Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born (2018)
seen @ Cinema Village, New York, NY

Once upon a time, George Cukor directed a movie called What Price Hollywood? It was about the dream of fame and fortune: specifically, the kind that comes with being a movie star — and who among us hasn't had that fantasy at some point in our lives? The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.

Five years later, this story was tweaked a bit and became A Star is Born, the universally familiar love story in which the principals traverse the ladder of success in both directions at once.

It's such a universal story that it's been told again and again, in various forms, over the years. It was never done better than in 1954, when in her version, Judy Garland gave one of the greatest performances by a woman in American film history.

It's been a tough act to follow.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Hooray for Bollywood: The legend of Amitabh Bachchan

The 2019 Marathon Stars Blogathon is an event in which participants are encouraged to write about an unfamiliar movie star, hosted by Good Old Days, Wonderful World and Classic Film Addict. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the host sites.

I've wanted to write about Bollywood — Indian films made out of Mumbai (nee Bombay) — for quite awhile, so I'm grateful for the excuse of this blogathon for the opportunity.

The Indian film industry is plenty robust in terms of sheer productivity. Wikipedia says Hindi films account for 43% of the net box office revenue of India.

Every once in awhile I'll pass an Indian video store in the neighborhood and if there's a movie playing on the TV, I'll look at it. If you've seen any Indian films, you know they have their own... how shall I put it?... sensibility that's unlike American films.

I suspect what everyone thinks of first, though, is the dancing. Indians love their dance numbers.

With the sheer volume of Bollywood films, naturally they've had their share of stars over the years. I'm here today to talk about one of their biggest.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Richard Matheson Blogathon continues!

Welcome to Day 2 of the Richard Matheson Blogathon. Debbie kicked things off yesterday; today, I'll collect your links. Here's my post on the movie Duel, in case you missed it. Thanks again for taking part!

MovieRob
Loose Cannons
What Dreams May Come

Moon in Gemini
Amazing Stories: The Doll

Critica Retro
House of Usher

It Came From the Man Cave
Burn Witch Burn

Friday, March 8, 2019

Duel

The Richard Matheson Blogathon is an event devoted to the career of the science fiction/thriller writer of film, television and fiction. Debbie and I thank you for taking part. Be sure to check our blogs to discover all the entries!

Duel
YouTube viewing

I never learned to drive, so I've never been subject to "road rage." Sure, I've ridden with drivers who have gotten mad at other drivers and vented their frustration at them in some fashion. Sadly, it happens all too often these days because some people are either too ignorant or too impatient to follow the rules of the road.

But being mad enough at another driver to try to do them harm? Man, I hope I never see that first-hand. That takes a special kind of crazy. Why does that kinda stuff happen anyway?

Friday, March 1, 2019

Marvelous links

I finally did it.

I finally got Netflix.

I'm just sampling it out for now; I don't know if I wanna make it permanent yet. I watch it on my new iPad. So far I'm bingeing on Deep Space Nine, rewatching the whole thing from the beginning and remembering why I loved that show so much. Eventually, I'll watch some original Netflix movies and write about them here the same way I would for any other movie.

I gotta say, it's addictive to the point of ridiculousness. To be able to watch DS9, or any TV show or movie available on Netflix, on demand whenever I want, is almost too much power for any one person. And yet now it has become part of everyday consumption, like Amazon Prime, CBS All Access, Hulu, etc.

It's too easy. I just can't help but feel there's a danger in that, like it has less value that way. So far, though, I'm wrong. I hope I stay wrong.

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Green Book for Best Picture? Really? I seriously underestimated that one. When I first saw the trailer, I dismissed it as a twist on Driving Miss Daisy — the kind of "can't we all get along" kind of movie I'd seen lots of times before.

Even now, I find it impossible to believe it's a better movie than Roma (which did take three Oscars, including Director). I guess I'll have to give it a look when it comes to cable, but I still say Roma was robbed. And it certainly can't be as good as White Savior!

Yay for Regina King winning Supporting Actress! I've liked her ever since she was a kid on the TV show 227 back in the 80s. She would make a perfect Michelle Obama, by the way...

