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.

----------------
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.

-----------

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.

-----------------

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.

---------------

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.