Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

SPOILERS

The first three Toy Story films rank up there with the greatest live-action trilogies in history. The fourth is a kind of post-script, one I never would’ve thought was necessary until I actually saw it. TS4 reminded me that these films were, and always had been, Woody’s story. His relationship with Andy has always lain at the heart of everything: not a parent, not quite a guardian, but something more than a friend (Randy Newman’s theme song notwithstanding), and for the first three films Woody’s purpose was to be there for Andy, no matter what. Now, though, Andy has grown up and moved on, and Woody is young Bonnie’s toy now — but his relationship with her is not the same.

Toy Story was Woody’s story. But his story has come to an end.*

Monday, June 24, 2019

Five films about the 1969 Mets (sort of)

This weekend, members of the 1969 World Champion Miracle Mets team will gather at Citi Field here in Queens, for what may be the last time in such a formal setting, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the summer they accomplished what many thought was not only improbable, but just plain impossible.

In 1969, the Mets were an expansion team not even a decade old that had known nothing but futility for their entire baseball life — and I mean epic futility. In 1962, their first year, they lost 120 games, and were only marginally better in subsequent years. Still, they had a lovable charm to them that New York embraced. Then they acquired some legitimate talent, as well as a manager who refused to tolerate losing, and dreamt of becoming a contender, but no one expected the leap forward they made in that summer when men walked on the moon and anything seemed possible.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Rolling Thunder Revue

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
seen @ IFC Center, New York NY

I opted to see Rolling Thunder Revue with Virginia at the last minute because I was afraid it would rain on Sunday (it did) and Toy Story 4 wasn’t out yet (though she doesn’t have much interest in that), but when I realized this is a Netflix film getting a theatrical release, I felt funny about paying money to see it.

With Roma, the big attraction in seeing that theatrically was Alfonso Cuaron’s beautiful visuals and deft compositions on a wide screen — not to mention the excellent story. That was worth paying for, and I did, twice in fact. Nothing about Revue screamed “See this on a big screen”; I doubt most documentaries “need” to be seen that way. Martin Scorsese’s next film, The Irishman, will also come out theatrically and on Netflix simultaneously, and at this point I’m not sure if I’ll make the same choice.

So. Bob Dylan. I told Virginia after the film that it was difficult for me to truly appreciate what a cultural icon he was during the 60s, as much as I’ve read about him, watched videos about him, and listened to his music. Revue helped, but for someone who wasn’t there during his creative peak, what he meant to people still strikes me as peculiar, especially now that songwriting skill in general feels devalued these days.


In 1975, Dylan organized a tour with Joan Baez and other folkies, plus counterculture figures like Allen Ginsberg, in which he played small towns in smaller venues, riding around in a bus which he drove himself. It was called the Rolling Thunder Revue. Concert footage from that tour, plus new interviews with Dylan and others, comprise this doc, continuing a streak of concert films Scorsese has pursued on and off for years, including The Last Waltz (The Band), Shine a Light (the Rolling Stones) and George Harrison: Living in the Material World. It also captures some of the zeitgeist of the era.

And it includes material Scorsese simply made up.

Why? He comes close to explaining his rationale in this interview, though if you look at the film on its own, you could easily be fooled into thinking the whole thing was genuine. Theories abound — here’s one — but ultimately this doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should. Dylan always struck me as this enigmatic, almost mythical figure. The pompous subtitle kinda implies there’s more going on here than what lies on the surface, something that feeds into the myth of Dylan — and Scorsese’s not the first filmmaker to recognize this. Remember that Todd Haynes “biopic” of Dylan, I’m Not There, in which “Dylan” was played by, among others, a black child and a woman? Something about Dylan seems to inspire reinterpretation... but I’m not the one to explain why.


Virginia really dug this movie. She had wanted to see it before I off-handedly suggested it, and not just because she did live through the peak Dylan era. She knew peripherally a couple of people in the film from musical performances she was part of in the past — a fourth or fifth degree of separation, I think. She kept telling me about it during the film.

Watching it with an audience, I felt like everyone else understood Dylan and his career, not to mention the people involved in this story, better than me: there was knowing laughter in spots I didn’t think was funny, and even Virginia made “mm hmm” noises to herself in recognition, as if she was having a conversation with the film to which I wasn’t privy. I half-expected this sort of thing. Every time I think I’ve gotten a handle on 60s culture (Dylan is of the 60s, and this movie feeds off that vibe), something new comes along — like this.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Binge Experiment

Binge-watching television has become such a natural part of our lives that sometimes we’re not even aware we do it. Part of it has to do with technology, in particular the evolution of home video, from VHS and DVD box sets to the DVR to streaming services such as Netflix. Part of it is the explosion of new cable networks that need something to put on the air before they develop original programming. And of course, part of it is the Internet, where you can upload entire seasons of old and new shows (I’m currently making my way through The Honeymooners on YouTube).

