Friday, December 14, 2018

Roma

Roma
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

Recently I had experimented with seeing certain new movies without knowing anything about them, but since the last movie I did that with was Mother!, I've put that experiment on the shelf for awhile. Sometimes a little knowledge is a good thing.

Earlier this week I noticed Cinemart was showing the new Alfonso Cuarón film Roma, of which I knew nothing. I knew Cuarón, of course: I liked Gravity and loved Children of Men, so I figured this would be good, too — but this time I read up on it first.

Movie fans know this is the time of year when most of the quality films come out, which I hate because it's like a logjam, and you never know for certain how long these movies will last during their theatrical run. Roma is different, though: it's a Netflix movie getting a wide-ish theatrical release.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Creed II

Creed II
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

What a year this has been for Michael B. Jordan: appearing in two of the biggest, most high-profile films in two physically demanding, yet very different roles.

In the first, he portrays one of the best cinematic villains in recent history, one which will make him a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination — and I'll go out on a limb right now and predict it's his name which Allison Janney will read off next February.

In the second, he's a hero, a champion, playing an original character in a series not only inspired by one of the great movie franchises of the last fifty years, but is a continuation of that same franchise in a different direction.

The common denominator in both is Ryan Coogler: director/co-writer of Black Panther and executive producer of Creed II.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Supercalifragi-links

So I spent my Thanksgiving morning freezing my ass off as I ran through Flushing Meadow Park.

Why? I dunno, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

For the past month, I had trained for running in a 5k race. I had mentioned to Virginia recently how it was a long-time fantasy of mine to run in a marathon. Failing that, though, I would settle for something simpler, like a 5k. I was just talking idly; not being serious.

So she found online a month-long training program specifically designed to prepare one for a 5k and sent it to me. I looked it over and figured what the hell. If nothing else, I would do it for her.

Race conditions are very different from training by oneself. I didn't hear the starting signal on account of the host's microphone not working well.

When everyone took off, I was conscious of this being A Race for the first time. My head was in the wrong place and I ran like I was competing, which was all wrong for me. Plus, the course began with a steep-ish hill. It took me awhile to focus and settle into a pace.

I tried keeping up with these two women with whom I played leapfrog: I passed them, then they passed me, and so on. Near the end, they passed me and stayed ahead. I wanted to catch them one last time, but I came up short. That's okay, though. I still beat my previous time by a minute!

I spent the evening with Virginia and friends in Manhattan — a "Friendsgiving," I guess. It was one hell of a day overall.

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Once again, look for my piece on Anthony Mann & John Alton in the next issue of the film noir newsletter The Dark Pages, due out December 20.

Writing the article was a real education. I learned more about noir in general than I knew before, particularly by watching the movies. I plan to write about some of the ones I watched here, so look for that.

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Real life has delayed Anna's guest post. It's been pushed back to this month.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Meet the Feebles

Meet the Feebles
YouTube viewing

How about that Peter Jackson, huh? I think it's fair to say he was nobody (in America, anyway) until Lord of the Rings made him a superstar, but of course, he had been making films in his native New Zealand for years.

I remember watching his American breakthrough, The Frighteners, on video during my video store years. I liked it, but it didn't do well commercially. It came as a surprise to me that he was chosen to take on Rings, especially as a trilogy.


To anyone who knew his pre-Hollywood work, it must have been a bigger surprise. His NZ films were a lot weirder and gorier. For someone born on Halloween, perhaps that's appropriate.

Even a dramatic film like Heavenly Creatures — the film that made many of us aware of a young, curvaceous beauty named Kate Winslet for the first time —  had its bizarro moments. I've written about Dead Alive, a film I still think is the ultimate zombie movie, going places of which George Romero never dreamed.

None of that, however, prepared me for Meet the Feebles.


Imagine The Muppet Show directed by John Waters and that'll give you some idea of what it's like. It's puppetry, small, large and in-between, and it's adult. Profanity, violence, satire, it's all there, and you better believe there's puppet nudity and sex too.

In the film, Meet the Feebles is the name of a Muppet Show type TV variety show. We get a look backstage at the illicit affairs, scandals and depravity that goes on when the cameras stop rolling. It's an ensemble, but much of the action centers around Heidi, a Miss Piggy type diva in the form of a life-sized hippo.


