Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Franco, Hathaway to host Oscars

“James Franco and Anne Hathaway personify the next generation of Hollywood icons— fresh, exciting and multi-talented. We hope to create an Oscar broadcast that will both showcase their incredible talents and entertain the world on February 27,” said Cohen and Mischer. “We are completely thrilled that James and Anne will be joining forces with our brilliant creative team to do just that.”
Eh. I suppose this confirms that Oscar wants that youth demographic no matter what. They're not bad choices to host the Oscars, but they don't exactly have me waiting with baited breath for February 27 to come round, either. Oscar night is something I both anticipate and dread: the former because it's the Oscars, after all; the latter because it's always so damn long and pretentious and self-indulgent. At this point they could get Barack Obama and Betty White to host the Oscars and I'd still feel the same way.

- David Zucker remembers the late Leslie Nielsen. (THR)
- The ballet community has not exactly embraced Darren Aronofsky's new film Black Swan. (Toronto Sun)
- A look at how evolving tastes in film over the years has affected the ratings system. (LATimes)
- Speaking of ratings, there's an online petition up in support of changing Blue Valentine's NC-17 rating. (The Petition Site)
- On filmmakers and their websites. (NYTimes)
- An interview with the last surviving member of the cast of Sunset Boulevard, Nancy Olson Livingston. (LATimes)
- Did you know Marlon Brando directed a Western called One-Eyed Jacks? (Blogdanovich)

Monday, November 29, 2010


last seen online @ YouTube

So there I was, chatting with John online last week about something or other, when he mentions that Sue had never seen the original Tron. So while we're chatting, I do some poking around the Net to
see where it might be available, and wouldn't you know it, someone just put it up on YouTube days ago. I figured (and still do) that it probably won't stay up for long, so I'd probably better watch it while I can so I can be prepared for the sequel next month. It had been a long time since I had last seen Tron, and for some reason I remembered it as being a more complex story than it actually is. It's not, but that's okay.

One thing I noticed for the first time while watching it last night was how evocative it is, in places, of Star Wars. David Warner's cyber-avatar character has a Vader-like helmet, and he commands a vessel that's long and massive, like a Star Destroyer. Indeed, in the scene where his ship pursues Tron and his allies, riding that little ship on that beam thing, it feels a lot like the famous opening scene of A New Hope. Warner's relationship to the MCP feels like that between Vader and the Emperor. And when Tron defeats the MCP by exploiting an oh-so-convenient weakness in
its design, it's not unlike Luke firing the torpedoes into the Death Star's shaft. Maybe all of this is obvious, but honestly, I never thought of it before now.

I still like the look of Tron, even if it's considered dated now. Some moments are more obviously computer-animated than others, and don't quite feel in sync with the rest of the movie, but that doesn't bother me much. I would imagine, from what little I've chosen to see of Tron: Legacy, that it was probably tricky to keep the visual consistency of the original while making it look modern. (With a movie like Tron: Legacy - i.e., a big, blockbuster action-adventure film - I make it a habit to avoid too much advance discussion and interviews and images and other promotional stuff as possible because I want to be surprised. This isn't always the case - I followed the production of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek very closely, for example - but most of the time I prefer not knowing stuff ahead of time. With Oscar contenders, it's different. I need to know about films like Black Swan or The King's Speech or The Fighter because most of the time they're harder to quantify. I'll probably enjoy Tron: Legacy without knowing every last detail about its production and story upfront. Something as unusual as, say, Black Swan, is different, which is why I wanna learn about it ahead of time. I hope that makes sense.)

Remember the Tron arcade game? I always liked how it was four games in one, and you could choose what order to play them in. The light cycle game was tricky for me because of the bigger joystick - I could never develop the speed necessary to beat the computer on a consistent basis. The tanks were always slow, but I could handle them. The bugs and the MCP cone boards were the easiest ones. Looking at a video of the game today, I'm kinda surprised at how primitive the game design was. I remember it looking cooler than it actually was, but then I was a kid.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Set List: How do you call your loverboy?

Soundtrack of the week: Dirty Dancing

Forget about "Time of My Life" and that Patrick Swayze song for a minute. This movie had a bunch of great oldies songs as well. Like this one. Remember this scene?

Mickey and Sylvia, "Love is Strange"

Song-about-movies of the week: "One"

I tend to think of Johnny Got His Gun as a book more than a movie, since it's one of my all-time favorite books. But there was indeed a movie, which Metallica bought the rights to so they could make this video. I saw the movie before reading the book (because of this song) and I remember not liking it much. Maybe I'll watch it again one day now that I've read the book.

Song-that-would-make-a-good-movie of the week: "El Paso"

My father was a huge Marty Robbins fan; I can't help but think of him when I hear this song. I'd want the movie to not only be an epic Western romance, but I'd want the city of El Paso to be a character as much as anyone else - to really show off the history and culture of the place. And there would be lots of shootouts and action, of course. Put Penelope Cruz in it and it could be an Oscar contender.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Superman: The Movie (expanded edition)
from my DVD collection

Our family's first VCR was Betamax, if you can believe that. I believe it was a Panasonic, though I don't recall for certain. We treated it like a big deal, especially my sister and me. My father, who was something of a technophile, would buy blank Beta tapes by the pack and we'd record stuff off the TV all the time.

I remember how seriously I took it. I've mentioned before how I would meticulously label my music mix tapes, inspired by how my father did his own. Well, it was the same for our Betas. I loved taking the labels and sticking them on the top and side of each tape, and writing the title of whatever movie was on it in my neatest handwriting. 

