Saturday, July 14, 2018

Nanook of the North

The Winter in July Blogathon is an event in which the theme is winter movies watched in the summertime, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

Nanook of the North
YouTube viewing

The timing for this blogathon is perfect: the weather here in New York has been in the 80s and 90s and mostly sunny all week long. We're about as far removed from the winter as you can get.

Nanook of the North is one of the first true feature-length documentaries, the brainchild of explorer turned filmmaker Robert Flaherty. His initial job was to research the Hudson Bay of northeastern Canada, beginning in 1910.


In 1913, he took a three-week film course to acquaint himself with filmmaking in an attempt to better document his experience. When the time came to shoot, he chose to focus on the native Inuits of the region, specifically the hunter Allakariallak, also known as Nanook, and his clan.

The long road to a finished product was riddled with obstacles. You can read about them in Flaherty's own words here, but the result was a film, released in 1922, that was a critical and commercial hit.


I was surprised at how engrossing Nanook was. We see him ice fishing, hunting walruses and seal, building igloos, and raising his family the best he can under primitive conditions. The stark terrain doesn't look as intimidating as it probably was, on account of the grainy film quality, but Flaherty and his team get it all, during a time when the boundaries of film were still beginning to be explored.

As I watched, I had wondered about the authenticity of some scenes; call it the consequences of reality television permeating the zeitgeist. Turns out, quite a bit of Nanook was fake and staged.


Should it matter? Patronizing references to the "simple, happy" Inuit aside, I think Flaherty definitely knew his subject matter, if nothing else. It's unlikely anyone else at the time could have made this film. If he was upfront about how he had manufactured drama, well, keep in mind the documentary film as we know it wasn't real in 1922. As is usually the case, Nanook needs to be considered in the context of the time.

I watched Nanook at Virginia's place, on her laptop. She was out of town (still is, as of this writing; she comes back this weekend) and asked me to housesit for her.


I was glad to do it, since it meant living in Manhattan again, but I didn't get around to watching the movie until Friday night, because of a bunch of things that went wrong this week which I won't get into here. Suffice it to say that watching the movie, especially given the fact it was silent, calmed me down at a point where I needed it bad.

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Other films set in the winter (a select list):
Fargo
A Simple Plan
Happy Feet
Murder on the Orient Express
War for the Planet of the Apes
Force Majeure

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Won't You Be My Neighbor?
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Telling you which children's shows I watched as a youngling will date me, I'm sure, but that ship sailed long ago, so what the heck. Sesame Street and The Electric Company are both given, and you can add Romper Room to that list too. (People from my generation don't believe it when I say the Magic Mirror scared me. I really thought she could see me with that thing!) I even remember Captain Kangaroo.

Here in New York we had a local show called The Magic Garden, with these two hippie chicks with guitars, Paula and Carole, amidst their tricked-out studio set garden full of puppets and other weird critters. They'd sing songs and play games and stuff. I dunno, I just really dug them.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ant-sized links

So Virginia and I spent last Sunday, which was gorgeous, on Governors Island, in New York's East River, near Ellis Island. There was a folk music festival going on, and though we didn't see as much of it as we had planned, what we did see was nice.

She talked me into trying a free yoga class, one of a bunch of smaller events taking place on the island that day. I had never done it before, believing I didn't have the body for it (to put it mildly). Even though I've lost a little weight recently, I'm still convinced I don't have the body for it! She was more experienced, but I think it was still a bit of a challenge for her too. If there weren't little kids taking part, I probably would've been more embarrassed than I already was!

That evening, after dinner, we went to a free screening of Blade Runner at a hotel in Manhattan. She had never seen it and was curious. She liked it a lot. I hadn't seen it in years; looking at it again now, I was struck by how little "action" there was in comparison with today's SF flicks. There's a much bigger emphasis on atmosphere and setting - and of course, so much of it is on real sets, not CGI ones. I can imagine how big a contrast it is to the recent sequel.

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The novel revision is going well, though I've hit a patch in which I'm doing much more rewriting than I had anticipated. I'm cutting stuff but also adding details the previous draft didn't have — more the cause-and-effect type than anything else. I'm more aware of story mechanics: if I want so-and-so to happen, what all must happen first? And how much of that do I need to show?

My critiquers still like the story, though I had to revise a chapter a second time when it received some hard, not harsh, reviews. You think you've written good stuff and you feel good about it, then you're told it doesn't make sense and you're ready to chuck the whole thing: that's fiction writing. Still, I do feel I'm on the right track.