Some people take bingeing way too far, though, and last month I sought to understand why. I studied the binge phenomena in further depth by taking two streaming shows on Netflix, Ozark and Longmire, and watched the first seasons of both, the former one episode at a time and the latter all at once.

But first I asked my friends about bingeing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Books: All About ‘All About Eve’


The 2019 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge is an event in which the goal is to read and write about a variety of books related to classic film, hosted by Out of the Past. For a complete list of the rules, visit the website.

I used to work in video retail with a middle-aged man named Bill. He was instrumental in giving me a classic film education, so I think kindly of him, but I knew him as mostly irascible and gruff. He was also a gay man of a certain age, and as such, there were particular classic movies and movie actresses he placed upon a pedestal. Watching them could change his whole attitude in an instant.

Every year on his birthday, without fail, he’d put on All About Eve for one scene: At midnight, the phone operator wakes up Margo, Bette Davis’ character, for a west coast call to her fiancĂ©e Bill. At first she’s confused; she doesn’t realize the call was arranged secretly by Eve. Then Margo recognizes the occasion and smiles. “Bill!” says Margo. “It’s your birthday!” “My” Bill would hear that and melt.

But then, Bette Davis had that effect on people.

All About Eve is a fantastic movie that has dated little over the years. The theater isn’t as central to American pop culture as it once was, but the themes of ambition and careerism and middle age are as relevant now as they were in 1951, when it won the Oscar for Best Picture. The book All About ‘All About Eve’ by Sam Staggs chronicles the evolution of the tale of the aging theater diva and the mousy young groupie, and there’s much more to the route than most people realize.

Elisabeth Bergner, the inspiration for the character
who would become Margo Channing 
Did you know Eve was inspired by a true story? In the book we discover the middle-aged thespian from long ago, Elisabeth Bergner, who was the basis for the character of Margo Channing, and the young actress who wanted to be her. A third woman, only peripherally connected, was inspired to write a short story about the two. It was published. Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz saw it, adapted it for the screen, and the rest is history.

Staggs writes about that initial author, Mary Orr, and how her story got her in trouble with the real-life “Eve,” plus Orr’s struggle for proper credit on what would become the Eve screenplay, and her reunion with “Eve” many years later. We learn about who else was considered for the role of Margo, the significance of the film in the lives of the cast, including an up-and-coming starlet named Marilyn Monroe, how hangers-on like George Sanders’ wife Zsa Zsa Gabor played a factor, the budding romance between Davis and co-star Gary Merrill, and of course, all the off-camera bickering. In addition, Staggs discusses the Broadway adaptation Applause, with Lauren Bacall, and the embrace of the film by the gay community.

Mary Orr, who wrote the story that
became All About Eve 
Staggs writes All About in more of a fannish manner than a journalistic one, by his own admission. Davis and Merrill and Anne Baxter are Bette and Gary and Anne (with the occasional “Miss Davis” for period authenticity). His style is chatty in an Entertainment Tonight, Liz Smith kind of way: in interviews with living subjects, like Orr, he includes asides in the conversation like “You don’t really wanna know about this, do you?” and things like that.

You either like that kind of stuff or you don’t. I found it a bit distracting, and yes, I realize how that sounds coming from me, Mr. “I am not a film critic.” It makes me want to reevaluate my own writing, for this blog, but that’s another issue.

Staggs rambles on a bit too much at times. He’s extremely erudite, but I did think he loved the sound of his voice too much. I would say that’s the risk one takes when writing as a fan, but bloggers like Farran Smith Nehme, Kendra Bean, even Raquel and Aurora put the lie to that, so I dunno.

Bottom line, All About is very informative and illuminating. You might not be put off by Staggs’s writing style. If you love Eve the movie, check this out; just don’t expect it to read like Cahiers du Cinema.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Rocketman (2019)

Rocketman (2019)
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

The “tortured artist/musician” biopic has become a sub-genre all its own. True, these lives are dysfunctional and make for poor role models, but they’re almost always more interesting to see dramatized than a “clean” life. I mean, there’s very little about my life as an artist and writer that would make for high drama without some heavy embellishment — but then, I’m not famous. I think, cliche though it may be, a troubled life might be the price one pays for artistic immortality.

As I write this, I’m reminded of what Jacqueline told me about her Ann Blyth biography: that the actress led a comparatively “clean” life, and that’s reflected in the book, but Jacqueline speculated such a life might be a difficult sell to major publishers — one reason among several why she chose to self-publish it.