The puppetry is impressive, and it looks like it cost a pretty penny to create. The variety of the characters range from a smallish fly tabloid reporter to a humongous spider who appears late in the film in an elaborate outdoor sequence. Some of them are cute, like the romantic leads, a porcupine and a poodle, while others, like the show's sleazy producer and his henchmen, are anything but.

Jackson co-wrote Feebles with his long-time collaborator and future wife, Fran Walsh, along with Stephen Sinclair and Danny Mulheron, who operated the Heidi puppet.


The humor is pitch black, of course, but the ending is tragic, so Jackson manages to make you sympathetic to Heidi's fate. Mostly, though, Feebles is one WTF moment after another.

Adult puppet films turn up every so often here in America. The recent Melissa McCarthy film The Happyland Murders sank like a stone this past summer; Trey Parker & Matt Stone's Team America fared a little better, made at the height of their South Park fame.


Puppetry, though, like animation, is mostly regarded in America as kiddie fare. I don't see that changing anytime soon, if at all, but give Jackson props for daring to make something as over-the-top and insane as Feebles. It's not for everyone, but Jackson fans should check it out for sure.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
seen @ UA Kaufman Astoria 14, Astoria, Queens NY

I guess it was only a matter of time before I got sucked into the world of Harry Potter.

I never got into the series of books, or their film adaptations, for reasons I went into here — and yet, I can tell you the basic, most rudimentary things about the character without having read a single page or watched a single frame. I guess that's how you know an IP has blown up.

From studying novel writing, I've learned a bit about J. K. Rowling. I know she created Potter at a time in her life when she was down and out, for instance.

Credit where credit's due: she tapped into something in the zeitgeist that touched adults as well as young adults, something that comes along once a generation; I still remember seeing folks — ordinary-looking people, not stereotypical fans — read those colorful hardcover bricks on the subway and wondering what the deal was.

This was when my definition of "young adult," in terms of the book industry, was rigid. I understand now that just because they're written for kids and teens doesn't necessarily mean they're written down for them. Maybe that's partly why adaptations of The Hunger Games and their ilk have become so popular in Hollywood.

The point is, I didn't give a fiddler's fart about Potter when it first took off. So why have I gotten involved with him now?

Like many great stories, it began with a girl.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Topper

The Greatest Film I've Never Seen Blogathon is exactly what it says on the tin, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating bloggers visit the link at the host site.

Topper
YouTube viewing

Okay, first, I don't really believe Topper is the greatest film I've never seen before. I decided at the last minute to take part in this blogathon and I needed a film I could get my hands on quick, so to speak, so I chose this.

Here's a short list of "great" films I have yet to see: The Sound of Music, Alphaville, Throne of Blood, La Strada, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Seven Beauties, Wild at Heart, The Age of Innocence, Empire of the Sun and A Beautiful Mind.

Some I never saw because they didn't appeal to me, some because I never got around to it, and some I think are overrated. Perhaps I'll watch a few of them one day. Don't know.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Excelsior!


His name was always at the top of every Marvel comic book when I grew up. The first page would have a small box that briefly described the character, in a sentence or two, and then the words: "Stan Lee Presents."

I knew who he was because he was on TV, sort of. He would do voice-over introductions to The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends on Saturday mornings.

It was comforting, in its way. To my mind, it was like he was the caretaker of the Marvel Universe, a constant, active presence who acted in its best interests, though I couldn't have phrased it that way back then.

I met him at a convention once. He autographed for me some comics he had written, including a special issue of my favorite comic, Fantastic Four.


Marvel Comics used to have a newsletter-type page in every comic. Sometimes he would say a few words in it, usually reporting from Hollywood about the in-roads Marvel was making: a new TV show here, a new video game there, that sort of thing. It was exciting.

Those in-roads laid the foundation for the Marvel kingdom of today: a subsidiary of the mightier Disney empire, true, but his creations — in collaboration with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and all the rest — have never been more popular. (Whether or not this has translated into higher sales of the comics themselves is another story.)

Recent years have not been kind to him: embroiled in one lawsuit after another, not to mention a contentious relationship with his daughter. I can only hope he made peace with her before he went to that great bullpen in the sky.

Today is a sad day for Fandom Assembled, but we will never forget him and his great gift to American popular culture. I have distanced myself from the comics; they no longer mean to me what they once did. Still, if it weren't for them, my life — the friends I've made over the years, the passion I have for visual art in general — would be quite different.

