab me as much as I had thought it might. Seeing it with a bigger audience may have helped. A young couple a few rows in front of me provided the only other company.

Sarandon plays a widow whose husband died about a year ago and her daughter is off in Hollywood making TV shows. Mom is itching for something to do that'll keep her from missing her husband, so she sticks to her daughter like glue and delves into the lives of strangers.

I did feel like I knew her character; in fact, she reminded me a lot of a woman in my writing group. I just didn't feel like there was a great deal of substance to this story. It felt a little thin, and at an hour and forty minutes it felt stretched out. Still, Sarandon is good in the role, and it was cool to see JK Simmons and Michael McKean as well.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Robot Monster

The Great Villain Blogathon is a tribute to the greatest, most sinister and most memorable antagonists in film history, presented by Speakeasy, Shadows & Satin and Silver Screenings. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at any of these sites.

As cinematic villains go, Ro-Man, the antagonist of Robot Monster, starts out pretty successfully. Single-handed, he accomplishes what the combined alien armadas of War of the Worlds, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and Independence Day failed to do: wipe out almost the entire human species! From what we see of his mass genocide, he caught us flatfooted and unprepared. Plus, it looked like he did it without major damage to the ecosystem, if the mountainous terrain where the movie is set is any indication. There were no signs of radiation fallout or environmental decay. Impressive!

How exactly he did it is a little vague. The only visible signs of his technological might are a viewscreen with which he communicates with the last surviving human family, as well as his superior (from somewhere in space, I guess), and some manner of device which produces... soap bubbles.

Soap bubbles.

Folks, let me tell you something: the last time I found soap bubbles scary was when I was three years old. I have this vague memory of being... disturbed, I guess, at the sight and touch of them during bath time. Don't ask me why! Most kids love playing with soap suds and bubbles in the tub, but I have no memories as a tot of enjoying that sort of thing. The baths I took were without bubbles. (I liked blowing soap bubbles, though.) My point is, who would consider soap bubbles threatening? Was Ro-Man actually Lawrence Welk in disguise?

Then there's Ro-Man himself. He may be monstrous, but is he a robot? Possible, but we never find out for certain. If he is, that might explain what he and his boss say about how their species (?), also called Ro-Man, is supposed to be emotionless. And yeah, any supervillain who can murder a little girl with his bare hands definitely comes up short in the emotion department.

So why does our furry alien get weak-kneed in the presence of the film's young, nubile female lead? Because the screenplay requires him to have a weakness? Could be! Ro-Man must kill her and her family... but he cannot! Instead he grabs her and carries her back to his cave. The chick gets carried a lot in this movie, but then, chicks getting carried is kind of a recurring theme throughout genre film and literature.

So what else? Ro-Man and his boss have some kinda zap ray thingie - the boss can use it from outer space or wherever he is - but the humans synthesize an immunity to it. I assume Ro-Man can't breathe the Earth's atmosphere, hence the helmet, yet the rest of his body is so resistant he doesn't need a spacesuit? Odd, but maybe his species is just built that way. (Although if he's a robot, he wouldn't need to breathe...) And of course, because he has no visible face, his hand gestures are humorously exaggerated, like he was a furry Power Ranger. Also, Ro-Man should be a lot better at hunting down a small band of humans after annihilating everybody else on the planet...

...but in the end, it doesn't matter because, spoiler alert, IT'S ALL A DREAM! The bratty little boy imagines Ro-Man and the earth's destruction, and yes, when this is revealed, it feels exactly like a ripoff, as it always does whenever this tiresome cliche is used. I knew this was a legendarily crappy movie going in, but it's worse than I thought: minimal action, with a ridiculous and unbelievable romantic subplot that slows the action down, and a cop-out ending. And what were those dinosaurs all about?

Creative visual appearance aside - and you have to admit, a space helmet on a gorilla-suited body is pretty memorable - Ro-Man could've been a great supervillain with a little more thought. As a genocidal conqueror, he could've been frightening; as a bumbling incompetent who can't find one human family, he could've been funny; as an alien who learns about love, he could've been tragic. In the end, he's none of the above, and the movie is the poorer for it, which is a shame.

Superman II

Friday, May 13, 2016

Woody v. bike lanes: dawn of ignorance

Upper East Side residents gathered at a church on East 88th Street last night to argue about a revised DOT proposal to paint new bike lanes on one-way streets throughout the neighborhood. Derisive jeers and earnest applause erupted repeatedly throughout the heated meeting inside Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, as cyclists clashed with older residents who deem bike lanes unsafe and unwanted in their neighborhood. 
Among them was director, writer, and actor Woody Allen, who has a home on East 70th Street. Allen, who has never had much love for cyclists in NYC, told us the plans were "unacceptable." 
"None of the streets can accommodate a bike lane in a graceful way," Allen said, arguing that the DOT's plan to add bike lanes to Upper East Side crosstown streets is out of step with the community. "Every street has a good argument why it shouldn't have a lane."
Woody, Woody, Woody, what are we gonna do with you? As a filmmaker, you're a legend: the movies you made in your prime, during the 70s and 80s, remain hilarious and poignant, and some of your recent stuff hasn't been bad either. Beyond that... well...

