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?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Pacific Rim: Uprising
seen @ Movieworld, Douglaston, Queens NY

You know how in those old Godzilla movies, he stomps all over Tokyo but it's never as serious as it looks because it's SO OBVIOUS the sets are just models? Ever wonder what that might look like if it were real? Well, watch Pacific Rim: Uprising then, preferably on the biggest screen you can afford.

At first, seeing the jaegers (the robots) and kaiju (the monsters) battling it out amidst a giant cityscape is breathtaking as well as terrifying, though they do make a point of saying the population was safe in underground shelters, so one can watch the fights guilt-free!

After awhile, though, even these scenes have an air of artificiality to them, and not just because jaegers and kaiju don't exist (as far as we know).


They're almost too real. Jaegers, when operated by their two pilots, run, throw punches, even get tossed around like humans, even though they're hundreds of feet tall. It's the old comics cliche: how can something so big move so fast? As for the kaiju, you can see every scale on its hide, every tooth in its wide, wide mouth, every drop of water as it rises out of the ocean.

There ought to be some sort of medium in which these kinds of movies can look better than dudes in rubber suits yet maintain a level of... I dunno, low-budget, B-grade cheapness, for lack of a better term? Then again, maybe I'm still wedded to the way SF movies looked like back in the 80s, when I grew up. I'm sure that puts me in the minority. Fine, I'm used to it.


Uprising, regrettably, is little different from the first PR film. It wasn't until the final twenty minutes or so that I started to get into it. Eh. I knew this wasn't Black Panther. I just wanted a mindless action movie and that's what I got.

How about that John Boyega, huh? His ascension from no-name to rising action hero has been pretty quick, but that's what two Star Wars movies will do to you. Even when he played an inner-city hoodlum in Attack the Block, he had a certain magnetism that has turned into a youthful exuberance and strength that's nice to see. I hope he expands into other work: maybe a Shane Black-style crime comedy, or a Kathryn Bigelow-type war movie. He has definite potential.


There's this young girl in my writers group named Anna who has been hyped for Uprising for weeks, talking about the actors, the director, the previous film, all sorts of details, etc. Last Sunday, we talked about the movie and wouldn't you know it, she was let down big time.

We both agreed that Boyega was great, but killing [SPOILER] was a tremendous mistake. Anna also hated [SPOILER]'s heel turn, though it didn't bother me as much because I barely remembered the character from the first film. She said she complained to director Steven DeKnight on Twitter, saying he should've gotten her to write the screenplay! I guess that's the risk that comes with high expectations.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Infinite links

Lynn discovered a website for something called New Plaza Cinema, and it looks like it's built from the ashes of what was the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. A group is looking to start up a new indie theater on Manhattan's Upper West Side. So far, they're still in the embryonic stage, but the fact this is in the works is encouraging.

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So last month I met a multiple Emmy winner. Now I'm not sure if I should mention who it is, because of the circumstances: I met her at her home, where she and her husband host a soiree for musicians on a regular basis, but I think it's a private function. Nothing illicit went on; in fact, it was very sociable, a party, basically, but I don't know them, and I don't know how private their private lives are, so in this instance, I'm gonna play it safe. She won her Emmys for a TV show you all know and love.

Virginia invited me to this gathering. She plays an instrument called a viola da gamba (it's kinda like a cello) and she was part of a number of musicians and singers who put on a variety show, basically, playing classical music and modern compositions that sound like classical music. She also sang with a small group.

The Emmy-winning hostess has her awards on display on a shelf. I looked closely at the statuettes, but I was too afraid to touch them, since they belonged to a stranger and all. They're about a foot tall, maybe a bit more, and they're as elegant as they look. And they were the real thing.

I didn't get much of a chance to talk to the hostess about them because she was busy with other stuff, though I will say she was quite nice. Virginia has known her for awhile; they seemed really familiar with each other, as the hostess was with many of the people at the informal recital. So in my own personal Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, I can connect to some pretty famous people now...

