Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Joker

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

This is the movie everyone was so scared would incite another mass shooting?

I almost fell asleep while watching it!

In fairness, I saw Joker the day after a late night out with Virginia. I got home at three in the morning, so while I was wide awake by the time the movie began, I didn’t have much sleep. Still, by the time I started dozing off, maybe a smidge past the halfway point, I had already decided Joker was not saying anything new or different; that Joaquin Phoenix, while excellent in what will almost certainly be an Oscar-nominated performance, couldn’t make up for a largely derivative screenplay (though he does come close); and that Joker isn’t a love letter to Martin Scorsese. It’s a rehash of Alan Moore.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Judy

Judy
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Why does she mean so much to so many people, even today, over fifty years after her death? It’s hard for me to truly appreciate. I think there were better singers than her: Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday, to name three. I think there were better actresses: Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck.

She had something different, something to which people instantly responded. Part of her appeal might have been the result of seeing her on the screen from an early age and watching her mature into a young woman. A big part of it was because of That Movie. I suspect some of it is also pity for her deeply troubled off-screen life.

She, like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, became a symbol after her death, but the symbol changes depending on who you are and what kind of life you live. Some of us, like me, just see her as a immensely talented actress and singer, beaten down by the Hollywood machine but immortalized by her fans into something much greater in the end. Others...

I can’t speak to the gay perspective. Intellectually, I get the how of it—“Over the Rainbow” as an unofficial gay anthem; the association with musicals; her respect for gay culture—but the why runs deep, and far outside of my experience... yet one can’t discuss her without at least acknowledging this facet of her legacy.

Suffice it to say Judy Garland spoke to all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.


Judy is not the first film to depict her life, but it might be the most high profile, and coming as it does, so soon after the Gloria Grahame movie and the Laurel & Hardy movie (and even Juliet Naked if you wanna include fiction), it builds on a new sub-genre: “celebrities who spend their twilight years in England.” So remember, when you become rich and famous and decline in either your health or your popularity or both, hop on a plane to dear old Blighty for a third-act comeback and you’ll be just fine!

Actually, this film has a lot more in common with Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, the Grahame film: a May-December (September? Garland wasn’t that old) romance with a younger man, health issues, an inability to perform properly on stage. There were times during Judy when I thought I was watching the same damn movie—but this, of course, is much bigger and splashier. Perennial Oscar bridesmaid Annette Bening gets the short end of the stick again, which is too bad, because I thought she was good in Liverpool.

Renee Zellweger showed off her song-and-dance chops in Best Picture-winner Chicago. Here, she’s more song than dance, but she’s no less able, even if she doesn’t sound like Garland. The hair and makeup job make her resemble Garland, if not personify her (I recall when Anne Hathaway was rumored for the part; a closer fit looks-wise). It was difficult to not see her as Renee Zellweger, but that’s the risk you take when you play someone world-famous.


Judy would be a by-the-numbers biopic except for her. I never saw Chicago (or her other big Oscar film, Cold Mountain), so I had never really appreciated just how good she was. I loved her in Jerry Maguire, of course, but that didn’t prepare me for this. She makes Garland into a real person, one to whom being a good mother ranked almost as high in her life as being a good entertainer, maybe higher, and while the hair and makeup help sell the role, they are not the role; she is. I think there may have been a fear of her falling into caricature, but if she did, I didn’t sense it.

Not too much else to say about this one. Celebrity biopics always make potent Oscar bait for someone eager to stretch their acting wings, and while it’s still early to call a winner, Zellweger has to be considered a frontrnner.

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Related:
Judy and Liza

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Carmen (1915)

Carmen (1915)
YouTube viewing

I’ve discussed Cecil B. DeMille here before—the blockbuster filmmaker with the moralistic streak. The guy whose films condemn sin but show you lots of it, in detail. A silent adaptation of Carmen seemed like a good fit for him—it’s not a Biblical story, but there are lots of people behaving badly in it.