We want torture in our artist biopics, torture and weirdness with a redemptive ending if possible, especially when it’s about a musician — and when Hollywood inevitably makes movies about people like Bowie, Prince, Michael, Cobain, Tupac, Amy, etc., they’ll get it in spades. Artists like these live these crazy lives so we don’t have to. It’s the Achilles dilemma: which is better, a long life lived in obscurity or a short life which will be remembered forever? Maybe there’s a third option.


Which brings us to Elton John. In the op-ed he wrote for The Guardian prior to the release of his biopic Rocketman, John said some studios wanted less sex and drugs and more rock and roll, so to speak, so it could play as a PG-13 film, but John told them his life wasn’t quite as neat as all that:
...I didn’t want a film packed with drugs and sex, but equally, everyone knows I had quite a lot of both during the 70s and 80s, so there didn’t seem to be much point in making a movie that implied that after every gig, I’d quietly gone back to my hotel room with only a glass of warm milk and the Gideon’s Bible for company.
Left unspoken is the implication of a lesson to be learned here: John led this life of debauchery that almost killed him, but it didn’t. He came out more than okay, in fact; he’s bigger than ever and more successful, with a husband and children to boot. One could say he was able to have his cake and eat it too — not that I would recommend treading this path to anyone. He didn’t become a cautionary tale.


Rocketman comes hot on the heels of another biopic about a gay rock musician who had issues, but unlike Bohemian Rhapsody (a PG-13 movie), it doesn’t shy away from the rougher bits. We see Taron Egerton, as John, have passionate sex with another man; we see him snort all manner of drugs, we see the Bacchanalian parties, and while it was all handled artfully, I wasn’t as shocked by any of it as perhaps the filmmakers had hoped. Maybe I’ve become jaded?

What impressed me more was how this was a musical in the traditional sense: the songs weren’t just for when John performs in concert; they’re also used to help tell the story. They’re recontextualized to fit John’s narrative: songs that were written at later times in his life, such as “Crocodile Rock” And “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” are used at earlier points in the movie because they fit the scene. Other songs are used similarly, sometimes as part of big, glitzy dance numbers.


It felt much like a Broadway show instead of a movie, which was probably intentional on director Dexter Fletcher’s part. John’s younger self reappears at key moments in the narrative. Flights of fancy occur, such as John levitating off the stage. John’s rehab group in the framing sequence accompanies him into the song-and-dance numbers. It’s all pretty bizarre, but you’re encouraged to just go along with it. And Egerton is outstanding, doing his own singing and coming across convincingly as John. It’s early days yet, but is it possible we could see back-to-back Best Actor Oscar winners for rock biopics? Basically Rocketman is what Rhapsody wasn’t, and should have been.

I saw this with Ann. She was more open to seeing a rock movie than I had thought. She said afterwards that the movie sustained her interest even though she wasn’t familiar with John or his music beyond knowing a few big hits of his.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Matilda

The 2019 Reel Infatuation Blogathon is an event devoted to favorite movie characters, hosted by Silver Screenings and Font and Frock. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.

Matilda
from my VHS collection 

No one believes us when we talk about Matilda, but that’s how it is with grownups. They think just because you’re little you don’t know anything

That’s so dumb. 

Matilda was our friend. She could do things, magic things. She got rid of the Trunchbull. But the grownups always say it was something else.

Except for Miss Honey. She loved Matilda. That’s why they’re together now.

Matilda saved all of us and that’s why we love her too.

But her story is pretty weird.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The military career of Flight Lt. James Doohan

The D-Day Blogathon is an event memorializing the events of June 6, 1944 through film, hosted by Hamlette’s Soliloquy and Coffee, Classics and Craziness. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at the host sites.

I blew a chance to meet James Doohan. It was the mid-90s, and I was at a comic book convention — in Boston, perhaps, but I can’t swear to that. This was during my venture into self-publishing my own comics, and I was on my way to a panel discussion I had thought would help me in my fledgling career. I strode down a carpeted hall. To my left were tables with artists and celebrity guests from TV and film. If you’ve ever been to a con, you know they’re a regular sight, even if they have no direct connection to comics or even sci-fi/fantasy.

I looked and there he was: Scotty from Star Trek.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Jersey Boys

The Broadway Bound Blogathon is an event spotlighting film adaptations of Broadway shows, hosted by Taking Up Room. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the host site.

Netflix viewing

Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys received mediocre reviews, but I didn’t think it was that bad. It certainly didn’t redefine the famous-musician biopic — it hits all the familiar beats chronicling the rise, fall and redemption of the 60s doo-wop group the Four Seasons, and maybe one shouldn’t expect more than that, particularly from a director as un-flashy and workmanlike as him. It certainly didn’t feel like a stage show, I’ll say that much — and I had no problem with him using the stage stars, including Tony-winner John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli.