I always wanted my handwriting to be as good as my father's, so I worked hard at it in school. (Being left-handed, that came with its own set of challenges as well, but that's another story.)

I wasn't as discerning a viewer as you might think when it came to recording stuff off TV. Around this time - the early 80s - network television was fond of mini-series, and many of them ended up on my Beta tapes, even though it was material I didn't rewatch too much (Masada? Marco Polo? The Thorn Birds? What was I thinking?) 

I suspect I was more in love with the ability to use this marvelous new technology than anything else, little realizing that this particular piece of technology would go out of style by the time I started high school.

Yes, we did eventually trade up for a VHS and never looked back, leaving behind a shelf full of Beta tapes that eventually became neglected and took up space. And like I said, most of them were recordings of TV movies I was too young to understand anyway and had little interest in beyond the initial viewing. There was, however, one notable exception.

When I first recorded Superman, it aired on ABC as their Sunday Night Movie. (Remember the ABC Sunday Night Movie?) My recording, if I recall correctly, was a bit sloppy - I'd get pieces of the outros and intros before and after commercials ("We will return to the ABC Sunday Night Movie after these messages!"), but that never bothered me. I was such a nerd I think I even made note of the original television airdate on the labels (although even if I didn't, it's definitely the kind of thing I would've done back then). Now, we only had the one VCR, so I couldn't re-watch it as often as I might've liked, but I did - probably whenever I had the TV to myself (being a latchkey kid, I had the opportunity).

I've wondered why, when I was a kid, I loved Superman the movie but not the actual comic book. A big reason might be because I was a Marvel junkie growing up (Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, etc.) during a time when one had to be either Marvel or DC - no in-between. Silly? Perhaps - but the publishers themselves encouraged this rivalry to a certain extent. And anyway, it made for one more thing for kids to argue about. I mean, my father would drive me to a comic shop every Saturday - back when comic shops were new - and there Superman would be, along with Batman and Wonder Woman and the rest of DC's finest, and I'd routinely ignore them in favor of anything and everything with the name Marvel on the cover. (And I do mean everything - when I eventually write about the Marvel movies, I'll have to talk about some of the loopier comics I b
ought back then.) Today, of course, I have some Superman comics, and quite a number of DC comics in general.

Yesterday I watched Superman with the audio commentary from director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz. Their commentary is quite good. They repeatedly emphasize the fact that much of the special effects and set design was being invented from whole cloth - even getting Superman to fly was something new and unique that they had to figure out on their own (hence the movie's famous tag line).

They did own up to when some things didn't come out as well as they would've liked; Do
nner, for example, admits that the use of miniatures for outdoor scenes looks painfully obvious now (which it does). But they also expressed pride in when scenes went right; for example, the transition from when Supes leaves Lois' balcony and then enters her apartment door as Clark Kent, all in one take. (Margot Kidder was actually standing in front of a screen in the beginning, which showed a pre-recorded Christopher Reeve taking off from her balcony, then she walks into her apartment and opens the door, where the real Reeve enters. The lighting and camerawork make it all look seamless and naturalistic.)

Donner and Mankiewicz admit that today such tricks could be done on computers - and sure enough, speaking of computers, there's apparently talk that Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman movie may employ Avatar-like technology to make Superman look even more super, I suppose. This article sums up my feelings on that.

Watching Superman still feels good and still makes me smile, even after all these years.

Man of Steel
'Man of Steel' must escape Reeve's shadow
The Dark Knight Rises

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge
last seen online @ YouTube

So this seems like a natural progression,
right, after my last two movie posts? When I watched Carmen Jones the other night, I saw that YouTube also had the entirety of Introducing Dorothy Dandridge too, so I knew this had to be my next movie. I saw it when it first aired on HBO years ago, and I remain convinced that this is Halle Berry's best role.

The truly sad part, though, is how little has changed in Hollywood since Dandridge's time. The success of recent films like Precious and Dreamgirls indicate that audiences are willing to watch black women in starring roles, but it still seems like movies like these get made in spite of the studios, not because of them.

And it's not just blacks suffering this problem. The controversy earlier this year over the cast o
f M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender stirred Asians and Asian-Americans to fight for the right to see themselves in movies.

There was a line in Dandridge t
hat stuck out. Concerning the production of Carmen Jones, someone (Dorothy's sister, I think) says something like, "They [Hollywood] finally realized that black people have sex!" I found that striking since these days, black actors almost never get to express their sexuality in their roles. If there is sex in a black movie, it's either rape or some other sexual violation (Dandridge has a really disturbing scene in which young Dorothy's "aunt" has a rather... unique way to tell if Dorothy's still a virgin, one which affects her future relationships), or it's broad, exaggerated comedy. Nobody's making films like Blue Valentine or Love and Other Drugs, to name two examples from this season - i.e., smart, mature romantic dramas that challenges the audience as much as the actors - with black casts.

Truth is, quality dramas are getting harder to make these days, as studios increasingly turn to money-making franchise films, and that will affect everyone. I think it's telling that Berry (an executive producer on this film) made Dandridge at HBO. More and more, cable is where top filmmakers and actors are going to make either the movies or TV shows they want to make the most. If that's the case, then maybe that's where we'll find more movies like Dandridge. At least they'll get made.