Georges Bizet’s opera was first performed in 1875 in Paris, and it was plenty shocking for its time. The tale of the gypsy temptress and the two dudes whom she seduces didn’t catch on until it played outside France; by the time it returned home, in 1883, its fame grew. It has been adapted and readapted for film lots of times—I wrote, for example, about the contemporary all-black version, Carmen Jones. DeMille’s version was one of the very first for the screen, made forty years after its debut.

Carmen was one of thirteen films DeMille made in 1915, including the crime-of-passion drama The Cheat. His version of Carmen is actually based on the original novella, since the libretto was under copyright at the time. His brother William wrote the screenplay. The version I watched had the libretto on the soundtrack. I was surprised that I recognized some of the songs, but I guess they’re pretty famous.

Opera singer Geraldine Farrar (not to be confused with Geraldine Ferraro) played Carmen, and for 1915, she was pretty sexy. Carmen, let’s face it, is a bitch, but she’s a fascinating bitch. She charms Spanish soldier Wallace Reid because it’s her job (to distract him from a smuggling ring going on under his nose) and cock-teases bullfighter Pedro de Cordoba because... she can? From the get-go, she’s utterly confident of her abilities and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, either: in one scene she gets in a vicious cat-fight with a woman who gives her static.

That same year, Raoul Walsh released his own version of Carmen, with Theda Bara, and Charlie Chaplin directed and starred in a Carmen parody called A Burlesque on Carmen, proving that the common phenomenon of similarly-themed movies coming out around the same time is older than most people think.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Waterloo Bridge (1931)
YouTube viewing

In this month’s link post, I included the piece by Karen from Shadows and Satin and the noir zine The Dark Pages about Mae Clarke. It made me want to check out some of the actress’s other stuff.

Chances are if you’ve heard of Clarke, you only know her for being the one who got a grapefruit squished in her face by Jimmy Cagney in The Public Enemy. She made other movies, including one from the same year, 1931, called Waterloo Bridge. If you’ve heard of that movie, though, you probably only know it from the Vivian Leigh version, made nine years later, so, yeah, one could argue Clarke’s career has been overlooked—hence Karen’s deep dive into her filmography.

Bridge was directed by James Whale, of Bride of Frankenstein and Invisible Man fame, but it’s no horror flick. It’s a very down-to-earth wartime romance, set during the First World War. Clarke is an American showgirl in London who meets soldier Kent Douglass (AKA Douglas Montgomery) during an air raid at the titular bridge. They spend some time together and he’s instantly smitten, but he doesn’t know Clarke turns tricks on the side to keep a roof over her head—and she’s terrified of him finding out. Look for a pre-fame Bette Davis in a few scenes!


Bridge is a pre-code film, made before the self-imposed restrictions on cinematic content were enforced by a Hollywood fearful of government intervention, and as such, it wasn’t explicit about sex and violence, but it made the audiences of its day read between the lines much more than modern films need to do. No one ever out-and-out proclaims Myra, Clarke’s character, is a ho, but the way the film is written and acted, you can come to that conclusion on your own.

In one early scene, Clarke and a friend are “on duty,” standing in front of a shop window, when a cop comes along. He gives them the eye and at first you wonder, what are they doing wrong? But the way they look at each other, the cop’s body language, and one’s knowledge of such situations—historically speaking, why would a cop be suspicious of women loitering on the street at night?—and the answer is obvious without it being stated outright.

This sort of thing was what filmmakers in the pre-code era did, and it was a kind of storytelling that engaged the audience and forced them to not only pay close attention to what was going on, but to rely on their personal experience.


Douglass’ character struck me as naive. He justifies his infatuation with Clarke by saying how wartime life makes people act on their impulses sooner, since they could all be dead tomorrow. I can buy that rationale, but I still couldn’t completely buy him wanting Clarke so swiftly because he was only nineteen. I remember how I was at nineteen, and though I thought I wanted to marry the girl I loved at the time, I was not ready at all.

But let’s get back to Clarke. Karen called her performance in Bridge “a revelation—she displayed a natural acting style that was liberally infused with poignancy, sincerity, and subtlety.” For the most part, I agree; she rarely descends into melodramatic histrionics, and she shines in a number of important scenes, such as the one with Douglass’ mom where she confesses her illicit sideline.

