Friday, December 9, 2016

Lust for Life

The Kirk Douglas Blogathon is an event honoring the life and career of the actor-producer on the centennial of his birth, hosted by Shadows and Satin. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

Lust for Life
library rental

When I ran a Google search on the name Vincent van Gogh, I was surprised at the number of recent articles about or related to him. For instance: there's a new book out containing previously-unseen drawings of his that some people say are fakes. Another new book about the 19th-century Dutch painter claims he cut off his ear because his brother Theo was getting married. A third new book claims the Metropolitan Museum of Art's VVG painting is fake too. Plus, there's an upcoming VVG biopic requiring over 60,000 original oil paintings to animate.

Over a century after his death, the strange life and brilliant career of VVG continues to captivate modern art lovers and incite discussion. Despite his talent, the dude had some serious mental issues. He was the original tortured artist. The theories as to why he was the way he was abound: he was bipolar; he was epileptic; he was a mama's boy; etc. It's unlikely we'll ever know the truth.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens NY

I haven't talked about the Kew Gardens Cinemas in awhile. They recently upgraded the theater, installing a bunch of video screens everywhere: for "coming soon" displays, the box office listings, the menu, and even the individual theaters. All this new technology has meant a slight increase in admission prices, but they're still way cheaper than Manhattan. Plus, I can see where my money's going.

I went to the Kew on a Sunday for a change (before going to my writers group) to see Manchester by the Sea. Imagine my surprise when I saw a line to get in that went out the door and around the corner! Now, by Manhattan standards, this isn't as impressive as it sounds. Besides, the Kew is located very close to the corner of the block. Still, I took it as a sign that the neighborhood supports this place, which is always great to see. For a moment, I felt like I was at Film Forum or the Angelika.

Manchester played in Theater 3, the big auditorium. I was worried I might not get a ticket, but I did, and wouldn't you know it, the house was packed. I had to take a nostril seat in the front row. The movie didn't have many really tight close-ups, though, so this time I didn't have the sensation of staring up Casey Affleck's nostril.

The start was delayed in order to seat everybody. I took advantage by going back to the crowded lobby for some (unsalted) popcorn. As I waited on line, I heard them announce Manchester was sold out, though there were about five or six empty seats to my right and one to my left. Still, I'm glad I arrived in time.

Manchester is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, who made a splendid movie called You Can Count On Me way the hell back in 2000, and another one, Margaret (which I missed), five years ago. Mostly he works as a writer. Affleck is a Boston janitor who becomes a surrogate parent to his nephew after his father, Affleck's brother, dies. Affleck, however, isn't cut out for the job due to long-simmering issues of his own.

Is it possible Casey's a better actor than his brother Ben? He's terrific in this one. He's been quietly building up an impressive array of roles in films like Gerry and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, though to me he'll always be Patrick Kenzie in Gone Baby Gone.

This movie is a showcase for him. His character Lee is wound tighter than a drum and has serious anger management issues as a result of something that happened years ago. He:s never been able to make peace with that incident, which has meant his relationships with other people are hampered. The introduction of his nephew Patrick does little to nothing to change that state. Don't expect a happy ending.

As well written, acted and directed as Manchester is, though, I can't say it moved me the way, say, Moonlight did. I'm glad I saw it, but I suspect the mountain of hype behind this movie, the tons of critical praise it has received, led me to think it was gonna be spectacular when I just found it very good.

I'm kinda glad I sat where I did. There were more than a few people shushing each other in the upper rows behind me. It's funny, when I saw Allied, the relatively small audience made the talkers' voices stand out more. Here, at a packed house, I can't say I noticed any problem talkers, but that may have been because I was in the front row.

I didn't get a good look at the crowd, but I'm pretty sure it was mostly older (though not necessarily old) people. I don't wanna make a big deal of this, though; who knows what hearing problems may be at play I don't know about? I'm just glad I wasn't disturbed by the audience.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Books: Ann Blyth: Actress Singer Star (audio)

Earlier this year, Jacqueline was kind enough to send me a gratis copy of the audio book version of her recent biography Ann Blyth: Actress Singer Star. This was my first audio book. I have noticed the recent growth in popularity of the medium, though I suppose I used to think they were for either blind people or folks too lazy to read or something. I mean, I feel funny even calling it a "book." Still, these things sell, so there must be something to them.