Yay for Spike winning an Oscar (Adapted Screenplay). Finally.... I was certain Lady Gaga would win Best Actress, so I'm glad she didn't (though she did take Original Song).... Yay for Rami Malek for taking Best Actor, though I still say Rhapsody wasn't that great a movie.

The complete list of winners.

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Speaking of Amazon, the recent mishegoss over whether or not they would set up shop here in Queens had me thinking for a moment about their foray into original films.

Oscar winner Manchester by the Sea is one of the biggest successes of Amazon Studios. I've paid to see that, along with the Woody Allen comedy Cafe Society and the recent Polish film Cold War.

The HQ2 situation made me aware of Amazon's business practices, and it makes me a little uncomfortable to support them, but I turn a blind eye to it. Manchester was the kind of film I would want to see and blog about. It's entirely possible other movies of that caliber could be made by Amazon in the future.

It's the sort of compromise we all agree to every day. We pick and choose which stands to take.

More after the jump.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Adventures of Captain Marvel chs. 10-12


Chapters 1-3 Chapters 4-6 Chapters 7-9

Superman was created for DC Comics in 1938, and once it took off, the publisher was really concerned about imitators. There were some running around in the late 30s, but when Captain Marvel took off and was as huge as it was, DC chose to pursue legal action against Fawcett in 1941, which included a failed attempt to stop the Adventures of Captain Marvel serial.

The case didn't come to trial until 1948. Fawcett won, but DC appealed three years later and won. Fawcett settled out of court, paying damages and cancelling all CM comics.

In 1967, Marvel Comics created a completely different "Captain Marvel" character of their own and trademarked it. Over the years, the CM name has been passed down to several different Marvel characters. The one in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie with Bree Larson is the latest version.

In 1972, DC licensed the rights to the Fawcett superheroes, but because Marvel now held the trademark on the CM name, DC had to call their new book featuring the original CM Shazam! As a result, younger audiences thought that was the name of the character in long red underwear with a thunderbolt on his chest.

In 2011, DC finally said the hell with it and officially changed his name to Shazam. I imagine many fans, however, still think of him as CM.

Let's conclude the serial:

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

2018 Top 10


I saw fewer new movies last year for several reasons: preoccupied with the novel; being with Virginia, doing different things; the rising price of tickets.

Also, more quality films are available exclusively through streaming sites like Netflix. This is a big change that's been difficult for me to accept. When it comes to movies, I'm traditional. I believe the pros of seeing a movie in a theater outweigh the cons — yet that paradigm is shifting.

It hasn't changed completely, though. There are still good movies to be found in theaters if you know where to look. Here are ten of them.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Charlotte's Web (1973)

Charlotte's Web (1973)
YouTube viewing

Of course I love this movie. Of course I watched it as a kid every time it aired on TV. Of course I own the book. And yet, as I re-watched it last week for the first time in many years, I found new insight in this story I know forwards and backwards.

This may be the most life-affirming children's story of all time. The specter of death hangs over Wilbur and Charlotte: the former as an external threat, from the circumstance of being born on a farm, the latter as an internal threat, from being born as a creature with a terribly brief lifespan.

Yet again and again there's an emphasis, particularly through the songs, on how life is a gift to be treasured, however short — and that circumstances can change, if one has the will to change them.

How very special are we indeed.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Adventures of Captain Marvel chs. 7-9


Chapters 1-3 Chapters 4-6

At his peak, Captain Marvel was huge. He appeared in Whiz Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures, and by 1944, sales reached a staggering 14 million copies.

All those sales also meant merchandising. A recent book catalogues the vast depth of dolls, figurines, toys, costumes, and other items made to promote CM and the Marvel Family of characters.

CM had, and has, a devoted fan following, and among the biggest fans included none other than Elvis Presley! Specifically, he dug Captain Marvel Jr. and modeled himself after him. Here's a detailed history of the Elvis/CMJ connection.

Vintage TV fans will remember Gomer Pyle and a certain catchphrase of his. Did you also know Jim Nabors cut a record called Shazam!, in character as Gomer?