I remember hearing the Four Seasons on AM radio as a kid. In fifth grade, in fact, I had a crush on a girl named Sherri (with an “i” not a “y”), but I’d feel awkward whenever I heard the song “Sherry,” like it was advertising to the world how I felt about her. I recall thinking the group’s high-pitched voices were very unusual for guys. They couldn’t be girls, could they?

The Four Seasons were not the kinda doo-wop group my father listened to. Growing up, I always heard him play the black groups: the Drifters, the Coasters, Little Anthony and the Imperials, all those pre-Motown acts from the 50s and early 60s. I discovered the white groups like the Four Seasons on my own. I know I heard Valli’s solo hit “Grease” on the radio. I had heard the R&B remake of “Working My Way Back to You” first and thought it was the original. And I remember liking the storytelling aspect of  “December 1963” and wanting to know more about that night. Even as a kid, I had a yen for songs that told stories.

One of Virginia’s friends sings barbershop music, and she was briefly part of his quartet for a time. Barbershop is in the same ballpark as doo-wop, though I associate doo-wop with the inner city. It’s the music of street corners and dance halls, on hot summer nights — and while I never heard anybody sing doo-wop on any corners in my neighborhood, that image is inherently urban. With barbershop, I think of state fairs. Totally different vibe.


Jersey Boys is still playing in Manhattan, at the New World Stages. It opened in 2005, with the book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elise. Young was part of the original cast, as Valli, along with Daniel Reinhard as Bob Gaudio, Tony-winner Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito and J. Robert Spencer as Nick Massi. It won the Best Musical Tony as well as the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. The musical was Gaudio’s idea. Here’s an interview with him discussing the show. Brickman & Elise also wrote the screenplay for the film version.

Eastwood talks about the making of the film here. Recently there was a lawsuit involving Eastwood and Warner Brothers in which the matter of whether or not material from a DeVito autobiography was used without consent. The lawsuit originally applied to the stage show before the film version was included too. You can read about it in this THR article.

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Other adaptations of theatrical shows:
Little Shop of Horrors 
West Side Story 
Guys and Dolls 
The Music Man 
Cabaret 
Rent 
Bells Are Ringing
Hedwig and the Angry Inch 
Carmen Jones
Dreamgirls 
Brighton Beach Memoirs 
A Bronx Tale 
Watch on the Rhine 
A Raisin in the Sun





Friday, May 31, 2019

Rocketlinks

Normally I don’t talk about blogathons in advance other than my own, but I’ve signed up for one that represents another first for this blog. Silver Screen Suppers pairs movie and TV stars with recipes. You might be aware that I’ve gotten into cooking in recent years, and I’ve found it fulfilling. The blog’s creator, Jenny Hammerton, has self-published Hollywood cookbooks, and she’s currently working on one devoted to the show Murder She Wrote. She has a ton of recipes lined up and she’s giving her readers the opportunity to cook them before the book comes out. Instead of a blogathon, it’s a cookalong!

So yes, I intend to cook a recipe and blog about it here on WSW. The recipes in the cookalong are tied to the MSW cast and its guest stars, many of whom come from Old Hollywood. The one I’ve chosen is for a guest star, Glynis Johns. I’m unfamiliar with her; a basic search reveals she was in Mary Poppins, and was quite the hottie in her youth.

I hope to find the MSW episode she was in and write about that (no guarantees), but even if I don’t, I’ll cook the recipe associated with her, chicken paprika. Apparently it’s her own recipe, or at least it’s attributed to her. The cookalong runs from September 30-October 5. My post will go up in October. (EDIT: Just remembered this won’t be the first time I’ve cooked for the blog, but it will be the first time I’ve documented the process.)

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I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about Doris Day. I was never a huge fan. One of my mother’s favorite songs is “Que Sera Sera.” She used to sing it a lot when I was a kid. I’ve seen Day in Pillow Talk (liked it) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (don’t remember it). Ivan used to do a feature called “Doris Day(s)” that he keeps promising to bring back. Maybe her death will spur him into reviving it, so you should visit him and prod him if you’re interested. I know she wasn’t all sweetness and light, like her public image had been. Maybe if she had more of an edge in her films, I might’ve been more interested in them? Dunno.

