Friday, December 31, 2010

The King's Speech

The King's Speech
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

I talked before about how a grade-school teacher of mine made me aware of my tendency to read aloud too fast as a child. It was more than a little embarrassing to discover I had this problem, as you'd expect, since I was only ten, but it worked, that's for sure. Sometimes, though not often, in casual speech, I'll still get a little tongue-tied, as if I were reading fast again. It's as if my mind can't think of the right words to say, and I'll either hesitate or spit out gi
bberish. I hate it when I can't think of a given word. Most of the time it's not even a fancy word that I'm thinking of; it's just that my mind goes blank and the word I want is just out of reach.

That's a common thing, don't you think? I mean, we don't go around talking with perfect diction and clarity all of the time, like they do in the movies - well, old movies, anyway. Usually, our speech is peppered with um's, uh's, er's, and of course sixteen million like's. (Ms. Brooks had a thing about too many like's.) We don't care, though, because everybody gets that way at one time or another.

Personally, though, I hate not remembering certain words. And in my case, I don't even try and think of a simpler word instead; my mind will insist on searching for that one word I want to use. Meanwhile, I've stopped speaking and look like an idiot because I haven't finished my sentence.

Acting lessons definitely helped me. I've always liked acting, but taking formal lessons made me more aware of how I sound and how my words come out - not that they ever made me do things like sounding out alliterative phrases or anything like that.

Another thing that helped was my one semester as a deejay at my college radio station. Initially I tried to sound like my favorite deejays, but after awhile I settled back and was myself. I mostly played records; I didn't speak too much while I was on the air - my session was only an hour a week, how could I? When I did speak, though, I limited myself to simple things like time and weather, along with a few weird news
items of interest and talking about certain old songs I liked. I recorded a few of my shows on tape for my father (I wish I still had them), and while, like most people, I hate the way my voice sounds when recorded, it was clear, at least.

I'm more satisfied with my speaking voice no
w. I'll never be completely satisfied with it, but I rarely worry about speaking too fast or blanking on certain words anymore. Still, there were a few moments in The King's Speech that I recognized in myself at certain points in my life, even if I never had an actual stammer. I can easily see why this movie has become so popular; I found it very uplifting.

My street is more than halfway cleared of snow by now, but I still had to wait over 45 minutes for a bus. I actually started walking towards a different bus line on a different street after about a half hour. I ruined another pair of socks when I stepped into a huge puddle of slush thinking it was the sidewalk. It was dark and my mind was on something else. I bought a six-pack of new socks but my shoes still stink. All this and it's not even January yet.

Have a happy new year, everyone. I'll be back on Monday.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine
seen @ Lincoln Plaza Cinema, New York NY

It begins when we're very young, when we're sold on the idea of True Love and
that there's Someone Special Out There for everyone. Girls especially are susceptible to this idea, but boys can fall for it just as easily.

We get a little older and we begin to become sexually aware, and we fool around a bit, more concerned with having a good time than with Getting Serious. If we find someone special - though it may not necessarily be that Someone Special - suddenly we rearrange our lives a little bit to accommodate tha
t person. Maybe we see our old friends a little less. Maybe we go out of our way to do things for that person, like buying gifts or going certain places.

At some point we're led to believe that this person either is The One or not. I say "led to believe" because sometimes it's not as obvious a
s it may seem, but we choose to believe it anyway for any number of reasons... but let's say it is. Perhaps this relationship is consummated (if it hasn't been already). Pledges of eternal devotion are no doubt exchanged, and a long-term commitment to each other is made.

Then what?

What we tend to forget amidst all the hearts and flowers is that finding love and keeping it are two different things. I'm not as cynical as to think True Love doesn't exist, because I've experienced it, but the fairy tales about it that we're told as kids never mention what happens after Happily Ever After. A romantic relationship with someone is hard enough to maintain, never mind a lifetime commitment, but a lot of people engage in the latter thinking it'll just be an extension of the former. They shouldn't be in such a rush...

...yet society tells them they have to. Vija has been in at least two long-term relationships in her life without feeling the need to get married (so far), and in
a way, I can't help but admire her for that. She's always struck me as a woman who values her freedom, and while it doesn't mean that she has loved the men in her life any less for it, I believe in the long run such an attitude has likely saved her a lot more hassle. I think it takes a fair amount of strength to resist taking that Big Step and not have it compromise your happiness, particularly later in life.

Of course, if you can make a long-term relationship work, you've beaten the odds. Bibi and Eric might be the happiest couple I know in spite of the obstacles thrown at them. I think a big reason why is that they go to great lengths to keep the fun in their marriage and in their lives. I know other couples like that, but Bibi and Eric have been together longer than I've known them - over a decade - and I know them well enough to be able to
say that they've seen hard times and come through them closer than ever. That's admirable too.

I believed in True Love, and once upon a time I had it: a girl who was as utterly devoted to me as I was to her, a girl I might have married myself... but I blew it. I don't hold out much hope that I'll be that lucky again, and I try not to think about that, but when it seems like all my friends are pairing up now, it's difficult not to think about it. Then again, like I said, finding love and keeping it are indeed two different things.

Blue Valentine offers no simple, pat explanatio
ns as to why the main characters' marriage fails. It doesn't judge, either. It's frustrating to watch, because you want to be able to point to something and say, "This is where it all fell apart," but it's not that easy, especially when it's possible that they may not have been as right for each other as they seemed at first. It's sad... but it's entirely believable as well.

