Friday, September 13, 2019

Car crash at Kew Gardens Cinemas; no injuries

UPDATE 9.14.19: Repair work has begun. On Facebook I saw a picture with a view inside and the lobby looks fine. I was afraid there might have been more damage beyond what I could see, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The KGC Facebook page says they’re open and operating normally.


I belong to a Kew Gardens Facebook group. On it, the manager of the Kew Gardens Cinemas confirmed a report that earlier today, at around 3:15 PM, an elderly driver made an unsuccessful U-turn on Lefferts Boulevard, in front of the theater, and backed into the front doors. According to the manager, no one was injured.

Long-time readers of this blog know this is one of my major go-to theaters and has been for years. I was planning on going there next week to see Brittany Runs a Marathon. Don’t know yet if they’ll need to close for repairs. I’ll update this post when I know more.

And not to get too preachy on you, but this happens with cars much more often than you would imagine—I see it on Twitter all the time—but until we draft legislation that will rein in cars from causing so much property damage and injuring and killing, yes, killing, pedestrians, so that we can allow access to other kinds of transportation, this will continue. If you live in New York, please consider signing this petition in support of a bill designed to do this very thing.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

It: Chapter Two

It: Chapter Two
seen @ Squire Great Neck Cinemas, Great Neck, NY

After witnessing so many movie theaters close within the past several years (the latest casualty: the Beekman on the east side of Manhattan), it’s nice to write about a new theater, one that’s independent and affordable! As I mentioned in this month’s links roundup, the staff of Movieworld, formerly in Douglaston, Queens, have found a new home on the other side of the border. The Squire Great Neck Cinemas opened in Great Neck, in Nassau County, back in April—I found out about it a couple of weeks ago—and I went there this week to see It: Chapter Two.

I knew the trip would be much longer than when I would visit Movieworld; indeed, I took two LONG bus rides plus a lot of walking—a short walk to the first bus and a much longer walk after the second bus. All told, it took me around two and a quarter hours to get to the Squire. Movieworld was about a half hour to forty-five minutes less.

It was my first time in Great Neck. It’s a nice neighborhood. Middle Neck Road, the street where the Squire resides, is made up of two and three-story Tudor-style buildings with a variety of shops. The Long Island Rail Road stops there, as does at least one bus. The road was narrow, so traffic didn’t speed everywhere. It seemed racially mixed, but mostly Jewish.

The Squire itself was small but well integrated into the neighborhood, with an old-fashioned marquee, not digital. Inside it looks much like any other multiplex—the previous owners kept it well maintained, from what I could see. The auditorium seats were comfortable and the bathroom was clean. So far, it doesn’t have a distinct identity, like Movieworld did—not just the fact that you had to access it underneath a mall parking lot, but the old school (as in Classic Hollywood) posters and portraits, the neon, the concession stand hub. It’s still kind of generic, but it’s very early. Movieworld had their space for over thirty years.

According to the guy I talked to, attracting crowds on weekends was tricky because many of the Jews in Great Neck are observant, so the crowds on Friday nights and Saturdays aren’t as big as they could be yet, but they’re gonna do things like upgrade the seating and hold contests—I saw some from earlier this summer on their Facebook page—so I expect them to grow into their niche in time.

As for the movie: I never read the Stephen King book, but I know he approved of the changes to accommodate the modern audience. Chapter One didn’t leave a great impression on me, but I thought it was sufficiently scary, and I feel mostly the same way about the second half. It was nice to recognize Freddy from Shazam as part of the kid cast—he better be careful or he’ll be typecast as the cripple kid!

I wouldn’t rule out returning to the Squire, but the journey there is killer. I’m reminded of the even longer trek to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers. Both places are worth the trip for different reasons, but I don’t need to visit either one; I still have options closer to home. I just wanted to see the Squire for myself and know that Movieworld’s spirit lives on.

The Squire Great Neck Cinemas

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Books: The Disaster Artist

For years, John and Sue have been after me to read The Disaster Artist, the behind-the-scenes account of the making of the cult movie The Room, written by co-star Greg Sestero (with Tom Bissell), and I kept saying yeah, yeah, I’ll get to it. I wasn’t in much of a hurry to read it because I wasn’t as huge a fan of the movie as they were.

When James Franco’s film adaptation came out in 2017, I felt I had understood everything there was to understand about the notoriously awful film that had won over audiences worldwide despite its mediocrity. As interesting and funny as this story was, Disaster the movie didn’t change my assessment of The Room much.

Then, when I visited John and Sue last month (they had moved upstate a few years ago), they lent me their copy of the book—and even though I was reading two other books at the same time, I started this one too. This time I couldn’t wait.

First of all, it’s an excellent account of what it’s like to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. Sestero describes the grind of going on auditions, living in both hope and fear that this next one will be the one, making compromises in his life, in pursuit of his dream. He had taken baby steps towards progress prior to The Room, but despite his youth, his good looks and his representation, he had made precious little headway overall. The Room had initially seemed like a stride forward.