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Big thanks once again to everybody who came out and/or spread the word about the Time Travel Blogathon, and to Ruth for co-hosting with me. I knew time travel films didn't begin with The Time Machine, but there were more of them from the distant past than I realized, done in a number of ways, so this was enlightening.

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A few more words about Cynthia Nixon: I think it's absolutely fair to question her qualifications for holding such a high position as governor, especially New York governor, but at the same time, she's a citizen too, and if she thinks she's got the goods, then she deserves to take a shot. I admit, I'm giving her more of the benefit of the doubt than the former TV star currently in the White House, but then she seems to actually have a brain in her head.

That said, between Nixon, the Rock, Oprah, the girl from Clueless, and who knows who else, America does seem more preoccupied than ever with celebrities either running for office or flirting with the idea at least (though we're nothing compared with countries like India). If there weren't so many precedents, I'd suspect the current president opened the floodgates somehow; I dunno.

I would feel more confident about Nixon if I knew she had experience, I admit, but I'm willing to give her a chance to prove herself worthy. She's aware of the transportation crisis in NYC (which is about more than the local subways and buses and impacts more than just the tri-state area) and says she'll make it a priority of her campaign, but it's still way too early to decide if she can win.

Links after the jump.


Monday, March 26, 2018

QWFF 2018 part 2


Part 1

MARCH 21

What would QWFF be without snow? There was a hint of the white stuff as I came home last night, but this morning it started in earnest, and it went on all damn day, to the point where tonight's screening of Vincent Gagliostro's After Louie was cancelled. I was interested in that one too...

Here's an interview with Gagliostro from last fall about After Louie.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

QWFF 2018 part 1


The Queens World Film Festival is bigger and better than ever this year, and as someone who has been coming to it ever since 2012, it's breathtaking to see. Don & Katha Cato both go to extraordinary lengths to make the show as inclusive as possible without sacrificing quality, and little by little, the rest of New York City is noticing. I'm grateful to be back writing about the movies here. Expecting some good stuff, as always.

Once again, the Museum of the Moving Image and the Zukor Theater at the Kaufman Astoria Studios are the venues. This year's report will be split into two parts, one for today and the other for next week.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
seen @ Alamo Drafthouse, Yonkers NY

Madeleine L'Engle almost gave up writing by age forty on account of all the rejections she kept receiving. The reality of rejection is something I've read about on a few writers blogs: how one has to accept the fact that no matter how spectacular you think your work is, the odds of you hitting a home run with it the first time at bat, or the tenth, are slim at best. Some writers tell you to embrace rejection as a fact of writing life, since it's happened to the best authors as well as the worst.

I haven't written enough to experience rejection to the same degree, partially because much of my work is self-published — including this blog, in a way. I know when I finish revising my novel and sending it out to authors, though (assuming I don't self-publish that too), I'll have to face that reality as well. I'm probably not ready for that, but who ever is?



L'Engle's book A Wrinkle in Time was rejected over thirty times. I cannot imagine what that must be like: to receive a litany of no's yet to keep going anyway. Actually, I take that back, I can imagine that: I suspect it's like going on blind date after blind date and never getting past that initial dinner-and-a-movie stage. You question your self-worth.

One of the wittiest and most heartfelt books about writing is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She talks about what she calls "the myth of publication":
...Many nonwriters assume that publication is a thunderously joyous event in the writer's life, and it is certainly the biggest and brightest carrot dangling before the eyes of my students. They believe that if they themselves were to get published, their lives would change instantly, dramatically, and for the better. Their self-esteem would flourish, all self-doubt would be erased like a typo. Entire paragraphs and manuscripts of disappointment and rejection and lack of faith would be wiped out by one push of a psychic delete button and replaced by a quiet, tender sense of worth and belonging. Then they could wrap the world in flame.
But this is not exactly what happens. Or at any rate, this is not what it has been like for me.