Yesterday was my first trip into Manhattan since the snowstorm. The sidewalks were much clearer, of course. No real problems with the trains, and I actually got to ride the bus again (although I still had a long wait for it, since they were still plowing my street and traffic was backed up). I saw Blue Valentine at the Lincoln Plaza, where a large bucket of popcorn is only $4.50! They also have gourmet chocolate bars for sale, which I thought about getting. Maybe the next time I'm there, I'll do so. Yesterday was opening day and my showing was a near-sellout. One dude in front of me on line said he came down from Connecticut to see this movie. I was tempted to wait for a later show, where director Derek Cianfrance was going to appear for a Q-and-A, but I wanted to get home early.

For my 100th post...

...all I have to say, really, is that I'm glad I made it this far. I've definitely learned a lot more about blogging and it looks like I've made a few new friends, which is all anyone can realistically hope for. I've got some more things in mind for WSW in 2011, most of them art-related, some of them LAMB-related. I trust you'll let me know which ones work and which ones don't.

The winner of the December 16 contest, as determined by is

Robert Fleitz

Congratulations! You'll get an 8 1/2" x 11" color piece of the actor or actress of your choice, in addition to your smaller black and white piece. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Grit (2010)

True Grit (2010)
seen @ Green Acres Cinemas, Valley Stream, NY

What's so great about snow? Every year, I always see people saying something about how wonderful it
is when it snows. Well, I'm here to tell you that snow ain't so great. Oh, sure, it's nice to watch come down, as I did all day and night on Sunday (the 26th), from inside the comfort of my apartment... but sooner or later you have to go out into it. And that's when the problems start.

When the wind blows snow around, it gets in your face and your eyes, making it tough to see. When it hardens on the ground, it makes walking slippery and treacherous. When it swallows your car (if you have one), you have to not only dig it out, you have to clear a path so you can drive it out. Snow gets in your sho
es (if you're not wearing boots). If the sidewalks haven't been plowed, you have to either trudge through piles of it or take your chances on the sides of the street, where cars are going by. And not to state the obvious, but when snow falls, it's always cold!

The ability to make snowmen is not a fair trade-off, as far as I'm concerned.

I knew I had to see True Grit on a Tues
day, because that's the six dollar day at the Green Acres theater; all shows are six bucks all day. I had hoped that enough time had passed so that I'd be able to go, what with the weather and all. Once again, I got a late start, but I still thought I could make it on time, since it's a bus ride away. Ten minutes into waiting for the bus, though, and I knew I'd have a long wait. Plus, there was a huge snow barricade in front of the bus stop where the plows had been, so if the bus arrived, I'd have to climb over it in order to reach the front door, and since it was soft, I'd sink into it and the snow would get into my shoes and blah blah blah.

So I walked to a bus stop on a differen
t line that would also take me to the theater. It was normally about a fifteen-minute walk, but all the snow made it more of an adventure than usual. I got there and waited out in the street as cars slowly went by. This is a busier street than the one I came from, so there was more traffic. A guy behind me was talking on his cell to his job, telling his boss that he had to wait over an hour for his bus. My bus wasn't forthcoming, either. I knew I'd have to catch the next show.

Eventually I settled on taking a commuter van. I'm not sure if other cities have these or not: they're privately-owned vans that serve like buses, operating on certain bus lines in the outer boroughs of New York. They comfortably seat about ten passengers, a dozen in a pinch. Almost all of them are run by Caribbeans or African-Americans or even Africans. They used to cost only a dollar, which was certainly a bargain in comparison with the city buses and trains, but when the city fares went up, so did the vans. They now charge two do
llars, but the city base fare is now $2.25, so it's much less of a bargain. Still, they take dollar bills and they even provide change from big bills if you need it.

I never take them unless I need to, and yesterday I remembered why. The driver was on his cell when I got on board, which is bad enough in normal weather. At one point there was a car sticking out into the street at an angle - the owner probably was stuck in the snow and backed his car in like that to circumvent all the mounds of snow - and the van driver came thisclose to hitting the car. He slowed down, but not nearly enough, it seemed; I honestly thought there would be a collision. When I indicated where I wanted to get off, he started yakking at me (I think; it didn't seem directed at me) in a thick Caribbean patois that I could not make out to save my life. It sounded like he was complaining about something, even though the spot I indicated was definitely a bus stop. Don't know and don't care. Truth is, I got out earlier than I should have and walked the extra few blocks just so I could get out of the van.

The Green Acres is part of the Green Acres Mall, which is on an eight-lane highway, and the sidewalk hadn't been consistently paved, so that meant more trudging through snow piles. Then I had to navigate my way through the humongous, slush-filled parking lot into the mall proper. (The next time I write about the Green Acres theater, I'm gonna talk about how difficult it is for a pedestrian to walk through the parking lot, because there's a really good rant there.) I had lunch and read a little as I waited for the next show to start, and eventually made my way back to the theater.

At the box office, the lady there (who was speaking through a very loud microphone) made some spiel about whether I wanted to donate to some charity. I'd get a pin for my dona
tion, so I gave a buck, but then she tells me I have to give two dollars. I'm like, what? I didn't even want the pin; isn't it enough that I'm giving a donation without you telling me I have to give a specific amount? She was like, "Well, you don't have to give anything. Don't look at me like that!" But you were the one who insisted I donate in the first place - and when I did, you said it wasn't enough! Arrgh... I let it go and went inside.

True Grit was playing upstairs, which was conveniently devoid of staff people, so since I had a few extra minutes, I did something I haven't done in a long time: I snuck into another theater. I stepped inside the auditorium showing Tangled, the new Disney animated movie. It looked decent. It was easy to think this was a Pixar or DreamWorks movie until the characters started singing. There was a time, not too long ago, when I'd be totally pumped up to see a Disney animated movie, but these days, I have to admit, Pixar has spoiled me.