CM has been referenced in songs, other TV shows, other films, books, and more. To pick one example among many: the 1950 film The Good Humor Man (which co-starred TV Superman George Reeves!) has a CM fan club as part of the story line, which Fawcett took advantage of with a promotional tie-in comic.

When the Shazam! movie comes out, I'll talk about CM on television. For now, let's return to the serial:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris

The Adoring Angela Lansbury Blogathon is an event celebrating the life and career of the actress, hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews. For a list of participating bloggers visit the link at the host site.

Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris
YouTube viewing

Is it wrong of me to think of Angela Lansbury as a television actress? Sure, she has a long and distinguished career in film, not to mention on stage, but for someone who grew up when I did, I can't help but think of her, not as the young, curvy starlet from films like Gaslight and National Velvet, or the middle-aged thespian from The Manchurian Candidate and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but as the old lady who solves murder mysteries every week on CBS.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Adventures of Captain Marvel chs. 4-6



As I said last week, Captain Marvel was created by CC Beck and Bill Parker at Fawcett Publications, which originally worked in pulp magazines before adding comics in 1939. CM was originally called "Captain Thunder" when Parker thought him up. By the time Whiz Comics hit the newsstands a year later, his name was changed to Captain Marvel. I've mentioned here before how Beck's original rendering of CM resembled actor Fred MacMurray.

The name "Shazam," which Billy Batson says to transform into CM, is taken from historical and mythological figures — Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury — and CM is endowed with each of their powers and abilities.

CM's stories always had a whimsical feel to them. His rogues gallery of villains included your standard mad scientist (Dr. Sivana), evil counterpart (Black Adam), even a talking worm (Mr. Mind), but they rarely came across as "evil" as, say, the Joker or Doctor Doom. They felt more like a nuisance than a genuine threat.

And then there's CM's supporting cast. You might know about his sidekicks Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. You may even know about the talking tiger. Do you know about the racist comedy relief character, or the fat old man comedy character, or the CM "clones," or even (I swear to god I'm not making this up) the giant pink rabbit? They were all part of the canon for many years. 

We'll talk more about CM's popularity next week. For now, let's return to the serial:

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Cold War

Cold War
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Now that I've seen Cold War, after the Oscar nominees have been announced, I can't help but wonder how close it came to a Best Picture nod. A spot in the Best Foreign Language Film category seemed a given, but Cinematography and shockingly, Director too, makes me think there was a lot of love for it — which is good, because it's an excellent film.

Did it finish in the Top 10 in the Best Picture voting? Did it steal some number-one votes from Roma, another black and white period piece? We'll never know, because the Academy doesn't release the tally for Best Picture or any other category, and that's unfortunate. Still, it's worth the speculation.


I saw the trailer for it when I saw Stan and Ollie, and just like with director Pawel Pawlikowski's previous film, Ida, I went into it blind, willing to take a chance, knowing nothing else about it, and once again, I was rewarded.

Starting in Pawlikowski's native Poland after World War 2 and moving across Europe through the 40s and 50s, it's about the star-crossed romance between the conductor of a traveling troupe of Polish performers, singing and dancing to the folk songs of their native land, and his star attraction, a young girl from the wrong side of the tracks, set against the background of the rise of Communism in Poland.


Just like Ida, Pawlikowski shoots in the squarish, television-like format, and composed the shots in such a way that the action takes up the lower half of the screen. His Oscar-nominated DP, Lucasz Zal, also worked the camera for Ida. Once again, they get some beautiful images.

The leads, Joanna Kulig (who reminded me of Jenny Lawrence) and Tomasz Kot, are terrific. He's an excellent piano player, and she's a dynamite singer.


There are elements of La La Land, The Artist and even Once to be found here, but the movie I was reminded of most is A Star is Born. Ironic, since last year saw yet another remake of that old chestnut. Cold War, needless to say, is much less glitzy than any of these films, yet it has its share of glamor in spots.

Is it fair to compare this to Roma? I think so. Cold War, too, is inspired by real life — in this case, the model is the story of Pawlikowski's parents, though the film is not meant to be biographical. Both films have beautiful and distinctive cinematography. Both films reflect the political atmosphere of the times and places in which they're set. Both films are character driven.


