Friday, June 22, 2018

Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2
seen @ Movieworld, Douglaston, Queens NY

Superheroes are hot in Hollywood right now, but mostly if they come from Disney (Marvel) or Warner Bros. (DC). When Tinseltown tries to make original heroes, their track record so far has been spottier.

James Gunn made Super when he was an indie. The Uma Thurman comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend barely made a dent at the box office and scored only a 50 at Metacritic. The Hollywood Reporter called it a "sour, joyless affair." The Will Smith vehicle Hancock, from my understanding, had a much better screenplay than the one which made the final cut. And the less said about Superhero Movie, the better.


So what does the Incredibles franchise do that makes it rise above the pretenders and compete with the Marvel and DC characters? It's from Pixar, for one thing; they simply understand storytelling better. Their success rate speaks for itself. Being computer animated doesn't hurt either.

Pixar, and writer-director Brad Bird, just don't settle for good enough. Incredibles 2 comes fourteen years after the original film, and this is sheepishly acknowledged in an intro to the film by Bird and stars Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter and Sam Jackson. (Is this a Disney thing now? Ava DuVernay did a similar intro for A Wrinkle in Time.)


In this Indiewire interview, though, Bird explains the deal. He describes an overheard phone conversation by the late Steve Jobs in which the former Pixar owner rejects getting a hot pop singer to sing an end credits song because he cared more about making a product for all time, not for the here and now:
...[Jobs] knew that stuff was still going to be looked at later if we did our job right. And I loved his long view because often there's something quick and cheap you can take advantage of to get heat at the moment. And he didn't care at all about that. And that was really inspiring. We're not making it just for now but for long into the future, for anyone who's interested in storytelling.
I2 picks up where the last flick left off (easy to do with an animated film), but alters the group dynamic. Elastigirl is put front and center (she spearheads a proactive campaign to reform the reputation of superheroes), while Mr. Incredible raises Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack. When the adults, Frozone included, get in trouble, it's the kids who come to the rescue.


Granted, I had a feeling who the villain might have been halfway into the story, but getting to the finish line was thrilling anyhow. Maybe the next time Hollywood tries to make brand new superheroes, they'll keep Bird and the Incredibles in mind.

In all likelihood, I2 will be the last movie I see at Movieworld before they close in a few weeks. I made sure to take a good look around: the movie posters and pictures of vintage film stars that dotted the box office and the walls; the cafe; the video games off to the side; the hub-like concession stand, etc. I really wanted popcorn, but I was told the salt was mixed in with the kernels. (Cinemart is the same way. A pattern?) It was okay, though.


I was more concerned with the large number of teenagers at this screening. For an afternoon show, it was fairly packed with them. I got a seat near the front, not caring about looking up. I wanted as little contact with them as possible, but surprise surprise, they behaved well during the movie.

To play devil's advocate for a minute: the mall above MW totally looked threadbare without Macy's and with Toys R Us on its last legs. The huge parking lot had enough room to hold a soccer game, there were so few cars. The Modell's was open, but it didn't seem like it. Only Burger King looked active.


I understand the landlord wanting to bring in new business here. If it was a choice between saving the mall by vacating MW or keeping MW but watching the mall wither away, I would not want to have made that decision. The issue, though, is whether or not Lowes really needs the MW space in addition to the former Macy's site. The landlord believes so.

Not much more to say. I'm glad MW was around long enough for me to enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Movieworld, the jewel of Eastern Queens, to close

From the Facebook page of Movieworld Douglaston, dated June 11:

...The landlord has exercised a clause in the lease that requires us to vacate within 30 days.  We are not closing for any other reason than we are being required to under the terms of our original lease.  A Lowes store will be taking the entire lower level of the shopping center and construction will start right away.... It has been an amazing experience being able to bring movies to all of you.  We encourage everyone to keep going to the movies!

(Thanks to Andrew for the tip)

Man, I hate writing these posts. It seems like I've written too many of them in the not-quite eight years this blog has been active. Some hurt more than others. This isn't that painful, but only because I'm not as familiar with this theater as with others. Still, I feel this loss, too.

Movieworld might have provided the best bargain for first-run films in Queens, if not all of New York: $11 full price for 2D films, $7 matinee before four PM, and $6 all day Wednesdays.

A proudly independent, community-based cinema located near the border of Queens and Nassau County, in Douglaston, MW had been around for over thirty years. At one point, it was operated by UA until 2004. It shut its doors in April 2008, only to reopen two months later with new owners, and it remained local and independent ever since. MW went digital in 2012, and luxury seats were added a year later.

People complained about the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas being located below street level; well, try running a theater located underneath a mall, inside a parking lot! It was a turn-off for me when I first went there, until I stepped inside and saw it was much like other theaters. In addition to the usual movie food for sale, they have a small cafe with a slightly better class of food and drink. It won't make anyone forget the Alamo Drafthouse, but it's a cozy place to wait for your auditorium to seat.