I left Tangled and went into the right auditorium and finally saw True Grit. It was good. The utterly formal-to-the-point-of-being-stilted language the characters speak in was off-putting at first, until I realized that most, if not all of the Coen Brothers' movies are distinguished by their characters' dialects, from Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy and Fargo to O Brother Where Art Thou and A Serious Man, subject to the times and places these films take place in. In that respect, True Grit is no different. Of course, I'm not sure if that excuses Jeff Bridges, who talked like he had marbles in his mouth the whole time.

I took the van back home, and this time it was much less eventful. There were more buses on the roads by this time, but from what I could see they were either in the other direction or were out of service. On the way to the theater I saw a couple of buses that were stuck in the snow, if you can believe that. Word as of this writing is that buses and trains should come close to normal service by tonight. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The argument for 'Inception'

...what is most striking about Chris’ work behind the scenes is how he chooses to use digital tools and how enterprising he’s remained even while working inside the Hollywood studio system. One might say that he’s leading a mini-renaissance in our industry, in a time that’s arguable [sic] become the heyday of green-screen films largely realized in post, it’s inspiring to see a talented and successful young director like Chris Nolan avoiding the systematic use of new technologies in favor of more wide-ranging filmmaking methods.

I haven't talked about Inception much in this space. I was not nearly as confused by it as many people were; indeed, it's not that confusing a movie at all if you pay close attention to it. I think it's unfortunate that Leonardo DiCaprio isn't getting enough praise for this movie; between this and Shutter Island he's delivered two remarkable performances this year and yet he probably won't get Oscar nominated for either one. (Maybe he makes it look too easy?) That this movie got made at all is a minor miracle; that it succeeded as well as it did is a testament to Christopher Nolan's audacity as a filmmaker and a storyteller, which will finally get recognized, I am certain, with his first Oscar nomination. What do you make of Inception's Oscar chances?

- Erik Childress once again ranks the year's top film critic "quote whores." (eFilm Critic)
- A prominent visual effects expert makes the argument against the current 3D film craze. (Gizmodo)
- Meet the actresses who convincingly portrayed Micky Ward's sisters in The Fighter - including the one who got arrested. (LATimes)
- Matt Damon says director Steven Soderberg is ready to retire. (24 Frames)
- What are the aspects of film criticism? (A Life in Equinox)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Saturday Set List (Friday morning special)

Moved up a day so I can take the holiday weekend off. No set list next week.

Soundtrack of the week: La Bamba
Oh, man, the ending to this movie always makes me cry. When we first got cable TV in the mid-80s, I'd watch this movie a lot. You've heard the title trac
k plenty of times, so let's put on another song from the movie...

Los Lobos, "Framed"

Song-about-movies of the week: "Celluloid Heroes"
One of my favorite Kinks songs.

Song-that-would-make-a-good-movie of the week: "Bad Bad Leroy Brown"
The lyrics suggest a later time period, but for the purposes of this proposed movie, I would set this blaxploitation crime story during Depression-era Chicago, in which the title character is the most notorious pimp and hustler in the South Side. It would also serve as a portrait of black life in general during the period, with cameo appearances by real-life celebrities of the era such as Richard Wright, Joe Louis and Louis Armstrong, among others. I could see Don Cheadle as Leroy (yeah, I know he's probably not 6' 4", but so what).

Actor-singers of the week: John Belushi & Dan Aykroyd
Still miss John Belushi after all these years, though I can't help but wonder: had he lived, would his career have declined the way Dan Aykroyd's has? I mean, Yogi Bear, Dan? Really? And now there's all this talk about a third Ghostbusters movie, which might be good, but I dunno... Still, perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh. I still love Aykroyd, and I think he's got one more great comedy movie in him.

The Blues Brothers, "Gimme Some Lovin'"

Enjoy your holiday, everyone. I'll be back Tuesday.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Silent Night Bloody Night (1974)

Silent Night Bloody Night (1974)
seen online via YouTube

I worked with Steve in video retail for over six years at two different locations. He was, among other things, the horror and cult movie expert. I could never figure out whether he was a horror fan because he was an oddball, or he was an oddball because he was a horror fan. Don't get me w
rong, I say oddball with great affection; we were good friends all during this time and I miss him. He was the kind of guy, though, whose darkly cynical sense of humor informed his personal tastes, which ran far, far left of center.

He loved Italian horror. I first learned about Mario Bava and Dario Argento through him. He liked Hammer horror too, of course. The Traces of Death series, Mondo films and other underground material; he knew all about them and in many cases recommended them for the store buyer to pick up. He loved mocking most, if not all, of the current Hollywood movies, but he wasn't a total mainstream snob. Bugs Bunny cartoons would cr
ack him up.

Steve and I both started out as clerks and eventually became managers. As managers, I would work weekdays, he'd work weekends. We both preferred it that way. I think, looking back, he was better able to keep his sense of humor than I was when it came to dealing with corporate accounts, deadbeat customers who always returned their videos late, messenger issues, and other daily craziness that came with the job. Oh, sure, there'd be plenty of times when he'd be stressed out as much as I was, but he never seemed as if he was on the verge of going postal, whereas I felt that way constantly.

We didn't plan on moving from Third Avenue to Avenue
A together; it just happened that way. Both stores were independents, but the former was a single outpost catering to a wide clientele and aspired to be the anti-Blockbuster, and the latter was part of a local chain that still felt like a neighborhood store. At Avenue A Steve and I both felt more relaxed and in our element, especially Steve, and we had more fun, I think.