Face front, true believers.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me?
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

So far, my favorite Melissa McCarthy movie is this. It's a short from 1998, long before she hit the big time. She's everything you would want a genuine movie star to be: funny, engaging, a embodiment of her character that allows the real her to show through, and beautiful.

So now that she is a movie star, she takes an almost perverse glee in de-glamming herself in her roles. I get it, it's what made her popular, but it holds no appeal to me, especially when she plays mostly slobs!


Then came Can You Ever Forgive Me? Once again, she plays a slob, but it's a real-life one, in a dramatic role no less, which as we all know, is a surefire way for comedic actors to gain credibility with the Academy come Oscar time. The first time I saw the trailer, I didn't recognize her at all!

Lee Israel is a struggling biographer. She struggles because she doesn't play well with others, but she don't give a damn about her bad reputation until money troubles force her to rethink her career options. She stumbles into a scheme to make money by forging letters from famous authors. She's pretty good at it, but how long can she keep it up?

I have no doubt McCarthy will get her second Oscar nod for this one. It's a dream role for any actress: a hard-drinking, unapologetically surly woman who wants to live her life her way for as long as possible.

Richard E. Grant was good in this too.
It was nice to see him again.

McCarthy brings enough humanity to the role that she's not totally repulsive. I would compare this to her big comedic roles, except I've never seen them. When I was in the hospital two years ago, I watched part of the cop movie she did with Sandra Bullock, but I didn't finish.

How long can McCarthy keep on playing slobs? I would've thought she'd have veered away from them by now, but maybe she really likes these kinds of roles. I can't see her sticking to them when she's in her sixties, but these days, who knows?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

This just in from the WSW newsroom...

In this month's link post I mentioned my friend Anna Crawford, who wrote a Halloween-themed piece. Well, she's agreed to make an appearance here, too, so look for her later this month. She and I were in the same writing group for a little over a year before she moved out of New York. I think she's a good writer, and hopefully, so will you.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

I don't have any special memories associated with the music of Queen. They were part of my rock education, listening to classic rock radio in high school, and I dug them. I'm glad there's a movie about them in general and lead singer Freddie Mercury in particular, but that's about it. I didn't lose my virginity to a Queen song or anything like that.

As far as musical biopics go, Bohemian Rhapsody was pretty conventional: typical "rise and fall and rise again" story, with all the hit songs you know and love, all the conflict you expect, even a bit of romance.


The music was what kept me interested, that and the sensational portrayal of Mercury by Rami Malek — but it felt by-the-numbers. I'm not sure what Bryan Singer could have done to make this different, but I was aware, as I watched it, of its conventionality, and that kinda dimmed my appreciation.

There will be more rock biopics on the horizon: next year will bring the Elton John movie, and you can bet your bottom dollar someone, somewhere, will make a Bowie movie (I nominate Michel Gondry), and probably a Prince movie too.

Will any of it make rock relevant again?


Rhapsody ends with Queen at Live Aid, a benefit concert — the benefit concert — made when rock still seemed capable of changing the world. I can't recall the last time rock mattered to such a degree. Of course, if the "Rock and Roll" Hall of Fame is any indication, the very name has been diluted to include singers and groups as far removed from rock as you can get, but that's another issue.

I suspect the answer is no: Freddy Mercury the cultural icon will always be in, but the music he made with Queen will get a little juice while Rhapsody plays in theaters and then return to the classic rock radio ghetto for the old fogies like me, to be trotted out once in awhile for car commercials and the occasional American Idol contestant.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bohemian links

Big news! Some of you are familiar with The Dark Pages, the newsletter (as in actual paper, not an e-newsletter) of the film noir website All That Noir. The December issue is a year-end, oversized special, and guess who got an invitation to contribute a guest article?

The theme for this special issue is "great couples of noir," and after watching so many of his noir films back in 2015, I decided to take on director Anthony Mann, along with his DP, John Alton. The issue will come out December 20. It's sure to make a nice last-minute Christmas gift for the noir fan on your list.

My thanks to Kristina from Speakeasy and TDP editor Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for the opportunity.

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By the time you read this, the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody should be playing in theaters everywhere. If you like Queen and the movie, I'd like to give a plug here for a graphic novel by my friend Mike Dawson called Freddie and Me.

It's a memoir about when Mike grew up a Queen fan, in England and America. He's a very good artist, and he infuses this story with a lot of love for Freddie Mercury and 80s pop music in general. Check it out; you won't regret it.