(A brief word about Brent Spiner. This die-hard Trekkie was very pleased to see him in this movie when I first saw it. It seemed like whenever he was on The Next Generation, they had to stretch to find situations where he could visibly emote, since his android character, Data, couldn't. Subsequent roles in post-TNG films were mostly small and worthless, so it was great that he not only landed such a major role in Dandridge, but that he pulled it off so well.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

'True Grit' and the town of Fort Smith

...Fort Smith is on the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma. It was once, as they say, the last bastion of law and order before the wild frontier. What was unusual about the federal court in Fort Smith was that it had an unbelievably large coverage area: 75,000 square miles of lawless Indian Territory (now the State of Oklahoma) with one judge to hear all those cases. Any crimes committed in Indian Territory were automatically federal cases. Seeing the frontier as a probable safe haven, troublemakers from all over the country would flee to hide out in this territory, raising hell and robbing, raping, murdering and generally terrorizing anyone who got in their path. There was a popular saying back then, “There is no law west of St. Louis and no God west of Fort Smith.”

- Friends and family turn out to mourn slain publicist Ronni Chasen. (Thompson on Hollywood)
- Katie Couric interviews the women who inspired the British film Made in Dagenham. (CBS News)
- A South African critiques the just-released trailer for the Winnie Mandela film Winnie, starring Jennifer Hudson - and is not impressed. (Guardian)
- Two labors of love: Mark Wahlberg goes on 60 Minutes to talk about his boxing biopic The Fighter, while Halle Berry discusses her late-season contender Frankie and Alice. (CBS News, Scott Feinberg)
- Check out these interviews from 1975 with Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Werner Herzog. (Cinematical)
- A deejay takes the classic silent film Birth of a Nation and remixes it, making modern audiences see the blatantly racist film in a new context. (Silent Volume)
- What if someone other than David Fincher directed The Social Network? (College Humor)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Carmen Jones

Carmen Jones
seen online via YouTube

Not feeling all that great today so this'll be brief. Seeing The Man With the Golden Arm got me interested in director Otto Preminger, so I looked up his other movies and I saw Carmen Jones was on YouTube, so I watched that. I never was a big opera fan, yet I was surprised at how familiar some of the tunes already were to me - having heard them, I suppose, through other pop culture outlets. Watching it, I was reminded of some of the other things Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch talked about at the Loews Friday night - for example, Preminger's willingness to keep the camera on an actor during an important scene.

Not having seen the original opera Carmen, I can't draw comparisons between the two. The ending did shock me, though. One wonders if this were a fully original movie whether they'd go in that direction or not. I was impressed by the singing too. It really felt like opera singing, not singing for a Hollywood musical. Even secondary characters had marvelous voices. And yeah, there was a certain sense of pride in seeing a black movie from back in the day done so well.

I might've first gotten a sore throat on Saturday, but by yesterday it definitely got worse. I was out in the city for no particular reason and by the time I came home I had just enough energy to watch the movie. So now I'm hopped up on pills waiting for this to pass.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Man With the Golden Arm

The Man With the Golden Arm
seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, Jersey City, NJ

A number of high-profile films have challenged their MPAA ratings this year, most notable among them being the Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams romantic drama Blue Valentine and the British biopic The King's Speech. The latter was hit with an R rating for one scene involving excessive profanity; the former was given the dreaded NC-17 for a scene involving oral sex. Both films, however, claim that context is everything, and that these scenes are not gratuitous, but rather are in service of the story. Both films are major Oscar contenders distributed by The Weinstein Company, whose head honcho, Harvey Weinstein, is hiring a team of high-powered lawyers to dispute the MPAA's decisions.

For as long as there has been some sort of governing body overlooking "standards and practices" in film, it seems, there have been filmmakers chafing at it, doing their best to push the envelope of what is considered "tasteful" in the name of making art. The double standard of violen
ce over sex continues to be in play, and as Blue Valentine's Gosling has recently stated, there is also a strong element of sexism behind these decisions.

At last night's screening of The Man With the Golden Arm at the Loews Jersey City, I was pleased to learn about that film's battle with the production code. Director Otto Preminger had a history of pushing the boundaries with his films. Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch was a guest at the screening, and after the film he talked about the making of Arm and how unique it was in that no one had ever talked about drug abuse so explicitly in film before. The MPAA wouldn't certify it, and that's how it was eventually released - and it became a success anyway. (Also, the movie was different from the book it was based on, much to the dismay of the book's author - very different ending, for one thing.)

Sometimes I question the necessity of a ratings system. The MPAA attempts to apply a uniform code of standards with their ratings, but as they've shown repeatedly, those standards appear to be arbitrary, and often, they don't consider context. Most of all, the identities of these unelected individuals are notoriously kept secret, so it's unclear how representative of the American moviegoing public they are. How many blacks are part of the MPAA? How many women? How many gays? How long do they serve? And yet, history has shown that despite the attempts to limit the audience for edgy, quality films like Arm, they usually end up getting recognized and appreciated, if not in the short term then over time.

I hardly ever pay attention to what rating a movie is anymore; I haven't for years - but then, I'm a single adult with no children. Many people find it easier to accept a rating without considering whether it's an accurate one or even if it truly reflects their personal tastes in movies. The power needs to be put back in the hands of the consumers to decide for themselves what films are good - educating oneself about a given movie is a fine start - and it needs to be exercised properly, because it's clear that the MPAA, as it is now, seems unable to evaluate movies well.

Another thing I learned, according to last night's emcee, is that Arm star Frank Sinatra, a Jersey native, used to attend the Loews, coming by trolley car from nearby Hoboken. The story goes that one night he saw a singer perform there (I forget who the emcee said it was) and he was inspired to become a singer himself as a result.