L'Engle's path to publication is by no means unique, but it's a textbook example of how a writer needs (justified) faith in their work, even in this time where self-publishing your work is easier than before. My path is probably harder than many: I'm writing a sports novel, not exactly a popular genre — but it's what I want to do. I'll just have to suck up the inevitable rejections when the time comes. But I won't like it.

I never read Wrinkle as a kid. No particular reason; there were lots of books I never got around to in my childhood. Not sure how eight-year-old me would have taken to it, but I imagine the religious elements would've flown over my head — except I'm told there's a scene with Jesus, Buddha, Einstein and Gandhi all together, as a kind of spiritual Justice League.


That did not make the new film adaptation of Wrinkle, needless to say. While I thought it was good, it did have a touchy-feely vibe to it, and knowing of L'Engle's spiritual beliefs now, I can see why, even though much of the religious aspects were expunged for the film.

It reminded me, in part, of The NeverEnding Story. The nebulous force known only as the It (sans red balloons) is a lot like the Nothing, with similar effects — and love is the redemptive counterforce in the end. It's all very earnest, in its way, not that this is necessarily a bad thing.

The best line I read from Ava DuVernay about Wrinkle came when she was asked about opening a month after Black Panther, even though the two films have very little in common besides having black directors. She compared Panther to Michael Jackson's Thriller album and said she'd settle for being Prince's 1999 album, since they both came out in 1982. I thought that was funny. Still, if the reviews are any indication, she may have to settle for being the Rolling Stones' Still Life.


Once again I left my house well over three hours in advance to get to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, and once again I just barely made it, only this time the trains were to blame. The train that took me into Manhattan totally bypassed the station in which I had to get off because something had happened there; the conductor, of course, didn't specify. I had to get out at the next stop and walk back down 57th Street to take the uptown train to the Boogie Down Bronx — but then that train was delayed two stops from the end of the line for 15-20 minutes due to "signal problems." Have I mentioned how effed up the subways are lately?

Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughters write her biography

Friday, March 16, 2018

Five Hollywood actors who ran for public office

...The ongoing woes of New York City’s subway system, which are run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — overseen by Mr. Cuomo — are widely seen as one of Mr. Cuomo’s greatest political vulnerabilities.
[Cynthia] Nixon has been openly critical of Mr. Cuomo for many months as she has mulled a campaign. But her conversations with two Democratic strategists, Bill Hyers and Rebecca Katz, who are aligned with the party’s left flank in the state, appear to be a sign of her growing seriousness.
I can't say I've ever had much interest in Sex and the City, so I know little about Cynthia Nixon beyond what I've read in the past few weeks. If she thinks she can take out Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primaries and go all the way to Albany from there, well, who knows for sure?

I know I'm dissatisfied with Cuomo for his  indifference to the public transportation crisis here in New York, and the slow pace he has taken to not only finding a solution to that, but to enact tougher laws to deter reckless driving on city streets. 

I would need to know Nixon's ideas about transit before I could endorse her, but I have to admit, the thought of a Hollywood celebrity as governor of my home state is intriguing. (IMDB says she has played both Nancy Reagan and Eleanor Roosevelt in the past, and was in a Robert Altman TV mini-series about politics, Tanner '88.)

Celebrities running for public office is certainly nothing new. Ronald Reagan, of course, was governor of California long before he became the 40th US president. I recently provided a link to a review of a new book about how the Reagans used the movies to inform their politics. (The Amazon reviews are almost overwhelmingly positive so far, for what it's worth.) And who can forget Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent gubernatorial reign in California?

Here are a few more examples; some you probably know, others you might not, with varying levels of success.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah

The Time Travel Blogathon is an event devoted to films with time travel as a plot point. Ruth and I thank you all for participating. The complete listing of bloggers can be found here and at Silver Screenings!

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah
YouTube viewing

It will not surprise you to know a Godzilla store exists in Tokyo. It opened last fall, in the Shinjuku district, and though I don't read Japanese, I can tell from looking at the pictures there's no shortage to the depth and breadth of merchandise available. Take a look inside with this video (it's in English).