But Roma had the backing of Netflix and was able to reach a wider audience as a result. Would Cold War have had comparable success if it had Netflix to support it? Possibly. But it did pretty damn well on its own.

Another irony: the Kew Gardens screened this film, with its small size, in Theater 3, its biggest auditorium. Cold War took up half the size of the screen!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Adventures of Captain Marvel chs. 1-3


In anticipation of the Shazam! movie coming out in April, I thought I'd spend Saturdays this month taking a look at the last time the superhero Captain Marvel appeared on the big screen (not to be confused with the upcoming Marvel movie with Bree Larson), in one of the most celebrated serials in film history. At one point CM was as big as Superman or Batman. He's one hero who definitely deserves the Hollywood treatment.

A brief primer: Captain Marvel was created in 1939 by CC Beck and Bill Parker in Whiz Comics, published by Fawcett. Young Billy Batson, an orphan child, gets chosen by the ancient wizard Shazam to be his super-powered envoy on Earth, with abilities drawn from historical and mythological figures throughout human history, fighting evil.

Republic Pictures were known for their serials as well as their Westerns and B pictures. John Wayne started out there, as did Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. They adapted CM for the big screen because Superman was unavailable.

This will be my first exposure to an old-time theatrical serial. Who's got the popcorn?

Friday, February 1, 2019

New release roundup for January '19


I really wanted to write about these movies in more detail, but it was just easier to provide quick summaries for them this month. You already read about To Be Continued, a last-minute insert.

- If Beale Street Could Talk. I read the James Baldwin book many years ago and thought about rereading it before seeing this adaptation from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins. I changed my mind because I had read there were some differences. Virginia said she found it tough to sit through. It's not, not really; it's just intense. Jenkins emphasizes the love story at its heart, and does a good job of retaining Baldwin's literary voice. Strong performances, lush cinematography. Jenkins did it again, folks. There's no stopping this guy.

- Glass. I honestly didn't think this was as bad as the critics made it out to be, though there were more than a few head-scratching moments. Give Night credit for keeping this character-based as well as not making the final battle a CGI cartoon fest full of rubbery figures. (For the record, I saw Split on cable months ago, so I knew what to expect.) James MacAvoy is scary as hell in a role both physically and mentally demanding; I can't begin to imagine how one would prepare for such a role once, much less twice.

- Stan and Ollie. A nice tribute to one of the all-time greatest comedy teams in their twilight years. While I'm not a huge Laurel & Hardy fan, I could tell Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly captured the feel of their routines down well. Jeanine Basinger called L&H "a married couple, without the marriage," and this film captures that, the bickering as well as the love and respect. Virginia liked it too (we have yet to seriously disagree on a movie).

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Lego links

The giant-sized special edition of The Dark Pages with my article on Anthony Mann & John Alton is available now. I have my hard copy edition, and I gotta say, I'm impressed with the look of it.

Back in the 90s, I had a passing interest in zines, which coincided with my initial steps into self-publishing comics. I remember trying to market my comics amongst the zine crowd, but it didn't work out; zines are a whole different animal.

One would think zines were old hat in the digital age, but TDP is one of the finest looking ones I've come across in a long time: simple, but well laid out, on nice paper, with every square inch utilized, and a topic, film noir, with a wide and devoted audience. It's like reading all the entries in a blogathon in one collection.

Karen and her staff have a quality product here, and I'm pleased to have been a part of it.

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Speaking of blogathons, if you want in on the Richard Matheson Blogathon, hosted by myself and Debbie from Moon in Gemini (who is also part of the special TDP issue), be sure to e-mail me at ratzo318 (at) yahoo (dot) com or post in the comments and I'll put you on the list. March 9-10 is when it goes down.

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Here's more pushback against Whoopi Goldberg's anti-bike diatribe from weeks ago. Long-time readers of this blog know my feelings about biking, and the need for livable streets in general. It's not that cars are unimportant; it's just that they dominate our streets at the expense of other forms of transportation, and as a result, they've become as great a threat to human safety as guns, if not more so. We shouldn't tolerate it anymore.

