Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Oscars and the art vs. commerce debate

Okay, I read all about this lame new Oscar category for "Best Popular Film" or whatever it'll be called, and I've given it some thought. I get that the Academy and ABC felt they needed to do something to make the Oscars relevant again, and I get that it's called show business for a reason, but this was not the answer. Columns like this reflect my position well. That said, I wanna examine this from a more personal angle.

In my former life, within the comics industry, I had begun my activity at a time, the early 90s, when what was popular truly was mediocre at best. I was in college, and my classmates and I were frustrated at this because we were getting lessons in the fundamentals of art and comics storytelling from industry veterans who didn't fall prey to trends.

Movies like Black Panther would be
a shoo-in for this new Oscar category.
Some of us young turks worked within the system, at Marvel and DC, to help bring about change. Most of us, like me, worked from outside by self-publishing our work or hooking up with small press publishers.

I didn't want to compromise my art by being a slave to trends, but you can bet your ass I still wanted to make money. I believe in the 21st century, it's rare, though not impossible, to find creative people who don't want or expect compensation for their work, but much depends on the audience and what they (think they) want.

"Best Popular Film" could have
benefitted recent blockbusters like Avatar.
With movies, a lot of the time they settle for what's most easily available, true, but these days, it's not uncommon to see a popular indie film playing alongside the latest blockbuster at the multiplex. (Over the past few weeks, I've seen Three Identical Strangers playing in small town, three-screens-or-fewer cinemas.)

Does that mean we, the audience, have become conditioned to choose the popular over the unpopular? Probably. If TCM is on, I'd sooner watch a Jack Lemmon flick over some B-movie starring actors I've never heard of. If I'm in the supermarket, I'd sooner buy a familiar brand name product than a generic version of the same thing. I think it's an inherent aspect of consumerism: the product that advertises better sells better.

As I learned with comics, however, popular doesn't always equal better, a mentality I had adopted for years and have found difficult to shake. In the mid-90s, I watched more indie films, in part, because that's what my video store co-workers, whom I was trying to emulate, watched. They tended to scorn Hollywood and I copped that attitude too.

Will future films like the new Star Wars
films profit from this category?
Most moviegoers, though, aren't like that. If they were, films like Spotlight and Lady Bird and Won't You Be My Neighbor would each make $100 million — and it's not like these films are inaccessible, artsy-fartsy meditations for aesthetes.

The Academy continues to honor these "art" films with Oscars over the "commercial" ones, though, and while we may wish this false dichotomy didn't exist, it does — and not just within the film industry.

Can the playing field be leveled so that all films, large- and small-budgeted alike, compete as true equals? Online streaming could hold the key to the answer. It may mean tearing down the old distribution model, which would make me sad — I enjoy seeing a movie in a theater — but maybe that's what it'll take. In the meantime, I don't see the art versus commerce struggle changing much.

Hard (getting to) eight


...and it has been hard getting to the eight-year anniversary — at least this year! At the pace I'm on, I may not crack 100 posts in 2018, but that's okay. I've had other things to occupy my time lately, not the least of which includes meeting Virginia and falling madly in love with her. You're probably sick of hearing me mention her by now, but she's made all the difference to me this year — and it's not over yet.

Anyway, thanks once again for sticking around here, sporadic as I've been. I appreciate it, and all of you. Hey, I'm getting pretty close to double digits, aren't I?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Re-engage: Stewart to return as Picard

"With overwhelming joy, it's a privilege to welcome Sir Patrick Stewart back to the Star Trek fold. For over 20 years, fans have hoped for the return of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and that day is finally here. We can't wait to forge new ground, surprise people, and honor generations both new and old."

I've already provided my assessment of Picard, so let's talk about the man behind the character. I think Sir Patrick has, in his own way, become as representative of Trek as Bill, yet he never became tied down to it; he has been Professor Xavier for so many X-Men and Wolverine movies, it's easy to think of him in that context as well (Logan might have been his best movie as Xavier).

His theater and other TV work, his close friendship with Ian McKellen (another geek icon), his occasional ventures into comedic videos such as this, not to mention his talk show appearances, all have helped make him a legitimate celebrity that non-geeks know and respect. Even my sister liked the Facebook post that carried this announcement!

I think it's a foregone conclusion this new show, like Discovery, will be on CBS All Access. What was that I said recently about how I may need to think twice about getting it? An issue for another time, for now, but damn, a new Trek series with Picard would be incredibly tough to resist. I think there was a TNG episode where somebody said something pertaining to resistance...