As for Tim Conway, here’s an anecdote about him from Carol Burnett’s memoir This Time Together. Burnett was friends with Cary Grant, who was a big fan of her TV show. He particularly enjoyed Conway and Harvey Korman. Burnett introduced them to each other, and one day Conway, Korman, Grant, and their respective wives hung out together. Grant had an awesome time. He thought Conway and Korman were hilarious. The following week, Grant invited Conway and Korman out again, and again Grant was fully entertained by the duo’s antics. The third time, same thing, and the more this kept going, the more Conway and Korman feared they’d run out of material. But this was, after all, Cary Grant, and they didn’t wanna let him down. Finally, Conway got a call at the same time Grant always called him, and he said, “If that’s Cary Grant, I’m not home!”

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Sometime within the next week I expect to finish my experiment in binge-watching television. I chose the first seasons of two streaming programs, Ozark and Longmire. I’m watching the former one episode at a time, and when that’s done, I’ll watch the latter all at once, and then I’ll compare. The more I read about bingeing, the more convinced I am that I should take precautions when I binge — and some people have expressed concern (I ain’t no Morgan Spurlock), so for the record, I intend to alternate between sitting and standing often, snack healthily (fruit, nuts, berries, etc.) with a break for a home-cooked dinner. Given what I’ve read, and the responses to my inquiries about bingeing from my friends, I think I know what my results will be, but I’m gonna see this through anyway.

More after the jump.

Friday, May 24, 2019

These are the days: Sitcom king Norman Lear

I have vague memories of watching All in the Family in syndication, but my family and I definitely lined up every week for The Jeffersons. George & Louise were nothing like my parents, and I never projected myself into their fictitious lives, but even to my young and highly impressionable mind, I believe I was aware of the significance of seeing them, an affluent black couple, on television. I may not have been able to fully process the racial and sociological politics at play, but I recognized George as a dude who took no shit from fools and was true to himself. Though I liked Weezie (I regret not knowing well anyone named Louise so I could call them Weezie), I identified more with George. I loved Florence, the maid. She was awesome.

The Jeffersons was the first time I saw an interracial couple. It was the first time I saw black people interacting with people from wildly different cultures (if you can call England wildly different). It gave me a sense of black history as a tangible thing, not just something you read about in books —even if George tended to exaggerate his upbringing, calling himself the son of a sharecropper. It showed me how diverse black people can be within a single program: Weezie was different from Florence, and they both were different than Helen. And nothing, I mean nothing, beats that theme song

The significance of this show wouldn’t register in my mind until much later in life, but looking back, I can appreciate how much it meant to me back then — and for that I can thank Norman Lear.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Classic Movie Tag

Raquel wants to know about her readers’ classic movie viewing habits, and I haven’t written anything in awhile, so I’ll play along. If you haven’t visited Out of the Past lately, it has grown considerably in the past year or two. Raquel has developed it into a smart, professional and dare I say essential blog for learning about Old Hollywood. More than any other blogger I know, those movies, that industry, that era, truly inspires her.

1. What’s one classic movie that you recommend to people over and over and over again?

You really can’t go wrong with Billy Wilder and The Apartment. Equal parts comedy and drama, complex characters, a story that feels modern without coming across as too highfalutin’, featuring one of the greatest actors in American cinema, Jack Lemmon. I still haven’t written a post for it in all the years of this blog, which seems odd, but maybe now I don’t have to.

2. What was the last classic film you saw and what were your thoughts about it?

I guess that would be Marty.

3. Name a classic movie genre you love and one you dislike.

I’d imagine the film genres of the past are still in use today, but when I think of Old Hollywood, one thing that comes to mind are the rom-coms. From the European sophistication of Lubitsch to the battiness of Sturges, they’ve been as ubiquitous as they have been versatile. Fred and Ginger dancing the Continental. Powell and Loy trading bon mots as they uncover whodunnit. Spencer and Kate redefining the battle of the sexes. Rom-coms have never been done better than in the classic era.

As for a genre I dislike, well, “dislike” is too strong a word, and Paddy will no doubt slap my wrists for saying so, but while I appreciate Westerns, I still haven’t developed a great love for them. Yet.

4. Name a classic movie star with whom you share a birthday or a hometown.

How about five? (Okay, they’re not all from the old days.)

5. Give a shout out to a friend or family member who shares your love of classic movies.

I’ve talked about how Sandi and I have watched old movies together. For any newcomers here, Sandi is one of my writer buddies. She writes mostly poetry. She also lives here in Queens and she’s become a good friend. She’s a TCM fan and she’s absolutely devoted to Errol Flynn. I tried to tell her about Becky once, but Sandi bows to no one in her love of Flynn!

6. Name a classic movie star who makes your heart skip a beat or whom you admire greatly.

Oh, you mean my crushes? (Again, not all of them are classic era.)

7. Describe one memorable experience watching a classic movie.

Wow. Take your pick. The time I watched a DVD with friends on a ratchety player? The unsettling things I learned about my mother based on a movie we watched? The thrill of seeing a great film in an old movie palace?