With the forthcoming release of the new Pacific Rim movie, now seems like a good time to talk about what the Japanese call kaiju, or as we called them when I was a kid, giant monsters. They wreak havoc on our cities in the movies, leaving mayhem and destruction in their wake, and we love them for it. What's the big deal, anyway?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Time has come today: the Time Travel Blogathon begins!

Whether you've come from the Middle Ages, jousting with knights in armor, or from the 25th century, hanging out with aliens, welcome to the Time Travel Blogathon! Today and tomorrow, I'll collect your entries, and Ruth will gather the rest on Sunday. Provide your link in the comments or tweet it to me @ratzo318. Thank you so much for participating. Enjoy the posts!

My post is for Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, while Ruth writes about Tomorrow I'll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea.

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
"The Odyssey of Flight 33" & "Once Upon a Time" from The Twilight Zone

The Midnite Drive-in
Beyond the Time Barrier and The Time Travelers
GI Samurai

I Found It At The Movies
Time After Time

Karavansara
The Time Machine (1960)

Caftan Woman
Repeat Performance

Thoughts All Sorts
The Lake House

Realweegiemidget Reviews
Somewhere in Time

SindrElf
Source Code

4 Star Films
A Matter of Life and Death

Taking Up Room
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Kate and Leopold

Once Upon a Screen
Back to the Future trilogy

Critica Retro
The Road to Yesterday

Life's Daily Lessons
Timeline

Voyages Extraordinaires
Twilight Zone episodes, For All Time and Somewhere in Time

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Feud: Olivia and Ryan

“...I believe in the right to free speech, but it certainly must not be abused by using it to protect published falsehoods or to improperly benefit from the use of someone’s name and reputation without their consent. Fox crossed both of these lines with ‘Feud,’ and if it is allowed to do this without any consequences, then the use of lies about well-known public figures masquerading as the truth will become more and more common. This is not moral and it should not be permitted."

When I watched Feud last year, I remember wondering how much of it was fact and how much was fiction. I was surprised it wasn't based on a book, though in hindsight, I'm not sure why I made a point of that. Maybe because it was television? Not sure. Regardless, Feud had the air of authenticity to it.


Ryan Murphy
The scenes with Olivia de Havilland commenting on the story of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had struck me as a construct meant to put everything in perspective, a use of artistic license to better tell the story. I never thought it was meant to be taken as literal (even though within the story context, it was part of a "documentary"). It's possible, though, that people could take it seriously — hence this lawsuit by the centenarian actress against Feud creator Ryan Murphy and FX.

The real ODH has portrayed famous people in her career: Charlotte Bronte in Devotion; Elizabeth Bacon Custer in They Died With Their Boots On; Queen Elizabeth II in a TV movie about Prince Charles and Lady Diana (ironically, the subjects of Murphy's next Feud installment).


Catherine Zeta-Jones as ODH in Feud
She was part of a Hollywood that often played fast and loose with the facts whenever they made biographies — not that it's much different today. Boots is an excellent example of this. One wonders if ODH had any objections to factual inaccuracies in these films.

Her own feud with her sister Joan Fontaine was common knowledge for a long time, therefore, when her Feud character calls Fontaine a bitch, that didn't strike me as odd. Then again, my knowledge of the private lives of celebrities past and present is limited, by choice.

Still, I don't wanna come down on her. I have total respect and admiration for ODH. The fact that her reputation and her self-respect mean so much to her that she's willing to go to court over her portrayal in Feud says much about the person she is and the era she forged her career in. I sympathize with her situation, and I sincerely hope she doesn't leave this world with the matter unresolved.


ODH (right), with Bette Davis
Still, I'm uncomfortable with the precedent this case could set if she wins. Should Murphy have at least consulted her first, out of respect, if not obligation? Yes, but even if she was unavailable, he wasn't making a documentary. 