I have no doubt that Steve has seen Silent Night Bloody Night. It's definitely his kind of film. I'm sure he even put it on in the store one Christmas. As I watched it last night, I wondered what he thought of it. I know he liked holiday horror movies. My mind was wandering because I put this on at around 10:30 PM or so and I was getting sleepy. Plus, I don't know whether it was a bad transfer or if the original really looked this way, but the version I saw on YouTube looked awful; dark with little-to-no contrast and pale, washed-out colors. I had the audio cranked up to maximum but it wasn't as loud as it should've been. So I can't say I even remember much about what I saw, which is too bad because Mary Woronov is in this movie and I like her. This is the last time I watch a movie after ten PM.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

MST3K presents Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
as presented on Mystery Science Theater 3000
seen online via YouTube

Let's start with that title. It's misleading. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians made me think it was gonna be a little more of an all-out battle than it actually was. No one's ever made a movie where Santa's an action hero (that I know of, anyway). He doesn't really "conquer" the Martians so much as he befriends them and helps them subdue their rogue elements in a non-violent way, which, I suppose, is truer to the character but doesn't make for much of an exciting movie for anyone over the age of eight. Just because it's for kids does not mean it should be stupid.

I think it's past time somebody made Santa into an action hero. The trick is to not turn him
into Arnold Schwarzenegger. He should still be recognizable as Santa, in both looks and attitude, but have him capable of kicking some butt if necessary. He makes toys, so it's not a stretch to imagine him making weapons that look like toys, and of course his workshop would have to have lots of high-tech defenses. Basically, he could be Batman without the brooding and angst.

Plus, he's already got a battalion of elves and flying reindeer. Throw in a bunch of arctic animals and mythological creatures such as yeti, and you've got the makings of an entire army, all at his command! Now have him take on an alien invasion that threatens to ruin Christmas (not to mention destroy the earth) and you've got an instant holiday classic that'll "conquer" the box office!

Needless to say, however, that movi
e is not this movie. I was surprised to see a familiar name amongst the cast, Pia Zadora, however this was not the film for which she won her Golden Globe Award. I remember when she had a brief singing career in the 80s, but I've never seen any of her other films. She doesn't do much here other than be a distaff sidekick to her brother.

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 elements help to a degree, but Joel is still a little too bland for me. I realize that as the star, he doesn't have to be as wacky as his robot sidekicks or the evil scientist guy, but his character doesn't have much in the way of charisma, either. He's likable enough, but he's really vanilla. He's no Uncle Floyd, that's for sure. ("A Patrick Swayze Christmas" was totally funny, though.)

MST3K presents Manos: The Hands of Fate

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

WB: Lost '2001' footage won't be added

“Additional footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey has always existed in the Warner vaults. When Mr. Kubrick trimmed the 17 minutes from 2001 after the New York premiere, he made it clear the shortened version was his final edit. The film is as he wanted it to be presented and preserved and Warner Home Video has no plans to expand or revise Mr. Kubrick’s vision.”

It's probably just as well. 2001 is a fascinating movie, but it's pretty long as it is. Seventeen more minutes, as far as I'm concerned, wouldn't be much more than icing on the cake - though one would certainly hope for a new DVD/Blu-ray release with the lost footage as a special feature, if it's not gonna be integrated into the film itself.

More about the discovered footage

- Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is going to jail for supporting the resistance movement in his country. (Yahoo News)
- Shakespeare in Love 2? It could happen, thanks to Miramax's deal with the Weinsteins. (LATimes)
- New studies chart female representation and depiction in movies. In a similar vein, check out this flowchart on the connection between female sexuality and Oscar glory. (Thompson on Hollywood, Slate)
- Javier Bardem is getting much respect by his fellow actors for his work in the foreign film Biutiful. (The Wrap)
- Winona Ryder looks back on her life and career. (GQ)
- Black actor Idris Elba's casting in next summer's Thor has angered white supremacists. (Guardian)
- Original Tron director Steven Lisberger compares his film with the new Tron: Legacy. (Rope of Silicon)
- Film noir posters are cool. This blog is looking at 100 of the best. (Where Danger Lives)
- The chorus of a New York high school will perform at the Oscars. (Thompson on Hollywood)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas (1974)
seen online via YouTube

So I went into watching Black Christmas with no knowledge about it whatsoever (other than who was in it, which couldn't be helped). I was looking for some holiday-themed B-movies to watch this week and I saw this title and I figured okay, that'll do, and I certainly didn't expect it to be anything other than a typical dumb horror movie. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only is it pretty watchable, but it's got a very st
range and unusual ending, one that took a certain amount of chutzpah to pull off.

Is it scary? I'm sure 70s audiences may have found it so, although I'll tell you what creeped me out the most - the image in the poster at left is of the first murder, which we keep returning to at intervals throughout the movie. At first, I thought it was funny - as if they were saying well, let's check back in with her to make sure she's still dead; yep, she is indeed, still dead! After awhile, though, it started to unnerve me. I didn't want to keep seeing her dead body!

Looking through the IMDB reviews, I've discovered that this film influenced John Carpenter's Halloween, which came four years later, and a sub-genre was born. And while that film perhaps codified The Rules for Successfully Surviving a Horror Film more than any other, some of them are on display in Black Christmas too.

One thing seemed incongruous. Jess, the main
character, is pregnant and wants an abortion (this came out a year after Roe vs. Wade). Yet throughout the movie, she wears a largish crucifix, which made me wonder if she felt any conflict over her decision. Her religious beliefs never factor into her character in general, much less her decision to have an abortion; her crucifix could just as easily be a heart-shaped pendant. But it is there, so we have to believe that she is religious to a certain degree. To not address her beliefs in connection with her decision, therefore, strikes me as a huge mistake on the part of the screenplay. It would've added a tremendous amount of depth to the story in general, as well as added conflict with her boyfriend Peter, who wants her to have the baby. I can't believe this detail was overlooked.

I'll have to look harder to find a old bad holiday movie; this one was too good for my purposes. (By 'old' I mean pre-90s, preferably pre-80s.) And this was made by the same guy who did A Christmas Story! Talk about extremes.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Set List: All the boys think she's a spy

Soundtrack of the week: Footloose
I was always lukewarm about the movie, but this soundtrack... is epic. This was always my favorite song from it, by one of my favorite 80s singers. Funny
thing, I never noticed before now how synth-heavy it is.