I went to see Arm with John and Sue again. I think I've gotten them hooked on the Loews. They really dig the theater. We're probably gonna skip the holiday programming next month, though.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Saturday Set List (Friday morning special!)

I'm seeing a movie tonight so the set list gets moved up a day.

Soundtrack of the week: Dead Presidents

Here's an example of a soundtrack I own even though I never saw the movie. It's okay, though, because this is such an awesome 70s soul soundtrack: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Sly and the Family Stone, Barry White, the O'Jays - I mean, who can resist it?

The Dramatics, "Get Up and Get Down"

Song-about-movies of the week: "The Saga Begins"

Weird Al Yankovic is a god among men. That is all.

Album that would make a good movie: Born to Run

With all the talk about the Bruce Springsteen documentary The Promise (check out this interview with the Boss conducted by actor Edward Norton), it made me think once again about one of my all time favorite albums, Born to Run, and how it feels like a single story, divided into smaller ones. I wouldn't want a film version to be a musical or a rock opera, like American Idiot or Tommy. In fact, one could just use the music as a score, as opposed to a soundtrack, and let the stories within the lyrics play out, weaving into and out of each other. Scorsese would have to be the director. Music plays such an integral part in his films; you can tell he carefully considers which songs to use when. The cast would have to be unknowns. And of course, there would have to be location shooting all around Jersey. Who knows - maybe Bruce could co-write the screenplay?

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, "Jungleland"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (unrated edition)
from my DVD collection

True story: when I was in high school, I took a special art course at Cooper Union one summer. One of the assignments they gave us was, if I recall correctly, to make a sculpture out of found objects. So what did I do? I made a small cube out of White Castle hamburger boxes. Still have it, too.

Personally, I always preferred the Castle's
chicken sandwiches. I used to go to the Castle near my house all the time for them, but one day they took them off the menu and I can't find them anywhere around here anymore. It's no big deal, but it is kinda disappointing. And the only fast food burger I'll touch these days is Five Guys.

I'm gonna sound like a total killjoy, I know, but it's true: ever since reading Fast Food Nation, I've tried to reduce the amount of fast food I eat. (Eliminating it altogether is not quite an option yet.) Vija lent me the book years ago, and I've never regretted r
eading it. Don't get me wrong; I've never been one of those people who stuff their faces with McDonald's every day. The most I would do is once a week - and again, my preference would be for the chicken sandwiches.

Giving up McDonald's was easier than I thought - although in recent years, I've shifted over to Wendy's and Popeye's. When I was living in Columbus,
I ate at Wendy's a bit more than usual. Maybe that was because Wendy's originated in Columbus.

Actually, the Midwest has some decent fast food places - some we don't have back east, some we do. Jimmy John's is a sandwich shop like Subway, although I'd also go there for the chocolate chip cookies. Charley's is a better sandwich shop; they make fresh cut fries and have lemonade
. The OSU location is where it originated. The first time I ate Five Guys was in Columbus. The one near OSU opened up while I was there and they stay open super late. My absolute favorite, though, was Raising Cane's. They serve chicken fingers, along with fries and a slice of French toast and it's all delicious. I ate there all the time and I wish there were one here in New York so badly!

These days, I try to be a little more health conscious whenever I eat fast food. I've cut back on Wendy's and Popeye's, but whenever I do eat there, I make an effort to take long walks immediately afterward to use all those calories. I also eat at places like Cosi and especially Panera Bread for less junky options. I am deeply in passionate love with Panera. The first time I ate there was in Columbus, and I was so happy to find when I came back that New York has it too. It's a nice place to sit and relax, too, whether with a computer or not.

In addition, I've greatly reduced the amount of soda I drink. I used to drink Pepsi all the time; now I almost never touch it. If I do drink soda, it's always in the smallest cans possible, but otherwise it's lemonade and tea (sometimes iced, sometimes not) and juice and punch all the way. Ginger ale too. It's just as easy to live without soda as with it.

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle was a pleasant surprise. I didn't think it would be quite so good, but it is. It's funny because I've seen John Cho and Kal Penn in more serious roles prior to this. Cho, of course, is the new Sulu, and I first saw Penn in The Namesake, a wonderful adaptation of the Jhumpa Lahiri novel, in which he did a fine job. So it was a bit odd for me to see them do comedy, even though this movie put them both on the map. (By the way, is it my imagination, or does Penn's skin look lighter on that poster than it actually is?)

This is another DVD formerly from Sue's collection. Inside it there are unused coupons for White Castle, which makes me wonder whether this whole movie was intended to be one big commercial. I mean, this could've just as easily been a made-up burger joint. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith create original brands specifically for their movies with no loss of credibility - the very opposite, if anything. But maybe the director needed the extra cash such a blatant product placement could provide. Regardless, I can't say it bothers me that much.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fair Game (2010)

Fair Game (2010)
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

I've written about former President George W. Bush and the undeclared war he dragged America into before. I remember a cold February day in 2003 when I was one of millions worldwide who protested against the impending war. Here in New York we were gathered in the vicinity of the United Nations, although the crowd was so huge I ended up closer to 59th Street, next to the Queensborough Bridge. I wrote about the experience afterwards (I had an online comics column at the time) and I got into a huge debate with one of my readers. He was arguing that Sadaam Hussein absolutely needed to be removed from power in Iraq, which I didn't challenge, but my point was that it was still quite questionable whether Hussein actually had weapons of mass destruction or not, and what the hell did he have to do with the events of September 11, anyway? My reader wasn't willing to concede that point. Fortunately, other readers did, and they chimed in.