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Related:
Enterprise-D
Star Trek TNG: The Best of Both Worlds
Star Trek: Discovery

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Link: impossible

Here's something I haven't talked about yet: the Disney/Fox deal. Last month it was approved by the shareholders, and now I gotta believe Disney won't be satisfied until they own all of Hollywood. This is kinda disturbing. Should one studio have this level of power? If it's not a monopoly yet, it's beginning to feel like one.

One wonders what Unca Walt himself would have made of all this. It's a cinch he wouldn't recognize the business he started so long ago. Maybe I'll do a post on him.

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It occurs to me I haven't been to any outdoor movies this summer. This is unusual; it's something I've indulged in for as long as WSW has been around, but not this year.

Meeting Virginia has meant doing different things with my spare time, so there's that. She's actually not a big moviegoer (I had to remind her who Tom Hanks is), and as you've read, we've been doing things like going to plays and concerts instead.

I don't mind; she's exposed me to new stuff I wouldn't have known of before, and being with her has been more than worth it, even if the play or concert bored me on occasion.

Perhaps going to outdoor movies was a way to occupy my time in the absence of someone like her in my life. Don't know — but I find I haven't missed them much. Hope you haven't either.

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So Spock is gonna appear in Discovery; this does not surprise me in the slightest. As soon as I saw in the first half of the pilot that Cmdr. Burnham was raised on Vulcan and conveniently knew Sarek, I knew it was only a matter of time before they figured out a way to work Spock into the series. That's not what I wanna talk about.

I read the news on a Star Trek Facebook group. I'm not part of the group; I was just lurking. Ever since I chose not to subscribe to CBS All Access to watch Discovery, I've shied away from the fan groups, blogs, and news sites because I knew Discovery would be a big part of their coverage. I looked at this group, though, because I missed being part of the fandom.

The Trek canon (not owned by Disney) is growing, and will continue to grow in the near future —maybe not in all the ways I want it to, but it is happening. Will it follow the Discovery model and be part of the streaming service? Unless someone says otherwise, I can only assume so, which means I may have to reassess my anti-streaming stance. I know I said Trek fandom no longer needs to rely on CBS or Paramount, but things have changed in a big way since then. Maybe I need to get with the times?

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Starting to pick up a little around here; we got some more blogathons scheduled for the coming months, and some good-looking movies are on deck. Hope you'll stick around.

Links after the jump.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

My instinct is to reply hell yeah, if I thought I could abandon civilization and live in the woods, or up a mountain, or on a desert island, I would. People suck (well, not you) and if I believed I could live completely on my own, away from their cell phones played on buses, their car alarms, their two AM parties, etc., not to mention their racism, greed and stupidity, I'd do it. My instinct is to say that.

The truth, unfortunately, is that I couldn't last one day in the wilderness for soooooo many reasons: I don't know how to hunt for food. I don't know how to start a fire. I couldn't identify edible plants to save my life. I would sooner run like hell from a wild animal than try to kill it. Not to mention I actually have a few good reasons to remain in civilization, such as a woman I've grown to love and would miss dearly. Couldn't say that a year ago.


There's a reality show my mother watches, Zod knows why, in which people are thrown into a forest and are forced to survive for a couple of weeks, I think, eating nuts and berries, making their own shelter, avoiding wild beasts, etc. Did I mention they have to do this completely naked?

There's a similar show she also watches that's set in the wilderness of Alaska. It's less extreme, but it's also about survival without many of the creature comforts of modern life.


Whenever I happen to see it, I'm reminded of my friend Layla, who does live in Alaska, but not in an igloo or anything like that. Still, she'll post pictures of nature on Facebook and joke about how cold it can get up there, even in the summer. Once she posted a video of a moose that crossed the highway in front of her!

Civilization, ultimately, is much more good than bad, but certain kinds of people can do without it, given a choice... and then there are those who don't have a choice.

Leave No Trace is about a father and teenage daughter who live in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Why? At first, it seems as if it's because the father is just plain fed up with the modern world and the daughter is along for the ride. When they get caught, though, and are forced to return to civilization, it becomes clearer that the reasons are deeper than that.


Co-writer/director Debra Granik caught lightning in a bottle with Best Picture nominee Winter's Bone, and made a superstar out of Jenny Lawrence. At long last, Granik has made a follow-up, and I'd say it was worth the wait.

Like the work of Kelly Reichardt (I was reminded of Wendy and Lucy in particular), Trace is spartan in both pictures and words, relying on the audience to fill in the gaps and draw their own conclusions. Is Ben Foster's character a bad father? He raises his child apart from the modern world, but he does a really good job of it; she's intelligent and is fully schooled in her father's survival skills.