Reading the FB comments gave me a much better sense of what MW meant to the Eastern Queens/Nassau faithful. When MW was threatened with closure in 2017, the fans, like those of the Lincoln Plaza, started a petition to save the theater.

It proved fruitless in February of this year when the local community board voted in favor of bringing in a Lowes on the former site of Macy's, above MW, in order to bring in more business and preserve the mall. The only way Lowes said they could fit, though, was if they also took the space occupied by MW, a claim disputed by the MW defenders. Read more about it here. (Apropos of nothing: I find it very interesting that the debate is compared in this article to a dispute over bike lanes.)

While there are other movie options nearby, such as AMC theaters in Bayside and Fresh Meadows, neither of them are as affordable, nor as diverse (MW also screens Filipino movies from time to time), nor as quirky (you have to admit, its unusual location makes it unlike other cinemas).

I intend to see Incredibles 2 at MW; also, a going-away party is planned for July 2. If I can make it, I'll stop by. MW has said they'll search for a new location, so hope remains alive for now, but like I said, I'm tired of writing these post-mortems, especially for theaters in Queens.

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Movies I've seen at Movieworld:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Finding Dory
Wonder Woman
Pacific Rim: Uprising

Friday, June 1, 2018

Incredible links

Remember the short story I wrote that appeared in a local literary magazine? Well, last month I got invited by the same group to appear at a special reading for past published authors — with a twist.

Newtown Literary put on a reading in which some of their own — other authors — read work by past published authors. I didn't have to say or do anything except show up! It felt odd; my piece, "Airplanes," was a work of speculative fiction inspired by my post on the movie The Terminal, and while I put effort into it, of course, I didn't expect the story to make it, but it did. That was one thing, though; to see it publicly appreciated in a venue like this was quite another.

The woman who read my work was Aida Zilelian, who runs a local reading series called Boundless Tales. I read at a BT show once, which is where I met her, not that I thought she remembered me. I guess she did. She wasn't sure at first if "Airplanes" was a SF story or not; she had to ask me before the show began to make sure!

The show went well. Some of my friends from my old writing group turned up, which was nice. I got to meet more of the NL crew, as well as other local writers, and best of all, I didn't have to embarrass myself!

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One other new movie I saw this month which I never wrote about was The Seagull, with Annette Bening and Saoirse Ronan. Based on the Anton Chekhov play, it's about all these people hanging out in the summer house of a famous stage actress and all the stuff they get into with each other. It was okay; the acting felt very big and theatrical, even though the screenplay made it look more like a movie. Saw it at the Paris in midtown with Vija and Debbie; afterward, we were joined by Vija's visiting grand-niece Cecelia, who Vija thought bore a resemblance to Saoirse Ronan. We ate pasta.

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Margot Kidder was the perfect Lois Lane, just like Christopher Reeve was the perfect Superman. They had a terrific chemistry in those movies that at its best, was reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. She played Lois exactly how you would imagine her to be: modern, perky, independent-minded, a little reckless at times, yet devoted to Superman whether she knows he's really Clark Kent or not.

I'm afraid I haven't seen much of Kidder's other movies, though I did see Black Christmas. I read about her in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, of course, and some of the risque things she got up to back in the 70s. It's a pity she wasn't a bigger star.

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Cynthia Nixon update: Governor Cuomo clobbered her in the state Democratic convention, easily winning his party's nomination, whereas she wasn't even invited to the event. I admit, I'm beginning to lean towards her, especially now that she's basically endorsed the MTA plan to fix the subway, the same one the governor had no interest in when it was released a week ago.

Win or lose, Nixon has proven herself to be someone serious about reforming and changing a lot of things in New York State that need changing. If she does lose the governorship, I hope she'll consider running for another position, such as state congresswoman or something similar.

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Sorry it's been quiet around here lately. The novel. You know.

Links after the jump.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Time Machine (1960)

The Time Machine (1960)
seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, Jersey City NJ

Last year I bought a used anthology of HG Wells stories: The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, and today's subject, The Time Machine.  I haven't finished it; I started Time but other things distracted me, as they tend to do.

Wells' writing is different from modern fiction. It's sparser, but a bit more florid also. Time the book didn't necessarily bore me, but it didn't quite suck me in either. Maybe that was because I had seen the time travel genre to death, in many forms (especially recently), and he was practically inventing the genre when this was written.


Herbert George Wells, born in England in 1866, started out as a teacher and later a journalist and even an artist before he got into short story and novel writing, and not just SF. Of course, it is SF for which he's best remembered.

In Wells' day, science fiction was called "scientific romance," a term associated with writers like Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne, as well as the filmmaker George Melies. Wells' approach to the genre revolved around grounding the reader in credibility, so that the incredible elements could be more easily accepted. He felt one crazy assumption, such as the possibility of time travel, was all you needed on which to build.

Time was not Wells' first time travel story. In 1888, seven years before Time, he wrote a short story called "The Chronic Argonauts," which was also about an inventor of a time travel apparatus. (Some say Wells was inspired by Thomas Edison.) Before even that, in 1881, a short with a different kind of time machine, "The Clock That Went Backward" by Edward Page Mitchell, ran in the New York Sun.