The tumultuousness of that period between 9/11 and the start of the Iraq war cannot be understated. Suddenly it was more important than ever to be seen as a loyal patriot, but "patriotism" clearly meant different things to different people. I know it was hard at times for me to hold on to my convictions, but the more I saw and read, the more I believed this impending war was a bad idea and that people needed to say something about it...

...which makes what happened to Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson so hard to believe. To be punished for speaking out against government policy doesn't sound like something that could happen in America... and yet it did. As I watched the movie Fair Game yesterday, I had to remind myself of that fact, because seeing it up on the big screen (and as it happens, I saw it on a very big screen) can fool you.

I remember feeling a great amount of trepidation before I wrote my column against the war. Did I have the right to bring up politics in a pop culture column? Could I say the things I needed to say in a halfway-intelligent manner? Was I ready to face possible disagreement? Or should I stick to complaining about the latest storyline in Amazing Spider-Man? In the end, I believed something like this was too important to ignore, and that I should trust myself to be able to speak articulately enough. I mostly stuck to describing the protest in Manhattan, describing everything I saw and heard and felt. It turned out to be enough.

My screening of Fair Game was at 6 PM, and there were about a half dozen people total in the theater, which I might not have noticed if it hadn't have been in the big auditorium at the Kew. I was distracted by the rumble of the Long Island Railroad, which I could feel shaking the seats. When I saw The Kids Are All Right in this same auditorium, I didn't notice the train, but maybe more trains were running because it was rush hour. It's the first time I've ever noticed it at the Kew, and I hope I won't have to deal with it too much, because the rattle of the trains was as bad as it is at the Angelika, if not worse!

Naomi Watts looks a lot like Nicole Kidman.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Highlights from the Governors Awards

...one of the charms of the Governors Awards is that it’s not televised, and that nobody’s trying to rush the winners offstage. If Francis Coppola wants to ramble and admit that he hadn’t prepared a speech to accept the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, that’s okay.

If the Academy opts to use count ‘em, seven different members of the Board of Governors to speak glowingly of the absent Godard before running Jon Bloom's sly film package saluting the director, nobody’s going to tune out.

If Tony Bennett decides before the show that he wants to not only perform “Watch What Happens” for his friend Wallach, but also to add a second song, “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret” – well, who’s going to turn down the chance to hear another Tony Bennett song?

- Jean-Luc Godard still doesn't care about the Oscars, or Hollywood. (The Big Picture)

- Biutiful director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, along with producer Guillermo del Toro and members of the crew, speak very frankly about their film and the difficulty of making and distributing quality films. (Thompson on Hollywood)
- The Best Picture Oscar race may come down to two films: The Social Network or The King's Speech. (Scott Feinberg)
- A home video distributor that redacts films of "questionable" moral content is being taken to court by Hollywood. (THR)
- Separate interviews with Get Low stars Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek. (The Odds, Awards Daily)
- Who knew Marilyn Monroe could cook? (NYTimes)
- In appreciation of movie stunts and the people who make them. (Salon)
- Did you know the shortest Oscar-nominated performance is only two and a half minutes long? (StinkyLulu via In Contention)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Broadcast News

Broadcast News
from my DVD collection

I've been on television, though it's nothing worth bragging about. Both times were during my high school years; once as part of a promo for our local PBS affiliate, the other as an interviewee for an MTV News segment about Saturday Night Live. Both excited me at the time, but looking back on them now, I can see my excitement was far out of proportion to their importance. Some of my high school friends may remember, but no one else does.

TV news was part of my life, if only because television in general was such a huge part of my life. I'm just old enough to remember Walter Kronkite. The Iranian hostages, the assassination attempt on President Reagan, the destruction of the Challenger - these are some of my earliest TV news memories, and even if I didn't always understand their greater implications, I grasped their significance.

Mostly, though, I got my news from the newspaper, especially as I got older. My father would pick up all the local papers, not just one. He believed you could learn something from all of them (even from a rag like the New York Post). I gravitated to the sports and comics, to the near exclusion of everything else. In fact, I still have the New York Daily News editions from when the Mets won both the pennant and the World Series in 1986. I've been told that they'd probably be valuable enough to sell online. Maybe - though I'd hate to have to give them up.

Television has gotten less and less important to me as I've gotten older. I recognize that there are a lot of genuinely good programs out there. For example, I'll never forget how utterly addicted I became to 24 when I first saw it on DVD during my video store years. But I guess I'm no longer as willing to put in the effort it takes to follow a show these days. Maybe I prefer episodic material instead of having it serialized. I'm not sure. As for news, I get it online now, so yeah, I guess I'm also to blame for the demise of newspapers. Sorry.

Broadcast News is one in a group of DVDs that was generously donated to me recently by Sue. She and John have a pretty big collection and she was looking to unload some of them, and who am I to turn down free DVDs?

I'd forgotten how great Holly Hunter is in this movie. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to watch it yesterday because I had gotten little sleep this weekend. I was out all day Saturday with Andrea and didn't get back until much later than I'd expected. We were way up in the Bronx, near Westchester, so I had a longer ride home than usual, especially on a Saturday night. Yesterday I was in the city, but I couldn't even sit and read my Nick Hornby book without dozing off. Fortunately by the time I got home I was awake enough to sit through the movie.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Set List: This is my only escape from it all

Soundtrack of the week: O Brother Where Art Thou?

I never thought I could get excited about bluegrass music until I saw this Coen Brothers movie and heard this soundtrack. Exquisite music from start to finish, and all of it integrated into the film itself quite well. This song might be my favorite.