Would she be better off in a normal home with normal caretakers, though? That's part of the movie's dilemma, and Granik, with co-writer Anne Rosellini (adapting a novel), takes her time providing the answer. The issue is never as simple as one might think.

Granik provides lots of nice shots of the forest, and gets solid performances from Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie, who no doubt must be sick to death of the Jenny Lawrence comparisons by now, so I won't make any.

Trace is thoughtful, character-driven and off-beat in a good way. Well worth a look.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Books: Double Indemnity

The 2018 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge is an event in which the goal is to read and write about a variety of books related to classic film, hosted by Out of the Past. For a complete list of the rules, visit the website.

Why do I keep coming back to Double Indemnity? I'm not sure. There's no doubt it's one of my favorite films, but in terms of the blog, I've dissected it pretty thoroughly. I've talked about Billy Wilder, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson; later this summer I'll add Fred MacMurray to that list; I've analyzed a scene from the movie, and now I'm gonna discuss the book on which it's based. I don't think I can get much deeper than that.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Three Identical Strangers

Three Identical Strangers
seen @ Angelika Film Center, New York, NY

To know that the current administration is responsible for separating the children of immigrants from their parents, going so far as to cage them in many instances, really makes me ashamed to be an American, yet at the same time it's not too different from a despicable pattern we've followed for as long as there has been an America.

Whether the cause is anti-terrorism, or fighting the Axis, or the right to own other humans as slaves, or simple manifest destiny, there's always been somebody behind it all who will tell you, with a smile and a wink, that an act such as (but certainly not limited to) breaking up a family without their consent was for the greater good. Sometimes there is no reason behind it except meanness.

And sometimes there's a plot at work.

Please don't ask me to identify which is which.

I don't remember the story of the long-lost New York triplets — Bobby Shafran, Eddie Galland and David Kellman — reunited after an entire childhood apart; I might have been a bit too young for it to register. The story of their reunion and everything after, including the mystery of why they were separated to begin with — is what makes up Three Identical Strangers, a heartbreaking, yet warm and often funny documentary.

If this were a Hollywood screenplay written by Aaron Sorkin or somebody like that, no one would buy it because no one would believe in it. The simple coincidence of the triplets living in the same region and suddenly meeting by chance stretches credulity enough... but then again, as you learn to your shock as you watch, it wasn't entirely coincidence.

The Triplets meet Madonna in a cameo in
Desperately Seeking Susan

I think if this were a Hollywood screenplay, there'd be a race-against-time third act where the triplets unite (after a second act in which dissension tears them apart) to unravel the conspiracy against them, Da Vinci Code style. Unfortunately for them, their actual story is nowhere near as melodramatic or cliche.

It's much more about mental illness, and genetics, and above all the age-old question of nature versus nurture. Bobby, Eddie and David grew up independent of each other, yet had so many things in common it was as if they had never been separated.

The Triplets had their own Manhattan
restaurant named, of course, Triplets

Is that genetics at work? One would think so, but if so, what does that say about our ability as self-aware beings to choose? These questions are brought up in the film, and they have a direct bearing on why the triplets were separated; I can't say more without giving it away. Just see it and be amazed.

I would've seen this with Vija and company, but the @#$(+& subway made me late again, and the line for the Angelika was out the door and around the block, which isn't unusual for the Angelika on a Sunday. I hadn't been back there in quite awhile, so I forgot.

David Kellman today

I went back to see it the next day. Meanwhile, I caught up to Vija after the movie; Debbie and Sue came along. We had Japanese for an early dinner and then Sue took Vija and me on a tour of the side streets of the west Village, where she used to live.

The two of them recently spotted none other than Alec Baldwin outside his apartment building in the Village, so we all went back there, thinking we might spot him again. We didn't, of course, but I certainly had no expectations. And it was a beautiful afternoon.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Nanook of the North

The Winter in July Blogathon is an event in which the theme is winter movies watched in the summertime, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

Nanook of the North
YouTube viewing

The timing for this blogathon is perfect: the weather here in New York has been in the 80s and 90s and mostly sunny all week long. We're about as far removed from the winter as you can get.

Nanook of the North is one of the first true feature-length documentaries, the brainchild of explorer turned filmmaker Robert Flaherty. His initial job was to research the Hudson Bay of northeastern Canada, beginning in 1910.


In 1913, he took a three-week film course to acquaint himself with filmmaking in an attempt to better document his experience. When the time came to shoot, he chose to focus on the native Inuits of the region, specifically the hunter Allakariallak, also known as Nanook, and his clan.

The long road to a finished product was riddled with obstacles. You can read about them in Flaherty's own words here, but the result was a film, released in 1922, that was a critical and commercial hit.