Did you know there's a deleted scene from Time? Wells wrote it at his editor's suggestion. The nameless protagonist goes even further into the future, past the era of the Eloi and Morlocks, and discovers a new species that resembles them both. Wells didn't like it, though.

I had seen the 1960 film adaptation before, but I had forgotten how entertaining it was. Screenwriter David Duncan, in adapting the book, fleshed out the protagonist's 19th-century buddies and his relationships with them in a way that really humanizes him.


Rod Taylor, under George Pal's direction, portrays the idealistic humanist well, in a way that made me think he might have been an influence in shaping Star Trek's Captain Kirk. And speaking of Trek, Wah Chang, one of the Oscar winners for the film's special effects, went on to work on the show as a prop man, designing the original tricorder and communicator.

I saw Time with Virginia. It was her first time at the Loews JC and she loved it, taking pictures on the mezzanine level and digging the Wonder Organ. I was thrilled to have her there in a place that means so much to me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

It never occurred to me I could see Avengers: Infinity War with anyone else. Not that I was so psyched to see it, like I would have been twenty years ago, but even now, after the new wave of superhero movies have broken the bank time and again, I still thought of this, however unconsciously, as a niche pleasure, not something "ordinary" people would dig.

So when I told Virginia I was gonna see it — alone, by implication — there was this awkward pause for a second. We had seen Black Panther together, but even that almost didn't happen: when we tried to pick out a movie, I had said to her something like well, you're probably not interested in an action movie... are you? 

Turned out she was willing. She didn't grow up a superhero geek, you see. She had no sentimental ties to BP or any other long underwear types, so why would I think this might interest her — or so my logic went.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Oliver Twist (1922)

The Lon Chaney Blogathon is an event devoted to the life and career of the silent film star, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Silver Screenings. For a list of participating blogs, visit the links at either site.

Oliver Twist (1922)
YouTube viewing

I never read Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist in school or anyplace else. Dickens was one of those old authors I probably took for granted. A Tale of Two Cities was one I tackled in school, naturally; I think I might have read, or tried to read, Great Expectations in college, back in my reading classic literature phase, but I couldn't tell you much about it. I know Oliver from the movies, especially the 1968 musical.

The 1922 silent film is, I believe, the first film adaptation. It was a vehicle for rising child star Jackie Coogan, hot off the smash success of The Kid, with Chaplin. He was all of eight years old when he made Oliver, but he's not bad in it. He knew how to look pathetic and downtrodden, at any rate, as his character is shuffled from one fate to another by opportunists, oppressors and no-goodniks. One would never know he'd go on to be Uncle Fester in The Addams Family!


But he's not today's subject; that would be his Oliver co-star, the man of a thousand faces, the one and only Lon Chaney Sr. He played Fagin in the film, and as you'd expect, he was made up to look really old, with scraggly hair and beard, plus ratty clothes. He's good, as usual, getting deep into the role: walking hunched over, gleefully teaching his charges, including Oliver, how to pick pockets from unsuspecting marks.

I've talked about Chaney before. In an era in which computers can make anybody look like anything, Chaney still stands out for his chameleon-like ability to embody a wide range of characters.

The child of deaf parents, he learned how to pantomime early in life. On the stage, he used makeup to hide his insecurity, and after awhile he became an expert on the craft of using makeup. Eventually, he made his way to Hollywood, and the medium of film, still in its infancy, proved the perfect vehicle for him.


In her book Silent Stars, film teacher and historian Jeanine Basinger praised him for his ability to empathize with outsiders:
...As Chaney's career developed, he was drawn to playing two basic types of social outcast: the criminal and the cripple. He seemed to identify deeply with characters who were outsiders and loners. No matter how twisted mentally or physically these characters were — either human or monster — he played them as having recognizable emotions... so the audience could understand their evil, realize where it came from, and even sympathize with it if they chose to. He brought understanding and tolerance to these outsiders, and a conviction that there was another side to their lives beneath the obviously ugly surface. Audiences responded to this conviction, and they still do.
Practically the entirety of Chaney's career was in the silent era. What kind of films would he have made in the sound era? His only talkie, a remake of his silent film The Unholy Three, provides a clue. Here's a clip.

Would he have continued in this vein of playing outsiders? We'll never know, but I prefer to think of him as being of the silent era. The films he made then were like nothing we've seen before or since. I'd argue they belong there.

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Related:
Lon Chaney Jr.
Tod Browning

Other Lon Chaney films:
He Who Gets Slapped
The Phantom of the Opera
Laugh Clown Laugh

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Ready Player One

Ready Player One
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

I have so much to say about Ready Player One that I'm dividing this post into segments. It's much easier for both of us. Trust me.

1. The internet and internet culture

2. Ernest Cline's 80s vs. my 80s

3. Steven Spielberg's 80s

4. Columbus

5. RP1 the movie