Ralph Stanley, "O Death"

Song-about-movies of the week: "Robert DeNiro's Waiting"

Bananarama. Yeah, I was totally into them back in the 80s. I liked the Bangles and the Go-Gos more, but I dug them too.

Song-that-would-make-a-good-movie of the week: "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant"

A group of friends from the same New York neighborhood share stories over dinner about Brenda and Eddie, a couple from the old days who somehow got married even though no one could ever imagine either of them settling down. Though each of them have their own individual memories of the two, a narrative slowly forms, chronicling their lives from high school until the present. Though Brenda and Eddie would be more or less the stars of the movie, it would play as an ensemble, with a wide variety of character actors. The director would be Edward Burns, a New Yorker who could get the feel of old friendships and neighborhood lives. I would want to set it in the Bronx instead of Manhattan, though.

Friday, November 12, 2010


first seen in New York, NY

In college I took an astronomy class. I was required to take at least one science-related humanities course, and I put it off as long as possible. Senior year came, and I couldn't put it off any longer, so I took the one science class I had any interest in at all. I believed it would sustain my interest; after all, a childhood full of outer space sci-fi tales in movies, comics and books naturally sparked a curiosity about what's Out There. My slightly flawed logic concluded that I'd have an affinity for learning about astronomy as a result. Maybe that was so at the time...

... but I needed a much better teacher. I had this Greek guy whose English was questionable at best. From day one I knew this was gonna present a huge obstacle. He himself wasn't a bad person, as teachers go, but it really was difficult to understand him half of the time. It wasn't long before I regularly sat in the back of the room, zoning out most of the time when I wasn't haphazardly taking what few notes I could. I knew I had to pass this class somehow, though, so I struggled to pay attention.

In his defense (because I don't wanna come down hard on the guy), he knew his English wasn't the best, which is probably why he put on videos on a regular basis for us to watch. They were public television programs about outer space, hosted by a scientist named Carl Sagan.

I'd never heard of Sagan before, and while I wish I could say that listening to him pontificate about the stars sparked a fire within me, that wouldn't be entirely true. Watching him was better than deciphering the teacher's Greek/English mish-mash... and it did raise my interest to a degree. In the end, though, most of my initial enthusiasm for the class in general waned. I could not begin to tell you how I passed, but somehow I did - by the skin of my teeth, too... but I never completely forgot those videos and the man in them who made the wonders of the universe sound both mysterious and exciting.

Three years later, a movie came out based on a book this Sagan guy wrote called Contact, about communication with extraterrestrials. I saw it, and liked it a lot. I liked it so much that it made me seek out the book itself. The movie made some significant changes - for instance, Jodie Foster's character in the book is actually one of five people who eventually get to meet the aliens. Also, there's no romance with Matthew McConaughey's character, whose not quite as central to the story. Otherwise, the book reminded me why I was interested in outer space to begin with.

In recent years my interest in space, and science in general, has incrementally picked up. Writers like Richard Dawkins have helped me re-examine the world and man's place in it, though it's still very much a struggle to understand sometimes. I do think, however, that scientific progress is crucial to our survival as a species.

Do I think there's life Out There? A lifetime of immersion in sci-fi has conditioned me to think no other way, though if we're ever gonna find it, I think we need to take the first step. Space colonization still sounds like the stuff of pulp novels, but I think we're gonna need to do it before long. There's too many people on this poor little planet, after all. Listening for alien signals is all well and good, but placing too much hope on them finding us isn't productive in the long run. Let's go out there and find them instead. Maybe it'll help bring everyone on this pale blue dot together.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Soul Food

Soul Food
first seen in Queens, New York

If you were to ask her, my mother would probably tell you that I was a much less discriminating eater when I was a child. And that's probably true. My mother was never the type to cook big huge meals on a regular basis. Our meals were what they were. Sometimes we all ate together, but most times we didn't. The kitchen in our old apartment was small; it was the first room you'd step into as you entered and it doubled as the dining room. It was the hub which connected to the two bedrooms, the bathroom and the living room.
The east windows looked out onto the neighbor's front yard and driveway. Often times I would play on the kitchen floor. My mother still has our old hardwood kitchen table, all these years later, although a leg is finally beginning to weaken.

I don't recall having any unusual favorite foods as a child. I took my peanut butter sandwiches with the crusts off, like most kids. I liked toast a lot. My mother was always able to get it just the right shade of golden brown before applying the jelly. Same thing goes for corn bread. When you're eight years old, things like that make all the difference in the world. I couldn't get enough of spaghetti or Rice-a-Roni. Corn was, and is, my vegetable of choice.

Sometimes I'd watch my mother cook things like chicken and fish; other times she'd try to teach me. Pancakes were always fun to make. Mixing the batter was a bit of a chore, but pouring it onto the griddle was the best part. Hamburgers proved easier than I thought they'd be, as were grilled cheese sandwiches. In junior high I took a home ec class for one semester and we learned how to cook things like biscuits. I considered it a crowning achievement at the time. (Do they still have home economics classes these days? I doubt it.)

The food in Soul Food is an important, if not the important, tie that binds the family in the film together, in good times and bad. The health factor is not ignored - indeed, Irma P. Hall's matriarch character has diabetes, and her daughters implore her to take better care of herself - but it's little different than other traditional foods in other Western cultures, handed down through the generations. There's a small element of foodie porn at play; the camera lovingly lingers on the platters at times, but that's to be expected, I think.