Bonnie Tyler, "Holding Out For a Hero"

Song-about-movies of the week: "Bette Davis Eyes"
Can't believe I haven't already done this song.

Song-that-would-make-a-good-movie of the week: "Midnight Train to Georgia"
A period piece set during the 60s. Big-city California girl falls in love with a dude from the country trying to hit the big time and become famous. She sticks with him for years even though his dreams don't work out the way he hoped. When he decides to go back home, she goes with him, abandoning the world she knew and the family and friends she loves for this man she's devoted her life to. But can their relationship continue to thrive in what is, for her, a foreign and alien environment? I see this as a grand-scale romantic drama, in which we see the best and the worst of both LA and Georgia, maybe even incorporating certain historical events such as the Watts riots. Kasi Lemmons, who did such a good job with films like Eve's Bayou and Talk to Me, could direct.

Actor-singer of the week: Rosario Dawso
I wish the movie version of Rent were better. I'm a huge fan of the musical; it's one of the few Broadway shows I've seen in my life and I can probably sing you most, if not all, of the songs off the top of my head. Maybe I'll do a post about the movie too, but for now, check out this number from one of the few cast members not in the original Broadway production.

Rosario Dawson, "Out Tonight"

Friday, December 17, 2010

Quiz Show

Quiz Show
last seen online via Hulu

We call it "reality" television. We see either celebrities or everyday people engaging in situations that are presented as documents of actual events. Sometimes it's a competition of some sort. Sometimes we're following them around in their daily lives. Sometimes they're engaging in a contrived premise that will impact their l
ives beyond the boundaries of the program. Regardless, we call it "reality" television because we're led to believe that on some level, what we're watching is real.

But we know better. We know that many events are staged. We know shows are often edited in ways that manufacture drama. We know product placement can play a part. And we know that at least 99% of the participants are entirely disposable and can be replaced with someone more compliant, or more photogenic, or more sympathetic, at a moment's notice. And we don't seem to care.

Once upon a time, though, we did. Back when television was still new and full of promise, we were much more willing to take what we saw on the small screen at face value, not realizing that even then, we were being had! Hoodwinked! Bamboozled!

This is what I was thinking of as I watched Quiz Show last night. The movie's backdrop
suggests a more innocent time - families and friends faithfully gathered around the TV as 21 airs each week, in an America that may live under the looming threat of the Soviets, but is still confident in their perceived superiority.

The way the movie shows Dan Enright and the other 21 producers manipulate their contestants and cultivate their public images is not too far removed from how reality shows of today operate. Back then, there were people who believed television should be held to a higher standard, as evidenced by Rob Morrow's character, Dick Goodwin, searching for evidence that 21 is rigged in order to prosecute its producers. Now... it seems like people are more willing to accept the artifice of reality TV. Maybe it's because the dominance of television in everyday lives has been eclipsed, if not usurped, by the Internet. Maybe people are less demanding. I sure don't know, but I think the parallels are worth noting.

Something I noticed on Hulu as I watched Quiz Show: during the commercials (which are always played at a higher volume than the movie itself, which is irritating), there's a thing on top of the screen that asks "Is this ad relevant to you?" with a yes/no option to click.
What an absurd question to ask. What does that even mean? If an ad is "relevant" to me, does that make it more likely that I'll buy the product? Does it mean it represents the way I live? Does it mean it reflects my values? Any ideas?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Win commissioned art from WSW!

So after almost half a year of doing this blog, I'm starting to get some regular readers, which is great, so I wanna do you guys a solid by throwing a contest. You've seen some of my artwork by now - and if you haven't, click on "Art" in the bar above. I like to think that it's good and that you might want some for yourself, so here's the deal:

Follow or subscribe to WSW - you can do either one by clicking on the links on the sidebar to your right - and I'll send you a sketch of your favorite actor or
actress, past or present. (If you already follow or subscribe, you can get in on this too.) After you follow or subscribe, e-mail me at ratzo318 (at) yahoo (dot) com and tell me which actor you want done. You'll receive a print of a black and white pencil sketch, signed by me, and done at the same size as the ones on my art page, which is 4.25" x 5.5". If you have a preference for a particular movie you want the actor from - for example, Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction or Unbreakable or Iron Man 2 - be sure to specify that.

When you do this, you'll qualify for the grand prize, in which one random entrant will win an 8.5" x 11" COLOR print of a painting of your favorite actor or actress, also signed by me! (It'll be done in a similar "sketchy" style as the black and white ones, only in color, so don't expect anything photorealistic.)

This contest has been extended through Wednesday, December 29! The winner will be announced December 30. Send all your entries and any inquiries to my e-mail address, ratzo318 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Fighter

The Fighter
seen @ AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, New York NY

I wish I could say that I'm never gonna see a movie in an AMC theater again. That's probably not very likely, unfortunately - circumstances will
inevitably get in the way of that, such as going to a movie with friends, or going to a movie in a smaller city or town outside of New York, where the options are limited. As satisfying as it would be to just say screw AMC and avoid it like the plague from now on, they've become too ubiquitous for that, and to be honest, there will probably be other occasions where they'll be the only theater in town where I can see a movie like The Fighter.

This particular AMC - the one at Lincoln Square - is a relatively recent one. It opened sometime between 1990 and 1996, because I used to go to high school in the area and I graduated in 1990. Plus, one of the first movies I saw there was Star Trek: First Contact, and that came out in 1996. Back in the day, whenever we wanted to go to a movie after school, we'd usually head further uptown to the AMC on West 84th Street. When the Lincoln Square opened, I reme
mber being a bit envious that it opened after I graduated.

