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

The Time Machine (1960)

Caftan Woman
Repeat Performance

Thoughts All Sorts
The Lake House

Realweegiemidget Reviews
Somewhere in Time

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

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. 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.


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.


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?


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.