Soul Food is an overlooked gem. The characters have their flaws, men and women both, yet remain recognizably human. The story doesn't feel melodramatic, and the themes are universal. I know I don't normally intend these posts as reviews, but this film came out in a year of outstanding movies overall and isn't as well-remembered as it should be, I think (although it did lead to a cable TV series). I feel the need, therefore, to say that it's a movie anyone can appreciate and it is worth your time checking out.

Soul Food Junkies

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Does H'wood excuse violence against women?

...Though one in four women has experienced domestic violence, and one in six will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, Hollywood is teaching us that violence against women isn't very important in the scheme of things. Of course, there's no evil group of cinematic warlords pushing this agenda, and most people who perpetuate it probably don't mean to... Nevertheless, this blase indifference exists towards women-centric violence, giving a blinding green light to such actions. We already see how image affects girls nation-wide, but think about what this indifference says to those women who are sexually assaulted or beaten across the world. If we don't show that we care -- that it's a very important issue -- these women will suffer in silence, never coming forward because the environment is overrun with hostility and a desire to ignore or downplay the problem.
- The producer of the Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams romantic drama Blue Valentine says they won't change a thing about it, despite the NC-17 rating. (Cinematical)
- GLAAD defends their position against the gay joke in The Dilemma. (The Big Picture)
- Valerie Plame, the CIA agent outed by the Bush administration, talks about her biopic Fair Game. (Vanity Fair)
- On the future of Netflix with regard to streaming movies online. (Slate)
- Blind Side 2? Jets linebacker Bart Scott is next to get the Hollywood treatment. (Cinema Blend)
- A first look at the movie version of the best-selling novel The Help. (Awards Daily)
- Singer-actress Doris Day looks back on her long career. (WNYC)

Monday, November 8, 2010

127 Hours

127 Hours
seen @ Sunshine Cinema, New York NY

The year was 1995, and I spent the summer as a counselor at a sleepaway camp in Massachusetts. I was having a good time,
even if a certified city boy like me had to learn to overcome my trepidation of living in the woods for two months. I will never forget the pure shock I felt the first night of staff orientation when I realized that just because it's late June doesn't mean the nights are gonna be warm. It was quite the opposite, in fact, and I was kinda miserable for those first few nights before it did get warmer.

One day I signed up to be part of a group going on a hiking day trip to Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. There were at least 15 or so kids, plus me and a couple of other counselors. I wasn't any kind of hiker, but I was told that this was an extremely popular hiking destination, plus you could see all of New England from the peak. I figured it was worth the trip. It is a lovely place,
which I do recommend, and despite what happened to me there, I would like to go back one day.

It started off fine. Our group was part of a number of others along the same trail up Monadnock. I kept a close eye on the kids, who ranged in age from 8 to 12. We made good time. I remember being surprised at the relati
ve ease of hiking the trail. There were some rough spots, but it wasn't as difficult as I was expecting. Having so many other people around us was a comfort.

We were very close to the top when it happened. I was wearing a pair of high-topped Chuck Taylor All-Stars, like the kind my father wore when he was my age. In fact, it was because of him that I bought a pair. (His was red, mine were blue.) They looked cool, but they may not have been the best choice for a hike. I was walking through a rocky slope, and was about to alight onto a patch of dirt in between the rocks. I must've landed the wrong way, because before I knew it, I twisted my ankle and fell down hard onto the earth in a heap, and boy, was I in PAIN!

I don't mind admitting how scare
d I was. After all, I'd never been in a situation like this before - hundreds of miles from home, atop a mountain somewhere in New England, writhing on the ground, unable to move, much less stand and walk. Maybe I shouldn't have panicked so much - after all, I was surrounded by other people, who were able to, and did, call for help. And yeah, there was a measure of embarrassment at the fact that I was there to look out for the kids and I'm the one who ended up getting hurt instead. What can I say. I'm only human.

A couple of park rangers came up with a stretcher, even as the kids continued on without me. Several kind souls stayed with me until the rangers arrived, and assisted in carrying me down. I still remember what that was like - flat on my back, being hefted down an uneven terrain by a bunch of strangers, looking up into the clear blue sky, which slowly gave way to trees and other foliage. A bit of camaraderie developed among us. There was one girl whose birthday happened to be that day, and when we found out, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her. All things considered, the experience wasn't so terrible, and it made me forget my pain.

The kids were waiting for me when we reached the bottom. The other counselors had ordered pizza while they were waiting, and once I was able to get inside the van, we drove back to camp. It was early twilight when we left Monadnock, and it got dark before long. The kids had fallen asleep as we wound our way throug
h the twisting, turning road in the dark. I was lucky. I see that now. If we had gone somewhere more remote, help would've been more difficult in coming.

Which leads me to the movie 127 Hours. I swear I almost bailed out on it when the fateful rock landed on James Franco's arm. I had heard all the stories of people freaking out over this movie, and I told myself I could handle it, but when I saw the scene, all those memories of being stuck on Monadnock, helpless, came back to me and I felt my stomach turn. I seriously considered leaving the theater and the amputation scene wasn't for another hour at least! The last time I felt this way over a movie wasn't even that long ago: I got talked into seeing the Lars von Trier film Antichrist with my friend Jenny earlier this year, and she was ready to walk out on it too (and I would've been right behind her), but she and I managed to stick with it. This was different, because of what it reminded me of. Watching it felt too real, and of course, that's the whole point: this is a dramatization of something that actually happened.