There's a distinction between that and what we call a "docudrama": one purports to present the facts as is (emphasis on the word purports), the other dramatizes them, presents the facts in a narrative that resembles fiction, and both are legitimate forms of storytelling, practiced in media other than film and TV. Yes, there are exceptions in both cases, and yes, it's annoying when they get the facts wrong, but in general, I believe audiences are able to tell the difference between 20 Feet From Stardom and Dreamgirls, to pick two examples.

Was there intent to damage ODH's reputation on Murphy's part? That's for a court to decide, but what motive would he have? Was he secretly a Fontaine fan out for revenge? I can't imagine.

This is a case to watch, for its long-term implications lay beyond the realm of film.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Oscar-nominated animation shorts plus an Oscar wrap-up

Here's something new for the blog: every year, in select theaters around the country, the Academy releases the Oscar nominees in the short film categories — live action, documentary and animation.

I'm not sure, but I think last Friday may have been the first time I went to see some of them theatrically, before the Oscar telecast. It was actually Virginia's idea; we were gonna have a late lunch near the IFC Center in Manhattan and she decided she wanted to go to the movies also. I opted for the nominees for Animated Short. The late lunch turned into an early dinner.


Dear Basketball
I hadn't been to the IFC in some time. They're in the process of trying to expand their Greenwich Village venue, but they've run into some problems that may threaten their future in that location. I remember signing a petition in support of their proposed expansion. I don't need to explain to you how important it is for them to remain viable, in the wake of the demise of the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, so I hope everything works out for them.

The nominated films are the following:


Garden Party
- Dear Basketball. Hoop superstar Kobe Bryant reflects on his lifelong love affair with the game. This may be the sentimental choice. I know little about Bryant, but I'm aware he's a top NBA player, and this seems like a heartfelt tribute. The art is a lot like the video for A-ha's "Take On Me": sketchy and subtle, yet energetic and metamorphic.

- Garden Party. A bunch of frogs and other creatures explore an abandoned mansion — but why is it abandoned in the first place? This one was my favorite. The ridiculously photorealistic art is enough of a treat on its own, but the mystery of the mansion and what happened there before the frogs came may be even more tantalizing, especially since we're only given bits and pieces of the puzzle.


Lou
- Lou. A playground bully and thief gets his comeuppance from an unusual creature born of his spoils. The token Pixar entry, "Lou" is also a mystery, but who and what it is ultimately counts for less than how it handles the bully. It's Pixar, so you know it's good.

- Negative Space. How packing luggage unites a father and son. This one's in stop-motion; it's probably the least of the five, but it's visually appealing, and it has a clever ending.


Negative Space
- Revolting Rhymes. Based on a Roald Dahl story, this is a mash-up of classic fairy tales in a modern setting. Dahl's slightly skewed humor is at play here, taking archetypal characters like Snow White, Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf and others and reimagining them while sticking to the original tales. The CGI art was fine; no complaints. There were also some honorable mentions included with the screening.

Virginia liked these shorts but thought a number of them had a dark undercurrent, particularly Rhymes (gunplay, animals devouring other animals), though it didn't really bother her.

I could easily see Basketball winning, though I would give the Oscar to Garden.

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Revolting Rhymes
Now it's the day after the Oscars, and it turns out I was right: Dear Basketball did win. Like I said, it struck me as the sentimental choice, although looking further into Bryant's history, I doubt his win will be celebrated in certain circles.

I didn't bother watching; I knew The Shape of Water would take top honors, and it did. Del Toro got Director too. I can't argue with either choice. 

I knew Oldman and McDormand would get the lead acting Oscars, but I'm thrilled to also see Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney take the Supporting ones too; they're both fine actors I've admired for a long time.

Bibi and Eric had shared their predictions with me and other friends by email last weekend. They will be pleased to see Get Out take Original Screenplay; they liked that one a lot; they were less excited about Call Me By Your Name, even though that won Adapted Screenplay. Eh. It's over now, so we can all get on with our lives.