Greg Sestero
It’s also a good example of all the little things that go into the production of a movie and what can go wrong when a director and his cast and crew aren’t on the same page creatively. I’ve always felt the “auteur theory” was overrated, but The Room is a legitimate example of how a film can be one creator’s vision—but at the expense of everyone else involved.

Mostly, though Disaster the book is Sestero doing his best to explain his complicated relationship with The Room’s auteur filmmaker, the enigmatic, possibly deranged, but ultimately heroic writer-producer-director-star, Tommy Wiseau. Yes, I say heroic, because in spite of everything, he winds up looking better in this book than he deserves to—and that’s saying something.

Sestero paints Tommy as a ruthless, dictatorial martinet on the Room set who insisted on doing everything his way, even when it flew in the face of reason. He alienated the cast and crew, antagonized everyone who dared question his vision, and tested the limits of Sestero’s patience—yet from the moment Sestero met him, he saw something in Tommy no one else did: someone supportive,  dedicated to his craft, and optimistic to a fault. To a young and inexperienced kid out of San Francisco doing his best to break into the industry, doubting his ability and desperate for a break, Tommy was, in his own weird way, inspiring—and Sestero captures that in the book.

Sestero, right, with Tommy in The Room
The book even provides a possible secret origin for Tommy, though Sestero makes plain it’s only one of a number of stories Tommy has told about himself, kinda like the Joker in The Dark Knight. Is the story real? It sounds plausible, but who knows? I remain unconvinced this isn’t all a put-on the two of them have staged. Tommy seems too improbable to be for real: that accent, his total ineptitude in learning a role, his eagerness to throw money away while making The Room—he sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch character!

Then again, maybe he is real. Could Sestero be that good a writer, not to mention an actor, to collaborate with Tommy in perpetrating such a hoax? He’d have to be the greatest one alive if so. Sometimes, as the cliche goes, truth is stranger than fiction, and this might be one of those times. The Disaster Artist is funny, sad, banal, frustrating and in the end, inspiring. Tommy got his movie made and Sestero helped. That’s the bottom line—and good or bad, that puts them ahead of a lot of other folks.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Easy links

About Peter Fonda: I saw Easy Rider during my video store days but I didn’t understand its significance in movie history until later, reading about how it heralded the youth movement in Hollywood during the late 60s and 70s. He was part of a cinematic revolution that led to some outstanding movies, and for that we should all be grateful.

In Peter Biskind’s New Hollywood tell-all Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Rider director Dennis Hopper, who was high as a kite for much of the film’s production and fought Fonda constantly, said this about the film:
...”When we were making the movie, we could feel the whole country burning up—Negroes, hippies, students,” he said. “I meant to work this feeling into the symbols in the movie, like Captain America’s Great Chrome Bike—that beautiful machine covered with stars and stripes with all the money in the gas tank is America—and that any moment we can be shot off it—BOOM—explosion—that’s the end. At the start of the movie, Peter and I do a very American thing—we commit a crime, we go for the easy money. That’s one of the big problems with the country right now: everybody’s going for the easy money. Not just obvious, simple crimes, but big corporations committing corporate crimes.”

I need your advice. A couple of weeks ago, I read that Morgan Spurlock’s latest film, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken had been shelved for months on account of the revelation that the documentary filmmaker had sexually harassed a co-worker, cheated on his wives and girlfriends for years, and had been accused of rape back in college.

I haven’t talked about the “Me Too” movement much here because I think it’s pretty damn self-evident that sexual harassment is wrong, full stop—and if there’s a line of women out the door saying So-and-So took liberties with them, well... innocent until proven guilty and all that, but I’d say the case doesn’t look too good for old So-and-So. I just don’t want it to turn into a witch hunt for molesters.

Spurlock, however, was different: he confessed. No one outed him; he came forward of his own free will to admit to his wrongdoing and vowed to be a better man. Now you can say, oh, he was coerced into this by someone ready to come forward, as opposed to him having a crisis of conscience he could no longer live with. Maybe. That’s certainly possible... but given the fact that this sort of thing has affected all walks of life and has consistently been news for months, which he mentions in his confession, I’d rather give him the benefit of the doubt. Someone has to—we’ll probably never know for sure one way or another.

SSM2 is finally getting a theatrical release this month. Despite its mediocre reviews (a 56 on Rotten Tomatoes so far), I’d like to see it because I loved the first SSM movie, and it’s set in Columbus, my former home, which I still miss. I totally understand the desire to boycott and shun those who have been tarnished due to similar allegations, but assuming he’s sincere and that he didn’t have a gun to his head when he made his confession, I think Spurlock coming clean like he did counts for something. And again, assuming he’s sincere, which I truly hope he is, forgiveness has to start somewhere.