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The novel rewrite is close to done, and once it is, I'll have to edit it, which means checking for grammar and spelling, not to mention any other minute changes I may want to make (and I will want). In the new year I'll go shopping for an agent and we'll see what happens.

I've decided not to self-publish after all. After giving it some thought, I don't think I have the resources or wherewithal to commit to that route at this time. Maybe I'd do it in the future.

With all due respect to people like Jacqueline, from what I can tell, it's not like self-publishing comics, where it really is as easy as folding and stapling some Xeroxed photocopies and selling them at your local con, or better yet, scanning those pages and posting them online. It costs more, for one thing. And the truth is, I really do wanna see my book in a bookstore. Queens has seen the birth of two new independent bookstores within the past year. (Yes, it's possible to get your self-published book in a bookstore, but my understanding is it's rare.)

I have a couple of ideas for what to write next; it's just a matter of deciding on them.

Links after the jump.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Abominable Dr. Phibes
YouTube viewing

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a film I had wanted to see for awhile. I went into it knowing nothing about it, expecting Vincent Price in a campy mad scientist flick, one with which I could laugh along. What I got was something more.

It's a simple revenge story: Price, the titular doctor, blames Joseph Cotten (!) for failing to save his wife on the operating table (though he did the best he could), so now Price has launched an elaborate scheme to kill Cotten and everyone involved in the failed operation, and boy, is it elaborate.


It's a vendetta worthy of a Bond villain, with a symbolic theme, perfectly timed death traps that would've taken months to plan individually, a henchman — or should I say henchwoman, a secret lair Dr. Evil would find excessive, and a shtick of his own: a fondness for the organ with a wardrobe Elton John would be embarrassed to wear.

It all sounds derivative, but the way it was done was something else. The first ten minutes are silent; Price doesn't speak for the first half hour. The score is minimal and non-intrusive. The editing is crisp and serves the story well. The set design and costumes are eye-catching. The acting is not tongue-in-cheek; everyone plays it straight.

And then there's Price. He has a thingamajig that makes him speak without moving his lips, though you see his jaw and Adam's apple move. His performance is mostly in his eyes and face and body. At times, he's disturbing to watch.


Director Robert Fuest keeps him from going too far overboard by focusing on atmosphere. He frames the shots well. The tension they generate is almost — dare I say it — Kubrickian.

Phibes isn't original by any means, but it's entirely watchable due to the magnetic cinematography, the bizarre visuals, and Price's performance. I have no doubt horror fans consider this an all-timer.

UPDATE 11.6.18: I didn't watch the sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, until after writing about the original, because I didn't want to be disappointed by it, but it turns out it's almost as good. Fuest directs again, and co-writes. This time, Phibes travels to Egypt, pursuing an ancient legend that would revive his wife, but he's got competition from another dude who's pursuing the same legend. More scary, torturous deaths, more organ playing, even some legitimate humor. Both movies are good!

Monday, October 22, 2018

First Man

First Man
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

The moon was half full the day I saw First Man. I noticed it on my way home, the sky darkening early in the fall sky. Sometimes when I look at it, I wonder what our primitive ancestors made of it — an image in the sky that changes shape consistently. I'll bet they made up some pretty good stories about what it was and what it was for.

We can only guess whether they thought it was a place to which humans could visit.

Next year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, when Neil Armstrong made his "giant leap for mankind," with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. First Man makes us appreciate, with nail-biting, white-knuckle clarity, how utterly dangerous this venture was. No lie, some of those scenes in space were difficult to watch because the camera kept spinning and spinning.


This movie has been used as a piñata by the right and the left for reasons too stupid to get into (seriously, I'm not even gonna justify them with links). I didn't read about any of it until after I saw the movie. I think they're both full of shit, as they usually are. And that's all I have to say about that.

Some very rich people are investing in space travel these days so some other rich people can pay for the privilege. The rest of us will have to wait our turn, and by then, who knows, we could all be dead. It seems to me space travel would be a good idea so we can think about living in places other than Earth — but what do I know? I'm not Elon Musk.