The theater itself is quite stunning. It attempts to evoke the grandeur of an old style movie palace, with gigantic murals of old movie stars in the cavernous main lobby as you head up the e
scalators. Upstairs, there's the secondary lobby with the concession stand and the auditorium entrances all around. The auditoriums have different names, and the facades to the entrances are done up in fancy, elaborate designs inspired by places around the world, like Egypt and China and Rome, which is very cool. The regular auditoriums don't have stadium seating, but there is an IMAX auditorium that does (I saw Beowulf and I Am Legend in that one). Tron: Legacy will play there, although I'm no longer sure I want to see it that badly in IMAX, or even at all (the early reviews don't look promising). So that's the good stuff about the theater.

The bad? Well, let's start with the $13 admission, although in all fairness, AMC is far from the only theater chain charging that much - and they do offer a $6 matinee for all shows before noon, if you're willing to go that early. Then let's move on to the concession stand. When I got to the theater yesterday, I was in a bit of a rush and I hadn't eaten, so I knew I wanted something, though I was not about to pay $7.75 for a large popcorn. (The smaller sizes are so small they're not worth it; as far as I'm concerned, one should get either a large popcorn or nothing.) The sign said there were two sizes of candy; one large and one small. The large was $4.25. I looked around and saw the usual assortment of movie candy, but I couldn't tell for certain which was considered "large" and "small." I decided to pick up a bag of Reese's Pieces. It fit comfortably inside the palm of my hand, yet it was considered "large." When the guy behind the counter told me this with a straight face, I knew right away it wasn't worth paying for. I left it on the counter and headed for the auditorium...

...where I had to sit through on
e of those annoying pre-movie entertainment shows, featuring movies I had no interest in - though again, AMC is not the only theater chain that does this. But here's the worst part: I had to endure twenty minutes worth of commercials and trailers before the actual movie started! I enjoy trailers as much as the next guy, but there were something like seven trailers in front of The Fighter, most of them for dumb-looking fantasy/sci-fi movies (another Nick Cage fantasy movie where he's wearing a bad wig? Really?). I almost feel like I was the victim of false advertising, since my movie did not start at the time printed on my ticket, but a full twenty minutes afterwards.

I realize the theaters have to make their money somehow. I realize Hollywood actors' salaries are ridiculous and movie budgets are nine figures now and that money has to come from somewhere. I understand that. But at what point does it all become too much? I'm almost willing to overlook the high ticket and concession prices, since there's a way around the former (the matinee) and you don't have to pay for the latter (sneak food inside!) - but there's no excuse for starting a movie twenty minutes after the scheduled start time when there are no technical problems with the projector or anything like that. It's dishonest and it's unfair to people like me who make the effort to show up on time.

If you still have local, neighborhood theaters in your area, support them! Like I said, the Lincoln Square is currently the only place The Fighter is playing and I really wanted to see it, but if you've been reading my blog for awhile now, you know that I don't just go to the big chain theaters, and if it means waiting a few more weeks before a movie comes to a smaller theater, like the Kew Gardens Cinemas, then I'll do it. Not only does it mean saving a few bucks, but it means keeping these places in business and providing a saner alternative to the chains.

As for The Fighter itself, it was awesome. It might be Christian Bale's best performance, which will hopefully get him the Supporting Actor Oscar. And ohmygod, Amy Adams is HOT. Not only is she HOT, she gets to kick a little ass in this movie, which was twice as amazing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fallout from the 'Valentine' decision

PTC condemns MPAA's decision to overturn Blue Valentine's NC-17 rating:

"...The new rating may be correct or it may be incorrect. We don't know because we haven't screened the film. What we do know is this: the entire integrity and legitimacy of the MPAA ratings system has been compromised. There is no transparency; there is no consistency; and there is no accountability - unless you are a wealthy producer who can afford to hire the biggest legal guns in the nation and wage a massive PR campaign." [Emphasis added.]

Well, I think we can all agree that there is no transparency, consistency or accountability on the MPAA's part, and this decision alone will not change that. But the Parents Television Council loses all credibility when they say they haven't seen Blue Valentine, because as I've said before, context matters. Is the sex in this movie comparable with that of your average porn movie? Does it serve the characters and the story, or is it gratuitous? Still, this is nothing new; as I recall, Dogma suffered the same problem from moral watchdogs who hadn't seen the movie.

What if Valentine lost its appeal though? Would you still see it if it was NC-17?

TWC's Harvey Weinstein talks about the strategy used in getting the R rating for Valentine
Director Cianfrance calls it a victory for free speech

- The King's Speech is still rated R. (AM Law Daily)
- Roger Ebert says American movies need only three ratings. (WSJ)

- An excellent interview with Toy Story 3 screenwriter Michael Arndt. (Thompson on Hollywood)
- Speaking of Anne Thompson, she also writes this article about the visual effects of Tron: Legacy. (Popular Mechanics)
- And speaking of visual effects, longtime FX wizard Douglas Trumbull compares movie effects then and now. (The Dark of the Matinee)
- Here's a list of 100 public domain movies. (Toronto Sun)
- Spike Lee will do a signing in New York this week for his new book about the making of Do the Right Thing. (Powerhouse Arena via The Skint)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Black Swan

Black Swan
seen @ Chelsea Clearview Cinemas, New York NY

LAMB Acting School 101 is a monthly event in which LAMB bloggers discuss the work and career of a given actor. This month's subject is Natalie Portman.The complete list of posts for this month will go up December 29 at the LAMB site.

I met Terry over a year ago. A
mutual friend and her band was playing a gig in the city and she introduced us and we hit it off pretty well from there. She's a ballet dancer as well as a fine artist. She kind of got off to a late start in life as far as training goes, but as far as I can tell, she's not looking to play Lincoln Center or tour the world with a troupe. She just does it because she loves it. I mean, she gets a genuine joy from it that really completes her life. Unfortunately, I have yet to see her perform - I think she's still slightly self-conscious about it - but hopefully sometime next year that'll change.