Therefore, my question to you is: should I see Super Size Me 2?


Next month is the Murder She Wrote Cookalong at Silver Screen Suppers, and this week, I plan to buy the ingredients for the recipe I’ll cook for the event, chicken paprika. When it comes to choosing what to cook, I rely on three criteria: can I afford it, can I make it, and will I like it? I’ve never had chicken paprika before, but I’m guessing I’ll find it agreeable, and I have some of the ingredients already. I often take pictures of the finished dish to post on Facebook, but never of the dish in progress, but I’ll have plenty of light, and though none of you will be able to sample it, I hope it’ll at least look appetizing.

More after the jump.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

David Crosby: Remember My Name

David Crosby: Remember My Name
seen @ Cinema Village, New York, NY

I saw the trailer for this when I saw the Toni Morrison doc earlier this summer and knew I wanted to see it—and so did Virginia. We both dug this portrait of legendary folk singer David Crosby, now in his lion-in-winter years after a lifetime spent taking way too many drugs and pissing off way too many friends and lovers, to the point where his music is what keeps him sane. Fortunately, his voice is still in excellent shape, even if the rest of him isn’t.

Producer Cameron Crowe needs little prompting to get Crosby to be absolutely candid about the many mistakes he made: turning on a lover to drugs, being a dick to his band mates—primarily The Byrds and CSN(Y); doing jail time. Still, he had a hand in creating some of the best, most powerful and relevant music of his generation. He is equally candid about the politics of the 60s and how his music gave him a platform to speak his mind during a tumultuous era. He may even feel survivor’s guilt for being alive while so many of his peers are gone, including a young woman he loved who died long before her time. He lays everything bare, and now, he continues touring and recording, worrying his wife sick but unable to tear himself away from the music, which has been his constant companion.

It’s a familiar story, no doubt, and to anyone who has followed Crosby’s career, little of it can truly be considered shocking, but to someone who was born after the Summer of Love, after Kent State, after Woodstock, I found it riveting.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

I’ve got an unanticipated buildup of posts and I need to clear the slate, so this will be a smaller post than I had planned. Blinded by the Light is inspired by a true story about a teenager of Pakistan descent, living in a nowheresville English town in the 80s, whose world is rocked when he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen for the first time.

I enjoyed this one a whole lot, and not just for the nostalgia factor. Director Gurinder Chadha, who also did Bend it Like Beckham years ago, presents us with a lead character, and a situation, not unlike what you might’ve seen in the 80s and 90s films of John Hughes or Cameron Crowe, but the racial aspect is a clear and important distinction: being Pakistani alienates newcomer Viveik Kalra not only from his economically depressed town, but from his disapproving father, an immigrant just trying to look out for his family the only way he can, because he knows no one else in this bigoted environment will. Bruce’s music (which you either love or hate; you can guess how I feel) speaks to Kalra like nothing else does and tells him there’s someone else, half a world away and part of an entirely different culture, who understands.

Light is also a joyous, exuberant story that’s a pure expression of youth, which someone will turn into a Broadway musical one day, I have no doubt. Indeed, it borders on being a musical already. Any potential comparisons to Yesterday, another film about someone of East Asian descent who bonds with Western rock music in an unusual way, are unfounded, partly because of the sci-fi aspect and partly because the romance here felt more organic. I had a great time watching it.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Wiz

The Wizard of Oz Blogathon is an event devoted to all things associated with the 1939 MGM film and the original novel by L. Frank Baum, hosted by Taking Up Room. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

The Wiz

It’s hard to imagine which has been more influential to American pop culture: the original children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, or the 1939 MGM adaptation, The Wizard of Oz. Baum was a prolific author in his time; in addition to the Oz series of books (there are fourteen), he wrote 41 other novels and 83 short stories, plus his poems and even scripts.

Oz the book was released in 1900, with illustrations by WW Denslow. Its initial print run of 10,000 copies sold out quickly. A musical stage play was made two years later, the first adaptation into another media. The book hit one million copies printed in 1938. The first film adaptation was overseen by Baum himself, a multimedia production titled The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays.

The 1939 MGM version credits the director as Victor Fleming, though several different men sat in the  big chair, including Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe (both before Fleming) and King Vidor (after), plus George Cukor acted in an advisory capacity, though he didn’t shoot anything. The screenplay was credited to Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, though again, other hands worked on its development, including Fleming, Vidor, Cukor, Herman J. Mankiewicz, and the poet Ogden Nash. Herbert Stothart did the score and Harold Arlen & Yip Hamburg composed the songs. Oz was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, and won two: Original Score and Original Song for the all-timer “Over the Rainbow.”

Listing the many variations of the original Oz story over the years, in film alone, would take way too long—and anyway, I’m here to discuss one in particular, which recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary and is notable in its own right—especially if you’re a New Yorker.