Friday, December 14, 2018

Roma

Roma
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

Recently I had experimented with seeing certain new movies without knowing anything about them, but since the last movie I did that with was Mother!, I've put that experiment on the shelf for awhile. Sometimes a little knowledge is a good thing.

Earlier this week I noticed Cinemart was showing the new Alfonso Cuarón film Roma, of which I knew nothing. I knew Cuarón, of course: I liked Gravity and loved Children of Men, so I figured this would be good, too — but this time I read up on it first.

Movie fans know this is the time of year when most of the quality films come out, which I hate because it's like a logjam, and you never know for certain how long these movies will last during their theatrical run. Roma is different, though: it's a Netflix movie getting a wide-ish theatrical release.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Creed II

Creed II
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

What a year this has been for Michael B. Jordan: appearing in two of the biggest, most high-profile films in two physically demanding, yet very different roles.

In the first, he portrays one of the best cinematic villains in recent history, one which will make him a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination — and I'll go out on a limb right now and predict it's his name which Allison Janney will read off next February.

In the second, he's a hero, a champion, playing an original character in a series not only inspired by one of the great movie franchises of the last fifty years, but is a continuation of that same franchise in a different direction.

The common denominator in both is Ryan Coogler: director/co-writer of Black Panther and executive producer of Creed II.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Supercalifragi-links

So I spent my Thanksgiving morning freezing my ass off as I ran through Flushing Meadow Park.

Why? I dunno, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

For the past month, I had trained for running in a 5k race. I had mentioned to Virginia recently how it was a long-time fantasy of mine to run in a marathon. Failing that, though, I would settle for something simpler, like a 5k. I was just talking idly; not being serious.

So she found online a month-long training program specifically designed to prepare one for a 5k and sent it to me. I looked it over and figured what the hell. If nothing else, I would do it for her.

Race conditions are very different from training by oneself. I didn't hear the starting signal on account of the host's microphone not working well.

When everyone took off, I was conscious of this being A Race for the first time. My head was in the wrong place and I ran like I was competing, which was all wrong for me. Plus, the course began with a steep-ish hill. It took me awhile to focus and settle into a pace.

I tried keeping up with these two women with whom I played leapfrog: I passed them, then they passed me, and so on. Near the end, they passed me and stayed ahead. I wanted to catch them one last time, but I came up short. That's okay, though. I still beat my previous time by a minute!

I spent the evening with Virginia and friends in Manhattan — a "Friendsgiving," I guess. It was one hell of a day overall.

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Once again, look for my piece on Anthony Mann & John Alton in the next issue of the film noir newsletter The Dark Pages, due out December 20.

Writing the article was a real education. I learned more about noir in general than I knew before, particularly by watching the movies. I plan to write about some of the ones I watched here, so look for that.

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Real life has delayed Anna's guest post. It's been pushed back to this month.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Meet the Feebles

Meet the Feebles
YouTube viewing

How about that Peter Jackson, huh? I think it's fair to say he was nobody (in America, anyway) until Lord of the Rings made him a superstar, but of course, he had been making films in his native New Zealand for years.

I remember watching his American breakthrough, The Frighteners, on video during my video store years. I liked it, but it didn't do well commercially. It came as a surprise to me that he was chosen to take on Rings, especially as a trilogy.


To anyone who knew his pre-Hollywood work, it must have been a bigger surprise. His NZ films were a lot weirder and gorier. For someone born on Halloween, perhaps that's appropriate.

Even a dramatic film like Heavenly Creatures — the film that made many of us aware of a young, curvaceous beauty named Kate Winslet for the first time —  had its bizarro moments. I've written about Dead Alive, a film I still think is the ultimate zombie movie, going places of which George Romero never dreamed.

None of that, however, prepared me for Meet the Feebles.


Imagine The Muppet Show directed by John Waters and that'll give you some idea of what it's like. It's puppetry, small, large and in-between, and it's adult. Profanity, violence, satire, it's all there, and you better believe there's puppet nudity and sex too.

In the film, Meet the Feebles is the name of a Muppet Show type TV variety show. We get a look backstage at the illicit affairs, scandals and depravity that goes on when the cameras stop rolling. It's an ensemble, but much of the action centers around Heidi, a Miss Piggy type diva in the form of a life-sized hippo.