Here's the full list.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Ready link one

So here's an editorial Lynn shared with our filmgoing group on Facebook, in which the author eulogizes the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas as a place that brought the Upper West Side community (of Manhattan, that is) together socially. He wants to keep the art-house theater alive, which I agree with, but he suspects the affluent boomers west of Central Park won't bother going to the Angelika or the IFC or the Film Forum because they "notoriously do not go below 59th street [sic] and certainly not below 14th."

I was going to write about how contradictory this attitude is (these people can afford to take an Uber to Houston Street), but then I thought about the Kew Gardens Cinemas here in Queens, and how I'd feel if it went out of business. Like the Lincoln, it specializes in independent cinema for an older, tasteful audience. I don't live in Kew Gardens, but I live close enough to it that I feel like that theater is "mine," in a sense.

Still, I'm a crazy movie fan who will go anywhere for a movie, so I'm the exception. For a quiet, off-the-beaten-path neighborhood like Kew Gardens, I'm convinced the author's statement is much more true. MOMI screens indie films, of course, but really, the Kew is the place in all of Queens for indie cinema (they have more screens, for one thing), and I can totally see the neighborhood there turn to Netflix in the absence of the Kew much more than the UWS, who still have multiple options (relatively) close at hand, unlike Kew Gardens.

So maybe I am challenging the UWS attitude after all. The closing of the Lincoln is a great tragedy, but they were not the only game in town. I understand the loss of the social atmosphere, but UWS residents aren't the only ones who love indie films, and if they were to take that trip downtown (Google Maps estimates it takes 27 minutes to drive from the site of the Lincoln to the Angelika), they might meet some more.

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I saw The Shape of Water a second time last month, with Sandi. She pointed out something I didn't realize (mild spoiler alert, I guess): the musical sequence late in the movie is an anachronism: the dance is a homage to an Astaire/Rogers movie (I forget which) from the 30s, but the song is from the 40s. You probably knew that already, but I didn't, so let me have this moment, okay?

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Still time to get in on the Time Travel Blogathon with Ruth and me next weekend. We've got a terrific lineup of films on tap, so I'm looking forward to this one a lot.

The Queens World Film Festival is this month; if you're in town, do yourself a favor and stop by for a night or two if you can.

Links after the jump.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs
seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, Jersey City NJ

I think part of the reason The Silence of the Lambs is as unsettling as it is has to do with the cinematography. Jonathan Demme (and his DP, Tak Fujimoto) used so many tight close-ups, which in another film, might feel different, but here I found them claustrophobic, as if Jodie Foster was trapped in the frame with Anthony Hopkins — which, in a way, she was.


Apparently, this was a motif of the late Demme's work, although I don't remember for sure because it's been a long time since I've seen his films (Married to the Mob, Stop Making Sense, Philadelphia, Beloved, Rachel Getting Married, etc.).

Usually we welcome seeing our favorite stars' faces twenty feet high, but in Silence, I longed for room to breathe, metaphorically speaking, to get away from Hannibal Lecter. And of course, Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill was so revolting, you wouldn't want to look at him up close, but we get that too.


At the time of Demme's death last year, this article by a gay writer went up on Slate, discussing Silence and Philadelphia in a gay context. You may recall the Buffalo Bill character was the focus of controversy from gay groups, and the latter film was believed to be Demme's apology for it.

At the time, I understood very little of the whole thing, and I'm probably not the one to address it now; I only bring it up here to note how the conversation about Demme and Silence has evolved, however slowly, in the past quarter century.


I was pleasantly surprised to see who else was in this movie. I knew about Kasi Lemmons, who went on to become a filmmaker. Demme's former mentor, Roger Corman, has a brief cameo as the FBI director; Charles Napier is the guard Hannibal kills when he escapes; singer Chris Isaak is a SWAT officer; even George Romero has an uncredited bit as a fed (though that one I found out about later, on IMDB).

Going to the Loews JC was a last-minute decision, but as usual, I'm glad I did it. Nothing particularly special to report this time; just another fun night out at the best place to see a film in the tri-state area.