More after the jump.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Star Trek TNG: The Drumhead

The 90 Years of Jean Simmons Blogathon is an event dedicated to the life and career of the actress, hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at the host sites.

Star Trek TNG: The Drumhead
BBC America viewing

Crewman Simon Tarses
Duty log
Stardate 44775.8

Admiral Norah Satie summoned me to testify at the inquiry regarding the possible presence of Romulan spies aboard the Enterprise. From what Dr. Crusher tells me, her reputation for integrity and fairness is known throughout Starfleet.

I don't expect my testimony to make much of a difference. I was one of several people within sickbay to interact with the Klingon exchange officer J'Dan. If he is a turncoat, he gave no indication to me, and that's exactly what I'll tell the admiral.

No one has any reason to suspect me of anything.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Television: The Barbara Stanwyck Show

The 2019 Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon is exactly what it says on the tin, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

When television took off in popularity in the 50s, the Hollywood studios saw it as a threat, but many actors looked on it as an opportunity, especially those who were judged by the bean-counters as past their prime.

Barbara Stanwyck is one example. She spent the 50s doing mostly noir films like Clash by Night and Crime of Passion, or Westerns, a great love of hers, like Blowing Wild and Cattle Queen of Montana

TV, however, gave her the ability to sustain her career (she turned fifty in 1957), doing more of the kinds of stories she wanted. At first, during the latter half of the decade, she treaded in the shallow end, appearing in guest spots on anthology series here and there. 

Then, in 1960, she followed in the footsteps of contemporaries Loretta Young and Robert Montgomery by hosting an anthology series of her own.


OS-CAH!

For Best Picture:

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star is Born 
Vice

The rest.

JUST GIVE ROMA EVERYTHING.

Seriously. But if not, then Roma should at least walk away with Picture, Director and Original Screenplay. I don't think this should even be a debate. It's also up for Best Foreign Language Film. Has any film won both Picture and Foreign Language before?

So I guess somebody talked the Academy out of adding that proposed "Best Popular Film" category. Good. Theoretically, there's no reason why Panther and Rhapsody shouldn't compete in the same field as The Favourite and Green Book (though I didn't think Rhapsody was Best Picture worthy). The Oscars will always have an audience; the Academy shouldn't try to cater to it by inventing such a category.

I have seen If Beale Street Could Talk and I'm disappointed it didn't make the cut. Not enough votes, perhaps? I could easily see it as the number nine entry. We'll never know, because the Academy never releases the full rankings.

Of the Best Picture nominees I haven't seen, I might go see Vice. No interest in the rest.

I saw the trailer for Cold War when I saw Beale Street and boy, am I eager to see it now. Pawel Pawlikowski also directed the sublime Ida from a few years ago, so when I saw his name on this one, I figured it was worth a look, but damn! Best Director? That is quite a shock.

Yay for the women of Roma both making the cut! I thought one was a long shot, but both makes for a very pleasant surprise. Poor Glenn Close. Will this finally be her year?

Yay for Rami Malek; he totally embodied Freddy Mercury, though like I said, the movie wasn't Best Picture good. Paul Schrader wrote a new movie? Must have been on Netflix. Ditto for the Coen Brothers film.

Spike Lee finally gets a long-overdue Best Director nod. I doubt he cares one way or another, but it's about time.

Three Identical Strangers was totally robbed for Best Doc. Also, where is Michael B. Jordan for Supporting Actor? I truly believed he was a lock.

That's all I have to say about the Oscars for now.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Rawhide (1938)

The Made in 1938 Blogathon is exactly what it says on the tin, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Pop Culture Reverie. For a complete list of participating blogs visit the links at the host sites.

Rawhide (1938)
YouTube viewing

The numbers tell the story of Lou Gehrig, and what a tale they tell: 17 seasons, all with the New York Y-nk--s; lifetime batting average of .340; a seven-time all-star; two-time MVP winner; three-time league leader in home runs; five-time league leader in runs batted in; a Triple Crown winner and owner of six World Series rings.

Plus the most important number of all: 2,130. That's how many consecutive games he played, folks: the equivalent of almost six calendar years without a day off. Though it's no longer a record, it's still a monumental achievement.