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It would be silly to say I'm taking next week off for the holiday, like I usually do at this time, so I won't say it. I plan to stop by the Movieworld farewell party next week and take pictures, so you'll actually see me again sooner than expected.

In the meantime, your links after the jump:

Friday, June 22, 2018

Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2
seen @ Movieworld, Douglaston, Queens NY

Superheroes are hot in Hollywood right now, but mostly if they come from Disney (Marvel) or Warner Bros. (DC). When Tinseltown tries to make original heroes, their track record so far has been spottier.

James Gunn made Super when he was an indie. The Uma Thurman comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend barely made a dent at the box office and scored only a 50 at Metacritic. The Hollywood Reporter called it a "sour, joyless affair." The Will Smith vehicle Hancock, from my understanding, had a much better screenplay than the one which made the final cut. And the less said about Superhero Movie, the better.


So what does the Incredibles franchise do that makes it rise above the pretenders and compete with the Marvel and DC characters? It's from Pixar, for one thing; they simply understand storytelling better. Their success rate speaks for itself. Being computer animated doesn't hurt either.

Pixar, and writer-director Brad Bird, just don't settle for good enough. Incredibles 2 comes fourteen years after the original film, and this is sheepishly acknowledged in an intro to the film by Bird and stars Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter and Sam Jackson. (Is this a Disney thing now? Ava DuVernay did a similar intro for A Wrinkle in Time.)


In this Indiewire interview, though, Bird explains the deal. He describes an overheard phone conversation by the late Steve Jobs in which the former Pixar owner rejects getting a hot pop singer to sing an end credits song because he cared more about making a product for all time, not for the here and now:
...[Jobs] knew that stuff was still going to be looked at later if we did our job right. And I loved his long view because often there's something quick and cheap you can take advantage of to get heat at the moment. And he didn't care at all about that. And that was really inspiring. We're not making it just for now but for long into the future, for anyone who's interested in storytelling.
I2 picks up where the last flick left off (easy to do with an animated film), but alters the group dynamic. Elastigirl is put front and center (she spearheads a proactive campaign to reform the reputation of superheroes), while Mr. Incredible raises Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack. When the adults, Frozone included, get in trouble, it's the kids who come to the rescue.


Granted, I had a feeling who the villain might have been halfway into the story, but getting to the finish line was thrilling anyhow. Maybe the next time Hollywood tries to make brand new superheroes, they'll keep Bird and the Incredibles in mind.

In all likelihood, I2 will be the last movie I see at Movieworld before they close in a few weeks. I made sure to take a good look around: the movie posters and pictures of vintage film stars that dotted the box office and the walls; the cafe; the video games off to the side; the hub-like concession stand, etc. I really wanted popcorn, but I was told the salt was mixed in with the kernels. (Cinemart is the same way. A pattern?) It was okay, though.


I was more concerned with the large number of teenagers at this screening. For an afternoon show, it was fairly packed with them. I got a seat near the front, not caring about looking up. I wanted as little contact with them as possible, but surprise surprise, they behaved well during the movie.

To play devil's advocate for a minute: the mall above MW totally looked threadbare without Macy's and with Toys R Us on its last legs. The huge parking lot had enough room to hold a soccer game, there were so few cars. The Modell's was open, but it didn't seem like it. Only Burger King looked active.


I understand the landlord wanting to bring in new business here. If it was a choice between saving the mall by vacating MW or keeping MW but watching the mall wither away, I would not want to have made that decision. The issue, though, is whether or not Lowes really needs the MW space in addition to the former Macy's site. The landlord believes so.

Not much more to say. I'm glad MW was around long enough for me to enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Movieworld, the jewel of Eastern Queens, to close

From the Facebook page of Movieworld Douglaston, dated June 11:

...The landlord has exercised a clause in the lease that requires us to vacate within 30 days.  We are not closing for any other reason than we are being required to under the terms of our original lease.  A Lowes store will be taking the entire lower level of the shopping center and construction will start right away.... It has been an amazing experience being able to bring movies to all of you.  We encourage everyone to keep going to the movies!

(Thanks to Andrew for the tip)

Man, I hate writing these posts. It seems like I've written too many of them in the not-quite eight years this blog has been active. Some hurt more than others. This isn't that painful, but only because I'm not as familiar with this theater as with others. Still, I feel this loss, too.

Movieworld might have provided the best bargain for first-run films in Queens, if not all of New York: $11 full price for 2D films, $7 matinee before four PM, and $6 all day Wednesdays.