Monday, February 26, 2018

2017 Top 10


Normally I don't do this sort of thing, but this year I want to give an honorable mention to Feud: Bette and Joan, Ryan Murphy's exquisite TV mini-series about the two great divas of Golden Age Hollywood in their twilight years. This may have been TV, but it was every bit as good as a theatrical release; it's unfortunate that Olivia de Havilland is so upset with it that she's taking Murphy and FX to court over it. I hope they come to some kind of settlement before she leaves this world. (Yes, I know, a lot of dramatic television is as good as the movies now. What can I say? I'm extremely picky.)

So here we go once again. In case you've forgotten, I don't get to see everything. If your favorite movie isn't here, sorry, but that's just how it goes.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Panther

Black Panther
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Black Panther in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1966 — issue 52, for those of you keeping track at home (inciting a trend that would one day be the bane of Chasing Amy's Hooper X).

He seemed to be a villain at first: inviting the FF to his fictitious African nation of Wakanda to "arrange the greatest hunt of all time," only the FF themselves, in a four-color twist on The Most Dangerous Game, turn out to be the hunted.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Walter Huston and the Huston filmmaking clan

The 2018 O Canada Blogathon is an event devoted to Canadian actors and films, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.

I'm eager to talk about Walter Huston for this year's blogathon because I think he's one of the most underrated actors of the Hollywood Golden Age, not to mention the fact that he's the progenitor of a filmmaking family as prolific as the Barrymores.


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was the first film of his I saw, although of course I had no idea who he was at the time, nor did I know the director was his son John. 

You don't need me to tell you what an outstanding movie it is. The elder Huston's character is part of Bogey's quest for gold, though he's not as obsessive about it as Bogey or Tim Holt. His role is more like the provocateur, the one who pokes fun at the others even as he leads them on their quixotic hunt, as eager for the prize as them. Like many of his roles, it's contradictory. He's lively, quick-witted, yet ruthless, in his way, and he almost steals the movie right out from under Bogey.

For a long time, I'd see him in other films and I could never make the connection  with him in Treasure: was that really the same guy? Huston would've been a successful actor in any era: his was a powerful presence on screen, energetic, daring, and above all, versatile.

The Toronto native was born in 1883 and first acted in stage, in 1902, after going to acting school. He moved into vaudeville and eventually Broadway, in 1924. Five years later he appeared in the Gary Cooper western The Virginian, and his career in film took off, alternating between lead and supporting roles in films like Rain, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Furies, The Devil and Daniel Webster, the macabre Kongo, and the exquisite Dodsworth.

Son John was born in 1906, to Walter and his first wife Rhea Gore. John initially pursued a career in writing; Walter appeared in two early films of his, A House Divided and Law and Order. John was given the chance to direct after hitting it big with films like Sergeant York and High Sierra. His debut was the noir classic The Maltese Falcon.

John originally imagined Walter in the Bogey role when he first read the book in 1935. World War 2 changed his and Warner Brothers' plans for the film, but after it was over, the studio wanted their top gun, Bogey, for the lead. Walter didn't want a supporting role at first, but John talked him into it. Walter even performed without his dentures. Both father and son would win Oscars.

During the war, Walter did voice-over work on a number of informational  propaganda shorts, while John made films for the Army Signal Corps, as told in the Mark Harris book Five Came Back. Ironically, the Canadian Walter portrayed Uncle Sam in December 7, a Pearl Harbor documentary. Father and son teamed up for Report from the Aleutians, a notable doc about a US military operation at sea against Japan. John directed and Walter narrated.

The Huston clan eventually produced more filmmaking offspring in Walter's grandchildren: screenwriter Allegra, actor-director Danny, actor-writer Tony, and of course, actress Anjelica, the third generation of Hustons to win an Oscar; plus great-grandson Jack, an actor.

Back in 1938, Walter appeared in a Broadway show called Knickerbocker Holiday, in which he sang a sentimental tune called "September Song." 