Blyth the audio book is narrated by Toni Lewis, a TV actress. I have not seen her in anything. She has a pleasant voice, well suited for this line of work.

I don't know if this is normal in audio books, but here Lewis makes an effort to "get in character" a number of times throughout the reading. She clearly adopts a different type of voice for Blyth - a little lighter, a little gentler. When reading newspaper reviews, she talks a little faster, more hyperbolically, as if she was in a Jimmy Cagney movie. She even attempts accents for people such as Blyth's Irish mother, though they're not very pronounced. The experience is not unlike listening to an old-time radio drama.

Those who followed Jacqueline's blog in 2014 will recognize the chapters here as having been adapted and polished from the blog and put in chronological order, covering the whole of Blyth's life and career, including her work on stage and television. There are even testimonials from other film bloggers. The whole thing is as comprehensive as one can imagine. One can only hope Blyth herself (or her children) gets to see this before she shuffles off this mortal coil.

Pearls = classy.
If there's a criticism, it does not stem from the writing and it's certainly not serious. After awhile, I kinda got a bit weary of hearing how great a person Blyth is! That's a terrible thing to say, but I can't help it: she has lived, by all accounts, a good life, which is commendable, but one almost suspects it's too good to be true, especially for a Hollywood star.

We have come to practically demand scandal from our celebrities. As a biographer, of course you want to present your subject in the best possible light, but as a reader, you tend to wonder: where's the struggle with alcohol? The abusive parent? The bitter spouse?

It's possible in ten years, another biography will be more forthcoming - assuming there's anything more to be found. I can't imagine another biography being more complete. For now, though, Blyth is a thorough, respectful and insightful portrait of a woman who succeeded in Hollywood on her terms, written by an author who loves old movies.

[Edited 12.5.16]
Meet Me in Nuthatch

Saturday, December 3, 2016


seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

As much as Robert Zemeckis loves making movies with spectacular visual effects, you'd think he'd be a geek icon on the level of Cameron, Jackson, Lucas and Spielberg. I think he comes close. He did make the Back to the Future trilogy, after all. I'm not sure. I'm not as in tune to geek culture as I once was. I know seeing his name on a movie means something to me. That's why I went to see Allied. I was gonna pass on it until I saw it was his film. Ironically, it's one of his rare movies that's not an obvious special effects extravaganza. 

I still remember the first time I saw Forrest Gump. It was mind-boggling. How'd they make it look, I thought at the time, like Tom Hanks was interacting with Nixon and John Lennon and other people from the past? How'd they make it look like Gary Sinise really lost his legs? I couldn't begin to figure it out. It was so new and different. Moments like that are what keeps me going to the movies - that hope I'll see something like that.

I wouldn't say Allied had comparable moments, but for what it was, it was worth the price of admission. Seeing Brad Pitt in period clothes, in a period setting, reminds me once again that he would have been an A-level star in any time period. This film does have an Old Hollywood feel to it, which seems intentional. It's as if Zemeckis sought to remind us of a time when stars carried a movie - glamorous people doing exciting things.

Was it only a few days ago I was lamenting the inability of today's leading men to love a woman in the movies? Allied has romance to spare. In fact, it's what Jeanine Basinger would call a "marriage movie." The love between Pitt and Marion Cotillard, cemented with the birth of their child, is the point of the movie, something I forgot when trying to figure out if she was a Nazi double agent or not. It was nice to see in a big Hollywood movie again. Would that we could see it more often.

I saw Allied with a small late-afternoon audience of mostly old people. I know this because they talked. Not enough to make me want to beat them over the head for it, but enough to be noticeable. In one early scene, Pitt and Cotillard are talking softly; some dude across the aisle actually yelled, "Louder!" as if there was a problem with the audio. (There wasn't.) Several rows behind me, two or three other seniors periodically felt the need to comment on the action. I arrived late, like after the title card (yet another movie without opening credits), so I kinda felt, in a way, like I had no right to complain. If they had been more chatty, however, things would be different.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Roguish links

Let's call it like it is: this has been an ugly, ugly year. I don't hold out much hope for 2017, either. All I can say at this point is the same thing people in many cultures, from many walks of life, have been saying for thousands of years. Marvin Gaye put it quite nicely: "War is not the answer. Only love can conquer hate."