His premature death at age 37 raised awareness of the rare condition that took his life, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to the point where the disease now bears his name. And perhaps you've heard of the film they made about him.

But did you know he himself once co-starred in a Hollywood movie?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Whoopi vs. bike lanes: If Tenth Avenue could talk

"You’ve built 83 miles of protected bike lanes, okay. And I like bikes, I like people who ride, but I don’t think you understand the impact of taking something like 10th Avenue, which is six lanes down to two-and-a-half, particularly when you have a winter storm and you can’t move—none of that is movable. So you can’t get—nothing flows."

Aargh. For all the progress New York, and indeed, America, is making towards accepting livable streets as a goal worth pursuing, something new comes along to mess it all up again — in some cases, by people who should know better!


Recently, the city had prepared to shut down a major subway tunnel in desperate need of repairs for fifteen months — a plan that has now been put on hold by the governor — but there have also been contingency plans for serving the displaced subway riders in which several streets would be rearranged to accommodate bike lanes and faster buses.


A lawyer representing a coterie of limousine liberals has led a vocal opposition to these plans, despite his credentials as a "progressive."


Now this: another alleged progressive speaks out against measures — bike and bus lanes as a means towards social and economic justice — every left-winger should be applauding. (Whoopi's current solution: movable bike lanes.)


But I don't want to get too political here. Instead, I'll counter Whoopi's uninformed remarks with opposing testimonies from other TV and movie stars, since no one will listen to you in this country unless you're famous, it seems:




"I was pretty fast on the bike... I actually had fun on the bike." - Jennifer Aniston




"...thank you for the many of you who wanted to follow me [online]... I totally get inspiration from all of you when I get on that bike." - Hugh Jackman




"...There's a certain amount of freedom involved in cycling: you're self-propelled and decide exactly where to go." - David Byrne, who wrote a book about biking




"Jennifer and I mix it up. We like to lift, and we enjoy bike riding." - Alex Rodriguez on himself and Jennifer Lopez



"...cycling is freedom. It's fun. It's community. It recharges your soul." - Patrick Dempsey, who hosts a bike run


And if you're still unconvinced about the benefits of bike riding, take it from me: give it a try, just once. You don't need to wear spandex, you don't need some fancy, tricked out two-wheeler like they use in the Tour de France, and if you're careful, you don't even need a helmet. You might see the world in a whole new way.



Hollywood Rides a Bike


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Also:

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Hard Boiled

Hard Boiled
YouTube viewing

The 90s were a great time to work in video retail — for me, anyway. Quentin Tarantino made being a video store clerk cool, and the store I worked in for much of the decade had a primo selection of independent and foreign cinema. Our clientele appreciated us for this.

This made me want to keep up with the current filmmakers building reputations outside the boundaries of Hollywood: Mike Leigh, Lars von Trier, Hal Hartley, Jim Jarmusch, Pedro Almodovar, just to name a few. One of the hottest directors during the decade, one championed by us film nerds, was a fella from Hong Kong named John Woo.


I admit, I jumped on the bandwagon for Woo late, after he made his American debut in 1996, with the film Broken Arrow. If you were a film nerd then, though, it was damn near impossible to avoid the buzz surrounding him.

This was partly due to the rising interest in Asian cinema in general, especially the chop-socky kind: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh were also crossing over to the Western market around this time (plus filmmakers like Ang Lee and Wong Kar-Wai, who appealed to the Film Forum/Angelika crowd).

You will always see a moment like this
in a John Woo film.

Tarantino made it clear his films owed a big debt to Asian cinema, and lo, his disciples did go forth and spread the word, from their churches of VHS and Betamax, to their customers, and the word was Cool.

Woo made high-octane crime flicks, with levels of violence that would make Sam Peckinpah gasp. Woo's films were among the first where I understood the importance of letterbox.


In those primitive days before every television was formatted in widescreen proportions, I remember hearing my video store co-workers use phrases like "aspect ratio" and "pan and scan" and "two-three-five to one" and learning from them that how you watch a home video matters, especially if it's a tape of a film by a certain kind of filmmaker, like Kubrick, or Cameron, or Woo.