Myra is a very proud character; she won’t take charity and a part of her thinks she can do alright on her own, but deep down, she still wants love, and she fears her circumstances will keep her from it. It’s too bad Clarke didn’t become as big as Leigh or Harlow or Crawford, but I guess there was only so much room at the top in those days.




Friday, October 4, 2019

Xanadu

Xanadu
Showtime viewing

Olivia Newton-John was one of the first pop megastars I not only knew but genuinely dug. I may have been too young to have seen Grease, but the soundtrack was inescapable; you know the songs as well as I do—and of course, she had lots of other hits. Remember “Physical,” and the video that went with it, which took advantage of the aerobics craze at the time? That song was all over AM radio, and that video was one of the most representative of the 80s.

It was easy to grok why she was so huge: good-girl image combined with a heavenly voice. She was no Streisand, but she was pretty and exotic (if Australia counts as such) in a way reminiscent of older songbirds like Petula Clark and Lesley Gore.

To know that she’s on round three of her prizefight against breast cancer is pretty sad, but if interviews like this are any indication, she wouldn’t want me or anyone else to feel sorry for her. It could be this is the round she doesn’t get up off of the canvas, but if so, she’s gonna go out like a trooper, and even if you don’t care for her music, you have to respect her bravery.

Because she was a huge pop star, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling. Grease has been written about to death by now—I think it’s terrific that she and John Travolta have remained so close through the years—but much less talked-about is her follow-up film, Xanadu, which did not exactly do as well.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Murder She Wrote Cookalong: Glynis Johns and chicken paprika

The Murder She Wrote Cookalong is an event in which the goal is to cook recipes provided by the host blog, Silver Screen Suppers. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

I’m excited about this event because it combines two things I enjoy: cooking and blogging. For those of you joining me for the first time, welcome. A brief background: over three years ago, I had a health scare that required me to do some time in the hospital. Long story short, I needed to improve my eating habits, exercise more, and shed a few pounds. In addition to medication, I took up jogging and long walks (I ran my second 5K race in ten months last month), I cut back on snack foods and ate more vegetables, but above all I started cooking, and once I did I found I liked it more than I thought I would.

From picking out meals to shopping for ingredients to the actual process of cooking, it’s a challenge unlike others I’ve undertaken, and I consider myself a creative person by nature. Physically, I feel better now than I did three years ago, and I have a new artistic outlet. My only regret is that I didn’t do this much sooner in life.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Rainbow links

As mentioned, I ran my second 5K on the 22nd. This one was tougher than the previous one because it had more hills—not big ones, but the kind you might find along the trail of a dense and wild park, which is where the race was.

Only two days before, I tripped and fell while out jogging. The worst I got was some scratches and scrapes, especially on my wrist, but my left foot was sore and I feared whether or not I’d be able to run. Fortunately I had some thick sneakers that protected my feet well, and by the time race day came along the soreness had reduced. Then, the night before the race, I had to call the cops on some loud neighbors on the street level, partying very late. I never thought I’d be grateful for the end of summer if it meant the end of Saturday night parties. Am I getting old?

Virginia arrived late to the race; almost thought I’d missed her, but she made it, and we spent the rest of the day together. I wasn’t in as much pain as I thought I might be after the fall, but we ended up doing a lot of walking and as I write this (the 23rd), my feet and legs are sore again, but I’ll live. She’s convinced me to try one more 5K this year, so I’ll decide on one soon.

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The doors to the Kew Gardens Cinemas have been repaired and the place looks like a car never crashed through into the lobby and I am relieved. Maybe I was too worried, but I’ve seen enough footage of other drivers doing the exact same thing to other buildings (here’s just one example), causing more damage and actually hurting people, to not assume the worst. And I want the Kew to survive. I’m glad it will.

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So after all the things I said about it last month, I ended up missing Super Size Me 2. I only have so much money and I can’t see everything. Oh well. I still stand by my defense of director Morgan Spurlock, though, and I hope he’s sincere in his desire to change. Maybe the movie will come to cable.

More after the jump.