8. Describe the craziest thing you’ve done because of your passion for classic movies.

Besides starting this blog? I suppose devoting all of 2015 to classic film seemed pretty far out for me. At the time, I had given serious thought to making the switch permanent. This seemed like a reasonable compromise that would give me an idea of what bloggers like Raquel go through. Among the things I learned in the end was I preferred blogging about Old Hollywood only part of the time.

9. What’s something classic movie related that you love to collect?

Nothing, other than books. I’m currently reading one about the making of All About Eve, which I’ll write about soon. Check the “books” label on the sidebar for other film books I’ve read.

10. What’s your favorite way to share your passion for classic movies?

This blog.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Marty

Marty
TCM viewing

I don’t think it matters who you are or where you’re from; on some level, everybody can relate to Marty: coming up short in certain people’s eyes, feeling pressured to be something you’re not, fearing your luck will never change. If you wanna talk romance, I have a friend in his sixties who got married a few years ago. Sweetest guy you’d ever wanna meet: witty, smart, extremely talented.

When I learned, secondhand, that he was lonely, I wished I could hook him up with someone, but he doesn’t live in the New York area. Several years ago, he began posting pictures of himself and his new girlfriend on Facebook, and I was pleasantly surprised. When they got married, I was thrilled for him, in part because if he could find love at his age, there was hope for me, right? And then I met Virginia and here we are.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame 
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

I was gonna pass on this. One friend said on Facebook he was gonna go watch a French New Wave movie playing in his town instead of Endgame (I believe he said it was Cleo From 5 to 7). I was willing to wait until it came to cable, at the very least. Then I rewatched Infinity War and Guardians 2 and Thor: Ragnarok on Netflix out of boredom (not all at once) and decided I needed to tell my grandchildren I was there for Endgame, or some such bullshit excuse. And in all seriousness, I truly wanted to know what would become of the Guardians.

As little kids, we would dream about our favorite Marvel comics becoming movies, but we never conceived it would happen by turning civilization into fans. Fans of the characters, mind you; the kind who would wear a Captain Marvel t-shirt or write a college paper about the Black Panther or eat Pez from a Groot dispenser but not buy the actual comics. Then the movies came: Blade, Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. Some were cool, some sucked, but none of it prepared us for the era that began in 2008 with the first Iron Man film and culminated this year with Endgame. Props to Kevin Feige and everyone at Marvel Studios for creating a series of movies that captured everyone’s imagination — and in so doing, conquering the world.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Links and a new challenge

Long before the ascension of the streamers, binge watching TV was a thing thanks to DVD box sets of entire seasons of shows. Now that the streamers distribute their original programming similarly — releasing whole seasons at once — a generation is growing up not needing to wait a week between episodes.

I never saw that as a detriment as a kid. The anticipation of the next episode was part of the excitement of watching TV. The instant gratification of bingeing on entire seasons at once rubs me the wrong way. Sure, there are more programs than ever these days, in multiple media, but we can’t watch them all... can we? More to the point, do you appreciate a show more when you binge?

Over the next month, I’m gonna attempt to find out. I will take two shows available on Netflix and watch them both ways; one the old-fashioned way, one at a time; the other in a day (maybe two), and compare notes on both. Both shows have been recommended to me by friends.

The first will be Ozark, a Netflix original starring Jason Bateman and one of my favorite actresses, Laura Linney. One of my novel beta readers recommended it. This will be the one-at-a-time show. The other show is Longmire, an import from A&E. Paddy mentioned it in the comments here a few weeks ago. That will be the binge show. You can follow my progress on Twitter under the hashtag #bingexpmt. Next month I’ll share what I’ve discovered.

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Turner Classic Movies turned 25 last month. Like my classic movie blogger pals, I’m grateful for what they do in providing Old Hollywood movies uncut and uninterrupted, 24-7, and I hope they keep going for 25 more years. My attitude, from the outset of this blog eight and a half years ago, has always been to use the movies of the past to better understand the movies of today, and vice versa. This isn’t something I see in the classic film blogs I read and enjoy; many of those bloggers would rather celebrate Old Hollywood full stop, and that’s fine. Long time readers will remember I devoted all of 2015 to classic film — but that experience made me appreciate more the need for contrast: to see what changes over the years in the industry and what stays the same. For instance, what are the SF/fantasy franchises but the modern incarnation of the serialized films of the past: The Thin Man, Blondie, Charlie Chan, Lassie, etc.

There was a period a few years back when we thought TCM was in danger of either extinction or at least alteration, the way AMC abandoned classic film in favor of original programming. TCM weathered that, and while I know some fans still grumble over the occasional post-80s movie, from what I can tell, TCM is still recognizable as the station adored by many cinephiles. That’s good.