So how about that Damien Chazelle, huh? In a short time, he's established himself as a filmmaker to watch: one who takes on a variety of subjects with a vision for carrying them out. He gets some intense performances out of his actors, his cinematographers are distinctive, his Oscar-winning composer, Justin Hurwitz, is superb (I liked his work on First Man), and he's only 33. Dude's going places.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Blondie on a Budget

The 100 Years of Rita Hayworth Blogathon is an event celebrating the centennial of the actress's birth, hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood. For a complete listing of participating blogs visit the host site.

Blondie on a Budget
YouTube viewing

Of course I read Blondie, along with all the other comic strips in the newspapers, growing up. I doubt I ever thought it was particularly hilarious; I just read it because it was there. As I got older, I appreciated its art more — creator Chic Young had a very elegant line that his successors duplicated almost as well — but I could never say I loved reading it.

If it had been removed from the daily lineup of strips, I wouldn't have missed it, though there are those who will always declare a jihad on their local paper should they dare to remove these grandfather strips, still taking up space which would be better served by newer, more diverse strips, but that's another issue.


I do respect Blondie's longevity, though, not only as a strip but as a multimedia franchise. Ivan recently did a piece on Blondie in other media. She and Dagwood were the stars of a sitcom long before the word existed, appearing in a mind-boggling 28 films in only twelve years, all with the same two stars, Penny Singleton & Arthur Lake.

Jeanine Basinger explained the appeal of Blondie in her book on marriage in the movies, I Do and I Don't:
... Blondie and Dagwood relieved marital pressure for the audience by reconstituting their ordinary problems into easily resolvable comedy. There's a comforting quality to them: they never change, they never fail. In what Preston Sturges called "this cockeyed caravan of life," they could be counted on.
I chose the film Blondie on a Budget to watch because of the presence of Rita Hayworth, the reason for this post. She made this film the year after Only Angels Have Wings, and she was a legitimate star at this point. The first of her four Life covers was in 1940. Budget was one of five films she made that year. The next year, she would team up with Fred Astaire for the first time, in You'll Never Get Rich. Did you know she was WB's first choice for Casablanca before Ingrid Bergman?


In Budget, Rita plays an old lover of Dagwood's who pops up for business reasons and just wants to hang out with him for awhile, though Blondie gets jealous anyway. Misunderstandings ensue, mostly money related, hence the title.

I laughed once, maybe twice, throughout the whole movie, and I use the word "laughed" very loosely. Watching this was painful. Dagwood is way more of a schlemiel than I remember from the strip, one completely lacking a spine. I didn't believe for a minute that Rita was ever attracted to him.

Blondie was more assertive than I remember her, but in the end, her story arc revolves around nothing more than a mink jacket she's just GOTTA HAVE. The best thing about this movie was the bratty kids!


Dagwood didn't eat one of his epic sandwiches, nor did he sleep on the couch or get his ass kicked by his boss, but at least he knocked down the mailman while running out the door. Singleton & Lake's hairdos made them look the part, and as far as I could tell, they were true to the characters, but man, am I glad domestic comedy has evolved beyond this.

As for Rita, she doesn't sing or dance, not that I really expected her to, but her character is pretty bland. Don't look for any hint of future Gilda here. The movie was a big disappointment overall.


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Related:
A Rita Hayworth primer

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Neil Simon Blogathon begins here!

Today I take your links.

Tomorrow Paddy takes them.

Let's see what you got.

Post your links in the comments or tweet them to me @ratzo318.

Thanks for joining us in saluting this great writer.

My post is on Brighton Beach Memoirs.

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
California Suite

Caftan Woman
Simon on The Phil Silvers Show

Poppity Talks Classic Film
Seems Like Old Times

Once Upon a Screen
The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Friday, October 12, 2018

Brighton Beach Memoirs

The Neil Simon Blogathon is an event celebrating the life and career of the great American playwright, who left this world for a better one less than two months ago. Paddy and I thank you for joining us. Be sure to check out the rest of the entries this weekend!

Brighton Beach Memoirs
YouTube viewing

The Alvin Theatre, on West 52nd Street in the heart of midtown Manhattan, was renamed for Neil Simon in 1983, so he was a big deal for a long time before the 80s, but growing up, I used to think he was around for less time than that. I vaguely recall seeing ads on TV for his plays, but I had no sense of his history.