Many film nerds from my generation agree that one of Woo's best is Hard Boiled, starring Chow Yun-Fat, the Robert De Niro to Woo's Martin Scorsese, a star who also crossed over to Hollywood.


In Hard Boiled (story by Woo), he's a loose cannon cop who inadvertently crosses paths with an undercover cop while investigating a smuggling ring. It's a grand guignol of blood and bodies falling in slo-mo and bullets, bullets, bullets. It's not for the faint of heart, but man, is it fun to watch!

In searching for pics for this post, I discovered that Woo wants to remake another one of his classic HK films, The Killer, for American audiences. (Lupita Nyong'o? Talk about an out-of-the-box choice!)


My fear is that Woo's brand of ultraviolence won't have any traction today, in an era where PG-13 films reap wider audiences than R-rated ones. Then again, given how crazy PG-13 films can get with the violence themselves, maybe it's not an issue anymore. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

To Be Continued

To Be Continued
seen @ Scandinavia House, New York NY

Vija recently suggested seeing a new Latvian movie (she's of Latvian descent herself) that screened in the city this week. I had absolutely zero experience with Latvian cinema, and it had been awhile since I saw a movie with the gang, so I decided to give it a try. It was Vija, Franz and Andrea who came this time.

Scandinavia House is the go-to place for Nordic culture in New York and America: that's Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, in case you didn't know. Vija had been there before. They're currently running a series called "Nordic Oscar Contenders." (So why are they showing a Latvian film? This might explain it. Thanks to Andrea for the link!)


To Be Continued (in Latvian, the title translates to Turpinājums) is a doc that is also this year's Latvian entry in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film. The director, Ivars Seleckis, specializes in documentaries; you could say he's Latvia's answer to Werner Herzog, or Errol Morris.

This film spends a year following a group of first-grade kids. Why these kids in particular? The movie doesn't give much in the way of an explanation. They're bright, cute in their own ways, from good homes — both in the city and the country, but I had the impression these could have been any Latvian kids.

I focused on the culture and the educational system. It should come as no surprise that these kids are better schooled than ours, because most of the world's kids are better schooled than ours.


Extracurricular activities, with an emphasis on sports and performing arts, are emphasized: we see the kids play hockey, do martial arts, sing and dance, in addition to getting a standard education (math, science, history, etc.) in classes that don't look overcrowded, by teachers who don't look stressed or harassed.

I thought the kids were given a great deal of opportunity to express themselves in class; it wasn't a situation where Teacher dictates the lesson and the kids regurgitate it. There was more of a give-and-take at work; students were free to state opinions and preferences at the teachers' direction.

We also saw the kids' home lives, of course: one lives on a farm, one is of Russian descent, one lives with her grandma, etc. They go through their ups and downs, like kids everywhere do.


Vija and I were reminded of the Seven Up documentary series, an ongoing look at the lives of a select group of kids every seven years, begun by director Michael Apted back in 1964 (and is still going! 63 Up will come out this spring). The difference, we agreed, was that Seleckis didn't appear to make any kind of sociological statement with this film. Part of me kinda wished he had, but for what it was, Continued was okay.

UPDATE: I asked Vija to provide her insight into the film. Here she is:

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

He is legend: The Richard Matheson Blogathon!

One of the finest genre writers of the 20th century, Richard Matheson thrilled audiences worldwide with his screenplays, teleplays, novels and other writings in the fields of suspense, sci-fi/fantasy and horror. His contributions to The Twilight Zone are among the most popular in that show's history. The movies based on his work, including The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Last Man on Earth, are still watched and discussed today. And now he's the subject of this year's WSW blogathon.

I'm delighted to team up with Debbie from Moon in Gemini to bring you this one. The usual rules apply: comment here or at Debbie's blog to let us know what you wanna write about, and we'll gather up your posts, on March 9-10. Duplicates are AOK for this one! (One each.)

Matheson's literary work, his screenplays, teleplays, any movies inspired by his work, his career in general, are all fair game.

I'm going to write about the movie Duel. Debbie will write about the Amazing Stories episode "The Doll."

We got a whole bunch of banners this time, including the Kolchak one up top...