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Your links for this month:

Aurora compiles a list of testimonials in praise of TCM.

Paddy files this report from the Toronto Silent Film Festival.

Fritzie finds evidence of fan nitpicking during the silent era.

The head of AMC Theaters is AOK with the Disney-Fox deal.

The future, under Disney, of Fox archive titles that get theatrical bookings.

Disney’s forthcoming streaming service will edit the original Dumbo and exclude Song of the South.

Two all-star casts will recreate All in the Family and The Jeffersons in a live prime time TV special this month.

Which is more amazing: a high school class putting on a stage adaptation of Alien or Sigourney Weaver visiting them?

What does Avengers: Endgame look like to a Marvel virgin? (Possible spoilers.)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace
seen @ AMC Lincoln Square 13, New York NY

Aretha Franklin is gone, but her music will always be with us. There have been many 20th century vocalists of raw talent and uncanny skill, but Aretha was in a class by herself, fusing her gospel roots to rhythm and blues to create a pop sound unlike anything that came before, one that paved the way for Whitney and Mariah and Beyoncé and Adele and just about every pop diva of the last forty years.

In 1972, Aretha returned to gospel to record a collection of spirituals with a choir and a band at an LA Baptist church. The result was Amazing Grace, an album that became the biggest-selling gospel record of all time. There should have been an accompanying film, but it didn’t happen right away, for a number of reasons, until now.

This one wasn’t on my short list, although I had heard of it. I saw it with Ann, whom I’ve mentioned here before —Virginia’s friend who has since become mine, too. Ann’s original companion had to cancel unexpectedly, so she asked me along instead. Like Virginia, she’s a singer of classical music, or “early music,” as they call it — and watching this movie with her made me very conscious of the recent exposure I’ve gotten to religious music.


Over the past year-plus, I’ve watched Virginia perform in a number of choirs, in churches all over New York, singing hymns (as well as secular tunes) from the 17th and 18th centuries, and beyond. I remember thinking initially that this kind of music, stirring as it is, can’t compare to contemporary gospel. I was not raised Baptist, but I’ve certainly seen and heard enough to be familiar with how a typical black choir sounds: raucous, emotionally charged, electric. Both performers and audience are connected and the result is a physical, tangible thing.

The hymns found in early music, by contrast, are typically sung by a chorus that stands perfectly still, sheet music held under their noses, amidst the Gothic architecture of a church with high ceilings and gravid crucifixes (and watching them while sitting in uncomfortable pews!), all meant to impose the solemnity of the occasion and the Deep Meaning of Jesus Christ’s life and death and resurrection (if you believe in that stuff). I mean, seriously, you can’t even applaud after every song. I never know when I’m allowed to and when I’m not and that always bugs me.


Now some people might disagree with that simplification, and the truth is, I have enjoyed the services I’ve seen Virginia in — sometimes I imagine I can even pick her out amidst the chorus, and that always pleases me — but then I watch something like Aretha’s performance in this movie and the difference is like night and day. How can early music compare?

I asked Ann this question after the movie, and her answer was simple: she’s listened to early music long enough to recognize the beauty within it as a separate thing from contemporary gospel. She’s never sung gospel, knows she wouldn’t be able to, and while she recognizes how good it is, it doesn’t take away from her appreciation of the kind of music she prefers. That makes sense — I can listen to, Nine Inch Nails without it taking away from my appreciation of, say, Dusty Springfield — but I haven’t quite reached that point yet in this particular case.


You’d find it tough to disagree after seeing Grace. The 1972 footage, shot over two nights by Sidney Pollack, presents us with an Aretha quite different from the one we’re used to seeing. Decked out in white on the first night, walking down the aisle of the church not unlike an angel, she defers to the MC, the Reverend Doctor James Cleveland, who conducts the service with a combination of solemnity and showbiz hucksterism. On the second night, Aretha’s own preacher father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, speaks from the pulpit for a moment. At another point, during the performance, he takes a rag and pats his daughter’s face as she plays the piano and sings, which struck me as quite tender.

Aretha is one with the music. I don’t think you have to be a believer to sense the connection, though I wasn’t as moved as, say, Rev. Cleveland was during one point in the film where he has to sit down, his head in his hands, overwhelmed with emotion at hearing Aretha’s voice. The choir, which Ann said she was particularly thrilled with, not only supported Aretha but urged her onward during her best solo moments. Basically, every black choir cliche can be found here — the sweaty singers, the gesticulating conductor, the audience members going nuts — except it’s all real. And damn, Aretha was only 29 when she did this! Is it any wonder she was revered as a legend in her own time?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bird Box

Bird Box
Netflix viewing

I first heard about Bird Box on Facebook. Friends would discuss something called “the Bird Box Challenge” and I, naturally, had no clue what they were talking about, nor did I care. I’m not the type to pursue every trend on social media. Then I discovered Bird Box was a movie, and I kept seeing memes of a blindfolded Sandra Bullock in a rowboat. Why hadn’t I heard of this movie that apparently has quite a bit of buzz?