It went on to become an American standard (I remembered this as one of the songs I learned while taking lessons on the Hammond organ as a child). Many years later, Anjelica would perform it on television.

So yeah, Walter Huston. Up there with the greats, as far as I'm concerned.

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Films by Walter Huston:
Dodsworth
The Furies

Previously:
Sarah Polley
John Candy
William Shatner

Saturday, February 3, 2018

New release roundup for January '18


Aargh. I was gonna do regular-sized posts on these movies, but I've been preoccupied with the novel, plus, y'know, procrastination, so I'll just do a quick summation here.


- The Post. Spielberg made the right movie at the right time. Amazing how so much of what we're seeing with the current presidential administration is just history repeating itself, which is exactly what happens when we forget the lessons of the past. Meryl Streep as Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham is a reluctant heroine who finds the strength within herself to take a stand against an oppressive regime, ultimately becoming a women's lib heroine as well. Oscar number four? Maybe! I would vote for it for Best Picture, but it's not as dominant a nominee as I had expected. We'll see.


- Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. Meanwhile, Annette Bening continues to do excellent work without racking up even one statuette. As former film noir bad girl Gloria Grahame, in a love affair with a much younger British actor, this seemed like a slightly unusual choice for her at first, but I totally bought the romance. Jamie Bell, the dancing Irish lad from Billy Elliot, now grown up, was quite good also. This was the last film I saw at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. It was close to a sellout, but I suspect that was more because of people wanting to say goodbye to the venerable theater than anything else.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Links and a fare-thee-well

Let the record show that the final movies shown at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas were the following: A Ciambra, The Insult, Darkest Hour, My Coffee with Jewish Friends, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, Happy End and Wonder Wheel. The final day of this beloved indy movie theater saw a packed house, with patrons and staff sharing memories and offering best wishes for the future.

I was one of a handful of people taking pictures of the joint, as you can see. It was tempting to pick a "souvenir" of some sort to take with me, but it wasn't like I could walk out with one of their framed movie posters under my arm — hence the pictures. I had never really noticed how much original non-film related art was in the lobby.

Vija was sick and couldn't make it; most of the others had already paid their last respects earlier this month, and some weren't interested in seeing Liverpool (I liked it), so it was just me and Sue from our film group who helped preside over the end, but we were part of a huge crowd for the movie. (More on it soon.)

Earlier in the day, there was a ceremony held in memory of the Lincoln and the late co-owner Dan Talbot attended by, among others, filmmaker Michael Moore (who blamed corporate greed for the closing).

It has been quite encouraging to see the love and support shown for this local, independent movie house, as well as for the Sunshine downtown (being replaced by this monstrosity), not just here in NYC but throughout the film industry in general. Even in this Netflix era, the movie-going experience still counts for something.

That's no small thing, especially when it's built on a foundation of quality films in a pleasant environment run by people with taste. If you have a theater like the Lincoln or the Sunshine where you are, consider yourself fortunate — and support them when you can. They're rare birds these days.

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That's Katha & Don in the front row.
In other news, I attended the kickoff party for the Queens World Film Festival a couple of weeks ago. Good news: it was held in the Astor Room, the chic supper club located at the Astoria Kaufman Studios. Bad news: they had to move us to the basement because of repairs.

That didn't diminish the spirit of the gathering, though with QWFF head honchos Don & Katha Cato in the house, diminished spirit is never a problem. By the time you read this, the updated website, with this year's lineup of films, should be live. If you're in the New York area in mid-March, consider coming out to Astoria for the show.

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I'm grateful for the turnout for the Time Travel Blogathon hosted by myself and Ruth from Silver Screenings. This is shaping up to be a very eclectic lineup, which is always cool to see. Plenty of time to get in on the fun if you want, but if not, you can always hop in your DeLorean or slingshot around the sun and, you know... It all goes down the weekend of March 9-11.

Links after the jump, plus more Lincoln Plaza photos.