It hasn't been all bad, though. Sure, I had to spend time in the hospital way back in February, but that has lead to a dramatic change in my life, in which I've eaten better, lost weight, and discovered a talent for cooking I never dreamed I possessed. I can guarantee you I feel better physically today, as I write this, than I did a year ago. I'm grateful for that, and for the wave of support I've received from my friends who have encouraged, advised and cheered on my culinary activities. Sure hope I can keep it going...

In other news: November was a huge month for the blog. Mostly on the strength of the Trek posts from September, I got my second-highest monthly pageview count ever. Ever! So thank you for that. I knew people would still read those posts, but at this rate? Awesome.

Two blogathon posts this month, plus the final part in my series on Star Trek today, plus a couple of book reviews, and a fair amount of new movies to talk about. If you like what you're reading, let me know.

Just a few links this month:

In the face of a bleak four years to come, Jennifer suggests watching these movies.

If I had known there was another Imaginary Film Blogathon, I would've totally taken part. Here's a post I liked: Phyllis reimagines Mel Gibson's Conspiracy Theory as a 40s film about Communists.

Ivan examines a new Blu-ray of Orson Welles' Macbeth.

Not movies, but notable anyway: Paddy comes clean about her recent health problems.

Aurora imagines classic film characters running the country.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Penny Serenade

The Cary Grant Blogathon celebrates the life and career of the classic film star, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the website.

Penny Serenade
YouTube viewing

Watch enough movies and listen to enough music and sooner or later, you'll start to imagine what a soundtrack to your life might sound like. Many of us program our iPods with certain songs we play over and over, or fine-tune our Pandora or Spotify playlists for that perfect selection of tracks. What I'm talking about is similar, only the songs represent specific times and places in your life. Since we're all the stars of our own personal movies, it follows that they need killer soundtracks, right?

I have given this some thought, as you might imagine. One day I'll make up some excuse to name my ideal soundtrack, but not today. I will say that it includes a little bit of everything: Motown and country for my parents, disco for my sister, Top 40 for my junior high years, classic rock for high school, grunge for college - though beyond that point, the timeline of my life will get older, and so will the songs!

I've even toyed with the thought of starting a second blog for this purpose: to talk about music the way I talk about movies, with less critical discourse and more personal meditations. Nick Hornby released a volume called Songbook, which collects a bunch of essays he wrote about individual songs and his unique relationship with them. He can talk critically about music, and at times in the book, he does, but he spends more time discussing memories, feelings and thoughts associated with the songs he's chosen. If I were to start a music blog, I would want it to read like this, though I'm not half the writer or critic Hornby is. Maybe after I finish the novel? I dunno.

Penny Serenade plays with the personal soundtrack idea (though I doubt they called them soundtracks in 1941, the year this movie was released). In the beginning, the marriage of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne is about to end. Dunne is ready to leave him for good, but before she does, she goes through her record collection. Each song she plays triggers a memory of their relationship, and that's how we learn what brought us to this point. It's not a bad storytelling device, though after awhile, you start to wonder when she's gonna finish and leave already.

This movie earned Grant the first of his two Oscar nominations for Best Actor, without a win. Hard to believe, isn't it? One of American cinema's greatest, most iconic, most versatile leading men never got nominated for The Philadelphia Story, Notorious, Suspicion, or North by Northwest, much less won. I'd say it's the curse of the pretty-boy actor (see also: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp), but it's hard to say for sure. Leonardo DiCaprio did finally win the Best Actor Oscar, after all, so maybe there's hope.

From Grant's first scene, we can tell his performance in this movie, about a young couple's quest to have and raise a child, is different. We remember Grant as the suave, debonair man-about-town who's smooth with the ladies, yet not afraid to take a pratfall or two sometimes. The Grant in Serenade is, in general, quieter, more down-to-earth, and more emotionally vulnerable.