When I told her about this new movie coming out about
ballet called Black Swan, she didn't need too much convincing to see it, not even after I told her that it's got some... weird elements to it (to put it mildly). We were gonna see it on Saturday, but she got invited to a party at the last minute. Too bad, because Saturday was the better day weather-wise. Yesterday it was pouring rain. The 7 PM show was sold out, so we got tickets for the next show, which was 8:15, and after a quick dinner, we came back to the theater, though we had to settle for second row seats on the side because the place was packed.

The Chelsea is located just off Eighth Avenue in the gay-borho
od of Chelsea. Greenwich Village has historically been Rainbow Central in New York for decades, but this enclave on the west side of Manhattan, just north of the Village, has become a serious contender for that title. Terry lives uptown, but she loves coming down here, sometimes with her girlfriend, sometimes with her pals. The last time we hung out she took me to this gay gift shop on Eighth. I'd actually been there before, but it's more fun, I think, going in there with friends, so you can marvel at all the kooky and kinky items on display.

The movie theater caters to the gay crowd. The Rocky Horror Picture Show plays there every weekend, for one thing. (Yes, I have my Rocky story to tell, and it's a great one. Stay tuned.) Also, the new Cher movie Burlesque is currently playing there too, and in the lobby, there's this huge showcase containing mannequins with costumes presumably worn by Cher and Christi
na Aguilera in the film, along with related paraphernalia. Terry hated Burlesque, but as she was leaving she saw a bunch of spectacular-looking drag queens headed for the next show. She says she can't understand why gay men love this movie.

I wanted to like Black Swan, I really did, but I found myself unmoved by it, and indeed, found it ridiculous beyond the point of pure camp. (Terry thought it was campy too, but in a good way.) One part Showgirls, two parts All Ab
out Eve, with a dash of Carrie and a generous helping of An American Werewolf in London (!), this didn't come across as terribly original as people would have you think. The more I think about it, the more I think Darren Aronofsky (whom I still respect as a filmmaker, because making a movie like this took brass balls) should've gone all the way and made it a true horror movie instead of just an is-she-going-crazy-or-isn't-she thing.

So instead, let's talk about the one thing that
makes Black Swan watchable: Natalie Portman. I remember the first time I saw her in a film; it was Beautiful Girls, back when I was still working in video retail. That was a popular movie to watch in the store, in large part, because of her. Eventually I learned about this French crime movie she made a couple of years earlier, called Leon in France but known in America as The Professional. I bought a bootleg VHS copy of the director's cut after seeing the theatrical cut.

I've seen Portman in these films: The Professional, Heat, Beautiful Girls, Everyone Says I Love You, Mars Attacks!, all three Star Wars prequels, Closer, V for Vendetta, The Darjeeling Limited (and Hotel Chevalier), and now Black Swan (and I'll likely see her next summer in Thor). I may not have loved Black Swan, but man, she absolutely nails it in that movie. Terry said she could tell Portman wasn't a professional dancer who had been training all her life, but then she's got a better eye for that sort of thing. I found Portman absolutely convincing as a ballet dancer, but in addition to the exhausting physical challenges, which are impressive enough, this film puts her through an emotional wringer like few actresses ever go through - and even if was in service to a histrionic, way over-the-top plot, she makes you invest in it. This is without question her greatest role to date, and if she wins the Oscar it'll be well-deserved.

I realize, however, that a lot of love is being thrown this movie's way, so if you liked it, feel free to tell me what exactly it is I'm missing about it, because this appears to be a love-it or hate-it kinda movie. (If you hated it, though, then tell me that too, so I know I'm not alone!)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Set List: The biggest fool that ever hit the big time

Soundtrack of the week: The Crow
Still love this movie, still love this soundtrack, which I got an awful amount of mileage out of back in the day. I have to admit, though, that from what little I've seen of the comic, it never did much for me. It's quite strange sometimes how certain things get turned into movies.

The Cure, "Burn"

Song-about-movies of the week: "Act Naturally"
Here's a bit of a twist. This isn't about a specific movi
e or movie star, but it's definitely about movies. Ringo's non-Beatles movies include 200 Motels, Sextette, and Give My Regards to Broad Street.

Song-that-would-make-a-good-movie of the week: "Rocket Man"
Space exploration and colonization once used to be exciting and challenging for the title character, but now it's become mundane and routine, and he can't understand why, especially since his family and friends all think he's got the greatest job in the world. A movie with this premise should be evocative of 2001, only with more emotion. Duncan Jones' Moon was kind of along these lines, but this would be different.

NEW! Actor-singer of the week: Scarlett Johansson
This will mostly have to do with actors who sing, as opposed to singers who act, like Frank Sinatra or Kris Kristofferson (though there'll be some of those too). So the other day I heard this song on Pandora and I was pleasantly surprised to see who it was.

Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson, "Relator"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Splendor in the Grass

Splendor in the Grass
seen online via YouTube

I want to be angry at the way Splendor in the Grass ends. Even though it tries to turn what should be a negative ending into something halfway positive, I didn't buy it, and I want to be angry about it. But in thinking about it a little more, I'm beginning to realize how useless that would be. This takes place in freakin' Kansas in the 1920s, not New York City in 2010. It is next to impossible to expect people of that time and place to act any other way - at least the adults. It's remarkable that Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty's characters act the way they do - for all the good it does them in the end. This ties in partly with what Raquelle said about this movie - that she couldn't imagine it taking place anyplace else but in a small, rural
town (despite what the original poster at left would have you believe), and I agree.