I was surprised at how engrossing Nanook was. We see him ice fishing, hunting walruses and seal, building igloos, and raising his family the best he can under primitive conditions. The stark terrain doesn't look as intimidating as it probably was, on account of the grainy film quality, but Flaherty and his team get it all, during a time when the boundaries of film were still beginning to be explored.

As I watched, I had wondered about the authenticity of some scenes; call it the consequences of reality television permeating the zeitgeist. Turns out, quite a bit of Nanook was fake and staged.


Should it matter? Patronizing references to the "simple, happy" Inuit aside, I think Flaherty definitely knew his subject matter, if nothing else. It's unlikely anyone else at the time could have made this film. If he was upfront about how he had manufactured drama, well, keep in mind the documentary film as we know it wasn't real in 1922. As is usually the case, Nanook needs to be considered in the context of the time.

I watched Nanook at Virginia's place, on her laptop. She was out of town (still is, as of this writing; she comes back this weekend) and asked me to housesit for her.


I was glad to do it, since it meant living in Manhattan again, but I didn't get around to watching the movie until Friday night, because of a bunch of things that went wrong this week which I won't get into here. Suffice it to say that watching the movie, especially given the fact it was silent, calmed me down at a point where I needed it bad.

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Other films set in the winter (a select list):
Fargo
A Simple Plan
Happy Feet
Murder on the Orient Express
War for the Planet of the Apes
Force Majeure

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Won't You Be My Neighbor?
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Telling you which children's shows I watched as a youngling will date me, I'm sure, but that ship sailed long ago, so what the heck. Sesame Street and The Electric Company are both given, and you can add Romper Room to that list too. (People from my generation don't believe it when I say the Magic Mirror scared me. I really thought she could see me with that thing!) I even remember Captain Kangaroo.

Here in New York we had a local show called The Magic Garden, with these two hippie chicks with guitars, Paula and Carole, amidst their tricked-out studio set garden full of puppets and other weird critters. They'd sing songs and play games and stuff. I dunno, I just really dug them.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ant-sized links

So Virginia and I spent last Sunday, which was gorgeous, on Governors Island, in New York's East River, near Ellis Island. There was a folk music festival going on, and though we didn't see as much of it as we had planned, what we did see was nice.

She talked me into trying a free yoga class, one of a bunch of smaller events taking place on the island that day. I had never done it before, believing I didn't have the body for it (to put it mildly). Even though I've lost a little weight recently, I'm still convinced I don't have the body for it! She was more experienced, but I think it was still a bit of a challenge for her too. If there weren't little kids taking part, I probably would've been more embarrassed than I already was!

That evening, after dinner, we went to a free screening of Blade Runner at a hotel in Manhattan. She had never seen it and was curious. She liked it a lot. I hadn't seen it in years; looking at it again now, I was struck by how little "action" there was in comparison with today's SF flicks. There's a much bigger emphasis on atmosphere and setting - and of course, so much of it is on real sets, not CGI ones. I can imagine how big a contrast it is to the recent sequel.

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The novel revision is going well, though I've hit a patch in which I'm doing much more rewriting than I had anticipated. I'm cutting stuff but also adding details the previous draft didn't have — more the cause-and-effect type than anything else. I'm more aware of story mechanics: if I want so-and-so to happen, what all must happen first? And how much of that do I need to show?

My critiquers still like the story, though I had to revise a chapter a second time when it received some hard, not harsh, reviews. You think you've written good stuff and you feel good about it, then you're told it doesn't make sense and you're ready to chuck the whole thing: that's fiction writing. Still, I do feel I'm on the right track.

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It would be silly to say I'm taking next week off for the holiday, like I usually do at this time, so I won't say it. I plan to stop by the Movieworld farewell party next week and take pictures, so you'll actually see me again sooner than expected.

In the meantime, your links after the jump:

Friday, June 22, 2018

Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2
seen @ Movieworld, Douglaston, Queens NY

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Movieworld, the jewel of Eastern Queens, to close

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

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

(Thanks to Andrew for the tip)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 1, 2018

Incredible links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links after the jump.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Time Machine (1960)

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Oliver Twist (1922)

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

Oliver Twist (1922)
YouTube viewing

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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Related:
Lon Chaney Jr.
Tod Browning

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

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Ready Player One

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

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

1. The internet and internet culture

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

3. Steven Spielberg's 80s

4. Columbus

5. RP1 the movie


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Solo links

Bill Cosby's downfall is complete at last. I had talked to my mother about this; she's convinced the whole thing was a case of entrapment that he was dumb enough to fall for in his youth. Maybe. I'm not here to debate it one way or another, though; I want to hold a candle up for him one last time, for all the good he achieved as an entertainer and as a pioneer for black people in television. Like it or not, he's part of the official record and always will be; he was part of my childhood; and he helped bring positive change to the image of blacks on television, and the culture at large. Though we may condemn him for what he did when the cameras stopped rolling, we cannot and must not dismiss him.