I only know his plays from their film adaptations, but I have yet to find one I dislike. I discovered Simon during my video store years in the 90s. It took me awhile to tie the name to the stories, but once I did, I began to notice some commonalities.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

The James Mason Blogathon is an event celebrating the life and career of the actor, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

Heaven Can Wait (1978)
YouTube viewing

Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait has nothing to do with the Don Ameche film of the same name; rather, it's a remake of the Robert Montgomery film Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which must have been a little confusing when it came out in 1978, but whatever. (In 2001, Chris Rock starred in a third version, Down to Earth.)

I wasn't fond of Jordan, not necessarily because of its premise — afterlife bureaucracy condemns a man to death before his time — but because of its poor plotting. Heaven attempts to improve on the original, and in a number of ways, it does, but I was still uncomfortable with the whole theme of fate, and things being "written," not to mention the lack of accountability for the mistakes made by the afterlife bureaucracy.

That said, Heaven was entertaining, in a 70s kind of way. Beatty not only starred and co-directed, he co-wrote the screenplay, with Elaine May.

Beatty was a "New Hollywood" icon. After the tremendous success of Bonnie and Clyde, he positioned himself as a multitasker, writing, producing and directing the films he wanted to make at a time when young filmmakers had an unprecedented level of power in Hollywood.

In the Peter Biskind book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, the pages on Heaven depict Beatty as a "finicky, obsessive" nitpicker. He butted heads with Warner Brothers management over the film's budget before taking it to Paramount, where he fussed over the potential female leads for not being his ex-flame Julie Christie. In the end, he talked Christie herself into the film.

Beatty's perfectionism paid off: Heaven was nominated for nine Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay.

I didn't think it was nine Oscars worth of great, but I liked the humor, and the way the editing accentuated the pacing, making you really aware of the funny lines when they land. Dyan Cannon was great; she got a Supporting Actress nod — and so was Jack Warden, playing the same character as James Gleason in the original, and like him, getting a Supporting Actor nod.

We, however, are here today to talk about James Mason, taking over for Claude Rains in the role of Mr. Jordan and not doing much other than being stately and dignified.

Mason had a very long career, working steadily from the 30s to the 80s, mostly in high profile films on the big and small screens, including North by Northwest, A Star is Born, Lolita, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and many more.

His story was not unusual for Golden Age actors: started in British theater, then transitioned to the big screen during World War 2; came over to America and found greater fame. With his first wife, he co-wrote a book about cats, and illustrated it, too. Here's The Paris Review on his book, including some of his pen and ink drawings. They're pretty good.

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Other films with James Mason:
Forever Darling

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

New release roundup for September '18


I saw both these films with Virginia and we liked them both. Why didn't I write full posts about them? Because I didn't.

-BlacKkKlansman. Spike Lee has been kinda so-so lately, so it's nice to see such a stylish and entertaining film from him again. John David Washington is the son of Denzel Washington; he had a small role in Malcolm X years ago, according to IMDB. He sounds a lot like his dad, too. The most memorable moment for me was when the "white power" rhetoric of the Klansmen was juxtaposed against the "black power" dogma of the black activists. Unexpected and unsettling — that's Spike at his best. Virginia was particularly interested in the true story angle.

- Juliet, Naked. The latest adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel got mediocre reviews, but I liked it — and not just because I'm a fan. The changes from the book didn't bother me much. As I told Virginia afterwards, Ethan Hawke's interpretation of his character's songs, good as they sounded, can never match the ones I imagined when I read the book. So while obviously we needed to hear his character's songs for the movie, a part of me almost wishes we didn't, if you know what I mean. A nice companion piece to High Fidelity.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A star is linked

Not a whole lot to talk about this month. Cynthia Nixon was robbed, the novel rewrite is going great, and things between me and Virginia are swell. The Neil Simon Blogathon is in a couple of weeks; there's still time to join Paddy and myself for the occasion, if you want in.

Let's jump straight to the links for once!

Raquel answers questions from her readers.

Ivan discusses the century-old comic strip Gasoline Alley and the two films inspired by it.

Jacqueline ponders whether this Depression-era film endorsed socialism.

Jennifer talks contemporary high school movies and compares them with her own experience.

Le writes about a very early Ernst Lubitsch silent film which challenges gender roles.

Variety's coverage of Cynthia Nixon's loss in the New York primaries.

What are Feedspot's choices for the Top 30 Classic Film Blogs?

The Wizard of Oz ruby slippers, after having gone missing for 13 years, have been found!

Gauging the truthiness of films "based on a true story."

Bullwinkle and political satire.

Is it possible liking trash cinema makes you smarter?