Hard to believe Beatty was ever this young. In his performance, I clearly see traces of Brando and Dean. It's hard to imagine, being of a younger generation, how influential Marlon Brando was until you see the actors that followed him, in the 50s and 60s, and suddenly it becomes obvious. I had talked recently about my brief training in the Meisner technique. Before that, I used to think that acting was just a matter of simulating emotions and guessing at what the proper actions should be in a given scene.

When I did Hamlet in college, before I learned Meisner, I decided I should throw a chair in anger, because it seemed like the right thing to do in the scene, so I did. It was a very calculated action and had nothing to do with what I was feeling in the moment. The Meisner technique, by contrast, teaches that every reaction has to be the result of a proportionate action: you can't say "ouch" until you get a pinch. That pinch may not come right away, but when it does, you have to be ready and to react to it truthfully.

Elia Kazan co-founded the Actors' Studio, in which Sanford Meisner
taught at, so it's not surprising that actors in his movies embraced this technique. Having used it, I think it's a good way to reach for the emotional truth within a given scene, but it requires a great deal of trust - trust in your director, in your partner, and in yourself, and that's not easy. You have to be willing to go out on a limb. The results, however, can be spectacular.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sullivan's Travels

Sullivan's Travels
from my DVD collection

A successful filmmaker, known for directing popular films light on substance, goes out into the world beyond Hollywood in search of experience that will inform his next movie, which will educate as well as entertain. Am I talking about John L. Sullivan... or James Cameron?

I think one could make an argument for the latter. As I watched Sullivan's Travels last night, I couldn't help but think of Cameron and Avatar. True, Cameron
didn't really start pounding the pro-environment drum until after the movie was released, but he is making two more films in the series, and he's sort of become Mr. Save The Earth lately. Consider: he joined with a bunch of indigenous Brazilian tribes to help save the rain forest, he met with the EPA on ways to stop the BP oil spill, he spoke before the United Nations, he has promoted NASA, and he wants to plant a million trees. And while I suspect (hope) Cameron really does feel he's doing some good in the world, at the same time it's not hard to imagine that all of these acts will help him gain a deeper perspective on his fictional world of Pandora when it comes time to write the screenplay for the Avatar sequel.

Joel McCrea's character Sullivan, like Cameron, sees the injustice and suffering in the world and believes he can use his movies to make a difference. Sullivan feels he needs to climb down from his ivory tower and interact with the "common man" to do it. Ultimately, though, he concludes that he had it all wrong: that using his movies to make people smile and laugh, especially during a time of economic hardship, can be a noble end in itself.

Well, here we are, once again in a time of economic hardship, but what have the most popular movies of the past couple of years been? Fantasies. Transformers, The Dark Knight, Harry Potter, Twilight, Star Trek, Inception, the Pixar movies, and yes, Avatar, all dealing in make-believe worlds far removed from our own. So maybe Cameron gets to have his cake and eat it too in a way Sullivan doesn't - after all, Sullivan abandons his dream project by movie's end. (Although it still got made, kind of.)

I realize Sullivan's Travels is meant to be a comedy, but I find I'm a bit disappointed that Sullivan wasn't able to find a way to combine both his sense of social justice with his flair for entertainment. While I can see the value of escapist entertainment during hard times - be it comedy or fantasy - I've always treasured those works of art that have something to say about the world we live in as well, if not more so. In the case of films, I think they tend to go down easier when they're dressed up in fiction - hence Avatar's success. Personally, I would hope for more movies that have such aspirations. Am I wrong?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A few words about Gibson's 'Beaver' trailer

Wow, who was it who just said that separating the artist from the art is essential? Gotta love the timing on this one.

Well, I still believe in that statement, but let's be honest - it's not easy. It's not easy at all to appraise the work of a creative person who says or does things that are reprehensible to you, and I have my blind spots that I probably should work at overcoming. That said, I still believe it's the work that matters in the end. Why? Because as creative people, we like to believe that our work will outlive us. Even if the artist is forgotten, the work - if it's good enough - can have a life of its own and can influence future generations. And that's the most we can hope for in this life.

What do we know about The Beaver? The screenplay by Kyle Killen topped the 2008 "Black List" of unproduced screenplays, meaning it was highly sought after. Both Steve Carell and Jim Carrey were attached to the film before Mel Gibson came on board. Insiders on the film tried to stir up some Oscar buzz for Gibson on the belief that The Beaver might be released late this year. And perhaps most notably, director and co-star Jodie Foster, a long-time friend of Gibson's, continues to stand by him.

The trailer itself is intriguing in terms of not only Gibson's performance, but the art-imitating-life factor (especially when Foster's character says "I will continue to fight for you"). It looks like it might have a substantial element of sap running through it as well, though from what I've read from those who have read the screenplay, that's not the case.

Right now, my feeling is that I think I may give it a shot, though more on the basis of Foster's reputation and the much-buzzed-about screenplay than Gibson himself. I think Foster's continued support of Gibson is remarkable and should not be minimized; indeed, I think it's her presence that could mean the difference in how well The Beaver does. I'd be very interested in hearing what other people think about this.

The Beaver (trailer)

- Danny Boyle says Trainspotting 2: Electric Boogaloo is only a matter of time. (Cinematical)
- An interview with Mark Logue, grandson of Lionel Logue, Geoffrey Rush's character in The King's Speech. (Speakeasy)
- Speaking of The King's Speech, has a whispering campaign against it already begun? (Scott Feinberg)
- It's hard out here for a black director. (NPR)
- The facts and the fiction behind Peter Weir's new film The Way Back. (BBC)
- How the MPAA regards the sex in Blue Valentine versus the sex in Black Swan. (LATimes)
- Leonard Maltin talks about the Disney/Dali collaboration Destino. (Movie Crazy)