Nobody fainted at my screening. Lots of gasps of shock were audible, though. The amputation scene is bloody and gory, but I don't think it's out of proportion to the moment. I mean, it's hard to show a crucial scene like this without a measure of blood and guts, so to speak, but I was able to tolerate it. I do think the ending dragged a bit, though.

A brief word about the Sunshine Cinema: It's definitely a great place for movies. They sell all manner of DVDs of independent films at their box office, which is cool. They do midnight movies, although most of the time they're fairly mainstream stuff. Nothing along the lines of, say, Roger Corman or Hammer horror films or John Waters or anything like that. And they have stadium seating, unlike the Angelika or the Forum, which is a huge plus.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saturday Set List: Starring in our own late late show

I've decided I wanna expand a bit on the music-related stuff.

Soundtrack of the Week: Slumdog Millionaire

Tonight I'm going to see Danny Boyle's new film, 127 Hours, so expect a write-up of that on Monday. In the meantime, we can enjoy the music from his last film - and since you're probably well-familiar with "Jai Ho" by now, I'm gonna play the other Oscar-nominated song from the film.

A.R. Rahman with M.I.A., "O...Saya"

Song-about-movies of the Week: "Key Largo"

Self-explanatory, I hope. Any song that name drops a famous actor or movie, or anything related to movies. I always loved the song "Key Largo" by Bertie Higgins, and I love the movie even more. The accompanying video is a tribute to not only Bogie & Bacall, but Hepburn & Tracy as well, but that's okay.

Song-that-would-make-a-good-movie of the Week: "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)"

I like it when songs tell stories. Sometimes Hollywood makes movies out of them. This spot will be for my movie pitch based on a song. So try this one on: in a small New England fishing town, Brandy is a waitress at a popular bar and grill. Sassy and salty, she can mix it up with the sailors who adore her, but her heart belongs to one in particular, whose travels keep him away for months at a time. One day he returns to her and decides he wants to give up the sailing life and finally marry her. For Brandy, it sounds like a dream come true... but is it really what he wants? I picture Frances McDormand in this, or, if you wanna go younger, Renee Zellweger or Sally Hawkins (if she can do an American accent). Low-budget, lots of location shots. Light romantic drama, heavy on character-driven humor.

I'll gladly take requests for future songs.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rocky IV

Rocky IV
seen @ RKO Keith's, Flushing, Queens, NY

As time passes on, as it inevitably must, my memories of the Cold War become more jumbled. I experienced it as a child, therefore I was unable to fully understand the implications of all the saber-rattling between the United States and the Soviet Union. I knew that both countries had nuclear weapons, and I was led to believe, like many of us, that they could be used at any time, for almost any reason. I did not understand why, but who does at the age of ten, eleven, twelve?

Pop culture of the period was filled with Cold War references, naturally. All of us kids watched The Day After on TV and did nothing but talk about it in school the next day (more at the teachers' insistence than anything else). I knew the song "99 Red Balloons" was supposed to be about nuclear war, though I was fuzzy as to how the metaphors applied. I remember my sixth grade history teacher - a remarkably smart and funny man, who made me want to learn - played the song "Russians" by Sting to help us better understand the politics behind the Cold War. (He was very good about using music that way - he also played "For What It's Worth" to explain the 60s to us.) 

Mostly, though, I didn't think about it much. Politics was for grown-ups, and I suppose I, like most of my friends, figured they'd work it out on their own somehow. If there was any lingering fear that perhaps they wouldn't, and war would be declared, it never lasted for long. We didn't live in constant fear as kids. We were too busy having fun. These days, I imagine it might be somewhat different for the generation growing up in the shadow of September 11, as part of the information age of the Internet, but it was easier for us to live our lives as if politics didn't matter. 

When my father took me to see Rocky IV, I knew there would be a Cold War theme running through it, and I think I must've looked forward to it. Watching the great conflict played out on such a ludicrously simplistic canvas as this made it easier to buy into the propaganda, though I wouldn't have thought in such terms back then. It was a packed house, and after it was over, practically everyone was on their feet cheering, including yours truly. God knows what my father must have been thinking during the movie - seeing once again the old cliche of the black guy (Apollo) dying so that the white guy can avenge him and get the glory, hearing so much rhetoric about the Land of the Free as if that were true for all Americans, and being surrounded by so many people, including his own son, willing to buy into it. Maybe he just wanted to see the James Brown cameo. 

The RKO Keith's is no more, sadly. It was located on the intersection of Northern Boulevard and Main Street in Flushing, a neighborhood I frequented constantly as a kid. My best friend Jerry and I would go to the Modell's a few blocks south of the RKO and head downstairs to where they kept a giant bin of baseball gloves, and we'd sift through it trying to find gloves with the signatures of players we liked. For me, being left-handed, it was much harder, because it seemed like there were at least 50 right-handed gloves for every left-handed one. Sometimes we'd go into the old Woolworth's across the street. Inevitably we'd have a pizza at a shop on Roosevelt Avenue near the entrance to the 7 train.

So many places I remember are gone now: the art store across the street from the RKO that I bought my first portfolio case in; the arcade, the music clothing store that I was afraid to go into because they sold heavy metal T-shirts and I was brainwashed into thinking heavy metal was "devil's music" (though gladly, that changed when I got into high school); the mall with a comics shop downstairs; the B. Dalton's bookstore; the Wiz music and electronics store; the Baskin Robbins, the other RKO theater near the Long Island Railroad station - it's all gone. I'm surprised the Modell's is still there. Whenever I pass through downtown Flushing now, I don't recognize any of it. But time passes on... as it inevitably must.