A few years ago, I tried to speculate why today's leading men avoid romantic movies like the plague. I cited Grant as an example from the past of an actor as convincing making love to a woman as when he's doing other things in the movies. In Serenade, he doesn't court Dunne as a sophisticated ladies man; he does it in an almost introverted way. He buys a bunch of records in the record shop she works in, even though he doesn't have a player, just so she can wait on him and they can talk longer.

Because this is Grant and Dunne, you expect some silly antics or witty banter, but they play it straight. Throughout the movie, Grant expresses his love for Dunne, in words and deeds, with a naked sincerity and passion rarely seen in today's leading men when their characters have wives or girlfriends...

...and that love is extended to their adopted child. Indeed, director George Stevens goes to great lengths to portray the reality of parenting: the hard work, the constant worry, the sacrifice, and how it can cause problems in a marriage. There's one extended diaper-changing scene, shot in real time with very limited cuts. Dunne is frustrated and nervous over the procedure, but Edgar Buchanan is calmly confident. I found it interesting that Dunne's character was so gung-ho about having a child, yet so clueless about how to care for it also. It's the sort of thing that makes you think parenting might not be for everyone...

Serenade isn't perfect. Spoilers for a 75-year-old movie to follow: in the scene that undoubtedly clinched the Oscar nod for Grant, he pleads with a judge to let him keep his adopted daughter. The judge insists it's a matter of law, but in the very next scene, there's Grant with the baby, happy and smiling. So much for the law! Also, it was shot from too far a distance. We really need to see Grant's face in close-up and we don't.

It doesn't matter, though, because later on, the child dies - off-screen! We find out in a letter Dunne writes to adoption agent Beulah Bondi, only Dunne's handwriting is a little on the fancy side. I had to stop the movie several times to read her letter! The death drives Grant and Dunne apart, but it's okay; Bondi finds a new baby for them at the last minute before they can break up. Hooray! Whatever.

Still, it's a good movie overall and a rare chance to see Grant not be Grant in a movie. Sort of.

Other Cary Grant movies:

Friday, November 25, 2016

By Any Other Name: Yeoh joins Discovery cast

Following yestrday's report that Star Trek: Discovery writer/producer Nicholas Meyer said Michelle Yeoh had been cast in the new series, her casting has been confirmed by two additional sources, and Yeoh herself has commented. Deadline claims that she will play Captain Han Bo of the U.S.S. Shenzhou, a ship key to Discovery‘s first season.
I had the impression the producers of Star Trek: Discovery were thinking not only big, but outside the box when it came to casting earlier this summer, when Angela Bassett was rumored to be up for the lead. They still haven't found their star, but with this week's announcement of Michelle Yeoh joining the cast, it sure sounds like they're still reaching for the stars, so to speak.

I've talked about my great love for Yeoh before, so naturally, I'm thrilled. She absolutely deserves to be working. I'm glad this will give her the opportunity. It sounds like her role will be that of a recurring guest star, like Louise Fletcher on DS9, for example. That's cool.

Yeoh is no stranger to sci-fi, either. She was in Danny Boyle's Sunshine, as well as, um... Babylon AD. I saw the former; if memory serves, I think she might've been captain of a spaceship in that, too. If she wasn't, then she should have been the captain! I thought the movie was okay. Not one of Boyle's best, but then, when your best includes Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting, the bar is set quite high.

While we're on the subject of Discovery, you may have heard Bryan Fuller stepped down as series showrunner, though he's still on board as an executive producer. It sounds as if perhaps he was feeling the pressure of getting the show out on time. The release date has been pushed back to next May. CBS' official line, however, is they're still happy with the series' direction.

Is there more to this than meets the eye? Probably, but we'll never know for sure. I do think the delay has the bean-counters a bit nervous, to say the least. This kind of thing happens all the time in Hollywood, though. Remember, the first JJ Abrams Trek movie was supposed to come out in December 2008. I have the T-shirt to prove it too!

Axanar and fan fiction
William Shatner's 'Leonard'
Two Nimoy docs
Lin brokers Axanar settlement
action Trek vs. mental Trek
the new fan film rules
Discovery to break the Trek mold
Star Trek at 50
Rod Roddenberry