Claudette Colbert liked cooking desserts.

Armie Hammer hearts scooters.

Finally, best wishes to Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, who's recovering from surgery.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Twelfth Night (1969)

The Gender Bending the Rules Blogathon is an event which looks at roles where men play women and women play men (and other variations) hosted by The Midnite Drive-in and Angelman's Place. For a list of participating bloggers visit the links at the host sites.

Twelfth Night (1969)
YouTube viewing

I've written about William Shakespeare here before, but only in a limited sense. This seems like a good spot to go in more detail.

In college, I took an acting class and I performed a scene from Hamlet. I thought I had a grasp of the meaning behind the lyricism of the words and the outdated language, but only after I read and re-read the scene a bunch of times. I think you have to see Shakespeare performed by professionals to get a real sense of what's going on and what his characters are meant to be like.

It's a stereotype that the British do him better than anyone else, but he's part of their national heritage. It kinda makes sense! His words just sound better when they come out of the mouths of Patrick Stewart or Judi Dench or Kenneth Branagh — though we Americans are no slouches when it comes to the Bard. I once saw Richard III with Denzel Washington at Shakespeare in the Park, for example, and he was riveting.

Still, when it comes to the Bard, none of these people can compare to that great, great Polish actor, Josef Tura. You've probably heard of him.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Remembering a legend with the Neil Simon Blogathon

I never had the pleasure to see a Neil Simon play live, but it wasn't until the news of his death last month that I looked over the stories he wrote, for the stage and screen, and realized how many of them I've enjoyed. He may not have been flashy, but he wrote delightful, funny and poignant stories about ordinary people like you and me — and I realized a simple eulogy wasn't enough.

Normally I only do one blogathon a year, but I'm breaking that habit in order to give all of us a chance to celebrate the life and career of an American original with this blogathon. And there's no one I'd rather do this one in particular with than my pal Paddy.

So you know the deal: in the comments here or at Paddy's, let us know what you wanna write about: one of Neil Simon's plays, or film adaptations, or original screenplays, or his life in general. It's up to you. We'll collect them all on the weekend of October 13-14. Duplicates are okay.

I'll write about Brighton Beach Memoirs. Paddy's gonna write about some Simon-written episodes of The Phil Silvers Show.

The banner at the top is the only one for now. (Many thanks to Ruth for a last-minute save!)

Amy's Rib: A Life of Film, Murder by Death
The Stop Button, The Cheap Detective
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, Barefoot in the Park
Once Upon a Screen, Chapter Two
Poppity Talks Classic Film, Seems Like Old Times
Critica Retro, The Odd Couple
Maddy Loves Her Classic FilmsCalifornia Suite
Slightly Scarlet, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers
Moon in Gemini, The Heartbreak Kid (1962)

Realweegiemidget ReviewsThe Goodbye Girl
MovieRob, The Heartbreak Kid/Only When I Laugh

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Farmer's Daughter

The Joseph Cotten Blogathon is an event celebrating the life and career of the actor, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at the host sites.

The Farmer's Daughter
YouTube viewing

Sometimes the timing of when one watches a movie can make a difference in one's perception of that movie. I chose The Farmer's Daughter for this blogathon knowing nothing of its plot. (You're just gonna have to take my word on that.)

I watched it last week: it's the story of a woman, an outsider, drawn into the world of politics, who ends up opposing a career insider with money and connections, despite her lack of experience in the field. Sound familiar?

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Primary links

The New York State primary election is this month, and on paper, Cynthia Nixon's chances for becoming governor don't look good. Despite the groundswell of online support for her, rooted largely in her constant and justifiable criticism of incumbent Andrew Cuomo, she remains way behind in the polls.

There's still plenty of skepticism over whether Nixon, Hollywood actress and double-Emmy winner, has what it takes to run a state, but if nothing else, she's helped raise the consciousness of many people, both here in New York State and beyond, about some important issues — education, housing, marijuana legalization, and yes, the dreaded NYC subway — and she's proven that being a celebrity is not automatically an impediment when it comes to running for office, despite the presence of the one in the White House now.

For what it's worth, I intend to vote for her (in the primary, at least). She's earned my respect.

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Last month, I learned how to sing in a chorus. There's a choral singing workshop Virginia attends every year in Massachusetts. She heard me sing months ago, as part of a group, and invited me to attend the workshop with her.