Leonardo DiCaprio rides a bike!
May being National Bike Month, it's a good time to bring this subject up here. Last week, New York's transportation department released a report which charted the phenomenal growth biking has experienced in this city over the past decade. Biking as a legitimate transportation option is better accepted by the average New Yorker today than even five years ago, but there's still plenty of work yet to be done regarding a tougher matter: changing people's attitudes.

In her new book Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, former NYC transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan devotes an entire chapter to addressing the complaints of the anti-bike crowd, and points out the real problem that usually goes unrecognized by them:
...Road rage directed at bike riders obscures the underlying design flaws of streets that bring riders, walkers and drivers into conflict in the first place. Bike riding shouldn't be an act of bravery, and transportation leaders should redesign their streets so that they don't depend on armor or surrender to survive.... Designs that protect people who ride bikes reinforce the variety of street uses, making the entire street safer by making people more visible and predictable. If cities really want to deal effectively with bike riders and create safer streets for everyone, they can start by building bike lanes.
The article at the link above links to an earlier interview with Woody in which he claims to be all for more bikers in NYC, but also says, "uncontrolled bike riders are a great hazard." If that's the case, you'd think he'd be in favor of a means to control them. He claims "every street (in the Upper East Side) has a good argument why it shouldn't have a lane." Gee, it would've been nice to have heard those arguments from him, especially given the fact that similar Manhattan streets have done just fine with them.

Angelina Jolie (and her kid) rides a bike!
In his movie Manhattan, Woody says, "All cars in Manhattan should be banned." Given that, one wonders if he feels any outrage over the lives lost over the past decade due to car crashes. Earlier this week, a consortium of families and transportation advocates petitioned Albany to pass a bill that would remove the limit on speed cameras outside schools. Speed cameras have been proven to reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to car crashes, many of which happen to children.

Bike lanes also help reduce speeding because their very presence reduces the size of the street and forces drivers to slow down. One wonders, however, if people like Woody understand that. By no means is he an anomaly: also this week, New York mayor Bill DeBlasio announced the city would go forward with their plan to expand the bike lanes on historically-fatal Queens Boulevard despite a local community board's vote to remove them from the plan. One of the board members even called bikes "missiles on wheels." What does that make cars?

I give Woody props for showing up at his local board meeting, but he, and a lot of other people in this town, still need to get their facts straight about bike lanes, because they're not going away. New Yorkers continue to bike to get around, and one way or another, they're gonna need a safe place to ride.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Five (cheap) things I'd want to do in Hollywood

I'm slowly going through the reports from this year's TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles, and once again, I'm envious. Between the thrill of seeing great movies with enthusiastic audiences, schmoozing with stars, and hobknobbing with friends, the overall experience sounds very similar to the San Diego Comic-Con. I found my week at that annual event exciting, but also overwhelming at times, and if ever I make it to the TCM Fest, I imagine it would be much the same.

Movie fans everywhere dream of coming to visit Hollywood. I know I do. I fear, though, that La-La-Land is probably at least as expensive as the Big Apple. If I were to spend, say, a week in Hollywood, obviously I wouldn't get to see and do everything I'd want, but here are a few things I feel pretty sure I could do without knocking over a bank to pay for the experience.

- Check out movie locations. I did this when I went to Philadelphia last year, and a quick Google search reveals pages upon pages of guided film tours offered throughout LA. They say nobody walks in LA, but plenty of walking tours are available too, and I imagine a number of them would include buildings that have been used in movies.

- See a movie at the New Beverly. Quentin Tarantino's movie house has much to recommend it: an all-celluloid selection (35 or 16mm) of an eclectic film lineup, for a variety of tastes. Yes, the TCL Chinese has the history, and I'd go there, too, but I would also want to support a place like this, that still shows films on nitrate stock.

- Visit the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The macabre yet slightly thrilling experience of strolling amidst the graves of old Hollywood stars is one thing, but did you know they show concerts and movies there too? Seeing a movie in a cemetery... that's a bucket list item if ever there was one.

- Get my picture taken with every Trek star on the Walk of Fame. Naturally.

 - Hiking to the Hollywood Sign. You can't actually walk right up and touch the letters of the sign that spells "Hollywood," but there are hiking tours that get you pretty close, and of course, you get spectacular views of LA and the surrounding environs as well. There are even different levels of difficulty, though I'd opt for the easiest.

Feel free to share your stories of visiting Hollywood if you have any.