A proudly independent, community-based cinema located near the border of Queens and Nassau County, in Douglaston, MW had been around for over thirty years. At one point, it was operated by UA until 2004. It shut its doors in April 2008, only to reopen two months later with new owners, and it remained local and independent ever since. MW went digital in 2012, and luxury seats were added a year later.

People complained about the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas being located below street level; well, try running a theater located underneath a mall, inside a parking lot! It was a turn-off for me when I first went there, until I stepped inside and saw it was much like other theaters. In addition to the usual movie food for sale, they have a small cafe with a slightly better class of food and drink. It won't make anyone forget the Alamo Drafthouse, but it's a cozy place to wait for your auditorium to seat.

Reading the FB comments gave me a much better sense of what MW meant to the Eastern Queens/Nassau faithful. When MW was threatened with closure in 2017, the fans, like those of the Lincoln Plaza, started a petition to save the theater.

It proved fruitless in February of this year when the local community board voted in favor of bringing in a Lowes on the former site of Macy's, above MW, in order to bring in more business and preserve the mall. The only way Lowes said they could fit, though, was if they also took the space occupied by MW, a claim disputed by the MW defenders. Read more about it here. (Apropos of nothing: I find it very interesting that the debate is compared in this article to a dispute over bike lanes.)

While there are other movie options nearby, such as AMC theaters in Bayside and Fresh Meadows, neither of them are as affordable, nor as diverse (MW also screens Filipino movies from time to time), nor as quirky (you have to admit, its unusual location makes it unlike other cinemas).

I intend to see Incredibles 2 at MW; also, a going-away party is planned for July 2. If I can make it, I'll stop by. MW has said they'll search for a new location, so hope remains alive for now, but like I said, I'm tired of writing these post-mortems, especially for theaters in Queens.

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Movies I've seen at Movieworld:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Finding Dory
Wonder Woman
Pacific Rim: Uprising

Friday, June 1, 2018

Incredible links

Remember the short story I wrote that appeared in a local literary magazine? Well, last month I got invited by the same group to appear at a special reading for past published authors — with a twist.

Newtown Literary put on a reading in which some of their own — other authors — read work by past published authors. I didn't have to say or do anything except show up! It felt odd; my piece, "Airplanes," was a work of speculative fiction inspired by my post on the movie The Terminal, and while I put effort into it, of course, I didn't expect the story to make it, but it did. That was one thing, though; to see it publicly appreciated in a venue like this was quite another.

The woman who read my work was Aida Zilelian, who runs a local reading series called Boundless Tales. I read at a BT show once, which is where I met her, not that I thought she remembered me. I guess she did. She wasn't sure at first if "Airplanes" was a SF story or not; she had to ask me before the show began to make sure!

The show went well. Some of my friends from my old writing group turned up, which was nice. I got to meet more of the NL crew, as well as other local writers, and best of all, I didn't have to embarrass myself!

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One other new movie I saw this month which I never wrote about was The Seagull, with Annette Bening and Saoirse Ronan. Based on the Anton Chekhov play, it's about all these people hanging out in the summer house of a famous stage actress and all the stuff they get into with each other. It was okay; the acting felt very big and theatrical, even though the screenplay made it look more like a movie. Saw it at the Paris in midtown with Vija and Debbie; afterward, we were joined by Vija's visiting grand-niece Cecelia, who Vija thought bore a resemblance to Saoirse Ronan. We ate pasta.

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Margot Kidder was the perfect Lois Lane, just like Christopher Reeve was the perfect Superman. They had a terrific chemistry in those movies that at its best, was reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. She played Lois exactly how you would imagine her to be: modern, perky, independent-minded, a little reckless at times, yet devoted to Superman whether she knows he's really Clark Kent or not.

I'm afraid I haven't seen much of Kidder's other movies, though I did see Black Christmas. I read about her in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, of course, and some of the risque things she got up to back in the 70s. It's a pity she wasn't a bigger star.

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Cynthia Nixon update: Governor Cuomo clobbered her in the state Democratic convention, easily winning his party's nomination, whereas she wasn't even invited to the event. I admit, I'm beginning to lean towards her, especially now that she's basically endorsed the MTA plan to fix the subway, the same one the governor had no interest in when it was released a week ago.

Win or lose, Nixon has proven herself to be someone serious about reforming and changing a lot of things in New York State that need changing. If she does lose the governorship, I hope she'll consider running for another position, such as state congresswoman or something similar.

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Sorry it's been quiet around here lately. The novel. You know.

Links after the jump.