Now, I admit, I can carry a tune, but my sister is the singer in the family, not me. I've taken part in talent contests back when I was younger and contemplated a career as a musician — I have a keyboard and have taken lessons on the organ — but that doesn't make me Billy Joel by any stretch. Still, I was curious, and it provided an opportunity to travel with Virginia for the first time (we also visited friends of hers in Vermont).

The first day was the worst. Singing in Latin? Reading sheet music on sight? Focusing on my part while everyone around me sung different parts? I was angry, confused and lost and felt like I was letting Virginia down, since she was paying my way. She kept encouraging me, though, and against my instincts, I persisted.

Thanks to a terrific teacher, I got over my fear. He took my shaky bass voice and made it presentable through humor, patience and mostly by example. In addition, I found a song I genuinely liked, and wanted to sing. By the time my small ensemble performed for the other teachers, I was ready — and I even got some compliments! Virginia was impressed too, which meant more to me than anything.

Don't know for sure if I wanna keep up with this, but at least I can say I did it.

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The original film version
of The Band's Visit
Virginia and I also went to see the Broadway musical The Band's Visit, based on the Israeli film from 2007. I never saw the movie; don't even remember it, but it got a 98 on Rotten Tomatoes. As a Broadway show it has enjoyed even more success, winning the Tony for Best Musical, and after seeing it, I can see why.

The premise is simple: a small Egyptian orchestra, invited to perform at a show in Israel, arrive in the wrong town. They spend a night with the locals and change a few lives in the process. It should have been Israel's entry in the Best Foreign Film Oscar race, but it was disqualified on account of having too much English.

In December 2016, the musical adaptation debuted off-Broadway and moved to the Ethel Barrymore Theater almost a year later. The version we saw last month had original production stars Katrina Lenk and Ari'el Stachel, who won Tonys, as well as Sasson Gabay, star of the original film.

We both loved the show. It was an exquisite, character-driven production with Arabic and Israeli flavored music; the whole thing felt different from what one normally thinks of as a Broadway musical. I still would like to see fewer film adaptations and more original material, but for what this was, it's the real thing.

More after the jump.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Too Many Husbands

The Fred MacMurray Blogathon is an event in tribute to the life and career of the actor, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site at the link.

Too Many Husbands
YouTube viewing

Fred MacMurray is best remembered as a comedic actor and a good guy, but I tend to think of him, in cinematic terms, as a bad guy. It's all Billy Wilder's fault, for casting him in two dramatic films, Double Indemnity and The Apartment, where he plays scumbags.

The latter film in particular is a good example. He takes advantage of both Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, less as a sneering villain and more with a deceptive charm. He uses them to serve his own ends and he comes across so reasonably in the process; his perpetual nice-guy image is turned inside out. Double may be his most popular film role, but I think The Apartment is his best.

And then there's My Three Sons. The early TV sitcom gave MacMurray's career a second wind, lasting twelve seasons. There's little more than snippets of the show on YouTube, but I watched them for this blogathon. The impression I get is Sons was warm and gentle. The kids seemed unrealistically well-behaved, but gosh, maybe MacMurray's character was just that good a father. A single one, no less.

Perhaps you know MacMurray played the saxophone. He played in a few bands while attending college in Wisconsin. He also sang a little. Here he is in 1930, singing with Gus Arnheim and the Coconut Grove Orchestra.

And I would be remiss if I forgot the comics connection. Remember Captain Marvel? Little kid says "Shazam," turns into an adult superhero? (Perhaps this trailer for the forthcoming Shazam film will jog your memory.) Creator CC Beck modeled CM on MacMurray. Once you see it, you can't un-see it.

Today's subject, Too Many Husbands, is an early MacMurray comedy that's more of a vehicle for the delightful Jean Arthur. Drowned at sea and believed dead, MacMurray survives and returns home a year later only to find Arthur, his wife, moved on without him and married his best friend, Melvyn Douglas.

Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt needed less than ten minutes to settle this problem in Cast Away. Arthur and company take an entire movie, though in fairness, the whole thing is as fluffy as a pillow.

It's watchable, thanks to Arthur; MacMurray and Douglas just bicker and make goo-goo eyes at her. Would you believe Irene Dunne and Cary Grant made essentially the same movie, My Favorite Wife, in the same year, 1940?

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Other Fred MacMurray movies:
Remember the Night
Double Indemnity