The puppetry is impressive, and it looks like it cost a pretty penny to create. The variety of the characters range from a smallish fly tabloid reporter to a humongous spider who appears late in the film in an elaborate outdoor sequence. Some of them are cute, like the romantic leads, a porcupine and a poodle, while others, like the show's sleazy producer and his henchmen, are anything but.

Jackson co-wrote Feebles with his long-time collaborator and future wife, Fran Walsh, along with Stephen Sinclair and Danny Mulheron, who operated the Heidi puppet.


The humor is pitch black, of course, but the ending is tragic, so Jackson manages to make you sympathetic to Heidi's fate. Mostly, though, Feebles is one WTF moment after another.

Adult puppet films turn up every so often here in America. The recent Melissa McCarthy film The Happyland Murders sank like a stone this past summer; Trey Parker & Matt Stone's Team America fared a little better, made at the height of their South Park fame.


Puppetry, though, like animation, is mostly regarded in America as kiddie fare. I don't see that changing anytime soon, if at all, but give Jackson props for daring to make something as over-the-top and insane as Feebles. It's not for everyone, but Jackson fans should check it out for sure.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
seen @ UA Kaufman Astoria 14, Astoria, Queens NY

I guess it was only a matter of time before I got sucked into the world of Harry Potter.

I never got into the series of books, or their film adaptations, for reasons I went into here — and yet, I can tell you the basic, most rudimentary things about the character without having read a single page or watched a single frame. I guess that's how you know an IP has blown up.

From studying novel writing, I've learned a bit about J. K. Rowling. I know she created Potter at a time in her life when she was down and out, for instance.

Credit where credit's due: she tapped into something in the zeitgeist that touched adults as well as young adults, something that comes along once a generation; I still remember seeing folks — ordinary-looking people, not stereotypical fans — read those colorful hardcover bricks on the subway and wondering what the deal was.

This was when my definition of "young adult," in terms of the book industry, was rigid. I understand now that just because they're written for kids and teens doesn't necessarily mean they're written down for them. Maybe that's partly why adaptations of The Hunger Games and their ilk have become so popular in Hollywood.

The point is, I didn't give a fiddler's fart about Potter when it first took off. So why have I gotten involved with him now?

Like many great stories, it began with a girl.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Topper

The Greatest Film I've Never Seen Blogathon is exactly what it says on the tin, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating bloggers visit the link at the host site.

Topper
YouTube viewing

Okay, first, I don't really believe Topper is the greatest film I've never seen before. I decided at the last minute to take part in this blogathon and I needed a film I could get my hands on quick, so to speak, so I chose this.

Here's a short list of "great" films I have yet to see: The Sound of Music, Alphaville, Throne of Blood, La Strada, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Seven Beauties, Wild at Heart, The Age of Innocence, Empire of the Sun and A Beautiful Mind.

Some I never saw because they didn't appeal to me, some because I never got around to it, and some I think are overrated. Perhaps I'll watch a few of them one day. Don't know.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Excelsior!


His name was always at the top of every Marvel comic book when I grew up. The first page would have a small box that briefly described the character, in a sentence or two, and then the words: "Stan Lee Presents."

I knew who he was because he was on TV, sort of. He would do voice-over introductions to The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends on Saturday mornings.

It was comforting, in its way. To my mind, it was like he was the caretaker of the Marvel Universe, a constant, active presence who acted in its best interests, though I couldn't have phrased it that way back then.

I met him at a convention once. He autographed for me some comics he had written, including a special issue of my favorite comic, Fantastic Four.


Marvel Comics used to have a newsletter-type page in every comic. Sometimes he would say a few words in it, usually reporting from Hollywood about the in-roads Marvel was making: a new TV show here, a new video game there, that sort of thing. It was exciting.

Those in-roads laid the foundation for the Marvel kingdom of today: a subsidiary of the mightier Disney empire, true, but his creations — in collaboration with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and all the rest — have never been more popular. (Whether or not this has translated into higher sales of the comics themselves is another story.)

Recent years have not been kind to him: embroiled in one lawsuit after another, not to mention a contentious relationship with his daughter. I can only hope he made peace with her before he went to that great bullpen in the sky.

Today is a sad day for Fandom Assembled, but we will never forget him and his great gift to American popular culture. I have distanced myself from the comics; they no longer mean to me what they once did. Still, if it weren't for them, my life — the friends I've made over the years, the passion I have for visual art in general — would be quite different.

Face front, true believers.