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I finally decided, after almost four years within my writing group, to part company with them last month. I've found an online group months ago that I think can help me better, particularly now that I'm in the revision stage; plus, I was getting kinda tired of running things.

What I wasn't prepared for, though, was how hard it would be to say goodbye. The group roster had changed completely from when I had first joined, and many of the people in the group now signed on within the last year, but I still felt a connection with them — and they with me. I truly didn't realize how much of an impact I had made on them. They were disappointed to see me go. Some of them friended me on social media. They pretty much insisted I come back to visit, which I will.

They were a great bunch, both the current membership and the ones from the past, minus the occasional oddball or two. I've talked about Jen here before, who I still think was the best writer we had in my time in the group, and will get published for sure.

I'm glad to have been part of them. My Sundays won't be the same.

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I've been devoting more time to the novel revision, which is why I haven't been around much (that and I just needed a break), but I did see movies. I saw Isle of Dogs and liked it. I think it's Wes Anderson's most ambitious film, not just because of the stop-motion animation (which was smoother and slicker than in Fantastic Mr. Fox), but because of its political overtones. The film is set in Japan, and while most of the human characters spoke Japanese, there were no subtitles; either someone was on hand to translate or the meaning was clear through context. I thought that was quite clever on Anderson's part.

I also watched Black Panther again, this time with Sandi, and once again, she noticed something I didn't the first time around: apparently the deities invoked by characters in the film are not native to Central Africa, where Wakanda resides. She's an expert on mythology, so if she says it, I believe it, though I'm sure Ryan Coogler has some manner of justification.

The Ready Player One post is coming. Promise.

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I'll keep things up here, but it probably won't be as frequent as in the past. I saw Avengers: Infinity War and I'll write about that, of course; I've got one blogathon post coming this week and I may take part in another; not sure. Sorry for the light schedule, but the novel has to take priority.

Your links:

Raquel and Danny, among others, have coverage of this year's TCM Film Festival.

Jacqueline writes about an adaptation of a book that was never filmed — but totally should have been.

Le checks out a compilation of rare Chaplin flicks.

Ivan has the skinny on the first Shirley Temple film in which she gets kissed.

Flash Gordon himself, Sam Jones, came to Jennifer's hometown.

The long and convoluted tale of ailing comics legend Stan Lee and his battles with his daughter.

Is Quentin Tarantino writing a script for the next Star Trek movie?

Tommy Wiseau wants to be the Joker.

The radical, sci-fi-flavored philosophy of musician Sun Ra was once turned into a movie.

A bunch of Broadway stars held a secular Passover seder, performing non-traditional tunes.

What makes a movie bad?

MOMA has restored a Swedish short about life in Manhattan from over a century ago. Note how slowly the cars travel.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Trip to the Moon

The Outer Space in Film Blogathon is an event about films set in space, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

YouTube viewing

PARIS, 1969

Eugénie opened the door and saw six solemn men in grey overcoats and suits. The white-haired one closest to her spoke.

"Bonjour, Mademoiselle. May we come in?"

Mère sacrée. They came after all.

"Of course." She widened the door and they entered one by one, removing their caps. Once they were all in, she shut the door. The leader took off his monocle.

"How is he?"

"Struggling, but by the grace of God he lives still."

"Mademoiselle, I assure you if the doctor continues to cling to life, it is by the force of his stubborn nature, not any divine intervention." His scowl gave her a tremble. "May we see him?"

She felt her ears burn. You could at least say please.

"This way, messieurs."

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin
seen @ IFC Center, New York NY

I'm gonna do a quick post about this one because I'm still a bit behind and I wanna catch up as soon as possible. This was Vija's suggestion, and if you've heard anything about it, you know it's gotten spectacular reviews.

Cold War-era Russia has been the subject of comedy before, but mining the demise of its most notorious ruler for laughs is a new one to me, and it's actually pretty good, no matter how little or how much you know about Stalin and his cabinet. You see the atrocities of the Stalin regime, but you also see the bumbling and the weirdness too — and one can't help but be reminded, to a certain degree, of the current administration here in America. 


Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci lets the international cast (including Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev!) keep their native accents; no one speaks with a Russian accent, which lends a somewhat surreal aspect to the story, but hey, if black people can portray the founding fathers of America, anything's possible, right?