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).