Oh. Of course. It’s on Netflix.

These days, serialized television dramas drive social media discussion more than any one film, so to see this film not only generate talk, but to develop a life of its own beyond the film — especially a movie only available through a streaming service — says volumes about how movies have changed, and are changing. I seriously doubt the filmmakers anticipated how big a hit this would become, and it’s not like it was connected to a gimmick, like The Blair Witch Project, or spoke to a bigger social movement, like the recent gay romance Love, Simon, or was an overhyped genre blockbuster.

It was just this Sandra Bullock horror movie.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Shazam!

Shazam!
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

Earlier this year we talked about the superhero formerly known as Captain Marvel, now called Shazam — one of the oldest active characters in comics history, with a wide and devoted fanbase. He was the first superhero to make it to the big screen. He and his supporting cast spun off a ton of merchandise at the peak of their popularity. When DC Comics acquired the rights to the character, he enjoyed a new wave of popularity in the 70s. A big reason why was his television incarnations.

Filmation was big on Saturday morning and weekday afternoon television in the 70s and 80s. While their animation style looks primitive compared to, say, Teen Titans Go, never mind the great WB adventure toons of the 90s, lots of kids from my generation remember them fondly. They also made live-action shows, and their first was Shazam!, in 1974.


Friday, April 5, 2019

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Netflix viewing

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the first Netflix original film I've seen since I got the online streaming service for myself, and it comes for me at an appropriate time. You may recall Scruggs was a three-time Oscar nominee, including Adapted Screenplay, one of several Netflix films from last year to be feted, and that's starting to rub some people the wrong way.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Links: Disney-Fox special edition


So. Disney and Fox.

My reaction isn't too different from yours, I imagine: I'm not thrilled at Disney's monopolistic takeover of American pop culture and I fear this may not be the end.

The former's acquisition of the latter is a reaction to the rise of online streaming as a viable outlet for film distribution. The Mouse wants in on that — and once they launch their own platform for it this year, they will —but they also wanna stay competitive.

I guess at this point all I wanna say is this: if you're fed up with Disney owning everything, step outside your comfort zone and see what else is out there. The little guys, the properties without a budget, without a slick marketing campaign, will need our help to survive now more than ever. You don't have to settle for the same old thing if you don't want to — and obviously, this applies to way more than just movies and television.

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This month's link roundup includes stories related to the Disney-Fox deal, none of which involve superheroes:

What the deal potentially means for you and me.

The layoffs are and will be massive.

A post-mortem on the beloved Fox 2000, a casualty of the deal.

Is Tim Burton's Dumbo an unintentional allegory for the deal?

Data tracking in the wake of the deal: are children at risk?

Also:

Ivan on streaming movies.

How Maddy got into silent films.

And then there was that time, as Le tells it, when Fred Flintstone wore a rubber suit in a monster movie.

Will the Amazon HQ2 controversy lead  to the end of New York State's film tax incentive?

A brief history of "white savior" films (including Green Book).

Barbara Stanwyck learned much about being a great film actress from Frank Capra.

Rudolph Valentino and the lifestyle he inspired.

Finally, thanks again to everyone who took part in the Richard Matheson Blogathon and especially Debbie for co-hosting with me.

Monday, April 1, 2019

QWFF 2019 part 2


Part two of my Queens World Film Festival report and while part of me feels a bit guilty over missing days, it's okay because I still saw some good movies.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

QWFF 2019 part 1


I cannot believe this year's Queens World Film Festival is a week and a half long! While it's still not quite as huge as the Tribeca or New York fests, it has gained a whole lot of attention over the years as more and more filmmakers contribute to the event. Don & Katha Cato maintain the drive to keep it going, year in and year out, and they have a passion for film that has to be seen to be believed.

I, on the other hand, am not capable of keeping up for the whole eleven days, so this year's highlights are more abbreviated than usual. I still expect to find good stuff at the two venues, the Museum of the Moving Image and the Kaufman Astoria Studios, here in Queens.

This year I'm gonna try something different: because the majority of films at QWFF are shorts, I see lots of them. I think it'll be easier if I wrote about the ones that leave the biggest impressions on me. Trying to describe the more abstract ones is a pain in the ass and I don't like most of them anyway. Plus, I can say more about the ones I like most, and I'd rather do that.

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.